I’ve been struggling for a good while now with certain trends in society. I’ve fought racism and sexism all my life — I started taking hits for doing this as early as fifth grade for the first, and my junior year in high school for the latter. So, I’m not a novice, exactly to the field of change vs progress.
I think progress is the goal, rather than just any old change that comes along being labeled as progress. And I’d really rather not watch those I think of as allies doing what is commonly referred to as “eating their own.” So, I admit, a relatively recent phenomenon in feminism makes me squirm with discomfort: the seemingly harsh take of some feminists about trans-women. The level of “cut them from our herd” behaviors makes me wince, to be honest. I first noted it being written about in relation to some pagan conventions, when certain women’s spirituality groups banned trans-women because they weren’t “real” women, weren’t “born” women.(Just as a small linguistic aside? Let me say the term “cis” for those “real”, “born” women makes me think of the word “cyst”. Make of that what you will.)
One acquaintance tried to make the case for being anti-trans inclusion by asking me if Rachel Dolezal was black. No, she isn’t black although she chooses to identify as black. What does that objectively (if not objectionably) mean? When I first read about the outing of Rachel as white, I spent a good deal of time trying to get inside her head. Why would she do such a thing? I began to speculate and review my own memories and experiences in search of explanation.
As I was graduating high school – with a grade point average artificially reduced because my Principal, who was pissed at me for getting a petition allowing girls to wear pants instead of skirts/dresses only, said in spite of my A-average, I had “too many unexcused absences” and reduced ALL my grades to mere B’s – I read “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.“ It broke my little all-but-entirely-white heart into little bitty guilt-stained pieces, let me tell you. I have a grandmother I’d been told was Comanche — though whether she was a “half-breed” or a mere quarter was lost somewhere in shamed white pride in the family. Oh, reading that book and then soon thereafter following the white cop/FBI confrontations that ended with Leonard Peltier in prison, sure made me wish I could claim another race than white! This would have been complicated by my blue eyes and blond hair, right? But that didn’t stop Rachel Dolezal, did it?
So, it made me wonder, if my late adolescent desire to be Indian instead of white (in spite of having only a few drops of Amerindian blood) was motivated by shame? Was that the motivation, if only subconsciously, for Rachel Dolezal? And yes, I know some several someones out there on the web will take umbrage and get insulted at the idea that shame could be such a motivation. Tough. Shame IS a motivation in society, otherwise slut-shaming and other such egregious behaviors would not exist. I DID manage to not present myself as anything but what I am — a blend of Northern European with a drop of Amerindian to lend me lactose intolerance, yay? (And coincidentally, much later on being told by an Indian, that I was NOT Indian because I was not reservation-raised. Gee, I feel so excluded by choices I did not get to make? Maybe? So, is a black woman not black if she didn’t grow up in Donald Trump’s hellish “inner city”?)
So, if one makes a leap from feeling such horror of actions done by one’s race can make you wish you were something else, could horror over what things have been done by one’s sex make you crave a different identity? I have no idea if horror at male behavior could make some men actually say, “You know, I don’t want to be THAT guy – in fact I don’t want to be ANY guy!” It seems doubtful to me. Trans people I know say they just knew they were in the wrong body. A few I have read about might have a point – certain people born with confusing combinations of sexual parts – who might once have been called hermaphrodites, might have had a snap decision made by a doctor or parent in their infancy. I could easily see that causing them to want to be something other than that random “assignment.”
Feminists have been at lengths to rationally explain that there are two “sexes” determined by physical attributes at birth. But what does that mean for people with indeterminate sexual bits, eh? On the other hand, gender, they tell us, is societally imposed bits assigned to those bearing said physical attributes. My school Principal, seeing bumps on my chest, assigned “wears skirts” to me as a gender attribute to match my physiology, for instance. Perhaps my demand to wear pants violated some deeply held belief in a Biblical injunction against women wearing men’s clothing? (Never mind, of course, that in Biblical days NOBODY wore pants!)
So, if I am understanding the trans objections of certain feminists, they are against the idea that trans people wear the clothing of their chosen gender as an outward sign of the sexual identity they wish to adopt? Gender is an artificial and negatively affecting condition and thus to be wore down, ground out, and destroyed, you see? So the trans idea of men wearing feminine attributes like skirts, bras, make-up only reinforces the subjugating force of gender and must be opposed? Am I getting this right? My mind does boggle at this, you see?
I get into these moral dilemmas when ideology seems to completely cut people, who are surely suffering, out of the equation in the service of an idea. What are these suffering people left on the margins in the pursuit of a perfect ideology, if not some kind of snarling logicality induced collateral damage? If one assigned this same rational to homosexuality, by saying, for example “Men being fucked like women reasserts gender roles, so by Logic, we canNOT have THAT happening!” it wouldn’t wash, would it? Oh, wait, something very like that IS what homophobic religious jerks DO say, isn’t it? We have seen how that played out, haven’t we?
Thus, my problems with being anti-trans because “feminism opposes gender.” I care about the people it is happening to more than I care about an idea about reinforcement of “gender”. And what has this to do with a photograph of pretty glassware at the top of this random mental ramble? Well, those lovely “glasses”? They were once soda bottles. They were TRANSformed into pretty, bright, colorful glasses to drink beer, wine, martinis — or water — out of instead. So, I expect that any day now, we should catch hell from the Mormons decrying the natural non-alcoholic use of that GLASS being TRANSformed into something promoting the use of demon rum, etc, etc, etc. Recycled soda bottles should only be made into more soda bottles, damn it all!
We are chasing our semantic tails round and round and forgetting people. This disturbs and troubles me. There are plenty of oppressors out there, I’ve met them. It is when I meet them looking like ME that I am most disturbed. I cannot “see” a trans woman being an oppressor by “reinforcing gender roles” because she is wearing a dress and has her hair permed. No, I cannot. I will not. And no, I can’t just sit on my fingers or keep my mouth shut. I am deemed an idiot, occasionally. The reason is, I keep saying things like this: What would the world look like IF everyone actually COULD choose who/what/how to be? Is that not really a suggestion of what a post-racism, post-sexism world might look like?
And yes, thank you. I’d rather be an idealistic idiot than a snarling logicality-induced bit of rhetorical rubble. I’m pretty ashamed to be American in the wake of the November election, but I don’t think I can be anything else. I’m also pretty ashamed to be a human, in light of human behavior. So, I will stick with idealistic idiot until I find a wolf pack that will take me in in spite of my inadequate hairiness.