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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?

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Romeyroo Thu 10-Jul-14 16:42:37

tanacot, love the point your mum made. Amen to that.

LurcioAgain Fri 11-Jul-14 10:07:30

Wow, rare example of a respectful dialogue tackling the issue of gender essentialism versus gender as social construct within the context of trans issues in a BTL discussion in the Guardian. And it hasn't been deleted by the mods! Well done Guardian mods and well done contributors (feel it's worth saying that, 'cos BTL in CIF is usually vile vile vile).

Article here


How does transgenderism fit in with one of the feminist rhetorics which recognises the limitations of and thus objects to gender stereotyping? In order to be transgender does one need to believe that there are inherent (non hormonal) differences between male and female brains?

JonquilSerpyllum ChloeBlack

There is a big difference between "don't treat people differently because they are male or female" and "there is no difference between males and females". The first one is feminism. The second is optimism. The experiences of women, and men, and transpeople, and everybody else in between, are different. The point is that people should be respected for who they are, and allowed to express who they are as they choose.

Getting down off my high horse, yes, the transgender and drag and so on communities can get into serious gender-essential stuff that annoys the heck out of me, but whatever. When they start trying to tell me how I should do femininity, that's when I get annoyed, and it hasn't happened so far.

ChloeBlack JonquilSerpyllum

I agree with you but I don't think my question has really been answered... Would transgenderism exist without gender stereotyping and culturally defined gender roles?

MarjaE ChloeBlack

I don't know. I think so. I know that sex-role stereotypes are everywhere in our society, and sex-role stereotypes have affected my feelings about my body. But I also know that, even as a child, I already had some sense that I needed to be a girl, even if I had no idea that I already was, and even if I thought everyone had comparable feelings. I also know that, even after transition, I don't feel femme. I also know that I feel sick and miserable when my t-count is too high or my e-count is too low, and I doubt that is just because of sex-role stereotypes and placebo effects.

ChloeBlack MarjaE

Thank you for replying and I am sorry to hear that you are feeling that way due to things that are out of your control. Seems v unlucky.

Durobrivan ChloeBlack

That's a slippery question to answer, because we might mean very different things by the terms involved, but I do think transgenderism is independent of gender stereotypes. Whatever they are. I'm cis female, have a science degree, teach computing and own a (small) chainsaw. Is my trans daughter succumbing to or defying stereotype by having quite a bit in common with me?

It seems to me that she simply is who she is. Who she was born to be.

noeldarlow1 ChloeBlack

There are real differences but nothing unique - much like height. Men are on average taller than women but you would not be able to self-identify your own gender if you were a brain in a jar and all you knew was your (ex..) height.

That's the key point: in order for transgender to exist in a physical sense - woman trapped in a man's body or vice versa - physical differences in brain structure must exist to such a degree that they allow an individual to identify their own gender. AFAIK that is not the case and there is essentially no such thing as a male brain or a female brain: just human brains.

This leaves us with transgender as a psychological disorder - a form of body dysmorphic disorder. I apologise if that offends anyone because that is not my intent. My argument is entirely based on brain structure, as far as I understand it. If there are real differences in male and female brains which allow us to self-identify gender, then I would be wrong.

Remy Guy Noe noeldarlow1


I'd probably make the point to Jonquil that the trans activists who talk about the cotton ceiling are not only telling women how to do femininity, they're telling women who to have sex with, and this is way beyond the bounds of what's acceptable, but it's nice to see people talking about it without being moderated out of sight.

kim147 Fri 11-Jul-14 10:15:22

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

kim147 Fri 11-Jul-14 10:16:15

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

AnArgumentWithMyself Sun 13-Jul-14 17:40:22

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

ArcheryAnnie Mon 14-Jul-14 16:44:03

"Let's talk about this. If you want. Labels with sexuality are really transphobic."

"For example. Saying you like women or men. It's binarist. And assumes gender normative appearance."

"Terms like gay and lesbian to imply attraction to the same sex/gender are actually really transphobic. Think about this. Seriously"

"Feminism by it's very nature is oppressive because it works on the idea that gender is binary. This or that."

The bullshit above is from a prominent trans woman on twitter: @sophiaphotos. See her timeline for the last 24 hours for more bullshit nuggets. Amazingly left unchallenged, for the most part.

BriarRainbowshimmer Mon 14-Jul-14 18:04:32

So on Twitter it's okay to be a homophobic MRA as long as you identify as a transwoman?

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

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

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

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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.

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?

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 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.

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 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 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 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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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