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The Great Trans Debate of Summer 2005

oh please, not that again...

Forum: WMST-L
Date: 08/03/2005

On 8/3/05 6:20 PM, "Bronwyn Winter" wrote:

i note mel's clarification that interesex and TG not related - the fundamental reason, as i see it, for them not being related is that intersex challenges our assumptions about what is biologically 'normal' - so that even 'biological sex' which we take for granted as being 'natural' is *also* culturally constructed.

Intersex bodies just are. They don't exist as theoretical device to challenge anything. Besides, do we really need to look at intersex to realize that biology is also culturally constructed? I mean, didn't we already know that, based on our understanding of how women's bodies are constructed?

TG on the other hand is about rearranging oneself to fit *physically* into a 'gender role' one feels more comfortable with. i.e. it doesn't break down assumptions about sex and gender but reinforces them.

Again, transgender people just are. They don't need to justify their existence by proving their usefulness toward your theorizing. But that said, don't transsexual people "challenge" some of our basic assumptions about sex and gender, that is: that one's anatomy is the basis for her or his gender identity, and that it's unchangeable?

can you imagine us having 'race reassignment surgery'?

No. Only people who imagine such a thing are the bigots who want to discredit transsexual people.

The fact is, transsexual people exist, and they are facing extreme violence and discrimination because of their difference. Things we do can make their lives better or worse--your rhetoric clearly does the latter.

why then, cannot we see this problem in relation to so-called 'gender reassignment' surgery?

Listen, there are ways we can critique and problematize the medical interventions toward transsexual people without demonizing transsexual people. Suggesting that being transsexual is similar to participating in "the worst form of cultural appropriation" is not a reasonable criticism, but a hate speech.

where is the outcry about what has recently happened in my country, where children have been legally allowed to go through 'gender reassignment' before they reach puberty?

I believe that you are talking about the recent court ruling in Australia, and if so you are mischaracterizing the ruling.

In the recent case, a 13-year old trans-identified person was given permission to take *puberty-blocking* pills, not fully "go through gender reassignment." The reason for this is that if the puberty is medically delayed for several years, then this individual will be in a very good position to make a decision as an adolescent several years later. That way, the 13-year old will not be forced to experience the undesirable and irreversible physical changes due to puberty, and keep all options open when s/he is more mature.

The point here is that physical changes due to puberty is irreversible, but puberty-blocking medicine is reversible. If, after several years, the person decided not to go through with the transition, that's fine too: just stop taking the pill and s/he will experience puberty just fine.

You may disagree with the ruling, but please don't mischaracterise it just to make it easier to dismiss.

yes mel, of course TG is not the same thing as intersex. intersex challenges gender, 'gender reassignment', and 'beauty surgery', both reinforce them.

Hello, do you realize that 99% of intersex people simply want to live as ordinary men and women? They are just as gender-comforming as transsexual people, or as the general population for that matter.

and why do we not also see the MTF TG push to occupy women's safe spaces - from lesbian spaces to rape crisis centres, as cultural and political appropriation

Transsexual women are women, so why shouldn't they be welcome in a women's space?

I think it's the height of hypocrisy especially for a lesbian space to exclude transsexual women who are lesbians: many "lesbians" have had straight relationships in the past and fully enjoyed heterosexual privileges back then, but nobody questions their place in a "lesbian" space after all.

it would indeed still seem that the most radical and challenging thing women can do is to claim our own, safe, women-only spaces.

Na, I never felt "safe" in women-only spaces, especially those that claim to be "safe." Sexism isn't the only oppression, ya know.

interestingly, in fact, the main shit fight about TG membership of sydney lesbian space happened among lesbians (in fact it divided the sydney lesbian community), there was very little TG participation in the debate.

Of course--why would any self-respecting transsexual people put themselves through such hostility? I consider it a duty for non-trans people to fight against trans oppression.

now what does *that* say about internalised pressures on lesbians to own, and fight for, everyone's issues but our own, and trivialisation and marginalisation of lesbians when we speak up about *our* issues?

