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Transphobia Is A Feminist Issue

February 18, 2012

TRIGGER ALERT – I discuss transphobic/transprejudiced statements with examples.  Plus, if my privilege shows, please let me know.  Thank you.

I was recently involved (okay, started by addressing a comment) in a debate over transgender/gender dysphoria.  Call me naive, but I am shocked by the level of ignorance, prejudice and discrimination shown with regard to transgender-identifying people and gender dysphoria.  I was aware of transphobia/transprejudice (for the sake of brevity which I sadly lack, I shall use transphobia hereon in) existing in feminist theory (mostly identified in radical feminist branches, although it certainly wasn’t a radical feminist group where the initial discussion took place).   [EDIT: These comments are taken from a discussion in a feminist group but I have edited them for brevity and clarity, and using standard practice with regard to best practice according to my understanding from textbooks and my university studies]. I had not realised just HOW prevalent it is.  I am copying some of the comments as examples of transphobic commentary as an aid to this blog post.  I have also been caught up randomly commenting on transphobic statements, so the comments are not exclusively from the feminist group.  The vast majority of comments in the feminist group were not transphobic and actively addressed the transphobia and the prejudice shown by a few commenters.

Quick definition: Gender dysphoria (also Gender Identity Disorder) = “For people with gender dysphoria, there is confusion between their sex, their gender identity and their gender role. They feel that their gender identity does not match the sex that they were born with, and they may prefer to take on a gender role that opposes the stereotypical image of their sex.  For example, a person with gender dysphoria who was born male may feel that their gender identity is female and prefer to dress in women’s clothes.” – this is according to the NHS website (page due for review 28th April 2012).  This is a simplistic and flawed definition, in that it does not take into account the complexity of the condition, and is assumptive about gender stereotyping and definitions, a problem many of those who define as transgender come across when seeking treatment, being forced to conform to stereotypes in order to have their condition recognised and for treatment to be accessed.

Things are changing for the better.  The UK government has recently developed and implemented equality policies with regard to transgender.  Unfortunately though, transgender prejudice is still rife, and is absolutely a feminist issue (I’m not the only one who thinks this, check this blog out.

Okay then, here are some of the comments I have been addressing (comments in italic, my responses in normal text):

“I get confused when biological males say they feel like a woman. If there is no commonality to what “all women feel” then logically it isn’t possible for anyone to “feel like a woman” and therefore there’s no actual reason to transition.”

‘Feel’ isn’t used in the case of gender dysphoria as an emotional term, but as a biological one. It has nothing to do with genderised personality characteristics, it is to do with biological characteristics.  Crudely, not all women are born with vaginas and not all men are born with penises. For example studies have proven that the fact of having a penis does not equate with the inner hormonal/chemical make-up of a person.  Some transgender people don’t feel the need to have the full surgical procedures, known as ‘transitioning’, but some do.  Some may only transition through hormones, some may never be able to, for whatever reason (economic, social, medical etc.), make that step.

Gender dysphoria has emotional consequences, but it is not an attempt to match the genitalia with a social construct of gender identity, but with the biological construct.

“[transgender people] feel the urge for a body part to have a different shape … If there were a bunch of people who felt the urge to say, have a third elbow, THOSE PEOPLE wouldn’t need to claim they are a different biological sex. They would be considered the same bio sex they were born as, but needing the addition of a third elbow …So why do trans feel the urge to be recognized as a member of the sex class, or a member of the default human class, or a member of the Black class?  … Personally, I do believe some transgendered folks are indeed like this, really only needing a new body part, but society won’t let them have a third elbow without also pretending that they’re all the things associated with a different social class. But I suspect most of them have as their primary goal, the need to be perceived as a different social class. Which is sexist.”

We are all subject to the gender conditioning of our societies, those with gender dysphoria and those lucky enough to be born into the correct body.   The expressed disbelief in gender dysphoria naturally prejudices against any testimony or experience given by a transgender person.  The transphobic viewpoint disallows the existence of transgender people and will ask questions and interpret the responses on the basis of their own presumption and bias.

