23 April 2013

Gender archaeology

These words were published by a well-known radical feminist in 1974. (Note that at that time, “transsexual” was used where today one would more politely use “transgender”.)

There is no doubt that in the culture of male-female discreteness, transsexuality is a disaster for the individual transsexual. Every transsexual, white, black, man, woman, rich, poor, is in a state of primary emergency as a transsexual. There are 3 crucial points here.

One, every transsexual has the right to survival on his/her own terms. That means every transsexual is entitled to a sex-change operation, and it should be provided by the community as one of its functions. This is an emergency measure for an emergency condition.

Two, by changing our premises about men and women, role-playing and polarity, the social situation of transsexuals will be transformed, and transsexuals will be integrated into community, no longer persecuted and despised.

Three, community built on androgynous identity will mean the end of transsexuality as we know it. Either the transsexual will be able to expand his/her sexuality into a fluid androgyny, or, as roles disppear, the phenomenon of transsexuality will disappear and that energy will be transformed into new modes of sexual identity and behavior.

Can you guess who? Seriously, guess. Then go see; there's more.


(Spoiler: It's Andrea Dworkin!)


LoboLance said...

Things aren't changing with those generations, and yes the influence remains.

Point: the speaker (motherpeace tarot author) at year before last's pagan/gender convention in Berkley said essentially the same thing; that trans would disappear if fluid were allowed.

Tedious AND annoying. ;-)

Just have to let them go in modern thinking. Tis difficult as they were keys in feminism, just rather off in some some details.

Jonathan Korman said...

Indeed, LoboLance. In some of these discussions, I've found myself thinking of Max Planck's comment that “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

What striking to me about this quote is that though it is dismissive of trans people's experience, it differs from much of the anti-trans rhetoric I've been hearing in recent years, and the sea change in the underlying logic seems worth noting. Discussing this with a trans friend on Facebook, who objected that it still reflected an intent to "end trans identity", I said this:

It seems to me that we can cut her some rope. She differs from us profoundly, but in ways that are instructively different from contemporary radical feminists and which do not seem to support the transphobia evident in the claims of other radical feminists.

Yes, she ultimately wants to end transgender identity, but that's because she also wants to end cisgender identity with the same stroke! She would join us in saying that sex is wholly separate from gender; where she splits from us is in rejecting gender altogether. Since she holds that gender is a socially constructed lie for everyone, for her trans identity is not specially pathological. So yeah, we can read her as saying that transgendered insistence on transgendered identity is pathological, but she's saying that it is no more so than cisgendered identity is also pathological! And she locates the pathology in the society, not in the individual, so trans *people* are not pathological in her eyes.

So yeah, she would disagree with us and agree with contemporary radical feminists who refuse to accept trans people's inner sense of their gender. But she would differ just as strongly from those radical feminists as we do when they say that trans people's true gender identity is what society reads their bodies as meaning. She is aligned with the idea that the body has no inherent meaning and limited relevance.

And very significantly, this places her as rejecting the contemporary radical feminist idea that trans women are "really" men whose very existence makes them agents of The Patriarchy attacking women. Rather, she clearly sees trans women as targets from attacks by patriarchal society who therefore merit support from radical feminists.