This is a really excellent video by a smart Black lesbian reconciling with being female after socially transitioning.
I read the first two chapters of the Gender Quest Workbook—A guide for teens & young adults exploring gender identity. It was written by Rylan Testa, PhD, Deborah Coolhart, PhD and Jayme Peta, MA. They haven’t specifically named their gender identities, but judging from their appearance in their photos and the use of pronouns, Testa appears to be a trans man and Peta appears to be a woman who identifies as something other than a woman (I say that because pronouns are entirely avoided for her) and Coolhart appears to be a regular woman with no apparent transgender identity.
I have identified three different ways that The Gender Quest Workbook defines gender.
They explicitly define it on page 5:
“Gender is (1) how you express masculinity, femininity, or for most people, some mix of the two and (2) how your identity, or sense of self, relates to masculinity and femininity.”
I entirely agree with this definition. This is pretty much the same definition of gender that John Money wrote and since he coined the term, his definition can be considered the correct one. I will also add here that I agree with this concept—people do have a natural degree of masculinity or femininity as part of their personalities. Of course, if gender roles were abolished we would no longer describe people’s personalities as masculine or feminine. Personality traits would still exist but we wouldn’t refer to them in terms of these social constructs.
Only a few sentences down, they define gender again, although I’m not sure if they were aware that they were defining it again.
“In our view, there are about as many different gender identities as there are people. The options are infinite.”
What they’ve done here is equated the word gender with personality. The thing that is unique to each individual and exists in infinite possibilities is personality.
If gender is masculinity and femininity, then there are only two genders, which exist along a continuum, with people falling somewhere in between. These points along the continuum are not something altogether different from masculinity and femininity, they are just levels of more masculine or more feminine. If there were actually more than two recognized genders, then they would be listed alongside masculinity and femininty, you know, like:
Masculinity, femininity, zorkulinity, sambalinity, etc.
But no. The reason there are two genders is because there are two sexes, and masculinity and femininity are the social behaviors that we perform to signify to people whether we are male or female, according to cultural beliefs about how males and females look and behave.
Defining gender as masculinity and femininity means acknowledging that there are only two genders, and then going on to say that there are infinite genders contradicts that.
Then they define gender a third time, therefore contradicting themselves even more. This third one was quite unintentional on their part but it remains obvious. On page 20, there is a list of questions that invite readers to explore their gender. The first question goes like this:
“What are some of your earliest memories related to gender? (For example, I remember my dad saying, “Are you sure you don’t want a blue balloon? Blue is for boys.” Or, I remember wanting to be in Boy Scouts like my brother, but my parents said I couldn’t because I was a girl.”
In both of these examples, what is being expressed is sexism. In the first example, a color is being arbitrarily restricted to one sex due to beliefs that the sexes must behave in different ways (having different color preferences). In the second example, a girl is being limited in her opportunities because of her sex. These questions related to sexism are the prompts that invite readers to think back about their experiences of “gender.” Because examples of sexism are being used as a prompt to get people thinking about “gender,” the authors have implicitly defined gender as sexism.
Therefore gender has three definitions so far:
(a) masculinity and femininity
It seems to me that two PhDs and one MA should have been able to recognize all three of the definitions they have used for gender and seen the contradictions between them and how their text becomes confusing and incoherent because of these contradictory definitions. But they are in the trans cult and one thing about the trans cult is they eschew clear communication and instead embrace ambiguity and confusion.
When I try to answer the above question, my first reaction is “How can I recall an early memory of ‘gender’ if you can’t define gender”? My second reaction is, “According to the prompt, gender clearly means sexism, so I will answer that.”
One memory of sexism that stands out for me is when I was in a grocery store and I saw a woman and her daughter at the check-out. The little girl was playing and rolling around on the floor, and the mother didn’t like that. She snatched her daughter up vigorously by the arm and scolded her “Girls don’t act like that.” I was filled with outrage from head to toe when I heard that. Partially due to the sexism and partially due to the lying. This mother told her daughter a lie. Here was this girl, playing and rolling around on the floor, and the mother said that girls don’t act like that, but clearly they do, because here is a girl acting like that right now! Her words did not reflect reality, they reflected her belief and her wish. I thought that was a poor attitude to have toward girls and I boiled with rage. And that’s my first example of sexism that I remember.
