Why has the trans/sex/gender debate emerged at this moment?

(183 Posts)
UptheChimney Sun 06-Jul-14 08:31:53

That's it: what is at stake that this argument/attack on feminists from trans people has emerged at this moment?

As a late 70s feminist, my experience of trans issues was that there was huge discrimination for those who didn't fit into heteronormativity, and I could see how lesbian & gay people had much in common with trans people. And with feminists.

Solidaritry wasn't uniform: while lesbian feminism was very strong, gay men were pretty misogynist -- and elements of the male gay movement still are -- the non-monogamous etc etc versions of "gay lifestyles" are pretty masculinist in a very unreconstructed way: the idea that men are driven by sex, and should have the freedom to have sex when/where/whatever. But that's another thread.

So what are the views on why this battle between trans people and some feminists? Is it another "What about teh menz?" Is it because women are expected simply to care about everyone else?

Ideas? Views?

ApocalypseThen Sun 20-Jul-14 13:56:19

I will admit that I don't keep up with the UK news that diligently, so I hadn't read about that case. It doesn't really change my basic thought though, that the real problem is male violence, and transwomen are terribly at threat from that, too. I think society needs to recognise this and design facilities for that violence to be avoided. But for some reason, transwomen prefer to make this women's responsibility to alleviate rather than calling men out.

Anyway, the symphiosotomy thing is shocking and an example of how women are abused because of female biology. If women can't say vagina of womb or whatever, what happens then?

I read on a blog post today a transwomen saying how she'd love to have had periods. How does she know? What periods would she like to have had?

scallopsrgreat Sat 19-Jul-14 16:29:01

Oh how awful, symphiosotomy. Really shocking and heartbreaking. Was it Solanis or Dworkin who said that nothing women could do to men, hadn't already been done by men to women (paraphrasing, obviously)?

"I think the liberal feminists have ducked out of these questions completely, frankly, and so it falls to the radfems" Yes I think you are right. Although not sure it's lib fems rather than third wavers. And in some cases they go so far as to perpetuate the whole thing of women exist in relation to men. I do think trans* feed into this.

Hazchem Sat 19-Jul-14 07:51:34

Apcoloypse I've never heard of symphiosotomy. I'm both horrified and almost not shocked that is was practiced. Only this week I read of a new York Ob writing that while the women was competent to make her own decisions he was over riding them and performed a cesarean against her wishes.

WhentheRed Fri 18-Jul-14 18:39:02

I don't completely disagree that there's a risk, but I don't accept that people who've lived as transwomen for an appreciable amount if time are a risk.

I am not prepared to discount the idea of the risk that trans*women may face to women in prison, for several reasons:

1. The majority of trans*women still have their penis.
2. Viagra and Cialis are prescribed to trans*women to counteract the effects of ingesting hormones.
3. I have seen on twitter various trans*women accuse at least one other trans*woman of rape, and that doesn't include the executive who works for twitter who has been charged with rape.
4. There is a proportion of sexual offenders who transition in prison, or after prison. If arrested again afterwards, should they be switched to a female prison?
4. A sizeable percentage of women in prisons have been sexually abused.

I think part of many women's reluctance to exclude trans*women from women's prisons is (a) out of deep sympathy at the thought of them being subjected to male violence in a men's prison; and (b) based on the outdated but still prevalent notion that trans*women no longer have functioning penises.

ArcheryAnnie Fri 18-Jul-14 16:22:31

I don't think "not putting trans women prisoners into women's prisons" need necessarily equal "throwing trans women under the bus", though. There are other options which could keep everyone safe (even if not meeting the need of trans women for validation). What do you think should have been done in the Paris Green case?

ApocalypseThen Fri 18-Jul-14 14:55:36

I don't completely disagree that there's a risk, but I don't accept that people who've lived as transwomen for an appreciable amount if time are a risk. If there are men unscrupulous enough to sham being transwomen in order to gain access to women's prisons thereby making it impossible for transwomen to be even semi-integrated, I think that's another instance of women and transwomen being victims of male violence.

Overall, I see the threat to transwomen as very similar to the threat to women. As a human, I don't want to throw transwomen under the bus, even while I accept that it may be inevitable as things currently stand.

ArcheryAnnie Fri 18-Jul-14 14:32:58

But I actually think rape happens in them no matter the perceived gender of the victim so it makes sense to deal with the men who are in there raping other men.

Yes, exactly. Men are at risk of rape in men's prisons as well as trans women. That doesn't mean the issue should be shifted to women's prisons.

ReallyFuckingFedUp Fri 18-Jul-14 13:18:33

I do empathize that it must be scary for a trans person to go in to a male prison. But I actually think rape happens in them no matter the perceived gender of the victim so it makes sense to deal with the men who are in there raping other men. Otherwise it is like we are saying it only matters if trans people get raped.

