That’s so thirty years ago.

I have spent far too much time in the comments section of this post on I Blame the Patriarchy. I need to stop, and soon. But first, check out this doozy.

I wrote this, in response to something that someone else wrote to the effect of “fight the REAL enemy”:

See, slade, that’s the problem right there – it’s not only rich white hetero boys who have power and privilege. They’re also not the only ones who should be challenged and criticized. Most of us have power and privilege that needs to be acknowledged and dealt with, despite whatever oppression or lack of power we might also experience.

So a certain Ms Kate responds like so:

Teh Patriarchy sez … MMM. DIVIDE AND CONQUER. YUMMY.

And while we analyze our feminist souls for original (and not so original) sin spots, The Patriarchy is throwing yet another kegger down at the local frat – and laughing at us for being so hairy and angry.

Um… hello, what? WHAT? People, people – haven’t we gotten past this ridiculous line of thinking? No, apparently not.

My response:

Funny… this sounds so much like what white women told – hell, tell – women of color who spoke out against racism within feminist communities.

“Shut up and fight the real enemy, whilst we continue to ignore your issues and your lives and act in complicity with your oppression as women of color, or as trans people, or as genderqueer people. Because we’re all in this together, right, sisters?”

Arguments like that? SO OLD. SO TIRED. SO PLAYED OUT.

Face it, Ms Kate – you probably don’t have a monopoly on oppression. Your dismissive tone especially suggests that you’ve probably got a whole bunch of privilege and the prejudice that goes with it. Trying to cover it up by pointing at the “real” enemy doesn’t make it go away. Being a woman or a feminist doesn’t give you a “Get Out Of Examining My Own Privilege Free” card. None of us get that card. Not a one.


Mostly, I wanted to post that here as a prelude to something along these lines that has been brewing in my head for the past couple of days and will appear here shortly. But also because… WTF, right?

Also – I have no idea if I ever use the word “whilst” correctly. I hope I do, though, because I do love using it!

27 Responses to “That’s so thirty years ago.”

  1. 1 Dylan

    I managed to avoid this whole discussion until reading your last post. Then I became angry and had to jump in. Hopefully it will be my only post. I can’t even imagine wasting my time arguing with some of the ignorant commenters over on that thread. I know someone needs to, but I just don’t have enough cigarettes or tolerance to tide me over and leave my sanity in tact at the end of it all.

    I gave you a nod in my trans post. Hope you don’t mind.

  2. 2 Nakisha

    Ms. Kate has a long history of responding this way to threads that bring up issues of race. When nubian complained about mainstream white bloggers and their lack of interest in women of color issues, it started some shit storm in which Ms. Kate said that the real problem is that women of color just don’t get that the real problems they face can be reduced to class issues. Not all, but most of them.

    That seems to be the standard line there. They will take care of it and we needn’t worry our heads about.

  3. 3 Holly

    The problem with a lot of these threads is that there is SO MUCH being said that’s just mind-blowingly backwards that it’s hard to even know where to begin. I mean, how can you ignore all this stupid “fight the REAL enemy” baiting when it’s some tired, tired shit that’s been used to excuse bigotry for years? Sometimes I think some of these folks are serious blog-bandwagon feminist-come-latelys. (Definitely not all, obviously.)

    I wanted to write something over there too but I can’t bring myself to. If you want to channel me you can feel free — heck you can e-mail or IM me if you want to talk more about this crap. But basically, Heart in particular is really interesting because she is a very thoughtful and thorough writer, but she is dead-set convinced that to be trans, or to be trans-positive, or to subscribe to “transgender theory” whatever that might be (she never mentions particular authors) you must have a pro-gender, gender-essentialist position of some sort. Which I totally don’t believe is true. I mean, of course it is a lot of the time — most of the world is pro-gender and gender-essentialist. But I don’t think this is necessarily a part of what valuing and understanding trans stuff is. I definitely believe that gender is entirely socially constructed even if it is built on a biological substrate — I don’t really think it’s an either/or case, but I am pretty positive that everything we experience as “gender” is constructed as such and filtered by society, so the biological part may not even matter as far as I’m concerned. Nor do I think that gender is a good thing. But that doesn’t mean I think “transgender” is bad, because it’s necessary. Even Heart seems to admit this in one of her posts. But it’s more than necessary, it’s positive too because it gives us more perches to survive the patriarchy and resist it in the myriad ways it has to be resisted. That’s my take.

  4. 4 evil_fizz

    Just peeking in from the IBTP thread.

