A reader pointed out that my use of the word ‘transphobia’ in this post, and indeed the term itself, is problematic, and sent me a link to this blog Bigotry is not a Mental Illness
In her novel NW Zadie Smith shows us how certain bodies are convenient for making certain arguments. One of the protagonists, a young black barrister, finds herself much in demand to prosecute sympathetic black defendants, and to defend evil corporations pressing cases against communities asserting their rights to space and resources in developing countries. Human rights cases find her less convenient. Black feminists have explained how that white supremacist capitalism & the white colonial project is founded on the convenient exploitation of black and brown women’s bodies and there’s nothing really different here.
White women’s bodies certainly aren’t exempt from being treated as exploitable conveniences: as passive objects of male sexual desire, justifying white male protection and possession, useful for criminalising black men. In other places, women black and non-black find ourselves less convenient: places where we find ourselves ignored, talked over and dismissed in favour of men, or of women who better meet kyriarchal expectations.
Recognition of this sexism and the appropriate response of asserting our subjectivity and full-personhood against it is feminist praxis. It can help us to reclaim, through finding shoulders to stand on and to cry on, through collaborative social-cultural-political work, our me-for-my-sakeness, our I-am-enoughness. Feminism has helped me to love my body when I can and at least treat it kindly. To accept it, and recognise it as mine, my responsibility, my right, something nobody else has a claim to use or control.
I read the writings of gender abolitionists and I believe that they want that autonomy and subjectivity for all women – for everyone in fact! But since gender for them is synonymous with sexism, since femaleness or maleness must be, for them, some particular orientation of observable features of the body, they find certain bodies, especially trans female bodies, inconvenient to their arguments. Gender abolitionist feminists have not been able to find anywhere acceptable to lodge trans women and girls’ claims to be women and girls. They believe that these claims are ‘regressive’ and ‘essentialist’, reinscribing sexist gender norms.
These women’s bodies have to be controlled, these women cannot be allowed autonomy. They are seen as a threat, often a physical threat I don’t want your genitals in my space, and always a social/political/cultural threat, an obstacle to the feminist project.
Trans women continue to be treated as matter out of place (dirt) by sections of UK feminist movements
I see influential, column-writing feminists arguing that they don’t have to accept trans ‘ideology’, which seems to mean the use of the term ‘cis’ and requests that feminists stop misgendering them and restricting ‘female’ to those with the right sort of body. I’ll play nice, they offer, I’ll call you ‘she’. I just don’t want your genitals in my space or your socialisation, maybe, implying that people can’t, after all, divest from their socialisation (which is the opposite of the whole point of radical feminism?). I’ve previously felt that these voices were not transphobic, so much as cis-sexist. But unfounded fear is exactly what these recent pieces expressed. And while those articulating these fears offer their sympathy plus the pronouns of your choice (I’m not transphobic!!), the people who appreciate and reblog their posts (Cathy Brennan for one) are not so subtle.
An example: Sarah Ditum has been having trouble talking about female bodies of late, which she says fits into a pattern of making such bodies inconvenient. Her own body is found very convenient for the argument, as are some others: Here’s the child I bore, reproductive achievement, conveniently supporting my real woman status, and here’s my cis male man husband, also here to back up my real femaleness. And I’ll call you she (or he, let’s be fair) but it’s my way or the highway:
“Gender is a vicious framework, and few of us can survive as complete people within it. Of course there will be escapees, refugees, self-fashioning radicals who make their own existence – and I support them and embrace them, if they will embrace what gender means and acknowledge the harms which feminists seek to dismantle.”
To me that reads:
I’ll support you if you agree with me.
I’ll support you if you acknowledge my real woman-ness (supported by husband and child) as against your subsidiary woman-ness (which I condescend to acknowledge)
And if I support you feminists will support you because feminists are with me.
Even inconvenient bodies can be accommodated, as long as they are compliant!
Sounds like patriarchy to me.