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1. Do you believe that being born with the kind of body that has the potential to gestate children – a body with a uterus, ovaries, and a vagina – is of any political significance? Does having that kind of body have any bearing on a person’s likely opportunities and outcomes?

2. Do you believe that people born with those kinds of bodies have historically been subject to any distinct forms of injustice, oppression, exploitation or discrimination? Have they historically been subordinated to the people with penises and testes?

3. Do you believe that people born with those kinds of bodies continue to be subject to any distinct forms of injustice, oppression, exploitation or discrimination?

4. Do you believe that people born with those kinds of bodies often suffer physical and sexual violence, abuse and harassment perpetrated by the people with penises and testes?

5. Do you believe that people born with those kinds of bodies ought to have a label with which to define themselves? Does our language need a word to refer to the people with uteruses and ovaries?

6. Do you believe that people born with those kinds of bodies have a right to organise politically around their shared experiences, and to campaign and work for policies to secure their own interests?

7. Do you believe that people born with those kinds of bodies have a right to associate freely with other people with those kinds of bodies, and to have some separate spaces for their safety, privacy and dignity? Do people with those kinds of bodies have a right to some spaces where people with penises and testes are not permitted to enter?

8. Do you believe that people born with those kinds of bodies sometimes have a right to policies and resources designated towards rectifying their historical and continued marginalisation and oppression?

If your answer to any of these questions is “yes”, you should reject the ideology of gender identity, and policy proposals based on that ideology such as the self-declaration of legal gender.

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Rebecca Reilly-Cooper by Rebecca R-c - 4M ago

The label ‘TERF’, or ‘Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist’:

  1. Is not a meaningful description of any feminist politics.
    Radical feminism is an approach to analysing the oppression and exploitation of the class of female people by the class of male people. It seeks to uncover and challenge the root causes and origins of that system of oppression, which it labels patriarchy. Different radical feminist analyses will emphasise different elements – access to female reproductive labour, sexual access to women’s bodies, compulsory heterosexuality, male-dominated religion – as central to understanding the function and continued maintenance of patriarchy. So we should not assume that there is unity or homogeneity among those whose views can be called radical feminist. However, a key assumption underpinning radical feminist analyses is that the word “female” denotes a biological category, referring to the class of persons capable of menstruating, ovulating, gestating, and lactating. Radical feminist analysis starts from the assumption that living in a sexed body brings with it particular experiences that are of social and political significance, and that if we are to explain and dismantle patriarchy, we need to be able to describe and understand those experiences.

    For this reason, it makes little sense to describe, and still less to criticise, a radical feminist approach as “trans exclusionary”. Radical feminism seeks to make sense of the social and political reality of living in a particular type of body – a female body – and to eradicate the oppression and exploitation associated with the social relations between female-bodied people and male-bodied people. Therefore, its analysis of patriarchy as a system of sex-based oppression has little to say about the experiences of people who identify as women but do not inhabit female bodies. This is not an oversight or an illegitimate act of exclusion. It is simply not the aim or purpose of radical feminist theory to seek to analyse or explain the specific experiences of transwomen, which will, necessarily, be importantly different from those of female people. None of this is to deny that transwomen will experience marginalisation, discrimination and injustice. It is merely to note that these injustices are not rooted in biological sex, unlike the oppression of female people. Insofar as they are not, they are not intended to fall under the purview of radical feminist analysis. To criticise radical feminist analysis for being trans-exclusionary is to operate under the false assumption that the aim and purpose of radical feminism should be to explain and dismantle all forms of injustice and marginalisation, rather than to limit its focus to the sex-based oppression of female people. It is legitimate and reasonable for radical feminists to focus narrowly on analysing and dismantling sex-based oppression, and therefore criticism that their efforts do not also explain and challenge other unrelated social ills is misplaced.

  2. Is rarely, if ever, accurately applied, even if it were a meaningful label.
    Many of the people who are labelled TERFs do not meet the description of any of the words included in the phrase. The label TERF is often applied to men, to people who are not feminists of any kind, radical or otherwise, and even to anti-feminists. You can be called a TERF for believing that female and male are biological distinctions, rather than identities. Statements such as “only female people can get pregnant”, or “the penis is the male sex organ”, will frequently attract accusations that the speaker is a TERF. One need not subscribe to the analysis of sex-based oppression outlined in point 1 to be called a TERF. It is sufficient that one believes that female and male are real biological categories, and that there are genuine differences between the two that cannot be reduced to identity or feelings, to be labelled a TERF.

    Furthermore, the first half of the phrase is equally ill-defined, and inaccurately applied. It is not clear what, exactly, transwomen (or transpeople more generally) are being excluded from. Many people would argue, quite reasonably, that male-bodied people who identify as women should not have an absolute and unqualified right of access to all women’s spaces, where this includes women’s prisons, refuges, or changing facilities. It does not follow from this that those people think all transwomen should be excluded from all women’s spaces, or from all feminist projects and activism. Add to this the vagueness and lack of clarity about what the word “trans” actually means, and what criteria a person has to meet to be defined as “trans”, and it becomes even more apparent that the description “trans-exclusionary” is so vague and ill-defined as to be incapable of being applied meaningfully and accurately.

  3. Is inextricably associated with misogynistic, abusive, violent rhetoric. 
    The vast majority of people who use the word TERF intend it to be an insult, and apply it indiscriminately, frequently accompanied by threatening, aggressive and abusive language. Those who label women TERFs routinely threaten violence, employ misogynistic slurs and anti-lesbian rhetoric. There is no shortage of evidence of this; there is far, far more evidence of the word being used as an abusive slur, than there is of it being employed as a neutral description of a political position. Given that it is overwhelmingly used as a term of vitriol and abuse, and often accompanied by violent threats, it is not a term that anyone who wishes to be taken seriously as a credible political commentator should be using, or attempting to rehabilitate.

    Furthermore, commonly invoked attempts to present it as a neutral descriptive label fall flat when it is compared with other comparable slurs. It is often said that it cannot be abusive because it is merely an acronym; however, few would suggest that the word “tranny” is not a slur, because it is merely an abbreviation. Context, intent and actual usage matter hugely, as do the perceptions of the person to whom the label is directed. Most transpeople justifiably perceive the word “tranny” to be more than just an abbreviation. It is an offensive term of abuse intended to belittle, demean and dehumanise, and as such, it is perceived as a slur by those subjected to it. Those people may or may not choose to reclaim it and refer to themselves by that term, but those who are not subjected to it have no authority to tell transpeople that they ought not to find the word offensive, or ought not to feel threatened and dehumanised by those who use it. The same considerations apply to the word ‘TERF’. No feminist, radical or otherwise, adopts the label as a description of herself or her politics. Most if not all to whom it is applied perceive it as a slur, and given its connotations, will feel threatened or belittled by it.

    It is sometimes claimed that the word cannot be a slur because it was allegedly coined by self-described radical feminists who wanted to distance themselves from other radical feminists who they perceived to have the wrong politics. It’s not clear if this is true, since various trans activists have claimed that they are responsible for coining or popularising the term. But it makes little difference, since the history and etymology of the word does not determine its current usage. What matters is the context in which the word is now used and the connotations it currently has, and those are undoubtedly abusive and misogynistic.

    All those who perceive themselves to have progressive politics and to be allies to women should stop using the word TERF immediately.

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I recently recorded an interview with ABC Radio in Australia for their Philosopher’s Zone programme, on the topic of gender identity. We discussed the radical feminist analysis of gender, how this in tension with the view that gender is innate and essential, and the resulting conflict between feminists and gender identity activists.

You can listen to it here.

http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/rn/podcast/2016/09/pze_20160925.mp3
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A quick thought experiment. Imagine two possible worlds:

In World A, all the income and material wealth is owned by men. Women have no right to earn money or to own property of any kind. They are given the use of resources by the men in their lives, but they have no legal right to this. It is always done at men’s discretion, and men retain the power to take back property they have given to women at any time. However, it so happens that the men in World A are all perfectly just and compassionate, and always use their income and wealth wisely and judiciously. They never squander their resources or use them in ways we might consider immoral. They ensure that women and girls, while having no legal right of their own to control property, nonetheless have all their material needs met, and are provided with everything they need.

In World B, both women and men have a legal right to earn money and to own property, and the income and wealth of that world is equally distributed between men and women. However, the women in world B are not perfectly just and compassionate women, and frequently use their share of resources unwisely or immorally. They sometimes squander resources through foolish gambles, and sometimes spend money on immoral projects, such as buying weapons to pursue imperialist conflicts.

Let’s leave aside the question of which world, all things considered, you prefer, or which world, all things considered, you think we ought to bring into existence if we had a choice. My question instead is this one: is there anything at all to be said for World B? Is there any respect in which World B is better than World A? Or, to put the question slightly differently, is there any reason at all – no matter how weighty or decisive you may deem that reason to be – to criticise World A? Is there any reason at all – no matter how weighty or decisive you may deem that reason to be – to praise World B?

