This is a blog post I wrote a little over a month ago. I opted to copy it here rather than link it because the blog it was made for was for more personal aspects of my life. And while I admit that it is not brand new, fresh work just for my assignment I cannot see the purpose to reproducing the exact same post again.
Transfeminism is a school of feminist thought which seeks to meld trans and feminist discourses and look at the impact of cissexist* and cisgenderist* attitudes, actions and language in the lives, primarily of trans people
Transfeminism is really the 301 level discourse when it comes to understanding trans people.
Trans** Education 101 would be the “transgender and transsexual people exist and there is an honest to goodness need for them to transition, least they die – physically, emotional and/or spiritually.” It is that piece that points to intersexual people – people born with either ambiguous genitalia and/or ambiguous sexual chromosomes – and the repeated failed attempts by modern western medicine to enforce this concept of an artificial gender binary system by surgically altering the healthy tissue of infants, as proof that gender does not exist solely as an extension of one’s natal genitalia.
Trans 201 is the piece where one starts to learn that our modern concepts of gender and sex are purely culturally defined. It is where one learns that other cultures, both modern and historic, have had gender variant people. And each of those cultures handled the topic in different ways.
Some cultures subsumed trans people directly into the gender which best matched how they chose to interact with the social order. A child who played games and acted and dressed as a girl was accepted as a girl. A child to dressed and acted as a boy, was simply adopted into the boy’s traditions. In those cultures, the person’s genitalia never relevant. They married and interacted with the rest of society just like any other member of their role.
In other cultures, gender variant people were subsumed in an alternative gender. There, their were duties and expectations relevant to that role. Often the role is perceived as touched by divine forces in some manner, though they are sometimes treated as lower class citizens in some cultues.
So, in Trans 201, you learn that this modern invention and interpretation of a gender binary of chromosomes = sex = gender is just that – a modern cultural invention, and one that is barely even just 100 years old or so.
So, Transfeminism is sort of build on all of that. And one thing that you should know is that once a person, particularly a trans person has engaged in transfeminism, it is very hard to go back. It becomes very challenging to do the 101 or even 201 work anymore. It is almost painfully taxing. This is in part because we tend to be acutely aware of how the cultural attitudes and discourse we have been forcibly indoctrinated with.
We can sometimes be very angry. This is because deep down, many of us are very hurt. We have gotten to a point where we are very aware of how culture has non-consensually shaped our lives and stripped away or twisted elements of our identity we barely had a chance meet or know as children. And we are acutely aware of how our systematic attitudes about sex and gender continue at act as an ongoing force to “keep us in line,” as it were.
I say all this, because, while I can talk about transfeminism, I cannot do all the education. There are some amazing philosophers and writers out there who have done amazing work. And some of them have done so much better than I ever could hope to do. And rather than reproduce all that here, I can provide you with links to those resources.
And I also wanted you to be aware that some of them can be very hurt and very angry. And it is not at you or any other person as a human being, but at our damaged system as a whole. I say this because, if you are a cis person and you go into reading some of these topics, and you are a person with a very sensitive and kind heart, you may come away from some of these encounters crying and devastated. You may come away feeling you are one of the worst people on the planet for some piece of gender enforcement you did in the past or propagate currently. That is okay. It is the same experience that a white person might get when entering people of color (PoC) space. Or an able-bodied person entering a space looking at issues related to disability.
I also say all this so that perhaps you will find it in your heart to have patience with me, and other trans people, when we may say something snappish, such as “trans is an adjective, not a noun,” “put the goddamn space in,” or “intent, it’s fucking magic!” We sometimes resort to that because we are so frequently asked to be educators and do all the Tran 101 work when really we just want to say “here, let me Google that for you.”
But you are still loved and adored. Just realize there is a pain and hardness in our hearts which comes from necessity.
So, Transfeminism resources.
Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity by Julia Serano is one of the early resources for trans feminist thought. In her book, Serano discusses the dynamics of traditional sexism – the idea that males and masculinity are better than females and femininity, oppositional sexism – the idea that the traits men and woman share only operate on opposing axes, and how those play out in the lives of transsexual women. She discusses the term cisgender and talks about the teasing apart of transgender and transsexuality. If there was a transfeminism 101 book, this would be it. That said, she is not the end all, be all of trans feminist thought, and a lot of good work has occurred since.
Serano’s Live journal blog can be found Whipping Girl.