In the same way I, as a cisgender woman, know I am a woman, transgender women know they are women also.  The transphobic viewpoint precludes this knowledge.  (BTW – has anyone else noticed how the problem transphobic feminism has is only with transgender women, and transgender men are almost non-existent?)

 “[talking from the perspective of a transgender woman] I feel like a woman BECAUSE only women suck at math and like pink and only women enjoy placing men’s needs first while placing our own needs on hold and because I prefer doing all those things then I must be a woman”. She says helpfully. :-) … And you need to accept me because X [I conform to ‘insert gender stereotype here’]“.

To transition in any way does not mean that person will become a gender stereotype. It merely means the physicality will finally align with the person they know they are.  Further, in order to be accepted by the medical community and believed, in order to obtain the transitioning procedure, the transgender person must live as a person identifying as the gender to which they wish to transition.  That means they must conform to stereotypes because that is how society defines the gender to which they wish to transition.  The identity to which they must conform may not be their true identity, but it is the only path available to them to transition.  To accuse transgender people of reinforcing stereotypes is a fallacious, offensive, and shows ignorance of the condition of and treatment available for gender dysphoria.

“If this is all about “physicality” …  and a man requires boobies to feel whole, then why doesn’t he just say “hey I’m a guy who needs boobies to feel whole”? But we notice no transgendered individual actually says that. What they say instead is that “hey I feel like a woman” except they fail to define what is meant by “feeling like a woman””

The transphobic viewpoint continually denies the identity of anyone who is transgender; repeatedly a transphobic woman is called a man.  Transgender women are not biological males, they have always been women but their physicality did not reflect that. That is the dysphoria.

Those who transition are transitioning to their natural biological gender, not away from it.

“ I do not accept transgenders are the same as me because they do not have a shared experience of female from birth. That doesn’t make me a bigot. It simply makes me rational. I have no hatred for transgendered people. I do believe they need to stop trying to fit the stereotypes of “only two sexes” patriarchy forces upon us and define another gender all their own … Arguing that the m2f body is not male is not going to work. It is xy. No changing that. A focus on changing the genitals is a typical male way of assuming that’s what defines being woman …. No amount of surgery can provide the ability or experience of birth … when our breasts first begin to grow or we have our first period. It won’t provide the knowledge we are the nurtures of new life. Surgery also will not rescind the experience of male privilege or keep someone from continuing to use that learned trait against born women. The assumption by too many m2f is they have the right to dominate women and to redefine what woman means. …  Women are tired of men who want to dominate, control and define women. Those traits don’t become more attractive simply because the man has made himself a eunuch.”

Transgender-identifying people will or won’t conform to gender stereotypes, the same way cisgender-identifying people do.  Not all transgender women fit the stereotype of the gender to which they transition, any more than all cisgender women do.  Any basic study or exposure to transgender issues would show this.  Calling mtf transgender identifying people eunuchs is blatantly offensive.

As a cisgender woman, I have experiences common with some other women and not with others; no woman will have exactly the same experiences and suffer exactly the same oppressions as another.  Culture/’class’/disability/race/sexuality – so many things influence us. If the argument is that transgender women should not call themselves women but choose another gender-identifier, surely then these other influences would mean there needs to be many more gender-identifier descriptors in order to satisfy the myriad experiences and differences that exist between those defined as ‘women’? Some people do define outside the gender binary, with “genderqueer” and other such descriptors.  However, mainstream, dominant, society defines legally and socially by two broad descriptors; man/male and woman/female.  It is an entirely other debate as to whether that is useful or not, or whether it should be perpetuated or not.  It is not a debate over the right of transgender people to identify by whichever gender binary, it is a debate about gender definitions and humanity.  All humanity.

The conflation of binary biological sex and fluid sociological gender is sadly common a common one from which much transphobia is derived.  Gender dysphoria is not a choice.

Transphobic views define the experience of transgender and gender dysphoria entirely on the biased suppositions and reductive experiential gender norms of their non-acceptance that gender dysphoria exists.   Transphobia denies the right and existence of transgender people by denying gender dysphoria exists.

