The Transgender Diaspora
Trans Exclusion, Gender Colonization and the Gender Binary
Transgender activism — as with any liberation struggle; emancipation, the civil rights movement, feminism, etc. — is not concerned with the physical existence (read: gender) of trans people per se, but rather is concerned with the social well-being of trans people.
Dr. Jane Clare Jones, A U.K. based feminist and philosopher doesn’t understand this, or doesn’t care.
Both are concerning.
The Good Sister responded to a pretty glaring indictment from a blog called Cautiously Pessimistic [CP] (I have no information on who this person is, unfortunately) which, in short, asserts that Dr. Jones is a transphobe because (paraphrase) “Dr. Jones just doesn’t understand how binaries work.”
I don’t agree with this. The issue isn’t that Dr. Jones doesn’t get how binaries work and I find this critique of Trans Exclusionists who aren’t “overtly” transphobic to be lazy and counter productive. After all, would you want to debate someone whose fundamental supposition is that you’re just too dim to get it?
I posit that Dr. Jones understands the gender binary (almost) perfectly (as most radical feminists do), but that her premise concerning whom and whom does not belong to a specific group — and whom gets to decide — is flawed, thus making her core argument on the validity of trans womanhood incorrect.
“Everything Not X”
I first want to address what I agree with Dr. Jones on:
CP’s initial criticism is of Dr. Jones’ ttsupposed misunderstanding of binaries, using race as a catalyst to assert that:
If the binary insists that everyone is either X or Y, and that X is superior to Y, then insisting that X people and Y people are naturally different but equal might be a slight improvement, but it doesn’t get any closer to dealing a reality where some people might be X in some ways and Y in others, or might indeed be A, B, C, gamma or theta. To “insist on the reality of both parts of a natural difference” — so, saying that some people are European, and others are African, and both are equally good — is still to reproduce the erasures imposed by colonialism. It obviously doesn’t offer much to, say, Asians or indigenous Australians, but even just talking about Africans, to group them together as “the other pole” is still to deny the existence and diversity of pre-colonial-binary identities.
To which Dr. Jones responds with:
…a binary isn’t ‘X or Y.’… binaries work by being both a) hierarchical and b) by defining the ‘inferior’ term by negation.
Dr. Jones is correct here; take the phrase “apples to oranges” as an example to help you conceptualize.
On its face, the question seems dubious; why can’t you compare apples to oranges, are they not both fruit? Of course they’re both fruit, that isn’t the concern.
The concern is that, while every apple and every orange is a fruit, not every fruit is an apple.
You can’t compare apples to oranges because the two are fundamentally different; binaries don’t describe X (apples) and Y (oranges), but rather describe X (apples) and everything Not X (everything not an apple).
To say that apples and an oranges, together, exist as two halves of a binary whole implies that the two share some foundational principle outside of their both being fruit, which is not the case.
Consider: when a computer is translating its binary code into words or instructions, it doesn’t decipher between a 1, a ‘kinda 1’, a 0, and a ‘kinda 0’ — it distinguish between a 1 and a 0; the 1 has a purpose and the 0 has a purpose.
Binaries belong to their own distinct and mutually exclusive categories.
Now, apply the same logic to Dr Jones “binary gender” argument; if a binary describes X and Everything Not X and Females are X and Males are Not X, then Males can never be Female (and Vice Versa).
Makes sense, let’s move on to Dr. Jones’ next point:
The structure of the gender binary is harmful because it is hierarchical, and because it ties sexed bodies to certain types of acceptable social behaviours, but if we follow through on [CP’s] analogy… what we get is the claim that the ‘real’ harm of the gender binary is that it erases the other ‘natural’ differences it’s laid on top of — i.e. that it erases the people who are neither male or female, which would be, actually, nobody…
Dr Jones is correct, again.
If we are to assume (which we do) that there exists some foundational principal which makes a person female (a specific XX karyotype which excludes another, different karyotype) then any person who does not possess that karyotype cannot be female.
Dr. Jones, like most every feminist, concedes that binary sex is not homogeneous and that outliers exist, but insist that, fundamentally, biological sex is settled and immutable.