As someone who endorses both feminist and egalitarian principles, I think the answer to all these questions is straightforwardly “yes”. World B is better than World A in at least one respect, namely, that income and wealth are equally distributed in that world, and there is no unjust division of resources in accordance with the morally arbitrary characteristic of sex. Of course, you don’t need to be a feminist to think that. You could swap the sexes around in the examples and come to the same conclusion – that World B is in one respect better, because in one respect fairer, than World A. It is unfair if some people are denied the right to own property or acquire resources while others enjoy this right, and this unfairness is not dependent on how wisely or judiciously they might exercise that right. And since fairness is of value, one thing among many others that we have reason to care about and to promote, a world in which income and wealth is distributed unfairly is in one respect worse than a world in which it is distributed fairly. There is something to be said for World B. There is at least one reason – fairness – that counts in its favour. This doesn’t tell us very much about which world we should prefer, because fairness is just one value we need to weigh up against others. Depending on many other things, including how costly the effects of women’s irresponsibility would be in World B in terms of overall utility, we might decide that on balance, all things considered, World A is preferable. But even so, we could still criticise World A, and still point out that with respect to one important criterion, World B fares better.

Income and wealth are not the only goods which a political society must distribute among its citizens. Political power and access to positions of office and influence must also be distributed, and one of the values we want this distribution to realise is fairness. A world in which women are systematically and structurally excluded from positions of power and influence is unfair. It is more fair, and so in one respect better, if women also have access to those positions. Crucially, this argument from fairness is not contingent on what women actually do once they get that power. If it turns out that women in positions of authority use that authority badly, or use it in ways that make people worse off, and even in ways that make women worse off, that does not make the argument from fairness evaporate. The value of fairness might be outweighed by other values, such that all things considered, we might decide it is preferable to have a socialist male Prime Minister than a conservative female one. But the value of fairness does not disappear. And so in the current context of men continuing to possess a disproportionate amount of political power and influence, the arrival of a female Prime Minister is in one respect good, and we can celebrate the realisation of that one type of value, while simultaneously wishing that we had a different Prime Minister, one who embodies more of the values we care about.

You might hope that this would be such a trivially and obviously true claim that it would not be worth saying, and yet within hours of the news emerging that our next Prime Minister would be female, up sprang the inevitable comment pieces castigating those imaginary feminists who had apparently heralded the dawn of a feminist revolution. This struck me as strange, since I hadn’t actually seen any feminists doing that. Rather, I had seen feminists making the much more modest but still important point that while a female Prime Minister might be bad for women in many, many ways, depending on her politics, there is at least one way in which she is good for women – and that is simply by virtue of the fact that women as a class have a right to an equal share of political power with men. And further, each woman who holds power makes it a little bit easier for the next, by normalising the fact of women with power, and through her visibility publicly cementing our claims to have a right to it.

I made this point on twitter, perhaps clumsily because of the character limit, but I stand by the basic point:

It is a feminist victory for women to be able to hold power and use it as incompetently and disastrously as men have always done.

— Becca Reilly-Cooper (@boodleoops) July 7, 2016

I do not believe that feminists should be elated that we have a Conservative Prime Minister just because she happens to be female. I do not believe that we should expect Prime Minister May to be overall a positive thing for women, or even overall better for women than many male politicians might have been. But when I say it’s a feminist victory, I mean it: it is one of the gains of the feminist movement that women can access the highest positions of political power and influence, without condition, and it should be a basic tenet of any feminist politics that our right to such positions is not contingent on our using power better than men have traditionally used it. Some feminist goals, especially those related to welfare provision, might be better realised by other governments, with other Prime Ministers, who might very well be male. But at least one important feminist goal – the goal of women exercising power, for its own sake, just because it is something we have a right to – has been realised for one woman, and made a tiny bit easier for all the women that follow. And perhaps one day we will have so many senior female politicians that we are no longer surprised to discover they are just as capable of being incompetent, corrupt and self-serving as men are, and no longer demand they demonstrate their moral and practical superiority before acknowledging their right to hold office.

That would be a cause for a feminist celebration. If only a small one.

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(Note: someone has very kindly translated my post, Gender is not a Spectrum, originally published at Aeon, into French. My high school French is exceptionally rusty, and so I cannot cannot vouch for the accuracy of the translation. But since this post has been read so many times and has clearly been useful to many people, I am posting the translation here so that French can benefit from the hard work of the translator. Merci beaucoup, Martin!) 

Qu’est-ce que le genre ? Cette question touche au cœur même de la théorie et de la pratique féministe, et joue un rôle central dans des débats qui animent actuellement la militance pour la justice sociale en matière de classe, d’identité et de privilèges. Dans le langage de tous les jours, le mot « genre » est devenu synonyme de ce qu’il serait plus exact d’appeler le « sexe ». Cela reflète peut-être une vague sensiblerie à proférer un mot qui décrit également les rapports sexuels, mais le mot « genre » est maintenant utilisé comme euphémisme pour désigner le fait biologique qu’une personne est une femme ou un homme. Cela nous épargne la situation légèrement embarrassante d’avoir à invoquer, aussi indirectement que ce soit, les organes et les processus corporels qu’implique cette bifurcation.

Le mot « genre » avait à l’origine un sens purement grammatical, dans les langues qui classifient leurs substantifs comme étant de genre masculin, féminin ou neutre. Mais depuis au moins les années 1960, le mot a pris un autre sens, ce qui nous permet de faire une distinction entre le sexe et le genre des êtres humains. Pour les féministes, cette distinction a été importante, car elle nous permet de reconnaître que certaines des différences entre les femmes et les hommes tiennent à la biologie, alors que d’autres ont leurs racines dans l’environnement, la culture et l’éducation — ce que les féministes appellent la « socialisation genrée ».

Du moins, c’est le rôle que le mot genre a joué traditionnellement dans la théorie féministe. Une idée féministe de base, fondamentale, a longtemps été qu’alors que le sexe faisait référence à ce qui est biologique, et donc peut-être en quelque sorte « naturel », le genre faisait, lui, référence à une construction sociale. Selon ce point de vue que, pour faire bref, nous pouvons appeler la perspective féministe radicale, le genre fait référence à l’ensemble des normes imposées de l’extérieur qui prescrivent et proscrivent aux individus des comportements souhaitables (ou non) en fonction de caractéristiques moralement arbitraires.

Ces normes sont non seulement extérieures à l’individu et imposées de façon coercitive, mais elles représentent également un système de castes binaire ou hiérarchie, un système de valeurs comportant deux positions : un statut d’homme supérieur à celui de femme, une masculinité supérieure à la féminité. Les individus naissent avec la capacité d’exercer l’un de deux rôles en matière de reproduction : des rôles déterminés à la naissance, ou même avant, par les organes génitaux externes que possède le bébé. À partir de ce moment, les individus se verront inculquer l’appartenance à l’une des deux classes de la hiérarchie : la classe supérieure si leurs organes génitaux sont convexes, la classe inférieure si ces organes sont concaves.

Dès la naissance, et l’identification de l’appartenance à une classe de sexe qui a lieu à ce moment, la plupart des personnes de sexe féminin apprennent à être passives, soumises, faibles et nourricières, alors que la plupart des gens de sexe masculin apprennent à être actifs, dominants, forts et agressifs. Ce système de valeurs et de processus d’inculcation et de socialisation est ce que désigne une féministe radicale par le mot « genre ». Dans cette perspective, on voit bien ce en quoi le genre est critiquable et oppressif, puisqu’il limite les possibilités des gens, hommes comme femmes, et affirme la supériorité des hommes sur les femmes. Ainsi, l’objectif de la féministe radicale est d’abolir le genre tout à fait, de cesser de caser les gens dans des boîtes roses et bleues. Elle voudra plutôt favoriser le développement de la personnalité et des goûts de chaque individu, sans égard à l’influence coercitive de ce système de valeurs socialement institué.

Toutefois, cette opinion sur la nature du genre est mal acceptée par ceux et celles qui éprouvent le genre comme en quelque manière interne et inné, plutôt que comme entièrement construit socialement et imposé de l’extérieur. Ces personnes contestent non seulement le caractère entièrement construit du genre, elles rejettent aussi l’analyse féministe radicale de sa nature intrinsèquement hiérarchique et à deux positions. Selon ce point de vue – que je vais appeler, pour simplifier, la perspective féministe queer du genre – ce qui rend oppressif le fonctionnement du genre n’est pas qu’il est socialement construit et imposé de façon coercitive ; le problème est plutôt la prévalence de l’idée qu’il n’existe que deux genres.

Dans cette optique, les humains des deux sexes seraient libérés si nous reconnaissions que, tout en étant une facette interne, innée, essentielle de nos identités, le genre existe en plus de configurations parmi lesquelles choisir que simplement ceux de « femme » ou d’« homme ». Et la prochaine étape sur la voie de la libération est la reconnaissance d’une nouvelle gamme d’identités de genre : de sorte que nous avons maintenant des gens qui se qualifient de « genderqueer » ou « non binaire », « pangenre », « polygenre », « agenre », « demiboy », « demigirl », « neutrois », « aporagenre », « lunagenre », « quantumgenre », et j’en passe…

Un mantra souvent répété par les partisans de ce point de vue est que « le genre n’est pas binaire ; c’est un spectre ». Ce que ce point de vue implique est que nous n’avons pas besoin d’en finir avec les cases roses et bleues ; nous avons simplement besoin de reconnaître qu’il existe beaucoup plus de cases que simplement celles-là.

Au début, cela semble une idée séduisante, mais elle comporte une foule de problèmes, qui la rendent incohérente au plan interne et politiquement sans intérêt.

