Thursday, June 30, 2011

Radical Feminists: tied to social conservatism and the Catholic Church

The birth-genital essentialist movement in the United States is composed of an unlikely alliance of social conservatives (whether they be populists, tea-partiers, Republicans or fundamentalist Christianists, Jewists or Islamists), the Roman Catholic Church’s Magisterium, and the proponents of the kinds of “radical feminism” that derive their creed from the Roman Catholic-influenced teachings of Mary Daly and her protégé, Janice Raymond (both of them Catholic, with careers teaching at Catholic universities).

Birth genital essentialism denies the reality experienced by people who identify as transsexual or transgender, a reality that was denied by medical experts in the 1960’s, but a growing body of medical scientific research in the past seventeen is proving that transsexual and transgender people are not delusional members of the sex we were assigned at birth.

The unfortunate victims of this birth-genital essentialist coalition are the various members of the trans community. I hasten to add that the “trans community” is not actually a community so much as it is a diverse collection of people who share a single characteristic of not being cisgender.

Let’s limit ourselves for the moment, to simplify things, to those whose identities are consistent with those of the opposite sex. (at the end, we can re-include the more gender-diverse)/

I’ve just read an otherwise rather intelligent article entitled Feminism, sex and gender, by someone whose handle is "No Anodyne" at the “radfem Hub” site.

I thought it read very well until the writer started going off the rails because of the writer’s cissexual, or rather cissexist, blindness to those who are different.

Here is a particularly troubling excerpt:

The way this conflation [of sex and gender] happens is through the concept of “gender identity” — that is, the person accepts the gender role of man or woman, regardless of that person’s biology. A biological male can “identify” as a woman and a biological female can “identify” as a man. Remember that there is absolutely no scientifically-proven evidence that gender (man and woman, masculinity and femininity) has a biological basis. The only thing that is provable is whether someone is female with XX chromosomes or male with XY chromosomes and has the primary sex characteristics that almost always accompany those genotypes. (Intersex conditions do nothing to refute this. Just as the fact that a very small percentage of people are born without arms does not convince us that having arms is not a standard state for humans.)

What happens when we say that anyone who says they are a woman is a woman, is that sex is erased as a meaningful category for a legal basis for discrimination. If sex is the same as gender and gender is whatever an individual says it is, then there is no way to create laws that protect females as a biological sex.
The writer’s concept of “gender identity” is oversimplified and startlingly similar to the primitive conception expressed by some Republican members of the New York State Assembly when they were debating the passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act a couple of weeks ago.

Both the writer and these conservative Republicans have themselves hung up on the idea that “gender identity" means “a man” can just up and announce that today he’s “going to be a woman” and run into a women’s rest room so he can rape the female occupants.

However, that is just not the case. The person who asserts a gender identity that is that of the opposite sex often feels that way from the age of somewhere around four. After spending decades in trying to hide the true self beneath the façade, the individual starts transition. That is not some “man” just saying “I identify as a woman” without actually identifying as a woman.

The writer ignores 17 years of scientific evidence since 1995 that started with research identifying parts of the brain where trans women have the same neuronal density as cis women, and trans men have the same neuronal density as cis men, and has continued to the evidence of genetic predispositions explaining the mechanism by which a brain can develop along one sex’s blueprint, while the genital tact development follows the other.

Once we get out of the cissexual world in which gender identity, the 23rd chromosome pair and the genital tract development are all consistent, we have a tiny percentage of people who are different. Trans women are not and never were men. Trans men are not and never were women. Being trans is biologically-based, and the studies are there to prove it (and rather than list them again, just refer to the addenda to “My June 14, 2011 Letter to Dean Skelos on GENDA”essay posted to this blog on June 15, 2011. I recommend that the author read these scientific studies rather than assuming that the source for “gender identity” as an oversimplified concept involving a "choice" are the Roman Catholic Church, conservative politicians, or worse, the opaque and pretentious pseudo-academic writings by Judith Butler about gender as “performance.”

But the writer, starting with a false premise of “gender identity” that has nothing to do with the development of the brain and seems to be a matter of “free choice,” like deciding whether to have coffee or tea with breakfast, then goes on to ignore the fact that a small number of people are different and do not fit into the cissexual binary based on their birth genital tract development.  To the cissexist writer, people who are different are a tiny minority and just do not matter when it comes to the identities, rights, and feelings of the majority.

The blasé dismissal of “intesex conditions” as being relevant is a huge cissexist boo-boo on the writer’s part. Trans people with genetic and ontological differences should not be ridiculed, victimized and told that we do not belong where we belong, just because some cissexual woman feels that because she was born with a uterus, no one born without one can legitimately be a woman. (There is a “lite” version of that centered around the vagina that is used by some post-op separatists to differentiate themselves from those who are not “real.” To me, all they are doing is drawing a pseudo-cissexist bright line in a place where it accepts them, and only them, as an exception.)

The assertion that because the law might protect “gender identity and expression” that this somehow would have to replace “actual or perceived sex” as a protected class in human rights laws, is patently absurd. No one is replacing sex with gender. It’s either adding an added criterion for the class previously defined as sex, or adding a separate classification altogether. Nothing is taken away.

That idea that adding gender to human rights laws hurts sex as great a fallacy as the NOM position that allowing gender-neutral marriage will adversely impact opposite sex marriages. There is no connection.

Radical feminism needs to shake off its Catholic roots, and the error that has crept into feminist analysis.

Trans people, particularly trans women, were once  victimized by gender stereotyping as much as anyone else. And we still are victimized. In 1970, I was refused treatment for transsexualism because I was attracted to women – and the psychiatrist explained that “they wouldn’t cure me of one mental disorder to give me another.”

