I got myself entangled in a trainwreck discussion on the internet, the likes of which I know better than to allow myself to be anywhere near. When I make this particular mistake these days, it is usually because (1) I feel under some obligation, morally, ethically, as a feminist/anti-racist/anti-capitalist/anti-imperialist activist, or just personally, to make my position known on some issue (as opposed to just feeling like commenting about something); (2) because I (naively, I know, but I’ve always been hard-headed like that) believe that some conflict has mostly to do with mixed-up or poor communication, and I, communicator that I am, might therefore be able to participate productively and usefully in the resolution of the conflict. Both of these factors figured in to my unwise decision to enter into the trainwreck which is at issue.
I was the only radical feminist in the discussion who held the specific views as to transgender that I hold (and other things as well, but the issue was transgender). I was hugely outnumbered, and not only outnumbered, but outnumbered by people who (1) don’t know what my views are; (2) think they do know; (3) haven’t evidenced they have even begun to think deeply around issues of transgender as they relate to feminism and gender, in general, but who hold the erroneous belief that they have; (4) relentlessly mischaracterize and misunderstand my and other radical feminist views; (5) reject what I say out of hand before I can say it, most of the time and reassert all of the above instead of evidencing any interest in actually communicating. So, that was a setup for disaster. Hopefully, I am at least a bit closer to the day when I manage to stop myself before I throw myself under these trains the way I do at times.
Anyway. From time to time I am going to write about issues raised in that particular thread. For today, I am going to begin with the sentence up there which is the title of this post: “Are Feminists Allowed to Be Partnered with Transmen and Transwomen?”
The roots, the source, of much of the conflict which resulted in that trainwreck I’ve described are in evidence in that question. I could write a book about the problems with that question. I am sure that over the years I have been writing on these topics, I have, in fact, written many books. But for now I’m going to say a few things, somewhat succinctly, or maybe not.
(1) Where, I would like to know, is the feminist cabal, the feminist elite, the inner, powerful, circle, which is empowered or enfranchised to “allow” any woman, or man, or child, anywhere on the face of the earth, to do anything, or not? Where is the feminist legislature, the feminist judiciary, the feminist executive branch, charged with deciding what people are or aren’t allowed to do, and then enforcing their views, imposing them on people? Of course, those questions are rhetorical. We all know there is no feminist cabal operating anywhere on the face of the earth. We all know feminists don’t have any power to “allow” or not allow anybody to do anything at all, to tell anybody what to do, or what not to do. And yet an otherwise intelligent and thoughtful feminist asked this particular question which is in this post title, evidencing, as have so many others I can’t even begin to count them over the years, a very strange underlying thesis or view that feminists somewhere, somehow, “allow” people to do certain things, or don’t allow them to, or tell them what to do, and what not to do.
What is it with this inability so many have in distinguishing between the having of, and the expressing of, a point of view, an opinion, as against occupying an actual position of power which would allow for imposing some point of view on the unwilling? Expressing a point of view is just expressing a point of view. My opinions are binding on no one. Your opinions are binding on no one, if you are simply a feminist woman. I command no one. I wouldn’t command anyone if I could, because my feminist beliefs preclude it. I don’t tell anyone what to do, not my children, not even my cats, dog, and sheep. I am a noncoercive parent to both my children and my animals. When I talk about what I believe about a thing, I am just talking about what I believe about a thing. And that’s the way I hear what people say to me, too. When someone tells me they believe XYZ about whatever, it doesn’t occur to me to worry that they might not “allow” me to believe or act differently from them based on their differing view. Where does that kind of thinking even come from?
(2) The question at issue, “Are Feminists Allowed to be Partnered with Transmen and Transwomen,” evidences an alarming lack of understanding of, insight into, or knowledge of radical feminist community. I have to wonder if lies about radical feminism aren’t being taught straight up, outright, by those who really do have authority to “allow” or to not “allow,” like, to some degree, teachers, professors, boards and committees of various kinds.
On to answering the question: One reason the radical feminist community is as exercised as it is in issues around transgender, one reason it has written voluminously about these issues, is — hold onto your hats — transgender individuals have always, always, always been among us in our radical feminist communities. Always. Going back to the early days of the Second Wave, and before that into the 50s and earlier, before anybody identified as a “radical feminist.” They have been among us as friends, sisters, lovers, sex partners, mothers, fathers, and yes, as wives, and as husbands (although radical feminists generally oppose civil marriage). Some transgender people have, from time to time, wittingly or unwittingly, deliberately or accidentally, been the source of very, very serious, and I do mean serious, difficulties and conflicts among us, and not because of theories, beliefs, hare-brained ideas about something or other. Some have been the source of very serious difficulty and division among us because of their behaviors, their actions which harmed our communities or gave rise to events which caused harm to our communities.