Nombreux sont les adeptes de l’optique queer du genre qui décrivent leur propre identité de genre comme « non binaire », et présentent ce statut en opposition à la grande majorité des personnes dont l’identité sexuelle est présumée être binaire. Dès le premier abord, on constate une tension immédiate entre l’assertion que le genre n’est pas binaire, mais un spectre, et celle que seule une faible proportion d’individus peut être décrite comme ayant une identité de genre non binaire. Si le genre est vraiment un spectre, cela ne veut-il pas dire que chaque individu vivant est non binaire, par définition ? Si oui, alors utiliser le label « non binaire » pour décrire une identité particulière de genre serait inutile, car il ne permettrait pas de distinguer une catégorie spécifique de personnes.

Pour échapper à cette difficulté, le promoteur du modèle du spectre doit en fait tenir pour acquis que le genre est à la fois une réalité binaire et un spectre. Il est tout à fait possible pour une propriété d’avoir une description à la fois continue et binaire. Prenons la hauteur, par exemple : celle-ci s’échelonne manifestement sur un continuum, et les individus peuvent s’y situer n’importe où ; mais nous utilisons aussi les étiquettes binaires de « grand » et « petit ». Le genre fonctionnerait-il de manière similaire ?

Le facteur à noter à propos du tandem binaire grand/petit est que, lorsque l’on évoque ces concepts pour désigner des personnes, il s’agit de descriptions relatives ou comparatives. Comme la hauteur est un spectre ou un continuum, aucun individu n’est absolument grand ou absolument petit ; nous sommes toutes et tous plus grands que certaines personnes et plus petits que d’autres. Lorsque nous qualifions des personnes de grandes, nous voulons dire qu’elles sont plus grandes que la personne moyenne dans un groupe dont nous considérons la hauteur. Ainsi, un garçon de six ans pourrait être en même temps grand pour son âge, mais petit en regard de l’ensemble des personnes de sexe masculin. Donc, l’assignation des étiquettes binaires « grand » et « petit » doit être comparative et faire référence à une moyenne. On peut imaginer que des personnes dont la hauteur est proche de cette moyenne pourraient vouloir s’attribuer une « hauteur non binaire ».

Cependant, il semble peu probable que cette interprétation du modèle de spectre satisfasse ceux qui se décrivent comme étant de genre non binaire. Si le genre, comme la hauteur, doit être compris comme un concept comparatif ou relatif, ce critère contredirait directement le principe qui insiste pour que les individus soient les seuls arbitres de leur genre. Votre genre ferait plutôt référence à la répartition des identités de genre présentes dans le groupe où vous vous trouvez, et ne relèeverait donc pas de votre propre décision. Ce ne serait donc pas à moi de décider que je suis non binaire. Cela ne pourrait être déterminé que par comparaison de mon identité de genre à la distribution de celles d’autres personnes, afin de constater où je me situe. Et bien que je puisse me considérer comme une femme, quelqu’un d’autre pourrait être situé plus loin que moi sur le spectre menant au statut de femme, et donc « plus femme » que moi.

Une autre caractéristique de l’analogie avec la hauteur est que, par rapport à l’ensemble de la population, seule une faible minorité de personnes peuvent être décrites avec exactitude comme étant grandes ou petites. Comme la hauteur est réellement un spectre et que les étiquettes binaires sont attribuées par comparaison, seule la poignée de personnes située à chaque extrémité du spectre peut être vraiment étiquetée grande ou petite. Le reste d’entre nous, réparties sur tous les points entre ces deux pôles, sommes des personnes de hauteur non binaire, et nous sommes typiques. En fait, ce sont les gens binaires grands et petits qui sont exceptionnels. Et si nous étendons cette analogie au genre, nous voyons qu’être de genre non binaire est la norme, et non l’exception.

En ce sens, se qualifier de non binaire équivaut à créer une nouvelle fausse opposition binaire.

Si le genre est un spectre, cela signifie que c’est un continuum entre deux extrêmes, et que tout un chacun se situe quelque part sur ce continuum. Je tiens pour acquis que les deux extrémités du spectre sont la masculinité et la féminité. Pourrait-il en être autrement ? Une fois cela compris, il est clair que tout le monde est non binaire, car absolument personne n’incarne la masculinité pure ou la féminité pure. Bien sûr, certaines personnes seront plus près d’une extrémité du spectre, tandis que d’autres seront plus ambigües et flotteront autour du centre. Mais même la personne la plus classiquement féminine présentera certaines caractéristiques que nous associons à la masculinité, et vice versa.

Je serais heureuse de cette implication, parce que, même si je possède la biologie féminine et que je me qualifie de femme, je ne me considère pas comme un stéréotype de genre. Je ne suis pas une manifestation idéale de l’essence féminine, ce qui me rend non binaire. Comme tout le monde. Cependant, ceux qui se décrivent comme non binaires sont peu susceptibles de se satisfaire de cette conclusion, puisque leur identité en tant que « personne non binaire » dépend de l’existence d’un groupe beaucoup plus important de personnes qualifiées de « cisgenres » binaires, présumées incapables de vivre en dehors des genres arbitraires masculin et féminin que leur dicte la société.

Il y a d’ailleurs un paradoxe ironique à voir certaines personnes insister pour dire qu’elles et une poignée de leurs collègues révolutionnaires du genre sont non binaires. Ce faisant, elles créent une fausse opposition binaire entre celles qui se conforment aux normes de genre liées à leur sexe, et celles qui ne le font pas. En réalité, tout le monde est non binaire. Nous participons tous activement à certaines normes de genre, nous acquiesçons passivement à d’autres, et nous tenons obstinément tête à d’autres encore. Donc, se qualifier de non binaire consiste en fait à créer une nouvelle fausse opposition binaire. En outre, cela semble souvent impliquer, à tout le moins implicitement, le choix de se situer du côté le plus complexe et intéressant de cette opposition binaire, en permettant à la personne qui se dit non binaire de se prétendre à la fois incomprise et politiquement opprimée par les cisgenres binaires.

Si, par contre, vous vous identifiez comme « pangenre », s’agit-il de prétendre que vous représentez tous les points possibles sur le spectre ? Tous en même temps ? Comment cela pourrait-il être possible, étant donné que les positions extrêmes représentent a priori des opposés incompatibles ? La féminité pure est passivité, faiblesse et soumission, alors que la masculinité pure est agression, force et domination. Il est tout simplement impossible d’être toutes ces choses en même temps. Si vous disconvenez de ces définitions de la masculinité et de la féminité, en n’acceptant pas que la masculinité soit définie en termes de domination et la féminité en termes de soumission, sentez-vous bien à l’aise de proposer d’autres définitions. Mais toutes celles que vous pourrez invoquer représenteront des positions réciproquement opposées.

Par ailleurs, une autre poignée d’individus sont apparemment autorisés à se retirer tout de go du spectre en se déclarant « agenre », affirmant qu’ils ne se sentent ni masculin ni féminin, et ne possèdent pas d’expérience interne du genre. On ne nous offre aucune explication quant à la raison pour laquelle certaines personnes peuvent refuser de définir leur personnalité en termes genrés tandis que d’autres n’y arrivent pas, Mais une chose est claire à propos de l’autodésignation comme « agenre » : nous ne pouvons pas tous y avoir recours, pour les mêmes raisons que nous ne pouvons pas tous nous appeler « non binaire ». Si nous devions tous nier que nous avons une identité de genre innée, essentielle, alors l’étiquette « agenre » deviendrait redondante, puisque l’absence de genre serait un trait universel. Le label d’« agenre » ne peut être défini que contre le genre. Les personnes qui définissent elles-mêmes et leur identité par leur absence de genre manifestent donc la conviction que la plupart des gens possèdent un genre inné, essentiel, mais que, pour une raison quelconque, ce n’est pas leur cas.

Si nous affirmons que le problème posé par le genre est que nous n’en reconnaissons actuellement que deux, la question évidente qui se pose est la suivante : combien de genres devrions-nous reconnaître pour n’opprimer personne ? Combien d’identités de genre sont-elles possibles, exactement ?

La seule réponse cohérente à cette question est : à peu près 7 milliards. Il y a autant d’identités de genre possibles qu’il existe d’êtres humains sur la planète. Selon Nonbinary.org, l’un des principaux sites de référence internet pour des informations sur les genres non binaires, votre genre peut correspondre au frimas ou au soleil ou à la musique, l’océan, Jupiter ou l’obscurité. Votre genre peut être la pizza.

Mais si tel est le cas, on voit mal en quoi il est logique ou cela ajoute quoi que ce soit à notre compréhension d’appeler l’un ou l’autre de tous ces trucs « genre », plutôt que de simplement parler de « personnalité humaine » ou de « trucs qui me plaisent ». Le mot genre ne se réduit pas à une façon sophistiquée de désigner notre personnalité et nos goûts. Ce n’est pas une simple étiquette à adopter pour décrire d’une façon originale à quel point votre groupe d’appartenance est nombreux et intéressant. Le genre est le système de valeurs qui lie des comportements et des caractéristiques souhaitables (et parfois indésirables ?) à la fonction reproductive. Une fois que nous avons découplé ces comportements et caractéristiques de la fonction reproductive – et nous devrions le faire – et que nous avons rejeté l’idée qu’il n’y a que deux types de personnalité et que l’un est supérieur à l’autre – et nous devrions le faire –, quel sens peut bien avoir le fait de continuer à appeler toutes ces choses « le genre » ? Quel sens a ici le mot « genre » que le mot « personnalité » ne saurait capturer ?

