Thoughts On “Non-binary”, Gender Identity Politics and the Material Reality of Being Female in Patriarchy

This post is a response to an exchange I witnessed on Tumblr between someone critical of gender identity politics and someone who described themselves as “AFAB, non-binary.” This part quoted below is what got me thinking.

What is gender? (“It means something different to everyone” isn’t an answer)

  • Despite your insistence that gender can’t mean something different to everyone, it does. You do not get to dictate how people experience their gender.

What is a woman? (Same as above)

  • A woman is any person who identifies as one.

What is a man? (Same as above)

  • A man is any person who identifies as a one.

Why are you not a woman? (“I’m just not/I don’t identify as one” isn’t an answer. Sit with this question and take some time to find a few concrete reasons.)

  • I’m not a woman bc I personally don’t identify with any gender. That is a valid answer whether you deem it be so or not. Perhaps you don’t understand that the attitudes you’re displaying are transphobic.

———————-

I do really feel for people caught up in these fragile identities that leave them susceptible to being deeply hurt by potentially common occurrences such as the wrong pronoun being used. Humans and all animals have instincts that allow us to intuit sex. That, however, does not work for intuiting subjective gender identities. And so it probably happens quite a bit that people get “misgendered” by others who are going on instinct and socially constructed gender markers… clothes, style etc.

Here is the thing… With sex, meaning the actual biology and reproductive systems human beings are born with, there comes a material reality that places those of us who are AFAB (Assigned Female at Birth) into the subjugated sex caste and those of us who are AMAB (Assigned Male at Birth) into the dominating sex caste. And no matter how we ultimately identify, this material reality will inform our lives. It will inform how people see and treat us and how we are socialized even when, internally, we are fighting to not be a part of it all.

I see a lot of people on Tumblr concerned about being “invalidated.” I think this is somewhat inherent in subjective identity embracing. It is very difficult to have an internal *knowing* and yet walk through the world where people see something different than one sees of oneself. This is not only true for gender identities. Material reality is what makes young, law abiding, college attending, black men and women get shot and killed for simply knocking on a door while seeking help after a car accident. I can know who I am internally. I can believe I am smart and kind and fully human. But some people will just see black and whatever black means to them, they will apply to me in their thinking and actions. And that could mean that I get killed by the police over not using a turn signal or showing sufficient deference, my internal identity be damned.

This is why, for me, subjective identity would seem meaningless to apply to myself and I don’t quite understand why others find meaning in it. I do understand dysphoria. Although undiagnosed, I would say I lived through it during my younger life. So when I say that I don’t understand why others find meaning in subjective identity, I don’t mean to dismiss that it may help alleviate the pain of dysphoria. What I mean is that I see people leaving themselves open to harm caused by mere words. If “misgendering” is being experienced as if it is violence, how is subjective identity saving those who embrace it? To me, this would be like going outside and not remembering that I am black and female. No matter what I think and know of myself, I need to be conscious that this material reality will inform my experience whether I like it or not.

When I was younger, there was not this same identity focused culture among people my age. There was no opportunity to bond with other young women/girls and name what I was feeling with a collective. And I have to say, I think that was probably a good thing. Yes, I dissociated from and did what I could to hide my body. I think I did that in part, because I didn’t identify with what my body meant to other people. I dissociated, because I did not like, or rather, because I hated my vulnerability and the inherent subjugation that comes with being a female in patriarchy. I layered and did what I could to hide my femaleness. I had no idea about binding, otherwise I really might have done that. I refused to wear a bra, because I didn’t want to need one. Looking back, that didn’t make sense in any kind of practical way. Not wanting to need a bra and so not wearing one, meant I stopped being athletic, because running was physically painful and also made it very obvious that I DID in fact need a bra or some kind of support. Again, the material reality trumped my internal desire. But that said, my real internal desire was not to be male. It was to have my body not inform how I am treated in the world.

I think MAYBE some people who identify as “non-binary” kind of want the same thing. If that is true, then I think we may not be so far from each other in our heart of hearts, even if we do take different paths to reaching peace within ourselves and, to what extent it is possible, with the world around us.

I don’t mean to be hurtful when I say that I find “non-binary” meaningless. If gender is non-binary, then it is non-binary for all people no matter how we identify. “Non-binary” reifies the gender binary, because without binary, what can non-binary even mean? So “non-binary” makes no sense to me internally and it makes no sense to me in terms of material reality either, because I know that people will still go by what they see and understand and that will still be what actually informs how I am treated in the world.

That is why, for me, discovering feminism was my healing, because feminism helped me to unplug from and to see the matrix of patriarchy. Patriarchy assigns limitations on and expectations of us all based on our bodies to the benefit of those born male. It creates a hierarchy based on sex. And it does this via gender.

What I see of gender identity politics, does not seem like it has any potential at all to free us from patriarchy or its limitations and expectations. To me, it’s like switching seats on the Titanic. And again, though one’s subjective identity and the lengths one goes through to convey that subjective identity externally in order to alleviate dysphoria, may be healing and meaningful to any of us as individuals, solutions that enable individual survival within patriarchy, do not end patriarchy. And more often than not, these individual solutions actually affirm it.

Why do I say that? I say that because, if I am female and I choose to present in ways that are outside of gendered expectations for females… if I chose to ignore the expectations and limitations that patriarchy has socially constructed for me because of my body, I have to ask myself if this makes me no longer female… does it mean I am in the wrong body? Or does it mean that patriarchy is wrong about what a female person can be, look like, act like, take interest in? Which makes more sense? Which has the greater potential to challenge patriarchy? Does it make sense for me to believe I have crossed the line for “woman” (if we use the definition “adult human female”) and that I am now someone on the “trans spectrum”? Or does it make sense to come to an understanding that there are no inherent limitations and that means that “woman” (and “man”) can be seen in a way that looks much more like a spectrum than patriarchy tells us and that each of us, as individuals, bring definition to and expands the possibilities for our sex by simply being female (or male).

I have said this often… I define woman, it does not define me. I define my clothes, they do not define me. No matter what section of a store I find my clothing in, once it’s mine, it is women’s clothing. And I accept that I am female, because I am – just in the way that I accept that I am black. Because not accepting it, does not save me from being treated as such. That doesn’t mean that I accept and internally apply patriarchy’s meaning to myself. It means that I arm myself with understanding and protect myself, as best I can, by being aware of my surroundings and the way my body informs my material reality.

I really do not see how saying something like “I am not a woman, because I don’t identify as one” is supposed to change anything for or protect a person from the harm gender imposes on us in patriarchy. For one, words cannot stop us from being raped – not words like “No!” and not words like “I don’t identify as…”

Being female means we will be considered prey to many males. And even the males who are not rapists, benefit from the threat all females live with as a constant aspect of our material reality. How then does the utterance of words like “I am not a woman, because I don’t identify as one” inform one’s life in a practical way? What does it do for one if one can be devastated and triggered into feelings of suicide by the use of a wrong pronoun? That is not a rhetorical question. No one has to answer it for me, but it just seems like something one would want to consider towards one’s own survival.

