In Community, Genitalia & Socialization Essentialism Has Been Around For Awhile

If there is a antitrans devil identified by many trans people, that devil would be Janice Raymond. She wrote the book The Transsexual Empire: The Making Of The She/Male. The book is a second wave feminism take on transsexual people — mostly transsexual women. And the book, to put it mildly, not exactly a warm and compassionate take on transsexual women.

From the 1993 introduction of the reprinted version of the book:

[C]hromozones are only one defining factor, in the context of the total history of what it means to be a woman or a man, in a society that treats women and men differently on the basis of biological sex. This means that the integrity of the body must also be placed in the context of the integrity of the total person, which includes the realization of such values as choice, awareness, and autonomy. Finally, if the transsexual answer reinforces the foundation of sex-role stereotyping, by encouraging the transsexual to conform to these stereotypes, then it also is violating the integrity of the society.

Transsexualism is a half-truth that highlights the desperate situation of those individuals in our society who have been uniquely body-bound by gender constrictions, but it is not a whole truth. While transsexualism poses the question of so-called gender agony, it fails to give an answer. I hope to show that it amounts to a solution that only reinforces the society and social norms that produced transsexualism to begin with.

Gloria Steinem heavily quoted Raymond her in her essay entitled Transsexualism, and that essay can be read in Steinem’s 1983 book Outrageous Acts And Everyday Rebellions. In other words, Janice Raymond’s unflattering take on transsexuals and transsexualism made it into the mainstream of feminist thought.

Well, the thoughts Janice Raymond put forward are still here, although they’re not acknowledged as at least somewhat orginating with her (and her mentor Mary Daly).

When I read the antitrans musings by some radical lesbian-feminist blogs on transsexuals, these often are very similar in text and tone to Janice Raymond’s (and her mentor Mary Daly’s) thoughts on transsexualism. For example, you can read the blog twanzphobic since forever‘s Jendah: The emperor’s new clothes and see the similarities in play. (“Jendah” is referring to gender.) From the text of the entry:

[More below the fold.]

We are lead to believe, from the medical profession, from transjacktivists, from the government even, that all this jendah stuff is innate, a natural and totally invisible ‘essence’ that can’t really be described?

And tell me, if all this jendah stuff is really so innate, why do M2Ts need hypnosis to ‘become the woman they rilly rilly are’? If they really ‘are’ the woman they say they are, that it is innate to them, then why the need for this training eh? Because it is mimicry, based on stereotyped jendah roles and behaviours. Most actual biological women don’t perform that crap to that extent. But again, tranz are promoting stereotypical jendah roles. I tell ya, transjacktivists are just the laydees auxiliary of the MRAs, both groups heavily promote supposedly innate and stereotypical behaviours (that they just can’t help).

…That’s right. Radfems are increasing their numbers because many libfems are waking up to the jendah delusion.

The jendah delusion is based on bullshit, and we have the medical profession upholding (and celebrating it), thegovernment rapidly legislating for it, and transjacktivists still claiming that they are the mostest discriminated-against little snowflakes. No wonder the new diagnostic criteria looks a (bad) joke.

Compare it to what Janice Raymond wrote in the Sappho By Surgery chapter of her 1979 book (no emphasis added):

Self Definition

One of the most constraining questions that transsexuals, and, in particular, transsexually constructed lesbian-feminists, pose is the question of self-definition — who is a woman, and who is a lesbian-feminist? But, of course, they post the question on their terms, and we are faced with answering it. Men have always mad such questions of major concern, and this question, in true phallic fashion, is thrust upon us. How many women students writing on such a feeble feminist topic as “Should Women Be Truck Drivers, Engineers, Steam Shovel Operators” and the like, have had their male professor scribble in the margins: “But What are the real differences between men and women?” Men, of course, have defined the supposed differences that have kept women out of such jobs and professions, and feminists have spent much energy demonstration how these differences, if indeed they do exist, are primarily the result of socialization. Yet there are differences, and some feminists have come to realize that those differences are important whether they spring from socialization, from biology, or from the total history of existing as a woman in a patriarchal society. The point is, however, that the origin of these differences is probably not the important question, and we shall perhaps never know the total answer to it. Yet we are forced back into trying to answer it again and again.

Transsexuals and transsexually constructed lesbian-feminists, drag us back to answering such old questions by asking them in a new way. And thus feminists debate and divide because we keep focusing on patriarchal questions of who is a woman and who is a lesbian-feminist. It is important for us to realize that these may well be non-questions an that the only answer we can give to them is that we know who we are. We know that we are women who are born with female chromosomes and anatomy, and that whether or not we were socialized to be so-called normal women, patriarchy has treated and will treat us like women. Transsexuals have not had this same history. No man can have the history of being born and located in this culture as a woman. He can have the history of wishing to be a woman and of acting like a woman, but this gender experience is that of a transsexual, not of a woman. Surgery may confer the artifacts of outward and inward female organs but it cannot confer the history of being born a woman in this society.

Women in trans community are confronted with genitalia essentialists of all stripes in LGBT and feminist communities. Sometimes it’s from some radfem (radical feminists) who believe trans people are invading women’s spaces with false bodies and false histories, and sometimes it’s from those transsexual surgery essentialists who argue that trans women must have genital reconstruction surgery to create genitalia that match societal, binary sex norms — or those others who don’t conform are deemed to not really be transsexual and/or female to begin with.

To quote Eric Vilain, chief of medical genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, from a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed entitled Gender Blender: Intersexual? Transsexual? Male, female aren’t so easy to define on biological realities, marriage equality, and a then proposed constitutional ban of same sex marriages (emphasis added):

Sex should be easily definable, but it’s not. Our gender identity — our profound sense of being male or female — is independent from our anatomy. A constitutional amendment authorizing marriages only between men and women would not only discriminate against millions of Americans who do not fit easily in the mold of each category, but would simply be flawed and contrary to basic biological realities.

As human beings, we often want crisp dichotomies we can put our faith into, and a sex and gender dichotomy seems to be one of those. But often what we think are dichotomies have shades of gray between the black and the white — we might like to think there is a firm sex and gender binary that divides us adults all in to neat little boxes marked man and woman. I’d argue instead that there is continuum of gray shades between the hard lines of male and female — between the hard lines drawn by both some radfems and some transsexuals — and the shades of gray are just simply ignored.

Genitalia and socialization essentialism has been around for awhile in LGBT, feminist, and transsexual spaces. To me, the arguments defending rigid sex and gender dichotomies seem to be a too-long running distraction.

I know I don’t want to expend more time and energy in a loop having the same sorts of conversations on sex and gender year after year after year…the same sorts of conversations in the same loop I’ve been hearing for years and years already. The discussions-that-never-end just gets in the way of moving forward on issues related to the freedom, justice, and ordinary equality of a subpopulation of human beings who belong to the human community.


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