To moderate, or not to moderate? (a ramble)

I’ve had some fairly unpleasant comments on my Radfem 2012 post. Until today, these messages have generally taken the form of polite disagreement: the difficulty comes in the content of that disagreement. I, like many other trans people, regard the refusal to recognise my gender (and other trans genders) as valid to be discriminatory and bigoted. Most of the radical feminist commentators who participate in this refusal draw their perspective from feminist theory, and argue that their position naturally follows from this. The conflicting truths explored in my original post were further drawn out, as both “sides” of the argument (and oh, how I wish there weren’t “sides”!) were inevitably hurt by the “other side”‘s refusal to let go and leave them alone.

My partner asks me why I’m spending so much time reading these comments and engaging in this kind of discussion. I’m just hurting myself and making myself angry, he says. It almost feels worth abandoning the whole affair, closing the thread and forgetting about it. There’s a lot of other things going on in my life, after all.

And yet we are essentially fighting it out for the heart of feminism. This matters because these arguments shape our approach to the equality battles of the present and future. When I turn up to a feminist meeting about the pay gap, or sexualisation, or the the gendered impact of austerity, will I be welcome? Can I fight alongside my sisters, and under what circumstances? Can I expect my cis* sisters to stand up for me when I fight for my trans friends who need access to rape crisis centres, women’s shelters, advice and counselling services? Can we all pull together to offer solidarity to intersex people when surgeons who would mutilitate intersex children hold a conference on our shores? How are we to understand sex and gender? What is this feminism, who is it for, and what do we want to achieve?

And so I leave the discussion open, and attempt to engage with individuals whose outlook is so similar and yet so different to mine, in the vague hope that this might contribute in some tiny way to some kind of reconciliation, years down the line. I’ve not yet blocked or deleted a single post.

I’m leaving unmoderated comments that I consider to be blantantly transphobic*, language that reeks of ignorance, if not hate. In a different space, perhaps one with a safe(r) space policy, these would have been deleted long ago. But this is my blog, and I suppose part of me wants to see this discussion happen.

I’m particularly disturbed by some of the more recent comments. DLT states: “I wish harm on every male on the planet. Plain and simple. No matter how you play dress up. If you are male, no thanks.” Take out the transphobia and that’s still horrifying. Surely the systematic empowerment of men at the expense of women (and non-binary individuals!) is the problem, not men. Like, all men. I find the concept of “misandry” somewhat concerning and so-called Men’s Rights Activists downright terrifying, but the moment you start “wishing harm” upon any group of people is the moment you’re straying into serious Godwin territory.

And yet. These comments tell a story, a truth, one that I would prefer to see aired than not. Part of the reason these arguments are so virulant is that so many women and so many trans people (women, men and non-binary alike) are very damaged. Some of us have had truly awful things happen to us, meaning we’re more likely to lash out at others in a storm of emotion. I don’t for a moment agree with the transphobic* perspectives of the many cis* women posting on my blog, and I don’t think unpleasant experiences are an excuse for this, but I’d rather listen than not before wholeheartedly rejecting these discourses.

Finally, I find myself agreeing entirely with smashmisscontest – a radical feminist with whom I disagree so much – on one key point:

The opinion of this Bev Jo noted Radfem, a person which I have never heard about by the way, do not voice the politics of radical feminists as a whole (and certainly not mine), as much as Valerie Solanas does not voice the politics of feminists as a whole by wanting all men exterminated, and as much as the “die cis scum” rhetoric do not represent the feelings of the trans community as a whole, and therefore should be placed in the category of unfortunate extremes I was talking about in my first post.

Obviously extremists, rad-fundamentalists or trans-fundamentalists, are not about politics at all but about hatred which maybe have originated by their personal experiences, and they will not participate in any type of building bridges anyway. But there is the rest of us who want to work on that, and do not identify with hate speech of any kind, so please don’t put me in the same bag. If you are trying to shock the people reading this comments, there are also plenty of examples of hate speech against feminists and women coming from trans individuals, but i do not see the point in getting into that loop type of distressed and non constructive conversation, if its not to create even more hatred and distress.

So let’s acknowledge and listen to the most hateful of comments, but remember that they do not represent the crux of the issue. The problem is a more nuanced one than DLT would have us believe. I still believe that smashmisscontest is, through her brand of radical feminism, promoting (in some senses) and tolerating (in others) a harmful transphobia*, but I believe this arises from a fundamental misunderstanding rather than from hatred. I get the impression she thinks similarly of me. And that gives us something to work with.

