Why is it that (almost) without exception, all news stories covering the US Attorney General’s suit against NC omits the rather significant fact that when NC took federal money tied to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and Title IX, they signed a contract with the federal government explicitly agreeing to not discriminate against trans people?
Why is it that almost all news articles spin the story to make it seem as if the legal question in the DOJ’s suit is somehow ambiguous when, in fact, NC is contractually obliged to keep their side of the agreement they made with the federal government when they received federal funding under VAWA and Title IX?
Why is it that instead of actually telling the truth about the legal issue at hand, you’re droning on about “dueling lawsuits” and focusing on the “transgender debate” trope?
At yesterday’s press conference, here’s what the AG told you :
“With respect to federal funding, the statutes we brought this lawsuit under do provide the opportunity to curtail federal funding under Title IX in the Violence Against Women Act.”
“The Violence Against Women Act specifically targets gender identity. The law and the case law around Title VII, Title IX, and the Violence Against Women Act clearly indicates HB2 is in violation of federal law.”
Here’s what Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice told you at yesterday’s press conference:
“We also bring a claim in the Violence Against Women Act, a more recent statute specifically designed to prevent discrimination against transgender people by entities that accept certain federal funds. As with Title IX, entities that accept federal funds under VALA, including UNS and the NCDPS, pledged that they would not discriminate against sex or gender identity. Our complaint seeks to enforce that pledge and hold those entities accountable for the kind of discrimination required by HB2.”
Since you can’t seem to bring yourself to talk about what the VAWA –an Act WITH LANGUAGE PASSED BY CONGRESS AND THE SENATE… you know, the very Act that NC received funds under– says, let me spell it out for you. Under Section 3 of VAWA, the Universal definitions and grant conditions, sub-section 18 reads:
The term underserved populations means populations who face barriers in accessing and using victim services, and includes populations underserved because of geographic location, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, underserved racial and ethnic populations, populations underserved because of special needs (such as language barriers, disabilities, alienage status, or age), and any other population determined to be underserved by the Attorney General or by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, as appropriate.
Under the Civil Rights section, the nondiscrimination subsection reads:
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity (as defined in paragraph 249(c)(4) of title 18, United States Code), sexual orientation, or disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity funded in whole or in part with funds made available under the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (title IV of Public Law 103–322 ; 108 Stat. 1902), the Violence Against Women Act of 2000 (division B of Public Law 106–386; 114 Stat. 1491), the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005 (title IX of Public Law 109–162 ; 119 Stat. 3080), the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 , and any other program or activity funded in whole or in part with funds appropriated for grants, cooperative agreements, and other assistance administered by the Office on Violence Against Women.
…developing, enlarging, or strengthening programs and projects to provide services and responses targeting male and female victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking, whose ability to access traditional services and responses is affected by their sexual orientation or gender identity, as defined in section 249(c) of title 18, United States Code; and
Congress PASSED THIS LANGUAGE in 2013, 286 to 138. The Senate PASSED THIS LANGUAGE 78 to 22.
Why then, are you paying lip service to NC’s demonstrably false talking point that Congress hasn’t taken up the issue of “gender identity”?
Why won’t you report that NC is being sued because they agreed to the terms of the VAWA, received money under the VAWA, and then just declared that they’ve decided to not honor their contract with the Federal government?
Why have you REFUSED to print what the DOJ explicitly told you? Here it is again:
“We also bring a claim in the Violence Against Women Act, a more recent statute specifically designed to prevent discrimination against transgender people by entities that accept certain federal funds. As with Title IX, entities that accept federal funds under VALA, including UNS and the NCDPS, pledged that they would not discriminate against sex or gender identity. Our complaint seeks to enforce that pledge and hold those entities accountable for the kind of discrimination required by HB2.” – Vanita Gupta
The reality is that under the VAWA and Title IX, NC is contractually obliged to not discriminate against anyone based on “gender identity”. NC demanded the special right to not have to honor their contractual word. Not only that, NC then demanded that the federal government continue to fund them under a contract NC has declared they refuse to honor.
Why do you refuse to point out this simple — yet absolutely central — contractual fact?
Here’s an excerpt from titled Radical Inclusion: Recounting the Trans Inclusive History of Radical Feminism published in TSQ by Duke University Press:
This article reviews the ways in which radical feminism has been and continues to be trans inclusive. Trans inclusive radical feminist opinion leaders, groups, and events are reviewed and contrasted against a popular media narrative that asserts that radical feminism takes issue with trans people. Reviewed are historical instances in which radical feminists braved violence to ensure their feminism was trans inclusive.