I don’t believe that gender is real or innate. I know we are taught to believe it is inevitable. But I think it really just is social meaning applied based on sex. Gender varies significantly across cultures, unlike sex, which is universally understood and determined based on reproductive systems across cultures and even across species. And it varies this way across cultures, because it is socially constructed. In one culture females will be expected to tend to farming chores. In another, that might be considered work for males. It’s made up stuff, these cultural, societal expectations and limitations that amount to what we call gender. And gender so insidiously enforced that we tend to think of it as “natural” and innate.  That’s why girls like me who were considered “tomboys” were policed daily with “girls can’t _____.” Whatever it was that I was doing that girls supposedly could not do, was not actually a natural limitation. It was a socially determined and enforced limitation. That’s why I say I don’t believe it is real. Yes, it does have real consequences for us all, so it’s not unreal in that sense. But gender is gender is gender is patriarchy, no matter what qualifier one places before it, non-binary, trans, cis etc.

So really, in a practical way, how does identifying as “non-binary” (or any other gender identity) serve you? And is it serving or challenging the patriarchy?

I also have to wonder if one’s willingness to abandon and deny tangible biology in favor of the theory of gender identity (like we know biology doesn’t actually change, but…), meaning if you say, “I am not a woman, because I do not identify as one” are you not simply saying, “I’m not like THEMMMMMMM”? And in so doing, are you not sort of projecting the meaning that patriarchy holds for females onto us, affirming patriarchy’s framing of women/girls while doing so? Because your, “I’m not like THEMMMMMMM” kind of implies, even if unconsciously, “they deserve the shit they get, while I am special and do not.” In practice, it amounts to “don’t do this TO ME” (which is how I see the practice of gender identity politics) rather than “don’t do this to ANY OF US” (which is feminism).

———————-

Thinking about all of this reminded me of a passage in a book I read when I was a teenager, “The High School Revolutionaries.” The passage included in the image below is quoted in one of the essays, but is originally written by Christopher Caudwell from a book called “Studies in a Dying Culture.”Christopher Caudwell from a book called "Studies in a Dying Culture.”

If this seems like a complete non sequitur, I will explain my own thinking specifically by interpreting the following line:

“…By shutting their eyes to all the relations between humans that constitute society and are its real stuff and substance, humans have enslaved themselves to forces whose control is now beyond them, because they do not acknowledge the forces’ existence.”

By denying that human beings are sexually dimorphic and that most humans in society intuit sex, not subjective gender identity, people who embrace subjective gender identities have enslaved themselves to forces whose control is now beyond them, because they are dependent on other people, often strangers, intuiting or agreeing to affirm their intangible subjective gender identity as opposed to their actual sex.

Intuiting subjective gender identity requires, not just the ability to read minds, it requires the denial of humans as sexually dimorphic beings and it affirms, rather than opposes, patriarchy’s gender essentialism by saying people should agree to affirm and or instinctively know and acknowledge subjective gender identities based on external markers like clothing choice. For example, if a male is wearing a dress or make up, we should intuit that they identify as a woman.

Where then does such essentialism leave those, women especially, who do not conform to patriarchy’s gender expectations? That’s a question to sit with. Because again, my own sensibilities are that I define my clothes, they do not define me. So if it was commonly expected in society that we ignore our ability to know sex and favor socially constructed gender markers (clothes, style, interests, name choice) as the way to understand whether a person is a girl/woman or a boy/man, this way of thinking would determine me to be a man. However, I’m pretty sure that I would still also be understood to be female and that would mean that I was in the same constant danger females experience within patriarchy only with less ability to organize with others along our commonality, which is our female sex, and less ability to name the agent of our oppression, which in patriarchy, is males. And yet gender identity activists seem to think that people who are non-trans have no respectable stake in the conversation about sex vs gender. And in reality, being trans or non-trans as a female, does not stop us from being in danger at the hands of males, trans and non-trans, when our sex is known. Just read a few detransitioned womyn’s blogs and you will see.

It makes complete sense to me that anyone female would want to run screaming from our bodies and how our bodies inform our experience in the world. I shared this link to a poem with my friends on Facebook recently and I don’t think I know anyone female who would not identify with it, heartbreaking as that is to consider. So I really do hope that young people who are female and feeling like their uncomfortableness with and or terror at the thought of being a woman in patriarchy, know that this is not such a unique experience. I’d be willing to bet that way more commonly than is ever spoken, puberty, for girls, is experienced as if one is being betrayed by one’s own body. It is a time when men and boys tend to act out in even more entitled ways then we have already learned to navigate. We are vulnerable to being framed as whores if we do agree to sex or prudes if we do not. We are often actively coerced or otherwise tricked into sex or raped with no recourse, while the boy or boys who did it are rewarded with pats on the back for successfully getting over. Hating this shit can very reasonably manifest for any of us in ways that we interpret as hating our bodies. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it is females who tend to have anorexia, bulimia or trichotillomania (pulling out hair) or who cut. So that is to say, that hating one’s female body for the material reality that comes with it in patriarchy, is not a sign that one is not female. It is a confirmation.

I still long to have my body not inform how I am treated in the world. But I understand that it is the world that has to change. And it will not change if I agree that some females ought to have limitations and expectations forced on them, while holding myself out as an exception. And I also understand that holding oneself out as an exception doesn’t make one free. It might make one feel less vulnerable if one passes, but that kind of feeling free is not by way of actual freedom. Not if it requires one to constantly police pronouns and control what others think and say or if it requires hiding and denying truth.

“…So far from being free, they are whirled like a leaf on the gales of social change. And all this anarchy, and impotence, and muddled dissension is reflected in his culture. Productive forces have outgrown the free bourgeois and mercilessly crush them and their illusions.”

Where is the freedom in denying one is not free?

Michfest: Some Perspective

I want to share these images of music festival posters with the acts that don’t include females removed for the people who wonder why an all female music festival has been important to any of us.

I mean this just scratches the surface.

Lilith Fair was a good mainstream event. But was all of the sound and lighting and production done by women? Were the stages built by women? Were all the instrumentalist women? Was all the staff women? Were even half of the staff women?

Last time Lilith tried to start up and do another tour, ticket sales were so low that it didn’t get up off the ground. What does that tell us? That it had sucky acts that no one was interested in? Did it have really great acts that no one was interested in? Why aren’t people interested in the talents and voices and art of women?