I don't think it is fair for anyone with a penis to be in a woman's prison, and it seems to just be passing on the rape risk from the transwoman by men (in a man's prison) to the women in a women's prison by the transwoman. I don't even agree there should be male guards but I realise that isn't being debated.

almondcakes Fri 18-Jul-14 12:44:18

Petula, I read one article on it, where a midwife tried to intervene when it was being carried out, where she said it was torture during childbirth, and where a woman was interviewed about the agony she was in for the rest of her life. It was one of the most distressing things I have ever read, and that's probably why you don't hear much about it. It is just so awful a lot of people find it hard to read or talk about, so there's no reason to feel ashamed. You haven't come across it because it is such a horrible topic that people often find it uncomfortable to mention.

But I agree with Apocalypse's point. I'm not a rad fem but I very much respect them for being people who will keep trying to deal with these issues, even though many of them find it very upsetting to have to read and talk about too.

almondcakes Fri 18-Jul-14 12:36:49

Looking at the historical situation of prisons, it used to be the case that there were women who got pregnant in prison and then had children who were brought up in prison. There was a situation in Mexico just in the news about some very unethical 'care' centre where women had got pregnant in the 'care' centre and many could not leave. When some did get to leave, the children were not allowed to go with them even in the cases where women were offering sums of money to buy their children out. It has been closed down.

So surely one of the main reasons for not having mixed prisons is that women should not be at risk of becoming pregnant from assault or abusive relationships while in prison. People seem to argue against that from the perspective that we can't tell which women are fertile and which not, and we wouldn't carry out a test and put infertile women in a men's prison. But all of that is putting the focus on the women. Should the point not be that all women in prison are free from that risk, as supposedly infertile women sometimes turn out not to be, and the focus should be on not having people with a penis in a woman's prison, as they may get a woman pregnant? And that is an easy test. Have you got a penis or haven't you? I'm aware some people will take hormones that make it unlikely they could impregnate someone, but then to allow them in on that basis removes their human right to choose whether or not they continue taking hormones. What if they decide to stop?

I think that it is about people having penises, not just about male violence, as forced/coerced pregnancy is something only people with penises can create. And it is a major form of violence we can (and have in the UK) removed from the current prison population. The other forms of male violence continue in male prisons, and exist independently of the pregnancy risk. Why put in the pregnancy risk again just because we've failed to deal with male violence more generally?

PetulaGordino Fri 18-Jul-14 12:31:00

Not to completely disregard the rest of this discussion, but I'm stuck on Symphysiotomy, which I had no idea about and i feel ashamed about that, and obviously white hot fury. Those poor women.

ApocalypseThen Fri 18-Jul-14 12:12:50

Again, the risks are seen as too great. it's the same cause, male violence.

Yes, with innocent transwomen as victims. It's deplorable. I suppose I wish I heard them blaming men and male violence and dishonesty for this rather than women's exclusivity.

ArcheryAnnie Fri 18-Jul-14 12:07:44

I think I broadly agree about transwomen in men's prisons (I kind of agree about men in men's prisons, too - they are pretty brutal), but the answer absolutely isn't by putting them in women's prisons, either (as the Paris Green example so vividly illustrated). Except then you get into segregated facilities, which have their own problems, too - although there are lots of types of prisoner who end up in facilities segregated from the rest of the prison population, so that is probably the best of a set of bad choices.

7Days Fri 18-Jul-14 12:06:09

that's the argument that's used to argue against transwomen in women's spaces. Again, the risks are seen as too great. it's the same cause, male violence. A violent criminal may well go to extreme lengths to pretend to be trans to escape a male prison for example.

ApocalypseThen Fri 18-Jul-14 12:02:19

By minority, I mean men, by the way, not transwomen.

ApocalypseThen Fri 18-Jul-14 12:01:31

Yes, easier is the wrong word. Women are doing what they believe they must for the safety and sanctuary of women who are vulnerable and have been victimised in the face of an unbelievably large threat. I really do respect that. I'm deeply frustrated that a minority can set the agenda to that extent.

Regarding conferences, as I was trying to say above, I don't think that it's right for transwomen to interrupt the work being done at them in order to force recognition if they wish to contribute little or nothing to further the betterment of women.Same as anyone else, really.

And with prisons, I think that's another design issue. It must be possible to not force transwomen to be locked up with men. The risks are too great, it's inhuman.

ArcheryAnnie Fri 18-Jul-14 11:45:29

Fair enough. I agree on the design thing for new builds, for some aspects of the current issues, inc bathrooms - my DS's school has gone this way (single unisex stalls), and as long as there is frequent cleaning (this is crucial), it works fine. The problem is in areas and events designed to be communal (some conferences, all prisons), which are severely compromised for some women if people with male genitals are allowed access.

However: It's also easier for women to protect these spaces than confront the real threat.

I think a lot of women feel like they are running as fast as they can, and are sill ending up going backwards, on both these counts. I'm not sure "easier" really comes into it.

ApocalypseThen Fri 18-Jul-14 11:24:12

Well, I'm sure you can appreciate that that's not something I have an easy answer to. As a general principle, I don't personally think a blanket ban on transwomen in any spaces regardless of context.

There are times where we all have to accept that our presence isn't warranted or welcome, and that goes for transwomen as much as for the rest of us.

