Transphobia in Feminism’s Clothing

So much for not diving into the fray – since I started commenting on this rather flippant response from Twisty, I may as well dash off some really late night thoughts that have been knocking around in my head. (by the way, I’m Jack on that thread, not JackGoff, for clarification’s sake. And the comments are looking to get just as messy as the ones that started this whole brouhaha. Once again, some of the comments are a sight worse than any flippancy, silence, or writing on Twisty’s part.)

Society teaches us to be transphobic, just as it teaches us to be all sorts of nasty things. Being queer or trans both violate cardinal rules about what it means to be a proper man or woman in our society. Traditional understandings of gender and sexuality are deeply ingrained and are drilled into us from a very early age. So it’s no small wonder that many folks wind up being homophobic and transphobic, just as most people wind up with sexist, racist, classist, ableist, and all sorts of other prejudicial views – which, in turn, we all have an obligation to challenge in ourselves and overcome.

I believe that some self-named feminists try to hide their own transphobia under the guise of feminism. By claiming that one’s anti-trans views are really just about being a feminist and anti-patriarchal, one creates a convenient moral shield for one’s own prejudices. If, in turn, someone challenges those ideas as transphobic prejudice, one can easily accuse the challenger of being sexist, anti-feminist, or simply not respecting one’s feminism or woman-centrism or what have you. And since, quite often, those trans-positive challengers consider themselves to be feminists as well, it’s a great cheap shot – “You don’t like my pro-women views? Huh, that’s not very feminist of you, is it?” As if one must make a choice between supporting trans people and supporting non-trans women.

I think that one of the most telling aspects of this transphobia dressed up as feminism is the double standard, for lack of a better phrase, that is exhibited towards trans women and trans men by some anti-trans feminists. Oftentimes, I see people claiming that trans women can never truly escape or abandon their “male” privilege and the “male threat” that they somehow pose towards non-trans women (see the arguments about trans women making women’s bathrooms unsafe.)

Alright – so apparently, trans women are always “still men” to some degree, entertaining that view for a brief moment. So what about trans men? Are they embraced by these same anti-trans feminists because of their apparently intrinsic and inescapable womanhood, their continued inherent lack of male privilege? Seems like the logical continuation, right?

Wrong. Trans men are either demonized for taking on male privilege and turning their backs on women, or are patronizingly pitied for being self-hating women duped by their own internalized oppression. Now, following that logic, wouldn’t one think that trans women might be embraced by these feminists for voluntarily shedding their male privilege and aligning themselves in solidarity with other women? Nah – see above.

And who knows where genderqueer folks like myself fall with these feminists. I’m sure they’d have something dismissive, disempowering, and/or vilifying to say about our identities. Luckily, we’re still ignored enough to be spared such commentary.

Well then, it seems like you’re screwed, one way or another, unless you stay right where you belong: within the gender assigned to you at birth, a gender based on biological essentialism, a gender determined by a patriarchal, sexist system of sex and gender roles. Huh. Somehow, that doesn’t sound very feminist to me.

Rather, it seems like a very convenient way to twist feminism in order to protect one’s own transphobia. Hell, feminism has been twisted to protect folks’ racism, sexism, and classism in the past, so I suppose it’s not so surprising that transphobia would get the same treatment.

These folks don’t like trans women, and they don’t like trans men. They can cry feminism all they want, but all I hear is the same “OMG EW TRANS GROSS!!!” that I hear from your average sexist homophobe. Sad, really.

Note: since this was a 3am post, I’ll likely be doing a good deal of editing to it. So please point out any glaring typos, and if you see any sudden changes, that’s why!

30 Responses to “Transphobia in Feminism’s Clothing”

  1. 1 ArrogantWorm

    Nicely put, I think that’s the first time I’ve every seen that double standard put so clearly and simply, and best of all, in easy to understand format. Been trying to pin down that concept for months, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, as it kept squiggling away. The same people who hold those views also have a very nasty habit of putting ftm’s in the ‘victim’s’ place in some sort of patriarchal agenda, what with insisting we’re deluded, which I consider a nice way to say “Don’t blame them, because they’re still women.” It also occurs to me that they can’t think very highly of themselves if they place all women there.

