This is being drafted with one hand on my phone in the shower at 3 am. To say I’ve been depressed over the past week would be a gross understatement. Hot showers in the dark are an ancient coping mechanism from my insomnia induced late night early childhood bathing. As an eight-year-old I would occasionally wake up as I began to inhale water — showers are safer.
There are many wrinkles to my current funk. But no small part of it is digital spaces, Medium at the moment. I started blogging for various reasons on other platforms. I came to Medium because unlike other blog sites, a cursory search for “transgender” will not yield the same magnitude of nasty stuff. As an aspiring trans academic, I like to remain aware of these types of opinions, but as a trans person trying to not self-implode — something I’m struggling with — I don’t want to be constantly drowning is transphobia and I certainly don’t want to be targeted. So, I cast no direct stones. Medium seemed more even-handed and even biased towards a pro-trans stance. Most articles here aren’t academic, but autobiographical or opinion based, well suited to my post-research brain turds and personal anecdotes as a trans immigrant (not a well-documented subjectivity).
However, things seem to be changing—and maybe it’s just the algorithm’s fault. Fervent anti-trans articles are ivading my “based-on your reading history” section. A collective of authours are clearly synergizing together to create the effect of a widespread anti-trans agreement — of course behind the common bigoted refrain, “I’m not transphobic, but…” Some people apparently exclusively comment negatively on trans articles. I understand the necessity for people to engage in conversation and disagree, but these commenters are more like search and destroy drones or proselytizers of a fallen feminism. Now, some people are instantly going to put their hackles up, in their eyes these points of view are worthy of discussion. But let’s be clear here, debating the validity of the existence of a minority group is not nice for the involved subjects — thanks UK’s Genderquake! Most people would be more hesitant in their expression of a debate like, are people of colour worthy of anti-discrimination protection? The latter feels racists. But for some reason, people feel free to openly debate the existence of trans people, who, by the numbers are some of the most victimized people — especially the ones with penises.
Of course, Medium is not the worst culprit. In an attempt to appear even-handed in their journalistic coverage, all sorts of media outlets give coverage to hostile voices — hosting Germaine Greer as an expert commentator on trans people is like hosting an Exxon representative to be an expert on climate change. These speakers are not experts or representative of modern feminism, activism, or science; they generally speak from a minority position — but then again, if you buy this tripe, then their ideas’ acceptance by mainstream academia is probably not a factor in your approval of their arguments. In fact, a few days ago, as I was easing into my depression, I was seriously considering directly responding to some gender critical nonsense and its authour’s attempt to pass it off as philosophically relevant material. I won’t get into the specifics, but the choice of academic philosophy as a broad family for their very niche second-wave radical feminist ideas struck me as odd.
I have a degree in philosophy and I wouldn’t stick that on the syllabus with Hegel. It does belong to feminism — which is philosophy — but perhaps this person realized that any academic feminist, even an adherent of radical feminism, would dismiss these ideas outright. In fact, they were never more than a fringe movement of sex essentialists who were discarded because their biology trap betrayed the core tenet of second-wave feminism, biology is not destiny. Besides, essentialists have been out since the 80s. Women, and people more broadly, don’t have homogeneous essential experiences. That’s why second-wave feminism is seen as middle-class white feminism, enter the third wave and intersectionality. So this particular authour’s choice of hiding their ideas under the category of academic philosophy seemed to me like a cheap grab for legitimacy. But most people don’t care and I’m writing that thing I wasn’t going to write (don’t throw stones).
You see, the thing is, as someone who needs to be aware of the political climate surrounding their identity for both strategic and academic purposes, these kinds of attitudes — let’s be generous and call them that — are taking their toll on my mental health. I’m constantly fighting a battle for my existence, on multiple fronts, and constantly seeing people invalidate my existence at best, and threaten to kill me at worst, is a fucking bummer. Like I get it, this gender stuff is confusing, especially for cis people who don’t think about it and take their gender for granted — I’m looking at men here. And it must be frustrating for some women to feel like these people with penises are staking a claim to what little they have. But when you consider what trans women are trying to gain ownership of here, second-class citizenship (or possibly death), then our motives must seem less than malicious. Best case scenario, we’re categorized as oppressed by heteropatriarchy; worst case scenario, people will harm, rape, murder, or shun us whenever they can. So leave us alone, we’re not trying to acquire much. And an inclusive feminism is a strong one.
