GenderPolitics / ActivismTransgender

Follow-Up to Transgender Semantics

Last week I wrote a post about how the issues surrounding RuPaul’s Drag Race got me thinking about the meaning of “transgender” and how its meaning is still contested. In the intervening week, I’ve continued talking about these issues with various people in a few different places, and I would like to re-visit some of the thoughts from that post in an attempt to try to clarify my positions and goals.

First, I would like to reiterate that I had not intended my post to be a defense of the sorts of harmful rhetoric going around during the last few weeks. I especially detest the ways that Calpernia Addams and Andrea James have been making claims on various social media outlets about residual male privilege in trans women as a way to try to shut down conversation (I will not link here but they are discoverable with some Googlefu). I want to apologize up front that my post came across as defending that behavior as it was not my intention. And in my quest to try to get a grasp on what was going on with transgender identity politics, I wrote a poorly worded afterthought about assimilationists and liberationists that certainly came across as supportive at worst and ignorant at best.

On that note, I have been reading some various thoughts on the identity politics of “transgender” as a category and the various border wars that have sprung up around it, including Veronica’s recent post on Queereka about trans-exclusionary trans activists and some blog posts by Julia Serano (h/t to Yessenia) and Riki Wilchins’ introductory thoughts to GenderQueer: Voices From Beyond the Sexual Binary, all of which have given me a lot to think about.

Of interest to the present discussion, both Serano and Wilchins address accusations of assimilationism and explore the implications of such accusations. From Serano:

For decades (and still to this day), radical feminists have argued that drag is an inherently conservative phenomenon in that it reinforces the patriarchy. Twenty years ago, queer theorists retorted that drag was inherently subversive, in that it deconstructed binary notions of gender. Interestingly, what both of these very different feminist camps shared was a belief that transsexuality was inherently conservative, assimilationist, and reinforced the gender system.

I just thought that this was worth pointing out in the wake of arguments that have been playing out on the Internets lately between some trans women who suggest that trans women who don’t appreciate drag are conservative and assimilationist, and other trans women who suggest that drag (and the trans women who appreciate it) is conservative and assimilationist. I am not linking to any pieces here, as this post is not intended to be a “call out” of individuals. Rather, I feel the need to point out the subversivist nature of these arguments, and how they happen over and over again in feminist, queer, and progressive circles.

I think this is perhaps why there was some disagreement in the comments thread over which of the various actors within these border wars might be assimilationist—both sides see the other as assimilationist. When a commenter named corinth on my old post pointed out that I was looking at this the wrong way, I saw their perspective and recognized it was true, but when I re-read what I wrote and thought about it some more, I still thought that the perspective I laid out was also true. The above passage by Serano has helped me figure out why: I think people on all sides are seeing various actions on other sides as assimilationist.

All that being said, I now see how the attempt to draw this distinction is entirely unhelpful. In my quest to explore the fuzzy boundaries of identity categorization, I stepped into an area of identity politics that can do little but obscure the important issues that we should be discussing. Again, from Julia Serano:

Drag is not inherently conservative, or subversive, or assimilationist, or liberating. It is simply an expression of gender. People who do drag are different from one another, and they gravitate to drag for different reasons. Some drag performers are cis gay men, while others are eventual trans women. Some drag queens present masculinely when they are not performing, while others present femininely 24/7 and face cissexism and misogyny on a regular basis. Some people do drag to explore or experiment with their own gender, others to challenge societal binary gender norms, and still others may do it to mock other marginalized groups (e.g., women or transsexuals).

If you don’t like the language Ru Paul uses, or you find a video that Alaska Thunderfuck makes to be offense, then by all means *critique those individuals and acts*. But once we start making blanket claims about drag and the people who gravitate toward it (e.g., that they are inherently assimilationist, or misogynistic, or trans-misogynistic) then we are condemning a whole slew of people, many of whom have done us no wrong.

This dovetails nicely with a passage from Riki Wilchins (p. 60 of GenderQueer), in which she warns:

Debates over identity are always divisive and never conclusive. They are divisive because at heart they are about conferring status, always a zero-sum game. For one person to win, another must lose. They are inconclusive because there are no objective criteria by which to decide. Winning such debates is always a function of who sets the rules and who gets to judge.

