“Mutilation”

Last year I made a decision not to use the words “mutilation” or “delusional” when talking about trans people. That’s because detransitioners have been patiently explaining why these words are harmful. On a rare occasion I might call someone’s worldview “delusional” if they are being particularly ridiculous in the things they say, but I don’t make blanket statements that to be transgender is always a “delusion.” Gender dysphoria is clearly a real condition, and there are real feelings involved that are hard to explain, and people might not always make sense when trying to explain how they feel but it’s normal for feelings not to make sense. My feelings don’t always make sense either. (I do, however, expect people to make sense when they are laying out their political position.)

There are still lots of radfems and other trans critical folks who call people delusional and name their surgeries as mutilation. Here is an angry rant by Carey Callahan about it:

I’m a little bit in between two groups sometimes. I am a radical feminist but I don’t always like the way my sisters engage online. Sometimes I try to explain to them that when you yell at people that they’re delusional and mutilating themselves, that’s overly hostile and alienating language and it’s going to do nothing but make them hate feminists. Nobody on Earth says, “Oh, this person is saying really horrible stuff to me and my community, I think I will therefore do a whole bunch of reading to understand what their political position is in case it might benefit me.” Nope. They will just yell back or block you.

I believe that the radical feminist analysis of gender is excellent and helpful for everyone. That means I want to present it in an accessible way that people feel they can listen to. The last thing I want to do is alienate people from it.

There are a couple of problems with calling people who transition “mutilated.” One problem is that it’s unnecessarily hostile. As Carey points out in her video, women get mastectomies for all sorts of reasons besides gender presentation. Sometimes it’s for health reasons, such as getting breast reductions for large breasts that are causing back problems, or complete removal due to breast cancer. There are various surgeries performed for health reasons that will leave scars. It is never appropriate to call a surgical scar a mutilation because this is just straight-up rudeness toward the person. How do you expect someone to feel when you call them mutilated? The other problem with calling people who transition “mutilated” is that this hostile language is not being directed at people who make non-gender-related body modifications. There is no group of people who make a hobby out of finding women who have had Botox injections or breast enhancements and lamenting together about these “mutilations.” I expect that people who consider body modification mutilation probably find it mutilation in every case, but they are focusing their complaints on one kind of body modification. This really does make it look like they are simply being hostile toward transitioners.

While we’re on this subject, it’s also not okay to tell people who transition that they’re “betraying all women” or that they’re “breaking your heart.” Let’s talk first about “betraying all women.”

Feminism isn’t about controlling what personal choices women can make, it’s about making material changes in the world to end male supremacy and male violence against women, in order to liberate us from oppression. If it’s possible that women are “betraying all women” by making the wrong personal choices, then lots of women are “betraying all women” all the time, particularly those of us in rich countries. First world women buy clothes and electronics that were made in sweatshops by poor women, and some of our food is imported from poor countries and was grown by people not earning much money, many of them women. So if our personal choices mean we are “betraying all women,” then all the women in rich countries typing this phrase on their smart phones are also betraying all women. And any woman who wears makeup or high heels, who does anything to please men, who works in advertising selling harmful products to women, who does modelling or dieting or shoe shopping, are all betraying all women. I think the phrase “betraying all women” should be reserved only for women deliberating working politically to take away rights from women, but not for women who are doing what they need to do to survive in the world. If a female transitioner does political work to take away women’s rights, then she’s betraying all women with her political work, but she’s not inherently betraying all women just from the act of taking hormones. Someone could theoretically take hormones and also do political work on behalf of women.

It’s also not okay to tell people that their transition is breaking your heart. That’s because it’s never okay to go up to random people and tell them their personal choices are breaking your heart. You don’t go up to people who are wearing leather and say “Your choice to wear leather is breaking my heart” or go up to someone who got a weight-loss-related stomach surgery and say “Your surgery is breaking my heart.” Those decisions probably break some people’s hearts, but that’s still not something you say to them. So why is it okay to tell people who transition that their personal decision is breaking your heart? It’s not the responsibility of complete strangers to live their lives in a way that fixes your broken heart for you.