If you Google Michfest, you will find article after article, many written by men***, that tell of it as “trans exclusionary.” They will frame those of us who value the festival and it’s intention for female space as “Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists” and go on to refer to us again and again by the acronym TERF with the same amount of venom and disdain and misogyny more often conveyed by “bitch” or “cunt.” The most dominant theme will make one wonder why anyone would want to go to this horrible event. If you check the Google returns of blogs and Twitter and Tumblr, you’ll see mention of the musicians as being “crappy,” “second rate” and “lousy acts that no one’s ever heard of…” You’ll see mention of the attendees as “ignorant,” “unevolved,” “old dinosaurs who will hopefully die off soon,” “stuck in the past,” “rigid” and on and on…

It’s much more difficult to find out from the “oh so powerful” (according to the dominant framing) womyn like me who love it. Does anyone find that at all worth considering?

I have written a few blogs about my experience of festival and my take on some of the politics involved in the justification in attacking it. In response to the blog titled “I value separate spaces” a reddit user responded as follows:

“Admittedly, I have had a negative view of this festival for years because people always said it was bad because of the trans issue. Why was it easier for me to be mad at these women who desire their space than it was for me to simply listen to their experiences within those spaces?

I’ve understood the other side for years in which I claimed not to be part of the oppressors. But why is it that if this group is so privileged, why haven’t I ever heard their side without derision and hatred being aimed at them? Why did I blindly accept this hatred, rather than listening to these women?

Something doesn’t add up.

Thanks for posting this article, I honestly never bothered to understand where they were coming from.”

I found that interesting and hopeful. But it was just one person. And it was said about a year ago. There are many people who will not read my long ass blogs and or many who are not willing to get deeper than saying whatever they can to dismiss and distance themselves from us as soon as possible. No one wants to be thought of as unkind or worse, be accused of being a “TERF” or a “TERF” sympathizer.

So what does it mean for Michifest to be “trans exclusionary”? What did this supposed “trans exclusion” at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival look like? How was it enforced? With all the recent transgender women and kids in the news, the general public is becoming sensitive and finding compassion for transgender folks so the idea that an event would enforce some policy that coldly denied transgender women their womanhood as well as entrance to the festival just seems mean spirited. It’s easy to agree with the dominant framing of us as hateful. But the truth is trans women have not been excluded. If they came, they were sold tickets. I’d guess most had a good time, especially since some attended multiple years. Some trans women have also worked on staff. So the truth is that trans women have not been excluded. The event is just intended for and centered on females. And for some of us that is specifically important, because we understand that our lives are informed by the fact that we are female and that we have healing to do around surviving as females in patriarchal misogynist cultures.

There are, perhaps, two main issues people have with the intention for female space, one being that they think our priorities as an event/community should be that we gather with a focus on gender and not sex. The festival, they say, by virtue of it’s 40 year old name, is a “womyn’s” festival not a “female” festival. And of course the second problem is the “unevolved perspective, that trans women are males.” And if you agree with that as an “unevolved perspective,” I mean I really don’t know what to do with the dismissal of biology and the material reality that goes with it. Male and female are defined across most all cultures and applied to all species pretty much the same way. We can either agree to settle on the meaning of words or not. But if we do not settle on the meaning of words, then all of this is pretty meaningless anyway isn’t? It’s like the queer politics gender/sex equivalent of “Who’s On First?.” But OK whatever…because in terms of fest, no one is actually turned away or asked to prove their sex or gender. They are simply asked to respect the intention for female space. And when I say that they are “asked,” I mean no one is actually asked anything. The intention is known. How individuals proceed from there has been up to them.

Now some folks might think I am being intellectually dishonest when I say that trans women are not actually excluded. I do personally believe that respecting the intention ought to mean they choose not to attend. My experience of those who do anyway is likely to be informed by what I perceive as bad boundaries and entitlement. But in the realest of ways, I think folks are being intellectually dishonest when they center the intention as having anything to do with trans women at all. For me, it’s just like womyn of color taking space as womyn of color. Doing so does not mean we hate men of color or white women. It has nothing to do with them.

And of course there are those who jump to respond to that by insisting that the power dynamics between trans women and females is such that females taking space as females is more like white people taking white people space. And everyone is supposed to agree that white people taking white people space is wrong therefore females taking female space is obviously WRONG. My response to that is not simple, but I disagree with that math. Non-trans women ARE NOT to trans women, what white people are to black people in America. And if you want to know more about my thoughts on that you should check out my blog post SSCAB/DSCAB: Reconsidering the Conversation.

I try to think of ways to convey my thoughts and feelings so that they are easier to understand. This may help draw a parrallel for the dynamics I think are involved here…

Imagine there is a therapy group intended for survivors of childhood abuse. I think that most people would have compassion for someone who grew up in an abusive household, especially if the abuse they endured was sexual. It seems like it would be near impossible for this kind of a history to not inform one’s life. Surely relationships, sense of personal safety, emotional health, maybe physical health, etc would all be informed by the fact one is a survivor. Who would argue against that? Survivors of childhood abuse then having space intended for themselves ought to be seen as something folks have a right to create and maintain toward the healing they seek.

Now perhaps some of the same people also attend a therapy group that is for abuse survivors, but that is not specifically determined for childhood abuse survivors. They may find that group also helpful. But they may also find that they feel like they cannot be as vulnerable in the less specific group. Would finding value in that more specific group make them horrible people? Does it dismiss and deny that other people without that commonality are also survivors of abuse? Would anyone support survivors who do not have that commonality doing what they could to force a change in the intention for survivors of childhood abuse group? Would anyone celebrate the end of the survivors of childhood abuse group, framing the people who found value in it as hateful bigots?

I’d really like to think not. I’d like to think that most people would have compassion for both. In terms of the parallel back to fest, most people don’t have compassion for the the needs of womyn who find value in female space. And I guess maybe that is because what people know about us has been conveyed more often by people other than us and is filtered through their fears, anger and pain. (You can read our own stories here.)

One responder to my blog said, “I know my pain blinds me to your happiness.” She then went on to blame the festival community for the suicides of trans women. But as I responded to her, I think her pain blinds her to our pain. She likely does imagine a happiness that she thinks comes with being born female and is oblivious to what about it might be worthy of unchallenged healing space. I think our pain is not at all considered by our critics. The only thing given consideration in the negative framing of festival is trans women’s pain and fear. And I really don’t know what to do with that. Because what has been asked of us is that we deny our own needs. How is that just? It’s the same expectation females are raised to prioritize. We sacrifice our own needs, for ANY and EVERYONE else. There is a very circular cruelty to all of this, especially if anyone actually stops to consider the females festival has saved and those who will NOT be saved when it is gone.

