Friday, 20 November 2015

Feminism and Trans* folk

This is not an attack on feminism. These are my thoughts on why I think Germaine Greer is wrong to make derogatory trans* comments.  

It is also why the views she has are dangerous –posing real danger to trans* lives. If you are a human being with compassion, you should not be putting people’s lives at risk. If you are an academic, people put more stock in your views and can treat them as untouchable and fact. This will lead to more violence against trans* people, with more deaths and more cases of trans* suicide because they are being told why they are broken by an authority figure. And on international transgender day of remembrance (today) – such dangerous rhetoric hurts with a greater sting than normal. 

Maybe trans-folk get things wrong but Christ, who doesn’t. Don’t we have enough to deal with internally without external attacks?  Maybe we can be given just a little slack to make minor mistakes? Sure, if we cross a line then that is fine. But slightly screwing up a sentence is not going to bring feminism, or the whole world, down – and everyone does it.

So of late there has been a lot of discussion regarding Germaine Greer and her trans* views. You know the ones (or you can find them easily enough). Maybe she has been misquoted – but no, she has repeated what she says and stands by it. Has she been taken out of context – this is possible. But if you make stark comments over and over, those comments will make the headlines and will be what you are judged on. Greer is intelligent enough to know this. So no, I feel her comments are a calculated and, to her, heartfelt, attack on the trans* community. Whether it is just to gain some press in a failing career, I don’t know. Just to be contrary to the trans* freedom and awareness that is going on right now? I doesn’t matter to me. What matters is why the comments are potentially wrong and, worse, destructive. 

To be fair, she has said that we are free to be who we want to be. But then attacks us as poor parodies of our gender. I am all for free speech but this is hate speech. I am fine with people having different opinions – as long as those opinions do not negatively impact on other people. Greer has done a lot for women, and I have long had her as something of a role-model. Both as a woman and as a trans-person. Here is someone proudly proclaiming that we should be free to be who we are. That we should not be defined by physical characteristics. Oh my gosh – this is amazing stuff. 

So why then, has she started to attack the trans* community? I say trans* community. I have not really seen much on her thoughts of trans-men. What I have seen is mostly aimed at trans-women. I may have missed things. It has been a busy month and my free time has been spent painting Star Wars miniatures to take me away from the trans* hate that seems to keep popping up on the internet. 

Trans* people have a lot to deal with. There is the feeling that they have to fit into a gender role which does not fit. We can feel absolute revulsion at our bodies every time we see them. There is a major desire to have just been born correct. I have loved my life, and I would not now trade it. But it would have been so much easier to have been given the right body to start with, rather than one brain and another body – something that studies seem to agree is the case. 

This makes trans* folks vulnerable. We are a small community, with a small voice. This is why we need to support of those we can get it from. I have always thought that feminists would be our natural ally in terms of sensibility. We have the same goals – not to be defined by our genitals. And yet, it is the LGB community that has taken us in and helped fight our cause. There are valid reasons why people feel the T should split from LGB, from both communities. But I will always be grateful that the LGB community is there for us and from a few meeting of late, I know that the T is becoming a higher priority within the LGBT ‘agenda’, which is amazing.

So yes, we are a small community with a small voice, no matter how much the media may make it appear that we are everywhere. How many trans* folk do you actually know? Such a small percentage, I would assume, of all the folks you know. I’m trans* and I know a very small percentage of trans* people. 

We are easily misunderstood and a soft target for hate, and therefore prone to suicide. The likelihood of suicide is so much higher if you are trans*, with nearly 50% often quoted. I do not know where these numbers come from, but it seems that nearly every trans* person I talk to has thought about it because of their gender. Our gender/body mismatch does that. Whether to take that route or not seemed like a very valid option many times in my life and it could have gone either way. 

So when people start picking on trans-women, understand why we are so upset. And if you think it is because we are putting the feminist cause back – you need to understand where we come from.

I whole heartedly agree that women should dress, look an act how they want to. However, I personally want to look how I want to look. It does not matter whether I wear long hair or short hair, make-up or not, dresses or trousers. That is all how I choose to present myself. Yes, it fits to a stereotype, but it is my choice. 

More importantly, these things are strategies for making people accept me as female. If I didn't wear make-up and dresses I would never get treated as female - and this hurts me to the core. I still get mis-gendered even when I do wear my 'uniform'. Just because some women choose not to wear it has no effect on me - that is how I want to look and it helps to be perceived as myself. This is not re-enforcing the stereotype. It is my choice as well as a method of achieving what I need. And using stereotypical ‘tools’ like dresses and make-up help me be perceived right. I cannot be blamed for the way other people perceive me. I just need to do what I can to make sure they do receive me as they should. 