This makes sense, too.
If the possession of an XX karyotype is what makes someone female, the existence of a Y karyotype — no matter how ‘insignificant’ — irrevocably makes someone male. Even with intersex conditions like Klinefelter Syndrome, where a male person has two X chromosomes, that person remains male due to the simultaneous existence of a Y chromosome because, again, a binary describes X (females) and Everything Not X (males); two distinct and mutually exclusive categories and not the “space between” them, so to speak.
Male people ceasing to define female people in their own terms and through their own projections would be the end of patriarchy. What my critic fails to grasp here then, is that the harm of ‘not representing diversity’ in the negatively defined group is itself a product of the mechanism of projective definition — because defining something by inversion necessarily flattens the perception of variation into the uniformity of ‘not-x.’ It is, therefore, ultimately a product of the narcissism of patriarchal masculinity, and it is this structure of patriarchal inversion which was then repeated in the construction of the racial binary (or racial binaries).
This was Dr. Jones’ response to the implication that trans women (read: males) should have the autonomy to self identify and she is right again (though only partially, more on that later):
Patriarchy is a system in which all cultural, socioeconomic, and — above all else — sexual power lies with men. Misogyny is a culture of contempt for women and girls. Misogyny aims to police the existence of women into conformity with the sensibilities of a heterosexual bro-literati.
Without misogyny, patriarchy cannot function and misogyny, fundamentally, decides what is and is not ‘female’.
If we assume this to be the case (which we do) the ability of male people (read: men) to define what does and does not constitute what it means to be female (read: a woman) is the foundation of female oppression; Acceptable Feminine Respectability — being meek and subservient to men — is a weapon patriarchy uses as a club against women to further their cultural and sexual dominance over them.
Gender (as it relates to sex) then, must exist solely as mechanism to placate — and thus, uphold — the male gaze.
Check. Check. Aaaaaand… Check.
And then she loses me, as trans exclusionists always do.
After condensing decades of feminist theory into easy to digest and understandable layman‘s terms, she ventures into some very, very dangerous territory:
The issue with ‘multiplicity’ or ‘diversity’ as a simple remedy to patriarchal narcissism is that it very easily collapses into a type of ‘inclusivity’ which tries to include everything inside a new kind of ‘one-ness.’ That is, my wariness about the idea that ‘inclusion’ or ‘diversity’ is a de facto good in all circumstances is very much related to my sense that it is informed by the desire to obviate the much harder work of actually learning how to relate across difference. That is, ‘inclusivity’ is animated by the patriarchal narcissistic impulse to collapse all difference back into sameness (while looking like it’s doing something to undermine it, and actually not).
The Souls Of Trans Folx
…my wariness about the idea that ‘inclusion’ or ‘diversity’ is a de facto good in all circumstances is very much related to my sense that it is informed by the desire to obviate the much harder work of actually learning how to relate across difference.
In layman’s terms, what Dr. Jones means by this is that trans self ID is, essentially, a product violent, male laziness; laziness because of the apparent unwillingness to adequately understand (her version) of gender theory and violent because this culture (of self-ID) invariably leads to some kind of abuse against women, be that abuse overt (sexual violence) or covert (interpersonal or systemic prejudices).
In other words: trans people only identify — or, are only allowed to identify — as trans because cultures of misogyny make it impossible for male and female people to relate not only to one another, but to themselves in a manner that is healthy (read: not being trans).
This sounds… familiar.
In The Souls Of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois chronicles a colonization of the mind of the Black American during Jim Crow segregation and Disfranchisement as an unfortunate mechanism of survival.
In the work, DuBois describes how Black Americans had to incorporate within their “Ideal Self” the perspectives of the racist white people who hated them.
DuBois called it Double Consciousness.
We call it Internalized Opression; the little voice of the Ideal Self being colonized by the privileges of a ruling class and the negative opinions that originate there as a result of systemic and material discrimation;
“One ever feels his twoness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose strenth alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” — W. E. B. DuBois, The Souls Of Black Folk
Is this not the trans experience?
As any trans person will tell, if you just replace the words “American” and “Negro” with the words “man” and “woman”, this indictment is exactly how we feel; at war with our own bodies.