You might be asking yourself why I’m defending people’s right to make body modifications if I’m against body modifications. It’s a hard thing to explain, but I’ll try. I think that viewing your body as something that is wrong and that needs to be fixed is the wrong approach to take toward your body. I think that having a positive view of the natural body that you were born with is a blessing that you deserve, and you should work toward self-love and acceptance rather than trying to change yourself. The approach that if something is “wrong” then you should “fix” it may not ever bring you happiness, because you can always find something else that is wrong, and you could keep “fixing” yourself forever, without ever being satisfied. I also think that since surgery is risky and does constitute an injury to the body, it should be avoided whenever possible. However, I do believe in personal autonomy to the extent that if you really want to modify yourself, you have the right to do so. I may not agree with your decision, but it’s your body, not mine. I am not advocating for shutting down plastic surgery clinics or stopping people from having surgeries. What I think we should do is create a culture that values our natural bodies and that values human safety and dignity and that doesn’t ever cause body dissatisfaction in the first place, and I think that the widespread body hatred we see in society is a sign of a social problem. I don’t think we should advertise anything that people use to “perfect” themselves like makeup, diet products, plastic surgery of any sort, or weight-loss surgery. People are just fine the way they already are, and the advertisement of these things promotes body hatred and promotes the view that we need to “fix” ourselves.

We don’t need fixing. And we shouldn’t belittle people’s bodies, whether natural or modified.

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55 thoughts on ““Mutilation”

  1. I agree, great post. I think it is also important to remember that if you are arguing online, chances are there is a silent audience. You might not think that carefully laid out and kindly worded points will have much of an impact on the actions of the person you are talking to but it might on the other people reading!

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Sorry this is not body mods like implant devil horns (which people have every right to criticize btw) or life saving surgeries like in the case of breast cancer. When a female slices her flesh from her arm or leg off to sew it to her enlarged clit to make it into some penis like thing it’s not a penis, it’s not natural, it’s not life saving, & it’s the pure definition of body hackery.

    Why do you want to police radfem’s criticism instead of the transcult’s constant encouragement & promotion of such horrible risky female hating medical abuse.

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      • Do you think that detransitioned people who have chosen to describe their former trans beliefs as ‘delusional’, and what they did to their own bodies as ‘mutilation’ – and I have read these words used by many detransitioners in this way – should be policed against doing so?

        Because it might be painful to others for their truthful opinions of themselves even to be expressed?

        Or that family and friends of a loved one who is choosing to reject and harm their healthy body should be prevented from naming their ‘heartbreak’ truthfully?

        Liked by 2 people

      • Your valid concerns are based on feelings and not facts that I feel NEED to be addressed so that people stop glorifying transitioning. I guess you are cool with a generation only being shown 1 PRO-trans view while everyone else keeps quite not to hurt anyone’s feelings no matter how horrible & harmful this is

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        • I think Purplesage said clearly that she doesn’t agree with doing surgeries to a healthy body, because self-acceptance usually can solve the problem much better.
          It’s clear that if a person does a surgery to her/his healthy body – removing healthy parts of it – she/he is obviously doing a mutilation of the body.
          What Purplesage is saying is that we don’t need to say that explicitly – to avoid unnecessary confrontation, when the main point of discussion is the validity or not of the transition itself.
          In this case, you/we should try to rephrase it in a way that’s not harmful to the other person’s personal opinions.

          In one word “respect”: if you’re engaging with a person to discuss ideas you don’t need to attack her personally – and to say that she’s “mutilating” her/him-self will probably be seen as confrontational or harassment.

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  3. I’m really struggling with this TBH. On the one hand you are right, cruelty is unnecessary & throwing the words ‘delusion’ and ‘mutilation’ at someone in a discussion is unkind. On the other, if someone calls me a cishet TERF or tells me to shut up and die- or that they expect my child to kill herself because I’m such a bitch- I’ll hit back with whatever relevant words I have on hand. If an adult surgeon removes the breasts of a healthy 13 year old, are we really not supposed to say he has mutilated her? If a girl honestly believes she’s a boy, is that not a delusion? If a woman thinks the ‘rules of womanhood’ somehow apply to other women but not to her, is that not a betrayal? And if your child/partner/parent/friend is binding their breasts & lying to themselves & those around them, are we not to tell them how we feel, when they are breaking our hearts? Because that’s how it feels. I remember it well.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. Mmm, good post on a difficult subject. Basically it’s all cosmetic surgery. There is no particular reason not to use technical terms. But some of the technical terms are dishonest. It’s not “sexual reassignment surgery,” it’s cosmetic genital surgery. But nobody ever calls it that.