And in my previous post what I wanted to explore was exactly what Wilchins brings up in the last sentence there: I wanted to get a conversation going about who is setting these rules and making these judgments about what “transgender” as an identity category means, and what the implications for those decisions could possibly be. Unfortunately, by trying to figure out who might be thought of as assimilationist, I veered the conversation off in the wrong direction.

I should state for the record that this is not an entirely academic exercise for me. Part of my interest in this question is that I identify as queer, and more recently as genderqueer. I have had numerous exchanges with trans-identified people who have insisted upon labeling me as cisgender because I have no urge to transition—I don’t know what I would even transition to as I don’t identify as a woman or as a man, and I’m (mostly) comfortable with my body as it is now. I certainly move through my life being perceived as a man, though often as a sissy, nelly, femme gay man.

I have had people, both trans and non-trans, tell me that I cannot possibly be anything but cisgender because my everyday appearance is rather normative. I have also been subjected to similar kinds of hatred, fear, and ridicule as many trans-identified people have, though certainly I have not experienced it in the same ways. Sometimes, though, it begins to feel a little bit like oppression Olympics, where my identity as genderqueer is invalidated because I have not experienced the same kinds of oppression as trans people, and trans women in particular. And since I have not experienced a certain degree of a certain type of oppression, I must therefore be cisgender. Very rarely is there room made for those of us who do not identify along a trans/cis binary in these discussions, so I guess in my own way I was trying to stake a claim in these border wars for those of us who are left out of the neatly defined boundaries.

Thus, it is both a personal and an academic interest to me where these borders are drawn. What I see going on—and this is nothing new—are identity politics in which certain groups are trying to establish clear boundaries, and those of us who fall outside of these boundaries are not taken seriously by people within those borders. As Veronica said on the Queereka backchannel, “it’s the bisexual problem all over again.” And she’s totally right.

I’m glad that people found my last post useful despite its many issues. I hope that we can continue that conversation, because I think it’s a really important conversation to have.

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Will

Will

Will is the admin of Queereka, part of the Skepchick network. They are a cultural/medical anthropologist who works at the intersections of sex/gender, sexuality, health, and education. Their other interests include politics, science studies, popular culture, and public perceptions and understandings of anthropology. Follow them on Twitter at @anthrowill and Facebook at facebook.com/anthrowill.

17 Comments

  1. April 29, 2014 at 10:45 am —

    I agree with what Serano says about subversivism, and I thought it was in a way silly how both sides were trying to argue that they were the subversive ones. I think it’s a symptom of thinking too much about queer stuff and nothing else. Being in skepticism for many years, it seems obvious to me that a) antivaxxers are subversive, and b) antivaxxers are harmful and evil. Not that you can’t argue over which things are subversive, it just doesn’t imply the hierarchy you think it does.

    I would similarly argue that it is not “good” for a group to be identified under the transgender umbrella. That I think (most) drag performers do not belong under the trans umbrella does not mean that I necessarily think poorly of drag performers. I think non-binary people belong under the trans umbrella, but I recognize that many of them don’t identify as such, and really none of it has anything to do with whether non-binary genders are a worthy cause.

    • April 29, 2014 at 11:49 am —

      But it does affect how people are treated within queer and trans communities, and I think it is naive to say that people do not or should not attach value to membership in social groups based on identity.

      You’re kind of doing exactly what I am problematizing here, which is labeling people as if it’s no big swig to categorize entire groups. That has implications, and I’m asking for us to go beyond “this group goes in this box, that group goes in that box” towards thinking about how the act of trying to fit people into neatly defined boxes is an exercise of power and sets up potentially harmful dynamics within queer (and other) communities. These sorts of things do not happen in a power vacuum. The fact that I have outlined here and elsewhere as linked in the post (as have others, like Ser’s post that went up just before mine this morning) that I do not fit under the trans umbrella, for you to come in and imply that I do even if I don’t feel that I do is exactly the problem I’m trying to highlight. You making the statement, “I think non-binary people belong under the trans umbrella” is an exercise of power–you have denied my ability to self-identify, despite trying to caveat. You “recognize” that I don’t identify that way, but you would still categorize me as trans in spite of that recognition. That is in effect saying that I do not know best how to identify myself, nor do other non-binary or genderqueer people, but that you know better because you know what the clearly defined boundaries of these categories are.