It breaks my heart that the festival is making this 40th Anniversary year it’s last. I have to say though, that I prefer it end over us affirming the framing that says it is wrong for females to gather as females. I have seen many instances where the festival is said to be forever on the “wrong side of history.” There is never mention of the diversity of female presentation, active investment in accessibility for disabled women, ASL interpreters for all sets and for workshops upon request, the intention for fest as anti-racist space, the inter-generational aspect of the community, the option within for womyn of color to take space exclusively as womyn of color, the healing… the unexpected access to ourselves we get to – just because its possible – in that female intended space. These are not the truths most people will tell about the festival. But while folks are celebrating and satisfied and smug about themselves as more progressive, compared to our “unwillingness to evolve,” I want to remind people that the “right side of history” has historically been framed and recorded by conquerors and colonizers, not the “unevolved,” “savages,” rarely acknowledged as human beings, those conquerors wiped out.

I pray that eventually, in time, we be remembered for the LOVE that we are and have always been. That is the truth of our HERstory.

You may forget but
let me tell you
this: someone in
some future time
will think of us

– Sappho, The Art of Loving Women

Forever and always…See You in August.

***I just find it incredibly entitled that men think their opinions about womyn’s space should matter.

Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival: My First Fest

 

The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is an annual gathering that happens every August. Its an incredible event and healing space. A female only temporary town! For more info visit http://www.michfest.com

I know this video is long. If you want to watch it in chapters of sorts here is my recommended timing:

Part 1 (00:00-05:23) – http://youtu.be/95pW4OTvxtI
Part 2 (05:24-10:52) – http://youtu.be/95pW4OTvxtI?t=5m24s
Part 3 (10:53-15:46) – http://youtu.be/95pW4OTvxtI?t=10m53s
Part 4 (15:47-19:15) – http://youtu.be/95pW4OTvxtI?t=15m47s
Part 5 (19:16-21:35) – http://youtu.be/95pW4OTvxtI?t=19m16s

(****Closed Captioning**** coming soon! I apologize for not having this done already, but it has to be done manually and I am not that good at following and typing. I will make sure it gets done ASAP. Thank you for your patience.)

How TERF works

I thought this was a great example. Perfect really.

Sarah Ditum

Pay attention, if you’re not already neck-deep in the gender wars of online feminism. TERF is an acronym for “Trans Exclusive Radical Feminist” that its users claim is applied purely descriptively. Critics of the term point out that it is not used neutrally, but in all cases pejoratively: TERF is a curse word used solely against women, a version of “bitch” that liberals can feel OK saying. “TERFs” are charged with inciting and inflicting violence against transgender people, despite the fact that violence against transgender people, like all violence, is overwhelmingly committed by men and not by feminists of any stripe.

The definition of TERF is extraordinarily loose: what one is supposed to be excluding trans people from is never identified. To state that male and female bodies exist can be enough to win the TERF label; to state that the division of sex is the foundation of sexual oppression…

View original post 484 more words

“What Michfest Means to Me” – by redressalert

Below is a link to a powerful testimony on this woman’s first Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival experience.

Here is small sample…

…I can start to glimpse for the first time, flashes of an answer to questions like, “Who would I be if I had been raised with perfect love and support?” “Who would I be if I had not been harmed and twisted?” “Who would I be if I had never been measured against a toxic standard?” “Who would I be if I had not grown up fearing rape?” “Who would I be if I had not had to spend so many years on simply trying to survive, heal, and recover?” Those questions start to get a lot less rhetorical, in light of Fest. The nourishment seems to be unbound by space/time limitations—it seems to reach back to all of my past selves who most need to be fed.

What I am left with is this bitter question: “Who would I be if I had not been lied to and kept from this Place for all these years?”

Please take the time read her entire post and share it with your friends.

http://redressalert.tumblr.com/post/96419964145/what-michfest-means-to-me

I value separate spaces…

[This originally came from an online conversation. It does not use the SSCAB/DSCAB language from my previous post. It’s way shorter of a blog and less academic sounding, more personal and about my experience of the Womyn Born Female space that is the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.]

I value separate spaces of many kinds. I have participated in lesbian only, People of Color only, Women of Color only, black women only, black lesbian only, all women only, Womyn Born Female only. I get something different from each. I don’t particularly value queer space, but I don’t begrudge those who do taking it. For me “queer” tends to mean anyone at least half-way freaky deaky (like kinky straight folks think of themselves as “queer” now). It doesn’t speak to me as a lesbian at all. I think we, meaning lesbians, get lost in the LGBT alphabet soup. But that’s me. I think there is value in coming together occasionally or even regularly if that is what works for you. I just tend to find “inclusive” by way of “queer” doesn’t always mean the concerns of women will be addressed. For me this goes back as far as Queer Nation in NYC in the early 90’s. The issues being addressed were very white gay male focused. It’s part of why some of us women broke off and started Dyke Action Machine.

I value Womyn Born Female space because my life is informed by the fact that I was born female. It’s not just informed by my identity as a woman, but also by my female body. I did not understand that until I was in what was consciously determined Womyn Born Womyn space. (I prefer to use WBF over WBW, because I think it is more accurately spoken that way, as in “Womyn [gender, which is socially constructed]  Born Female [sex, physical body]”)

I first learned about Michigan in 1986. And I learned in that first conversation about it that it was “Womyn Born Womyn” space. I had never heard the term before. The specificity struck me and the friend I was with… we both responded like “daaaaaaaaaaayum.” And I can’t say that, at the time,  I responded that way because it sounded offensive or transphobic. I’d never even heard the word transphobic before. It was more that whoever put this gathering together consciously narrowed it down like that. Damn.

My first festival was in 1989. And because I understood it to be Womyn Born Female space I was conscious to consider why that might be meaningful to me. But many things struck me that I didn’t have to even think too much about. I was so impressed with everything about the festival. The production quality was amazing. It was as good as or better than any big concerts I had been to in my life. And I was more than impressed. I was SURPRISED. And I remember stopping myself and asking, “Why am I surprised?”

If anyone had asked me if I thought women/girls could do anything men/boys could do, I would have answered without hesitation “YES!” I had been fighting “girls can’t” my whole life. I literally had “girls can’t” said to me everyday of my childhood. Girls can’t play football, basketball, baseball, climb trees, play with trucks, throw a ball, do math, be good at science, take and be good at shop, play guitar… I mean on and on. And I fought it everyday. “But I am PLAYING football, therefore girls CAN play football.” I mean, seriously daily.

So I really thought I BELIEVED that girls could do anything. But what I found out was that some of that stuff had gotten under my skin and into my head and my beliefs about myself and other females. I realized that when I heard recorded music, even if the band was all women, I had some idea that if there was a guitar solo, a guy probably did that. And like I saw the stages and big tents and the sound booth and the lighting at Michigan and I imagined that guys had come and put that together. I had no idea prior to Michigan that I really thought that way. And so Michigan made me really understand that I had so much healing to do around what it means to be female and what I went through growing up, BECAUSE I am female. I realized I had internalized the messages “girls can’t” and the reflections in media and culture that inform our sense of possibilities and limitations and was applying those beliefs in my life totally without being conscious about it.

