A short essay by Brittany Diana Eakin (Originally written in April and May 2019)
Chapter I: Introduction
Feminism is the general term for a social, political, philosophical movement that seeks to bring equality and challenge existing gender dynamics. It wants to bring women to equal status with men. There are many schools of thought under the umbrella label of feminism, such as Liberal Feminism, Radical Feminism, Socialist Feminism, and Black Feminism. Both have similar and different responses and critiques of each other and of their overall goal as feminists. Feminists have widely differing opinions. One example of that is how they approach the concept of gender, especially the sex-gender system. One subfield within feminism that really takes on the sex-gender system and deals with identity is applying a feminist approach to the transgender community. Feminists of all schools of thought should take on a more inclusive framework of gender and recognize the existence of all transgender people as one of their key platforms for organization and ending the oppressive dynamics of gender.
Chapter II: Terminology and definitions
To fully engage with the topic, it is important to have a working knowledge with basic terms. Transgender is an identity that means a person is not their assigned gender at birth. Cisgender, however is the opposite, it is not offensive, and it means that someone is their assigned gender at birth. For example, a woman is transgender if her assigned gender at birth was male, and a woman is cisgender, if her assigned gender at birth was female.
There are many facets to the transgender experience, such as transitioning. Assigning gender at birth is the key characteristic of the sex-gender system. The sex-gender system is something to escape and liberate oneself from oppression.
Sex and gender are not the same. Sex in humans refers to physiological traits such as gonads, genitalia, reproductive organs, karyotypes, hormones, and anatomy. Gender is primarily identity. Under the sex gender system, the assignment of gender to a child often just takes genitalia appearance into account and if the child appears to have a penis then, the parent says “it’s a boy” or if it has a vulva then the parent says “it’s a girl”. This is where the concepts of being cisgender and transgender come from– the sex-gender system and its extrapolation of gender roles and identity from sex traits. I was assigned male at birth. There could be a chance of being karyotypically intersex, but have no way of knowing. I am not male, therefore I am transgender. That was the personal side of the thesis and research.
Chapter III: The Case Studies of Radical Libertarian Feminism and Radical Cultural Feminism.
Out of the most prominent schools of feminist thought, it is Radical Feminism that has the most theory and schisms on transgender topics. Radical feminists posit that the sex-gender system is the root of women’s oppression. Radical feminism is a well-known branch of feminism, and it has two main subfields: libertarian feminism and cultural feminism. Libertarian feminism espouses tolerance, androgyny, sexual empowerment. Cultural feminism espouses a female essence as the basis of woman. Cultural feminists believe in gender essentialism. Radical feminism in general was an offshoot of liberal feminism or first wave of feminism. During the 19th century, feminists worked on legal equality. Radical feminists do not doubt the importance of equality before the law, but do not stop. Understanding the philosophy of these groups and branches of feminist movements is key to really understand what is really at stake with transgender issues in regards to feminism.
Radical libertarian and radical cultural feminists split on transgender issues when they ask who is and is not a woman. Radical libertarian feminists argue that anyone who says they are a woman is a woman, regardless of their assigned sex, socialization, or any other circumstance related to their gender. However, radical cultural feminists believe that a woman has to have an essential quality. In many cases, the cultural feminist belief has led to a very controversial brand, whose adherents are Transgender Exclusionary Radical Feminists, or TERFs for short, and they take the position that a woman has to be assigned female at birth and that transgender people, especially trans women are not who they say they are. Not all cultural feminists are necessarily TERFs, for example, Catherine McKinnon, a prominent radical cultural feminist, does not exclude trans women from her definition of womanhood and her feminism. Germaine Greer, however, another radical cultural feminist and self proclaimed liberation feminist, has wrote on gender in opposition to the inclusion of trans women and trans people in feminism. There are many quotes from her affirming the TERF position and demeaning and misgendering trans women she has encountered as a cultural feminist. The whole reason is that anti-trans feminists defined woman as a social class whose oppression comes from biology, and thus exclude trans women from womanhood because they do not have the biological nature, for which cisgender women experience patriarchal oppression. Because of this emphasis on biology and their assertion that it is the root of women’s oppression as a social class, a cultural feminist has turned it around and used cis women’s biological anatomy as the basis of motherhood as the peak expression of being a woman, but divorcing it in a way from male control. The central thesis of radical cultural feminism, especially anti-trans versions, is that women were a biological class and any oppression they experienced was due to their status as mothers and roles as birthers to sustain the human population. They often tie this to sexuality, especially criticize sexual intercourse with men.