  2. 2 BritGirlSF

    Followed you back from your comment on my blog, hope you don’t mind.
    Honestly, I think there’s a lot of nasty stuff that hides under the banner of feminism, just like a lot of nasty stuff masquerades as liberalism, or Marxism, or any other ism. Unfortunately even the most dedicated activists are as prone to suffering from warped thinking as anyone else.
    I must admit I have major issues with Twisty. Don’t get me wrong, she’s smart and funny and interesting, but I think she has some major blind spots around the issue of sex in general. Unfortunately she is not unique in that regard. I run into stupid, narrow-minded, prejudiced thinking masquerading as feminism all the time.
    Personally I don’t understand why we can’t just allow people to define themselves to a large extent. If someone is trans and self-defines as belonging to a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth, what exactly is the problem with that? I think what you’re running into is that there are 2 basic schools of feminist thought – one that says women deserve equality because we’re people, and the other that says we deserve equality because we’re somehow inherantly nicer people than men and would naturally do a better job of running things. I don’t have much patience for the second school. It sounds a little too much like “ew, men are icky!” to me, and I’m not 5. I don’t think that “things I find icky are clearly wrong” is a great way to define one’s political stance. It’s childish.
    I’m mulling over another post about the this whole issue, do you mind of I reference your post?

  3. 3 brownfemipower

    Good god you’re back!!!! YAY!!!!!!!!!!!! and thank you SO much for writing this, it really clarifies things…

    YAY, you’re BACK!!!

  4. 4 Winter

    Yes. Thank you for cutting through the crap so well.

  5. 5 Jack

    Glad you liked it. I agree about the tendency to put women in this eternally victimized state; seems contrary to any ideas about women’s agency.

  6. 6 Jack

    Don’t mind at all, thanks for reading and commenting. Word on the “icky” business. And please, reference at will.

  7. 7 Jack

    I need to take a little break from blogging more often, these fanfares upon returning are great for the ego! 😉

    I’m glad you appreciated this. And I hope you come back soon, too!

  8. 8 Jack

    Thanks for reading!

  9. 9 Dylan

    This was an excellent post. Thank you for writing it. The connection between feminism and transphobia is one that requires a lot of unpacking and you’ve made some great head way here. Attending an all women’s college, I see this issue a lot regarding transmen as students and it saddens me the way administrators have convoluted the definition of feminism to exclude trans students. Especially in an institution that is striving to unpack racism, sexism, homophobia ect. Even inclusive spaces police their borders with vigilance.

  10. 10 Holly

    Yay! I’m really glad you have weighed in here and on other blogs, Jack. You’re smart and eloquent and we’ve had enough crazy conversations over bad documentaries and on long car rides for me to know you’re right on.:D

    (aka n.c.)

  11. 11 ilyka

    This was so great. I wish I had something smarter to say about it than that, but I don’t. Just perfect.

  12. 12 greymatters


    This is such a large, beautiful concept — one that I struggle and grapple with, still. Simply be being a mere human.

    Terrific thoughts ABB. Thank you.

  13. 13 KH

    True, true, & true. Nicely put.

  14. 14 belledame222


  15. 15 Denise

    Great post. Well done.

  16. 16 debbie

    Wow. All it takes is a nasty transphobic blow up in the feminist blogosphere for one of my favourite bloggers to return to blogging! I was shocked and happy to see a whole bunch of new posts turn up in my RSS reader.

  17. 17 beansa

    Oh, I’m glad I found this blog. Your post somehow had the effect of popping a valium, which is not to say that it made me sleepy, no, your words just helped to calm all the conflicting thoughts running round my brain.

    It was really painful to read the twisted logic some people were employing to try to validate their transphobia, thank you for sorting out and concisely debunking their positions.

  18. 18 Thirza

    Great post, I read those threads for 10 hours and it made my head explode in anger. The one comment that sticks out for me is their self-righteous statement that they are not here to support “other so called oppressed bodies” (not people, bodies), and that they don’t want to be anyone’s “mommy.” It’s pretty disturbing when white feminists openly and unashamedly admit that they care not a whit about other minorities and oppressed groups, as long as white women have the same rights as white men. Not only that, but to assume that aligning oneself with trans/POC/disabled/queer/etc people means taking on a parental stance in advancing equality. What a way to infantilize us. Anyway, thanks for writing about transphobia in feminism, this whole event has really shown a side of white feminism that I sometimes forget exists.