I will continue to openly and actively oppose Radfem 2012, because I continue to believe that it effectively promotes views that would harm trans people. But as part of that process, I hope dialogue remains open.

As for my original Radfem 2012 post, I think I’m going to just slap a trigger warning on the end of the post and leave it be – for now, at least.

 

* I will use these words because this is my blog and I, as part of an oppressed group, have a right to define the nature and actions of those who hold power over me

29 thoughts on “To moderate, or not to moderate? (a ramble)

  1. I left a polite comment on your last post and am going to Radfem conference. I wouldn’t have any issue at all with you turning up at a meeting to fight the pay gap or fight other feminist campaigns.

    Few feminists want to exclude Trans people from all campaigns for women. Of course if you pass, you will suffer some of the discrimination that biological women do.

    But that surely doesn’t mean that women have to let Trans people into every single space and every single conference?

    • Hi Lesley,

      I very much appreciate that you’re willing to engage in this conversation.

      I do not appreciate your refusal of my womanhood. This is the crux of our disagreement, and the point at which so much pain is felt. You wouldn’t want me to go to an event such as Radfem 2012 because you refuse to recognise my womanhood.

      I do not see how my trans status impacts the nature of the sexism and misogyny I experience. Regardless of my own subjective experience of gender, the cis world sees me as a woman, and so I experience sexism as a woman.

      Of course, the fuss about Radfem 2012 goes well beyond this, because plenty of trans people are fully aware that speakers such as Sheila Jeffreys oppose our liberation.

      • Hi.

        FYI this seems to be the same Lesley (lesley33lesley( who called me a man and rejected my offer to meet with her, to show her my life and to meet with the cis feminist women who work with and appreciate me.

        Quite a piece of work and not worth anyone’s time.

        Sarah

  2. Great article.

    For me, I worry most of all about the left’s internal capacity to censor disagreement. The problem is, battling with monsters, the tendency is to see any measure of tolerance of a monstrous doctrine as insufferable. Of course, we can’t all agree on the particular shape and form of our monstrous foes, and since any discussion is always in terrible risk of perpetuating them, we find it nearly impossible to bash out a consensus on their most prominent features.

    I don’t think anybody can deny that even in the most open forums, in occupied lecture rooms and seminars on trenchant radicals, we sometimes feel a bit tongue-tied. The terror is, you will say something, then be identified as a racist/mysoginist/classist, so all statements are massively introspected before they enter conversation.

    The problem is, this means that all sorts of theses are left unexamined, because everybody except the most doctrinally aware is afraid of bracketing themselves as a reactionary on the basis of their opposition to one or another tenet of left-wing discourse. In this, the moral character of radical analysis is turned in on itself – by refusing to divorce our objects from their social reality, their social reality becomes so strong we can’t talk about them.

    I’m disturbed by what I’ll dub the ‘vegetarian tendency’ in left-wing discourse, which is something of a commitment to ethical purity, because I think it’s the death of effective political action. If we can’t debate things, because both sides of a debate view the other as the next best thing to Stalin, we can’t come to work together. If our commitment is to a perfect ethical action, then the room for manoeuvre is so small that any compromise is total capitulation.

    I’m not really sure what conclusion to derrive from this, because I’m not a fan of transphobia, but I think there needs to be the possibility of a error with dignity, a statement that is both a mistake and not a hand raised for the third reich, before we can actually get to the bit where we kill the monster.

  3. Don’t moderate. The ratio of “troll-possible” remarks to “useful discussion” swings in your favor, and until things get stale as time passes it’s a good view of the “other side.”

    • I have actually deleted a comment linking to the “agent orange files” because I do not wish to be involved in the ongoing turf war between Men’s Rights Activists and members of Radfem Hub, both of whom I find horrifyingly extreme. If people want to discuss or explore this, they can do so outside of my blog.

      Broadly speaking though I agree 🙂

  4. For what it’s worth, I learned more from reading your RadFem post AND its comments than I have from any feminist blog in years. I appreciated the huge range of opinions present, even though I didn’t agree with many of them.

  5. Of course if you pass, you will experience discrimination as a woman. That is why I would be happy to welcome you to campaigns such as equal pay ones, because they would be directly relevant to you.

    But many Trans people do not pass. Of course you will experience discrimination wjich I abhor. But you will experience discriminattion as a Transsexual, not as a woman. This needs tyo be fought, but it is not the same as the fight against sexism – although I recognise the often interrelated prejudices.