Of course, some trans-women, and trans-men, go to lengths to come across as some sort of 1950s stereotype of their gender. It is their choice and I feel it is misguided. We do not have to go round in polka-dot dresses, with high heels and red lipstick. However, if they choose to do that then they have the right to. Just like cis-women have the right to. If feminism is all about freedom and choice – why are trans-women not allowed to make that choice?

Changing of trans* bodies is a way of reducing the absolute disgust seen in the mirror. Again, this is not about re-enforcing stereotypes. It is trans-folk not hating themselves whenever they see their reflection. I want a female body. I won’t get it – but I can get close. Sure, there is not ‘one’ female body. I personally hate that some trans-women seem to prioritise big boobs – and many really do. Bugger that. That does not make a woman. 

However, there are male and female bodies. Once I started taking hormones, my body did start to change. This is my body changing to fit with the hormones I now have in my system. As these changes are led by female hormones, yes, it is a female body. My female body – not a catalogue ordered body. There are some features that I have that are now permanent because for many years I did have male hormones – this is my male body. If I had intervened early, and this is why I advocate that children should have access to hormone blockers, then I would not have gotten my male body.

This is not a feminist issue – or rather one that works against feminist principals. Yes I want a female body – but mine, not that of a stereotype. Why is this so wrong? I want to look as pleasing to myself as best I can. Why is this undermining the feminist movement? 

And let’s talk genitals. Greer actively has defined women by her genitals. That very comment was made by her at least a few times that I have seen. Maybe there was more to it but let’s concentrate on the issue, not on what she said. The trans* community is always trying to point out that we are not defined by our genitals, that it makes no difference to who we are. Feminists also want not to be defined by genitals. This is the same goal. So why should Greer spend so much time trying to define trans-women by theirs? 

And throwing this in our face is just damn offensive and the cause of so much hurt. It is the cause of so much self-loathing and it is not uncommon that body self-image can lead to self-mutilation. So much so that it is something I was asked about when I first saw a gender specialist psych. We do not want to be defined by what is between our legs, but between our ears – just like Greer. So to poke fun at this is really quite evil. It has so much more impact on our minds that you can imagine. 

Someone pointed out that I often refer to myself as a girl in my blog – and that this is an issue that feminists hate as some women spend so long fighting against people using the term. Well, sorry but after years of being forced into certain pronouns, etc, I have the right to choose how I define myself. You may hate it. I do not. I actually like the fluidity of language; that we can use terms that are clearly wrong. Yes, I am way past 'girl' age, and I look it. So the term has little true meaning.

It may be that it works against feminism, but that is not the only issue I am facing here. I am working against years of gender dysphoria. Why do I have to struggle for years, finally become free and then immediately constrain myself to certain words and images. Bugger that. I am finally free to choose – don’t repress my choices. Sure, it may be I get a few things wrong and it may be that one or two things could be better. But I need to learn this so give me a damn chance. 

For now, I will refer to myself as girl if I want to. And I like that for myself, now I finally have it as an option. You are free to choose otherwise. But if feminism is the right to choose how we look and act, so it is also the right to choose how we label ourselves. Maybe in time I will find the drawbacks. But for now it is something I revel in. Let me finally live my life.

So no, this is not an attack on feminism. 

No, this is not an attack on free speech. 

This is not an attack on Germaine Greer as such. 

It is an explanation of who we are and why we should be allowed to be ourselves. 

When you fight for a cause and then start to discriminate and bully other folks, you undermine all you stand for. 

And when you pick on a small and vulnerable community – you are just a bully. 

Telling people that you have no right to make your decisions, to live how you need to live, is oppression. 

Platforming this is hate speech – it will only encourage others to take matters into their own hands and trans-folk are already at high risk of abuse and murder. Fact. 

Telling me that I am imagining it, making it up etc. That is your view. Many people disagree. Including doctors and scientists. Maybe you do not know everything.

As women have the right to be judged for who they are, not how they were born – so do I. And if I choose to wear a short skirt, high heels and red lipstick with platinum blond hair – this is my choice. Heck, every single person can choose do this regardless of their gender. When I get to correct my body, this is my choice and my way of living with myself – I don’t care what you think of it. 

It is not about you. It is about me. Why is that so wrong? 

And if you want a fair society – treat other fairly too.

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