In this article, I will review some of the ways in which the inclusion and support of trans people by radical feminists has been hidden from trans and feminist discourse, thereby creating the perception that radical feminism isn’t supportive of trans people. John Stoltenberg, a radical feminist author and long-term partner of the pioneering radical feminist opinion leader Andrea Dworkin, wrote (pers. comm., February 13, 2015), “The notion that truly revolutionary radical feminism is trans-inclusive is a no brainer. I honestly do not understand how or why a strain of radical feminism has emerged that favors a biology-based/sex-essentialist theory of ‘sex caste’ over the theory of ‘sex class’ as set forth in the work of [Monique] Wittig, Andrea [Dworkin], and [Catharine] MacKinnon. Can radical feminism be ‘reclaimed’ so that its trans-inclusivity—which is inherent—is made apparent? I hope so.” It is to this hope that I wish to draw attention to in this article.
To this end, I will utilize the feminist term trans exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) to distinguish the “biology-based/sex-essentialist” ideology Stoltenberg identified as being different from the analysis of the radical feminist opinion leaders he explicitly noted. In 2008, an online feminist community popularized TERF as a way of making a distinction between these two types of feminism. While this lexical distinction is useful, online TERF activists sometimes assert this term to be a slur, since some Internet users have used it in derogatory ways. Internet conflicts aside, I use this term in a manner consistent with its widely known original context, as asserted by the progenitor of the term, cisgender feminist Viv Smythe (Williams 2014a): “It was not meant to be insulting. It was meant to be a deliberately technically neutral description of an activist grouping. We wanted a way to distinguish TERFs from other RadFems with whom we engaged who were trans*-positive/neutral, because we had several years of history of engaging productively/substantively with non-TERF RadFems.”
Absent this distinction, much has been written of the various ways in which “radical feminism” is critical of the trans experience. It is commonplace to find popular media outlets assert that “radical feminists” take issue with trans people. The Globe and Mail asserted (Wente 2014), “In fact, the most bitter battle in the LGBT movement today is between radical feminists and the transgender movement.” The New Yorker recounted (Goldberg 2014) how a conference calling itself “Radfems Respond” was “going to try to explain why, at a time when transgender rights are ascendant, radical feminists insist on regarding transgender women as men, who should not be allowed to use women’s facilities, such as public rest rooms, or to participate in events organized exclusively for women.” The National Post said (Kay 2014) that radical feminism and Paul McHugh are of one mind when it comes to trans people: “True sex change is simply not possible; you end up as a ‘feminized man’ or a ‘masculinized woman.’ Which is exactly what the radical feminists believe.”
Lost in these popular representations of radical feminism is its long and courageous trans inclusive history…
“I have been somewhat overwhelmed with J’s dominating conversations and manipulative style. J’s comments rarely bring any positive discussion and seem to frequently derail conversation. I feel like they threaten the safety of the group for the voices of transwomen and people of color.” – Complaint made to me from a PoC TCP group member yesterday
As many of you know, I’m involved with a historical project that seeks to uncover an erased trans-inclusive radical feminist hirstory. This effort is called The Conversations Project (TCP). Here’s what TCP clearly says that its purpose is:
From TCP’s “About” page
I personally think that it’s important to reclaim the voices of those women who risked even physical violence (from TERFs) to make sure that that trans women were included in their fight for the liberation of all women. As a primer, check out the feminist courage that can be found in the trans-inclusive radical feminist hirstory TCP is interested in examining:
In upcoming interviews, you’ll hear how a Black Lesbian radical feminist MichFest ride organizer related to Camp Trans. You’ll hear how TERFs destroyed one of the early militant radical feminist groups. In fact, there’s a year’s worth of upcoming interviews still to come.
As a historian, it’s hugely problematic that these stories appear nowhere else in feminist hirstory. Instead, we (especially trans people) are taught to believe that “radical feminism” is anti-trans and that “radical feminists” are transphobic. Such narratives go a long way towards erasing the very real courage of radical feminist women who risked their groups, organizations, and even put their own bodies in harm’s way to ensure that their feminism was trans inclusive. That courage should have its place in feminist hirstory.
Some disagree. Some, in the name of “radical feminism,” think those voices need to remain lost; they say time spent examining those voices is wasted time.
MAAB: Male Assigned At Birth
Primary Emergency: This is the term Andrea Dworkin used to language the primary problem facing the trans community. Andrea identified this problem as being exclusion from the women’s liberation movement.
SET: Sex Essentialist Theorist
TCP: The Conversations Project
TERF: Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist; 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.
Here’s the long and short of a drama that’s been unfolding around TCP for months now. The project has a FaceBook group whose purpose is quite clearly spelled out:
The pinned TCP FB group guidelines.
Part of TCP is the serialized publication of a discussion between John Stoltenberg and I that began more than a year ago. This conversation is important because it represents a trans feminist and a radical feminist (finally) coming together to have an in-depth talk about radical and trans feminist hirstory and how that hirstory has affected the lives of just about every trans person in America. Through that context, a lot of radical and trans feminist content is covered. I know of no other book-length discussion like this. In some significant ways, this is what reconciliation between radical and trans feminism looks like.