    But you will have not grown up as a girl and therefore do not have the same socialisation and experiences common to our culture for girls. You may experience discrimination as a non typical boy or deep unhappiness at your gender assignment, but this is not the same as growing up as a girl.

    Similarly you do not experience the biological issues that girls and women experience. So you will never fear pregnancy or if infertile have to explain to friends as a young teenager that you can never have children – something society still expects of biological females. You will not have been told by society that being a girl makes you more vulnerable to rape or that sex for a girl is inherently more risky than for a boy.

    I could go on. The point is that although if you pass there will be some common areas of experience that we can stand shoulder to shoulder on, there are lots of areas where your experiences are very different. This is why biological women want some space to meet with other biological women who share common experiences of what it means to be a girl and a woman in our society.

    I have to add, and you do not appear from this blog to be at all like this, that in my experience the Transsexual people who most want to access space such as this RadFem conference are often the more oppressive and aggressive Trnassexuals.

    • [trigger warning: discussion of sexist language, rape etc.]

      Hi Lesley,

      We have a lot of common ground, and I’m really glad to see that acknowledged in your comment, thank you.

      On our points disagreement, I’m going to do my best to respond one by one…

      Regarding growing up as a girl: I would argue that there is no one experience of girlhood. Girlhood is inevitably shaped by factors such as race, class, impairment and social (dis)ability. I agree that we can talk about common elements of girlhood as inevitably experienced within a patriarchal world (e.g. girls being taught that they can’t do boy’s things, sexist violence etc.) but insofar as we can talk about “typical” girlhood experiences of sexism, these differ a great deal as a result of intersecting oppressions.

      As a trans girl, I internalised a great deal of the fucked-up things that girls are taught. I learned that my opinions don’t matter, I learned to worry about my weight and my diet and its impact on my appearance. I learned to apologise for having an opinion. I learned that strong-willed girls are stupid bitches who talk too much.

      I learned that I wasn’t meant to walk alone at night, and I learned to fear rape: once I transitioned (but before I had surgery) this fear was only increased by the thought of what might happen to me should a potential rapist discover what my genitals looked like. The horrifically brutal nature of rape and murder perpetuated against trans women under these circumstances only works to amplify the culture of fear.

      I have discovered that my fertility is apparently important to everyone else in the world, as I frequently have to explain that I am infertile, and because everyone has an opinion on what should and shouldn’t be done with my genitals and/or gametes.

      This is even before we get onto the complex issue of passing (I wrote a post about an aspect of this a while back: https://transactivist.wordpress.com/2010/07/10/passing-as-a-cis-woman/). Yes, I “pass” the vast majority of the time, and this impacts how people treat me. But trans women who don’t pass tend to experience a great deal of sexism because they’re mostly unable to access hegemonic standards of masculinity (and are hence “treated like a woman”) *and* have the double-whammy of experiencing a great deal more transphobia. I would say that I have a degree of “passing privilege”, in that I can at least blend into the world as a second-class citizen.

      Finally, a comment on oppression/aggression: I see this from “both sides”, as noted in the post. It’s very easy to portray both radical feminists and trans activists as necessarily aggressive/controlling.

      • Of course there are differences in girlhood, but as you acknowledge, there are commonalities. You say you internalised a lot of societies messages about girls as a Trans child/teenager. I accept that, but it is still different from being treated as a girl.

        I am a lesbian. As a teenager and child I heard lots of anti lesbian stuff and knew these applied to me. That wasn’t nice. But I was not treated as a lesbian at that point and it is different.

        So research shows that asuults treat the same baby differently dependent on whether they are told the baby is a girl or a boy. Research shows that teachers let boys speak more in class than girls. Children are treated differently dependent on how others see their sex, it is not based on what you feel you are. So girls and boys are treated very differently as babies and toddlers before they even understand the terms male and female. That shapes people’s personality and behaviour.

        Your fear of being raped and having your genitals discovered is a realistic fear, but it is a Transsexuals fear. A womans fear of being raped is there and includes fear of pregnancy.

        Yes as you pass you will as an adult experience the sexism and discrimination women experience. Transsexuals who don’t pass do experience discrimination and transphobia and although this is rooted in the desire to police gender, it is different from the discrimination transsexuals experience.

        My point about aggressive Transsexuals was that those online who I read want to actively protest against the RadFem conference often come across as pretty aggressive and scary. They may be the extremists, but it is these individuals who seem most keen to actively protest against radical feminists who say ridiculous things such as workshops and lectures about reproductive issues are transphobic. I don’t want to share space with anyone like this.

