Thursday, 14 August 2014

Trans "vs." feminism. (4)

I've drafted (without posting) several obstreperous rants recently on (radical) feminism "vs." trans, because this useless quarrel just keeps on going: forty years and counting. The latest incident involved the BBC current affairs programme, Newsnight, where trans activists caused a proposed segment (purportedly about Kellie Maloney) to be dropped by refusing to participate in (what seemed likely to be) a confrontation with "gender critical" feminists. As it turns out, said feminists had also refused to take part, for the understandable reason that the arguments are too hostile and are perpetuated with even more hostility on social media. Instead, people are letting their opinions be known in a more "detached" way, via undirected messages and blog posts (as indeed I'm doing here).

For instance, two days ago Julie Bindel tweeted (disingenuously):
10:17 AM: “Total censorship now. Anyone who challenges gender essentialism is accused of being a massive transphobe”;
10:26 AM: “Truth is they refuse to debate or discuss at all”;
10:32 AM: “because the radical feminist theory that gender is a social construction to oppress women & empower men is threat 2 trans theory”.

I say “disingenuously” there because Julie's tweets are (as she certainly knows) an entirely one-sided depiction of events and only make sense if you already agree with her. From a contrary position, her words might be interpreted rather differently:

Total censorship” — an unwillingness to debate on terms which regard trans as de facto gender essentialist.

Refuse to debate or discuss” — because a converse refusal to accept trans people as experts on their own lives, or their knowledge of themselves and their own sex and gender as having validity, makes meaningful discussion impossible. (And denying people the right to describe their own lives on their own terms, implying – or straight out declaring – that they're not who they say they are, does amount to “denying their right to exist”.)

Radical feminist theory ... is [a] threat [to] trans theory” — this is only true if you believe that radical feminist theory is applicable and correct in every circumstance (which is ideological fundamentalism).

In fact, trans feminists will readily (and do) concur with radical feminist theories on many (perhaps most) aspects of sex and gender (especially as regards women's oppression by the social construction of gender). But from a trans perspective, radical feminism is not a complete theory; it does not accurately account for all aspects of sex and gender. In particular, it's not the best framework for understanding trans. The bitter arguments we have arise because (some) radical feminists nevertheless insist on trying – the results of which, although logically consistent on their own terms, are not recognized by (most) trans people as an accurate portrayal of their own experiences and truths. When that happens, and when that has been explained to you repeatedly, it's time to reassess your theory. Sticking to it rigidly and claiming that everyone else is wrong (or must disprove your theory to your own satisfaction) is just intellectual arrogance.

And to what end? Radical feminism is neither a religion, nor a mathematical science. It's not suddenly rendered "false" because it fails in one (or more) instance(s). And it's not threatened by trans realities to any substantive degree. The only real conflict is over trans itself, where radical feminism is merely an unwelcome intruder.

So yes, we can discuss gender, gender essentialism, gender oppression, gender roles, gender stereotypes, gender systems, whatever you like. We'll probably agree anyway, which is always nice. But there's little point in debating matters trans any more because you don't listen and you have virtually nothing of worth to say. Consequently, I intend this to be my final post on the subject. I've wasted far too many spoons on it already.

Except that, seemingly out of nowhere, George Galloway has now sprung to mind. Well, there's a lot to respect about George, and he can be admirably principled when he chooses, but he can also be a bit of a dickhead; and didn't he call a group of righteously angry feminists a “cabal” too? Or was that his tosser of a mate, Tommy Sheridan? I forget.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Andreja Pejic.

I've featured Andreja on here before – specifically in my second ‘In Vision’ post. But in that instance I used pictures of her feminine boy persona; and news came out this week that she's now transitioned. She describes her journey as follows:

I figured out who I was very early on—actually, at the age of 13, with the help of the Internet—so I knew that a transition, becoming a woman, was always something I needed to do. But it wasn’t possible at the time, and I put it off, and androgyny became a way of expressing my femininity without having to explain myself to people too much. Especially to my peers [who] couldn’t understand things like “trans” and gender identity. And then obviously the modeling thing came up, and I became this androgynous male model, and that was a big part of my growing up and my self-discovery. But I always kept in mind that, ultimately, my biggest dream was to be a girl.