Sur Nonbinary.org, votre genre peut apparemment se décliner selon des configurations comme celles-ci :

(Nom)genre : Un genre dont la meilleure description est votre propre nom : une bonne solution pour les personnes qui ne sont pas encore certaines de ce à quoi elles s’identifient, mais qui savent clairement qu’elles ne sont pas cisgenres… on peut l’utiliser comme expression universelle ou avec un identifiant spécifique, par exemple, paulgenre, jeannegenre, (votre nom ici) genre, etc.

L’exemple de « (nom) genre » démontre très bien comment fonctionnent les identités non binaires de genre, et le rôle qu’elles jouent. Elles sont destinées aux gens qui ne sont pas certains de ce à quoi ils s’identifient, mais savent qu’ils ne sont pas cisgenres. Vraisemblablement parce qu’ils sont beaucoup trop intéressants et révolutionnaires et transgressifs pour être quelque chose d’aussi ordinaire et classique que cisgenre.

La solution à ce dilemme est de ne pas essayer de se glisser entre les barreaux de la cage, tout en laissant le reste de la cage intacte et le reste des femmes piégées à l’intérieur.

Ce souhait de ne pas être cisgenre est rationnel et parfaitement logique, surtout si vous êtes de sexe féminin. Je crois moi aussi que mes pensées, mes émotions, mes aptitudes et mes dispositions sont beaucoup trop intéressantes, développées et complexes pour être simplement ceux d’une « femme cis ». Moi aussi, je voudrais transcender les stéréotypes socialement construits au sujet de mon corps féminin et les préjugés que se font les autres à mon égard en raison de ce corps. Moi aussi, je voudrais passer pour plus qu’une simple mère/domestique/objet de gratification sexuelle. Moi aussi, je voudrais être considérée comme un être humain, une personne avec une riche et profonde vie intérieure bien à moi, et la possibilité d’être plus que ce que notre société assigne actuellement comme place aux femmes.

Cependant, la solution à ce souhait n’est pas de me qualifier d’« agenre » pour essayer de me glisser entre les barreaux de la cage, tout en laissant le reste de la cage intacte et le reste des femmes piégées à l’intérieur. C’est particulièrement vrai parce qu’il est impossible de se glisser entre ces barreaux. J’aurai beau me qualifier d’« agenre », cela n’empêchera pas le monde de me voir comme une femme, et de me traiter en conséquence. Je peux me présenter comme « agenre » et insister sur ma propre gamme de néo-pronoms au moment où je postule un emploi, mais cela n’empêchera pas l’intervieweur de me voir comme un risque de maternité et d’accorder le poste à un candidat masculin moins qualifié, mais moins compromis par la reproduction.

Ceci nous amène à la tension cruciale centrale à la politique de l’identité de genre, une tension que la plupart de ses partisans n’ont pas remarquée, ou qu’ils ont choisi d’ignorer parce qu’elle ne peut être résolue qu’en rejetant certains des principes clés de leur doctrine.

Beaucoup de gens supposent, raisonnablement, que le mot « transgenre » est synonyme de « transsexuel », et signifie quelque chose comme une souffrance dysphorique et une détresse à propos de son corps sexué, et un désir de modifier ce corps pour le faire ressembler plus étroitement au corps de l’autre sexe. Mais, selon la terminologie actuelle de la politique de l’identité sexuelle, être transgenre n’a rien à voir avec un désir de changer son corps sexué. Le sens donné au concept de transgenre est que votre identité innée de genre ne correspond pas au genre qui vous a été attribué à la naissance. Cela pourrait être le cas même si vous êtes parfaitement heureux et satisfait dans le corps que vous possédez. Vous êtes transgenre simplement si vous identifiez à un genre, mais avez été socialement perçu comme appartenant à un autre.

Un principe clé de cette doctrine est que l’immense majorité des gens peut être décrite comme « cisgenre », ce qui signifie que leur identité de genre innée correspond à celle qui leur a été attribuée à la naissance. Mais comme nous l’avons vu, si l’identité de genre..

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My talk for the Coventry Skeptics in the Pub is available to watch here. The camera angle is slightly dodgy, but the audio is fine and the slides are all embedded in the video. Enjoy!

Critically Examining the doctrine of gender identity - YouTube
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An oft-repeated mantra among proponents of the notion of gender identity is that “gender is not a binary, it’s a spectrum”. The basic idea is that what makes gender oppressive is not, as the radical feminist analysis would have it, that it is an externally imposed set of norms prescribing and proscribing behaviour to individuals in accordance with morally arbitrary biological characteristics, and coercively placing them in one of two positions in a hierarchy. Rather, the problem is that we recognise only two possible genders. Thus humans of both sexes could be liberated if we recognised that while gender is indeed an internal, essential facet of our identity, there are more genders than just “man” or “woman” to choose from. And the next step on the path towards liberation is the recognition of a range of new gender identities, so we now have people referring to themselves as “genderqueer” or “non-binary” or “pangender” or “agender” or “demiboy” or “demigirl” or “aliagender” or “genderfuck” or “trigender” or “neutrois” or “aporagender” or “ectogender” or “veloxigender”…I could go on.

There are numerous problems with the logic of this view, that render it both internally inconsistent, and politically unattractive.

1. If gender is a spectrum, not a binary, then everyone is “non-binary”.

This basic logical point should be obvious, and yet is denied by most of the proponents of the spectrum model of gender – indeed, it is often met with angry objections from those who label themselves non-binary. But it’s hard to see how this point can be refuted. If gender is a spectrum, not a binary, then every individual alive is non-binary, by definition. There are not just two points. There is a range of points, and we all of us fall somewhere along the spectrum. And then the label “non-binary” becomes redundant, as it fails to pick out a special category of people.

I would be happy with this implication, because despite knowing that I am female and calling myself a woman, I do not consider myself a one-dimensional gender stereotype. I am not some ideal manifestation of femininity, and so I am non-binary, just like everybody else is. Those who identify as non-binary are unlikely to be happy with this conclusion, however, as their identity as a non-binary person depends upon the existence of a much larger group of binary cisgender people, against whom they can define themselves as more interesting and complex, and by whom they can claim to be misunderstood and politically oppressed.

And here we get to a rather amusing irony about people insisting that they and a select handful of their fellow revolutionaries are “non-binary” – it creates a false binary between those who conform to gender norms, and those who don’t. In reality, everybody is non-binary. Nobody is a one-dimensional gender stereotype. We all of us actively participate in some gender norms, passively acquiesce with others, and positively rail against others. So to call oneself non-binary is in fact to create a false binary, and to position oneself on the superior side of that binary.

2. If gender is a spectrum, that means it’s a continuum between two extremes, and everyone is located somewhere along that continuum.

I assume the two ends of the spectrum are masculinity and femininity. Is there anything else they could be? Once we realise this, it becomes even clearer that everybody is non-binary, since absolutely nobody is “pure masculinity” or “pure femininity”. Of course some people will be closer to one end of the spectrum, while others will be more ambiguous and float around the centre. But even the most conventionally masculine person will demonstrate some characteristics we associate with femininity, and vice versa.

Where do gender identities like “pangender” and “agender” fit into this schema? If you identify as pangender, is the claim that you represent every possible point on that spectrum? All at the same time? How might that be possible, since the extremes represent opposites of one another? Pure femininity is passivity, weakness and submission, while pure masculinity is aggression, strength and dominance. It is simply impossible to be all of these things at the same time. (If you don’t agree with me – if you’re angry right now about my “femmephobia”, because I’ve defined femininity as weakness and submission – feel free to give me alternative definitions of masculinity and femininity. Whatever you come up with, they’re going to represent opposites of one another.)

Similarly, some special people apparently get to opt out of the spectrum altogether by declaring themselves “agender”, saying that they feel neither masculine nor feminine, and don’t have any internal experience of gender. When I wrote this post, I got a few responses telling me that it sounds like I am agender. But this is a solution I reject, for the following reasons: it assumes that gender is an essential internal property, rather than an externally imposed hierarchy; and it implies that the gender monolith has to stay in place, that the vast majority of people must define themselves by reference to it, but that a few special revolutionary gender pioneers to get to opt out. If I want to opt out of gender, I may declare myself “agender”, but presumably that requires that most other people do not, or once again, the label would become redundant.

My response to this suggestion is to say ok, yes, I am agender. I do not have an innate, essential gender. I’m a person. Just like everybody else. We’re all agender. So let’s abolish gender altogether, and say that people can wear what they like and behave however they choose, without the need for restrictive boxes or labels.

3. If gender is a spectrum, what possible meaning can the word “cisgender” have?

The label “cisgender” cannot pick out one specific location on this spectrum between masculinity and femininity, because it is a word that is applied to both masculine and feminine people: there are apparently cis men and cis women. In fact, “cis man”, “cis woman”, “trans man”, and “trans woman” are binary concepts, suggesting that there are only two options, man and woman, which runs counter to the spectrum theory. The prefixes “cis” and “trans” are qualifiers, referring to different classes of people having the gender identity “man” or “woman”, but they are not gender identities in themselves.