Not because we want to be, but because other people — and, yes, that includes Dr. Jones — force us into battle as a mechanism to survive under their imperialist system.
TERFs like Dr. Jones, just like every guilty man in the history of all hitherto society, has managed to colonize gender.
Remember that “apples to oranges” analogy?
The TERF supposition that trans women (and trans men) are not the gender they identify as relies on the idea that gender is intrinsically linked to sex; that is, that one cannot change gender because that would involve changing their biological sex, which is impossible.
- You can’t compare apples to oranges because apple and oranges share no foundational principle other than both being fruit.
- If it is the case that you can’t compare apples to oranges, they must not exist as a binary.
- If apples and oranges are both fruit, but do not exist as a binary, this must mean a binary is defined not as “The Space Between X & Y”, but rather as “X and Everything Not X”.
As we’ve already determined, a binary describes X (apples, females) and Everything Not X (oranges, males (males and females share no foundational principle outside of being human)).
So, can’t compare apples to oranges.
But you know what you can compare apples to?
This changes everything.
Because trans women aren’t talking about being biologically female; we’re talking about being culturally female, being women ; Trans women aren’t talking about being a being a Honeycrisp, we’re talking about being a Granny Smith.
Transphobes love to chastise trans people when we reference intersex conditions because Transphobia starts and ends with a purposeful misrepresentation of what trans people are trying to say and who we are in general:
The argument isn’t that the existence of intersex conditions proves that trans women are women or that trans men are men; that would be absurd, but rather that intersex people categorically do not meet the rigid criteria transphobes use to define gender as it relates to sex. Yet intersex people are still assigned, perceived, and treated as having a gender.
If gender is in fact predicated on biological sex, and biological sex is a strict, unchanging dichotomy — if what makes someone a man or a woman is having male or female biology — yet intersex people can have a gender, this can only logically be possible because sex and gender are not “things”, but, distinct, multivalent descriptive categories :
Beyond the truth that Gender And Sex are a secondary means for our puny brains to explain and contextualize and already an existing state of affairs, we must recognize another truth to see the full picture:
Sex is binary. Gender is not.
Writer Julia Serrano, who makes the case that Transphobia is rooted in sexism and that trans activism is a feminist movement, coined the term “Transmisogny” in her book Whipping Girl to describe the phenomenon of “misdirected” misogyny that trans women face.
Transmisogyny is exactly the same as regular sexism, but intensified; Misogyny tells us that being female is such an undesirable state that anyone with their wits about them would surely never choose it. And so transmisogyny not only judges trans women as women, but as men who appear to have given up being male in favor of being female.
Consider: Catcalling is a practice of sexual dominance designed to invade the space of women and make them feel unsafe.
If this is done to a trans woman, she will feel everything her cis counterparts do, but with the added terror that, if her harassers find out she’s trans, they will feel deceived by her; seeing her not only as a pathetic man, but also as a deceptive woman, becoming violent in an attempt to regain the masculinity they lost by being attracted to ‘another man’.
bell hooks said in Ain’t I A Woman? that:
“… In a capitalist, racist, imperialist state, there is no one social status women share as a collective group.”
And this is true of trans women as well because as a trans woman becomes “Femme Enough” — woman enough in the eyes of men that she begins to experience misogyny as opposed to homophobia, woman enough that there need be a distinction made between her and a cis woman — every other part of her existence (her race, class, nationality) begins to work its way into the socialization of her body.
When a trans woman becomes Femme Enough, her penis ceases to matter because now she’s a real woman; whether or not she has a penis is irrelevant because she’s black, or poor, or foreign.
Poor women, most especially mothers, have horrific conditions in industry alone to deal with. This, combined with childcare and maternity leave, creates an employment market rigged against women built within a social fabric meant to destroy them.
That is true.
And yet, without vaginas, the familial rejection (as seen with non-conforming girls in the middle east), social discrimination (as seen with women at large in patriarchial hierarchies), and consequent health issues (as seen with women whose bodies and health are dictated by men) create a similar climate of inequality for trans women; after all, how can they be free if someone is able to deprive them of employment and housing and healthcare?
