On Excluding MtFs from a Radfem Site

As soon as I discovered I Blame the Patriarchy, I thought “I have found the mothership.”  Alas, almost immediately, it powered down.  Since I loved the discussion as much as Twisty’s brilliant posts, I decided to set up a new island for the blametariat: Hell Yeah, I’m a Feminist.

Unfortunately, unwittingly, I declared, in addition to the ‘No Dudes’ rule, a ‘No MtFs’ rule.  It seemed logical.  The reason for the first was to minimize dudely mansplaining, and I reasoned that MtFs, having similarly been raised to be men, would be almost as likely to feel and exhibit that ‘entitlement’.  Little did I know.

The rule was met mostly with disapproval, so I posted about the issue in order to open discussion on the matter.  But the matter has been discussed to death on IBTP (I realized this later—there’s one thread there with 772 comments), so posting about it on HYIAF is just inflammatory.  (And upending a barrel of worms on the beach is not a way to attract people.)  So I decided to move it here.  Because it’s an important issue and should, therefore, be discussed.  By everyone.

So, what follows: my original rules (for HYIAF, not this site), my discussion-opening post (excerpts), and then (most of) my explanation (for a revision to the rules).

 

The original rules:

No dudes allowed.  Radical feminist men: go start your own website, for men only.  It would be far more radical than coming here.  (I can help you do this by putting you in touch with a great webmaster.)  Other men: we are here to chat with kin, for validation and new insights.  Most of us have spent, and continue to spend, far too much time and energy when off the island explaining and defending, over and over, the same basic points (A patriarchy is…; We do live in a patriarchy…); we don’t want to do that here.  We don’t want you here.

And, I’m going to say, no MTFs. (Unless you changed before you were six.)  The experience we share here has far more to do with having a lifetime of being female-bodied in a patriarchy than with having certain chromosomes, hormones, and/or secondary sex characteristics.  This is not to say that MTF transpeople haven’t experienced oppression, suppression, or repression (or all three); it is only to say ‘Share it somewhere else’ (for example, Laura’s Playground or Fuck Yeah MTFs). And although your perspective as an adult who is newly female-bodied is certainly interesting, and, depending on your level of perceptiveness, insightful, I’d rather hear about it somewhere else.

 

The discussion-opening post:

So…I think the shared experience that ‘supports’ the site is that we have had a lifetime of living in a female body.  Having (most of) a lifetime living in a male body makes you different; the body you live in shapes your character, if only because it determines the way people behave toward you; I don’t think it is easy to ‘get over’ twenty years of entitlement, for example, or to understand the effect of forty years of subordination and relentless sexualization.

Why do you not have a problem with excluding those who by default have lived in a male body?  (But do have a problem with excluding those who by default have lived in a male body for 20, 30, 40 years, and then switched?)

 

The explanation:

Okay, so I’ve been reading and thinking and thinking and reading…  And sometimes even doing both at the same time.  I’ve had a lot of catching up to do.

A bit of background…I’m a 70s feminist.  Though I’ve always been more comfortable calling myself an anti-sexist, a word that, unfortunately, didn’t catch on …

Anyway.  I stopped subscribing to Ms. when it changed.  (And they refused to publish my letter to the editor about how the label ‘Ms.’ was a wrong turn, since it reinforced the gender dichotomy.  I had just written my piece Mr. and Ms., which I later revised to include Martine Rothblatt’s wonderful phrase ‘the apartheid of sex’—which I read almost as soon as it came out.)  Broadside went belly up.  And off our backs also went out of publication.  …

And then Faludi’s Backlash came out.

And then Katie Roiphe’s book and …

It wasn’t until about five years ago that I was able to get high-speed internet access.  …  and when I was finally able to search for other feminists, to find something to subscribe to or join, when I googled “feminist magazines” and such, I got things like “Bust” and sites which I now know are by/for/about “funfeminists”.  Murphy Brown gave way to Desperate Housewives.

I turned away in disgust.  That’s what passes for feminism today?  Oh my god, what happened when I wasn’t looking? (I didn’t know to google for “radical feminist”.)

So, given my blackout, I didn’t realize that I was opening the floodgates on such a huge issue when I posted my MtF exlusion rule.  The field of identity politics has burst wide, wide open since I almost did my Master’s thesis on it some twenty years ago.  (Instead, I did it on the issue of consent in sex and sexual assault.)  And the trans/feminist debate is big.  Didn’t know that.