        I wish Transsexuals like you would challenge these extremists. They don’t do you any favour. Yes there are some extreme radical feminists. But it is the extreme Transsexuals who I see on blogs telling radical feminists that they want to kill or rape them. I don’t see radical feminists posting this. Please challenge them and say they don’t speak for you.

        • Yes, I thoroughly concur on your premise regarding how boys and girls are treated differently, but once again we differ in our conclusion. Moreover, if you are to create a space for individuals *raised* as girls, surely trans men, genderqueer individuals assigned female as birth and intersex individuals (regardless of gender identity) assigned female as birth should be welcome? Are you attempting to create a space for women, or a space for those who experienced a certain kind of girlhood?

          I have always challenged those I believe are going too far, and will continue to do so (my original “message” post was aimed at trans activists too). I think any trans activist who argues that campaigns on reproductive issues are “transphobic” is thoroughly deceiving themselves (these are important feminist issues, and, moreover, can be issues for trans people too!)

          In turn, can I expect you to challenge the hate speech prevalent within spaces such as GenderTrender and Radfem Hub?

          Finally, a poem from elsewhere: http://tigerbeatdown.com/2012/05/29/this-is-what-makes-us-girls/

  6. I also don’t understand why Transsexuals care that radical feminists don’t recognise them as women. We are a tiny number of women – why should you care what we think or that we want to exclude you from our conference?

    • We care because individuals such as Jeffreys go beyond refusing to recognise our womanhood (which hurts, but, y’know, I can deal with that) and actively argue that we should be denied treatment. This is a battle being fought over our bodies.

  7. What we disagree on is our definition of girl and woman. I think it means to be biologically born as a girl and brought up as a girl. The issue of whether to include FtoM is a complicated issue as both of these measures apply, but I am assuming they are excluded because they say they are not female. So it would be pretty strange to have people who say they are not female attending a swomen only space.

    My understanding is that intersex people assigned and brought up as females are welcome at the RadFem conference.

    When you talk about hate speech in Gender Trender and RadFem Hub what exactly are you referring to? Because I don’t recall reading anything i would characterise as hate speech such as telling radical feminists that the individual wants to kill or rape them.

    In terms of Jeffreys and others refusing to recognise your womanhood, I honestly don’t see why this would be an issue when we are talking about a small group of women. There are those who think I am not really a lesbian because I had boyfriends as a teenager – so what? I know I am and that is all that matters. The only way I can see this is an issue is if part of a lot of Transsexuals don’t really believe they are women and so need everyone to constantly validate this.

    I am gutted that Sheila Jeffreys is not going to be able to speak at the RadFem Conference. I know there is real Gender Dysphoria that causes a lot of pain and suffering. Is surgery the best way to treat this? I honestly don’t know. If it is, fine. But there seem to be an increasing number of individuals who regret surgery and hormones. I can understand this feeling very personal to you, but it is a debate that is worth having and is not in my view hate speech.

    • When posts on Gendertrender and Radfem Hub out trans people, misgender trans people, use transphobic slurs and share ip addresses and personal details, how is this not hate speech and incitement to violence?

      And if you’re going to debate issues of access to hormones and surgery etc, debate *with* us. The “trans community” (like “feminism”) is not monolithic, and there is no one, straightforward view on the matter.

  8. GenderTrender and RadFem say that they only post details on Trans people that are already in the public domain on websites and have been posted by those Trans individuals.

    Surely this is no different to any blog that posts articles about individuals off the internet? In terms of misgendering – we fundamentally disagree that they are misgendering. When there are posts about Transexuals who have been sexually violent for example, I think this is all fine.

    However I don’t personally like posts that mock where there is no history of these kind of issues. But the only website I have really seen doing this is Twanzphobia

    • This is not true. GenderTrender have used platforms such as Facebook to dig up information on individuals who have very good reasons to hide their trans status (e.g. prejudice and/or threats of violence from their family).

      This is happened to friends of mine.

    • Moreover, the posts about sexual violence committed by transphobia are misleading in the same way that similar articles in tabloid papers such as the Daily Mail are misleading. Yes, trans people commit sexual violence. But these are a minority. And it is not only those who commit sexual violence who are misgendered. Gendertrender misgenders everyone. The current front page of Radfem Hub is full of transphobic slurs.

      Similarly, MRAs pick up upon violent language and behaviour from feminists. But to draw upon these examples to argue that feminism “attacks” men, or that men are “oppressed” for being men, is nonsensical.

