I wrote some stuff here, but mostly Meg has some great insights, thoughts, questions. When we each stop procrastinating from our PhDs, actually hand in the work we have due, and take a break, I hope we write more about this together. I think it would be really super if DUDE had an issue on sexual violence at some point in the future. There’s so much to say, to ask, to interrogate…
Category Archives: Feminist Politics
Or, specifically, not trans enough
As you may have figured from my interview with Art, I’m into spreading the word that surgery without T is possible; I was pretty shocked to discover I was the first patient in this situation accepted by surgeon Simon Ceber. I think broader definitions of gender, manliness, maleness and masculinity are imperative to social equality, but also for individual freedom and happiness – as I think Art and I depicted in our article.
In this vein, I wrote a detailed article explaining my experience of obtaining surgery without testosterone, based on this article I found really helpful on the FTM Australia website by William, NSW. I sent my article to FTM Australia and received this reply:
Thanks for sharing your article.
We’ve read it now and the general consensus is it really sits better within a genderqueer framework/website rather than the FTM Australia website. If you were interested in providing evidence that chest surgery without testosterone is possible, have you approached Melbourne GenderQueer to host your work? http://www.melbournegenderqueer.org/ GenderQueer Revolution might also be interested? http://www.genderqueerrevolution.org/
Also Gender Radicals, the email discussion group http://groups.yahoo.com/group/GenderRadicals/ might also take it in their files section.
If you want the option of linking it, we can do that with something like “Click here to read account of one genderqueer individual who is not on testosterone and secured chest surgery through the Monash system.”
FTM Australia Coordinator
PO Box 488 GLEBE NSW 2037 | www.ftmaustralia.org
OzGuys – National Support and Discussion Email Group
Follow us on Twitter – http://twitter.com/ftmaustralia
Find us on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/ftmaustralia
Seriously? I’ve been dealing with so many cool people and reading so much about how feminists aren’t transphobic and transexuals don’t rival transgender people, I’m caught off guard by their narrow mindedness. As my dear friend Gauche Sinister put it:
that’s so fucked!!! i can’t believe an ftm website has a more rigid
and narrow definition of ftm than your horrible psychologist.
They also totally re-gender me as “Genderqueer” (a label I have not used); suggesting that I am not FTM and thus drawing a distinct boundary about what FTM is – which I think is majorly uncool, unproductive and unhelpful.
check out my interview with Art about acquiring surgery not testosterone on DUDE 2 EXTENDED:
I like to think I don’t care which pronouns people use. But…I do. I guess I just like to be open about which pronouns people use because I don’t like stability, or being boxed in to something rigid. But the thing that disconcerts me is the reasons people use she/her/hers pronouns for me. Because if it’s just that they decide I am “female-bodied” – that’s not really cool. It’s true that I use and prefer he/him/his pronouns. And that my friends use them to describe me. But I do want to be cool with people using feminine pronouns. But I want to know what their reasons are for doing so. Leslie Feinberg is pretty awesome at being cool with people using different pronouns, so long as they’re in context:
Leslie Feinberg: For me, pronouns are always placed within context. I am female-bodied, I am a butch lesbian, a transgender lesbian – referring to me as “she/her” is appropriate, particularly in a non-trans setting in which referring to me as “he” would appear to resolve the social contradiction between my birth sex and gender expression and render my transgender expression invisible. I like the gender neutral pronoun “ze/hir” because it makes it impossible to hold on to gender/sex/sexuality assumptions about a person you’re about to meet or you’ve just met. And in an all trans setting, referring to me as “he/him” honors my gender expression in the same way that referring to my sister drag queens as “she/her” does.
I think for me right now, this is not the case: “referring to me as “he” would appear to resolve the social contradiction between my birth sex and gender expression and render my transgender expression invisible.” In fact, the opposite is true. But it does depend where I am. I grew up in a small town where strangers have pretty much always, and continue to, gender me as male and use masculine pronouns for me. I think this is because they don’t realise queer people, or specifically butch dykes, exist. That is, they’re not recognised. But in Melbourne, especially the kinds of places I hang out, I often don’t look male. So for me, Feinberg’s point would work when people use masculine pronouns for me – which I’m into.