(Disclaimer: Of course it’s a good idea not to let your kid roll around on the floor in a grocery store because the kid could get dirty or stepped on. But this mother didn’t say “Get up before you get dirty or stepped on,” she said “Girls don’t act that way.”)
My answer to this question might change if gender meant masculinity/femininity or personality, but I have answered it the way the prompt suggests to.
The next question in the list is this:
“Were you ever told you looked or acted like a boy? Like a girl? How did you feel when his happened?”
No, people didn’t talk this way around me, because luckily I wasn’t surrounded by people who were overtly sexist. There was plenty of subtle sexism, but nobody said such stupid things as “You do X like a girl/like a boy” around me. I do remember watching a sexist film called The Sandlot (I was a kid in the 90s) and there was a scene where one boy insults another by saying that he plays like a girl. This is after a long list of insults, and the dialogue makes it clear that “You play ball like a girl” is the absolute most insulting thing a boy could ever be told. This scene makes me boil with rage because of the sexism. “You do X like a girl” used as an insult toward a boy is a manifestation of the hatred of women and girls. All girls are likely to feel uncomfortable with this, since it’s harmful to us. Boys whose personalities are more feminine may feel uncomfortable with this sexism too, since they cannot meet the standards of masculinity being set for them.
Once again, a question on “gender” has prompted a response about sexism.
The next question is “How would it or does it feel when people see you as a boy or man.”(p21) This question is followed by a disclaimer about the fear people might feel when thinking about this question.
I only experienced being mistaken for a man once. I was standing in a line and when it was my turn to go to the ticket window the person behind me said “Sir” to indicate for me to move up. I thought this was kinda funny and I was amused that I was now a part of the phenomenon of “misgendering.” I’m not sure why this would be upsetting, if a person accidentally gets it wrong it’s no big deal. There has been no other time when anyone has made this mistake because I look like a typical woman.
I understand that if I was not a typical-looking woman then I would get mistaken for a man more often and it might feel annoying or uncomfortable and it might cause emotional problems (stress, anxiety) over time.
The next question is the opposite situation, “How would it or does it feel when people see you as a girl or woman?”
Well, there is nothing to be amused or annoyed about when people see me as a woman, because I am one.
The next question is a fun one: “How would it or does it feel when people see you as a gender other than girl/woman or boy/man, for example, as androgynous or two-spirit”
First of all, girl/woman and boy/man are not genders, they are sexes. Girl/woman is a human female, and boy/man is a human male. Male and female are biological realities and they are not genders according to any definition used here. I am aware that the transgender community defines “man” and “woman” as social categories, which cannot be defined in any way but which nevertheless people can strongly identify with and live in, and that these social categories are considered by them to be “genders.” However, gender has not been defined as a social category in this book yet. I guess this is their way of introducing another implicit definition of gender? “Gender experts” are surprisingly confusing about gender.
So moving right along to the question, the only way that anyone sees anyone as neither male nor female is if they are going around expecting people to be intersex. I don’t think most people are going around expecting people to be intersex, because the vast majority of people have typical sex characteristics, and even intersex people often look like one or the other, so, I’m gonna have to call bullshit on that.
However, androgynous is a gender. There are two genders, masculinity and femininity, and androgynous is the point in the middle of those. Both males and females can appear androgynous by combining masculinity and femininity in relatively equal portions. Their sex is still apparent.
I wish white transgenderists would stop appropriating Native culture to try to prop up their gender cult. Two spirit identity is not the gender nonsense that modern day transgenderists are promoting.
I am happy when people recognize my level of androgyny. On any given day I might range between moderately feminine and androgynous in presentation. I am never at the extreme end of femininity and I’m never very masculine either. When people understand that I don’t want to go shop for cosmetics or shoes with them because I’m not into that sort of thing, that’s great. When people assume that I am into that, it’s just because they don’t know me well and I can simply explain I’m not into that feminine stuff. Mildly annoying, but not a big deal.
“Who are your gender role models? In other words, if you could be like anyone in terms of gender, who would you be like? (p22)”
In this question, gender could mean either degree of masculinity/femininity or personality, I assume. So, whose personality do I want to emulate, in terms of how masculine or feminine they are?