For this reason, it doesn’t look like we can coherently believe both that gender is a spectrum, and that cisgender people exist. And correlatively, we can’t coherently believe both that gender is a spectrum, and that trans people exist. This is one of the crucial tensions at the heart of gender identity politics, and one that most of its proponents either haven’t noticed, or choose to ignore because it can only be resolved by rejecting the key tenets of the ideology. The idea that gender is a spectrum, not a binary, negates the experiences of transsexual people who choose to move from one gender role to another, and renders their efforts at transition unintelligible. If gender is a spectrum, and your gender identity can be anywhere along that spectrum, why modify your body to make it more closely resemble that of the opposite sex?

4. If gender is a spectrum, how many possible gender identities do we need to recognise in order not to be oppressive?

Once we assert that the problem with gender is that we currently only recognise two of them, the obvious question to ask is: how many genders would we have to recognise in order not to be oppressive? Just how many possible gender identities are there?

The only consistent answer to this is: 7 billion, give or take. There are as many possible gender identities as there are humans on the planet. Your gender can be frost or the Sun or music or the sea or Jupiter or pure darkness. Your gender can be pizza.

But if this is so, it’s not clear how it makes sense, or adds anything to our understanding, to call any of this stuff “gender”, as opposed to just “human personality” or “stuff I like”. The word “gender” is not just a fancy word for your personality or your tastes and preferences, and it is not just a label to adopt so that you now have a way to convey just how large and multitudinous and interesting and misunderstood you are. Gender is the value system that ties certain desirable behaviours and characteristics to reproductive function. Once we’ve decoupled those behaviours and characteristics from reproductive function (which we should), and once we’ve rejected the idea that there are just two types of personality and that one is superior to the other (which we should), what can it possibly mean to continue to call this stuff “gender”? What meaning does the word “gender” have here, that the word “personality” cannot capture?

According to that last link, your gender can be

(name)gender: “A gender that is best described by one’s name, good for those who aren’t sure what they identify as yet but definitely know that they aren’t cis… it can be used as a catch-all term or a specific identifier, e.g. johngender, janegender, (your name here)gender, etc.”

The example of “(name)gender” is absolutely perfect for demonstrating how non-binary gender identities operate, and the function they perform. They are for people who aren’t sure what they identify as, but they know they aren’t cis. Presumably because cis people are just so rubbish and boring and conventional and conservative. This desire not to identify as cis is rational and makes perfect sense, especially if you’re female. I too believe I’m far too interesting, well-rounded and complex to simply be a “cis woman”. I too would like to transcend the stereotypes about my female body and the assumptions others make about me as a result of it. I too would like to be seen as more than just a mother/domestic servant/object of sexual gratification. I too would like to be viewed as a human being, a person with a rich inner life of my own, with the potential to be more than what our society views as possible for women.

The solution to that is not to call myself agender, to try to slip through the bars of the cage while leaving the cage intact, and the rest of womankind trapped within it. This is especially so given that you can’t slip through the bars. No amount of calling myself “agender” will stop the world seeing me as a woman, and treating me accordingly.

Conclusion

The logical conclusion of all this is: if gender is a spectrum, not a binary, then there are no trans people. Or, alternatively, everyone is trans. Either way, this is a profoundly unsatisfactory conclusion, and one that serves both to obscure the reality of female oppression, as well as to erase the experiences of transsexual people.

The way to avoid this conclusion is to realise that gender is not a spectrum. It’s not a spectrum, because it’s not an internal essence or property. It’s not a fact about persons that we must take as fixed, and then build our social institutions around that fact. It’s a socially constructed and externally imposed hierarchy, with two classes occupying two value positions: male over female, man over woman, masculinity over femininity. The truth of the spectrum analogy lies in the fact that conformity to one’s place in that hierarchy, and to the roles it assigns to people, will vary from person to person. Some people will find it relatively easier and more painless to conform to the gender norms associated with their sex, while others find the gender roles associated with their sex so oppressive and limiting that they cannot tolerably live under them, and choose to transition to live in accordance with the opposite gender role.

Fortunately, what is a spectrum is human personality, in all its variety and complexity. (Actually that’s not a spectrum either, because it is not simply one continuum between two extremes. It’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, humany-wumany stuff.) Gender is the value system that says there are two types of personality, determined by the reproductive organs you were born with. The first step to liberating people from the cage that is gender is to challenge established gender norms, and to play with and explore your gender expression and presentation. Nobody, and certainly no radical feminist, wants to stop any person from defining themselves in accordance with the labels and identities that make sense to them, or from expressing their personality in ways they find enjoyable and liberating. So if you want to call yourself a genderqueer femme presenting demigirl, you go for it. Express that identity however you like. Have fun with it. A problem only emerges when you start making political claims on the basis of that label – when you start demanding that others call themselves cis, because you require there to be a bunch of boring binary cis people for you to define yourself in reference to; and when you insist that these cis women have structural advantage and political privilege over you, because they are socially read as the women they know themselves to be, while nobody really understands just how complex and interesting your gender identity is.

Call yourself whatever you like, and express that identity however you like, but don’t expect anyone else to care, let alone to afford you special political privileges on the basis of it. Female people are an oppressed class by virtue of the material reality of living in their female bodies, and the discrimination, marginalisation and exploitation that comes from being read by others as a person who inhabits such a body. You are not oppressed by women because they call themselves women and get on with their lives, while your gender identity is so vast and complex and multifaceted and luminous that nobody quite grasps the significance and uniqueness of it. To call yourself non-binary or genderfluid while demanding that others call themselves cisgender is to insist that the vast majority of humans must stay in their boxes, because you identify as boxless.

And if you really want to play with gender, particularly if you’re male, then the best way to do that – the most radical, revolutionary, genuinely non-masculine conforming thing you can do – has nothing to do with your dress or your hair or your makeup or your choice of pronouns. As a male person, the most gender non-conforming thing you can do is to stop making demands of women – of their time, of their resources, of their domestic, emotional and sexual labour. You can stop calling your mother cis scum, and start helping her with the domestic chores. You can stop asking what feminism can do for you, and start asking what you can do to make the world a little more amenable to women.

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Rebecca Reilly-Cooper by Rebecca R-c - 4M ago

(Note: someone has very kindly translated my post, Am I Cisgender?, into Spanish. I do not speak Spanish and thus cannot vouch for the accuracy of the translation. But since this post has been read so many times and has clearly been useful to many people, I am posting the translation here so that Spanish speakers can benefit from the hard work of the translator. Gracias, Jose! You can also find a Portuguese translation here.)

Soy una mujer. Esto es algo que nunca he cuestionado. Es algo que sé con casi total certeza.

Si me hubieses preguntado hace un par de años cómo soy que soy una mujer, estoy bastante segura de que (después de mirarte extrañada por haberme preguntado semejante tontería) habría mencionado mis características sexuales secundarias: el hecho de que tengo pechos y una vagina; el hecho de que menstruo, y por tanto tengo ovarios y útero; el hecho de que tiendo a acumular la grasa corporal en las nalgas, muslos y caderas. Esta respuesta sería en parte empírica, apelando al juicio científico sobre qué características definen a la hembra de la especie humana; y en parte lingüística, basada en la asunción de que la palabra “mujer” tiene un significado común y extendido: una hembra humana adulta.

En los últimos dos años, he leído mucha más literatura feminista que en el pasado y me he sumergido mucho más en las teorías contemporáneas de género. Ahora sé que hay gente para quien tal respuesta a la pregunta “¿cómo sabes que eres una mujer?” sería inaceptable. Se señalaría que estos hechos biológicos no son necesarios ni suficientes para poder concluir que soy mujer, porque hay mujeres que no tienen pechos o vagina, y hay quien tiene pechos y vagina y no son mujeres. De modo que ¿qué otra respuesta podría dar? La única respuesta alternativa que tiene sentido para mí es decir que sé que soy mujer porque todo el mundo me trata como tal, y siempre lo han hecho. Cuando nací, mis padres me pusieron un nombre que sólo se da a niñas. Me hablaban usando pronombres femeninos, igual que los demás. Me vestían con ropas que nuestra cultura considera apropiadas para niñas, y me dejaron el pelo largo. Al crecer, los demás tomaban esas características como prueba de que era una niña -y luego, una mujer- y me trataban como tal. Se me aplaudía cuando actuaba de manera típicamente feminina y me enfrentaba a recriminaciones cuando mi comportamiento era más masculino. Esto es lo que las feministas llaman la socialización femenina, y sus manifestaciones son ubicuas. Así, si tuviese que explicar cómo sé que soy una mujer sin hacer referencia a mi cuerpo, diría: “sé que soy una mujer porque todo el mundo me trata como tal”.

Algo que he aprendido en las trincheras de las guerras de género contemporáneas es que no soy sólo una mujer. Al parecer, soy una mujer “cisgénero”. Ser cisgénero, o “cis”, se considera una forma de ventaja estructural, y por tanto poseo un privilegio sobre aquellas personas que no son cis. La primera vez que me encontré con esta palabra, se me informó de que significa simplemente “que no es trans”, y realiza la misma función que la palabra “heterosexual”: sirve para nombrar a la mayoría, para que así no establecer una norma contra otros, que serían “desviados”. Todo el mundo tiene una orientación sexual, y por tanto todo el mundo tiene su etiqueta – no sólo la gente cuya orientación es minoritaria. Parece algo digno y razonable, y así la primera vez que ví esta palabra, felizmente me autodenominé cis. Pero, ¿soy cisgénero en realidad? ¿Es éste un término con sentido que se me pueda aplicar – a mí o, de hecho, a cualquiera?