– – – – –

Sort of as a related aside, one time when I was in my late teens and living with my father, his mother, my grandmother came to visit. Gram was an opininated matriach for sure. And she had a real thing about hair. She was a hairdresser. And, because of racism, she had really internalized the idea that since we had the technology to straighten our hair as black women, we should. Straight hair is beautiful and good. Nappy hair is not. She could deal with natural hair on some level, but it had to be very well kempt and definitely not braids (dreadlocks, totally nothing she could even imagine).  I was wearing my hair then similar to the way I wear it now when it’s out and that is kind of wild and curly. So one day while Gram was visiting she sighed and said to me…”I’m going to tell you something…cause I love you.” I knew to brace myself, because surely something weighted was coming. Then she said, “You used to be pretty…” And I was like, “Daaaag Gram. This is about my hair?” And she nodded. So I replied, “A lot of people like my hair.” And it was true that I did get a lot of compliments on it. But she held strong to her opinion. “They are lying to you. I’m telling you the truth, because I love you.” I was able to redirect the conversation, responding with the hook of a Louis Jordan tune we had been listening to by singing, “But I’ll die happy.” We laughed it off and I went and had my day. But later that night I was lying in my bed and I thought to myself clear as if I said it out loud, “Wow. That’s fucked up my friends lie to me.” And I shook and shocked myself thinking that, because it did get to me. IT. GOT. TO. ME! And that is a parallel experience to how all the messages get to us as girls even when we were girls who thought we were actively resisting those messages.

– – – – –

There are so many limitations and expectations forced on us. For some women perhaps all of that works with their natures. But for those of us that it doesn’t, its quite brutal. I am a woman with a low voice. And I grew up being made fun of because of it. And I learned to speak higher to avoid getting shit for my voice. That is something I have been able to heal in part, because of Michigan. Judith Casselberry, Edwina Lee Tyler, Alexis P. Suter, Ubaka Hill, Maxine Feldman and more… I’m not the only one!

At Michigan, I learned that women can be quite hairy. I am not really hairy at all. But it was very meaningful to see women fiercely rocking beards and hairy legs. And I imagined for years that they just let themselves go for fest. I had no idea that they were so daring as to present like that out in the world. Like, what is natural for women, is unacceptable socially. We are so guided and forced into standards of beauty that are impossible for most of us. And at Michigan I saw women defying the status quo of gendered expectations and defining “woman”  by finding, healing and being themselves, as opposed to allowing “woman,” as it is socially constructed and understood in mainstream society, to define them.

And we tend to be trained from childhood… from babies really to protect ourselves… our virtues… we begin learning (many, maybe most of us) as babies to “sit like ladies”… with our legs closed. This is not just manners. It’s preparing us to appear less inviting… less available for unwanted sexual advances. We don’t learn to know rapists in such a way that our instincts are honed to detect their identities as rapists. The best we can do is to understand that men and boys (who we understand as anyone male) are all potential violators. We need to be careful… don’t walk down certain streets, don’t stay out late… don’t get too drunk, never go out alone… women guess and try so hard to avoid assault and yet 1 in 5 in the U.S. have been sexually assaulted. And 90 something percent of the time sexual assault of females is at the hand of males. So our instincts are honed to know, as best we can, when we are in the presence of males. I think this is both nature and nurture. It’s quite animal really to know sex this way.

I didn’t know until Michigan how ON I was all the time. Like, I think probably most women who go there for the first time end up a few days in suddenly realizing they are not afraid. Like, there are no males there. That survival instinct that kicks in everywhere else and is conscious of males in our presence doesn’t get triggered… even though there are bearded and sometimes very butch women. THAT thing does not get tripped off in WBF space. And it’s such a relief. And I mean that it is one I would not have expected. Because when I realized I was not afraid is when I realized I am normally afraid all the time. It was the absence of that fear that made me realize I had it in the first place. Its a profound realization. It was for me anyway. It’s like carrying a huge pack of rocks on your back and it being there so long you don’t even realize you are carrying it. And then someone says “hey… you can put that down now.” And you don’t even know what they are talking about. And then when you actually take it off… you can’t believe how big and heavy it was… you can’t believe it was just your normal.

I understand that many people cannot process the idea of me considering myself a trans ally when I also say that I value WBF space. I feel like if I were to deny that I find value in it when I do in order to not hurt feelings or to avoid being framed as transphobic, THAT would actually be transphobic. Not all WBF want or need WBF space. I do. Many others do. It is our healing space. The value we find in it is not about the hatred of anyone not intended to be there. I can be a better ally and show up to support inclusive events when I am more whole and healed myself.

People, anyone really… but especially oppressed classes of people, have a right and responsibility to create healing spaces as they need toward their healing. I believe in the healing powers of separatist spaces. I believe in them because I know they have been a part of my own healing. And I feel so strongly about them that I think the only people who have a right to change the intention of a given space are those intended. And for those I am included in, I would vote to hold as originally intended if only one person in the group said they still needed it as such.

And I think anyone, intended or not intended, within the boundaries of a given healing space trying to force a change in the intention for that space is being abusive. I don’t mean its abusive to just bring up the question like, “This group is intended to be black women’s space, anyone up for changing the intention to be for all WOC?” But I mean actually disregarding an intention and bringing people outside the intended group or any other kind of forced way to change the intention of a healing space…be that a petition that frames the intention as hateful and or intimidation of any kind etc. What is happening with Michigan in terms of actively intimidating artists and attendees (appealing to currently billed artists to cancel their participation,  calling other venues they are billed at and having them cancelled there with threats of boycotts to those events as well, demanding apologies for ever having performed in the past, getting fired from jobs, being denied jobs for attending, calling clients of attendees and asking them to no longer work with them etc.)  is absolutely abusive and dismissive of the needs of those intended. My other blog “SSCAB/DSCAB: Reconsidering the Conversation” goes more into the background and politics around all of this, you may find it useful.

I don’t know how to do anything to make the abuse stop. But I feel it is important to stand in the truth of my experience and my own needs and values around what is happening in terms of the framing of Michigan as anti-trans. For me, it is important that such an ugly and inaccurate framing not be allowed to stand unchallenged by the voices of those of us who understand and hold dear Michigan as a healing and loving space, specifically determined for WBF. As Audre Lorde said it, “My silences [have] not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.”

So again, I want to make clear that MWMF is really an incredible experience. It’s not just a music festival. It’s not comparable to anything mainstream like Lilith Fair or any other big music festival. Yes there are well produced concerts and so it serves as entertainment. But there are no outside sponsors, no Coca Cola stage or Budweiser stage. Everything is done by the hands and hearts and intentions of WBF for the love of WBF.