Well, the first person who comes to mind is Joan of Arc. Let’s see who else comes to mind. Hermione Granger, Xena: Warrior Princess, Dana Scully, the femme characters in Stone Butch Blues (especially Theresa), all the characters from the new Ghostbusters film, especially Kate McKinnon’s character, Melissa McCarthy’s character in the film The Heat…okay I guess I’m just making a list of Strong Female Characters from film and TV shows that I like. When I generalize about all these characters I guess what I come up with is “strong woman.” These women are somewhat feminine but also smart, strong, and tough. I could name my gender “strong woman,” or maybe “fierce femme.” Okay, this exercise was actually really fun lol. Regardless of what my personality or degree of femininity is though, my sex is still female.
The following chapter talks about gender expression, and I have some observations to make about this section. The book makes it sound like it’s a really big deal to change your gender expression. Changing your gender expression simply means wearing a different style of clothing or changing your hairstyle or makeup, but the book asks you to plan how/where/with whom you can safely try out your new expression, and mentions personal safety multiple times. This makes me wonder why people find it to be such a big deal for people to change their outfit or haircut. I’ve changed my style of clothing many times, and no one has ever given a shit. In grade nine I wore nothing but baggy jeans and my dad’s old t-shirts that I found in storage, with a sports bra underneath. In late high school I dyed my hair with blond highlights and wore dresses. In university I wore the same jeans every day again, this time with a blue hooded sweatshirt. These days I generally wear women’s blouses and dress pants to work, and comfortable androgynous clothes at home. I’ve worn a bit of men’s clothing sometimes too just for fun. My hair has been long, short, long, short, etc, and is currently short. At no point has anyone cared what I was wearing or whether it was different from what I wore before. No one has ever been like, “Hey, that outfit is totally different from what you wore yesterday, I’m gonna harass you now!”
When I read this book I begin to wonder if I have just been lucky and if there are all sorts of people out there in the world who are super serious about making other people’s clothing and hairstyles their business? If there are, those are really shallow and superficial people with really small lives. If they have nothing better to do than to have an issue with someone’s new haircut, they should be told to fuck off and they definitely should not be taken seriously. Get a hobby, people!
If people are seriously frightened that they might be unsafe because they’re wearing a certain outfit, that is an indication that they are surrounded by assholes. Instead of putting people on hormones, maybe we should be educating people to stop losing their shit over a simple article of clothing? It’s the bullies that need to change, not the victims of the bullying.
If you analyze specific instances of people being harassed for what clothes they’re wearing, I’m telling you right now that what you’re going to find is sexism and homophobia. The reason a teen boy can’t just show up at school with makeup on is because people will police his masculinity (sexism) and people will direct homophobic harassment at him because they will perceive, either rightly or wrongly, that he is gay. The solution is not to put the boy on hormones and call him a girl so that he can wear makeup without getting bullied, the solution is to punish the bullies so that the boy will be safe wearing makeup. Putting the boy on hormones and calling him a girl is letting the bullies win and it’s punishing the victim and it’s reinforcing the harmful rules of gender. It’s reinforcing the idea that only girls can wear makeup, therefore if you wear makeup, you must become a “girl.” This ideology harms women primarily, because we are the ones having to wear most of the makeup, but it harms men too since it limits their expression.
At the end of this section, I have come to the conclusion that there is an epidemic of people being so shallow, superficial, and sexist that they are seriously harming the people around them, and we need a widespread movement to combat sexism.
Luckily, there is already a widespread movement to combat sexism underway. It’s called feminism. Transgenderism reinforces sexism, making it an ideology that harms the very people it purports to help.
These first two chapters really do confirm what I always say about transgenderism—that people are modifying their bodies in order to match their bodies to their degree of masculininity/femininity or their personalities, and that there is sexism underlying this whole thing. I always maintain that anyone, male or female, can have any personality or degree of masculinity/femininity and that this is okay and doesn’t need to be fixed. Because anyone can have any personality, there is no such thing as a personality not matching one’s body.
There are transgender people who comment here who tell me that transgenderism is not about matching your body to your degree of masculinity/femininity, and that it’s more along the lines of correcting an inborn neurological disorder. It’s not that they are trying to fix a mismatch between their body and their social gender role, is what they explain, it’s that they have an inborn gender identity that persists no matter what and isn’t rooted in social causes like notions of masculinity/femininity or sexism. So I really gotta ask, if transgenderism is simply about correcting an inborn neurological disorder and is not about trying to fit into social ideas of masculinity/femininity, why have a group of three gender experts, at least one of whom is actually trans, written a book in which they guide young people to discover their gender by considering their degree of masculinity/femininity, their personality, and sexism, if transgenderism is not about these things? If transgenderism is about correcting a neurological disorder, why isn’t that what they talk about here?