I guess I feel my genderqueerness is unintelligible and that’s really tiring.
Judith Butler: To find that you are fundamentally unintelligible (indeed, that the laws of culture and of language find you to be an impossibility) is to find that you have not yet achieved access to the human, to find yourself speaking only and always as if you were human, but with the sense that you are not, to find that your language is hollow, that no recognition is forthcoming because the norms by which recognition takes place are not in your favor.
I lack the recognition (often but not always) to be intelligibly male.
Also I’m often in places where it’s clear I’m not a teenager (universities, clubs), so I don’t get gendered as a teenage boy, which is the way I am most often read by non-trans strangers outside of these contexts. And as I’ve said before, I think one of the reasons people are so quick to gender me female and use feminine pronouns for me is because of the snaps from male-looking dykes offended at being called ‘he’ (which is fair enough, but also results in this kind of confusion.) So, seriously: ask what pronouns someone prefers. And just as seriously, don’t be offended by someone asking.
I went home for the holidays, and my parents, as well as many of my old friends, use feminine pronouns for me. I don’t want to ‘correct’ them. That seems wrong, because I don’t feel like I have some essential male being or something; that they’re wrong. But I do want them to know I prefer masculine pronouns, because I think they’d feel embarassed to know that was the case and I just didn’t tell them.
I guess I’d want to ask why people used feminine pronouns for me. And if their reasoning is: “You’re a girl”, “You look like a girl” or “Well I always have,” I don’t think that’s good enough. But I also recognise it’s up to me to tell them otherwise. But like, I’m tired.
Dean Spade: there is no innocence nor insignificance to the mistake of ‘she’ for ‘he’ when referring to a person who has chosen to take on a ‘wrong’ pronoun. even if it is done thoughtlessly, that thoughtlessness comes from and supports the two cardinal rules of gender: that all people must look like the gender (one out of a possible two) they are called by, and that gender is fixed and cannot be changed. each time this burden shifting occurs, the non-trans person affirms these gender rules, playing by them and letting me know that they will not do the work to see the world outside of these rules.
This is probably where I want to be:
Dean Spade: if comfort was my goal, i could probably have found a smoother path than the one i’m on, right? i haven’t chosen this word ‘he’ because it means something true to me, or it feels all homey and delicious. no pronoun feels personal to me. i’ve chosen it because the act of saying it, of looking at the body i’m in and the way that my gender has been identified since birth and then calling me ‘he,’ disrupts oppressive processes that fix everyone’s gender as ‘real,’ immutable, and determinative of your station in life. i’m not hoping that people will see that i’m different, paste a fake smile on their faces and force themselves to say some word about me with no thought process. i’m hoping that they will feel implicated, that it will make them think about the realness of everyone’s gender, that it will make them feel more like they can do whatever they want with their gender, or at least cause a pause where one normally would not exist. quite likely, this will be uncomfortable for all of us, but i believe that becoming uncomfortable with the oppressive system of rigid gender assignment is a great step toward undoing it.
By Dean Spade
People often wonder how to be polite when it comes to problems of misidentifying another person’s pronoun. Here are some general tips:
- If you make a mistake, correct yourself. Going on as if it did not happen is actually less respectful than making the correction. This also saves the person who was misidentified from having to correct an incorrect pronoun assumption that has now been planted in the minds of any other participants in the conversation who heard the mistake.
- If someone else makes a mistake, correct them. It is polite to provide a correction, whether or not the person whose pronoun is misused is present, in order to avoid future mistakes and in order to correct the mistaken assumption that might now have been planted in the minds of any other participants in the conversation who heard the mistake.
- If you aren’t sure of a person’s pronoun, ask. One way to do this is by sharing your own. “I use masculine pronouns. I want to make sure to address you correctly, how do you like to be addressed?” This may seem like a strange thing to do but a person who often experiences being addressed incorrectly may see it as a sign of respect that you are interested in getting it right.