    Mastectomies are just mastectomies. I have exceptionally large breasts and I’d be lying if I said I’ve never imagined them gone, how much better my balance would be. And if I’d made that decision, I would doubtless be annoyed at people saying I’d gotten myself mutilated.

    It’s impossible to divorce language about potential procedures from actualized ones. So we can’t just say “oh, don’t mutilate yourself,” and fail to infer that those who have had elective procedures are mutilated. We can, however, describe in clinical language the problems and failings with such procedures.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Welcome to the club of people taking radical feminists to task for imagined wrongdoing. These are the things trans supporters think we’re all doing. Most people generally refer to cosmetic surgery as cosmetic surgery. It is a delusion if they really believe that they *are* the other sex, but this is not usually the case. Wagging fingers about how we have to be polite doesn’t really impress me much. I’m also not out to convert anyone to radical feminism where I will win them over by being sweet and respecting the people who believe I”m an evil bigot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Another problem with all this is that it’s being done to children who are too young to properly give consent, and the argument is that this is life-saving when there is no actual evidence that this is the case. What do you call predatory medicine like that?

      Liked by 3 people

    • Of course Dirt isn’t a radfem, but she describes surgery as “mutilation” and uses people’s photos for this without their permission.

      Mary Daly described transition as a “Frankensteinian madness of boundary violation.”

      Janice Raymond compared transition to heroin, mind control, and Nazi medical abuse, and described it as sexual violence. She had useful critiques of the medical system, gatekeeping, and railroading patients: either nothing or surgery. But she didn’t outline any practical options for trans or dysphoric people.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Of course Dirt isn’t a radfem, but she describes surgery as “mutilation” and uses people’s photos for this without their permission.

        Not really a fan of Dirt, but I have two things things to say about her use of photos:

        1) When you post photos or writing on the WORLD WIDE WEB you have PUBLISHED them. Others are free to quote and link to them, esp when they are constructing an argument or illustrating a point. That is how intellectual work is done.

        I saw somewhere a detransitioner complaining about Shelia Jeffries using her posts without her permission. Unless Jeffries passed the writing off as her own work and/or didn’t cite the source, she has not violated copyright law – or committed any ethical violation. I will never understand why so many people today publish their personal business online and then get angry when someone quotes, reposts, or critiques it.

        2) Those photos Dirt published were a huge wake-up call for me. Seeing the stark reality of what is euphemistically called “top surgery” and “bottom surgery” jolted me out of my indifference to the whole trans trend and got me thinking critically about all aspects of the trans agenda.

        What kind of deranged mind comes up with the idea of slicing off a huge chunk of a woman’s forearm and stitching it to her pubis to make a sort of phallus? When one sees the material reality of the abstract idea of “bottom surgery” the terms Daly and Raymond used like “Frankensteinian” and “Nazi medical abuse” suddenly seem not so extreme.

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        • I have a very different attitude toward top surgery and bottom surgery. Lots of women get mastectomies for reasons other than gender, and it’s not as invasive a surgery, so I’m not super against it. However bottom surgery is just terrible— it doesn’t even produce anything resembling a penis and has a high risk for serious medical problems. I watched a video of a phalloplasty being performed on YouTube, and it was really horrifying. They called the surgery “successful’ but it was just a piece of arm skin dangling from the genitals of an obvious female.

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        • “What kind of deranged mind comes up with the idea of slicing off a huge chunk of a woman’s forearm and stitching it to her pubis to make a sort of phallus?”

          Probably a reconstructive surgeon working with men who have lost penises due to injury. It freaks me out too, but the people who have had phalloplasty are the ones who can say if it’s good, bad, excessively risky, or mutilation.