When you listen carefully to what gender experts and transgender activists actually say about transition, the majority of them make it quite obvious that this is about “fixing” people who are gender nonconforming so that they fit better into social ideas of what men and women are, by turning feminine men into “women” and by turning masculine women into “men.” The reason I keep believing this is because they keep saying it. And what I’m going to keep saying, until forever and ever, is that “fixing” feminine men and masculine women is sexism and homophobia.
Women in Vancouver have created a women’s library to promote writing by women authors and “continue the legacy of women-run bookstores.” The library is run by women volunteers. Despite the fact that they announce themselves as queer-positive right on their website, with a “queer space” sign and a notice that the library is for “all self-identified women and girls,” a group of “radical queers” have launched an attack against the library.
Guerrilla Feminist Collective reports the following intimidation tactics used at the library:
“Last night we had to push through physical intimidation and lots of verbal nonsense to enter the new Vancouver Women’s Library.
Anti-feminist protesters actually showed up for once! They were welcomed inside (snowing, cold, everyone was welcome), but asked to leave when they tried to tear down feminist posters in the space and continued their physical intimidation inside. Police had to be called for fear of destruction of the space and the safety of library patrons inside. The protesters held signs and shouted at people entering the space. They poured wine over the books. They smoked inside when asked not to. They pulled the fire alarm. Some of them tried to bar then pushed women entering the space. As far as we saw, men were left alone to come and go as they pleased.
Women were shamed and blamed for calling the police, for fearing for theirs and others’ safety. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. All battered women will be familiar with these tactics. When we pointed out how we were physically barred then pushed from entering the space, and how threatening that felt, protesters wanted to know how we’d gender the person, rather than discuss the ethics of violence at hand.
Despite clearly stated goals (creation of women’s space for women’s work and dialogue), inclusion (all women), transparency of funding (self & UBC women’s centre), hard work (unpaid), and initiative (frankly brilliant caring GOODNESS of heart, seeking to create A WOMEN’S LIBRARY) the organizers were demonized, targeted, lied about, and all but burnt at the stake.
Ridiculous demands were made, such as the stepping down of founding member Emily (for having volunteered at and supporting a shelter for women fleeing male violence), creation of a board of directors (must everything be Mc-incorporated?), and the removal of certain books (fascism 101).”
The group Gays Against Gentrification (GAG) released a list of demands for the library on Facebook. I’m not sure if the people who showed up at the library are the same people who wrote this list of demands, but they certainly are using similar intimidation tactics.
The group GAG uses the slurs “TERF” and “SWERF” to intimidate and silence women who speak out about the harms of gender and the sex trade. The function of these words is to shut down conversations about women’s oppression. They can be applied to absolutely anyone who disagrees with the queer/liberal party line. Even women with direct experience in the sex trade can be called “SWERF,” despite the fact that it makes no sense that a woman could be “excluding” herself from her own analysis of the harms of the sex industry that she experienced.
GAG erroneously accuses feminists of denying health care and jobs to trans women and of trying to control the bodies of “sex workers” and enacting violence upon them. It is difficult to believe that anyone could be so far removed from reality that they actually think that feminists are the ones harming women in the sex trade rather than the johns and pimps who are actually inflicting the violence. Those people who seek to make male violence invisible and blame women instead for what men do to us can only be called MRAs.
GAG made a list of demands that includes, among other things, that the library must elect a board of directors that GAG members approve of, remove any books from the library that GAG does not approve of, and fire one of the organizers of the library who is specified by name. It’s just astounding that this group feels so entitled to women’s labor that they feel they can dictate to women how to run their own library. This is a vile display of misogyny and anti-feminism.
Their wording gets so over-the-top at times it almost looks like a parody:
“TERFs and SWERFs are complicit in violence against sex workers and trans women and it is imperative that we do not let this violence go unnoticed. The same ideology and praxis of hate is present and replicated in right-wing/alt-right/neo-nazi organizing. TERFs and SWERFs organize for the same violent policies and work in partnership with right-wing hate groups to replicate settler-colonial white-supremacist constructions of cisheteropatrarchy that outright reject, erase, and deny IBPOC sovereignty, body sovereignty, and all peoples that do not fit under euro-centric nativism.”