- When facilitating a group discussion, ask people to identify their pronouns when they go around and do introductions. This will allow everyone in the room the chance to self-identify and to get each others’ pronouns right the first time. It will also reduce the burden on anyone whose pronoun is often misidentified and may help them access the discussion more easily because they do not have to fear an embarrassing mistake.
From his guide to Making_Classrooms_Welcoming_for_Trans.pdf
Or, TAKEN: 93 minutes of my life.
As we get ever closer to the release of Twilight saga movie number 4, and as more films are remade barely after their initial release (‘Let The Right One In’ (2008), ‘Let Me In’ (2010)) to unsurprisingly disappointed receptions, there is clearly a lot of competition out there for the worst film ever.
When I was a kid I remember seeing ‘Bean’ (1997) and it was the first time I had actually wanted to walk out. But as my BFF reminded me last night after seeing ‘Contagion’ (2011) “it’s better to be slightly bored than traumatized” – so while ‘Contagion’ was completely uninteresting, there was nothing highly offensive or upsetting about it. The same cannot be said for ‘Taken’ (2008). Three years ago I wrote the following review and I am yet to see it beaten to the title:
It doesn’t happen often that I find nothing at all redeeming about a movie. But last night my sister, brother-in-law and I all agreed that ‘Taken’ was the worst film we had ever seen. And we have really different tastes in movies.
The only film I have ever actually walked out of was ‘Don’t Move’ (‘Non ti muovere’, 2004) – a love/rape story that I simply couldn’t bare at the time. I walked out after 30mins, post the first (of many) totally sexualised rape scene. When I finally watched the entire film in 2006, I did appreciate it. It is a really wonderful film, but the complexity involved in its greatness was beyond me at the time. And it is utterly painful to watch.
The last film I nearly walked out of was ‘The Dead Girl’ (2006), which I think may be the best competition for ‘Taken’.
The reason I went to see ‘The Dead Girl’ was because I had heard an interview with the (female) director where she explained that the film gave a voice to someone otherwise just seen as ‘the dead girl’, which actually is total bullshit. The film does exactly not that. The ‘dead girl’ only appears at the end. And the film plays into super boring lesbian/drug addict/prostitute/’she was asking for it’ narratives without challenging them.
Here are my criteria for judging a film:
1-does it reinforce stereotypes/cliched narratives?
2-does it depict women as victims/helpless/mindless consumers?
3-does it reinforce racist, sexist, homophobic assumptions/stereotypes?
4-does it contain rape (as threat, allusion, or graphic image)?
5-does it play well as a film (that is, have good cinematography), or does it rely more on just a story?
6-does it contain some pathetic love story, where things work out in the end?
7-does someone hot make up for it?
8- does it glorify something repulsive like patriarchy/war?
9-is it critical of oppressive social structures?
10-is the main message of the film super
SO. This is why ‘Taken’ is the worst film ever:
Ex-Army Liam Neeson retires to live closer to his estranged daughter. She wants to go to Paris with her friend and needs him to sign a form because she is 17. He says she can go only if she calls him twice a day. She doesn’t call. He calls her and while they are on the phone guys break into their apartment and kidnap the friend and then her. Neeson tracks down every person involved and kills them all, rescuing the daughter.
‘Taken’ rates as follows:
- (1) does it reinforce stereotypes/cliched narratives?
Oh my god Yes. It is a super boring ‘action’ movie. Badly written (so many bad one liners by Liam Neeson in the style of ‘this time it’s personal’). Terribly weak narrative (Neeson’s daughter goes to Paris on a trip and he is worried about her going alone and then lo and behold she is kidnapped on her first day).
- (2) does it depict women as victims/helpless/mindless consumers?
Absolutely. We never see the daughter’s story (for ‘narrative effect’, we are supposed to identify with Neeson ‘not knowing where she is’), thus she is depicted as completely useless/helpless to do anything herself. The (female) friend is found dead and she is just never brought up again.