Felizmente me autodenominé cis, si cis significa no-trans, porque asumí que no era trans. Asumí que no era trans porque no tengo disforia – vivo en mi cuerpo femenino sin incomodidad, sufrimiento o angustia. Bueno, en realidad esto no es verdad, y sospecho que tampoco lo es para la mayoría de las mujeres. Como mujer criada en una cultura que nos bombardea constantemente con el mensaje de que nuestros cuerpos son inaceptables, incluso asquerosos, siento una incomodidad y una angustia enorme viviendo en mi cuerpo, de forma tal que ha moldeado mi vida y continúa haciéndolo cada día. Lo que quiero decir realmente es que nunca me ha parecido que la incomodidad y la infelicidad que siento al vivir en un cuerpo femenino se relajaran si ese cuerpo fuera masculino. Aunque mi cuerpo femenino es una fuente continua de sufrimiento y vergüenza para mí, nunca he deseado cambiarlo para hacerlo menos femenino, pasar por el quirófano para hacerlo más parecido a un cuerpo masculino. Por tanto, asumí que no era trans. Y si no soy trans, debo de ser cis.

Pero para mucha gente, esto no es lo que significa ser cis, porque esto no es lo que significa ser trans. Había asumido incorrectamente que para ser trans se debe experimentar lo que con frecuencia llaman disforia de género, pero que debería llamarse disforia de sexo – un sentimiento de angustia causado por el sexo del propio cuerpo. Sin embargo, el cambiante discurso en la política transgénero insiste en que la disforia ya no se debe considerar necesaria para que una persona sea trans. Ahora puedes ser trans incluso siendo perfectamente cómodo y feliz viviendo en el cuerpo que te tocó al nacer, y no tienes deseo alguno de cambiarlo. Esto fue una sorpresa para mí, y obviamente tiene una importancia enorme porque si cis significa no-trans, necesitamos saber qué es trans. Y sospecho que mucha gente habrá compartido mi asunción de que tiene que ver con sentir disforia. ¿Qué puede significar ser trans, si no esto?

Parece que el término “transgender” se usa de diversas maneras y personas diferentes consideran que significa cosas distintas. Una definición popular dice que “transgender es un término global que abarca personas cuya identidad de género difiere de la típicamente asociada al sexo que se les asignó al nacer”. Esto sugiere la existencia de una “identidad de género”, que normalmente se define como “la sensación interna y personal de ser hombre o mujer” o “la sensación privada de alguien de su propio género, y la experiencia subjetiva del mismo”. Luego personas trans lo son porque hay un descuadre entre su sensación interna de su propio género y las normas de género típicamente asociadas al sexo con el que nacieron.

Tal vez haya gente con identidad de género. Tal vez haya gente con una sensación interna de su propio género; un sentimiento subjetivo, personal, de que son hombres o mujeres, y tal vez puedan describir esto con sentido sin hacer referencia a sus cuerpos ni a las normas sociales que dicen cómo la gente con esos cuerpos se deben comportar. Pero yo, honestamente, carezco de esto. No tengo ninguna sensación interna de mi propio género. Si me preguntas cómo sé que soy una mujer, tengo que recurrir bien a mis características sexuales secundarias, bien a las implicaciones sociales de ser vista como una persona que posee esas características. No experimento mi género como una esencia interna, una faceta profunda e inalterable de mi identidad. Quizá haya gente que sí, aunque soy escéptica respecto a cómo podrían explicarlo sin recurrir a roles de género construídos socialmente. Pero puedo conceder en beneficio del argumento que haya gente que experimente esta forma de estado mental del que yo carezco.

Eso estaría todo bien, si realmente se me permitiera negar que yo tenga identidad de género. Pero no es el caso. El propósito de la etiqueta cis es demostrar que ser trans no es anormal o de desviados, sino simplemente una de muchas identidades de género que la gente tiene. Para poder llevar a cabo esa función, cis debe referirse a la presencia de una identidad de género específica, no simplemente a la falta de tal. Ser trans es tener una identidad de género, una que difiere de la que se asocia típicamente a tu sexo de nacimiento. Y si no eres trans, eres cis, que también es una identidad de género. De modo que si las personas trans tienen una identidad de género que difiere de las normas de género para el sexo que tienen asignado, entonces presumiblemente las personas cis tienen una sensación interna de su propio género, que es el que se alinea generalmente con las normas de género asociadas a su sexo de nacimiento.

Pero yo no tengo ninguna profunda sensación personal de mi género. Tengo cosas que me gusta hacer y cosas que me gusta ponerme. Y por supuesto, muchas de esas cosas son típicas de mujer. Pero esas cosas no me empezaron a gustar en un vacío cultural o social, sino en un trasfondo de poderosos mensajes sociales que hablan del tipo de cosas que a las mujeres les tiene que gustar, así que no es ninguna sorpresa que me acaben gustando algunas de esas cosas. Y de todos modos no creo que esas cosas reflejen nada profundo, esencial o natural sobre mi identidad. Son simplemente mis gustos y preferencias. Si me hubiese criado en otra cultura, a lo mejor tendría gustos distintos; pero seguiría siendo básicamente la misma persona.

Además, como todo el mundo, muchas cosas que me gustan no son estereotípicas de mujeres. Muchas cosas que me gustan son típicas de hombres. Igual que todo el mundo, yo no soy un estereotipo de género unidimensional, y aún participando y disfrutando de ciertos aspectos de lo que se llama tradicionalmente la condición de mujer, hay otros muchos que rechazo por ser dolorosos, opresivos y limitadores. Incluso cuando participo deliberadamente en representaciones de feminidad, como cuando uso maquillaje o me pongo ropa típicamente femenina, no veo esto como una expresión de mi identidad de género. No, me estoy ajustando a (y tal vez al mismo tiempo modificando y desafiando) un ideal socialmente construído de qué es ser mujer. Es más, una vez desconectamos todo esto de restrictivas nociones tradicionales acerca de lo que es apropiado para un sexo y para el otro, no está claro por qué llamar a todo esto “género” en vez de “cosas que me gustan” o “mi personalidad”.

Presumiblemente se debe a la comprensión de que mucha gente no se identifica incuestionablemente con las normas de género típicamente atribuídas a su sexo el que haya aparecido todo un espectro de identidades de género – si no tienes una profunda sensación interna de que eres un hombre o una mujer, entonces te puedes identificar como “no binario” o “género queer” o “pangénero”, lo cual te permite identificarte con aquellos aspectos de la masculinidad y la feminidad tradicionales y rechazar el resto. (no está claro si no-binarios o género queers se deben considerar bajo el término global trans o no: al parecer hay opiniones encontradas al respecto). De nuevo, soy escéptica respecto a cómo se puede argüir que se trata de una identidad profunda e inalterable, porque cualquier descripción de una identidad de género no-binaria inevitablemente mencionará roles de género construídos socialmente (es notable que la mayoría de varones no binarios expresan esto experimentando con ropa y apariencia femenina, en lugar de un deseo insaciable de hacer las tareas del hogar que se asocian típicamente con la mujer). Pero quizá haya de verdad gente con una profunda sensación interna y personal de su propio género como una esencia que es tanto masculina como femenina, o que no es ninguna de las dos, de una manera tal que signifique algo más que “no soy un estereotipo unidimensional”. Pero yo no me cuento entre esa gente. A pesar de apoyar ciertos aspectos de la masculinidad y la feminidad y rechazar otros, no me autodenomino género queer ni no binaria, porque nada de esto representa ninguna faceta inalterable de mi identidad. Así que como no soy trans, y no soy no binaria ni género queer, me dicen que debo de ser cis, por defecto.

Así que la una opción para mí, si quiero rechazar la etiqueta cis, es pillar alguna otra identidad de género. No se me permite negar que tenga identidad de género. Pero esto es, en sí mismo, opresivo. Hace afirmaciones falsas sobre la experiencia subjetiva de mucha gente – gente como yo que no siente profundamente su propio género, y cuya experiencia primaria con el género es como de un conjunto de limitaciones impuesto externamente en lugar de un aspecto esencial de nuestra identidad personal. Nos fuerza a definirnos de acuerdo a cosas que no aceptamos (y, como estoy aprendiendo, si nos negamos a definirnos de esta forma, esto se considera intolerancia y falta de empatía por las personas trans, en vez de un rechazo razonable de lo que significa ser cis). Si “cisgénero” fuese la descripción de un problema médico, caracterizado por la ausencia de disforia, entonces aceptaría que soy cis. Pero si cisgénero es, como parece, una identidad de género, entonces no soy cis, porque yo no tengo identidad de género. Soy una mujer. Pero no porque, en el fondo, me sienta mujer; sino porque, en el fondo, simplemente me siento persona.

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Rebecca Reilly-Cooper by Rebecca R-c - 4M ago

“Sisterhood is powerful. It kills. Mostly sisters.”