It would seem that GAG believes that women who lend out books written by women are literal Nazis who are enacting white supremacy and patriarchy. It’s very clear that the goal of “radical queers” is to shut down feminism by harassing women and making feminist analysis of women’s oppression impossible to share. “Radical queers” are therefore obviously an anti-feminist hate group. The idea that feminists have the material power in society to inflict violence on large groups of people is completely laughable. There is not a single radical feminist in a position of power in government or the private sector, and there are very few left in the academy. In addition, physical violence is not a tactic that any feminist groups are advocating for. If recent history tells us anything about feminist organizing, we like to knit cute hats and even in crowds of thousands of women there is no violence reported at all.
GAG provided a list of the feminist books they believe should be banned from the women’s library. Here is the list:
Please read this post by Big Boo Butch on being banned from a butch/femme site for “transphobia.” She writes about how this site used to be for butches and femmes but over time the trans borg took over and by the time she was kicked out, it looked more like a FtM/femme site. Big Boo wrote about how ridiculous it is for a supposedly lesbian site to cater to trans people instead of lesbians, and of course I’m going to rant about this too.
I get so angry when formerly lesbian spaces become no longer for lesbians when everybody decides to identify as something other than a woman. First of all, it’s stupid that women ever identify as not-women, because, you know, reality exists, and women are women. Secondly, if you are such a special snowflake that your “identity” makes you “not a woman” (despite your female body), then get the hell out of a space meant for women. Don’t try to take it over and make it a space for special snowflakes instead of for women. Women are allowed our own spaces and we don’t have to be inclusive of any of these clowns who choose not to believe the facts of human reproductive anatomy.
I get angry when women decide their degree of masculinity or androgyny makes them something other than a woman. All women are women, regardless of what kind of outfit or haircut they have on, and the idea that only feminine women are women is called sexism.
I also get angry when lesbians who identify as trans men want to have their cake and eat it too. If they think they are men, then what are they doing on a lesbian-only site? And if they are on a lesbian-only site, why do they want to be called men? Get your story straight, people! Which is it? Doesn’t the cognitive dissonance hurt, when you want to simultaneously be a lesbian and a “man”?
And another thing. Why are the femmes on this site putting up with this? I’m not putting up with butches calling themselves men for even one second. Butches are women, and they are particularly hot and sexy women, and they are the ones femmes love. Femmes love butches as women and we are lesbians, therefore we are not interested in men. The only reason I can think of that a femme would ever be with an FtM is because she is homophobic and wants to be seen as straight, but even that theory sounds pretty far-fetched. I would never call my female partner a man, I would never call her “he,” I would never pretend I was straight or bi when I only love women. If lesbians who hang out on a lesbian site decide they’d rather be men then they should get kicked out. First they should be told that it’s homophobic to claim that lesbians are really men, and then they should be told that if they cannot proudly call themselves lesbians then they don’t belong in lesbian space.
I’d be super compassionate toward them if they identified as lesbians struggling to deal with body hatred or butch shame, but not when they start lying and claiming that these inner struggles make them inherently male. That’s a load of BULLSHIT.
It’s hard for butches and femmes who haven’t had their brains sucked out by the trans cult to find anywhere to go. Some of us find refuge among radical feminists, but sadly the radfems sometimes believe that butch and femme are a BDSM role play situation that deliberately and artificially reenacts heterosexual power dynamics, and they don’t always listen to us when we tell them we are expressing our actual personalities and not imitating anything. I’m going to have to write more on that another day.
In this era of lesbian spaces being erased to make room for every identity under the sun, those of us who actually know what a lesbian is are cast to the margins. It’s so simple, people. A lesbian is a female homosexual. That’s it!
Today I read yet another article by a faux-leftist neoliberal waxing poetic about how a “New Left” is being born because of the Trump presidency and the Women’s March and it will be a bigger, better Left that actually does something and there will be movement! and resistance! and unity! and blah, blah, blah. I’m not going to link to it because you don’t even need to read it. You’ve read it plenty of times already. Every time the Left loses there is another article like this that says we are going to learn from our past mistakes and we are going to do better and next time we will win. And it includes all the liberal/leftist buzzwords du jour. This one was no different.
The Left doesn’t actually get “reborn” every time a right-wing politician wins or every time someone creates a hashtag or writes a thinkpiece. The people who value equality, social justice and the environment value these things all the time, regardless of who is in power or what is happening. The same people will just continue with what they were doing. There is no magical rising of the phoenix from the ashes, it’s just business as usual. (Or maybe I should say ‘anti-business’ as usual.)