John Stoltenberg is a radical feminist author and was the life partner of Andrea Dworkin. That John would be willing to break ranks and engage in a conversation like this with me, a trans woman and editor of the TransAdvocate, has been viewed as (in certain circles) a heresy of the highest order. For John’s (perceived) betrayal, TERFs have spent the last couple of months character assassinating John. Here are the basic BS criticisms of John and, of course, TCP:
John didn’t really know Andrea the way that her friends knew her. A couple of people who knew Andrea (and who tends to think that Janice Raymond and Sheila Jeffreys had powerful insights into what they call “transgenderism” and “transgender ideology”), think that they, not her life partner were privy to Andrea’s true feelings towards trans folk.
A friend of Andrea used Andrea to submit her anti-trans screed to a publisher who rejected it and this proves that she was anti-trans. Nikki Craft asked Andrea to please submit Nikki’s anti-trans essay* to Psychology Today. Because Andrea did this for her friend, this proves that, contrary to what Andrea herself wrote, Andrea was anti-trans. Moreover, passing along an essay, means that Andrea actually co-wrote the essay. Yup, physically touching a paper to hand it off to someone else is apparently now enough to bestow full co-author status to Andrea, thus proving that Andrea didn’t support trans people accessing trans health care.
Talking about what Andrea wrote in Woman Hating about trans folk is wrong because Andrea actually later repudiated it. Where? Nobody seems to be able to actually point to anything specific, but I’m told that if I “read Dworkin’s other books” (which I have, more than once) I’ll see that this is true.
People of color won’t participate in TCP because it’s all about white people. (*cough* quote at the beginning of this post *cough*)
I’m not going to innumerate that attacks against me because they’re just the same stuff TS Separatists used to say about me when I was researching “transgender.” Except now they’re saying it about “radical feminism.” Basically, it’s all different shades of this nonsense:
So, Julian Real is someone who has been publicly open about being a member of TCP group. Julian is also a supporter of the cis woman who’s promulgating many of the above claims. After numerous group member complaints and innumerable moderation incidents relating to Julian’s posturing within the group, Julian was recently removed from the group by unanimous consensus of all six group moderators. As a result, Julian (a white non-trans woman MAAB) is now running around bemoaning TCP’s purpose and talking up how much more radical and feminist their understanding of everything is and how the voices of TCP are really just neoliberal pablum.
So, for the record, here’s how things went down:
Julian attacked a commentary about a specific passage in a specific book that was written in a specific historical context… for not being commentary about something other than that specific passage of that specific book in that specific historical context. Then, after being confronted for trying to derail yet another group conversation, Julian began to again posture in the group. Here’s the response to Julian’s behavior that I posted:
Your reply is erasure from a place of privilege.
You’ve privileged yourself in deciding for poor trans women of color that exclusion -as full Sisters- from the women’s liberation movement should be subordinate to your ideas of how to overcome “capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy” (as if we’re talking about fundamentally different things). The irony is that you rhetorically subordinate their inclusion from women’s liberation from an asserted position of speaking *for* them. It’s sometimes a bit like hearing the rich of the USSR tell the poor -in the name of anti-capitalism/colonialism/patriarchy- that work will make them free.
Your persistent effort to, in violation of the boundaries of this group, advocate that its members should to spend their group time thinking about the rationals SET “feminists” cite when projecting, popularizing, and promoting their anti-trans fears, anxieties, and animus is an act of hostility against this group and its membership. Moreover, it’s an act of profound the group members and the erased, hidden, and silenced inclusive radical feminist hirstories we meet here to respect.
I 100% reject your premise that focusing our group on the radical feminism that bravely fought to include trans women as Sisters in women’s liberation = being pro-capitalism/colonialism/patriarchy. Additionally, I think the fact that you are not a trans women whose existence has been defined by the (as you privilege yourself in seeing it, irrelevant) actions of a “few white lesbians” (as you call it), contributes to the problematic ways you’ve engaged in this group. While I also reject this characterization as being patently false, that you state it as fact provides some insight into the place of (apparent) unexamined privilege you engage from.
As a trans woman who lived through deaths and hardships caused by the very ideology you claim must be considered, in the name of life and liberation no less, I experience your verbal gesticulations as a (possibly clueless) hubris born of privilege that is very toxic.
It’s not only me that experiences your privilege as toxic, numerous individuals of various racial/ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds have, since your arrival in this group, contacted mods to express exasperation with the position/way you approach group participation. In fact, I’ve noticed that we’ve lost members and that *many* others no longer participate.
It’s not that people are turned off by the theory you sometimes share. I very much enjoy some of the books, resources, etc. that you share. I think they enrich the experience of this group. That’s not the problem that I and others have with your participation… It’s the way you privilege yourself to define for others what their primary emergency is that’s the issue. From what I see, the fact that you’ve not shared that primary emergency seems to color much of the way you interact with this group.