    Sometimes I think some of these folks are serious blog-bandwagon feminist-come-latelys.

    Yes, but I think that others of them are so deeply committed to the idea of the patriarchy being the ultimate matrix forced on society that they can’t think about anything else. It’s called I Blame the Patriarchy for good reason, and it highlights what I’d regard as the major drawback to radfem theory: there is nothing else, just the patriarchy. It’s so gender-essentialist that it overlooks all other issues. (BFP is great on this point.)

  5. 5 piny

    The problem with a lot of these threads is that there is SO MUCH being said that’s just mind-blowingly backwards that it’s hard to even know where to begin.

    Indeed. Which is why I’m so grateful to you (you and Jack et al, I mean) for wading into it.

    I think the argument goes not that transpeople necessarily consciously subscribe to the, erm, ieffable inevitability of gender, but that claiming a gender entails subscribing to that model. I would point out in response that transpeople frequently choose categories that are not permitted them, and categories that were not permitted them until they demanded them. Transgender is not the logical conclusion of gender as mediated by patriarchy; at best, the official channels of transgender represent a response to an insoluble gender problem. And confusing them is like confusing Krafft-Ebing with the desire to suck another man’s cock.

  6. 6 Holly

    That’s a very eloquent way of putting it piny, thanks!

    I’m confused by this:
    “…claiming a gender entails subscribing to that model.”

    So the people arguing this… are they overlooking the fact that they’re “claiming a gender” all the time by passing themselves off as women (or men, possibly)? Or maybe there’s a presumption that they are just dealing with what’s been thrust on them, and that trans people must necessarily feel differently and are making a “more active” claim? I just posted a paraphrased quote about gender transgressing all over trans people over at feministe that I think expresses my feelings about that nicely.

  7. 7 piny

    So the people arguing this… are they overlooking the fact that they’re “claiming a gender” all the time by passing themselves off as women (or men, possibly)?

    …Sorta both, I think. They argue that all gender, even theirs, is constructed as well: the result of a set of pressures imposed by patriarchy. However, they also seem prone to slipping up and saying things that make it clear that they feel that transpeople deserve more scrutiny, and that they haven’t really looked carefully at their own pretense at legitimacy. Like the stuff in the original Twisty thread.

    And, yes, I think that the disparate examination does have to do with transpeople making a more active claim–they see us as arguing that our genders are special somehow. I have in fact heard special pleading from various trans quarters, but we are often forced to make a case for ourselves. I don’t object to examination, but I think they’re reading the situation wrong. And I hate to start shaking my “Man, does Heart ever not know what she’s talking about” tambourine again, but she has in the past said some things about what it’s like to be a transwoman that make the women on the original IBTP thread seem like past mistresses of rational speculation.

  8. 8 Holly

    Sadly I’m not too surprised, since I’ve seen her participate in some very angry discussions on the MWMF boards.

  9. 9 Winter

    I think the argument goes not that transpeople necessarily consciously subscribe to the, erm, ieffable inevitability of gender, but that claiming a gender entails subscribing to that model

    Ah thanks. I’ve been trying to figure out the argument and it makes my head spin. So, by transitioning, transpeople are making a much more active subscription to the inevitability of gender than those of who can say we’re just living with what’s been thrust upon us.

    Right ho.

  10. 10 Fire Fly

    Hello everyone,

    Although I haven’t read every single thread about the transgender v. radical feminist debate going on in the blogosphere, I’m deeply interested in being involved in a dialogue on the issue, for my own political education and because it seems like an important moment to define ‘the movement’ (whichever movement that may be).

    I don’t want to get involved at IBTP, because that’s already proven itself a space that’s unsafe for transpeople. Even though I have sided with arguments for womyn-born-womyn only spaces before, I WILL NOT countenance any hate speech against transpeople, or any other behaviour that denigrates their humanity. There’s political discussion, and there’s political mud-slinging. The latter is doubly unfair, because it implicates transpeople uniquely, denying them voice, humanity, or validation within activist where they have already been rejected in other arenas of society.

    I agree that what radical feminists who argue against transgenderism (in whatever way, e.g. acceptance at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, bathroom spaces, feminist organising, etc.) are arguing from a very limited standpoint, and not giving political credence to many aspects of gender transition, and the political fact of gender dysphoria. They oversimplify the feelings and experiences of transgendered people, and don’t locate them within an analysis of patriarchy (at least, not one that’s sufficiently nuanced).
    But overall, it leads to a political analysis of transgenderism which puts it at odds with the radical feminist project of redefining the meaning of “woman” to be empowering and revolutionary.