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    • It’s rarely random people that this gets said to. When I thought my daughter might actually persuade someone to prescribe her T & remove her breasts, I had a very, very real feeling of pain in my heart. I think we’ve probably all experienced a pain that cruel at some point in our lives. The trans narrative is by its very nature self-obsessed, so reminding trans people that their decisions affect others is fair enough IMO. Life is a 2 way street.

      Liked by 3 people

      • How horrible for you to go through that, Lily. I do understand your having those feelings, and I’m not trying to tell parents what to say. My sense was that Purplesagefem was orienting her piece mostly to gender abolitionist activists, and to what we might say online to those with dysphoria, so I was intending to respond in that light. Often those of us who haven’t had dysphoric people in our lives forget that our response needs to be differently weighted, because of the different relationship. We can put forward the trans-critical analysis, but in a way that takes into account what detransitioners have said about how certain responses make them feel.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Lily M. I was mostly addressing adult strangers talking to each other over the Internet. I am not a parent but I am thinking about whether it’s fair for a parent to tell their child that their life decisions are breaking their hearts. I don’t doubt that children break their parents hearts all the time by doing things they disapprove of. Young people experiment with drugs, get tattoos, fail their classes, date people who aren’t good for them, etc. Would you tell your child they are breaking your heart for other reasons too? I trust you to figure out the right way to talk to your child about your concerns.

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    • We aren’t talking about ‘random people’. We’re talking about loved ones. And if they have a right to express their feelings, so do we have a right to express ours.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: “Mutilation” — Purple Sage | 'Gender' hides the problem

  7. I’m glad to see a little push back on this as I thought I was the only one. Certainly I would never say to an individual, “Why did you mutilate yourself?” or anything along those lines. That would be rude and inconsiderate and unnecessarily hurtful.

    HOWEVER, when talking among ourselves, critiquing the trans agenda and its effects on people generally, I do not believe we should be coerced into using euphemistic language. Euphemisms take the edge off critique and blurs the reality of what is being done to people. It erases the real violence and damage done to bodies.

    Years ago, I underwent an emergency c-section which was botched by a military doctor. I had no problem saying I’d been “butchered.” I was angry at what had been done to me and I didn’t feel like watering it down to “be nice.” When, years later, another surgeon said to me in horror, “Who did this to you?” I was not offended. I was relieved at the honesty and unwillingness to cover for another doctor.

    I realize the surgeries involved with “transing” people and the psychological issues involved are worse. But I still have trouble with the insistence that we tone down our language when talking about what I believe to be a devastating ideology and trend for women.

    I also have some frustrations building with some of these detransitioners over a number of issues – language being one of them. It feels to be like they are still somewhat in the mindset of “trans” the way they try to police language. I’m referring here to what I’ve observed not just on this blog but elsewhere like on reddit.

    That said, I always appreciate your thoughtful and constructive posts, PS.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Not an argument, because I don’t exactly disagree with you….but how is “mutilation” not a euphemism? “Mutilated” is an extremely loaded word. I feel, even when speaking among a group of trans-critical people, that “mutilated” isn’t used to accurately describe the situation, it’s used stir up emotion in the group to gain support.

      You use the example of your c-section, for example. How would you feel if I said c-sections were unnatural mutilation of women? You’d be annoyed, I’m guessing. There is a difference between you choosing your own descriptors like “butchered”, versus you forcing others to use the same word for an experience you haven’t yourself had. I am certain some detrainsitioned people feel mutilated. That’s not the same as using the word in trans-crit discourse.

      Detransitioners are not all anti-trans. Many (most?) of them feel that there are “real” transpeople who genuinely benefit from transsexual surgeries. But mostly, what they are asking is not for you to be un-critical, but to recognize that the dialogue isn’t being helpful to an end. I think the term “policing” has turned into another one of those insults meant to shut down dissenters.

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      • how is “mutilation” not a euphemism? “Mutilated” is an extremely loaded word.