At this point, I find the sound and fury coming from the side that wants TCP to just go away ridiculous. It’s a bunch of wasted time and energy. Do these people really think that we’re going to stop interviewing the people who were on the ground in the 70s and 80s? Do they think we’re just going to stop publishing those hirstories?
If anything, as evidenced by this very post, their hyperbole just brings attention to the very thing they wish to mandate out of existence. Yes, their blogosphere chamber might well echo, but really… Why lie about Andrea co-authoring anti-trans screeds? Why spend months personally attacking and defaming John? Why use (as in, appropriate) the oppression and pain of POC as a tool to disrupt conversations about silenced feminist hirstory? How does any of these online teapot tempests advance the liberation of women as a sex class? How can they claim to do all of this in the name of feminism?
Personally, all of this feels very familiar to me. It feels a lot like the pushback I faced when researching the history of “transgender”. When I was researching the history of “transgender,” the demonstrable historical record conflicted with the history a certain identity was founded upon and they attacked. Now I’m researching the historical narrative that asserts “radical feminism” wants to mandate trans bodies out of existence. Both John and I have faced significant pushback for our efforts.
Even so, I expect that what will happen is that, regardless of these attacks, this hirstory will become part of the feminist hirstorical record. I expect that it will become harder for international news outlets to propagate the false narrative that “radical feminism” is anti-trans. I expect that those who are fighting to keep an erased feminist hirstory lost will find that people are actually interested in what these silenced voices have to say:
So, hopefully this will be my one and only post regarding the hyperbole spewing from a certain section of the internet.
*NOTE: The “anti-trans” essay Nikki Craft wrote was written upon the (absolutely wrong) premise that trans folk love Dr. John Money. Money was an ass who was willing to hurt people in furtherance of his bogus gender theories. He was willing to force children to live as the sex assigned them, telling them to accept their bodies. Moreover, Money promoted the ridiculous idea gender stereotypes and roles came from neurology, not culture. While it’s true that one must have a brain in order to become indoctrinated to sexism, Money was wrong; sexism isn’t innate to brains.
While the first half of the article titled There Is No Reason to Deny Trans People Necessary Medical Care does a good job at deconstructing the fraudulent, entitled and obtuse assertions featured in a recient NY Times piece, it is the latter half of the article that, I felt, is useful as a compacted overview of trans feminist thought. From Katherine Cross’ piece on Reality Check:
This is to say nothing of the fact that not all trans people want or need reassignment surgery—it is no longer as definitional of transsexual existence as it once was, and new generations of trans people are finding countless new and interesting ways of having a trans body. It’s a flowering deftly ignored by articles like Friedman’s, except inasmuch as he briefly uses the existence of such people to suggest that perhaps those of us who need surgery don’t. To truly respect trans existence would mean not trying to use our diversity to pit us against one another.
What afflicts us is not surgery but a world under the oceanic pressure of norms and prejudices.
Even leaving aside the more dramatic cases of trans women being murdered, we live in a world where we are seen as strange at best: something to stare at, something to passively exclude, some thing, rather than an equal person. Our bodies seem to exist as amusement parks for the fantastic curiosities of others. We are the conversation piece in cisgender society’s living room.
Ask yourself how that would make you feel, regardless of what medications you took or what surgeries you had.
Gender dysphoria as a whole—bodily and mental—is something imposed on us from without as much as something that manifests from within; it certainly finds its origins in deeply felt, physical sensations of wrongness, but it is also wildly exacerbated by the way trans people’s bodies are talked about, publicly possessed, and seen as inherently violable. In its subtle way, the Times editorial feeds that sense of objectifying entitlement.
This wider issue forms the foundations of all violence against us.
Men can often get away with doing absolutely anything to trans women in particular, especially if we do sex work: that double stigma is a brand that says “no one will miss you” in invisible ink all over our bodies. Even as men lust after us, they want to destroy us as an extraverted act of revenge against all womankind. Because they can.
They say we’re not “real women” and yet do to us the things they wish they could do to other women: their wives, their mothers, female politicians, the ball-busting boss, the ice queen who won’t date them. We are, in fact, the canvas of so many cisgender men’s own deeply unresolved psychological crises, which themselves never make it to the front page of theTimes’ Sunday Review in the form of handwringing editorial piety.
You live with that knowledge and you learn to make peace with it, uneasy as it may be, and hope for the best.
Time and again, well-meaning cisgender people tell me and my sisters, brothers, and siblings, that we are so very “strong” and “courageous,” as if they intuitively sense how poisonous our world’s atmosphere is for us.
For my own part, I’m simply trying to fashion a liveable life, partially through these words, partially through the perambulations of my career, and in every case I find that the freshest air I breathe in this world is the result of work done, past and present, to help cisgender people see my existence as a way of being human.
But I needed medical transition in order to breathe in the first place.