    There are some things about the radical feminist analysis of patriarchy which haven’t been addressed by the ‘pro-trans’ argument.

    First of all, the analysis of patriarchy given by radical feminists is predominantly structural. That is, patriarchy as a system privileges men, and oppresses women in order to effect that privilege. Within the radical feminist analysis, gender binarism is part of an overarching power structure that pervades all of society, making women and men different and unequal.

    As such, the gender identities of men and women have markedly different political valencies. Socialisation produces masculinity as a set of attitudes, allegiances, tendencies and traits as against femininity, both of which rigidify certain human characteristics and lead to an eventual domination of masculine people over feminine people.

    Thus, because this leads to systemic oppression which goes above and beyond the individual, radical feminists see the political task as being one of forming alliances between women, who then define what womanhood means for themselves, while at the same time fighting against patriarchy.

    In all the essays I’ve read about where transgenderism fits into this schema, radical feminist analysis has characterised transgender politics as “individualistic.” They analyse transgenderism as being about the individual desires of transpeople, as opposed to the collective interests of women as an oppressed class, or rather, THE oppressed class. That gender transition doesn’t address the differential power that underlies and informs the genders, but is instead about affirming the individual feelings of transpeople.

    But the thing about patriarchy is that it doesn’t just deny the individual feelings of gendered bodies — gender politics isn’t just about identity. (In the RadFem analysis) Patriarchy is The Prime Mover in terms of oppression. All oppressions are modeled on it. Therefore, transgenderism as a political movement is a symptom of patriarchy, but not its cure. And the politics of the trans movement (in the RadFem frame) is to affirm and aid transpeople, not to end the system which oppresses them, and all women.

    Personally, there are many aspects of the radical feminist analysis which I find compelling, although I do not agree with the way transpeople are characterised in all instances.

    The fact that qualities deemed masculine are valorised while qualities deemed feminine are denigrated or are made into a ‘lure’ for the oppression of women… that means that womanhood is not equivalent to masculinity in terms of power. As such, people socialised into masculinity are politically situated differently than those socialised into femininity. ‘Transitioning’ between the two is politically fraught. And while I don’t want to trivialise race politics, in this aspect of RadFem analysis transgenderism is considered akin to blackface.

    The various aspects of early childhood cognitive development that I’ve learned about suggests to me that socialisation cannot be “undone”. Although gender may be a “social construct,” that doesn’t mean it has no real consequences or that the construct doesn’t shape society or create unfair outcomes.

    And the argument that women don’t have shared experiences is also one I would view with suspicion, because of its implications for other political identities formed by oppression (I’m thinking of racial identities here, but that’s just cos it’s on my mind a lot lately — I’m writing a thesis about race relations).

    I came to the idea that womanhood should be something that women “define for themselves” (as opposed to having it defined for them by patriarchy) pretty early in life, so the argument of radical feminists about the political valency of female identity moves me for personal reasons.

    So it seems to me like trans activists and radical feminists have very different ways of seeing particular issues. It’d help if they could actually interface their analyses to produce more sophisticated analyses of oppression, but given the vitriol spewed, that seems unlikely.

    I apologise that I haven’t given a rundown of “the” transgender movement’s side on these issues. I’ve learned a bit about them, but not enough to really do them justice. But I’m presenting my take on the RadFem frame in the hope that it’ll generate some real discussion with people not prone to spouting ugly hate speech about transpeople. I hope nobody dismisses points without considering them (unfortunately, there’s been a lot of that at IBTP too).

  11. 11 Holly

    I don’t know if Jack wants to play host to this particular discussion, and she’ll have to decide that, but in the meantime, I think I can address some of the things you bring up. I also want to note that there have been several other important discussions going on at other blogs in the last few days, ones that have been much less full of invective against trans people, and that actually have included trans voices — which is difficult in an environment where trans people are being called nutjobs who like to wear “woman skins.”

    You might want to read the appropriate threads at Feministe, brownfemipower, and little light’s blog:

    I’m posting these links as reference to read, as I’m not sure if the intent by the bloggers in all of these cases is to provide room for this kind of “radfem vs. trans” debate. (An opposition which, I should note, I don’t think is inevitable or absolute by any means.) But if you read these threads you’ll definitely find a lot of the perspective of trans people and people who support further understanding of trans issues.