There is also this thing about her being a virgin, which is so terrible: like she’s a virgin so instead of getting used in a brothel she gets sold off as a virgin, and then it is implied that she is still a virgin when he saves her (and therefore still ‘pure’), which I find super unlikely.
- (3) does it reinforce racist, sexist, homophobic assumptions/stereotypes?
Classic America takes on evil ‘Others’. The guys who kidnap, traffick and pimp the girls are Albanian, one is black. The story takes place in France and the French government is implicated as supporting the ‘trade’. When the girls are auctioned off, the buyers are of Asian appearance, or with dark skin. The final super bad guy (who purchasers the daughter) is West Asian Muslim.
- (4) does it contain rape (as threat, allusion, or graphic image)?
Yes. The girls kidnapped are given heroin and put to work in warehouse brothels. The threat that the daughter will be raped is the basis of the suspense of the film.
- 5) does it play well as a film (employ cinematography), or does it rely more on just a story?
No. but it is an action movie, so that’s to be expected.
- (6) does it contain some pathetic love story, where things work out in the end?
The main love story is the father/daughter, so that’s pretty cool (although obviously
lame conservative and unoriginal in other ways), there is no main het love theme. But the father/daughter love story, esp. ending is pretty pretty bad:
When the story begins, Neeson is estranged from his family because of his long absences due to active army service, and he is trying to build a relationship with his daughter. He works for one night on security at a concert and saves the singer’s life. In return she says he can bring his daughter to meet/learn from her (the daughter wants to be a singer). Guess how it ends.
- (7) does someone hot make up for it?
Only if you’re into Liam Neeson, but the acting is so so bad in anyone. Even Neeson is terrible.
- (8) does it glorify something repulsive like patriarchy/war/…
Yes. Patriarchy: father saves all. The film also has super dubious morals: it condones the use of torture (pretty standard these days but still), Neeson also kills so many people without caring, often unnecessarily, including women at a brothel, and he shoots a guy he’s after’s wife – all in order to save the daughter. He only ‘rescues’ one other girl from a brothel because she has his daughter’s jacket, but he doesn’t seem to give a shit about ‘anyone else’s daughter’.
Neeson is also a trained soldier. He is able to save the daughter because of the skills he gained in the army (the army is really great like that).
- (9) is it critical of oppressive social structures?
It is critical of America’s ‘bad guys’: Eastern Europe, France, Muslims. They appear to suck while white, manly America is there to save the day (world).
- (10) is the main message of the film super
Yes. Women who travel alone will be kidnapped, sold into prostitution and become drug addicts. their only possible escape is if their father (some man) rescues them.
It’s also SO unbelievable. And I understand the classic ‘bad guys can’t shoot straight but good guys always do’ scenario, but this is RIDICULOUS. Neeson must be like 60 (and the character is supposed to retired, ie out of practice or at least fitness), he repeatedly beats off 2, 3, 5, 7 (younger) guys without getting injured at all, mostly he is unarmed while they are armed. At one stage a guy shoots a machine gun at him at close range and still completely misses. At another he is handcuffed to a drain pipe against 5 guys with weapons. He is also pursued by the French government and then for no reason they give up, and he is able to leave the country.
Which movie do you think deserves the title WORST FILM EVER?
 Here are some of our favourite films:
Me: Charlie Kaufman’s ‘Adaptation’ (2002), ‘I Heart Huckabees’ (2004), Penelope Cruz in Pedro Almodovar’s ‘Volver’ (2006)
My sister: ‘The Usual Suspects’ (1995), Al Pacino in Oliver Stone’s ‘Scarface’ (1983), Neil Gaiman’s ‘Stardust’ (2007)
My brother in law: Jim Carrey in ‘Ace Ventura’ (1994), Chuck Palaniuk’s ‘Fight Club’ (1999), Oliver Stone’s ‘Platoon’ (1986)
A Femme Alliance
Probably the most obvious, and unfortunate, commonality between women and trans people is that we know what it’s like to be abused, and for the threat of abuse and [sexual] violence to be constant. But I do think the shared experience of brutality can be used to shape us into a wilful force of resistance; to defend each other and let ourselves be defended.