Since many of the spaces which transwomen have difficulty accessing have been designed for men with patronising nods towards the needs of women, I think I'd be more anxious to see radical redesigns rather than never countenance the presence of people who live as women but may have male genitals.

I think the actual problem is male violence rather than make genitals. I think that it's a bit disconcerting that transwomen appear more anxious to gain entry to women's space than confront male violence. But I understand it. It's also easier for women to protect these spaces than confront the real threat.

ArcheryAnnie Fri 18-Jul-14 10:55:12

And actually, I don�t agree that there are public spaces which should not be accessible to transwomen.

Why, if doing do then limits access for non-trans women to those spaces? (Not asking this to be goady, but genuinely interested what the POV of someone who has this opinion is.)

ApocalypseThen Fri 18-Jul-14 09:49:19

I guess the reason I started wondering about this is connected to a subject in Ireland which I don�t think is much discussed outside of Ireland.

There are many women still alive in Ireland who had a symphiosotomy performed on them during childbirth � I think the last one was in 1983, although I may be mistaken (I notice the term is so obscure that spellcheck doesn�t recognise it, so I should explain the process). It�s a pretty grotesque procedure - deliberately breaking of a woman�s pelvis to facilitate childbirth. The pelvis is left on a kind of hinge so that future childbirth is easier. It was often performed without the woman�s knowledge or consent, all they knew was that they lived in constant pain, and I guess many of them thought that was one of the physical consequences of motherhood. It was done because of the assumption that the purpose of women was childbirth, and someone else was the authority to judge that. To my mind, this is just the kind of issue that people like radfems, who believe that patriarchy has a view that women, due to biology, are for something specific and rigorously polices behaviour and social structures to keep women in their place, ought to be discussing. But how to discuss it without talking about the assumptions that underpin it, which so many transpeople find difficult and alienating? This surgery was performed by men on women because of the assumption that the purpose of women is to have children and that women don�t have the right to control their own bodies. It doesn�t make sense if we leave the bare biological role of women out of the discussion - if you try to, you are left with the fact that a medical assault was carried out on some people. Who or why is obscured, when who and why is the political point here.

This is all a very boring and longwinded way of explaining why I think that this whole debate has exploded recently � while women have some legislative justice, the question of what women are actually for appears to not yet have been answered, yet the suspicion that women are for something rather than just existing on our own terms doesn�t seem (to me) to have receded. I think that�s why there�s so much talk about porn, about rape, about catcalling � is the purpose of women to be desired? Is that what we�re for? Are we here to be not-men and give men something to define themselves against? Are we here to bear children? Is it enough if women just exist without any performance, role, expectations, and impositions?

I think the liberal feminists have ducked out of these questions completely, frankly, and so it falls to the radfems. And we can all see from online debate that you cannot ask these questions with men around, because the time and energy to explain (at length) about talking about wider society vs specific individuals, not all men, if you�re not part of the problem etc. Many of the men who profess an interest in this topic are mainly interested in forcing the conversation to be about them, so clearly excluding men is a rational response. But what about transwomen? Other than seeking acceptance (which is perfectly legitimate), I haven�t read any perspective on these topics, which is a shame.

Transwomen raise very interesting, and sometimes painful, subjects which should be discussed. Personally, I�m happy for everyone to live with their identity on their own terms, and make any modifications to their body they deem necessary or desirable. And actually, I don�t agree that there are public spaces which should not be accessible to transwomen. However, I do think that if you really care about living as a woman, there is a communal effort involved, and that goes double if you�re trying to enter a space where the key questions about what it means to be a woman living in the world are being discussed.

Hazchem Fri 18-Jul-14 06:27:12

It's a bit, and this is likely to be a whole can of worms, like the father who was a women that made LLL change there international code to allow fathers to be mother to mother supports but then said yeah great but I don't want to do it. I mean if you want and invite to the party you gotta show up and dance.

ApocalypseThen Thu 17-Jul-14 13:59:36

I'm only coming to terms and reading around this whole topic now, but one thing that I've noticed is that transwomen (that I've read so far) have nothing much to say about feminism other than how they should be treated by feminists. And I find that odd. Like, it seems as though they are only keen to get into radfem conferences as a symbol if acceptance rather than because they have any particular interest in the status or life chances of women.

Am I wrong here?

ArcheryAnnie Tue 15-Jul-14 10:07:36

Does anyone actually take it seriously?

Alas, yes. I was hoping that everyone could see that sophiaphotos had jumped the shark with this utter nonsense, but I also saw a sensible scientist I really respect mention (in a completely different twitter conversation) "how much she had learned" from sophiaphotos on trans issues. It made me seriously depressed.

WhentheRed Mon 14-Jul-14 18:30:43

"Assuming gender based on appearance is transphobic".

This one is a cracker. Wouldn't this mean it would be transphobic to call someone who appears to be a trans*woman, a woman? Wouldn't this mean that one would have to ask about the gender in every case? However, we are often told it is transphobic even to ask a person's gender. I can't wrap my brain around it.

Does anyone actually take it seriously? Perhaps the silence is just permitting someone space to rant without accepting the content (being hopeful)?

BriarRainbowshimmer Mon 14-Jul-14 18:09:08

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