In other words, radical feminists have not developed and honed our views around transgender issues in some maude-forsaken academented vacuum in which non-engaged, non-involved, non-transgender, talking heads sit around pontificating on about the lives and fates of those they have never met or engaged in real life, or loved, or, for that matter, hated. Radical feminists have developed and honed our views around transgender together with transgender people, for better or for worse, often with tremendous difficulty, in the crucible of human connection and community. My experience is, ask 10 radical feminists whether they’ve had an intimate relationship with a transgender person, 9 will say they have. Ask 10 radical feminists whether they have been close friends with transgender persons at some point in time, 10 will say they have. In the positions we take, we speak from our own lived experiences. We have paid for the beliefs that we hold, too. Sometimes we have paid very dearly, which is a post I am going to write one of these days.
Well, anyway. If that question actually made any sense, the answer to it would be “yes, radical feminists, feminists, period, are ‘allowed’ to be partnered with transmen and transwomen.” If the question made any sense, another answer might be, “Not only are radical feminists, feminists, allowed to be partnered with transmen and transwomen, sometimes radical feminists ARE transmen and transwomen.” You know? But again, the question is nonsensical from a radical feminist perspective.
Our theory, as radical feminists, doesn’t lead our practice. If it does, it has nothing to do with radical feminism. What I mean by this is, radical feminists don’t tell women they ought to do this, that or the other thing because radical feminist theory requires or mandates it. That’s not how radical feminism works or has ever worked. For us, practice always leads theory. We live out our lives, we talk about what we are living, we compare notes, we process, we make theory out of what we have experienced. Always we recognize that we and all women know things with our lives, far beyond any theory that has ever yet been written by any woman. And that being so, when push comes to shove, and it is time to act, or not, there is no such thing as any of us “allowing” any woman anything, or “not allowing” or anything like that. It doesn’t work that way. All of our talking and arguing and discussing, ranting, raving, screaming, blowing up, losing it, cursing, telling someone off, giving someone the piece of our mind we can’t afford to lose? That’s process if it takes place in radical feminist community. At the end of the day, those of us who truly are committed to women and to one another will say some version of, huh, that was interesting, might take a while sometimes, we might be slow, but we’ll get there, and then we will move forward in our living out of our feminist lives, and in our making theory out of what we are living. If someone sets herself up to be the arbiter of what is or is not to be allowed, others of us will come along in time to engage in a bit of healthy radfem smackdown (discursive only, of course). And that is all to the good. Because women have to live by their own lights, staying connected with other women who are also living by their own lights, making their own lives with their own hands, then making feminist theory out of the lives they are making for themselves.
If you (generic “you”) take it upon yourself to straighten out communities of women to which you do not belong, at a bare minimum, you ought to have a clear understanding of what those women actually believe and of where their beliefs come from. This is something any beginning student of international feminism, or anthropology, or archaeology, or sociology, knows. This is something plain, ordinary wise people know. You don’t just barge into a community, a culture, which is unfamiliar to you, and start straightening out the ignorant peasants and heathen hordes with your infinitely more brilliant truths. You watch. You listen. You show respect. You ask questions. You gain the trust of the community. Most of the time, what you will find out is, the people you don’t understand, the people you don’t respect, those you find soooo ignorant and soooo backwards, and oh sooooo 70s or 60s or 50s or whatever? They have sound, brilliant, tried and true, time-tested reasons, forged in the difficulties and challenges of real life, for the things that they do and the beliefs that they hold. It is no different for the radical feminist/lesbian separatist community. No one has any right to present for the purpose of straightening any of us out, especially if you haven’t done your homework as to who we are and what our history is, as a community. That’s part and parcel of the same imperialist/colonialist spirit you so despise in the patriarchs. But if you do presume to straighten out a community of women, knowing nothing about who they are or what they believe, and they won’t allow it, and turn their backs on you– well, that’s sad. But that is also what they are going to have to do, for the sake of their own mental, emotional, spiritual, and even physical well-being. Yes, these are hard words. Sometimes, it’s time for hard words, and this is one of those times.
Note: I am going to severely moderate this thread. I will not have trainwrecks here around this issue. I am letting everybody know, if you comment, particularly if you are new to this blog, your comments will be moderated. — Heart