No one who has been in power since I’ve been alive has been on the Left. The true Left was systematically destroyed decades ago, and what has existed since then has mostly been a feeble attempt to make capitalism slightly friendlier, without actually overthrowing it. Some people would argue that this actually serves capitalism, because as long as it’s the “slightly friendlier” version or as long as people believe it is, we all remain complacent and don’t take any radical action against it. (And by the way, only people in rich countries are in a position to think that capitalism can be at all friendlier. We aren’t the ones working in sweatshops that collapse while we’re in them or have suicide nets surrounding them.)
Leftists who write thinkpieces like to act as though we need something new to invigorate leftism. Some new movement or idea or new hashtag or slogan. But we don’t need anything new, what we need is something quite old. We need class consciousness, material analysis, and direct action. What passes for the Left these days is neoliberalism, but that is not what the Left is.
Faux-left thinkpieces lately have been calling for more “intersectionality” and this would be a good thing if they actually meant intersectionality. This word used to refer to an analysis of women’s oppression that took into account how race and class intersected to affect how different groups of women are oppressed. This was a necessary analysis since white women’s and upper class women’s experiences don’t represent everyone else’s but this group has historically gotten the most attention within feminism. However, the concept of intersectionality has been twisted to the point of being unrecognizable. The way it is being used today is effectively a call to include the interests of pimps and of men with a sexual fetish for cross-dressing to be centered within feminism. This is obviously anti-feminist, but because the pimp lobby and the autogynephile rights lobby have cloaked themselves in apparently-feminist outfits and no one can be bothered to do any actual research or thinking, they just play right along.
After the women’s march last weekend, neoliberal faux-leftists started claiming that the references to female body parts at the women’s march meant that we are not “intersectional” enough. What this means is that women are not supposed to talk about our oppression as women anymore, because this upsets men who wish they were women, and their views have to be included in feminism in order to make it “intersectional.” Telling women we cannot talk about our oppression as women is not intersectionality, it’s anti-feminism.
President Shitface has already “signed an executive order banning international NGOs from providing abortion services or offering information about abortions if they receive US funding.” This type of anti-abortion policy affects those of us who are biologically female, regardless of how we identify. Female biology matters, and those who have it are considered second-class citizens in a patriarchy. Transgender politics may seem “intersectional” by liberals, but they obscure the reality of sex-based oppression on which the feminist movement is based.
The way to rebuild the broken left is not to dig ourselves farther into the hole of neoliberal bullshit, it’s to get back to our roots. The left is the political position that brings us class consciousness. Women are a class of people oppressed because of our sex, and that is fundamental to understanding feminism. The working class are a class of people oppressed by capitalism, and this is fundamental in understanding the labor movement. We shouldn’t include the interests of men in feminism any more than we should include the interests of the rich in the labor movement.
Neoliberal politics where everyone is an individual agent choosing choices is a pro-capitalist ideology—this is the ideology that prevents class consciousness from developing and promotes consumer spending. This is not the Left, it is a backlash against the Left. The new identity politics where anyone can “identify” as anything they want is not a material analysis of oppression, it’s a way of obscuring the material analysis of oppression. It’s useful for people to name where they are socially located in a system of oppression: by their sex, race, class, sexual orientation, or disability status, because these social locations have material consequences that we can measure. But when people start “identifying as” something other than what they actually are that is a misuse of identity politics and a misunderstanding of how oppression works.
More neoliberal bullshit will keep moving us backwards. The faux left has nothing to offer oppressed people, it only has something to offer people who enjoy taking on “identities” and who like bashing feminists. The way to fix the left is to go old-school. We have the exact same task in front of us that we’ve always had. We have to teach class consciousness and material analysis of oppression, we have to educate about the effects of climate change and end stage capitalism, we have to take power away from the powerful and end capitalism and imperialism. We have to create a human society with positive values that is sustainable and doesn’t rely on fossil fuels. This has been the task of the Left for decades already. (Ideally, of course, it should be the task of all humans, since we’re all going down when our ship sinks, even the rich.)
It’s an overwhelmingly huge task to end capitalism, and maybe that’s why we are sitting around doing stupid stuff like having “pronoun circles,” because that makes us feel like we’re doing something, even though we’re too overwhelmed to do what we are actually supposed to be doing. Any impossibly large task has to be broken down into smaller tasks in order to be achievable. It also requires large numbers of people on board. People who care about social justice and the environment should organize task forces to solve achievable goals, and should do what they are capable of within a larger culture of resistance.