Cross’ review contextualizes some of the same themes my pithy TransAdvocate response to the same NY Times article did. I too spend the first half of my article debunking the nonsense pushed by the Times, but it’s the second half that contextualizes – through a trans feminist perspective – the deeper problems that support the type of behavior featured by the Times and other terribly concerned cis people who only listen to that which reinforces their apriori conclusions; namely, that the memes cis people create to think about the trans experience actually represents the trans experience and that structurally, their critiques of trans people are intelligible only to others who insist on misusing trans feminist language. From my TransAdvocate piece:
Friedman [ed: the author of the NY Times piece both Cross and I critiqued] remarks on the way transsexual brains are different from cisgender brains and opines that maybe if there were more freedom around gender roles, trans people wouldn’t really need to physically transition:
Of course, people should have the freedom to assume whatever gender role makes them comfortable and refer to themselves with whatever pronoun they choose; we should encourage people to be who they really feel they are, not who or what society would like them to be. I wonder, if we were a more tolerant society that welcomed all types of gender identity, what the impact might be on gender dysphoria. How many transgender individuals would feel the need to physically change gender, if they truly felt accepted with whatever gender role they choose?
I know this is terribly difficult for some people to understand, so let me make it very clear: gender identity, expression and orientation IS NOT the same thing as gender hierarchy, stereotype or role. Trans discourse is at a significant disadvantage when terribly concerned cis people like Friedman speak on behalf of the trans experience. People like Friedman seem to rely upon equivocation, credulity and ignorance when presenting their trans critical points to (usually) non-trans people. (* cough * Janice Raymond * cough *) Not only does Friedman seem to conflate gender role, gender and gender identity, his assertion that biological factors may drive trans people into new gender roles is highly problematic since gender roles aren’t biological.
Trans “Brain Sex” Side Bar:
I have for years asserted that I am largely agnostic to the claim that trans people have neurological brain issues which cause us to experience our bodies in the way we do. While I don’t think this is out of the realm of probabilities, I do think that we need more research. I myself interviewed Dr. Diamond whose twin studies made him conclude that trans people have an intersex condition in our brain. I am, and continue to be, interested in these studies. I think that just dismissing them all as BS (or for that matter, uncritically accepting them all as gospel) is a sign of ideological bias.
Having said that, I also recognize that brain sex studies in general are not infrequently problematic; that the specter of gender roles often asserts an unacknowledged force on brain sex study outcomes. Cordelia Fine’s 2010 book, Delusions of Gender does a good job at exposing this problem. However, even Fine herself stumbles when even she habitually conflates gender role with gender identity in her description of what she observes. In this way, Fine’s work suffers from some of the same problems I review below.
Moreover, some cis researchers – especially those who’ve assumed a place of authority with regard to sex and gender issues – seem to never acknowledge a simple truth trans advocates have pointed to since the 1950s: sex essentialism is a cultural construct. Whether it’s two boxes (male and female) or three boxes (male, intersex and female) researchers seem to be largely incapable of understanding that those boxes were constructed by their culture’s hands .
For decades, trans advocates have struggled to describe sex and gender from a trans perspective. Back in 1958, Christine Jorgensen challenged the concept of a natural sex binary in her interview LP Christine Jorgensen Reveals. At the 23 second mark, the non-trans interviewer asks Jorgensen if she’s a woman. Jorgensen replied, “We seem to assume that every person is either a man or a woman. But we don’t take into account the scientific value that each person is actually both in varying degrees. Now, this sounds a little evasive and I don’t mean it to be in actuality. To that, my only answer is that I am more of a woman than I am a man.” Working from within the confines of a 1950s pop lexicon, Jorgensen challenged the non-trans interviewer’s presumption of a natural sex binary and instead proposed that sex might be conceptualized as more of a spectrum. Later in the interview she challenged the idea that clothing habits have anything to do with sex. “One isn’t born to wear clothes, actually. Clothes are a habit that one accumulates.” Throughout the entire LP, Jorgensen is continually bumping up against binary sex and gender presumptions as she struggles to frame her answers in a way that the cisgender interviewer might grasp.
To be clear, within trans discourse should I speak in terms of identity, I am speaking in terms of personal and expressive form; should I speak in terms of role, I am speaking in terms of cultural function. I as a trans person did not transition in order to choose a new gender role. Being placed into a role is something that culture forcibly does to people; nobody can choose to live in a gender role. Should society deem that one is a male, that person will be placed into a male role by culture; should society deem that one is female, that person will be placed into a female role by culture. A gender role isn’t chosen, it’s inflicted and much of trans discourse is situated around ways of challenging and undermining those roles.
When trans people speak of their gender identity, we are speaking about any 1 of 3 things:
A.) One’s subjective experience of one’s own sexed body attributes; B.) One’s sexed identification within the context of a social grouping; or, C.) Both A and B
(ProTip: Some trans people will sometimes refer to Category A as one’s “gender orientation.”)
