In the light of certain accusations that have been levelled at trans activists in the wake of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ upcoming conference (“Transgender: Time To Change“), I feel it’s important to clarify my position on trans activism. This post relates directly to the aforementioned conference, but also more generally to the kind of activism I promote on this blog.
I believe that trans activism is for everyone. Trans activism is about promoting gender liberation for all. I feel that Leslie Feinberg sums this up particularly well in hir introduction to “Trans Liberation: beyond pink or blue”:
The sight of pink-blue gender-coded infant outfits may grate on your nerves. Or you may be a woman or a man who feels at home in these categories. Trans liberation defends you both.
Each person should have the right to choose between pink or blue tinted gender categories, as well as the other hues of the palette. At this moment in time, that right is denied to us. But together, we could make it a reality.
Trans activism therefore incorporates and complements transsexual activism, but is noteably distinct. The goals of trans activism also complement those of feminism: we fight not for gender equality, but for gender liberation.
We fight to free individuals from the constraints of necessary gender categories and gender roles with the proviso that an individual be free to define their own gendered experience. If someone wants to wear dresses, or trousers, or make-up, or grow a moustache, or armpit hair, then cool. Be free, and liberated. Express yourself.
As a trans activist, I believe that individuals have a right to transition. A transition may be social or physical. It may involve new clothes, hormones, surgery…one of these things, or none of these things. It has to be contextual and right for the individual, and move at a speed that is right for them. Transsexed people often have deep-seated reasons for feeling extremely uncomfortable with their sex characteristics, and a transition can alleviate this. A a trans woman, I have benefitted a great deal from my transition. I am fortunate enough to live a more fulfilling life.
I do not feel that my experiences in any way put me at odds with feminism. I oppose outdates stereotypes of the woman as passive and ornamental. I support my sisters’ fight for equal rights and gender liberation: for equal pay, for body sovereignty, and against sexist, patriarchial institutions. I do not dress in a particularly feminine fashion: this is what works for me. I know some trans women who are very butch, and others who are high femme. As a trans activist, I believe in their right to express themselves.
However, I feel it is important for trans activism to also recognise the right not to transition. Transition is not right for all gender variant people. The important thing is that we are all free to express ourselves, regardless. No-one deserves to be pushed onto a particular gender path by overzealous medical institutions, feminists or trans communities with a point to prove.
I oppose the ethos of “Transgender: Time To Change” because I feel that the attitude of individuals such as Az Hakeem and Julie Bindel fly in the face of trans liberation. Transition should be available to all who need it, when they need it, be this in the form of medical intervention or appropriate counselling (not pathologising “talking therapies”: the same kind of interventions that have enabled the “ex-gay” movement). It is also disappointing when such organisations fail to listen to those expressing disappointment at their actions.
I also feel that gender variant individuals – particularly children – should be free to celebrate and explore their gender variance without being treated as mentally ill “fantasists” (Hakeem’s word). Currently, gender variant individuals are either told that to buckle up and be a Real Girl or Real Boy, or otherwise pushed towards transition. This is not real choice, nor is it gender liberation.
In a gender liberated world, we would all get to decide what it means for us to be female, male, androgyne, genderqueer, polygender, genderfluid etc, without the patriarchy telling us how to control and moderate our gendered behaviour. In a gender liberated world, there would be free access to transition, but no-one would be forced into transition as the only medically sanctioned option for gender dissent.
This, to me, is what trans activism is about. The Royal College of Psychiatrists and the few radical feminists who (bewilderingly) support them are denying gender liberation and upholding outdated oppositional binaries without understanding the freedom, fluidity and thoughtfulness of the contemporary queer movement. Trans activism stands in opposition to this, and dares to imagine a world of gender freedom.