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Talking Dworkin with trans folks who were taught to hate her

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I’m sharing this Reddit conversation since it covers the way trans people were taught to view Andrea Dworkin (and radical feminists, in general).

Passage (point 3) cited by TERFs to assert that Dworkin sought a future without trans folk

In response to a post from The Conversations Project, Transcience wrote:

Three, community built on androgynous identity will mean the end of transsexuality as we know it

Which, based on what we know about medical research into transgender identity over the last 20 years is complete, and utter, bullshit. While a broken society is certainly a cause of the high suicide rate, it is not the primary one:Gender Dysphoria gets better with HRT even if the individual does not present or read as their identified gender.

^ That medical fact makes no sense based on a RadFem interpretation of gender and sex…

Radical Feminism is still stuck in 1970’s conceptions of what transgender people are and what gender dysphoria is, and seems to think it can “help” trans people by making society androgynous and then trans people don’t need to transition! We solved ALL THE THINGS!

Even in a perfectly androgynous society, trans people would still exist, HRT would still exist, SCS/SRS would still exist. Dworkin was wrong about trans people, and since then RadFems have been wrong about trans people.

I reply:

Three, community built on androgynous identity will mean the end of transsexuality as we know it

I think you’re overlaying a sex essentialist narrative on Dworkin by taking her words out of context. Dworkin is referring to the “primary emergency” defining the trans experience of 1974. Page 186 of Woman Hating is almost always misquoted as:

“Every transsexual, white, black, man, woman, rich, poor, is in a state of primary emergency as a transsexual.”

However, what’s actually written is:

“Every transsexual, white, black, man, woman, rich, poor, is in a state of primary emergency (see p. 185) as a transsexual.”

Without this nuance, MANY TERFs* assert that the “primary emergency” is gender identity and that if gender goes away, Dworkin says that so will the transsexual. However, if you go back to page 185 (as Dworkin asked), the “primary emergency” that’s referenced is as follows:

How can I really care if we win “the Revolution”? Either way, any way, there will be no place for me. – A transsexual friend, in a conversation

Her phrase, “primary emergency” is the central issue of her book. On pages 22-23, she writes:

The analysis in this book applies to the life situations of all women, but all women are not necessarily in a state of primary emergency as women. What I mean by this is simple. As a Jew in Nazi Germany, I would be oppressed as a woman, but hunted, slaughtered as a Jew. As a Native American, I would be oppressed as a [woman], but hunted, slaughtered as a Native American. That first identity, the one which brings with it as part of its definition death, is the identity of primary emergency. This is an important recognition because it relieves us of a serious confusion. The fact, for instance, that many Black women (by no means all) experience primary emergency as Blacks in no way lessens the responsibility of the Black community to assimilate this and other analyses of sexism and to apply it to their own revolutionary work.

This analysis represents early intersectional feminism. Thus, Dworkin is speaking to the trans woman’s experience of “primary emergency” and the emergency is exclusionary practice based upon our transness. She’s saying that this defining social experience must be abolished.

Dworkin’s analysis is that the sex binary is BS and that we are a “multisexed.” Dworkin uses “androgyny” as a synonym for this reality.

Androgyny myths are multisexual mythical models. – p 153

The concrete implications of multisexuality as we find it articulated in both androgynous mythology and biology necessitates the total redefinition of scenarios of proper human sexual behavior and pragmatic forms of human community. – p 183

Substitute “multisexed” for “androgynous” in the snip you quote:

Three, community built on multisexed identity will mean the end of transsexuality as we know it.

You know what? She’s right. If the sex binary wasn’t the basis of our society, it would “mean the end of transsexuality as we know it.” Moreover, what would such a society mean for the “primary emergency” defining the trans experience of 1974? I dunno, but in the last line of that section she says that our “sexual identity” (our sexed identity) would would represent a “new mode,” something other than what it meant to be a “transsexual” back then. Again, she’s right.

On page 186, Dworkin says that claiming that trans people are the result “faulty socialization” is an untenable position to take. Instead, she says that which defines “transsexuality” is a “faulty society”. Again, she’s right. The state of being trans was, and continues to be, defined by a shitty society.

