Thursday, February 21, 2013

Be Who You Wanna Be

I know I'm a million years late to this party in Internet time, but I realised in a conversation the other day that some people managed to miss this particularly revolting attack on trans women by noted columnist Julie Birchall, and moreover that some women were unaware of the trans* hate harbored by many prominent feminists for a long time now. (Incidentally, the link I put in there to the original Guardian article goes to a cache of the column, which was pulled down a couple of days after publication. I am constantly amused by publications that don't seem to understand that once you publish something, it's out there FOREVER. There are no backsies on the internet) I figure while there are still some people who don't know about this, then there are still things to say. It's especially pertinent to be putting this up considering the RadFem 2013 conference is starting soon - while I am feminist it's pretty safe to say Radical Feminism and I don't have a lot of common ground. Quite apart from my opinion of their aim of achieving a feminist utopia, two of their principle "enemies" are sex workers and trans* people, and I'm not super comfortable with feminists who hate on my friends. In the coming days and weeks a lot of the radical anti-trans feminists will be saying their piece, so it seemed a good time to share mine.

The Wayback Machine is BRILLIANT

Birchall's column made me furious, and sick to my stomach. The things she said about trans women were just inexcusable - I don't care if she felt like the trans community was bullying her friend, calling your alleged enemies "bedwetters in bad wigs" is just disgusting, not to mention really poor form from an alleged journalist. It's easy to dismiss this column as tabloid click bait (saying something awful just to get page views) and this is undeniably part of the motivation for it being published. But it's not just Birchall who feels like this about trans women - not by a long shot.

Roseanne Barr lost my respect after statements that compared being trans* to being a paedophile and joined in the apparently endless debate about whether trans women should be allowed in bathrooms with "real" women. Before I got more regularly involved in the feminist movement, I didn't even realise this was an issue, and when I first came across the "bathroom wars" I was baffled as to what it could possibly be about. I mean, it's a women's bathroom, so women should be able to go in, right? Because I am incapable of letting things lie, I looked into it and to be honest I'm kind of sorry I did. It seems that, apart from a fear of having "dicks in their faces", one of the most commonly given reasons against trans women in women's bathrooms is the fear that letting trans women come into the women's bathrooms would open the door for rapists to dress up in drag and pretend to be trans women, in order to rape more easily. This is...well, let's just say after reading this "justification" I was still pretty baffled as to what the issue was, because this seems like such a ludicrous scenario to me that I can't comprehend why I'm supposed to be scared of it. I would be interested to see any examples of this actually happening, because I just cannot bring myself to give it any credence at all. I cannot believe this is a real thing that happens. As for having dicks in their faces, well, maybe they are going to different women's bathrooms to me, because I don't see how this is a real problem either. I have seen a lot of things, but I have never seen a stranger's genitals in a public bathroom unwillingly. The whole "debate" just looks like women fearmongering in order to exclude trans* people to me.

Speaking of exclusion, I was also horrified when I came across the trans/cis divide in the attendees of Mitchfest, a long running women's festival in Michigan. Or rather, I should probably call it womyn's festival, because the attendees seem to have some very definite opinions on the use of the word "woman". The anti-trans contingent have declared themselves "Womyn born womyn" to differentiate themselves from the trans attendees who they consider to be inherently, and indelibly male. These complaints that trans women are ruining the festival simply by being there just boggles me. In this instance, it's certainly true that the language they use to voice these complaints makes me automatically disinterested in their point of view - I don't have a lot of time for people waffling about male and female "energy" and how you can "sense" an askew chromosome across a field of 20,000 people. But even when I try and put that aside, I simply do not understand what their problem is. The trans women just want to go and see some kick ass women play some kick ass music, and I cannot fathom how their presence means womyn can't do the same.The divide has gotten so deep that it's actually escalated to physical violence more than once. So much for their insistence that female space is inherently "peaceful". Of course, this is probably the trans women's fault too, for spreading their nasty inherent male energy around and infecting all the otherwise peaceful, chilled out, accepting womyn.