    As for your rundown of a certain kind of radical feminist perspective on “the” transgender movement (thanks for the quotes, I think it’s important to acknowledge that the target here is very vague at best) I think there’s a lot of logic, and you’ve recapped things well. Where the problems lie here, I strongly believe, are in mistaken assumptions, and the kind that are often hidden because they’re “common sense” etc. I don’t want this to become a novel, but I thought I should point out some that strike me very glaringly from the perspective of a trans person who’s been engaged in struggle to help other trans people survive and gain political voice to end gender coercion and oppression of trans people and communities.

    1) “Gender transition doesn’t address the differential power that underlies and informs the genders, but is instead about affirming the individual feelings of transpeople.”
    Trans people are a small minority in the larger population, and many trans people experience extreme isolation. It’s not surprising that for many people, including many radical feminists, close encounters with trans people’s lives and ideas mean encountering one trans person at a time. In media, the predominant form of trans people talking about trans issues has been the autobiography. Basically, it’s not uncommon to encounter trans people as individuals.

    But what happens when trans people gather collectively? For one thing, the question about “trans people’s individual feelings” becomes moot when a community agrees on some basic principles, like that everyone should be able to live their lives, in the here and now, with freedom from gender coercion, expressing and living gender healthily, happiily, and wholely. Trans communities want things that are very much the same as any other disenfranchised people: we want and end to murder, harassment and violence against trans people for being trans; we want access to health care, housing, education, and jobs, which is sorely lacking for a whole lot of trans people, and we want transphobic barriers destroyed that keep our communities from having access to these things.

    “Individual feelings” of trans people don’t really come up in these contexts. The reason they do elsewhere is usually because someone is questioning the legitimacy of trans people’s existence in the first place, or because the media wants to spin things into a “human interest” tale of one trans person (which usually means “freak” at some level). Then you have debates like the one over “WBW” space, which generate a whole lot of extra heat and light disproportionate to how many trans people are actually interested in them. It’s not hard to understand how these things started: like I said, trans people are isolated and often in need, and in the past some trans women have sought aid and support in women’s communities. But not so much ever since some of those communities (not all) chose to turn their backs on trans women. But again, these stories are actually the equivalent of very noisy but very small dogs.

    But what about the larger project, right? What about the end to gendered oppression and patriarchy? There are a couple important things to note here. One of them was perhaps said best by Andrea Dworkin in her writing on trans people, part of which was quoted near the end of the IBTP thread. She said trans people exist in a state of primary emergency which has to be taken care of. And this is right, not just in terms of “sex change operations” like she talked about, but trans people’s lives in general. A large number of trans people–especially all those who don’t enjoy other kinds of privilege–are endangered. Many more are surviving but caught in a very difficult struggle and neogtiation with patriarchal rules and binds that may not be obvious to people whose gender is considered more “stable” by the patriarchy.

    If you have a group of women who are survivors of domestic abuse or are in danger of it in the present, do you say “hey, why aren’t you women out there struggling against the patriarchy? Get with the bigger movement!” No, you make sure they are safe from their oppressors first, that they are taken care of, that they can heal and survive. When a power structure is doing its best to make sure you are ground beneath its heel, sometimes survival, healing, and growing to be able to fight is the MOST revolutionary act. Of course, in an ideal world we’d all learn to be revolutionaries while we heal and grow, but sadly, not all women have *active* feminist consciousness, and not all trans people do either.

    Finally, why are trans people focused on the struggles of trans people? This might seem obvious, but there’s more to it. The specific targeting of trans people by the state, by authorities, by all sorts of violence, was an issue that was dropped by the “gay rights” movement in the late 60s and early 70s. And at the same time, radical feminists started to revile trans people. (At specific events in history, even.) Leaders of the trans community learned that we were going to have to first, survive, and second, live to fight our own fight, because nobody else was going to help us. In the last decade, that has finally started to change, even though now “trans rights” are several decades behind where “gay rights” has won its way to.

    There are many organizations “by and for” trans people that are engaging in political alliance with many other causes, because we can see the interlinked structures of oppression: immigrants rights, anti-racist movements, the struggles of queer youth who are so often homeless and disenfranchised, reproductive rights, and the list goes on. But what about radical feminism? Those bridges were burned first, before anyone else, because some feminists thought that trans people were a threat. They haven’t been rebuilt yet in part because of hateful language like that on IBTP. Someday, I hope it will happen — I know it will — because the real, long-term goal, past survival, past the steps where we start to gain the most meager of political voices, is the dismantling of the same power structures.

