A Pox on the Patriarchy
This is the blog to which I am responding: http://image-not-available.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/we-need-to-stop-pouring-buckets-of-shit.html
First of all, I just want to say thank you so much for reaching out and starting this conversation. It is so so good to feel that we might be seeing the beginnings of a genuine debate, that takes place where we all start from a position of mutual respect, and an understanding that no-one is operating from the basis of wanting to be nasty, evil, or tell anyone else how to live their lives. It is on this basis, that I think this conversation – which is so vital that we have – can take place. So again, thank you for taking the time to write your blog – and thank you for trusting me with your experience, and for believing that I won’t dismiss or abuse you.
“And more importantly, we need to stop this. It sucks the energy out the room. In fact it replaces that energy with a self defeating violence that serves only to make women – any women, with any history – weaker and more vulnerable to the bigger prejudices we all face. Not since the Church of England got stuck in a fruitless debate about sexuality and women bishops for ten years has a group that should be pulling together indulged in more pointless self destruction.”
This quotation, which I consider to be the heart of your post, is one I could not agree more strongly with. My feeling is that trans women and women who have been socialised as women since birth, have so much more that unites us than divides us. We both face sexism. We both face the spectre of male violence. We both are told that what we are, what we want to be, is deviant and wrong. We both have strangers presuming to proclaim on our inner lives, demanding that we show them parts of our bodies. We are both coded as violable. Since these are shared fights, and since these fights are incredibly important, I think it is incredibly sad that we spend so much time fighting with each other – and not listening to each other. Especially since I firmly believe that we can learn from each other – women socialised as women from birth can offer the insight of what to expect in terms of reduced social status and increased vulnerability. In how to negotiate a world in which your body marks you out as violable and not quite human, in which your voice is delegitimised, in which you become unable to testify to your own experience – because we have had to develop strategies to deal with this from day one. Similarly, trans women can offer insight into the journey into female socialisation from male socialisation – I think the insight that you can offer of the journey to being treated as a member of the subordinate class can highlight things that sometimes we simply don’t see because we are so used to it. I know I go on about pockets a lot, but I do actually think clothing is an interesting example of this. Why on earth would women know that male clothes have proper pockets? I didn’t know. I just thought clothes weren’t / couldn’t be made like that, rather than that the clothing industry has simply decided I don’t need pockets because I will always want to cart a pretty bag around. This is just a very simple example, but I think it’s an illustrative one. I also think that even where we do already know where we are receiving unfair treatment, it can be validating to hear a trans woman talk about how things have changed for her. That sounds awful. But what I mean is that, for me, and I think possibly for a lot of women, because the normal position is just for men to deny that we are being treated differently, it can sometimes feel like “well is this all in my head?” A trans woman the other day telling me about how she found she was being increasingly talked over and interrupted – by men who knew her before she started transitioning – made me feel this sense of relief that here was some PROOF. And I think those stories, those shared experiences of being treated as second-class should bind us closer together.
I’ll just address the points you raised in your blog now (briefly as this is running on!)
I do not at all think that cis is not needed because we could just say normal. I don’t want to say normal at all. Normal is the opposite of what I want to say. I do not consider the gender into which I have been socialised to be normal; I consider it to be oppressive. I think it’s very different to heterosexual, since to be heterosexual is to a) have an active desire that you are aware of, whereas for me, gender is not something I feel within me, so much as an external set of behaviours that I feel have been imposed upon me, and b) to be heterosexual is without question the dominant and privileged position – whereas for a woman to be marked as a woman from the day she was born, is the opposite of a privilege. It makes her likely to be raped, beaten, spoken over, belittled, demeaned, denied education…all the things that we know make up the oppression of women as a class. It is not because I object to having a name for something I consider to be normal: it is because I want to fight against the idea that this is normal or natural.
What you describe of your experience sounds to me like what I think is described as dysphoria. The sense that your body is not the right one. I cannot imagine what a painful experience that must be. I know I am lucky not to feel like that – that although I fight every day against the way my body is read (and in fact, like most women, hate my body with a passion and wish it could be smaller, less curvy, less *womanly*, could take up less space), I nevertheless have never felt that I simply could not survive within it. And as I said in my post, I had felt that cis could be a useful term if it meant nothing more than that my body was one I felt I could live with. But I have seen that that is not how it is used – I have seen many ways in which it is used that mean that I have to say I am privileged for being allowed from birth to be socialised as a woman – and there is not a day that goes by that I do not experience a reminder of just how shit it is to be born into the class woman. So I can’t accept that. Many people have said to me since I wrote that post, “cis just means not-trans”. But this won’t do. For a start, as I said, what these people claim does not cohere with what actually happens in reality. But beyond this, while the idea of what trans is, is so fluid, I don’t think it makes sense to say cis means not-trans, since there doesn’t seem to be a clear definition of what trans actually means. What makes a person trans? Because I’ve seen people say you don’t need dysphoria to be trans – so then cis does not apply to me, because for me the only thing I can see as being privileged about being born into this marked body, is that I *can* live in it, despite hating it and what it brings me.
It’s not that I think I don’t need a word to describe my experience – on the contrary: it is what I am fighting for. It is that I think cis is the wrong word. I think that all women, both trans and those who have been socialised so from birth do, as you put it, labour “under social and cultural prejudices which deny them the right to define themselves”. Women are not allowed to define themselves; they have an oppressive definition imposed upon them. So if cis means that we don’t, then cis does not describe us.
Regarding people identifying precisely as transgender, I have absolutely no problem with that; my only issue is that if in order for a person to identify as transgender, they rely on me to be their binaristic opposite. I don’t think it’s fair to ask that your identity rely on someone else defining themselves in a certain way. I think it’s oppressive – and even more so if the person on whom you are relying for your identity is oppressed by the identity you want them to identify with. (too many identifies/identities in that sentence! But hopefully you get my meaning)
You say “If you are faced with the challenge of making the world let you live as you are because of these inner needs, those who do not face them are cisgender whether they find that a useful word for them or not”. But I do face those challenges. Every woman does, Because unlike men, we are not considered fully human. And I am human. I am just as complex and rational and emotional, and interested and variable as a fully human man. But the world does not want to let me live like that. It does not want to let any woman live like that. Because the concept of what a man is rests on the concept of a woman as his irrational emotive bodily subordinate. Man is mind and woman is body. Man is God and woman is nature. Man is reason and woman is irrational emotion. But that is not what I am. I am not woman as it has been defined by the world – and yet the world will not let me live as if I am other than that, because the world perceives me because of my body, as woman, and this is what woman means in this world.
I’m going to leave it there as I’m aware I’ve rambled on a lot. I hope that this makes my position a bit clearer. I do not want to deny the right of any trans woman to live as she pleases. I just want the right to be able to continue to fight against the oppression of the class into which I was socialised from birth.
Thanks again for starting this conversation : ) I think you are doing a brilliant thing and I feel like this might be the start of a really productive movement, where we can all work together to really change things for all women : )