Trans issue is not someone else's issue for lesbians; it's an issue that concerns all lesbians and especially trans people who are lesbians.

When trans women are excluded from a women's space, it's not safe for all other women whose identities are more complicated than "woman." When trans lesbians are excluded from a lesbian space, it's not safe for all other lesbians whose identities are more complicated than "lesbian."

Emi Koyama

-- * Putting the Emi back in Feminism since 1975.

Date: 08/05/2005

On 8/4/05 7:09 AM, "Bronwyn Winter" wrote:

the hostility of your response puzzles me. no-one has asked any individuals to justify their existence. i am not setting out to vilify individuals who identify as transgender,

Then why did you make a suggestion that being transsexual or seeking recognition for one's gender identity as equivalent to the "worst form of cultural appropriation"? Why did you characterise transsexual women's entry to women's space as an "occupation" and "cultural and political appropriation"?

criticism of the culture/ideology of beauty practices is not vilification of women who wear makeup and high heels, criticism of the ideology/culture of marriage and motherhood is not vilification of women who are married and/or mothers.

Correct. But if someone were to go on to suggest that women who wear makeup and high heels are "brainwashed," for example, it becomes a vilification of these women. What you did to transsexual people was similar to this: it wasn't a criticism of the culture/ideology of gender, but a direct attack on who they are.

re the issue of women-only space, we will continue to disagree on this. but i would prefer it if such disagreements could be expressed without resorting to personal insult. such tactics are bullying and silencing.

Then perhaps you could have stated your position on women-only space without resorting to attacks on transsexual women. Callling their entry to women-only space as an "occupation" and "cultural and political appropriation" is clearly an insult, a tactic designed to bully and silence transsexual women into compliance.

Your suggestion that any lesbian who opposes the discrimination against transsexual women are "internalising" the "trivialisation and marginalisation of lesbians" is also an insult.

In fact, you did not state a single coherent reason why transsexual women should be excluded from a women-only space. You basically labeled transsexual women occupiers and their lesbian supporters sellouts, and that's all. If you want to argue about women-only space, then let's do that; don't rely on bullying and silencing tactics like these.

Emi Koyama

-- * Putting the Emi back in Feminism since 1975.

Date: 08/06/2005

On 8/5/05 11:16 PM, "Adriene Sere" wrote:

Emi said that to even imagine doing in terms of race what transgendered people do in terms of gender is "bigoted."

That's not what I said. In my observation and in any available literature, the only people who ponders about the ethic of "racial reassignment surgery" are the people who are bigoted. I never suggested that the act of imagining it is itself bigotry--no, I'm simply pointing out that people who are not bigots do not imagine such a thing to begin with.

Certainly cosmetic surgery and a change of identity were done in terms of race, "occupation" and "cultural appropriation" are the descriptive terms that would be used. Why is Bronwyn so berated for using these terms when it comes to gender?

Because I'm sick of white women using race metaphor to vilify trans people, as if racism is a thing of the past and everyone (at least within feminist circles) is *so* beyond it. I'm sick of the fake outrage white women express as they say "it would be *so* obvious to everyone that it's *so* wrong if it were about race."

The boundary of "people of color" isn't as clear as many of these white women seem to think. There are people who are mix-raced, people who can pass as white, people who were raised by white people and were taught to be white all their lives. The definition of whiteness itself is culturally and historically dependent. I don't believe in creating a Blood Quantum system (or any other singular system designed to draw a clear and unambiguous boundary) to determine who is "of color" enough; and that is exactly the same way I feel about the gender boundaries.

In other words, it's not so much that I want transsexual women to be part of women's space; it's more about the politics of drawing clear and unambiguous boundaries that bothers me. And in that sense, my position on boundaries is perfectly consistent whether we are talking about racial lines or gender lines: I don't believe in creating rigid boundaries, and believe in demilitarizing the borders.

btw, I have had two brief experiences with mtf persons in women-only space, space where I was simply visiting.

