Trans vs TERFs 22.10.17
It's the red rag to a bull, from a transgender perspective: radical feminists, or trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) and what we're meant to think of each other. I read this week an article in The Big Issue (October 16-22) about violence at a protest from some weeks ago, between trans and anti-trans activists and yes, it made me sad. Yet after some reflection, and with the details not as clear as the headlines had implied, I'm not here to wring some transgender guilt.
I know something of the history of this tension between people like me, and anti-trans feminists. Since the 1970s, some activists within feminism have wanted trans women to be excluded from women-only spaces. Trans women are not real women, goes the line – and so it follows, trans men aren't real men either. Some of the language used against transgender people over the decades, I think it's fair to say, has been unpleasant. I won't bother repeating it here, readers can look up the work of Janice Raymond (1979), or the journalism of Germaine Greer, Julie Bindel etc if they want to know more. I'm not sure if I do right now, and maybe that's part of the problem.
Because a reason for the awkward dialogue between trans and anti-trans critiques is the level of hostility and contempt against trans people. Specifically trans women, as it's never about trans men, who don't quite fit the anti-trans narrative of the feminists involved. This avoidance of looking at broader trans identities underlines how being trans really isn't an issue of men becoming women to infiltrate female spaces. Individuals born either male or female are doing it – in increasing numbers – are finding the gender identity prescribed to them at birth not representative of who and what they are. It's not a conspiracy or deception; trans people have simply seen another identity better reflect how they (I should say we) see ourselves, and how we want to express ourselves, and eventually, despite the distress and difficulty we may go through, we take the step to transition.
Do I think of myself as a woman trapped in a man's body? No, it is more complicated. First of all, I'm me, made up of lots of pieces. Gender is the very important interface I use to engage within society. I sometimes think I'm trans, and other times non-binary, and perhaps most of the time I don't stop to think about my gender at all. There are, in fact, several elements to my personality, varying by the second throughout the day.
But here's the thing: I know, equally, that society is divided along gender lines, and I know to which side I'd rather be aligned. On the TERF issue of sticking to what you've always been: just because you're born into something and have to live that way, it doesn't mean you have to accept it, just to please someone whose sense of the world is so black and white, a world without spectrum, a world of only A or B, decided without your consent.
The A-B gender binary is clearly inadequate for lots of people. We're just making the best of a bad situation.
Admittedly, I am conscious of my own paradox as I'm writing this: I speak of spectrums, but insist on being identified from one of two positions. But life is all about these kinds of paradoxes: we're born into binary systems which don't cover our complexities. We build societies around these binaries, we grow up with a socialized sense of right and wrong, even as we realize it doesn't cover everything. So we want to fit in, be validated, but also, what to do with our desires? That combination of same and difference that we cling to, the one interacting with the other, that creates change. Humankind is always changing. Welcome to the latest iteration.
And so the personal is political: all I've ever known within this society is man or woman. I choose. I live, and feel like I'm alive in a way I never did before.
I'm sorry if this bothers you, but actually, not really.