Saturday With The Transsexual Empire
Homophobia and transphobia are the ugliest when they come from inside the community.
In a manner somewhat similar — and significantly different — to Keith Olbermann having Fridays with James Thurber, I’m going to have a few weeks of Saturdays with Janice Raymond. I’ll provide have some excerpts from The Transsexual Empire: The Making Of The She/Male, as well as add some commentary.
The reason is pretty simple: I want to show what the ideas of radical, second wave, lesbian-feminism from the 1970’s looked like then, and show that a good number of the ideas Raymond expressed are still being kicked around in some circles today.
I’m also aiming to show trans people what ugly, rigid thinking looks like to from our community’s Devil, and asking us to compare what she said then to how some in our community address others not only in trans community, but also how some of us address others in the broader lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. In other words, I believe we need to metaphorically hold a mirror up to ourselves and ask if what we appear to be is what we actually want to be.
So, today’s excerpt from The Transsexual Menace is from Chapter IV, Sappho by Surgery. These paragraphs — especially the last two highlighted — are probably the main reason Janice Raymond is considered to be The Devil herself to many trans community members:
…What is also typically masculine in the case of the transsexually constructed lesbian-feminist is the appropriation of women’s minds, convictions of feminism, and sexuality. One of the definitions of male, as related to Webster’s, is “designed for fitting into a corresponding hollow part.” This, of course, means much more than the literal signification of heterosexual intercourse. It can be taken to mean that men have been very adept at penetrating all of women’s “hollow” spaces, at filling up the gaps, and of sliding into the interstices. Obviously, women why are in the process of moving out of patriarchal institutions, consciousness, and modes of living are very vulnerable and have gaps. I would imagine that it would be difficult , for example, for Olivia Records to find a female sound engineer and that such a person would be absolutely necessary to the survival of Olivia. But it would have been far more honest if Olivia had acknowledged the maleness of Sandy Stone and perhaps the necessity, at the time, to employ a man in this role. As one woman wrote of Sandy Stone and the Olivia controversy: “I feel raped when Olivia passes off Sandy, a transsexual, as a real woman. After all his male privilege, is he going to cash in on lesbian feminist culture too?”
Rape, of course, is a masculinist violation of bodily integrity. All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves. However, the transsexuality constructed lesbian-feminist violates women’s sexuality and spirit, as well. Rape, although it is usually done by force, can also be accomplished by deception. It is significant that in the case of the transsexually constructed lesbian-feminist, often he is able to gain entrance and a dominant position in women’s spaces because the women involved do not know he is a transsexual and he just does not happen to mention it.
…Because transsexuals have lost their physical “members” does not mean that they have lost their ability to penetrate women — women’s mind, women’s space, women’s sexuality. Transsexuals merely cut off the most obvious means of invading women so that the seem noninvasive. However, as Mary Daly has remarked, in the case of the transsexually constructed lesbian-feminists their whole presence becomes a “member” invading women’s presence and dividing us once more from each other.
Sandy Stone’s story, relating to this passage, is on Wikipedia. She went onto into academia after that incident, writing a piece defining posttranssexualism in her 1987 work The “Empire” Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto.
From the last paragraphs of the manifesto:
[More below the fold.]
Transsexuals who pass seem able to ignore the fact that by creating totalized, monistic identities, forgoing physical and subjective intertextuality, they have foreclosed the possibility of authentic relationships. Under the principle of passing, denying the destabilizing power of being “read”, relationships begin as lies–and passing, of course, is not an activity restricted to transsexuals. This is familiar to the person of color whose skin is light enough to pass as white, or to the closet gay or lesbian… or to anyone who has chosen invisibility as an imperfect solution to personal dissonance. Essentially I am rearticulating one of the arguments for solidarity which has been developed by gays, lesbians and people of color. The comparison extends further. To deconstruct the necessity for passing implies that transsexuals must take responsibility for all of their history, to begin to rearticulate their lives not as a series of erasures in the service of a species of feminism conceived from within a traditional frame, but as a political action begun by reappropriating difference and reclaiming the power of the refigured and reinscribed body. The disruptions of the old patterns of desire that the multiple dissonances of the transsexual body imply produce not an irreducible alterity but a myriad of alterities, whose unanticipated juxtapositions hold what Donna Haraway has called the promises of monsters– physicalities of constantly shifting figure and ground that exceed the frame of any possible representation.
The essence of transsexualism is the act of passing. A transsexual who passes is obeying the Derridean imperative: “Genres are not to be mixed. I will not mix genres.” I could not ask a transsexual for anything more inconceivable than to forgo passing, to be consciously “read”, to read oneself aloud–and by this troubling and productive reading, to begin to write oneself into the discourses by which one has been written–in effect, then, to become a [look out– dare I say it again?] posttranssexual. Still, transsexuals know that silence can be an extremely high price to pay for acceptance. I want to speak directly to the brothers and sisters who may read/”read” this and say: I ask all of us to use the strength which brought us through the effort of restructuring identity, and which has also helped us to live in silence and denial, for a re-visioning of our lives. I know you feel that most of the work is behind you and that the price of invisibility is not great. But, although individual change is the foundation of all things, it is not the end of all things. Perhaps it’s time to begin laying the groundwork for the next transformation.
To “read oneself aloud” — I embrace the concept for myself. It is a posttranssexual experience for me to embrace a transgender experience as my own, diversity-minded experience. I know that reading myself aloud, this being out and proud as both transsexual and transgender, has been defining for who I’ve developed into. I certainly will not pay the extremely high price of silence for personal acceptance within any portion of our broad society.
When as a community of trans people we embrace reading ourselves aloud, and work towards the freedom, justice, and ordinary equality of not just our individual selves, but for the othered inside and outside of our own community as well, then we live up to our potential as instruments of change. We have the ability to change the world for the better for then next generations of trans human beings who will come after us.
So is it rape for we male-to-female trans people to call ourselves women, and function in society as women? Are we trans people embracing societal sex stereotypes, or are we embracing experience that is poststereotype?
I would argue there are many kinds of women — African-American women, Latinas, Christian women, Pagan women, disabled women, women veterans, lesbians, heterosexual women, etc. — I argue that trans women are just another kind of woman, not people to be othered as lesser, false beings. We are accepting an essential truth of who we know ourselves to be, and a rejection of societal sex roles and sex stereotypes are essential components of knowing and embracing that essential truth about ourselves.
But here we trans women are, sometimes very welcome and sometimes very unwelcome in the community of women. Janice Raymond expressed unwelcoming attitudes towards accepting transsexual women as women, and expressed it in a sharply worded rape metaphor. Her use of a rape metaphor to make her point is a sad reminder that language that incorporates homophobia or transphobia really is the ugliest when that kind of language comes from inside community.
Trans people should remember how ugly both homophobia and transphobia really are when we ourselves speak and write unflatteringly about other individuals within our LGBT community. Whether we’ll be individually judged as being as evil as Janice Raymond has been judged by many of us in trans community will depend greatly on the terms, metaphors, and manner in which we speak and write about those we disagree with.
Sadly, I’ve witnessed over the years that many of us trans folk can be just as homophobic and transphobic as those outside of trans community.
I don’t think it too controversial to say that hate speech is detestable, and that pejoratives, as well as charged metaphors and acrid speech directed at minority populations, are examples of speech that the best of us should no doubt take great effort to avoid.