She wrote all of this in 1974, more than 40 years ago. Think about that a sec… This was during a time when leading psychologists were asserting as fact that being trans was caused by socialization. Her position was that making that fact assertion was BS. Back in 1974, trans people who got “sex changes” were told to go stealth, were taught – as part of their medical transition – to conform to sexist stereotypes, roles and hierarchies. Even so, Dworkin said that each trans person should be able to go through this process. That’s the exact opposite position of Janice Raymond, who said (in 1979) that she wanted to “morally mandate [transsexualism] out of existence.”

The only way to make Dworkin sound like a Raymond is to take her words out of the context of her time and dialectic. Please don’t help TERFs promote the falsehood that their BS represents the radical feminism of Dworkin. It doesn’t.

Remember, Dworkin and MacKinnon promoted very similar views and in 2015, MacKinnon said, “Male dominant society has defined women as a discrete biological group forever. If this was going to produce liberation, we’d be free.… To me, women is a political group.”

In Summary: the single line you quote is out of context. Dworkin is talking about the way society defines “transsexualism” through the “primary emergency” trans people face. She’s saying that if that BS went away and, moreover, if society abandoned the sex binary altogether, “transsexuality as we know it” would (thankfully) disappear and the energy we all waste trying to deal with the way society defines us would be better used.

Suchega_Uber responded, saying that while my response was illuminating, it really didn’t deal with the idea that if society became multisexed, being transsexual would go away. Here’s how I responded:

Yes, transsexualism “as we know it” would cease to exist. We’ve see this proven true as some of the ridged sex/gender roles, stereotypes and hierarchies have changed, so has the transsexual context of 1974.

While I’m not expected to learn how to wear high heels by my medical docs, that kind of training was part of “transition” back in 1974. While I’m not expected to be sexually stimulating to my doc’s eye, that was one of the metrics a trans doc noted that he used back then. I’m glad that I don’t have to pretend to be heterosexual and I’m glad that if you happen to be married, you’re not forced to divorce as part of your transition. In short, I’m glad that the transsexual model of 1974 is dead and I’m glad that the energy I would have put into learning to walk in heels, as a condition of my transition, was put to better use.

I would say either way, people would still be born with bodies they are inherently uncomfortable with.

I’d say that you’re very likely right and I would hope that trans medical care is alive and well for them!

I can only speak for my own experience; my issue was my body, not that l liked pink. I don’t know why at the age of 3 I was very aware of my body not being right and I don’t know why at the age of 5 I began to pray that god would fix my body or let me die in my sleep. All I can say is that it was the central crisis of my life from my earliest memories and that whatever gender performance I engaged in: macho, fem, genderqueer, it didn’t fix the issue. My sense of embodiment was never okay until after my physical transition.

Or is it saying that moving towards an androgynous society will make it easier for people to live by destigmatizing trans livelihoods in a broader sense?

This is correct.

The emergency Dworkin identified was that trans people are excluded in everything and in every way. The word she used was “despised.” She acknowledged that even with all the Revolutionary thought going on at that time, it didn’t include trans people.

Since Dworkin uses androgynous and multisexed interchangeably, my sense is that trans people wouldn’t have to deal with essentialist BS situated around being a “real man” or a “real woman” or grinding oppression in a multisexed society.

*TERF means Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. It’s a feminist term used to acknowledge that some “radical feminist” identified people seek to exclude trans people from some/all aspects of the women’s liberation movement (the precise “primary emergency” Dworkin identified). TERFs claim that this term is an inherent slur because social media uses the term in the same way that it uses homophobe, misogynist and racist. I use the term because it doesn’t matter what term is concocted to identify this group of self identified “radical feminists” because TERFs would simply come to assert that term is also a slur the moment social media began using it the way it uses homophobe, misogynist and racist. In this post I am speaking about “Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists”.

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Cristan

Cristan Williams is a trans historian and activist. She started one of the first trans homeless shelters and co-founded the first federally funded trans-only homeless program, pioneered affordable healthcare for trans people in the Houston area, won the right for trans people to change their gender on Texas ID prior to surgery, started numerous trans social service programs and founded the Transgender Center as well as the Transgender Archives. Cristan is the editor at the social justice site TransAdvocate.com, is a long-term member and previous chair of the City of Houston HIV Prevention Planning Group, is the jurisdictional representative to the Urban Coalition for HIV/AIDS Prevention Services (UCHAPS), serves on the national steering body for UCHAPS and is the Executive Director of the Transgender Foundation of America.

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