      The problem of categorization in identity politics has to be taken more seriously and should not be so easily dismissed.

      • April 29, 2014 at 1:33 pm —

        No, I’m not saying you shouldn’t attach any value to membership within the trans umbrella. I’m saying that we cannot make any judgments on X based merely on the statement “X belongs under the transgender umbrella.” I mean, how could we possibly make such a generalization without knowing what X is? The transgender umbrella has a purpose, but that purpose is not to separate worthy gender-related causes from unworthy gender-related causes. The purpose is to aggregate a set of similar experiences.

        I do not in fact deny your ability or right to self-identify. Everyone here has an opinion on how transgender should be defined, and I do too, that’s all. Or do you believe that people should not have opinions on the definition, or not express them? In practice, everyone self-identifies according to their own thoughts on the definition, and they are not wrong to do so. We’re talking definitions of words, not scientific facts–there’s no fundamental truth to be asserted.

      • April 29, 2014 at 3:53 pm —

        Another thing, sorry I had missed the part where you said you didn’t identify as trans. I mostly saw you reacting against people who declared you to be cis, and my response was sort of reassure you that you could identify as trans, within my understanding. But that was a bit boneheaded of me.

        Nonetheless, yes it is my understanding that non-binary people should be considered trans. But my attitude is, you share one understanding, I’ll share another, you share yet another, and I’ll share yet another. I have a tendency to contradict myself in these things.

  2. April 29, 2014 at 11:02 pm —

    Thank you for writing these pieces. I found them to be very thoughtful and respectful of their subject. I also don’t feel that my gender identify fits within the various categories I know of, although I often fall back on androgynous.

  3. April 30, 2014 at 6:59 am —

    Categories, and their boundaries, are always constructed by the majority group at the societal level. That does not mean that subcultures or minority groups might not see things differently or that they might not challenge or subvert these. This is always the issue with “knowledge” and “truth”. On the other hand, there has to be common language for communication to happen. I talked about the long list of gender identities made available on facebook with my freshman college students this term and the majority of them said “that’s ridiculous” and “it is just too confusing to have all of those terms”. While I appreciate the goal of having everyone be able to express themselves as they see fit, humans do tend to categorize (themselves and others). So there needs to be manageable language to address all of that. I am not sure what the answer is, but I do know that the dominant culture will develop the language it needs to try to understand what is going on. This includes scholars. So if the language people are using in the real world to describe themselves is contested or constantly changing this creates a problem. We can’t really keep up. So as I posted on the last discussion of this topic, what language should I use to describe the zone between what my students understand to be male/masculine/man and female/feminine/woman? That is the area covered so often by the umbrella use of trans. What should replace it if it is shifting meaning?

    • May 1, 2014 at 1:14 pm —

      Categories, and their boundaries, are always constructed by the majority group at the societal level.

      I’m not sure I agree. I think this has the effect of erasing the agency of minority and marginalized groups. I think it’s not possible to make such a clear distinction in how and by whom identity categories are constructed.

      That does not mean that subcultures or minority groups might not see things differently or that they might not challenge or subvert these.

      Wouldn’t that be minority groups constructing the categories, then? Construction is not a one-time thing, it is an ongoing process. The very act of challenging or subverting is an act of construction.

      While I appreciate the goal of having everyone be able to express themselves as they see fit, humans do tend to categorize (themselves and others). So there needs to be manageable language to address all of that.

      Sure, and there is a language to address all of that. It’s just that we have to acknowledge the ways that language is problematic and is wrapped up in the exercise of power.

      So if the language people are using in the real world to describe themselves is contested or constantly changing this creates a problem. We can’t really keep up.

      Again, I don’t agree. The category “woman” is, for example, still contested and constantly changing. I’m pretty sure people can “keep up” with what that category means, even if there are times where it doesn’t work as neatly or as well as expected or desired.