Well, I'm happy for her, and pleased that she's come out as trans – but at the same time I'm a little bit sad. As Minnie Bruce Pratt wrote: “I love the contradiction between gender identification and biological sex. I love having the simultaneity, the both/and.” In Andreja's case, that apparent contradiction has now been resolved. The beautiful unmasculine boy (who it turns out she wasn't) is now a beautiful feminine woman. And her personal evocation of the possible, of what "male" can be and mean and look like, is no more.

Why this should matter to me at all is not so easy to convey. But in an (unrelated) article for Slate magazine, Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart wrote:

I think it's important to keep the boundaries of what can and can't potentially be male or female propped open as wide as possible. It's wonderful that people who feel uncomfortable with the gender they were assigned at birth are gaining strength and visibility. But, it's just as important that young people, girls and boys and genderqueers alike, can have as many examples as possible of men and women who don't conform to gender stereotypes. I like to think I'm doing my part for that by living as an aggressive, competitive, logical, and strong butch woman.

The hyperlink incorporates the words “a butch lesbian rejects a non binary identity”, but I don't view her piece that way. Rather than a rejection of non-binary identities per se, I read it as a rejection of binary correlations, an assertion of a personal non-normative binary – as well as a political act, an evocation of the possible, of what "female" can be and mean and look like.

Of course, non-binary and genderqueer can be political acts too. As I quoted queer butch Sinclair Sexsmith as saying: “It is a radical, political act to reject the two-party binary gender system, and I like radical acts. I get off on ’em.” And as I wrote on their own blog: “Yes, genderqueer is a political identity for me too.” But I went on with: “But then so is male, given that femme and feminine aren’t supposed to go with male.” It's the second part that's relevant here, and the reason why I'm going to miss "Andrej".

Ah well. Andreja has got on with her life and asserted who she needed to be – and that's infinitely more important than who I (or anybody else) might have liked her to be, which isn't important at all. And she's left us a recorded pictorial legacy of that beautiful unmasculine boy, even if it wasn't who she really was. So, thanks for that, Andreja.

And as she's posted herself: “I think we all evolve as we get older and that’s normal but I like to think that my recent transition hasn’t made me into a different individual. Same person, no difference at all just a different sex . I hope you can all understand that.

Absolutely :)

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Laurie Penny and the ‘TTP’.

Briefly: ‘TTP’ refers to the ‘Transgender Tipping Point’, posited in a cover story about Laverne Cox in the US Time magazine, which led to various (worthless) responses from various people, which feminist journalist Laurie Penny addresses (indirectly) in a blogpost for the New Statesman.

There is an ingrained distrust in the trans community of "experts", arising from long and problematic experience. Of non-trans people holding forth about trans matters. Explaining, "discussing", pathologizing, dismissing... So, whenever someone speaks or writes about trans, the first thing I want to know is not the basis of their "objective expertise" but where they're coming from trans-wise, what gives their words any validity. Laurie Penny answers this towards the end of her piece:

“Explaining why this is so significant is hard for me, because I’m about as close as you can get to the trans rights movement without being trans yourself. I’ve been associated with trans activism for years, and while I don’t know what it’s like to be harassed, threatened or abandoned for being transsexual, most of my close friends do.”

Okay, fair enough. Not trans, but standing with. An ally, being supportive. Using her media platform to rally her (presumably) mostly non-trans audience. To say "I stand over here". That's great. Thanks :)

What Laurie isn't doing (in my opinion) is setting herself up as an expert. She isn't offering a definitive account of the varied and multifaceted nature of trans realities. Indeed, she flounders a bit here: “If gender identity is fluid - if anyone can change their gender identity, decide to live as a man, a woman, or something else entirely, as it suits them” – taken at face value, that doesn't get very close for me at all. But I'd read it as her trying to say that gender and sex are complicated; that they don't constitute a discrete and correlating binary; that gender (as well as being an oppressive system) is personal; that... gender is a big ball of wibbly-wobbly gendery-wendery... stuff. Which her continuing sentence clarifies: “- then we have to question every assumption about gender and sex role we've had drummed into us”. Okay, right, fine. In other words: “Don't assume you already know all about sex and gender. You don't. Shut up and listen.”