Who am I kidding, I can't be objective about this. I try not to be sarcastic, I honestly do, because it's a terrible debate technique, but in this instance I can't help it. This whole thing just makes me so, so angry, and baffled, and then angry again. I find this sort of hate towards a group of people who have done absolutely nothing to you just baffling. And please, PLEASE don't try and argue male infection of female energy to me. I beg you. It's absolute baloney, and we all know it. Trans people being around does not harm you in any way, it really doesn't.  Absolute poppycock about trans women being "dicks in chick's clothing", or how "transition was created and is maintained to eradicate gays and lesbians" just makes me want to punch people. If someone would just come clean and admit they don't like trans people because they find them confusing and disorienting, THAT I would at least listen to. If they could just admit it - just admit that people who don't fit the gender binary freak them out. I would still disagree, and try and convince them there is nothing to be confused or fearful about, but it's at least somewhere a conversation could start. It would be a tiny shred of honesty, and we could talk from there.

Confusion often leads to hatefulness, because people don't like feeling like they don't know everything, and confusion when confronted with gender and sexuality you're not used to I can certainly understand. I was incredibly ignorant, sheltered, and naive when I moved out of home. I'd lived my entire life in small towns where the only people who weren't white ran the Chinese restaurant, and I don't recall ever actually meeting anyone in person who openly identified as gay or queer until I left home. One of the first groups of friends I made on my arrival in the Big Smoke were the cast of a Rocky Horror callback show I joined, and that experience blew my sphere of perception WIDE open. It wasn't just watching Tim Curry strut around in underwear and getting curiously turned on - the cast were the biggest eye opener for me. I can only think of one person in the entire cast off the top of my head who identified as entirely straight and cisgendered. Everyone else was gay, or bi, or trans, or queer, or some variation along the spectrum of sexuality and gender. It was pretty challenging, and I'm happy to admit that. Well, not happy - I'm pretty embarrassed by it now, but willing to admit it. I will admit that I stared the first time I saw two female members of the cast making out, and not just because I had painful crushes on them both. I was confused by the boy who played Frank'n"Furter in our show wearing his costume heels out to the bar afterwards. But I got over it. I was 18, had lived my entire life with virtually no contact with anyone who wasn't Caucasian, cis gendered, and straight - I didn't actually know there WAS such a thing as bisexual until I joined that cast. (That discovery cleared up QUITE a few pressing concerns I had, I can tell you). But I got over my culture shock, and I learned that who any of them chose to fuck or how they chose to identify did not hurt or threaten me in the slightest.

It really wasn't that difficult. I listened when they spoke, and used the words they used for themselves. If they called themselves he, I would call them he. If someone who presented as male introduced themselves as Alicia, I would simply call them Alicia because that's their name, and the possible reasons for a disconnect between a feminine name and a masculine appearance is none of my damn business. If I didn't know how to refer to them, I asked politely what they would prefer. I am constantly baffled by how this is apparently so difficult and challenging for people. I hear cries of, "But they can't just call themselves whatever they want!!?" as if the world will end should we allow everyone to choose how they want to express their identity. I've heard, "We can't be expected to ask what they want to be called!" as another defense of how terribly confusing tran* people can be, which again, just boggles me. We ask people what they would like to be called ALL THE TIME. It's called "introducing ourselves." If someone introduces themselves as Steve, you're not going to tell them they look more like a Dave, are you? It's not a perfect metaphor, because changing your name is MUCH easier than changing your outward gender, but to my mind the principle of politeness applies in both cases. I have friends with several different names they use, and some who's particular gender identity I don't actually really know - so I just ask them how they want to be referred to, and then do that. I'm not perfect - sometimes I fuck it up and refer to people in ways that make them uncomfortable. And you know what I do? I don't get angry at the person for being so "confusing", I apologise. It's very simple - people can be who they want to be, and that's no skin off my nose, or yours. It would be great if everyone could come to a place where they weren't challenged or confused by trans people, but I would settle for those who don't approve or understand just understanding it's none of their damn business, and getting over it.

I don't really know how to finish this. The whole subject makes me so sad, and angry, and emotional. I'm not even trans*, so I can only imagine how deeply it impacts actual trans* people. I have so many things to say about the hatred within feminism for people who have every right to be a part of the movement that I barely feel like I've scratched the surface here.The amount of hatefulness out there makes me feel so powerless, and so I guess I just wanted this to be my contribution against that. I know it's not going to change a lot of minds, but I hope that I at least opened some eyes. 


  1. very well said, thank you.

  2. Thank you so much for this! Excellent post.


  3. Hey Cassie, you are a brave brave person. Just wanted you to know that I share the same beliefs. Congrats. =)

    1. Thanks Ricardo :) I don't know if I really count as brave, considering the privileges I enjoy, but I appreciate the congratulations,


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