So combine the notions of Manhood, Patriarchy, and Misogyny with the fact that 29% of trans people live in poverty (compared to 14% for the general population), 30% of trans people reporting being homeless at some point (12% in the last month), an unemployment rate three times the national average (four times for trans people of color), 30% of trans people being fired, denied a promotion, or experiencing other mistreatments in the workplace due their gender identity, an abysmal housing crisis, especially a lack of public housing, especially for women over fifty, especially single mothers, and, yes, also especially trans women; it becomes clear that there are real, shared economic priorities to be demanded of patriarchy.
And anyone who is benefiting from patriarchy, a system where all socioeconomic, cultural and sexual power lies with men, doesn’t need to demand anything from it.
Trans Women Do Not Benefit From Patriarchy Because Trans Women Are Not Men.
The transmisic notion that I am not a woman because I don’t meet the bioessentialist expectations of acceptable feminine respectability is exactly what misogyny is because it implies that to be respect as a woman, one need conform to notions of womanhood that comfort that male gaze we were talking about.
“You may identify as a woman. You may be treated like a woman. You may be discriminated against, assaulted, raped and murdered because of your perceived weakness like a woman. Your body and virtual every aspect of your existence is controlled by men, just like a woman and you may be socialized as a woman in every way,
but you are are man.”
Sounds an awful lot like the white feminism of Seneca Falls if you replace the and “man” with “negro”.
Same dehumanizing bigotry.
It astonishes me that TERFs and self-proclaimed “gender critics” are legitimately confused as to why butch women and non-binary females are targeted with transphobic abuse when their entire mode of thought is that notion acceptable feminine respectability I mentioned earlier.
Dr. Jones insists that she doesn’t mean:
… to say that there would be a singular definition of what ‘being female’ means to female people, were they to be able to get on with the job of creating their own signification…
So, if we are to consider the fact that the misogyny of the male gaze determines what is and is not culturally female, Dr. Jones’ proclamation of what constitutes a binary — X and Everything Not X — and the fact that patriarchy see’s being cultural male (a man) as “Y” and Everything Not male as “Everything Not Y”, how then is possible for are trans women to be men?
How on earth could it be possible for transmisogyny break down into regular misogyny (as it always does) and abuse cis women if trans women are not actually women?
The answer is that it is not possible.
It totally baffles me the problem gender critics have with trans women calling themselves women on the basis of material femininity since material femininity — being “Femme Enough” — only has the capacity to save my life because it has the capacity to save the lives of cis women first.
I firmly believe that we should do everything in our power to combat every bad thing associated with gender.
The problem is that I’m expected to that with my body and I refuse to put my mortal being in harm’s way by transforming it into a catalyst for the educations of people who want to kill me.
The place where I depart from a straight-forward gender-abolitionist account is that I think we are cultural creatures, and I don’t think the abolition of patriarchal gender would consist of there being no cultural meaning attached to sexed-bodies. I think rather it would consist of a culture in which the meaning of female bodies — and the forms of social life occupied by female bodies — was defined by female people.
It’s surprising to me that this part of Dr. Jones’ essay — coupled with her own definition of ‘cultural woman’ — didn’t ignite a sobering consciousness within the minds of Jones herself and the people who read and supported her stance:
Gender is weaponized against everyone all too often and by placating the structures that incur that weaponization (one of which is the absolutist link between sex and gender) — by performing gender for the sake of recognition, as opposed to performing gender for the sake of performing gender — we enable the continued existence of that weaponization.
Trans Activism, like feminist activism, like the civil rights movement, has nothing to do with gender or adherence to it and everything to with the the social well-being of trans people, so why does it matter to you, a ‘cultural woman, if I , a ‘cultural woman’, call myself one if doing so allows me to ride the subway home safely at night, or get a job, or find housing?
The point of misogyny, as it always has been, is that perception is key.
Yes. I have a penis. But my penis doesn’t matter if, in spite of it, men think that I have a vagina.
And if a trans woman truly is nothing more to you than the sum of her “parts”, which includes the parts that make her a cultural woman, just like you,
Doesn’t that make her a woman, too?