So what is her piece actually about? I think, this:

It's a riposte to recent tedious drivel (in the same outlet and elsewhere). It's a loyal standing by friends. It's a demand for trans rights as simple social justice. It's a question: which side are you on? It's a declaration: change is coming, change is already here. As Bob Dylan sang: “Your old road is rapidly agin’. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand. For the times they are a-changin’.”

“The time is coming when everyone who believes in equality and social justice must decide where they stand on the issue of trans rights - whether that be the right to equal opportunities at work, or simply the right to walk down the street dressed in a way that makes you comfortable. Those are rights that the feminist and gay liberation movements have fought for for generations, and those who have made gains have a responsibility to stand up for those who have yet to be accepted. If we believe in social justice, we must support the trans community as it makes its way proudly into the mainstream.”

For which Laurie has had people in the community attacking her on Twitter.


As Roz Kaveney tweeted: “Dear my community, I think you're being wrong-headed. Everyone is putting more energy into bashing an ally than in defending her from attack”. Or more tersely: “Yep. Here's an ally. Heave a brick.”

To which I'd just add: We can't expect people to get everything right. Hell, we don't even agree with each other half the time. But when someone – like Laurie – is adding a friendly, supportive voice to our own struggles, can we please not try to make them wish they hadn't?!

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Matt Kailey.

As you may already have heard, there's been some very sad news this month: American trans activist, educator, author, blogger, and all-round good guy, Matt Kailey has died.

I didn't know Matt personally, only his writing, which was lucid, honest, incisive, reflective, compassionate, warm-hearted, and inspiring. I have two of his books – ‘Just Add Hormones: An Insider's Guide to the Transsexual Experience’ (a definitive work, particularly from the trans male perspective) and ‘Teeny Weenies and Other Short Subjects’ (a more recent collection of autobiographical essays) – and would recommend either of them, not least because they're very well-written and entertaining, as well as being thought-provoking and informative.

Matt's ‘Tranifesto’ blog (one of the first I ever linked to) reached its 5-year anniversary in April – at which point he re-categorized everything (all 611 posts) to make it even more accessible, and then decided to take a break, writing: “Tranifesto is not dying, and neither am I (I hope, but there are never any guarantees – I will let you know, though, if I’m given any warning).” He wasn't. Matt died, unexpectedly, of heart failure, in his sleep, on the night of 17th/18th May. Hopefully, Tranifesto, and its significant “Ask Matt” section, will be maintained as a valuable resource.

Numerous tributes to Matt can be found online, including these by: Jacob Anderson-Minshall , Denise Kodi, Kyle Jones, and Monica Roberts.

As each one of them makes clear, Matt will be very much missed.

Matt Kailey 1955-2014

The only record of my life on earth as a transsexual man will be in what I leave behind. But I don't remember being born and I'm not going to remember dying, so the thing that really matters is what I did with the life I was given in between those two events.

Monday, 21 April 2014


I sent my submission to Queer Feminine Affinities off today. It's longer than the longest piece I've ever posted on this blog: ‘Sissies, Trannies, and Jeffreys’ was 2025 words. This one is half as long again and took months of reading and an indeterminate time writing – two rough, "working" drafts; 250 copied-out passages of various lengths (from 17 books), reduced to 143 usable quotes arranged by theme; three full, printed drafts (the first 4118 words) each then edited; and finally, the submitted draft (3098 words) containing 57 stripped-down quotes. (My thanks to Lynn Jones for reading it through and providing thorough and helpful feedback.)