But I think for most attendees the real value of Michigan is what it allows us to access within ourselves.  It gives us the time and space to recover and reclaim the things that we are told are not valuable, because they do not fit into the prescribed gender roles we are assigned as people who were born female — like my low voice, body and facial hair, we get to see our many different shaped bodies as strong and beautiful on our own terms that don’t necessarily fit the standard of beauty as defined by our ability to please men. We get to own our talents with carpentry, plumbing, playing musical instruments, running sound and lighting, garbage and recycling,  tree trimming and land maintenance, as well as handling childcare and tasks that are traditionally assigned to females in ways that honor that work and talent of the women who do it… This is women managing a small town made up solely of females who are finding our truest and highest selves without permission or apology.

We are young and old, of varying physical abilities. We are females of many ethnic, economic, cultural, religious and educational backgrounds sharing our experience, strength and hope and celebrating our living in a world in which we understand “we were never meant to survive”  as whole and complete human beings. This, despite the very popular and negative rhetoric, is what Michigan really is about. It’s a loving and celebratory space for WBF to examine how our lives are informed by the fact that we were born and assigned female, in a way that I haven’t found possible anywhere else. If you are a WBF who finds that appealing, I hope you will consider attending or supporting the festival and the artists who perform at fest in whatever way you can.

Here is a link for tickets: http://michfest.com/tickets

Here is a link for donations and tickets in memory: http://michfest.com/donate

Here is a link to the Facebook page of the WANTED project: https://www.facebook.com/WantedInvisibleWomen

And here are some videos (in one youtube playlist) that you might also enjoy:

 

Hope to See You In August!!!

SSCAB/DSCAB: Reconsidering the Conversation

[Note: There are several acronyms used throughout this post. If needed, you can hover your mouse over them to view meaning.]

In an online conversation about the use and application of the acronym “TERF” (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist [sometimes the E is said to stand for “Exterminating” or “Eradicating”]), a friend argued the semantics of calling something “women or female space” when what is meant is “space for women who are Female Assigned At Birth (FAAB).” As she put it, “Why is it OK to use the terms woman or female to describe FAAB spaces when you know very well that there is a conflicting view about the accuracy and appropriateness of those terms?”

Inevitably, conversations about separatist spaces intended for females devolve into assumptions or projections that such spaces are inherently “anti-trans.” The label “TERF” is applied to any female who admits to finding value in taking space as a woman who was born and raised female.

The “accuracy and appropriateness” of the words “woman” and “female” have come into question mostly in queer/trans/LGBT circles. What is considered status quo in the community in terms of being inclusive and accepting of trans people is agreeing that gender and sex should be determined and defined solely by individual identity without exception or qualification. Within this understanding, what makes one a man or a woman, male, female, or other, amounts to simply stating, “I am a [woman/man/other].”

One of the events that has been central in these discussions, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which is intended to be for Womyn Born Womyn (WBW) only, is an example of what was meant in my friend’s question above.  Her contention is that space determined for WBW should be named more specifically for whom it is intended. That to name it a “Womyn’s Music Festival” and not include all women is to suggest that trans women are not women. She and many others also take issue with the language “Womyn Born Womyn,” because in their view, anyone who identifies as a woman was also born a woman. What they see in the intention for WBW space is the deliberate exclusion of trans women from the sex and gender classifications of “female”/“woman”—in addition to their exclusion from the actual physical space. The simple solution, in this case, could be to rename the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival the Michigan FAAB Womyn’s Music Festival; that is, if this were just about semantics and the specificity of intention in the branding. However, it is not, and it never has been. This assertion, I will address later within this post.

The language and terminology found to be acceptable in these conversations is ever changing. Some of the currently used acronyms are as follows:

FAAB/MAAB – Female or Male Assigned At Birth

CAFAB/CAMAB – Coercively Assigned Female or Male At Birth

DFAB/DMAB – Designated Female or Male At Birth

There is some dispute about the use of all of the above as potentially an appropriation of language coined by and for the intersex community. It is difficult to tell, what is true about that by searching online. I list them though as examples of what is fairly regularly used in discussions about trans and non-trans people. Additional words that are commonly used are trans, transgender, transsexual, cis, cissexual, cisgender. Rather than attempt to define these words myself, I am copying definitions from internet sources. If you are already familiar with these terms, feel free to skip past the following section.

Transgender – An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. The term may include but is not limited to: transsexuals, cross-dressers, and other gender-variant people. Transgender people may identify as female-to-male (FTM) or male-to-female (MTF). Use the descriptive term (transgender, transsexual, cross-dresser, FTM or MTF) preferred by the individual. Transgender people may or may not choose to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically.1

Transsexual (Transexual) – An older term which originated in the medical and psychological communities. Many transgender people prefer the term “transgender” to “transsexual.” Some transsexual people still prefer to use the term to describe themselves. However, unlike transgender, transsexual is not an umbrella term, and many transgender people do not identify as transsexual. It is best to ask which term an individual prefers.1

Cissexual and Cisgender are terms for non-transsexual people, whose assigned gender matches their assigned sex.2

When a person is cisgender, they identify as the gender that matches the sex that they were assigned at birth. Cisgender is, as such, a complementary designation to the term transgender. 3

A transgender woman is a person who was assigned male at birth but who identifies as a female, while a cisgender woman is a person who was assigned female at birth and identifies as female.3

Examples:

“Many sexuality educators, LGBT activists, and individuals who are cognizant of gender politics use the term cisgender to reduce the stigma associated with a transgender identity. It is easy for people say things like “transgender as opposed to normal gender” when describing individuals who identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth; however, that implies that transgender people are not normal. Using the term cisgender, in contrast, does not assign a relative value to either gender identity. Instead, it accepts transgender and cisgender identities as equally valid ways to experience gender.”3

“Cisgender” and or “cis” are purported to be and presented as “non-offensive.” They are said to be words that simply mean “not-trans.” Not all women labeled “cis” agree that it is “non-offensive.” I, personally, do not care for what it implies in terms of assumed comfort level with my body and or gender role expectations. It is not my identity, though it may be how some identify me simply, because it is true that I do not identify as trans. According to the entry “Cisgender” on Wikipedia, the term “cissexual” implies congruence of body, mind, and gendered expectations, while “cisgender is a slightly narrower term for those who do not identify as transgender (a larger cultural category than the more clinical transsexual).”

Like woman and female, cissexual and cisgender are somewhat debatable in definition within queer community. In theory, someone who is not dysphoric about their body, but dysphoric about their gender, could be considered cissexual and transgender. “Cis” is never really applied that way. Its primary use seems to be to distinguish trans from non-trans people and to establish a power dynamic between the two, with “cis” people, male and female, understood as privileged over—and the oppressors of—trans people.