The faux-leftists calling for more “intersectionality” in the neoliberal sense as a way to improve the Left are embarrassingly off the mark. Neoliberalism is what’s holding us back from doing what we need to do. It’s what we need to get rid of in order to move forward.
This post discusses why “fitting in better in the workplace” is not a good reason to make body modifications.
I said: “I have written about a case where a masculine lesbian openly admitted to transitioning to male to fit into her workplace, and a case where an androgynous lesbian said she was happy to be a woman and a lesbian, but got her breasts removed because she didn’t like them. In some cases, such as these, I think women are better off remaining as masculine/androgynous lesbians rather than getting body modifications.”
The article about the masculine lesbian who transitioned to fit in at work can be found here.
Skepto said: “That doesn’t seem to follow. If fitting in at one’s work place markedly improves one’s well-being and mental health, why shouldn’t it be the best possible outcome in that situation? If a body part bothers someone to the point where they want surgery (with all its risks), and they get it and they’re happier for it, why shouldn’t that be the best outcome? (That doesn’t mean the circumstances that make it impossible for someone to fit in as a gender nonconforming woman are okay or should be this way – nobody should have only these options.)”
The reason we think of people as individuals freely making choices, rather than a society where everyone is interdependent and affected by a culture, is because of neoliberalism. In neoliberalism, every choice an individual makes is considered the best possible choice for them and no one else is supposed to question it or point out the social structures around it. Although culture and structures of power continue to exist, we are encouraged not to think about classes of people and instead just validate individual choices. The entire ideology of transgenderism is based on neoliberalism. We are not supposed to question why large numbers of young women are starting to identify as men and what social factors are leading to this, we are just supposed to accept every individual’s choice as an individual choice without pointing out the pattern. Pointing out the pattern would lead to invalidating people’s choices, and in neoliberalism, invalidating people’s choices is a huge no-no.
Thank goodness Skepto pointed out immediately that the circumstances that make it impossible for GNC women to fit in are wrong! This really needs to be said, and it’s something I will continue saying forever and ever and ever.
While reading Compulsory Heterosexuality recently, I came across a paragraph that really illustrates the point about the way women are expected to fit in the workplace.
Here is Adrienne Rich:
“In her brilliant study Sexual Harassment of Working Women: A Case of Sex Discrimination, Catharine A. MacKinnon delineates the intersection of compulsory heterosexuality and economics. Under capitalism, women are horizontally segregated by gender and occupy a structurally inferior position in the workplace; this is hardly news, but MacKinnon raises the question why, even if capitalism “requires some collection of individuals to occupy low-status, low-paying positions such persons must be biologically female,” and goes on to point out that “the fact that male employers often do not hire qualified women, even when they could pay them less than men suggests that more than the profit motive is implicated.” She cites a wealth of material documenting the fact that women are not only segregated in low-paying service jobs (as secretaries, domestics, nurses, typists, telephone operators, child-care workers, waitresses) but that “sexualization of the woman” is part of the job. Central and intrinsic to the economic realities of women’s lives is the requirement that women will “market sexual attractiveness to men, who tend to hold the economic power and position to enforce their predilections.” And MacKinnon exhaustively documents that “sexual harassment perpetuates the interlocked structure by which women have been kept sexually in thrall to men at the bottom of the labor market. Two forces of American society converge: men’s control over women’s sexuality and capital’s control over employees’ work lives.” Thus, women in the workplace are at the mercy of sex-as-power in a vicious circle. Economically disadvantaged, women–whether waitresses or professors–endure sexual harassment to keep their jobs and learn to behave in a complaisantly and ingratiatingly heterosexual manner because they discover this is their true qualification for employment, whatever the job description. And, MacKinnon notes, the woman who too decisively resists sexual overtures in the workplace is accused of being “dried-up” and sexless, or lesbian. This raises a specific difference between the experiences of lesbians and homosexual men. A lesbian, closeted on her job because of heterosexist prejudice, is not simply forced into denying the truth of her outside relationships or private life; her job depends on her pretending to be not merely heterosexual but a heterosexual woman, in terms of dressing and playing the feminine, deferential role required of “real” women.” (Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence, Adrienne Rich, 1980).