I just hope the editors won't mind the 98 extra words (above the stated maximum of 3000) too much, and that the manuscript won't suffer this fate: “If they said maximum, assume they mean it and will bin it if wordcount any higher” (as one friend tweeted me). Deleting over 1000 words was hard enough; I got stuck on the last 98. But trying to bring the word count down was very useful. A set maximum forces you to be rigorous (ruthless, even) and tightens up your writing considerably. In this age of blockbuster novels, there's a whole load of flabby writing around. Ursula Le Guin can say more in 150 pages than most (genre-equivalent) authors can say in 600 or 700. Perhaps authors should be set limits: this many pages and not one page more or it goes in the bin!

As for my piece, maybe I'll get to post it on here, maybe not. Certainly, if it's rejected. In the meantime, here are three (of the 250) passages copied out in my research. I posted these on the Angels forum to see whether anyone could relate to them. (Answer: Yes.) They're all from ‘The Femme Mystique’ (ed. Lesléa Newman; Alyson Publications, Boston 1995). Parts of two of them made the draft sent in.

Mmmm-hmmm, she can hold her breath longer than anyone I know, this other me. This inside girl who won't insist on being called Woman. Just when I think she's gone for good she comes back with a vengeance, and each time reasserts herself with a little more self-assurance. Looking me in the eye and saying, “I'm not going to put up with your being disgusted with me and embarrassed by me. You might as well love me, because I'm not going to leave you.”
— A.J. Potter, in ‘French Fries and Fingernail Polish’ (p183).

Being femme means that I enjoy expressing myself sometimes in ways our society considers feminine. On occasions I'll wear dresses, makeup, and heels, and have fun with my femininity. Other times I grow tired of making myself up and instead enjoy jeans, sweatshirts, and sneakers. Even though these latter times tend to outnumber the former, I am still femme. So then what does being femme mean? To me it means both accepting and rejecting society's definition of femininity, questioning the parts that don't fit and rejoicing in the parts that do. It means choosing how I want to be and who I am, and knowing that the choice is mine alone. It means I can be as feminine as I want, but that I don't have to be.
— Christy Cramer, in ‘Being Femme’ (p275/276).

Does it all start with closets? When I was a teenager, I would go into my mother's closet when she was out and try on her clothes. She had a strapless long-line bra with a dozen tiny hooks and eyes down the back. The cups were so stiff they stood up by themselves. I didn't need tits to fill them. Hooking myself into the bra was my favourite part of the dress-up, slowly, painstakingly fixing the look onto my body, becoming the woman to be looked at, clasping myself into my own vision of desire. Becoming the object of my own gaze, I'd slip my mother's black low-cut cocktail dress on over the bra, or her sleeveless gold lamé jumpsuit. Posing for the mirror, constructing the look that spelled sex to me.
— Wendy Frost, in ‘Queen Femme’ (p305).

I can relate to what these three women (femmes) are writing for sure.

Sunday, 23 March 2014


"Reading" can have a different meaning in my (our) world. It goes with "being read", being perceived behind (or beneath) what you're presenting to who you "really" are. It has to do with pretence and privilege. Pretence, as in believing we're pretending, not who we say we are, not who we think we are. Privilege, as in taking your own self for granted, as "normal", and assuming the right, therefore, to define what's "real" and what's not for the rest of us, and mean it. Fuck that shit. You don't get to tell us who we are or what we're about. Only we get to do that. And you can fucking stand still for it.

But actually I didn't mean that kind of reading. (Nor the unitary authority in Berkshire.) I meant simply reading, as in reading books, articles, essays, blogposts – all towards my planned submission to Queer Feminine Affinities next month. Okay, I haven't set anything to paper yet, but it's taking shape in my mind, as to the slant I think I'm going to take. In particular, I think it has to be first person singular, not plural; "I", not "we". And as Dorothy Allison writes (quoting Bertha Harris) in ‘Skin’: “The things you hesitate to talk about, those are the things you should be writing about.” Which means I'm probably going to have to write about sexuality, and not in abstract terms. Hmmmm. I think I need to think about that some more.

Meanwhile, here are a few incidental items arising from my research:

1) Reading ‘Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme’ directly after the anthology which inspired it – ‘The Persistent Desire’ – is quite revealing. In the nineteen years between, the world has changed. Meanings have broadened. People's identities are more complex and complicated. But then Joan Nestle always said they were anyway.