This framing of non-trans people as the oppressors of trans people is widely accepted among liberals and progressives. More and more we see efforts to accommodate this understanding with changes to laws regarding sex-segregated spaces, so that anyone who identifies as either woman or man is allowed to be in the respective sex-segregated space based on his or her gender identity. This means that some women will have traditionally recognized “male bodies,” and if such women are in, say, a locker room, where nudity is commonplace, it should be understood that some women will have penises and some will have vaginas and anyone who has a problem with that should just “get over it”—they should get over their “cis-sexism,” their “cis-supremacy,” their “transphobia,” and do whatever they must to address their own comfort level, other than exercising their “cis privilege” by making the trans person feel uncomfortable or unwelcome in such spaces. This is understood to be the kind and inclusive thing to do, though for some non-trans women, this is a very confounding situation: we are torn between what makes us feel safe in physically vulnerable spaces, wanting to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings, and not wanting to be oppressive or to act from a place of privilege. But what is expected of us then in sex segregated spaces is that we assume anyone in such spaces is there because they identify as women. That requires us to forego our instincts for determining and knowing the sex of those in our presence, which is generally what we also use to gauge our level of relative safety. To be clear, I am not saying that trans women themselves are a danger. Historically and statistically, there is  no better way to gauge our relative safety as females than understanding who is male in our presence, which, in traditionally understood sex-segregated spaces, would be no one.

In the conversation I mentioned at the beginning of this writing, I had a powerful Consciousness Raising (CR) moment. What has always bothered me with the framing of non-trans women as privileged is the denial of the subjugation of females as female (as biologically defined). If being women who were designated female at birth means being inherently privileged over women who were designated male at birth, what does that say about our experience of subjugation that is a result of being born and assigned female?

Radical feminism, as I understand it, has always attempted to address oppression as class-based. My response to my friend’s question is what made me feel like I had a personal breakthrough with the language about this: If we are going to dismiss the significance of our bodies and how oppression affects females (conventional meaning) based on the fact of our female bodies, then let’s talk about it in terms of class and not bring our bodies into the conversation at all. This breakthrough resulted in the creation of new terms and acronyms:

SSCAB – Subjugated [or perhaps Subservient] Sex Class Assigned at Birth

DSCAB – Dominating Sex Class Assigned at Birth

I am inclined to use “subjugated” over “subservient,” because when looking at the definitions, though I think both could apply to many, subjugated implies that something is being done to us, whereas subservient almost sounds voluntary. I believe subservience comes as a result of being subjugated. It is a resolution to be compliant when there really is no choice.

This framing also works for race and (actual or assumed) economic class, and probably in many other areas of class-based oppression as well.

Getting back to why I believe that a rebranding or a change in the semantics around the name of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival would not end the decades-old battle, I have come to this belief through an active participation in these discussions for more than twenty years, during which time I have heard it expressed in no uncertain terms. “Taking space as womyn born womyn is inherently hateful.” If you accept that “cis” women have power over trans women, it follows that non-trans women taking space that does not include trans women would be seen as hateful and oppressive to trans women. People often assert that this is parallel to white women taking space that excludes women of color. That is to say, WOC are and should be allowed to take separatist healing space, but white women should not. Oppressed classes of people have a right to healing space away from their oppressors; oppressor classes of people do not. I actually disagree with that in terms of healing spaces, but that is the logic in the analogy, so if non-trans women defined as “cis” and therefore as oppressors of trans women remains the accepted framing, a simple change in branding will only affirm the projection that the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is an anti-trans event. Whereas, examining the idea of non-trans women as SSCAB and trans women as DSCAB, the dynamics are quite the opposite.

I believe that even without finding the exact language to convey true heartfelt intention into words, intention can be understood. In a sense, “intention” is the language with which subjugated classes of people have traditionally found common ground. Rarely are our oppressors honest in the language they choose to explain the disparity in our positions. So, spoken or unspoken, I understand intention to be an important aspect of communication. And I have always understood the intention for the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival to be a healing space for womyn who were determined Subjugated Sex Class Assigned at Birth, even if the language traditionally used has been “Womyn Born Womyn.” It has never been a hateful event. If it were understood as that, SSCAB women who consider themselves trans allies would not be fighting to change the intention to include trans women—why would anyone fight to include their loved ones in spaces they actually experience as hateful themselves? I contend that these allies do not experience the festival as hateful, but have accepted the framing of themselves, non-trans women, as privileged over trans women. As women of good conscience, therefore, they have felt driven to correct what they understood as an injustice. I understand and appreciate the intention of love in their efforts, even while I have experienced this as oppressive and hurtful both to myself and the festival community; in fact, I find it harmful to the larger community of SSCAB women and the larger still community of SSCAB and DSCAB women who care about justice and healing and ending oppression.

Throughout these discussions, I have always also experienced what has felt like racism.  That is true, in part, because of the appropriation of racial narratives used to compare the plight of Dominating Sex Class AB women (who, for the most part in these conversations, have been white [or Dominating Race Class Assigned at Birth]), with that of African Americans as they have historically been treated in the United States. Disregarding the intention for WBW space at Michigan is said to be the trans equivalent to liberating lunch counters in the Jim Crow–era South. One white trans woman, in a fairly major LGBT publication, compared the producer of the MWMF and her commitment to the intention for WBW space to George Wallace, the governor of Alabama who ordered fire hoses to be turned on nonviolent African Americans protesting the injustices of Jim Crow, the denial of legal rights, and the unconstrained lynching of black folks. I find that as outrageous in retrospect as I did when I first read it. And the climate for being critical of trans women, even when the focus of the criticism is racism, has been so hostile that such a blatant and racist appropriation can be made by a white person, in supposedly progressive community, followed only by the sound of crickets; this resounding silence in response to a white trans women’s racism is not unusual.

If we examine the racial comparisons under the new framing, however, it looks quite different. To be someone who is Dominating Sex Class AB, Dominating Race Class AB, and (actually and/or presumed to be) Dominating Economic Class appropriating the narratives of people who are Subjugated Race Class AB and Subjugated Economic Class, the offense is clear. And for Dominating Sex Class members—women-identified or not—to insist they be allowed in the healing spaces of women who are Subjugated Sex Class, trying to heal themselves of the effects of being SSCAB, we can see the entitlement and privilege and how it is informed by their socialization as dominating class members. And within this framing, we can see it and name it without questioning or challenging anyone’s gender identity.