  9. “These comments tell a story, a truth, one that I would prefer to see aired than not. Part of the reason these arguments are so virulent is that so many women and so many trans people (women, men and non-binary alike) are very damaged. Some of us have had truly awful things happen to us, meaning we’re more likely to lash out at others in a storm of emotion.”

    I’m so glad you are able to see this. So many people are unable to. Women who have arrived at radical feminism have almost always done so by politicizing their personal experiences. And it’s often hard to see past people’s words to where these words are coming from, especially on the Internet.

    I do find the comment re: girls all having very different childhoods to be a major tool of the patriarchy. If girls have so many differences, how can they even be grouped as girls? Or so the postmodernists would say. It just seems a way to divide women from one another. Of course girlhoods have differences. But never being allowed to discuss what girls and women have in common only serves to keep women from joining with one another.

    • I would argue that we should talk about girlhood in terms of what girls have in common: there are many elements of “girlhood” which not all girls share (as I I believe we agree upon, these differ a great deal according to race, class etc.) but through accumulation of a number of these elements, girlhood is socially constructed.

      My argument from there would be that whilst trans girls will not share certain elements of girlhood, we are socialised into other elements in a complex way (more of that in my previous comment). This, I believe, is where our disagreement lies on this subject.

      The problem of course is that I can never truly know your reality and you can never truly know mine, so we’re left making competing truth claims (informed by powerful personal experience) at one another.

      • The problem is when you talk about shared girlhoods, I and other radfems don’t accept that you have a girlhood. You had a boyhood as an individual who experienced unhappiness with his sex. That is different to shared girlhoods girls have.

        And that is where we will never agree. I know you think you are a woman, but I think a woman is a biological fact i.e. it is your body that makes you a woman, not how you feel inside.

        The RadFem Conference is for women only. And so as RadFems don’t generally recognise Transsexuals like yourself as women, then of course you are not invited.

  10. Ruth, I just stumbled upon your blog by accident having seen what was written on the Radfem hub. So relieving to move on to your balanced thinking, but anyway..

    I totally agree, there is no one experience of girlhood. Just as a random example a girl, or for that matter a woman with a disability has different expectations thrust on them than other girls and women, and so do girls that grow up in poverty, or girls that get sent off to exclusive boarding schools etc.

    With so many sexualised images of women, a disabled girl may only see images of disabled people represented as asexual. As she gets older she may not be encouraged to date, find a partner or have children, even though other women are pressurised into doing those things. Yet because women are valued according to whether they look good and can reproduce, a woman taught she can’t do those things will feel inferior. Sexism affects everybody.

    The thing is, while sexism affects different women in different ways, all those gender-specific expectations are still there. They still oppress, still limit them. It’s putting people in their little boxes that’s the problem. Boxes that put certain roles and attributes with certain bodies, and of course the most powerful box is ‘male and masculine’ and the least powerful box is ‘female and feminine’.

    I’d have thought sexism has an impact on transgendered people from the word go, though I wouldn’t know first hand how it does in childhood, it would be great if Ruth explained some more. One thing though, Lesley claims that when an mtf who doesn’t pass and is harassed daily or discriminated against there isn’t sexism involved. Well from the point of view of many she’s a man in a dress, a ‘feminine man’. That’s the problem, according to them ‘he’ has lowered himself, to the depths of femaleness. Can any thing be more undignified? Then transwomen are sexually harrassed, exoticised and treated as objects.

    Feminism needs all women, it’s not an exclusive club. I’d go so far as to say it needs all people if we’re ever going to live limitlessly and to our full potential, free to just to be the human beings we are.

    • Lucy, yes of course there are differences between women in their girlhoods. My girlhood may have had some crucial differences to yours. But because society places such importance on biological sex, then there are crucial similarities.

      All girls see the media and get socities messages about what they as girls and in the future women ae supposed to be like. All girls suffer from sexism – from the teachers who let boys speak more in class to the boys and men who make sexist comments. All girls are expected to go through puberty and they either deal with periods, fear of pregnancy, etc or the knowledge that as a girl those things should be happening.

      Trans MtoT are not girls. They are boys who want to be girls. Yes they experience sexism if they are effeminate boys and yes this is based on the idea that the worst thing a boy can do is act like a girl. But their experience is of a Trans childhood, not a girl’s childhood. It is different.

      • What is your position on trans women who transitioned during their childhood (hence experiencing a more “typical” girlhood)…?

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