2) And this photo by Del LaGrace Volcano (in ‘Femmes of Power’) of London queer femme performer/impresario, Bird la Bird.

I just love the framing of that photograph. The red background. The red heels. The red ruffles! The powerful in-your-face femme. And (relevantly here) the piles of books which indicate it as being very queer. You can't see the titles in this small sized version, but they contain pretty much every book I've been rereading, and many many more besides.

3) And from the blogworld, this piece by queer butch, Sinclair Sexsmith: ‘Is genderqueer (or butch) a stepping stone to transitioning?’ As I commented there, I relate to this very strongly, albeit coming from the “other direction” (in the dubious binary sense). In particular, when they write:

Being seen or treated as male doesn’t feel important to me or my sense of self, at least not currently. I reserve the right to change my mind on that at any point, if and when it shifts, but that’s been true for almost fifteen years now, so I am starting to relax into thinking it will remain true for a while. Butch feels good. Genderqueer feels good. Trans feels good, but mostly as an umbrella descriptor, as a community membership. More trans-asterisk (trans*) than capital-T Trans, but either are okay.

So, is genderqueer a political identity for me? Fuck yes it is. (...) It is a radical, political act to reject the two-party binary gender system, and I like radical acts. I get off on ’em. It also feels like home in my body in a way my body never felt like home when I was dressed up more femininely, and never felt/feels like home when people refer to me by he/him pronouns.

I am heavily invested in butch as an identity all its own (...) not only politically, not only for other people, but for my own sake. I am invested in
my butch identity. Am I going to always be butch? I don’t know. Do I have secret longings to be male that are unrealized? Not currently, from the best that I know about myself, no. Do I reserve the right to decide otherwise in the future? Fuck yes.

I only speak for myself, but I, for now, am eagerly comfortable and loving the in-between of genderqueer.

Switch the genders round (male-female, butch-femme, feminine-masculine, etc) and that's pretty much me right there :)

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Third Anniversary.

Damn. My blogging anniversary – February 7th – has been and gone again without me noticing. Oh, well, never mind.

Once more, there have been fewer posts this year than last. If it wasn't for my resolution to post every calendar month (which I'm still just about managing), there'd probably be even less. What can I say? I need inspiration in order to write anything. And at the moment I'm busier with reading: doing research for my ‘Queer Feminine Affinities’ submission. Though I might post a picture arising from that shortly. We'll see.

Stats update (2013/14): The most viewed post is now ‘In vision (3) - male bodies, female clothes’, which currently has over 2600 views. Not sure what's bringing people to that one; possibly searches for (any of) the four models featured therein: Alex Drummond, Jasper Gregory, Andrew O'Neill, and Michael Spookshow. (Thanks again to each of them for allowing me to use their photos.) Overall monthly pageviews peaked at 2654 last February, the same month ‘In vision (3)’ was posted. The highest referring sites are now Reddit, Google and T-Central, with (new entry) Twitter following up some way behind.

My own favourite post in 2013 was the (second) one about ‘Stuff’. But I'm still waiting to unleash my “it's just stuff” diatribe...

Last night I went out in my new furry coat (£29 from ‘Daphne's Handbag’) for the first time proper. This one is especially furry and I got quite a few comments. Nothing aggressive or antagonistic – rather, complimentary (random people), amused (friends), and quizzical (drunk guy on the bus home): “Why are you wearing that?” “It's nice; it's furry.” “Can I touch it?” “Sure, if you want.” “Is it real?” “No, it's acrylic, like carpets.” [Or not. I see Wikipedia says carpets are generally made of nylon, not acrylic.] We went on like that for a little while, the woman he was with venturing that it was “sixties” and “afghan”, and me agreeing that it sort of was. And then they talked to themselves about something else and I nodded off.

Nobody said: “That's a woman's coat!” (Perhaps they all think it would be rude to say that.) So I've not been able to retort (disingenuously): “It's just a coat. Just because some dickhead has stuck a gender label on it is no reason not to wear it.” Or something like that. Basically: “It's just stuff.”

Then again, maybe it's better that no one really gives me any crap at all :)