Taking Up Too Much Space: Cedar’s focus has primarily been about language and how language shapes both our discourse and lives experiences. She is heavily academic, and yet still very compelling to read. Even though there have been community issues or concerns surrounding her which are unrelated to her writings, I continue to proudly stand by her, as a friend, as a human being, and as a person who has greatly advanced trans feminist thought.
The name comes from a common accusation leveled at trans women from some segments of the Radical and Separatist Feminist movements – that trans women take up too much space – both physically and in conversation – because of their masculine socialization. An accusation which fails to recognize that it is often a non-consensual and forcible socialization, or that there are many butch women out there who have been known to take up a bit of space as well.
NoDesignation: Tobi, Tobi, Tobi. How I adore thee. As an activist, as a philospher, as a writer, as a speaker, as a pornographer, and as an all-around amazing human being. And you are frilling hot! I wish that we could all have the patience you express and the skill to do so. If there is any activist I strive to be like, it is Tobi. She also has a blog at Bilerco, but I am pretty sure her NoDesignation will be far more comprehensive.
Debunking Cis: I am just going to lift the description right off the community profile: “This community is a space created for the purposes of challenging cissexism and transphobia in those of us who consider ourselves cisgendered/cissexual allies to transgendered/transsexual people. It is a space for people who stand in solidarity with trans people, as well as for trans people who are comfortable with being in a space where cis folk come to be educated. For cis members, this will require that we scrutinize our actions and motivations, as well as our investment in the systemic inequities that make transphobia and cissexism possible in our society. We believe that until cis people commit in good faith to doing this, widespread social change cannot occur.”
The Transfeminist Manifesto: A PDF discussing some of the history of transfeminism, and some of its principles and goals.
The next few blogs I’ve not actually read much – I can only focus on so much. However, they get passed around the community a fair amount.
I think that is all I can do right now. This is simply a start. I hope this helps. Thank you for bearing with me to the end.
* Ah, our first vocabulary term. “Cis” is a Latin derived prefix meaning “on the same side as.” It is commonly used in organic chemistry as a way to describe an atom’s relationship to a carbon bond. Thus the Cis-Trans distinction. Some really geeky trans people thought it would be a useful, non-judgmental way to distinguish between people who are trans in some way and people who are not. Prior terms, such as “bio,” “genetic,” and “real” carry with them some rather problematic attitudes with them. Suffice it to say, regardless of me being a trans woman, I am still a biological organism, with my own set of genetics – which may or may not redispose me to being trans, and I still exist as a “real” body in the “real” world. Just as a person can be transgender and/or transsexual, so to can a person be cisgender and/or cissexual.
** I would like to note here, that you will see me use the term “trans” rather than “transgender.” This is because where one time “transgender” was use as the umbrella term to include people who would be considered transgender or transsexual, that was not originally the case. Transgender was initially developed to talk about similar, yet separate experiences. For a while it became that umbrella term, but that is now changing, and the communities are starting to see that having the two terms separate allows some very interesting and complex discussions about the intersectionality of the two. So I use “trans” as the umbrella term to include both transgender and transsexual, as well as terms such as gender queer, androgynous, gender variant, and other terms which my fall within the same realm, but I have not yet been educated about.
Update: This list was developed for the 2011 Creating Change panel on Transfeminism.
for the Transfeminism workshop
at Creating Change 2011
Carol Riddell – Divided Sisterhood (available in The Transgender Studies Reader, ed. Susan Stryker)
Sandy Stone – The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto
Susan Stryker – My Words To Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage
Susan Stryker – The Surgeon Haunts My Dreams
Jessica Xavier – Passing As Privilege
Emi Koyama – The Transfeminist Manifesto
Emi Koyama – Whose Feminism Is It Anyway?
Julia Serano – Whipping Girl (book)
Lisa Harney and many others – Questioning Transphobia (blog)
Rose Sims/Little Light – Seam Of Skin & Scales
Rose Sims/Little Light – Fair
Hazel/Cedar Troost – Beyond Inclusion (zine – excerpted at link)
Hazel/Cedar Troost – On Re-reclaiming “Tranny” (Or Not)? – (part 1) – (part 2)
Jane LaPlain – How Cisgender Saved My Sanity
Tobi Hill-Meyer – What Transmisogyny Looks Like
Tobi Hill-Meyer - Doing It Ourselves and The Genderfellator (adult films, available here)
Mira Bellwether – Fucking Trans Women (zine)