    Trans people are ALSO people of color, poor people, students, people with disabilities, HIV+ people, immigrants, women, men, lesbians, fags, queers, youth, etc. There’s no reason there shouldn’t be alliance, except for misunderstanding, mistrust, and hatred. But don’t expect trans people to just jump on the “in the future, all patriarchy and gender will be eliminated” float of the parade when: a) we are still trying to survive, as a population; b) other political groups have made it clear for a long time that they’re not interested in us or that we compromise their political effectiveness; c) some people outright hate on us or question the validity of our existence from the get-go, forcing us to defend ourselves in endless debates that end up making things seem like they’re all about “the individual feelings of trans people.”

    2) “The various aspects of early childhood cognitive development that I’ve learned about suggests to me that socialisation cannot be “undone”.”
    This is a huge assumption on a number of levels.

    First of all, the underlying assumption is that a trans child is socialized and develops cognitively in exactly the same way as a non-trans child who was assigned to the same gender. This is a common assumption because of the belief that trans people are “normal men or women,” or appear to be for all intents and purposes, until one day they decide to transition. This is simply not true. Although a lot of this is not well-understood (and even early cognitive development in general isn’t, leading me to wonder whether your assumption even works for non-trans people) there is plenty of data to suggest that no, trans people do not have “normal childhoods” and may not have “normal brains” either.

    I personally don’t falling back on biological explanations of things, because I believe even biology is socially constructed, but there are several studies now that show that trans people’s brains may develop differently. Many trans people exhibit signs of being trans in childhood or adolescence, sometimes very strongly; a whole lot (maybe a majority or more) of trans people talk about experiencing being trans when very young. Because of all of these things, it is not safe to just assume that a trans man is socialized the same way as a non-trans woman, or that a trans woman has the “normal socialization” of a boy. Although undeniably, children receive privilege differently based on the gender they’re interpreted as, nobdy ever asks the question of, if you are a child who doesn’t understand yourself to be the gender they tell you that you are, how does this affect your gender socialization and the way that you internalize the privileges you receive / don’t recieve? I can tell you from personal experience that it doesn’t fit stereotypes. Of course, a lot of stereotypes are wrong even for individuals who aren’t very markedly “different,” and we ought to remember that a lot of these categories are fuzzy at best. But trans people will tell you that childhood, as a trans person, is extremely different when it comes to “gendering.”

    “Socialization is immutable, and goes according to the patriarchy’s plan” is almost taken to be an axiom of feminist thought in some circles. Is this really better than saying biology = destiny? It’s only a step away. You have your biology, then a doctor sees you, slaps you on the ass, looks between your legs, and THEN your destiny is determined. It’s not a worldview that allows for a lot of the people in the margins, between the lines, on the boundaries, the slippery mistakes that the patriarchy makes and then tries to get rid of. Trying to shoehorn us into or excise us from a political worldview, even one opposing the patriarchy, is doing the same work.

    3) “And the argument that women don’t have shared experiences is also one I would view with suspicion, because of its implications for other political identities formed by oppression (I’m thinking of racial identities here, but that’s just cos it’s on my mind a lot lately — I’m writing a thesis about race relations).”

    This last one is something that has been written about extensively elsewhere. A whole lot of women have been on the sharp end of the stick when it comes to “defining who’s really a woman.” A whole lot of women of color have their OWN political ideas and movements outside of “mainstream feminism” or “radical feminism” because of debates and assumptions about shared experiences. Somehow, when “shared experiences” go up for definition, the definitions that get circled around are the ones of the most privileged, often most numerous women, the ones with the most voice.

    The way you bring this up is that it’s necesesary for political formations. But a whole lot of writing has been done on why it’s not. Many writers (I’m thinking of third wave feminists, and bell hooks, audre lorde, donna haraway) have talked about how “categories” and “splitting things” along “dividing lines” is a very Eurocentric, even patriarchal way of looking at things. And it’s one that always, always, always, always erases or hurts or cuts right across someone’s experience or life or body. There are alternatives that I would urge you and everyone else to investigate: intersections. Networks. Fusions of different experience, across many different kinds of women, into something greater. Exploration of the spaces between and finding the deep and rich meaning there, instead of trying to erase or cut. And we’ve been talking a lot about these things on the blogs I linked above.

    4) There’s a final assumption which isn’t directly in what you wrote but which I think informs a lot of radical feminist thought. This is the idea that sexism, misogyny, the patriarchy’s ideological and physical violence against women, is the primary oppression. The oppression that will cause everything else to fall if we tackle it, so it must be taken down first and should be our focus, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else.