This analysis may seem a little outdated but there are still elements of this going on in the workplace—it really depends where you are. In some workplaces everything is fine, but in others there are still sexual harassment cases going where men sexually harass female employees because they are attempting to enforce their power over women and to punish women who do not conform to expectations of feminine heterosexuality. In addition, women in service jobs such as waitressing still get more tips when they perform femininity.
The lesbian who became a trans man to fit into the legal profession didn’t make that choice in a vacuum. Expectations around female dress and presentation in the legal profession do not allow for women to be ‘butch,’ or at least, she felt they didn’t. The decision she made exists in a context of heteronormativity and sexism and women having to conform to this culture in order to advance their careers.
Please note that, even if there is such a thing as a “true transsexual,*” this woman is not one. As evidenced by what she said in the articles I quoted here, she has not had gender dysphoria since birth, she is just trying to fit in to the standards set by her profession. This is not a case of someone having no choice but to transition. (*I’m not entirely convinced there is such a thing as a true transsexual, either, because it makes zero sense for a female to be intrinsically male.)
I want to emphasize that my objection to lesbians transitioning to improve their career prospects doesn’t come from a misguided “hatred” of people who identify as transgender or people who have dysphoria. It comes from the belief that women shouldn’t have to modify themselves or harm themselves to fit into a sexist culture.
Consider for a moment an actress who gets paid more money after she gets a breast enhancement surgery. She is also modifying her body in order to “fit” into an expectation of her at work, and to enhance her career options. Her surgery carries the risk of complications both during surgery and for years afterwards, because of the implants.
Some of the risks of breast implants include:
- Additional surgeries, with or without removal of the device
- Capsular contracture, scar tissue that forms around the implant and squeezes the implant
- Breast pain
- Changes in nipple and breast sensation
- Rupture with deflation of saline-filled implants
- Rupture with or without symptoms (silent rupture) of silicone gel-filled implants
This is wrong because she is being subject to sexism—the belief that women should look a certain way and giving advantages to women who fit themselves into artificial standards of femininity. It’s wrong that she should feel compelled to get a surgery that is likely to have long-term negative effects (the implants could rupture, for gawd’s sake!) and that she is socially rewarded for compromising her health this way.
Any woman who has to make drastic changes to her body that carry the risk of harm in order to fit in at work is suffering oppression. All women suffer when sexism and misogyny exist. When you focus on her individual choice and whether it made her happy or not you miss the point entirely. Everyone should be outraged about the sexism and the misogyny inherent in compelling women to modify their bodies by financial coercion. If actresses didn’t get paid more for having larger breasts, and if lesbians didn’t experience discrimination and harassment on the job (or being passed over for jobs entirely) for not looking the way our society expects women to look, then neither of these groups would modify themselves.
Yes, female-to-male surgical procedures and hormone use has risks, too. The FDA does not approve the use of testosterone in women and the long-term safety of testosterone use among women is not known. According to this guide,
- Testosterone can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
- Testosterone can increase red blood cells and hemoglobin. While the increase is usually only to an average “male” range (which does not pose health risks), a high increase can cause potentially life-threatening problems such as stroke and heart attack.
- Testosterone can cause or worsen headaches and migraines
- Testosterone can negatively affect mental health. There are often positive emotional changes from reduced gender dysphoria. However, in some FTMs testosterone can cause increased irritability, frustration, and anger. There are reports of testosterone destabilizing FTMs with bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and schizophrenia.
Double mastectomy can leave pain or numbness in the remaining tissue, and carries the usual risks that are present in any surgery. Phalloplasty is a fucking nightmare that shouldn’t even exist.
I would also like to emphasize that I am not attempting to control or “police” individual people’s choices. I’m not going to start showing up at plastic surgery clinics and stopping people from getting breast augmentations, nor am I going to start showing up at gender clinics and stopping people’s transitions. This isn’t about policing people’s behaviors, this is about analyzing a social situation. This is about considering women as a class, the social systems and culture that affect women, and the reasons why large numbers of women feel compelled to harm themselves. Anyone who focuses on individual choices without looking at the social context is totally missing the point. Looking at people’s choices as if they exist in a vacuum is denying the sexism and homophobia that is obviously present. Women can feel free to harm themselves if they want, because we can all do whatever we want with our bodies, but the feminist movement is going to continue to analyze the reasons why this is happening so that we can make changes in the culture so that women don’t feel compelled to harm themselves anymore.