So regarding “TERF,” in relation to this context, I (and I’m sure most anyone who has been determined a “TERF”) understand that it is intended as a pejorative term. It is dismissive of the expressed concerns and analysis of SSCAB women who understand how the dynamics of living under a patriarchal culture that assigns subjugated and dominating sex classes harms and oppresses people who are SSCAB. “TERF” is intended to intimidate SSCAB women from speaking out about their oppression at the hands of DSCAB people. The fact that some DSCAB people identify as women does not change the fact that they are likely to exercise and benefit from DSCAB socialization and privilege. For me, this understanding and framing is clarifying and even inclusive. It allows me a way to speak about my need and desire for SSCAB women’s healing space without dismissing the gender identities of trans women. It also calls on trans women to examine how their lives are informed by being socialized as DSCAB people and validates the experience SSCAB women have of much of the trans activist movement as dominating, bullying, and abusive to SSCAB women who want SSCAB women’s space.

I understand that there are likely to be many non-trans women who would refuse to acknowledge trans women as women. In fact, if they are reading this, they may be resenting my use of “non-trans women” this very moment. They may feel like this entire post indulges trans women who are, in their view, men. I feel like I can understand where these non-trans women are coming from, but I personally want to be open to respecting the possibility that trans individuals are finding their truths and doing their best to live them. That means, I am willing to take folks at their word and be as respectful as I can regarding their identities.

However, over the years, I have certainly become more jaded and distrusting than I was when I started having these conversations. I feel the positions and the actions of some trans women have been abusive and hurtful. I find that I am less open to new friendships with trans women in particular, because of the current predominant trans political ideology. I have also removed myself from the “queer” community, because it has been complicit in the aforementioned abuse. Ironically, the so-called “inclusive” community does not feel inclusive to me, a SSCAB woman, because I am unwilling to deny the weight of what it means for me to be SSCAB.

For the record, I do not expect women who were born female to simply jump on board with this language. I do not expect them to resolve to the use of free-floating definitions for “female” and “woman.” It is certainly much simpler not to have to break things down with multiple terms and so many words. So, so many words. In a way, putting this much thought and time into explaining the need for boundaries feels almost apologetic, when what one wants to say is simply, “No! No means NO!” In the context of understanding SSCAB women as resisting domination and oppression enacted upon them by DSCAB people, I do not believe that SSCAB women should be required to give up or expand upon the definitions of words they feel they need to name their oppression or their oppressors. Perhaps, with time and healing, this will change on an individual basis. Perhaps it will not.

Before I end, I do want to address the violence experienced by DSCAB women. Using this language and framing of DSCAB/SSCAB is not intended in any way to excuse or deny the violence DSCAB women experience. It does mean, however, that DSCAB women need to place the violence in a proper context that makes DSCAB men responsible — the men who are the perpetrators of 99 percent of said violence. And the framing of SSCAB women as “privileged” for not experiencing violence specifically as a result of being DSCAB women needs to end. The violence DSCAB women experience at the hands of DSCAB men is a direct result of a patriarchal culture that insists that some people must be dominating and some must be subjugated. Some DSCAB women may be reluctant to acknowledging and then healing what it means to be socialized as DSCAB people, because it means giving up the benefits of privilege and power, as well as admitting that said privilege and power exists for them. I hope, though, that understanding how domination is enacted upon them as individuals and as a class—especially when it includes violence—will move some, challenging as it may be, to consider this new framing.

What I am suggesting here is not very different in intention than what I and many other SSCAB women have been saying for years. This is only a change in language and framing that I hope brings about more understanding regarding the need some SSCAB women have for SSCAB women’s space. Unlike the “cis/trans” framing, SSCAB/DSCAB doesn’t deny the lived experiences of women who were designated Subjugated Sex Class at Birth. It also exposes the aspect of the “cis/trans” framing that has romanticized the experience of being women who are SSCAB. That we “pass” as women is about our bodies and our “beauty,” the value of which we understand to be determined by our ability to please the Dominating Sex Class. This is not a privilege. Calling it privilege is akin to fetishizing our sex class subjugation. The framing of our subjugation as privilege is a twisted and manipulative reversal and an exploitation of our socialization as SSCAB women. There is healing that needs to be done around that.

Even still, I am inspired by the possibilities that this reframing has for healing and change. I feel more open already. I know there are and can imagine there will be more trans women who are actively working to heal their DSCAB socialization, and I will be as open to them as I have been to anyone who is actively working to heal their various and layered oppressive “isms.”

Since I began this writing, I have shared the ideas and done some tweaking for the sake of clarity, thoroughness and spelling etc. I feel uneasy that it falls short in terms of showing concern for the ways in which SSCAB women do contribute to the difficulties that DSCAB women face. Someone is surely and sarcastically saying to themselves, “ya think?” Please believe me, I am concerned. I would not be writing this if I was not concerned about all sides. I don’t believe that SSCAB women and DSCAB women need to be enemies. This is doing none of us any good.

I’ve tried to approach these conversations and remain in respectful dialogue as much as I can, though there are times when I have been snarky or impatient or insensitive and ultimately hurtful. It is my goal to be more and ever thoughtful with regard to how I participate in communicating with other people so that even if the person I am talking with fiercely disagrees with the conclusions of my thinking, we can still end recognizing each other’s humanity. People can agree to disagree and not stop loving each other. Love only really gets lost when we become unwilling to treat people with some amount of dignity and respect. That seems like a fairly universal truth and it requires all parties to be invested in, not just our ability to one up each other over differences and disagreements, but in finding and elevating the commonality that connects us, even if the only thing we can imagine we share in common is that we are human and living on the planet Earth.

I was thinking last night about how my brother and a friend of his, when we were kids, used to go up to this creek near where we lived at the time and catch crawfish. His friend had a bit of a cruel streak and he would cut the eyes off the crawfish he caught and then toss them together to fight each other. This was amusing to him. Now imagine being in pain, blinded and afraid then tossed into someone else who is also in pain, blinded and afraid. Sometimes I feel like that is what we go through in our struggles for justice and healing. We’re all hurt. And we are hurt purposely by an outside force that seems to thrive off our pain. And while we fight each other, we are not focused on undoing the root cause.

A friend of mine said in another online discussion, “if this was truly a discussion about patriarchy, power or misogyny I’d be all for it.” She and I seem to disagree that there is value and healing in separatist space. But I think we do agree that we would all be better served and healed as individuals and as a community if we focused on fighting patriarchy instead of each other. I’d like to think that is possible.

It is unfortunate that in writing this and putting it out publicly, I do so with an understanding that I may receive not only criticism and challenges to my ideas, but actual threats of violence and acts of intimidation. This has been the case for many SSCAB women who have given voice to their resistance to the “cis/trans” framing. I find that disheartening, but I remain encouraged by the words of Audre Lorde when she said:

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect.”

I look forward, with hope, to your thoughtful response and analysis.

  1. http://www.gaycenter.org/gip/transbasics/glossary
  2. http://gayteens.about.com/od/glossary/g/Cissexual-And-Cisgender-Terms-For-Non-Transsexuals.htm
  3. http://std.about.com/od/C-D/g/CisGendered.htm