    I firmly believe this point of view is not only wrong, but destructive to feminism and to progressive political movements in general. And it’s not just radical feminism — you see the same attitude in many other camps, notably gay rights, which downplays race and gender, throws immigrants and trans people to the wolves. There is a reason so many other groups, notably women of color, trans people, women with disabilities — women who are “different” do not just straightforwardly trust the “women’s oppression is the first and only important oppression” idea. First of all, who does it benefit? The women who don’t have other oppressions that shape and hem their lives. It’s a “we’ll take care of your stuff later” line that disenfranchised groups have spent years or decades trying to believe in, only to finally realize that it’s an excuse, at least practically speaking.

    Second of all, does it really even work that way? Is oppression a wall with one weak point we have to attack with maximum effort so that the whole thing will fall? Or will we knock one part out and leave the rest standing, so that some people go off and party and leave others still on the bottom of the heap? Especially because in marginalized communities, there are so many people trying to survive, it is not surprising that other types of feminists have adopted a “no one gets left behind” approach and choose to work on intersections of oppression, issues that when you look cloesly, unsurprisingly turn out to affect a LOT of different kinds of people. It allows our communities to work together, to learn more, to become stronger as a group. And if you believe that YOUR oppression is the most important and should be the only one that your people focus on, it’ll be much more difficult to join that fight.

  12. 12 Fire Fly

    Holly, thanks for responding and pointing out those links. From Jack’s latest post it seems this discussion is welcome here, which I’m glad of.

    I’m just gonna have to take a break from this, to sort some things out. It’s not terribly healthy for me to be sitting at a computer right now, and I have work to be doing, but I hope we can get back to talking about it.

    Thanks again, and have a happy new year.

  13. 13 Jack

    Don’t mind at all; thanks, in fact.

  14. 14 Jack

    Not surprising that someone so dismissive of one oppressed group to which she doesn’t belong would be similarly dismissive of another. Obnoxious as hell, but not surprising.

  15. 15 Jack

    And such an excellent take it is. Thanks for writing this, Holly. And don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll be seeking you out to talk more about this and other stuff in the near future. 🙂

  16. 16 Jack

    it highlights what I’d regard as the major drawback to radfem theory: there is nothing else, just the patriarchy. It’s so gender-essentialist that it overlooks all other issues.

    And that’s really the biggest problem that I have with radical feminism, or any other politics that posit one form of oppression as the primary/key/true oppression to be battled.

  17. 17 Jack

    Holly, I’m honored to host conversations like this, especially if it yields goodness such as this. Holy hot damn, that was good. I think I’m going to have to highlight this, actually…

  18. 18 Jack

    This discussion is very much welcome here. Thanks for your participation; even though I might disagree with you, I appreciate the time and thought you put into what you wrote here.

  19. 19 Fire Fly

    Okay, after thinking about it for a bit (and getting away from complicated blog threads), I think some of the problems can be boiled down to a few key dilemmas…

    1. There seems to be nothing within radical feminist theorising about patriarchy that captures the oppressive conditions experienced by trans people. While this might be cause to throw out theorising and categorising altogether, has any attempt been made to conceptualise the oppression of trans people within an analysis of patriarchy as a system?

    There are many aspects of gender transition and gender dysphoria which radical feminists don’t touch. It’s not much of a coincidence that these tend to be the more painful, difficult, and ambiguous parts of trans peoples’ experience. I definitely agree, Holly, that normal models of socialisation don’t necessarily apply to trans people, and radical feminism glosses over this by conceptualising it as “choice”.

    What I’ve seen in blog discussions so far has been critical of radical feminist statements about trans people, and reiterated that trans people are oppressed, but the politics of that oppression haven’t really been conceptualised (I admit that I haven’t read everything; my brain might explode if I try). People seem to be going for the easier route of re-stating the facts of trans oppression, but not its conditions (understandable, given the nature of the hate speech on IBTP and elsewhere, but I think we can move past the ugly tone of those comments).

    2. There’s a lot of anxiety about the dissolution of the category of “woman” and the entitlements that belonging to that category gives people within feminist circles.

    In some ways, this is definitely divide-and-conquer politics. In order to hang onto certain privileges, small though they might be, people are fighting tooth and nail over who gets to access them, and on what basis. (In my experience, people tend to fight harder when the stakes are materially small, but politically high.)