  19. 19 Jack

    Thanks, Dylan.

    I think that issues around women-only spaces, like women’s colleges and, of course, the infamous Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, are complex. To be specific, I see the complexity lying not around trans women’s inclusion – it it’s women’s space, then shouldn’t it include all women? – but rather, around trans men’s inclusion. Are women’s spaces and other exclusive/closed spaces important? Yes. Do we need a more nuanced understanding of gender oppression that might cause certain spaces to become open to all people who are oppressed for their genders – women, trans folks, genderqueers? Yes. It can be difficult stuff to suss out.

  20. 20 Jack

    Thanks as always for your smarts, Holly. Glad to see you around the blogosphere and especially here on this blog, goodness knows we can use a voice like yours!

  21. 21 Jack

    Yeah, I’m always up for a good internet spat. 🙂 Thanks for reading and responding!

  22. 22 Jack

    Infantilization and dismissal seem to be the order of the day for those folks. Thanks for reading!

  23. 23 A.J. Luxton

    The same people who hold those views also have a very nasty habit of putting ftm’s in the ‘victim’s’ place in some sort of patriarchal agenda, what with insisting we’re deluded, which I consider a nice way to say “Don’t blame them, because they’re still women.” It also occurs to me that they can’t think very highly of themselves if they place all women there.

    I think I know where some of the “male privilege”-crying transphobia comes in with interactions between these particular cisgendered women and trans women. I’m not sure, but I have a theory.

    People raised as male are generally taught that it’s OK to hold opinions and defend them in certain sorts of ways. They are not encouraged to think of themselves as victims, as acted-upon-helplessly-by-other-people.

    A person with the victim viewpoint will frequently find themself in a position of difficulty in relating with people who don’t assume they are helpless in various ways.

    I’ve heard women being called complicit with the patriarchy for making their own choices, and caring to speak of them, many times. I realize there is internalized sexism, and that I am predisposed to spend less worry on it than many people because of my own genderqueer status, but there is also a normative, one-true-female-way current that rides on the victim ticket and I have a truckload of problems with it.

    To this viewpoint, when a female-assigned person says “I’m not helpless, I can take responsibility for my own choices” it’s because xe’s internalized the patriarchy! When a male-assigned person, who has entered a female identity, says (or acts like) “I’m not helpless, I can take responsibility for my own choices” it’s because she’s carrying male privilege! This logic reads “self-confident” as “male.”

  24. 24 Karen

    Interresting the Michigan Womans festival is now open to post-op.T. Just found out the other day that I’m no longer a transsexual. I’m now classified as a inter-sex person. That comes from HBS (Harry Benjiam Syndrom. Look up HBS on the inter-net

  25. 25 Karen S

    Well, um, no, it is not open to post op Transwomen. That was amply pronounced last summer by Lisa Vogel’s letter. While I wish it were not true…it is, and I will respect this edict. If I wish to claim my right to define my own identity, I must recognise it in others. I know who I am, and what I have lived through. I realise that some women have other opinions as to what has happened in my life. Let’s talk.

    Yes, I myself am a “post-op” transwoman (if you really must know) and while the Harry Benjamin Syndrome idea is certainly interesting, it is innacurate to say that it is anything more than a theory, right now. We just do not know. Yet We know the processes involved in brain development. What actually results, is still in the hypothetical stage.

  26. 26 Imogen

    Hey, thanks for writing about this. I like you.

  27. 27 Noah

    If folks are interested in these issues, Julia Serano expands on them a bunch in her new book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. It’s not totally there on issues of race, but I still got tons out of it and highly recommend it.

  28. 28 Ramon Reyes

    VERY,….very well written and thought out. In the mid eighties I thought things were changeing and I thought AT LAST!!! Then to see that HOPE slip away. I believe the AIDS virus had a lot to do with that castration to the gender oppressed movement. To be told and doctrinized that you are (mostly) genetically male. Therefore you must be and act to the male conforms that make-up the socially acceptable male. IS utterally cruel. I am woman shackled and imprisoned by body and the (moral?) majority.

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