There goes the "I have a friend who is XYZ so I'm not prejudiced" trajectory...

But I support Bronywyn's questioning of the assumption of those born and raised male to be accepted as womenand join women-only space just because they insist on it.

Fine, if you think you are in a position to question if someone is a real woman or not, then I'll also question that you are a woman. Don't be surprised if I scream when I find you using the women's restroom.

I certainly think they have a right to insist on respect as human beings, and the right to create their own space.

What are you talking about? When we created "women's space," trans women have always been part of us.

Emi Koyama

-- * Putting the Emi back in Feminism since 1975.

Date: 08/06/2005

On 8/6/05 2:14 AM, "Max Dashu" wrote:

As for having operations to change genitals and taking hormones, I'm not convinced that they do challenge the cultural prescription that anatomy is the basis for gender identity.

First of all, I wasn't trying to argue that it's great to be transsexual because they challenge cultural assumptions. My main argument was that it's not the point for transsexual or intersex persons to challenge cultural assumptions, and that they shouldn't be expected to break down binaries any more than other people.

That said, I was disagreeing with Bronwyn's point that intersexuality challenges cultural assumptions but transsexualism doesn't. I don't think it's not the point of either intersexuality or transsexualism to challenge anything, but if she were to say that intersex challenges cultural assumptions, then transsexuality also challenges a different set of cultural assumptions (while leaving other assumptions unchallenged, of course).

It's just like being lesbian. Claiming lesbian identity does challenge some cultural assumptions (compulsory heterosexuality, women's position relative to men in male-d ominated society, etc.) but at the same time it leaves other assumptions (gender binarism, compulsory monosexism, etc.) unchallenged. I just think it's illogical to bash transsexuality as "not challenging" cultural assumptions while celebrating intersexuality and lesbianism for "challenging" them.

I'm not interested in interfering with people's choice to undergo physical modifications, but am concerned about what I am hearing from butch lesbians I know personally who are reporting intense pressure to "transition" into men.

Pressure exists both ways, depending on where you are: there are pressure for butch women to "transition" in some circles, and there are pressure for trans-identified people to not "transition" in others. And this is something we can all join together to work on: there shouldn't be any pressure interfering with people's choice to transition or not to transition.

The trans movement is about self-determination, and not about coercing more people to transition. To say that trans movement pressures people to transition is just like saying that the pro-choice movement wants there to be as many abortions as possible, as Rush Limbaugh has once stated. No, pro-choice is pro-choice and self-determination is self-determination.

Of course, that doesn't mean that privately there aren't any peer pressure to transition among peer groups--however, there are also peer groups where there is a pressure to not transition. The important point is that as a movement, the trans movement is for self-determination and against coercion.

She was infuriated at the insistence that her body had to be made to conform with culturally assigned traits, that "woman" could not include who she was.

To refuse to accept her as a woman is just as offensive as refusing to accept transsexual women as women. I don't understand why some people consider this same act (defining "woman" so narrowly that many people who identify and live as women everyday are excluded from it) is offensive when it happens to a non-transsexual woman, and yet an acceptable feminist position when it happens to a transsexual woman.

This is a kind of "policing" you are not going to hear about in queer theory classes, but it is real. I see a lot of silencing going on around these issues, a lot of shouting-down, with "bigotry" being the favorite cry to silence dissenting voices.

I don't understand: what this friend of yours is experiencing is similar to what many transsexual women are experiencing, namely that someone else had defined "woman" in such way that they are excluded from it against their will. How does trans people's confronting such "policing" silence her?

We are basically outraged about the same problem here, but somehow you are making it sound like people who support trans people's right to transition are to blame for causing the pressure for non-trans people to transition. That is such a twisted logic--it almost reminds me of conservatives' rhetoric against same-sex marriage, which is that it destroys families. There's no basis or logic to what's suggested here.