If you consider yourself a feminist, in the simple definition (women are people, and people deserve equal treatment and not to be oppressed because of their gender, sex, race, orientation, etc), then you can’t be transphobic. That’s like being a scientist whose views are several paradigms shifts short of the modern era. It’s not that radical feminism is wrong, but the specific subset of it known as trans-exclusionary radical feminism has been abandoned — it never really was that big of a thing, we study Sandy Stone and not Raymond for a reason. Feminism has to be inclusive of difference. It is stronger when it is informed by other discourses of the marginalized.
To the gender critical crowd, I’d say — I’m being generous with my terms — I know my biology is in some ways different than yours, but your not focusing on the similarities, just the bits, and they can be deceiving (I wrote an appendix for on this, see below). And yes, my female experience is different than yours — as are most women’s. But don’t for a second think I’m not as marginalized as you. And really, is being a woman only about vaginas and marginalization? And yes, so what, I was treated like a male before, one that was frequently ridiculed for being gay, and below that rosy surface of nonconformity, my identity was being suppressed in ways that have created innumerable traumas. So the idea that we all have some form of advantageous monolithic male privilege is a little much (we all have different ratios of privileges; I would consider being forced into male social roles torture, not a privilege).
Look the point of this rant is this. There are people using this platform, and others, to further an agenda meant to deny legitimacy to my life. It’s proliferation dangerously denies me my rights, and it’s just deeply traumatic to be bombarded by all of this negativity. Like, what are your goals here? I’m not hurting you. I’m okay that you’re a fuck head. You don’t like me, fine, ignore me. But don’t debate my existence, I doubt you’d allow the same. And yes, it’s not wrong to talk about this, but let’s not trumpet the most anti-trans positions and exclude trans experiences from the discourse—our inclusion in these debates are essential. Let’s certainly not wrap our dated ideas in the trappings of academic philosophy. Maybe you fashion yourself a dark web intellectual, saying what you see as edgy and anti-PC, fuck SJWs and their pinko-commi fascism. But really, you’re just scared and unable to admit your prejudice: “I’m not a white supremacist, I’m an advocate for white nationalism; I’m not transphobic, I just don’t want trans women to be associated with my gender, they have yucky penises.” Bigots hate being called bigots.
I so desperately need to take a break from this stuff. This device has become a window pane through which I am observing the devolution of civility and empathy in our society, to watch human tribalism at its most extreme. And I embody the tribal scapegoat. I’m going to bed.
*Note: I’ve used the word “penis” a lot here. I realize that this is another sticky point. Yes, traditionally, the penis is not part of the physiology of what we have defined as female. But, mounting evidence about other aspects of trans biology points to similarities between trans people’s experienced and lived sex/gender and their cis counterparts. Chromosomes — I’ve never checked mine FYI — determine hormone exposure, which intern determine secondary sex characteristics and brain hormone levels. In trans people, on HRT, these morphological and neurological features also match trans people experienced sex/gender. I don’t see a woman on the street and identify her by sniffing her vagina, I identify her by her other sexual characteristics and cultural signs — clothing. This is why I don’t get attacked when I go to the toilet. So yes, I have a cock. When I say my penis is female, it means that my little-feminized part that won’t even get hard and behaves like a big clitoris is female because it is attached to a predominantly female body—biology isn’t static, nothing is, come on. So men can have vaginas, and women can have penises. If a penis is the only thing that you are getting hung up on, imagine a trans child that goes through their experienced and lived sex/gender’s natal puberty (not the one assigned at birth). Their body would have no other physically identifiable indicator of their assigned birth sex — unless you cut them open (please don’t). Are we going to deny them their identity? Genitals are not a good indicator of sex/gender. And my penis is a lady penis. And believe me, I can barely touch or look at it, let alone attempt to harm someone with it, or expose it to them in some hypothetical toilet situation. But then again, most people I am targetting with this rant will never understand dysphoria, so you’ll have to take my word on it.