        This doesn’t make sense. I did not say “mutilation” is a euphemism. I agree it’s a loaded word. I argued against euphemisms and the banning of the word “mutilation.”

        How would you feel if I said c-sections were unnatural mutilation of women? You’d be annoyed, I’m guessing.

        It wouldn’t bother me a damn bit! In fact, I’m somewhat in agreement. I think far too many are done in this country to the detriment of some women – many end up being required in part due to poor childbirth practices imposed on women. I desperately did NOT want to have a c-section. But ultimately it was required. And you can bet I cried a lot of tears over the end result to my body.

        There is a difference between you choosing your own descriptors like “butchered”, versus you forcing others to use the same word for an experience you haven’t yourself had.

        Where did I try to force others to use a word? My complaint was about detransitioners forcing others NOT to use a word.

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        • Detransitioners don’t have the power to force anyone to speak a certain way. They are making a request that people shouldn’t talk about them in hostile ways. You have the freedom to accept or reject that request.

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  8. This has been on my mind recently because for years I’ve been reading women saying “Please don’t call us mutilated” and every month a new article comes out calling them mutilated. So I started to wonder if people meant different things by the word, and looked it up, and found that it technically means “to cut off a limb or body part.” So there is a certain truth to the use of it. But in reality, I think there’s a lot more connoted by the word–disfigurement, ruination, reduction to a horror, something to recoil from.

    Compare to “amputated.” It seems like a much more neutral way to say “something was surgically removed.” I get that critics of medical transition don’t feel neutral, we often want to communicate that we feel a harm is being done, and “mutilated” does that. However, even if unintended, I think the word also communicates, more often than not, the “disfigurement” meaning, the “reduction to a horror” meaning. And that, as Carey pointed out, is objectifying, and dehumanizing. (Do people realize, when they use that word, the full connotation?)

    It’s a privilege to be able to discuss this so intellectually, because I haven’t undergone medical transition myself, but I personally care about the people who have. I wonder if people resistant to softening their words have never had a heart-to-heart with someone who transitioned. Seeing detransitioned women open up at Michfest two years in a row, having lunch with some of them–I found myself caring intensely about their feelings and perspectives. I have a detrans friend IRL. I have have been in love with a trans friend who has shared what it was like to see her own body on someone else’s blog, mocked and called “mutilated”–and like Carey said in her video, I find this person’s body lovable, beautiful, sexy. Yes, I think the choice she made resulted from living in a woman-hating society, and she learned to hate her body. But her skin is sensitive to my touch, her sweat is salty, and her body hair is soft to brush against. She uses her body to dance hard, play guitar, and cuddle the cats. She is changed, but not horrible. And so “mutilated,” with its layers of meaning, is the wrong word.

    I think we need to try harder to hold that bodies are beautiful, always–and there’s still space in there to criticize patriarchal medicine, cosmetic surgery, medical abuse, and the framework of “born in the wrong body.” Seriously, we radical feminists are creative, brilliant women. I know we can find the words to say all we need to say. What I hear Carey and others saying is that when we say “mutilated,” we are telling the wrong story. We need to tell a fuller story. Maybe taking the emphasis off of bodies as objects and putting it on doctors as actors would be a start. I don’t want to go too far into it here without the collaboration of detrans women in the brainstorm, but I know we can find the words we need.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I have mixed feelings on this. I can see where you are coming from, and I am going to try and watch my language in the future depending on the xonversation, but some things need to be contextualized, such as breast binding in young girls, which I can only name as mutilation, because there is no other way to describe what I believe is a pattern of societal hatred towards the female body, specifically reproductive organs, and lies on a continuum. That being said, I can see your point in engagement of people who might be hurt by this. Also, I do believe a mastectomy for health reasons can be differentiated from one performed for transitioning. I think it is a hard call and is a good word for certain analysis, but I can certainly appreciate where you are coming from. Thank you for the thoughtful post.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Reblogged this at Gender hides the problem because I found it to be a really thought-provoking piece by purplesagefem. And you know, so long as verbs in their past tenses can also be used as adjectives to describe who people are, we cannot ignore the implications of describing a living human as “mutilated”.