It is true there is solid scientific evidence to show there are basic biological/physiological differences between man and woman, and solid sociological evidence to show how our experiences also define our genders. It is the experience which gives us the differences within the binary gender definition of man/woman.  It is not as simple as that though.  Studies of gender dysphoria have proven that transitioning people have such things as brain chemistries and hormone levels of the biological gender to which they wish to transition.  It is not a man transitioning to a woman, but a woman transitioning to the body which she should have be born into but by quirk of nature, fate, biological accident in the womb or whatever reason, she wasn’t. The same for ftm. There are many cisgender women who are unable to have periods, or children, or develop breasts but no-one would deny their womanhood as a result of the medical deviations from their biological gender.   Where is the line drawn with regard to transphobia?  These women are not denied their identity, their gender, because of such ‘lacking’ in biological fact.

I freely admit TGs have unique experiences. I do not try to define or control their experiences. By the same token, I refuse to allow a relatively small number of TGs (in comparison to the billions of born women) to define and control what it means to be woman … Women matter. Our biology and physiology matter. Our life experiences matter, as do our opinions. We don’t need to be told our born experiences do not matter because someone else wants to co-opt the definition of woman.

So it would seem transphobia states whilst it is not trying to define the experience of those with gender dysphoria, by denying the condition exists it does exactly that.  Transphobia defines m2f as men who have transitioned to appear to be women, but stills states they are men.  It assumes a commonality of experience for all women which would preclude transgender women from being ‘women’; in itself this is problematic and denies intersectional prejudice and different physicalities and biologies of cisgender women.  It also seems to derive from a fear; a fear that somehow transgender women are seeking to ‘outrank’ and ‘control’ cisgender women.  This is ultimately derived from the belief transgender women are not women and as a belief is self-fulfilling, self-defeating and circular.  Transphobia feeds transphobia, based on ignorance, fallacy and conflation.

The italicised comments are among the milder I confronted – other words and definitions I felt compelled to confront included ‘freaks’, ‘subhuman’, ‘different species’, ‘affront to women’, ‘offensive’ – you get the picture.

Transphobia has no place in feminist theories, and I will confront it where I see it.  I believe transphobia is reductive and limiting to feminism.   I will continue to say gender dysphoria is not a choice.  Transphobia  is.  I know which side I’m on.

From → Ideology

12 Comments
  1. thesecond permalink

    Yeah. I’ve generally noticed people don’t have much basic knowledge of transexuals. They’re quite rare, unlike gay people, so most people don’t understand them at all and say prejudiced things like that.

    ” I do not accept transgenders are the same as me because they do not have a shared experience of female from birth.”

    I think it helps to understand that the brain and the body develop at different times. It’s quite possible for your body to be one gender due to hormones in the womb and your brain to be a different gender. If you explain that, they’re often more receptive.

    Not that you can define what feminism is about. If they chose to make feminism about hating transexuals, that’s what their feminism is about. I once heard a feminist say she thought transexuals were like male spies, trying to infiltrate feminism with their manhood.

  2. Addendum: This link was posted in a discussion which ensued from my posting of this blog in a group on Facebook. I think it is an extremely useful link: http://gires.org.uk/dysphoria.php

  3. Very nice post and an important topic to pick up. I feel that we have a lot to learn from Thailand – where I am staying right now – as far as the acceptance of transgender people goes. It’s a very sad thought to think that feminism could inherit such strong discriminatory tendencies.

  4. DenisNSmith permalink

    Why pick on transphobia? There is an underlying problem which is phobic thought in general. Treat the disease, not symptoms :).

  5. DenisNSmith permalink

    Also, it needs to be understood that there is, by the very nature of “otherness” a departure from society. That’s endemic and ingrained no matter what your “other” is. The fact that transgendered people would like nothing more than to just get on with it, no fuss, no mess, is unfortunately irrelevant. c.f. in past times (though thankfully less now) “black” “irish” “jew” “gay” “woman”.