– Ti-Grace Atkinson

I was reminded of this essay today, first published in 1976. The author, writing in the middle of the Second Wave of feminist activism, describes in heartbreaking detail the long-lasting psychological damage inflicted on the women at the heart of that movement, by the very relationships that were supposed to nurture and sustain and liberate them. When I first encountered this essay, as an undergraduate with a vague interest in the history of the Second Wave but no direct experience of feminist activism of my own, I read it with a sort of bemused and detached fascination, unable to fathom how women could do this to one another, or what could explain these devastating dynamics. Today, having witnessed the latest round of brutal, relentless trashing of a much loved friend of mine, and having been subject to one myself only yesterday, the familiarity of it all makes it almost too painful to re-read.

There is some small comfort to be had from the realisation that none of this is new: that my generation is not uniquely unhealthy or dysfunctional, that we are not unusually incapable of demonstrating solidarity and sisterhood with one another, that these phenomenal, fearless, fearsome feminists whose writings and activism I admire so much suffered many of the same miseries as I do, and would empathise with my pain. But that is accompanied by a real sadness that in nearly forty years since Joreen’s article was published, we have made so little progress. We are repeating the mistakes of our foremothers. Another generation of bright, committed, impassioned women is being worn down. Being killed by the power of sisterhood.

All of the tendencies that Joreen describes still exist. We still trash women to their faces, as well as behind their backs. We still ostracise. We still denounce. We still give false reports about the horrible things other women have said or done. We still interpret each other uncharitably. We still hold ludicrously unreasonable expectations of each other and use these to justify anger and abuse when they are not met. We still judge one another guilty by association, and see friendships and relationships as a source of taint. We still join in the trashings of women like us, using them as a shield to deflect attention from ourselves. We still secretly whisper our support for today’s target via back channels, but say nothing publicly, for fear of being next in line. We still mask the real brutality of all this behind a veil of ‘legitimate critique’.

Of course now we have a whole host of new avenues through which to express these tendencies. We blog. We reblog. We tweet. We subtweet. We storify. We screenshot. We call out. We pile on. We mobilise our followers. We parody. We doxx. This trashing thing has got a whole lot more real-time, and a whole lot more inescapable. If you’ve been involved in online feminism over the past couple of years, you’ll almost certainly have experienced that surge of panic, the sickening dread and the racing pulse, as your phone explodes and your notifications go into overdrive, message after message tumbling in to tell you what an abominable human being you are. (We’ve developed a new irregular verb to describe what typically happens in the aftermath of these pile-ons: I take a twitter break; you deactivate for self-care; she flounces.)

Like Joreen, I am worried about airing our dirty linen in public – it makes me unhappy to think of the men laughing at us while they watch us tear ourselves apart. We’re all well versed in those sexist stereotypes about cat fights and bitchy women and “don’t you think that women are their own worst enemy?”, and we know that every one of these public trashings plays into and reinforces those stereotypes. But I want to reiterate the point that Joreen made in 1976 – nothing about this is peculiar to feminism. None of this is specific to women’s politics or relationships, and insofar as people think it is, it’s because they’ve accepted those sexist stereotypes, and have learned to dismiss women’s conflicts as hysterical cat fighting, while taking men’s conflicts to be indicative of serious substantive political disagreement. Many of these tendencies are exacerbated by the fact that we are women – our female socialisation often doesn’t prepare us for navigating conflict and disagreement smoothly, and our political marginalisation means we can be inexperienced at political organisation in comparison with men. (On the plus side, at least when we fall out with one another, nations don’t go to war). But the psychological and structural features that cause this political fracturing are present not just in feminist politics, but in leftist and progressive politics in general.

At the level of individual, what you find on the left are people who tend to be motivated by principle and conviction, and who have strong moral commitments underpinning their political stances. And so the kinds of women who are drawn to feminism are the kinds of women who have strong and firm political principles that they are passionately committed to, and that often constitute part of their identity and self-perception. For this reason, they are often unwilling to deviate from these principles in order to compromise with those who disagree with them. Since political principles are a matter of moral conviction and personal identity, many feminists, and leftists in general, would rather walk away from a movement, than water down their principles even slightly by cooperating with people whose principles are even marginally different to their own. This conviction – in conjunction with a large dollop of narcissism of small differences – results in an inevitable slide towards purity politics, as individuals become more concerned with keeping their hands clean and their souls free of pollution, than actually effecting the real world change they claim to care about. And once your doctrine has become more a matter of personal salvation than a political theory, it becomes easy to see those who disagree with you as not just mistaken, but vicious, evil, dangerous. Denunciation and ostracism are justified, because the non-believer is a threat to the purity of the doctrine and to one’s own identity, and must be contained.

This combines with more structural features of the situation in which the leftist finds herself – namely, the fact that the system is so thoroughly unjust, the problems are so seemingly insurmountable and the change she wants to enact in the world seems so profoundly impossible to realise, that a form of despair and despondency sets in. Victory is so intangible and beyond the leftist’s grasp, given that the change desired is nothing less than the complete reshaping of the political and social landscape. As feminists, we want to end male violence against women, eliminate the exploitation of female labour, and abolish oppressive gender norms. These goals are a long way out of our reach, and victories often feel few and far between, so there’s not much opportunity for celebration, or the sense of satisfaction and gratification at a battle won. But while we can’t win the war against the patriarchy, we stand a reasonable shot of winning the battle against our friends. And whether we win those battles or not, we will certainly get a response of some kind; while the patriarchy remains unmoved by our raging against it, picking a fight with our sister over some small disagreement is guaranteed to elicit some kind of a reaction. No surprise then, that landing punches on our sister is a more satisfying and appealing option than continuing to flail helplessly and unnoticed at our mutual enemy.

So the result is that those on the left are frequently drawn to infighting and trashing, rather than working together to try to defeat their common enemy. And built into progressive politics is an ostensible justification for singling out a target, in the form of a deep commitment to egalitarianism and an inherent dislike of power and authority. One of the characteristic features of leftist political ideologies is a commitment to the equal distribution of power and the dismantling of established hierarchies, and feminism is no different in this respect – challenging male power over women, as well as challenging the power dynamics of race and class within our own movement, is essential feminist activism. But an implication of this egalitarianism and rejection of hierarchy is a creeping suspicion of any individual who obtains status or success outside of the movement. Any person of the left who manages to achieve some political influence thus instantly becomes a valid target for a trashing, because their influence (or ‘platform’) is seen as the kind of privilege the movement is dedicated to dismantling. For women, this is exacerbated by sexist stereotypes about the powerful woman: she is uppity, she is a ball-breaker, she is unfeminine and unfuckable.

So the upshot of all this is that any woman who demonstrates some talent and ambition and determination and tries to wield some power and influence in what is still a man’s world might as well be drawing a bullseye on her back. She is fair game for a trashing, because she has done what other women have not managed to do, and scratched out a little place for herself in this male-dominated environment. Nothing else can explain why so much more feminist vitriol is directed towards the handful of women with power and influence in the media or academia, than the men who hold the bulk of the power and the privilege. Never mind that she uses her position to help other women advance. Never mind that she acknowledges the role that luck and privilege played in her success. The woman with power and influence is fair game for a trashing, and will be accused of trampling on others on her way to the top, regardless of whether or not this is actually true. And in doing this, we are implicitly telling women that it is unfeminist to be successful, to hold power and influence, even if you might use that power and influence to advance feminist causes. The most feminist thing you can do is sit down and shut up. But the consequence of this is not the breaking down of established power. The consequence of this is that men keep hold of it.

I don’t have any solutions to any of this. I think these features explain why leftist movements in general are prone to internal conflict, fracturing and dissolution, and are part of the reason those on the left tear themselves to shreds, while those on the right just get on and consolidate their power. I also think that as feminists we are right to challenge established power relations and hierarchies, and to keep holding up our theories and our activism to critical scrutiny and reflection. But forty years after our feminist foremothers first wrote about this, we are still tearing each other apart, and our common enemy rejoices as we do. Clever, kind, compassionate women are being broken by this battle, and we will lose our brightest and best voices, as very few women have the stomach for the endless, relentless trashing and character assassination from those on their own side.

Like Joreen, I’ve experienced this enough times that it’s damaged me psychologically, wounding me as a person and undermining my capacities as a feminist. Whether or not this is typical, I don’t know, but I’ve been the target of it enough times in the past that it now hurts me less when it’s directed at me personally; the thing that really hurts me now, the thing that causes me to shed tears of anger and frustration, is seeing it happen to the women I love. I’m not writing this to try to elicit sympathy and compassion. Nor am I about to end with a trite and simplistic call for solidarity and cohesion in our fractured movement. My guess is that you either feel the attraction of those kinds of ideas or you don’t; and if you don’t, no amount of anguished, despondent blogging is going to change your mind on that. I want to believe that despite our many differences and the multiplicity of experiences we all bring to the table, there is enough commonality among women to make us a coherent political class capable of working together and forming some community amongst ourselves.

If you don’t feel that about me, I respect your right to organise without me, and wish you well. But for my part, I hereby make the following pledges:

  • I will not participate in trashings, no matter how little I like the woman being targeted, or how much I disagree with her politics
  • I will assume good faith on the part of other women and interpret their position charitably
  • I will celebrate when a woman achieves success of any kind – and if I really can’t bring myself to celebrate, I will keep my disappointment to myself
  •  I will put the welfare of women and the progress of our shared goals above my personal purity

I expect this post will make me unpopular. Let my trashing commence!