    On the other hand, I can relate to the feeling that transwomen’s needs and concerns are quite different from those of “women-born-women” experiencing patriarchal oppression… In times when I talked about feeling threatened or offended by street harassment, for example, trans friends of mine spoke about their experiences of it in terms of their desire to ‘pass’ being fulfilled. The dissonance was alienating, not least because my friends ignored my feelings.
    Now, I don’t want to dismiss that desire — in many situations, ‘passing’ can literally be a matter of life or death — but at the same time, I don’t want experiences which women have every day (such as men asserting public dominance over them in public spaces) to be discounted because we’ve deconceptualised gender oppression in an effort to be less essentialist. To me, that seems like putting out an eye in an effort to see better because cataracts are deteriorating your vision.

    It’s definitely a matter of concern that it’s a certain group of women who continually get to define the category of “woman” in feminist circles, and also have control over the privileges accruing to people seen as belonging to that category. But at the same time, that’s not the only thing that’s going on here. At the same time, women do experience splintering categorisation by men, and radical feminism is one attempt to develop an oppositional political consciousness within that category, based on the experience of being so categorised.

    I think the anxiety, while it does represent a certain petty vindictiveness, also represents an anxiety that gender oppression will be theorised away as a legitimate political force to organise around.

    3. This brings me back to point 1, above. In my (less than expert, much less) opinion, one of the problems is that radical feminist analysis lacks awareness of the specificity of transgender experiences, and sweeps those experiences under a blanket to avoid their political and theoretical implications for the conceptualisation of gender.

    At this point it might be worth remembering that fear never helps to actually deal with problems.

    Aggressively (and in this case, offensively, hurtfully, and hatefully) reasserting radical feminist concepts of womanhood also depends on a conviction that the only alternative to a narrow political definition of patriarchal genders is a disoriented nihilism which allows oppression to run rampant while removing the power to name or challenge it.

    I’m not going to say that’s not a possibility, but many people haven’t even given their politics the chance to find out.

    I have to say, as someone trained in political economy, I’m suspicious of aestheticist theories that the primary form of power is the power to define and categorise. Categorisation may be powerful, but that doesn’t mean it’s the source of power, and criticising categories doesn’t address material conditions.
    On the other hand, ideological sleights-of-hand happen all the time to the effect that certain material conditions are marginalised in any given political frame. To that extent, I agree that intersections matter, possibly to a greater extent than unilateral analyses of oppression. But at the same time, that doesn’t have to mean that power is theorised away as an effect of categorisation and definition.
    In other words, I think it’s possible to deal with the fact of transgender oppression alongside the fact of women’s oppression under patriarchy.

    Part of that, I think, is dealing openly with transgender experiences rather than trying to subsume them under one category or another to keep political theses intact. It’s imperious of RadFems to exclude transwomen from political participation on essentialist terms; but I think it’s disingenuous for trans-friendly feminists to insist that trans people are entitled to equal participation in gendered social life on the basis that gender essentialism is a flawed ideology. The former ignores trans oppression, while the latter ignores the patriarchal social structure. We have to call into question the legitimacy of any gains made within an oppressive social structure. Not simply because “we could be next” (we could), but because privilege is a zero-sum game; empowerment at someone else’s cost is merely injustice.

    Finally, while all this oppression is real, it doesn’t mean that categories are essentialist. Politics around gender and sexuality seem to have fallen prey to conundrums about essentialism because of a lack of historicity about them. Imagining that gender or sexuality can be universal in form is a highly suspect project, for the reasons you mentioned. But still, it’s problematic when people don’t interrogate the historical and cultural specificity of those forms except towards deconstructive ends. Perhaps because it also calls into question the utopian visions that people conjure up to justify their essentialisms, but constructivism doesn’t have to be nihilistic. It’s just that political change without utopian ideals is much more difficult to measure, and effect, and that’s scary.

    I think a good place to start is what we, as people working towards justice and liberation, need, and how to meet those needs.

    Ugh. I’ve talked a lot. Sorry. I can listen, too. I’ve been somewhat selective about what I read in this blog shuffle, because of time and energy constraints. I don’t mean to monopolise the floor as if my own views mattered more than others’, even though I learn better by conversing. I don’t mean to come off like a know-it-all either. I just hope I’ve contributed something useful to the very productive discussions happening here and elsewhere. I’d like to reaffirm how much I admire the people who are trying to penetrate these issues with critical insight, empathy, and understanding. You’re inspiring.

