Thursday, February 14, 2013

Why I Demand Trans Feminism

Trigger warning: transphobic shit to follow.

This exchange occurred after tweeting about my complete belief in the future of feminism including, supporting, & validating trans feminism.

It's taken me a month to boil down, suss through, & address all of the messy assumptions in this exchange.

Firstly imbuing any body part (like a phallus or say large breasts) with inherently threatening or dangerous qualities places people's bodies and body parts into a hierarchy. It makes some bodies and body parts "more okay" than others and hence more deserving of our support validation and defense. A person's body should never be the grounds for deciding what levels of solidarity they deserve.

Insinuating that a penis or penis haver is inherently threatening is as fraught as insinuating that too much cleavage is dangerous or say causes earthquakes.

The idea that a phallus or phallus haver is inherently threatening to a vagina or vagina haver uses the same broken logic as is used when blaming women's bodies and "sluttyness" for the actions or motivations of an assaulter/harasser. Assumptions that the size, dress, race, and shape of a woman indicates her sexuality run rampant. So too does the assumption that expressions and qualities we deem  masculine are inherently violent. Both of these assumptions are of the same type and are damaging. They serve only to offer security by separating people from one another. Which is not a form of security I believe in. It comes from a place of personal fear for survival/not getting hurt.

This tweet objectifies and ultimately limits the potential motivation of both groups of people indicated. They are either penile (threatening) or vaginal (deserving of protection). It's a well accepted and wise rule of the queer world and trans world that we accept that someone's identity and humanity are bigger than their body or what we can perceive about their bodies. Reducing people and their possible motivations and ways of being to their body parts is straight up oppressive objectification. It tells them that they are indeed just their body parts.

If the focus on penis vs. vagina is removed, the tweet above merely becomes someone saying that one person's concerns are more important than another's just because they have differing body parts. This tweet’s emphasis on the concerns of a particular group being more important than another’s requires that we believe there is a scarcity of concern and a hierarchy for compassion. Anyone with half a hope for intersectional politics knows that this idea is broken.

I understand that some folks have have traumatic associations with certain body parts, but personal trauma does not justify censoring or excluding the people whose body parts are associated with that trauma. I've been assaulted by two redheads, this doesn't mean I have a right to assume that all gingers are dangerous/threatening to me.

Having a traumatic association with a particular body part does not mean those body parts or objects are always to be harbingers of trauma. Past performance of one member of a group does not determine future performance of all members of that group.

The idea that the phallus (or any other male-associated body traits) is inherently threatening actually reinforces paradigms of of violence against women (a la evolutionary psychology so familiar in the rhetoric of rape apologists). It essentializes violence as inexplicably connected to male bodies. Believing that the phallus/masculinity is inherently violent creates a closed loop definition that makes confronting actual instances of violence perpetrated by men defensible because "well having a penis/testosterone just makes you more violent." This is absurd. It casts all those with masculine traits as irredeemably violent and not worth intervention.

Casting the phallus itself or those who have a phallus exclusively as violators who need no support or protection becomes widely and obviously incorrect when you consider the terrifyingly high rates of violence and exclusion trans women experience. Our legal system has already enforced the assumption of trans folks as violent perpetrators. This objectifying assumption actually enables such violence against both women AND trans people. 

It is totally fucked up to say that some folks (those with vaginas) have a right to feel unthreatened while others concerns for safety are disregarded completely (because they're cast as inherently threatening due to their body parts).

When I strap on a phallus I don’t magically become less of a feminist or become more dangerous to vagina havers. A cock is not a gun. It's a tool. One that can be used for violence but it isn't inherently violent any more than it is inherently pleasurable. It is just a body part.

Statistically speaking, having a phallus makes one likelier to have privilege BUT having privilege doesn't in and of itself, make a person violent or entitled. 

I understand that what most trans excluding feminists fear is this stereotype of phallus-related violence & entitlement. But employing body-based stereotypes like this is not only discriminatory but a downright inefficient way of screening for violent behavior.

No person's body or body parts is better or more inherently deserving of concern or protection. As a radical feminist and vagina haver, I personally resent that other folks seem to think myself or my body parts need to be protected from those scary phalluses.

I know that as a person with vagina I'm at higher risk for sexual assault than a cisgender man and that statistically that assault is more likely to be perpetrated by a cis guy. But I have been physically assaulted by cis women with higher frequency than cis men. Based on this history I resent the assumption that I am “safer” around cis women. I want to be allowed to use my own ability to discern who my allies are. I don’t need this arbitrary body-based separation and I certainly don’t approve of it.

My writing this is NOT an effort to tell those with traumatic experiences related to masculinity & the phallus to "get over it". That trauma deserves space and support. But when we work for intersectional politics (which the future of feminism must be) a single narrative of trauma cannot always be the focus of our actions.

I know this seems callous on some level but it is necessary. But as I’ve written before nobody is entitled to the be listened to or to have the attention/protection of the community. No one has a right to feel safe. It is always a privilege. In order to distribute this privilege effectively community members must

1. Acknowledge that others have trauma and that all trauma is valid even if not addressed and processed.
2. Accept that the personal experience of trauma one person has doesn't map onto the experiences others have with their trauma.
3. Accept that no experience of trauma is more or less deserving of our compassion.

Excluding those who have body parts that have been fearfully defined as dangerous robs our feminist communities of solidarity and the imperative discomfort of bearing witness to the trauma of trans folks.

I want demand these experiences be welcomed into my feminist community.