Others had to jump through hoops and convince their psychiatric gatekeepers that they were stereotypically ultra femme in order to get their surgery letters –the same psychiatrists (like Paul McHugh from Johns Hopkins) who later criticize the trans people for fitting into the stereotypes the gatekeepers insisted that fit.

Ultimately, neither transsexualism nor lesbianism is a mental disorder, though the psychiatric establishment is a little slow to acknowledge the former.

I get the fact that radical feminists want to transform themselves into the patriarchal ideal of reducing womanhood to being a walking, talking uterus, (the only difference being that the radfems rightly prefer to be walking, talking uteruses with a choice and control over their own bodies – that’s a good thing (having control over their own bodies, not the "walking, talking uterus" part!) and would still be there if they stopped oppressing my people.)

But womanhood is not that simple – how one identifies is based on our brain structures, and not our genitals or reproductive organs. A women with a hysterectomy does not stop being a woman.

In a comment, to the article, the author expands on the fallacies, stating that the trans argument is

“I FEEL like a woman therefore I AM a woman.”
That is partly true – the standard narrative dating back to the 1950’s for women born trans was that of feeling like “a woman trapped in a man’s body.”  But it ignores the modern science.  The reality is that we have women’s brains, at least in the relevant parts related to identity, and we have a male genital tract at birth.

The radfem comes back with:

“ there are females who don’t FEEL like “women” they FEEL like HUMANS, yet they ARE objectively females, so the trans argument is false for that reason alone”
There is no logical connection of one to the other. The fact that some people are weakly bigendered to the extent that they identify as a-gendered (neither male nor female, just “human”) is merely a different kind of identity. Nothing is refuted. There are also people assigned female at birth who identify as men and transition, they are men born trans and they were never really women at all.  We who are trans are WBT and MBT, and not M2F or F2M, (or the even worse radfem acronyms M2T and F2T, which reflects their erroneous birth genital essentialist-based assumptions).

She continues:

“ the socialization of females is important in our society, but that is what makes the discussion about GENDER important, but that has nothing to do with SEX (biological reality)”
With this, I’m getting gender as in “gender stereotypes” and “gender expectations based on sex assignment.” How much pain trans people go through as children because of the expectations based on the color of the blanket we were wrapped up in when we were born. Mid-life transitioners like me have to get a crash course in socialization – I think I was able to condense about 16 years into six months, but having had a daughter, I think I had a head start.  It's an important thought she has but not relevant to whether trans women are women - if we need help with socialization, it would be nice if help were provided rather than scorn.

She concludes the argument with

“ it is SEX, biological reality, that separates males from females. And it is not how we feel about that biological reality”
I agree that it’s about biological reality – but sex, and the biological reality of it is a lot more complicated and diverse for those who are intersex and trans than that XX XY genetic oversimplification, or the penis v. vagina oversimplification. Sex is not just the uterus v. the prostate. Some people, whether they are intersex in one way or another, including trans people, fall outside the stupid standard box.  And how we feel is often a reflection of that biolgical reality.

Those of us who do fit into the brain-based identity consistent with the opposite sex, ought to be allowed to socialize and be recognized on that basis. If there has to be a requirement that we no longer be reproductively capable with the OEM equipment, I can live with that, long term HRT does that pretty well – the one thing I can state with a certainty is that we are biologically different and never belong to the original sex. In a binary-based society, we belong with that opposite sex, or we need a special niche that hasn’t existed in Western culture since the rise of Christianity and the attempt to exterminate the gallae.

As to those I left out of the discussion at the outset - just like we have bisexual people, we have various kinds of bigender people whose identities, also highly likely to be biologically based, don't fit into the standard binary.  Just ebcasue they don't fit the binary assumptions does not mean we have to shoehorn them into the assumprions.  I may not fully uinderstand them, but I respect the fact that they are different.

Dismissing trans and intersex people because we are a tiny minority is cissexist oppression, and should be called out for what it is.

Until it can free itself of cissexist assumption about people who are not cissexual, the branch of radical feminism that rejects trans women only proves it is rooted in patriarchy and allied with the Roman Catholic Magisterium and conservative Christianists in an unholy alliance to oppress trans people for being different.

Until then, all the cissexist "radfemsplainin'" about  trans and intersex people is a lot like "mansplainin'" - explaining things to people who know exactly who we are, as if we didn't exist and don't count. I get it, but I don;t have to like it.

1 comment:

  1. Just a couple of things.

    I am very wary of adopting the terminology of the transsexual separatists, such as "women born trans", not because I have any particular problem with the meaning of the phrase, but because of the connotations with those who wish to draw, as you say, that "pseudo-cissexist bright line in a place where it accepts them, and only them, as an exception".

    Also, the following quote:

    "Those of us who do fit into the brain-based identity consistent with the opposite sex, ought to be allowed to socialize and be recognized on that basis. If there has to be a requirement that we no longer be reproductively capable with the OEM equipment, I can live with that, long term HRT does that pretty well – the one thing I can state with a certainty is that we are biologically different and never belong to the original sex."

    I have to say that I cannot agree with being comfortable necessarily with any requirement that we be incapable of reproduction in the usual manner. This amounts to a requirement for forced sterilization, and although current medical transition technology results in loss of reproductive options, this is not something that we should allow to be encoded into law. Technology may improve to the point where we may be able to reproduce effectively, with advancements in stem cell and other types of research. I would not like to have to go back in the future and repeal such laws.

    Furthermore, I think that the forced sterilization argument is a strong argument supporting why surgery should never be required for a change of legal documentation, which I am sure is an area which interests you.

    Otherwise, as I said earlier on Facebook, this is very likely the best article on this subject I have ever read. I am particularly interested to note that Daly and Raymond are both Catholic and spent their careers at Catholic institutions. I was unaware of those facts.