    The majority of the above are now, through exposure, acclimatisation, and not being a fucking cock now at least mainstream (if only tacitly accepted). Trans is going through it’s awkward phase, with regards to public perception. Your day will come, my alternatively genitalled friends. But as with all of the previous examples, you’re going to have to fight.

    • “Your day will come, my alternatively genitalled friends. But as with all of the previous examples, you’re going to have to fight.”

      With all due respect to your personal opinion of Trans* folks, Trans* folks HAVE been first out the door fighting in the riots at:

      1. 1959 Cooper’s Donuts in Los Angeles, CA

      2. 1965 Dewey’s Donuts in Philadelphia, PA

      3. 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco, CA

      4. 1969 Stonewall Inn in NYC, NY

      That “day” has been a LONG time coming…

      • #2. Should be Dewey’s Lunch Counter/Restaurant, not “Donuts”. My apologies for missing that.

  6. Very nice post indeed. I find it refreshing to see this topic at last being debated. Feminist Theory in my opinion has a along history of discriminatory tendencies, just look at some of the so called arguments that some feminist writers have used to discrimnate against women especially the lesbian community who adhere to a sado/masochistic lifestyle. Sheila Jefferys in The lesbain Heresy being one of them, in my opinion of course!

    I like the way your blog also implied that gender, biological sex and sexuality are completly seperate entities. Which again, in my opinion,are only linked by socio/psycholgical “chains”. But thats another debate…..

    Brilliant btw

  7. inkazar permalink

    re the woman who commented: ‘I get confused when biological males say they feel like a woman. If there is no commonality to what “all women feel” then logically it isn’t possible for anyone to “feel like a woman” and therefore there’s no actual reason to transition.’ Well, following that sort of logic, if she woke up in the morning to discover she now has a flat chest, curly hair all over her body, and a penis … she would just head out to live her day like any other day.

  8. I certainly do not know enough about trans-gender, though exposure through my union and equality legislation has an continues to increase my familiarity. As with most people the first experience I had was a strange one because I knew nothing about it. It was a stark example given that she was about 6’4″ and would have what many people would consider masculine physical characteristics, which itself shows the ingrained stereotypes already as to how we see certain things. I do remember though that my first thought was genuinely ‘THAT hat, with that assemble!’ In my defence it was a great big floppy green hat, I mean no, you may be what you like but there are limits when it comes to fashion. Hmm I’m not as tolerant as I might like to think!

    The crucial point though is ignorance is one thing, one cannot know everything, but what matters is what you do about it and how you instinctively react to that with which you are not familiar. If you come from a point of tolerance and acceptance of people as people then how they are or choose to define themselves is realistically of no relevance at all to anyone else. After all some of us appear to have ethnic identity that might not seem obvious to others superficially :-) Your identity is ultimately yours and yours alone, it is a combination of our own nature and nurture but what it boils down to is how we feel we are and no-one can understand that save for what we are able to explain to them, which cannot explain why, it’s ‘just because.’ To get caught up in the argument as to which is nature and which nurture is irrelevant unless you are trying to understand hereditary diseases or drive a wedge to explain things with which you do not agree in a way that justifies the opinion you already hold. Hence arguments such as the idea of becoming homosexual is necessarily perpetuated by the religious to avoid their texts proving to be against basic human nature.

    Gradually we evolve but on the way some are always left behind with the characteristics that are no longer considered of any use. Hopefully intolerance will one day prove to be one of these things, although sadly it is very certainly something learnt rather than genetically inherited.

  9. The NHS website reaffirms a common myth, which is that (leaving aside for the moment the whole issue of binary vs non-binary gender), not everyone who is a woman is feminine, just as not everyone who is a man is masculine. For many of us, it’s not a bout “gender presentation”, it’s simply about having the wrong body.
    Also, saying “may prefer” downplays the intensity of dysphoria – which literally means “hard to bear”, and indicates a discomfort so high that it interferes with normal living until it’s addressed, and can lead to attempted (or actual) suicide in many people. It’s like saying someone with one leg “may prefer” to have two.

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