    So to me this is not about “supporting individuals’ choices”, but about being respectfully mindful of the real meanings conveyed by certain terms, and of the impact on people with trans histories.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great discussion, everyone. Purple Sage, thank you for bringing up this topic! I agree it is a very difficult subject with *lots* of nuance. Context changes everything, IRL. If I were talking to an individual whom I cared about I would definitely NOT use the words “mutilation” or “delusional,” because yes, that is essentially passing judgment on that person’s choices and/or state of mind.

    Debates online are a whole ‘nuther animal. It’s impossible not to be mis-read by someone hostile to my opinion, so I often find myself using stronger and more direct language when I’m in the thick of an online discussion/argument (usually the latter, unfortunately).

    I think that “gender confirmation” surgery on children is a horror that must end immediately–any removal of healthy body parts in a minor child is criminal malpractice, and we’ll no doubt be hearing about the lawsuits in short order. I also believe that adults pretty much have the right to whatever body modifications they can convince a surgeon to perform. I would be inclined to modify my language regarding people with dysphoria (which I believe is a real thing) vs. people who are transing for fetishistic reasons (which is also a real thing.)

    The transgender issue is complicated in just about _every way possible._ I think it’s important to keep compassion in the forefront of our intentions, regardless of how much we may be provoked by creeps and bigots. We never know how much another person is hurting, and often anger can be a coping mechanism/cover for deep and irreconcilable pain.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The doctors will have their asses covered with disclaimers, the parents are allowed to give consent for the child. So what’s interesting is who’s likely to get sued here. False diagnosis? How can you verify a diagnosis on an abstraction?

      It does seem to me that this is clear malpractice, but when malpractice is written into the standards of care, it’s a weird situation for everyone involved. Quite the folie à plusieurs.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think people should wait before deciding on surgery, but not necessarily before deciding to try hormones. Because puberty doesn’t wait before its hormones.

      Yes, I think some of us are innately wired one way, and will be dysphoric with the wrong hormones and the wrong hormonal effects on our bodies.

      I do worry that some people are “only” dysphoric because of misogyny and/or gender rigidity. They would benefit from alternatives to transition. I don’t know what to do, but better information, finding gender-non-conforming role models, and encouraging people who start hormones to periodically pause hormones and ask ourselves how that affects our dysphoria *might* help.

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  12. I would not tell random people that they are mutilated, or that their getting their body surgically altered breaks my heart. (The latter, especially, would just not be true. I don’t much care about random people on the street.)

    But EndTheHarms raises a good point. What about people who detransitioned and describe themselves as mutilated? Should they be forbidden from doing so?

    Like lilith with the botched c-section, some women who have been mutilated might feel relief at someone calling it what it is. They might want people to feel horror, because it IS horrible.

    So whose feelings do we prioritize here?

    I don’t think a radfem blog is the place to try to win over the trans lobby by policing our words. It is your blog and you can do what you want, obviously, but I don’t think it is going to achieve much.

    Trying to be civil doesn’t help, because it doesn’t really matter if you say “mutilated” to their bodies, or just “female”, or “male” – calling them their actual sex insults them as much as a negatively connotated word like “mutilated” does.

    And then there’s the question of why some people feel hurt when one calls their bodies mutilated, while others don’t. When Jehovah’s Witnesses come to my door and tell me that my soul is damned, which is a very unflattering description, I laugh in their face. I am also always nice to them because I appreciate their attempts to save my soul. So why don’t trans people react the same way to radical feminists trying to save their bodies? From their point of view, it should be the same … shouldn’t it? Radical feminists hold about as much power as an obscure religious sect these days, no one really listens to us, so why care?

    I never considered a mastectomy, but if I had large breasts and had gotten them reduced or removed to alleviate back pain, I doubt I would be overly concerned about people calling mastectomy a mutilation somewhere on the internet. Well, I might get angry if men did it because they want to grab boobies, but feminists opposing the removal of healthy body parts in general? No.

    I suspect that the anger trans people feel at people who call them mutilated, and at feminists who call them their actual sex, stems from the same source, and that therefore it is no use to police one word, if you are not also willing to police the other.

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