I just have to say, I don't trust the omission of male privilege from consideration here. Gender identification and "performance" is not everything; how you are raised, your chores and opportunities and mobility, your personal history of being treated as a male or a female in a patriarchal society, all have profound effects.

I agree--those who have been treated as a male in a patriarchal society must recognize and confront her or his privilege (as do people who are not transsexual in a cissexist society). But we also need to stop seeing male privilege as absolute or universal: our lives are more complicated than just being raised as a male or a female, and the experience of "being treated as a male or a female" varies widely depending on many other factors.

It's easy to say that all (cissexual) women share the "experience of being raised as a girl under patriarchal oppression," but in reality these same words do not mean the same thing for all women. Given that, I have no problem accepting transsexual women's childhood as a very unique form of girlhood, even if it's not typical. Is there any logical reason that her childhood experiences are any more different than all the unique experiences that women may have? And who is "policing" the boundaries of "woman" now?

Emi Koyama

-- * Putting the Emi back in Feminism since 1975.

Date: 08/07/2005

On 8/6/05 "Suzanne Franks" wrote:

Transsexuals are not the only people qualified to think analytically about the issues involved in transsexualism.

Agreed, but I also believe that, as members of the dominant group, cissexual people discussing transsexualism must have a basic level of sensitivity toward the minority group that the issues they are discussing impact.

Now, I AM willing to concede that there may be a difference between wanting to have "race reassignment" surgery and wanting to have "gender reassignment" surgery. But if that is so--then what is the difference?

The very fundamental difference we must understand *even* before starting this conversation is that "race reassignment" surgery is just a thought experiment, while "sex reassignment" surgery is a lived and embodied experiences of real humans. All I am asking for is the sensitivity toward people whose lives the discussion will touch upon, which has been completely absent from the people who have been making this race analogy. This particular analogy is routinely brought up by people who already disaprove of transsexual existance as a cheap shot to discredit and dismiss transsexual people, and it was no exception this time around.

I'm sure there are plenty of drug companies that are more than happy to tell the transsexual community that partaking of hormones lifelong is good for you, and that consuming drugs to delay puberty is entirely harmless

You seem to be implying that transsexual people are ignorant cosumners of medicine, which is extremely offensive. There is a huge interest in health issues among transsexual communities, and it's not just about obtaining hormones and surgeries. Trans activists are vigorously critiquing medical technologies that are offered to them, and pushing for more studies to make their medical interventions safer. Why would you assume otherwise?

On 8/7/05 12:21 AM, "Max Dashu" wrote:

many lesbians I know are wary for a variety of reasons, not least the over-the-top name-calling broadband denunciations of feminists in the GLBT press over this issue over the past decade and a half.

The reason you read denounciations in press is because these publications first publish columns and essays that are critical of transsexual people or movement, and then other people respond denouncing that. In other words, critics of transsexual issues have not been silent as you claim.

But the demonizing is too much fun, and altogether safe in a society that attacks feminism from every conceivable direction.

It's not fair to characterise these "denounciations" as "attacks" on feminism. The authors of such "denounciations" are not attacking feminism, but are making a feminist case for transsexual inclusion.

I am encouraged by occasional voices of MTFs who are disturbed at this pattern and express understanding and sensitivity around issues like the much-maligned women's space.

Women's spaces are not maligned by trans activists. The policy excluding some women from the women's space is what is being challenged.

To characterise efforts to end the discrimination as attacks on feminism or women's space is similar to how war-mongers call you unpatriotic and traitors for opposing the war.

In the brave new PoMo world, we have been admonished that there is no communitarian interest for women, that the many differences render this category meaningless.

It's ironic how transsexual people are attacked for not breaking down categories enough, and yet also attacked for rendering categories meaningless. Please at least pick either and stick with it, okay?

> To refuse to accept her as a woman is just as offensive as
> refusing to accept transsexual women as women.

I don't agree with this equation.

Why? I thought that you and I agreed that everyone deserves the same respect, safety and liberty... Or, did you mean to say that everybody deserves them, but some more than others?