I used to be quick-witted when harassed on the streets or in bars. Two to seven words were usually enough; shouted out before an open car window could be wound back up. The men would just snigger in reply but there was something satisfying in fighting back. It took the edge off the humiliation of objectification. But somehow, somewhere, my ability (or desire) to defend myself was worn out.
I just want a break.
When you stand by and watch someone being abused – verbally, physically or (in a longer term sense) emotionally – I do think you’re complicit in it. I think we all have a responsibility to defend each other. And it’s not without risk. I’ve watched so many men and women get high and mighty about their feminist cred; thinking they have all the knowledge (and/or ontological right) to put other people in their place without interrogating the ways they themselves are fucking people over. There are political implications to acting as though someone can’t protect or defend themselves, or that you can do it better. [If you plan on doing it, ask first if that’s what someone wants].
For a long time I thought independence meant self-sufficiency. But the stockpiling of abuse I have taken taught me that having people around to stand up for me was not only a valid survival technique (and what a privilege it was to have ever thought I could persist alone), but a complete pleasure.
Watching my femme friends or lovers verbally rip apart the guys that hassle me is a freakin dream. It’s so unexpected. She’s sharp and witty and seethingly mad and he’s so taken aback and confused he’s stunned into a retreatful silence. Violence always escalates. When I push some guy off a friend, it’s not so unlikely he’ll turn around and punch me in the face. On the contrary, the political – gendered and subversive – (and practical) power of a femme offensive like that shows up the deficiencies of any other kind of recourse. But I do what I can. And this is something we can ask each other for.
It’s not that we can’t defend ourselves, but what a relief to (even occasionally) not have to.
- On Being Defended is a part of the series against self-sufficiency – an investigation of what is left out when feminist theory/art/movement avoids or ignores the specificities of ftm trans lives, and the ways in which we can work/resist/persist together.
Can you still be a bitch if you’re a guy? I don’t know. It’s (a) female power. I was a hard-arse bitchfeminist butch who sometimes played at being feminine when I was a dyke. But now? Well, my femininity’s been re-named effeminacy, and the rest is just fucking obnoxious. Many things change, not just the body (if the body), when one is sex changed. When I’m read as a guy I shut up a lot more. I don’t talk over women the way I would talk over people before. The first time I painted facial hair on my face it was to stop myself getting into a fight with another chick, because I knew with the gender of that face I would never enact violence on another woman.
The thing is: sex matters. The way sex is perceived is a lens through which behaviour is interpreted. If you pass as male because of your body (facial hair being particularly salient in this respect as I’ve noted before), behavioural clues to gender are less important; there is less need for hypermasculine behaviour in order to be recognised as a guy. This is unfortunately complicated by the way in which masculinity is so often defined by misogyny, thus it is harder to pass if one holds and stands up forfeminist values. This is often the justification transguys hold for being as sexist as other guys, but male privilege and power fucks everyone over – trannys shouldn’t be too quick to forget.
As Kate Bornstein notes, “The correct target for any successful transsexual rebellion would be the gender system itself. But transsexuals won’t attack that system until they themselves are free of the need to participate in it… Without the structure of the bi-polar gender system, the power dynamic between men and women shatters.” That said, it is not incidental that when we don’t embrace a gender normative corporealitywe are at the highest risk of violence; liveability is severely affected in such a context, and we need to survive.
Aggression (and even violence) can be subversive for women, undermining the stereotype of women as docile and passive victims. But if male privilege is assuming one has the right to occupy any space or person by whatever means, with or without permission, what really happens when the bitch reappropriates this power? Is to be a bitch, to take mastery in hostility and force, just reinforcing male power and its dominance?
We need more guys to get their feminist shit together, stand up (against other guys), shut up (and listen when women talk), and (thus) start to define a non-misogynistic masculinity. We need power to be conceived of and employed in other ways.