The problem with the arguments of transphobic or “gender critical” radical cultural feminists is that they deny a material reality that transphobia comes from sexism and these forms of oppression often mix together as transmisogyny. A lot of transphobic discourse focuses more towards transfeminine people and transgender women in particular, because of how patriarchal over values of the masculine and undervalues the feminine. Neither anti-trans feminists nor regular transphobic anti-feminists see trans people as themselves, so they will see a trans woman as a man pretending to be a woman, and their mind expresses the patriarchal double standards between men and women, and transphobic disgust is the channel of that sexist attitude. In that way, anti-trans feminists do the patriarchy’s work and yet claim that it helps women. One example is the proposed hypothesis of autogynephilia, and it intersects with psychology and medicine. Both anti-trans radical cultural feminists and regular transphobes support it because it confirms their bias against trans women and transfeminine people. The issue of medicine and care have been a thorny issue for both feminism and transgender rights. Psychological research has both pro and anti trans perspectives.
Autogynephilia posits that trans women are men living a sexual fantasy. Dr Richard Blanchard, the inventor of this narrative, says there are two types of Autogynephilia. Going back to Radical Cultural Feminism, one thing a cultural feminist believes is that sexuality can be damaging and oppressive to women, and have rallied against rape culture and pornography, and conflated those two, and that hypothesis has seemingly validated the connections of feminists that both exclude transgender people and sex workers from their feminist liberation movements, as they believe both are patriarchal agents that reinforce women’s biological oppression.
With that in mind, even Dr Blanchard’s typology could apply to cisgender women if they tested them against his standards for diagnoses of autogynephilia. Curiously, there is no big discourse around a theoretical autoandrophilia, trans men and transmasculine people have been relatively stealth, but they do have no real sympathy from anti-trans feminists who denounce transgender men as “treacherous” or “misguided” and trying to escape their biological oppression by becoming men. There is also another development with trans-exclusionary radical feminism, some of them will not say patently wrong statements and call trans women men and trans men women, but rather say phrases like “trans identified males” or “trans identified females”, and this also is still misgendering them. One case from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in an interview said that “trans women are trans women” when asked if trans women are women. She affirmed their status as trans women, but still separated them from cis women. This again reinforces transphobic notions, while not an overt or outright rejection of trans women’s claims. However, the separation and distinction are wedges within feminist discourse over personal claims to gender, both in identity and in expression. It is also an epistemological debate. Adichie claims women, both transgender and cisgender, need to have an experience to know their gender and claim womanhood.
These TERFs and other transphobes, regardless of their position on feminism, are all wrong simply because they are denying reality. Trans people have existed and even other cultures have not had only the western binary of only male or female. This is the rejection and schism among radical feminists. Material and ideal forms of oppression based on both sex and gender at any rate stifle gender diversity.
Radical libertarian feminists accept transgender people for the basis of freedom, recognizing that transphobia is an oppression that stems from the patriarchy and the sex-gender system. Their belief in androgyny for both men and women can be a boon of relief for trans people in feminist spaces. Gender identity and gender expression and sex are all not the same, however these are social constructs. Libertarian feminists look at gender and wonder how they can maximize liberty with it. Their position is to undermine and divorce masculinity and femininity from sex and gender. They also accepted gender diversity. This mindset is naturally trans inclusive because it undermines the negative and hierarchical nature of the sex-gender system.
