August 5, 2018

On lesbians, transgender people and feminism


Here is another question I got over at tumblr:
What definition of "lesbian" and "feminist" does this blog use? I appreciate that male-inclusionists use the term egalitarian for themselves. Why use feminist for yourselves when you support gender essentialism and refuse to acknowledge sex-based oppression?
Yes, I know, this is most likely a trans-exclusionary "radical feminist" trying to get me to show the world that I am misogynistic anti-feminist. But I cannot let an opportunity like this get wasted.  Here is my reply:

What is a lesbian?

A lesbian is normally defined as a homosexual woman, meaning that she is sexually attracted to people of her own gender. I believe that sexual orientation can often be more fluid than the binary this concept grows out of allows for, but for many this represents a perfect description of their sexuality.

Feminism

A feminist is a person who supports feminism. As I see it, feminism should at least include the following:

1. A clear understanding of how our societies (which are dominated by men and the Patriarchy) stop women from from achieving equals status to men as regards real power and influence, employment and salaries, legal framework, social welfare and services, as well as personal respect and validation. Moreover, feminism will have to include political means by which to change this.

But that is not enough. The oppression of women is so effective, because it is part of our language, the mental maps we use to navigate the world, and our institutions. This explains why women sometimes are as strong supporters of the status quo as men are (as in women voting for Trump and Putin).

Therefore feminism must include:

2. The goal of replacing the Patriarchy with a new understanding of biological sex, sexuality and cultural gender where men, women and non-binary people are understood as equals – politically, socially, and culturally. This is a society where being a man is no longer understood to be the default norm for being human, and where men no longer dominate.

Biological sex should be irrelevant. Sexual orientation should be irrelevant. Gender identity should be irrelevant. Everyone should be seen as human first, anything else second. But we are definitely not there yet. I live in a country where the three most powerful politicians are women, but where women continues to be belittled, ignored, dismissed and harassed because they are women.


In other words: As long as women continue to be oppressed in this way, it makes no sense to pretend that everything is all right, because the legal or formal frameworks are supposed to treat men and women in the same manner.

End the misogyny

The Patriarchy is upheld by contempt for women, by misogyny. Even in a liberal and egalitarian country like Norway, young boys and men continues to be socially conditioned to think of being female as something inferior, shameful and embarrassing. Many of those who violate this cultural taboo are called “sissies”, “faggots” or the worst slur of them all: “girls”.

Under the current racist, homophobic and transphobic backlash it is easy to see that this misogyny is part of toxic masculinity that puts dominance, aggression and violence above collaboration and compassion.

Which brings me to your real agenda.

I am, according to you, a “male-inclusionists” and a “gender essentialist".

I am not a gender essentialist

I am not a “gender essentialist”. I do not believe there are unique “female” and “male” brains and that trans women have a “female” brain in a male body.

My own life experience and my reading of current research tell me that “masculinity” and “femininity” – regardless of how you define these diffuse phenomena – are widely distributed among both men women and non-binary people, gay, bi and straight. This is also one of the reasons why I disagree with any attempt to reduce cultural or psychological gender to genitals or chromosomes.

The current consensus among natural scientists studying sex and gender, is that gender identity development in humans is the end result of a complex interplay between genetics, epigenetics, hormones, various environmental factors, social pressures and cultural concepts.

Transgender identities are real gender identities

The very existence of transgender people tells them (and us) that gender identity cannot be explained by social conditioning alone, since we are punished severely if we violate the gender binary and the traditional gender roles.

In spite of all the violence, transgender people consistently and persistently, keep their gender identity, even when they desperately try to live up to the expectations of society. Conversion therapy never works, in the same way it never works on homosexual men and women.

I believe this persistent gender identity has a biological component, but it is real even if it does not have one. It is as real as the sexual orientation of a lesbian, or the gender identity of non-transgender person. This is an observable fact.

My guess is that this “factor X”, if you will, is an inborn drive towards expressing yourself as a woman, a man, or someone non-binary, in the same way cis kids over time develop a need to be affirmed as a boy or a girl. Many girls embrace Disney princesses, not because they are genetically programmed to go for pink, but simply because society tells them that this is a good way to be affirmed as a girl. Through play and conversation, they are trying to find out what it means to be a woman in their place and time. We have to tell teach them that a pink princesses are not the default role models for women.

In the same way some transgender persons embrace stereotypical feminine or masculine expressions, not because they are essentially “queens of the ball” or “lumberjacks”, but because it is a way of exploring their identity in a social and cultural context. Like many cis people, most transgender people find a way of presenting their real personality in their end.

In other words: Biological sex, the gender identity continuum, sexual orientation and masculinity/femininity are four separate, but interacting, dimensions. That explains why you can meet a transgender, femme, lesbian woman.



Women may be diverse, but they have the political struggle in common

The feminist philosopher Catherine MacKinnon has said that “male dominant society has defined women as a discrete biological group forever. If this was going to produce liberation, we’d be free… To me, women is a political group…. I always thought I don’t care how someone becomes a woman or a man; it does not matter to me. It is just part of their specificity, their uniqueness, like everyone else’s. Anybody who identifies as a woman, wants to be a woman, is going around being a woman, as far as I’m concerned, is a woman."

Her respect for the individual’s uniqueness rings true to me. African-American women has a different life experience from white American women, college educated women one that is different from blue collar women, and Norwegian women lives in a different framework than women from Indonesia. Politics and the struggle against the Patriarchy bring them together.

The transgender contribution

The life experience of transgender women can bring new insights into our understanding of the repressive nature of the Patriarchy. Sure, they have in some ways experienced male privilege, but all of them have a system that does its best to beat their real identity out of them, because a "man” is not supposed to feel like a woman.

Many trans women are sexualized, raped and killed, just because they are women and because they threaten the fragile masculinity of men. At least 28 transgender women were killed in 2017 in the US alone, a majority of them black women. The survivors have a lot to teach other feminists about intersectionality and the oppressive power of the Patriarchy.

Trans men can also be of help in the feminist struggle, partly because they have been raised as girls, and partly because they have experienced the contrast between being treated like a woman and next as a man. They might help us develop narratives that make more men understand. The same applies to non-binary people who have actively developed a language that makes it possible to go beyond the binary.

Including men

If you by “male-inclusionists” mean that I think men can be feminists, the answer is yes. In the same way some women uphold the Patriarchy, many men do their best to undermine it.

if you by “male-inclusionists” refer to the idea that trans women should be respected and embraced as women, the term becomes a slur. Trans women are women, not men.

For a constructive butch lesbian feminist take on transgender lives, see this interview with gender philosopher Judith Butler.

Illustrations based on designs by  Jorgenmac and Sonya_illustration.

Keywords: transgender, trans, LGBT, LGBTQA, lesbian, homosexual, feminist, TERF, TERFs, masculinity, femininity

2 comments:

  1. Mr Molay you outdo yourself with these brilliant responses:)

    ReplyDelete
  2. "Biologic sex should be irrelevant."

    Why?

    ReplyDelete

Click here for this blog's Code of Conduct!

Discuss crossdreamer and transgender issues!