So I’m reading:

- http://blog.iblamethepatriarchy.com/2011/02/09/spinster-aunt-gets-translucent/ (772 comments, Jesus fucking Christ!)

- http://skeptifem.blogspot.ca/2010/10/transphobia.html

- http://www.thefword.org.uk/features/2011/09/radical_feminism_transphobia

- http://msmagazine.com/blog/2012/04/18/trans-feminism-theres-no-conundrum-about-it/

- http://radicalprofeminist.blogspot.ca/2011/02/who-gets-to-define-women-only-space.html

This is not to say that I have been unaware of transpeople.  As I said, I read Rothblatt’s book as soon as it came out.  I’ve also read Kate Bornstein’s work.  More recently, I’ve read Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl.  And Max Valerio’s The Testosterone Files. 

But, as I say, I was unaware that the inclusion/exclusion of MtFs in radfem communities was such a hot issue.  (Until a few days ago, I didn’t know what FAAB meant.  Until just six months ago, I hadn’t even heard of the term ‘cis’…)

So.  My original desire (Door #1) was to exclude men partly because their conditioning as males in the patriarchy makes it unlikely that they will ‘get it’ on a personal level (‘it’ being what it’s like to live as a woman in a patriarchy).  Just as I can’t really ‘get’ racial discrimination.  True, I can imagine it, especially having experienced something similar, and if I read and think a lot about racism, it’s possible I might even ‘get’ it more than a black person who is completely uncritical about his or her life.  But if that’s enough, then we should not only let MtFs to join the discussion, we should also let cis-males do so.

The other reason for excluding men is because their conditioning as males in the patriarchy make it very likely that they will engage in the dudely behavior that we do not want here because it is inhibiting and distracting.

Inhibiting: We’ve read Tannen and others—hell, we’ve lived Tannen and others—and we know that something very good happens when there are no men in the room (see also Failing at Fairness and, for my male friend who insists that things have changed, Still Failing at Fairness).  (To offer an anecdote that is unnecessary, when I asked the women at my local credit union, a women-only workplace by accident, how things were different at banks where they had male collagues, their response was immediate and unambiguous: one actually said, “It’s more intellectual” and I believe their smiles said “It’s more fun.”)

And MtFs have been subject to the same conditioning as cis-males.  True, they may not have accepted it; neither may have some cis-males.  But a very vocal, lecturing, patronizing MtF can shut down conversation pretty quickly too.  See Quixote’s comment: I too have experienced that online, at another site.  And yet…we can’t generalize from our experience because it involves an insufficient sample.  I have also had a non-entitled, non-patronizing interaction with at least one MtF.  And at least one cis-male.  More on generalizations below.

Distracting: ‘What about the men?’ questions are important (in the early 80s, I pulled out of setting up a school that would explicitly combat sexism because the other two people wanted to exclude boys; I saw that sexism hurt both—remember that this was when we were identifying the main problem as behavioral, as sexism; now, we see it, as well, as systemic, as the patriarchy—and since boys grow up to be men and have most of the power, I considered the need to deal with sexism directed at men to be as great as that directed to women)  (which is why Stoltenberg’s on the reading list)  (and why I was a little uncomfortable excluding men as well as MtFs from Hell Yeah), they’re just not questions we want to focus on here).

However, my decision was met with a bit of an outcry.

Because of inappropriate overgeneralization?  Because the overgeneralization, while justified in the case of cis-males (let’s say 80% exhibit the kind of behavior we don’t want here) is not justified in the case of MtFs (if, say, only 20% exhibit that kind of behavior)?  First, show me the evidence to support that argument.  My own personal anecdotal evidence is about 80% vs 50%.  Second, no, the outcry was that MtFs should be included because they’re women.

But it’s logically inconsistent to include MtFs because being a man/woman is not about the biochemphysio stuff (which would be Door #2), it’s about how one self-identifies (Door #3), and then exclude cis-Ms because it is about the biochemphysio stuff.  You can’t change your definitions whenever it suits you.

Furthermore, to refer to the outcry, “the personal identity of any one commenter is most definitely not how to prevent non-feminist commentary and dudely points of view”—and yet we do just that when we exclude males; “…it’s against what feminism is to judge people by their bodies, not their minds and feelings and ambitions and dreams.”—and yet, again, we’re doing just that when we exclude males.

In any case, the problem with such an essentialist approach (Door #2) is ‘How much biochemphysio stuff is enough?’ and ‘Which biochemphysio stuff is most important?’  Gender identity is not dichotomous.