So no, even if we had a billion new gender roles, that wouldn’t address the need of trans people to medically transition, nor would it help to force a billion people into a billion new gender role boxes. The motivation to medically transition was not about me living within a gender role box; it was about my subjective embodied experience.
“A Woman Trapped in a Man’s Body”
Cis people came up with this sophomoric way of describing the trans experience to each other and it has, in a Foucauldian sense, stuck to descriptions of the trans experience ever since. The earliest known usage of a phrase like this comes from page 236 of Emily Grant Hutchings’ 1922 book, Indian Summer: “David is a woman. More than that, Sydney, Mrs Trench is a man — trapped in a woman’s body. When nature makes a blunder like that, there’s usually the devil to pay.” In his 1966 book, The Transsexual Phenomena, Harry Benjamin tried to make the trans experience intelligible to the cisgender population. On page 19 Benjamin wrote, “The transsexual feels himself to be a woman (“trapped in a man’s body”) and is attracted to men.” Consider the way this meme was used on page 265 of the 1967 book Sexual Deviance:
While, as suggested, few lesbians become committed to this totally masculine role as a near-permanent life style, many more lesbians may experiment with this kind of strategy for a short period, particularly during the identity crisis that occurs at the time of the first self-admission of a deviant sexual commitment or at entry into the culture of the homosexual community. During this early phase of career development, it is not unlikely that many lesbians overreact because they are still imbued with the essentially heterosexual language of their earlier socialization and think of themselves as an accident of nature: a man trapped in a woman’s body.
I find it interesting that some contemporary gender pontificators are putting forward new iterations of this very argument. Here we find that should a lesbian step out of her gender role (function) within the context of heteronormative culture, it may very-well make her think that she’s a “man trapped in a woman’s body.” Friedman essentially makes the same (il)logical leap in his article: since it must be gender roles that are driving trans people to transition, instead of medical care, a better solution might be the creation of even more gender roles. Friedman assures his readers that “gender” shouldn’t be binary, “it [doesn’t] mean that conventional gender roles always feel right; the sheer number of people who experience varying degrees of mismatch between their preferred gender and their body makes this very clear.” * every facepalm meme ever goes here *
If people like Friedman (or Raymond for that matter) actually cared about the well-being of trans people (as they inevitably claim they do) maybe they could start by being honest about the data, stop conflating trans terminology to muddy the discursive waters and start honestly engaging with trans people about what their body experience is like.*
*And no, being trans isn’t the same thing as wishing to be paralyzed or to have sections of one’s body removed (body dysmorphic disorder). This “analysis” is popular with smug cis people who think trans people want to “chop off” parts of their bodies. If you think that trans surgery is about chopping off body parts, you probably need to sit down, shut up and listen to trans people talk about their experience without assuming that you understand it better than they can.
I noticed you often use ‘transwoamn’ as one word as opposed to trans woman.
Hate to be nit-picky but it’s cissexist
“Trans” should be used as an adjective to describe “woman.” When the two are linked together, it becomes a noun all its own, distinctly separating it from other groups of women, acting as a qualifier instead of a mere description. Conjoining the words together denotes that the two ideas can’t be separated, that being trans is somehow fundamentally different from any other characteristic a woman can have, like (using your examples) being gay or black.
This is a predominantly West Coast assertion that erases the longstanding culture and rich lexical histories of other trans communities by casting such terminology as lexical tools of our oppressors. It’s a red herring. We say congresswoman, superwoman, etc. and none of these English terms erode the woman’s personhood.
I sometimes feel that the language polemics we so enjoy are created in part to support an environment which chases the ghost of empowerment through the reactionary policing of highly nuanced lexical epistemologies that inevitably privilege certain segments of the trans community over others.
For example, it’s currently correct to say transsexed (or gendered) but not transgenderd. It’s okay to refer to crossdressers, but not transsexuals. Referring to a someone as a transwoman is problematic but noting that she’s a businesswoman perfectly fine. We don’t speak it as trans-pause-woman, instead, we pronounce it as transwoman; however, if we utilize it as spoken, we supposedly cause offense.
The West Coast asserts transwoman is bad. The Gulf Coast has used that lexical configuration since the mid-1970s. Why must the Gulf Coast trans community surrender its lexical identities to West Coast policing?
Conjoining the words together denotes that the two ideas can’t be separated
This is an assertion that’s not tolerated in any other arena of discourse. If I refer to a male who’s woodsman, do English speakers not understand that the man has agency and a greater existence outside the context of his woodsy acumen? Strangely, we are expected to believe that this is precisely what happens when one writes transwoman. In fact, the same unsupported assertions I hear about “transwoman” (it’s an offensive lexical conspiracy by ciswomen to strip away our identity as women, etc. ) are made by RadFems concerning “ciswoman.” Everyone is pointing to each other claiming that the term is a function of oppression. Just stop. It’s not. Retronyms are a function of the language we speak.