  20. 20 Holly

    Hey fire fly,

    There’s a lot in your post I really want to respond to, some of it I think makes a huge amount of sense (we absolutely CAN look at oppression of trans people with a lens of analysis of patriarchy as a system) and some of it I find deeply disturbing, at least on the surface (don’t we need to come up with alternatives to privilege as a zero-sum game if we’re going to help various kinds of people survive and fight *together*?)

    As you can see I have trouble not responding to everything right here, but I’m also concerned that we’re writing walls of text that are impenetrable to most other readers. Jack wants to make another post that draws out some ideas from this conversation so that more people can participate, so she’s asked me to hold off from continuing this back-and-forth, and let some more voices into the mix. But I wanted to let you know that I very much want to continue the development of these ideas?

  21. 21 Fire Fly

    That’s perfectly fine. I’m not comfortable with writing essays at each other too, and I’m concerned that other people feel alienated by the “walls of text”. I’ve just been reading for a few days, and I tend to be the type to blurt out all my thoughts in one go after sitting and absorbing.

    I’ve been wondering if I shouldn’t make a post to my own blog, but I’m not sure my friends who read it would understand everything that was at stake. If Jack’s willing to play host, I’m willing to support whatever she wants to do with it. I have no particular attachment to the “long-winded essaying at each other” form of discussion.

  22. 22 Bitch | Lab

    this was great stuff Holly. We’ve been talking around about this, on and off for about 9 months now. It’s refreshing to see it all in one place!

  23. 23 belledame222

    >The problem with a lot of these threads is that there is SO MUCH being said that’s just mind-blowingly backwards that it’s hard to even know where to begin. >


    i haven’t read anything at IBTP since she finally got a micron of a sliver of a clue and booted the most hateful transphobic fucks (who are currently drooling all over the Margins and getting hugs and kisses from Guess Who). i am finding myself a lot mellower toward her when i, like, don’t read her -at all.- it is rather nice i must say.

  24. 24 belledame222

    Here’s my thing, okay: even if you do see everything primarily in terms of “patriarchy,” to -my- mind that is absolutely -not- incompatible with being pro-trans, pro-queer, even pro-prawnstitution, or at least sex work. that’s how -i’ve- always seen it, that’s how at least one transwoman who is also a pro-sub sex worker & calls herself a radical feminist sees it, i think. Why?

    1) The construct is that everyone who isn’t a Real Man ™ is less-than; therefore everyone who isn’t one has that much in common, and can and should be allies

    2) the construct is rigid gender norms as well as body policing, which means that the best way to get away from that construct is not to set up new norms (all the while insisting no that’s not what we’re doing), no new “thou shalt nots,” but rather “do what thou wilt” (as long as you’re not -directly- hurting someone else).

    3) as LL referred to, the great ancient goddesses and pagan cultures were -not- all about Big Nurturing Mama, at least as they tend to think of it; there’s Cybele with her transgendered priestesses, there are the goddesses of sex, the temple prositutes; there’s Kali, the original Domme, dancing in ecstasy on the prone body of her mate.

    these days, in a perverse way i’m grateful to TF and Heart and so on being -so- incredibly assy, because if they hadn’t been i probably wouldn’t have gone farther afield and thus wouldn’t know nearly as much as i’ve learned in the past year about other, interlocking forms of oppression as well as other frameworks for looking at them (anti-racism, post-colonial theory, some kinds of socialism, among other things). it was good for me to grow. and, i am really really skeptical of the way “Patriarchy” has been reified into something like “the Zionist Occupational Government” or “The Illuminati” or simply, “THEM!”

    nonetheless, it’s -something.- it’s just, as you say, not everything. and, there really is no excuse, at the end of the day, for this kind of bigotry. there’s just not. i don’t care what kind of convoluted hooha they dress it up in. as QD once put it,

    “if it looks like bullshit, smells like bullshit, then it IS bullshit.”

  25. 25 belledame222

    (Holly, that long post in the middle there, that was brilliant)

  26. 26 aaron

    so…after some soul-searching, i have realized i am a white, hetero boy with privilege. what should i do now?

  27. 27 Jack

    well, aaron, i think it’s great that you’ve come to that conclusion; acknowledging one’s own privilege is an important step in working against oppression. i don’t know how to answer your question, though, other than saying – read more, learn more. find out how to support oppressed communities – people of color, women, queer and trans folks, etc – in their struggles. donate to or volunteer for good organizations. be aware of power, privilege, and oppression in your own life and in your environment and do what you can to address the issues. good luck to you in all of that! (i mean that genuinely, not sarcastically, just to be clear!)

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