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[I reproduce here a post I wrote wrote for a new blog run by some friends of mine. The Gender Apostates are a coalition of Women and Transwomen who believe in and are working together towards the abolition of gender. I wrote about why I believe there is nothing contradictory or hypocritical about gender critical feminists and transsexual women working together towards the goal of gender abolition. I’m proud and honoured to contribute to this project. Compromise and mutual understanding is impossible unless there can be open, good-faith, reasoned discussion about our differences and disagreements.]

—–

It’s not an easy path to tread, being a gender apostate. As a feminist who thinks that female biology is real, that female socialization matters, but also that it is possible for male people to transition into the role of woman and therefore to live as women, I’m used to being unpopular. I’ve made my peace with the fact I’m simultaneously denounced both as a vicious exclusionary transphobe, and as a cowardly liberal quisling in thrall to men. So I’m not particularly concerned to defend myself against these claims. But I do think it’s important to explain, for those who may be in any doubt, why there is nothing inconsistent about this position I’ve arrived at, and why I believe there is nothing contradictory or hypocritical about gender critical feminists and transsexual women working together towards the goal of gender abolition.

***

I believe that gender is a socially constructed, externally imposed hierarchy that operates to prescribe and proscribe certain modes of behaviour, appearance and comportment for individuals of both sexes. I believe it limits human freedom and constrains our potential. It teaches girls that they must be weak, passive, decorative and submissive. It teaches boys that they must strong, active, dominant and aggressive. It imposes heavy sanctions on individuals for non-compliance. Given that it is a hierarchy that values maleness over femaleness, gender punishes those born female more severely than those born male, and punishes them whether they comply or not, since compliance with femininity just is to enact submission and subordination. But gender is a system that oppresses everybody, and males who cannot conform to norms of masculinity will be punished too.

As a gender critical feminist, the ideal world I envisage is one in which social norms governing behaviour, appearance and comportment are entirely decoupled from potential reproductive function. In an ideal world, regardless of what set of genitals they happen to possess, people would wear whatever clothes they want to wear, perform whatever roles and occupations they are inclined to perform, have romantic and sexual relationships with whomever they choose, without facing social censure in the form of discrimination, harassment or violence. It may be that in such a world, our language would shift to reflect this radically different value system; perhaps it would evolve new genderless pronouns to refer to all persons, instead of segregating them so clearly by reproductive function as it currently does. (I say nothing about whether such a world is feasible, because I don’t know the answer to this. It might not feasible; it might even be impossible. It doesn’t follow from that that it’s not desirable.)

In an ideal world, being female or male would have as little bearing on how one is expected to dress and behave, or on what one is expected to excel at and achieve, as other biological factors such as blood group or dominant-handedness currently have.

But this is not that ideal world.

***

We are saturated by gender in this non-ideal world. It is everywhere, so much so that most of us cannot see it: it’s the air we breathe, the water we swim in. Our entire social order is organised around the idea that different forms of behaviour and appearance are appropriate for male and female people. This idea has shaped our history and our politics. It is reflected in our language and embodied in our culture. It is the reason why gender non-conforming behaviour is still so heavily sanctioned: why homosexuality is still widely stigmatised; why rejection of feminine beauty norms comes at such a high price; why assertive, powerful women are socially shunned and ostracised.

As a feminist, I want to abolish gender. I desire a world without these social norms tying behaviour and personality to reproductive function.

But as a woman; as a human; as a person made of flesh and blood, with a lifetime of inculcation into this value system, and all the history of pain and trauma and emotional baggage that the average person accumulates on the way to adulthood; as me, as Rebecca, I want to live in this world in which I find myself without unnecessary struggle or discomfort. I don’t want to spend every waking moment in a battle, engaged in warfare against this monolithic structure under which I live and over which I had no say or control. I want to work with others to chip away at that structure, sure. I want to devote as much of my time and energy to the task of dismantling that structure as it is reasonable to ask of any individual. But I don’t want to sacrifice my entire wellbeing and my mental health and my only chance of happiness and survival in the attempt. I’ve got just this one life to live, and even if I stopped doing anything else for the rest it; even if I devoted my every waking thought and action to trying to tear down the gender monolith, for the rest of my days…it would still barely scratch the surface, still barely leave the tiniest chink in that structure, let alone shake its millennia-old foundations.

What to do then, as the gender abolitionist with just one life to live?

This is a question without a straightforward answer, because the answer lies in the murky grounds of compromise and personal reflection. The answer will require a great deal of wrestling with one’s own experiences and baggage to determine how much more weight one can reasonably be expected to carry. I don’t think there’s a universal answer to the question of how much rebellion is required and how much complicity is permitted in the face of oppressive structures that you alone cannot change. That’s going to depend on who you are, where you’ve come from and what you’ve come through, and how relatively thick or thin those things have left your skin. But one thing I am certain of is this: no individual is required to sacrifice themselves, their happiness, their peace of mind and their only chance of flourishing, all for the sake of some minuscule, intangible, and possibly negligible advance on the path towards our ideal world. Nobody is required to martyr themselves or surrender their wellbeing at the altar of principles or ideology, either to demonstrate their commitment to those principles, or to achieve some nebulous incremental gain in the path towards the perfect world.

The question of how we ought to behave in an ideal world is a very different one from the question of how we ought to behave before we get there, and it isn’t hypocritical or inconsistent to answer those questions differently. Every individual has a right to do what they need to do to survive and to flourish in this non-ideal world, even if some of those things they need to do setback our journey towards our ideal.

***

I don’t know what causes sex dysphoria in those who experience it. I don’t know whether it is a genetic or biological or socio-psychological condition. I do know that there are many individuals, both male and female, who find the constraints that gender imposes upon them painful and oppressive. And I know that for some people, this pain becomes especially acute and intense, so that they cannot tolerably live in the gender role associated with their biological sex. And some of these people come to the conclusion that they can live more comfortably, can more easily flourish and be happy, if they adopt the gender norms associated with the other biological sex.

This may be a non-ideal solution to a problem of a non-ideal world. Perhaps, in our genderless ideal world, nobody would experience this dysphoria, because these two rigid and diametrically opposed roles would not exist. Perhaps in this world, people would be free to pick and choose from the actions and forms of behaviour we currently associate with masculinity and femininity, without having to pick a team; without having to decide which of the two boxes, the pink one or the blue one, is less constrictive.

But this is not that ideal world.

In this non-ideal world, there are pink boxes and blue boxes, and we are all required to squash ourselves into one of them, or face heavy penalties. As a person with a female body who has been effectively socialized as female, I am able to live reasonably happily and comfortably in the role of woman. This is not to say it never brings me pain or distress; if it didn’t, I wouldn’t be a feminist, and I wouldn’t want to abolish gender. But while I want to abolish masculinity and femininity, I’m also pretty sure that if I’ve got to choose between the pink box and the blue one, I will do better in the pink one now. I don’t much like femininity, but I know I couldn’t conform to masculinity. I definitely can’t live as a man, but I can live and survive as a woman.

And so I do what I have to do to survive. I perform femininity in all sorts of ways. I wear makeup pretty much most days, and I dress in the ways that our culture tells women they ought to dress, and while I rail against the norms that impel women to be docile and submissive, I frequently fall back into those norms on occasions when being assertive and dominant would bring costs I can’t afford to bear. You can call me a hypocrite who fails to live her principles, if you think sincerity and conviction requires nothing less than perfect compliance with those principles at all times. But I think that’s an overly purist and zealous interpretation of political conviction. I have to live in this world as best I can, trying to work out how much of a political load I can bear before my back breaks.

 ***

So as a frequently gender-conforming woman, I am complicit in the perpetuation of gender in order to survive the brutality of a rigidly gendered world. And crucially, I don’t see this as being very different from the complicity of transsexual people. The only real difference is that they are trying to move from one colour box to another, while I am relatively content to stay put in mine. Since none of us alone can tear down the boxes, I reckon I’m better off with the one I’ve been in since birth. As gender non-conforming males, trans women feel they’d be better off in the opposite one from the one in which they started. Perhaps they are shoring up the boxes, making them a tiny bit harder to tear down; but then so am I, every time I wear mascara, or shave under my arms, or passively acquiesce when a man interrupts me for the sake of a quiet life. I want a gender free world, but every day I perform femininity to survive in a world with gender. So too do trans women. We are all damaged by the same structure, and we would all benefit from that structure being abolished.

Furthermore, the gender abolitionist trans women that I am friends with do not deny who they are. They make no claims to femaleness. They readily and openly acknowledge that they have male biology, that they were socialised as male, and that there are important differences between their experience of gender, and that of those born and raised female. What they say is that while they strive for a world without gender, in this non-ideal world they can live more comfortably and cope better with their dysphoria by performing femininity than they can performing masculinity. We have the same goals. And it would be oddly inconsistent and perverse of me to insist that I want to abolish gender – to insist that I want to decouple norms of behaviour and appearance from potential reproductive function – and then to complain when people who freely acknowledge that they are male adopt traditionally feminine names, clothing and modes of behaviour. They aren’t ‘appropriating’ womanhood, since this is not a vision of womanhood that belongs to any of us, or that any of us is invested in keeping. Since femininity is submission and subordination, I’m not about to get possessive or proprietorial about who performs it.

In an ideal world, nobody would perform it.

But this is not an ideal world.

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