When cyberspace came into use, the retronym meatspace came into popular use. Trans/cis is taking the exact some lexical trajectory that mail, email and smail is taking. To assert that woman, transwoman and ciswoman is anything other than the English language doing what it does is unreasoned.
For me, policing the way others write transwoman/transman to support a false history – to willfully erase trans history in favor of a false conspiracy theory – is simply wrong. I will not do it. So please, don’t ask me to do it and if you take offense because I won’t join with you in erasing our history, then so be it.
I use transwoman because claims made about its meaning are not taken seriously in any other context. But, mostly I use transwoman because it honors a silenced community and an erased history.
I think I should start this post with some back-and-forth arguing between one of the organizers of the first International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy (ICTLEP, 1992), Virginia Prince and her supporter:
“Said another way, you trashed [Virginia Prince]! You stole her linguistic contribution to the community from the community and ran down the road laughing. Lordy, lordy, lordy, you incorrigible Texans. Shame, shame shame.”
Tere Frederickson, co-organizer of ICTLEP responds:
“We only used the terms ‘transgender’ and ‘transgendered’ as they are most commonly used (yup, they really are etymologically correct) today, despite the reservations and acknowledgement of the term ‘transgenderist’ to coinage by Virginia. You will find those terms used in the same manner as we used them in just about all publications in our community.”
– Tere Frederickson, 1991
And Prince steps in:
“I hope neither of you will take offense if grandma raises some points about your ‘transgender behavior’ article in the Sept issue of Euphoria. To begin with, I coined the term ‘transgenderist’ as a name for the specific behavior of living full time but without SRS. It is a noun not an adjective. ‘Transgender behavior’ could properly only refer to behavior of a transgenderist not to the general behavior of people who express both genders at different times.”
There’s a reason so many think that Virginia Prince coined the term transgender. I think that reason is that Prince (and her supporters) pushed that grandiose narrative.
“The term transgenderist was first introduced into the English language by trans warrior Virginia Prince. Virginia told me, ‘I coined the noun transgenderist in 1987 or ’88. There had to be some name for people like myself who trans the gender barrier – meaning somebody who lives full time in the gender opposite to their anatomy. I have not transed the sex barrier.’”
– Transgender Warriors by Leslie Feinberg, 1996, page X of introduction
In fact, I think she worked hard to create that narrative.
I think Prince knew that she didn’t create the term “transgender” or “transgenderist.” She claimed to have coined “transgenderist” in her 1978 article (or 1987 or 88, if you go by what she told Feinberg)and yet, the term was fairly common back in 1975. I think it’s doubtful that she, in the national position she held, never once heard someone else say “transgenderist” in the years before she used it. The first national trans survey used the term:
Other regional and national leaders like Phyllis Frye and Ariadne Kane were using it before Prince. By the time Prince finally got around to using the term, the book McCary’s Human Sexuality was already using it!
I’ve never found a statement from Prince wherein she claims to have coined transgender on the basis of her one single 12/1969 usage (and immediate abandonment) of transgenderal. Everything I’ve come across quoting her claims that she coined transgender because she coined transgenderist. Also, let’s be clear; her one single use of the trans+gender lexical compound was not the first usage. Years before her, the medical community was advocating that the trans+gender lexical compound replace transsexual because, they claimed, -sexual made people think that being transsexual was about satisfying a sexuality need.
I’ve just posted a 2-part review of the now ubiquitous Prince Fountainhead Narrative as it relates to trans discourse:
While I won’t say that Prince lied (because I don’t have a statement wherein she admits it and so I therefore can’t definitively prove it), I will go as far to say that I think it’s improbable that she didn’t know that the credit for the coinage of the term didn’t truly belong to her.
The sad thing is that real author of the term has never been recognized.
Who authored this term?
The clue is that 1975 trans newspaper article I linked above. Sussie Collins (a transsexual) was the editor of that newspaper. She also ran this organization:
This very same 1975 newspaper featuring a two-page article on a word that Prince supposedly hadn’t invented yet also had an article on “transgenderism.” The author that particular article was Sandy Mesics – a transsexual who was (at the time) publishing a trans magazine called Image (note the use of a proto-trans symbol on the cover of the magazine):
Sandy told me that Image was a…
… magazine for the “transvestite and transsexuals” community. We formed a company called Third World Communications… because we felt that trans folk we a third world: not gay or lesbian… We thought that what Virginia Prince was doing was hopelessly stuck in the 1950s: very closeted, heterosexually-oriented material. We also didn’t think there was a great publication out there for transsexuals. We liked what Lee Brewster was doing with Drag, but we thought we could fill a needed niche…
Image also caught the attention of Neptune Productions and the UTTS. Sussie Collins invited me to one of their monthly gatherings, where I met Jack O’Brien, owner of Neptune Productions. Jack was helping Sussie get UTTS off the ground. Sussie and I both believed in unifying the trans community, rather than just appealing to one aspect of it…
For me, it was an awesome time: I got to meet folks like John Waters and Elizabeth Coffey, Holly Woodlawn, Ariadne Kane, Garrett Oppenheim, and Lee Brewster, Pudgy Roberts, Kenny Kerr, among others.”