Chapter IV: Deconstructing the Sex-Gender System
First, we must look what the sex-gender system to understand the core of transgender issues. Stated in the definition chapter, it is the belief sex and gender can be extrapolated from each other. One popular phrase in trans discourse is “sex and gender are not the same thing” I understand that well, however there is one thing in common, both are social constructs. I do not deny the existence of physiological traits that make up sex, but the idea that certain traits are inherently male or female is absurd and shows why the sex-gender system must be deconstructed, analyzed, and then abolished. Ending the sex-gender system is one of many goals that trans-feminism espouses. I have also have a personal goal against the sex-gender system, as a transgender non-binary person, for it would have made transitioning easier if it were not people sticking other people, and myself included, to sex-gender system and prescribing masculine gender roles and presentation for people that were assigned male at birth, and prescribing feminine gender roles and presentation for people that were assigned female at birth. Intersex people, however, have a different relation, they too suffer from coercion in surgeries. Overall, the sex-gender system proves to be an extremely inaccurate construction of gender, as sex is not a reliable predictor of it and one cannot predict and prescribe sexual and romantic orientation from gender.
Chapter V: How to take down transphobia: Metaphysics of gender
From the perspective of philosophy, I see transphobia in feminism as a metaphysical issue. For example, homophobia and biphobia are ethical issues, since proponents somehow believe that same-gender relationships and homosexuality or bisexuality and any associated sex acts are morally inferior to heterosexuality. The philosophy of transphobia is an argument of both epistemology and metaphysics. An anti-trans feminist or someone who doubts a transgender person’s claim of identity ask the question, especially myself “how do you know?”. That question comes from the analysis of transphobia from the Abigail Thorn’s video essay on transphobia, in which he breaks down the arguments and philosophy driving most transphobic attitudes and beliefs. She also likens homophobia to an ethical issue as a parallel between the construction and attitudes of sexuality and gender. Abigail Thorn suggested that even the most seemingly tolerant people can hold that attitude, which implies transgender people are playing some game of dress up, but should have tolerance under the guise of a free society, yet, she says, that there is a small seed of transphobia, it is covert, not as overt as anti-queer transphobes or even TERFs.
Chapter VI: The Personal Philosophy
The personal is political. This is a common phrase in many feminist circles. To say that means that one cannot separate their privilege in political and social movements. In the case of transfeminism it is an intersection of sexism and transphobia, and even transmisogyny. Cisgender people, whether men or women, have a certain privilege in the issue of transgender rights in feminism. The debate of rights impacts those with less privilege, simply because they cannot escape from it and all of its consequences.
This topic is rather personal to me. As I am a transfeminine non-binary person with In my personal research, for my different reasons. I see a lot of parallels between gender and sexuality. For example there are similar social norms and taboos between bisexuality and non-binary genders, as I have observed a binary between heterosexuality and homosexuality, collectively, I call them monosexuality, as to distinguish them from multisexual attractions like bisexual and pansexual. People construct both sexuality and gender as binaries. Binaries are too simplistic for human social identities. Monosexual and binary people have different and layered experiences compared bisexual or pansexual and non-binary people. One can have on or the either. But, erasure is one facet of the debate on transgender topics that I have worked to overcome personally. Because of that I see and think of the implications.
Chapter VII: Conclusion
Feminists should care about transgender people because of the material oppression and denial to spaces, resources, and rights that cisgender people have no problem with, in comparison. Even Adichie defines feminism as “Any[one] who sees a problem with gender”. However, she did say man or woman, and that I wrote like a misspelling, because feminism is for everyone, not just men and women, since upholding the gender goes against feminism, especially transfeminism. The sex-gender system have created oppression for transgender people. And, the sex-gender system oppresses cisgender people, both men and women alike. Cisgender women have privilege because they are cisgender, but still experience patriarchal misogyny that even impacts transgender people. Gender policing creates a toxic environment for transgender and gender-non-conforming people alike. It starts with bullying but it then manifests itself as sexism, which then leads to more specific forms like homophobia and transphobia. Gender historically has a racist and colonialist past. Erases traditional identities with the western, Eurocentric binary. Feminists of all factions can and should care about transgender people. I am disappointed with feminists and brands of feminism that either deliberately exclude trans people or ignore them through either single issue myopia or respectability politics. All women will be free with trans-inclusivity. Thus, all feminists should strive to become the perfect ally to trans people and show solidarity.
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Bibliography, inspiration, and sources.
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