You can accept transsexual women's right to self-identification, to define their identity, without insisting that their experience is the same

On the contrary, I'm insisting that transsexual women's experiences are unique. That said, I don't think there's any reason to assume that their experiences are any more unique than all other women's unique experiences.

Some do not see transwomen as their peers, because their life experience is different and because of behaviors that are culturally-taught and imbibed.

Right, and I really don't see Condoleezza Rice as my peer either, but unlike some people I don't have the bloated sense of entitlement to enforce that feeling onto other women.

You are critical of woman-only space as excluding transwomen against their will, but your solution becomes forcing the women who seek that space to admit transwomen against _their_ will.

Why do you insist that the dominant group is entitled to decide if, when and how they would include the "other"?

Also, it's not accurate to say that my solution "forces" someone something because I don't have such power. What I do is similar to what feminists have been doing around the exclusion of women from the Augusta National Golf Club: lacking legal authority to force Augusta to open up membership to women, we first tried to persuade the club to change its policies, and when that was unsuccessful we asked business leaders, Masters Tournament and others to stop patronizing or legitimatizing the club. That is exactly what I'm doing around women-only space.

The crucial ingredients are trust and good faith, which can not be demanded but only earned and freely given.

Your statement would make sense if all women had to earn it before they can enter the space. But if Condoleeza Rice and Margaret Thatcher can enter the space, then it really has nothing to do with trust or good faith. Why are transsexual women the only ones to have to prove themselves?

The differences between being raised as a girl or a boy are considerable: countless patterns of favoritism versus secondary status, leisure versus housework, etc, etc, etc.

That's not what I asked for. I am asking you to show that the between-group (i.e. raised girl vs. raised boy) difference is more fundamental, severe or significant than the within-group (i.e. among raised-girls) variation. Unless that can be shown, and I don't think it can be because it's not true, the existence of between-group difference cannot be used as a reason to exclude transsexual women from women's spaces.

On 8/7/05, "Rebecca Whisnant" wrote:

Because if Frye is right, then those who are relatively powerless HAVE to "police boundaries"--that is, make decisions and control access to themselves and their spaces and activities--in order to effectively get more power than they now have.

Interesting point. My response is that the soceity is not so simple that it's made out of just masters and slaves, but there are many whose identities are hybrid or multiple who occupy the borderlands of racial, gender and other constructed boundaries. I am not arguing that everyone should be able to come in and out as they please; I am arguing however that at least those whose bodies and spaces on which the boundaries are drawn should be able to cross that boundaries freely without having to prove their status with documents.

In other words, I don't oppose "women-only" space, but I oppose any attempt to institute any one official definition of "women" that is clear and unambiguous. To draw any such line would always cut through someone's flesh and bleed--and I am not just speaking figuratively here.

If we agree that women should sometimes be able to exclude or avoid people who are uncomplicatedly men, then we have to confront the question of just *how* uncomplicated a person's womanhood has to be in order to not be excluded from a particular space or activity or group.

There's a jump in your logic here: why does excluding people who are "uncomplicatedly men" necessarily lead to questioning any other person's place in a women's group? And why do you believe that "uncomplicated" women should have such enormous power over "complicated" ones? Who among us is completely "uncomplicated" woman? Do you even realize that your argument could easily be used to justify exclusion of lesbians from women's spaces? ("In order to keep 'us' safe from unwanted sexual attention!")

It might sometimes shade over into, or be inflected by, bigotry, and that should always be challenged. But it is not bigotry in and of itself.

Sounds like "when you're excluded, it's not bigotry; but when I'm excluded, it's bigotry."

Rather, to *deny* women some significant latitude to make these kinds of access-denying judgments seems to me, as it does to Max, very problematic.

And who are the "women" who should have should be afforded such latitude? The most gender-normative, gender-comforming ones?

Emi Koyama

-- * Putting the Emi back in Feminism since 1975.