I have largely avoided writing about trans issues on this blog. There are two reasons for this, the first is that, although this is a radical feminist blog, I want it to be available to everyone as an anti-porn resource, and writing about trans issues would just have been a confusing diversion to anyone who was uninitiated into what was, until fairly recently, an esoteric subject. Secondly, and more selfishly, I didn’t want to draw a shit-storm down upon myself, but I survived my previous forays into this subject practically unscathed, and the subject has become too mainstream, and too important, to stay quiet about.
We are now at the stage where trans activists, with the full support of liberal feminists, collaborate with MRAs (‘men’s rights activists’), to try to stop FAB (female assigned at birth) women meeting and organising as a political group.
We also see trans activists and liberal feminists make threats of violence, rape and death against radical feminists (and any other woman who is unfortunate enough to be branded a ‘transphobe’) and their children, behaviour which is indistinguishable from that of MRAs, and misogynists generally.
Whether or not trans women are ‘real women’ (whatever that means) is irrelevant to me; what matters is that I, and every other FAB woman out there, are being told that we are not allowed to recognise that being assigned female at birth means something, and that it will have an effect on how we are treated and what our life chances are. What matters is that it is becoming more and more difficult to organise politically with other people who are in the same socio-political group as us.
Recognising that being FAB means something is not the same as biological essentialism (the favourite accusation of trans activists), there is a difference between a normative statement and a descriptive statement.
A normative statement says things must or should be a certain way, a descriptive statement is an observation of the way the world actually is, for real, right now. Observing that being FAB means that certain things will happen to you, that you will have a certain set of experiences, is not the same as saying that women should be x, y, or z.
The term ‘phobia’ in the context of, say, homophobia, means a deep-seated fear, loathing and hatred that leads to discrimination and violence. All one needs to do to be branded a ‘transphobe’ is to not believe that gender roles are hardwired into our brains, or to believe that gender roles are oppressive rather than liberatory, or to recognise that a penis is a male sexual organ, or refuse to put a trigger warning on writing about menstruation.
An accusation of ‘transphobia’ is like an accusation of witchcraft, no real evidence is needed, because none can be given, and no defence can be made, because there is nothing a woman can do to defend herself from such an accusation, except grovel and beg for forgiveness for her ‘inherent cis privilege’ and beg for forgiveness for being born into the ‘oppressor class’ of female.
There are many things wrong and dangerous about trans activism and trans theory (for example the targeting of gender non-conforming children for chemical castration and a lifetime of medical intervention, or ‘trans inclusive’ guidelines that make it too easy for an abusive man to get into women and children’s safe spaces like changing rooms and homeless shelters), but what I wish to discuss here is how trans theory offers a model of ‘oppression’ and ‘privilege’ that makes understanding how the world actually functions impossible.
Trans women are oppressed, and trans women do experience a huge amount of violence and discrimination, and that is a bad thing and shouldn’t happen (see, that’s a normative statement), but they are not oppressed by ‘cis’ women, they are oppressed by men, and by patriarchal society, and this refusal to name the agent, this re-labelling of male violence as ‘cis violence’ makes actually combating this violence impossible.
As Cathy Brennan said at RadFem 2013, FAB women and trans women do have a common cause in opposing male violence.
But trans activists aren’t interested in talking about male violence, they are like sex industry advocates, who refuse to name the agent when it comes to violence against prostitutes, and instead insist that the real problem is radical feminists and their reality altering opinions that cause the actual harm, rather than men and patriarchy.
It should be easy to work out who actually benefits from these pseudo-feminist movements that both refuse to talk about male violence, it should also be easy to work out why both movements have so much traction with the mainstream and liberal press, and within academia, they both prop up the status quo, and both make it easier for men to carry on abusing women and children.
Women as women are not an oppressor class, being female is not a privilege, and when trans activists talk about ‘cis privilege’, they are creating a model of oppression that bears no resemblance to any other recognised axis of inequality.
‘Cis privilege’ places FAB women and girls into an oppressor group for the ‘privilege’ of having a female body, and being ‘allowed’ to be feminine. This assumes that no FAB woman or girl ever feels bad for having a female body (despite the endless mainstream media telling us we are disgusting in our natural state), and that we get some kind of reward for being feminine, rather than femininity being something that is forced upon us, and then used against us as proof of our second-class status.
Oppression is not about wanting something somebody else has. Anti-poverty campaigners do not want to make themselves rich, they want to end massive inequalities in income so that there are no rich or poor anymore.
I, as a radical feminist, do not want what men have, I do not want to be able to commit physical and sexual violence and get away with it, I want there to be no more physical and sexual violence.
A disabled person is not oppressed by the existence of able-bodied people, they are oppressed by the lack of even basic services and facilities that would allow them to fully participate in and contribute to society (and it would be very insulting to disabled people to suggest that they spent all their time wishing they were ‘normal’).
But trans theory tells us that FAB women are privileged over, and oppress trans women because we are born female and have what trans women want, a female body, even though having a female body is not recognisable as a privilege under any other understanding of the way the world works.