But if it’s about how one self-identifies (Door #3), then surely some cis-Ms should be included (if they feel like women—perhaps they’re just preMtF), and perhaps some femme-gay-men should be included (those who feel like women).  In any case, I am suspect of references to “feeling like a woman”.  To me, that means only feeling like a second-class citizen.  Or worse.

Another problem with the self-identification criterion is that I would be excluded.  Yes, I have all the requisite body parts—or used to (does that matter?) (also, one of the parts I still have is no longer functional—does that matter?), and I think I have XX chromosomes, but I have no idea how much androgen and estrogen is coursing through my body.  And yet, I have never felt like a woman; I have always resisted being called ‘girl’ and ‘woman’.  To the MtFs who justify the preoccupation with performing femininity by saying ‘All girls go through that in adolescence, experimenting with make-up, learning to walk in heels, and so on…’  No, they don’t.  I didn’t.  I wore make-up (blue eyeshadow and something on my cheeks) for one day.  One.  Day.  Didn’t like the way it felt on my skin and didn’t like the way it made me look.  I have never worn high heels.  As soon as my school permitted girls to wear pants instead of dresses and skirts, I did.  I think of myself as an androgyne.  I’m certainly asexual now.  So what does that make me?  (See Making the Outside Match the Inside.)

The problem for me with MtFs (etc.) is not the ‘t’ but the ‘M’ and the ‘F’.

On what basis can we exclude men (given/notwithstanding the above), but include both MtFs and me??

The bottom line is I can’t enforce any categorical exclusion.  As it turns out, one of the comments made was by a cis-male.  But since it wasn’t aggressive, or insulting, or patronizing, and wasn’t expressing any particular male point of view or exclaiming ‘What about the men?’ I didn’t recognize it as male.  (And, frankly, I would have identified Saurs’ comment as male: it was insulting and dismissive in one.  How very dudely, Saurs!)  It’s far easier to recognize the posts per se that we don’t want than to guess at the poster’s gender type or experience.

So perhaps it’s better to take a functional/behavioral approach (Door #6).  We don’t want to hear about the male point of view here.  We hear about it far too much elsewhere.  We don’t want to entertain ‘What about the men?’ questions here.  Those questions dominate mass media in one way or another.  Lastly, we don’t want to be mansplained or patronized.  Why don’t we just make those the lines in our sand?

So I’m not done reading or thinking yet, but it may take a while.  In the meantime, I’ve decided to go with Door #6.

 

A postscript:

Let us agree that

1. The terms ‘man’ and ‘woman’ refer to gender, which is a social construct.  The terms ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ are the adjectives that, similarly, refer to gender.

2. The terms ‘male’ and ‘female’ refer to sex, which is determined by biochemistry, of chromosomes, hormones, or brain, or some combination thereof.

3. Neither gender nor sex is dichotomous.

4. The relationship between sex and gender is not isomorphic.

 

Patriarchy is fucked up because

1. It assumes gender and sex are dichotomous and does not permit variations between or beyond.

2. It assumes an isomorphic relationship between gender and sex (such that males must be men/masculine and females must be women/feminine).

3. It further arbitrarily claims that the male (and hence men and that which is masculine) is superior to the female (and hence women and that which is feminine).

 

Because the third proposition is arbitrary (it is certainly not supported by the first two propositions because they’re incorrect assumptions) and because it has caused and continues to cause extensive pain and injustice, radical feminists seek the abolition of the patriarchy.

To that end, since the third proposition depends heavily on both a dichotomous gender and a dichotomous sex, it seeks to abolish gender altogether (or at least demonstrate that it’s not a dichotomy): once gender is gone (or is at least manifested on a spectrum), the differences between male and female will be far less clear.  MtFs (etc) can certainly be radfems, then, to the extent they too wish to see the patriarchy abolished and, perhaps more to the point here, to the extent they undermine, rather than reinforce, the gender dichotomy.

Furthermore, given the inaccessibility of the other’s subjective experience (see Thomas Nagel’s classic “What is it like to be a bat?”), there is little that can be done with claims like “But I identify as a woman” or “I feel like a woman”.  However, given the human capacity for self-delusion, one need not respond with absolute acceptance, but neither can one respond with outright denial.

 

Discuss.

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One Response to “On Excluding MtFs from a Radfem Site”

  1. ptittle Says:

    Amazing how out of the loop on this I have been. See http://gendertrender.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/transsexuals-should-cut-it-out/.


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