I think the evidence clearly reveals that “transgenderist” didn’t come from Prince, but from the trans community itself. Clearly those who were using the term – years before Prince supposedly coined the term – were those who felt “transvestites and transsexuals” should work toward a unity of common purpose. The folks who were actually using this language explicitly rejected Prince’s vision as being dated and “hopelessly stuck in the 1950s.”
And yet, (to add insult to injury) if a student cracks open a trans history book, what will they find?
Transgender Health And HIV Prevention, 2005, Page 55 Since Virginia Prince coined the term transgender in the mid-1970s to define people like herself who cross-lived full time, but who did not want a surgical sex change (Green & Brinkin, 1994), language that represents the diversity of gender…
Local violence, global media: feminist analyses of gendered representations, 2009, Page 101: Transgender is a term derived from the term “transgenderist,” coined by Virginia Prince to refer to a person cross-living full time with no plan to have sex reassignment surgery (SRS). In the 1990s it was used as an umbrella term…
Encyclopedia of gender and society, 2009, Volume 2, Page 849:
In addition, the dominant meaning associated with the term transgender changed. Originally coined in the 1970s by full-time heterosexual cross-dresser Virginia Prince, transgerderist had originally meant someone who took on the social role of the “opposite” gender without any surgical or other bodily intervention…
Sex, gender, and sexuality: the new basics : an anthology, 2008, Page 528:
“Transgender” is a relatively new word. It was originally coined by Virginia Prince in the early 1970s to refer to people who lived full-time in a gender that was not the one that usually went with their genirals (Prince, personal communication). In the 1990s, the word was taken up by a variety of people who, in their own ways, transgressed usual sex and gender expectations.
Special populations in college counseling, 2006, Page 60:
Transgenderist: Coined by Virginia Prince, this category refers to an individual who disidentifies with his or her assigned birth sex and lives full-time in congruence with his or her gender identity.
“So what?” you might ask. Why does it matter if Prince, in a seeming act of stunning self-promotion, stole the coinage credit away from others? It’s just a stupid word, right? I mean, what would happen if this myth was allowed to continue? She’s a ‘trans warrior’ after all – let her have this, right?
Here’s the price the community of trans folk pays for this myth:
Finally let’s consider that “transgender” was based on terminology that was extremely transsexual-phobic (the transsexual hating Charlie Prince) in the first place and “gender” being malleable is based on the single John Money John-Joan case exposed as a total fraud but still seems to inform those who promote this mistaken idea.
So, a term that began as an insulting separation to those who now reject it that has no scientific reality (gender identity is fixed at almost the same moment of pre-natal development as sexual orientation) is the preferred term?
As Agent K said in Men in Black II “This is a clear case of go home and do it over again”.
Gay Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia, (2000) Volume 2, pp 888 – 890
Transgender… The term is said to derive from transgenderist, coined in the 1960s be male-to-female cross-dresser and early transgender researcher Virginia Prince as an alternative to the stigmatizing and objectifying medical category of “transvestite…”
Bolin, Bornstein, Feinberg, and other clearly view transgender as both the cause and the effect of a renewed fender and sexual revolution. Not everyone shared their view, however. Some transsexuals are proud of having changed sexes, rather that confounding them, and reject the transgender identity for erasing their own, “Every application of the term transgender to me is an attempt to mask what I’ve done and as such co-opts my life, denies my experience, violates my very soul. I changed my sex… and provide that anatomy is not destiny,” Margaret Deidre O’Hartigan has emphatically asserted.”
May 12th, 2011 at 12:25 pm Comment on In Community, Genitalia & Socialization Essentialism Has Been Around For Awhile, Thursday May 12, 2011 5:00 am
These trans people who can never forgive Daly, apologize all over the place for the single most transsexual phobic person to ever roam the earth, Virgina Prince, who coined the term transgender which is now applied to those Prince most hated as part of a forced umbrella inclusion that essentially denies the womanhood of those female bodied, fully woman identified women with transsexed or intersexed histories.
The Prince Fountainhead Narrative MYTH poisons trans discourse. Worse, it misrepresents the reality of community so that it appears to be a top-down oligarchy wherein leaders make identity pronouncements and we, their dutiful followers (for some inexplicable reason), collectively throw out our old group and personal identifiers in favor of the new identities given to us by our leaders. I discuss the detestable price this myth exacts upon the trans community more here.
Much can be said about Prince. However, what must never again be said as fact is that Virginia Prince coined “transgender.” She didn’t – the trans community itself did -and the price the trans community pays for supporting the Prince Fountainhead Narrative is too great to bear.