      So as I posted on the last discussion of this topic, what language should I use to describe the zone between what my students understand to be male/masculine/man and female/feminine/woman? That is the area covered so often by the umbrella use of trans. What should replace it if it is shifting meaning?

      I think you’re going about it the wrong way. You can explain the various ways that “transgender” is used to students, and you can show them how the category came about and has changed over time. You can do the same thing with “man” or “masculine” or “woman” or “feminine” or “gay” or “queer” or any other number of categories. Showing students that identity categories are always changing and contested is important because it shows them that culture is not static and that as cultures change, the language used within those societies must also change. Ultimately, there is no need to insist upon rigid boundaries with these categories. We should be insisting upon recognizing their fluidity and fuzziness.

  4. May 1, 2014 at 10:11 pm —

    Actually I don’t disagree with what you are saying for advanced courses on the subject. On the other hand, for introductory level courses and everyday encounters with majority culture members I am not sure that is reasonable. In the minds of most people “woman” and “man” are not contested at all. That is part of the problem we are trying to address. And to be honest, most of them believe that since the majority of people fit into their definition of those two categories then all is fine. I am not trying to discount the fuzziness and social construction of these categories. On the other hand, it is problematic to ignore power here. There is a power differential between minority and majority groups. While we struggle to broaden in the understanding of the majority we have to do so in language they understand. That includes some of those boundaries. No boundaries are ever rigid- there is always gray area (indeed any norm has wiggle room before you cross into what people would consider to truly deviate from it)- but most people rarely think of that grey area unless they are forced to. As we go through our day to day lives the categories we create seem “real” and they matter. People do need to be able to have some amount of predictability in order to function. That is why we do all of this pattern seeking and category creating in the first place. So asking for what term you think I should use to address the range of the gender spectrum is me trying to accommodate both sides of this discussion. There are still categories of men, women and now other gender variant people (though there always have been in a number of societies)- what do I call those people? Every society I know of that has people who bend the boundaries of whatever sex/gender system has a name for those people. That does not mean that it cannot change. But if the term transgender is becoming specific then there needs to be a new way of talking about what we used to use the word to represent.

    • May 1, 2014 at 11:58 pm —

      I’ve taught introductory anthropology courses and introduced these concepts just fine, so I’m a little confused as to exactly what you think the problem is with introducing the idea that socially constructed categories are dynamic, fluid, and have fuzzy boundaries to intro-level students.

      In the minds of most people “woman” and “man” are not contested at all. That is part of the problem we are trying to address. And to be honest, most of them believe that since the majority of people fit into their definition of those two categories then all is fine.

      Isn’t part of teaching a sociology course, like in sociocultural anthropology, waking students up to ethnocentrism? If you look across cultures and throughout history, “man” and “woman” change. It’s very easy to demonstrate this, even to introductory-level students, just by showing how our ideas of appropriate work for those categories have changed and continue to change.

      As we go through our day to day lives the categories we create seem “real” and they matter. People do need to be able to have some amount of predictability in order to function.

      I never said the opposite. In fact, what I argued was that people generally have an idea of what these categories mean, but sometimes the categories are inadequate or fail to account for people. It’s not that you should throw out all categorization, it’s that you should be pointing to the ways that categories are not so clearly defined. I bet if you had students build semantic domains for the categories “man” and “woman,” and then had them compare them with one another, they would find they are mostly in agreement, but there would be things that they disagreed on. And that’s contesting a category’s boundaries par excellence.

      So asking for what term you think I should use to address the range of the gender spectrum is me trying to accommodate both sides of this discussion. There are still categories of men, women and now other gender variant people (though there always have been in a number of societies)- what do I call those people? Every society I know of that has people who bend the boundaries of whatever sex/gender system has a name for those people. That does not mean that it cannot change. But if the term transgender is becoming specific then there needs to be a new way of talking about what we used to use the word to represent.

      Why not use “gender-variant people” as you have here? You can explain that transgender people are one type of gender-variant person in our society, and provide examples of all kinds of gender-variant people. I certainly hesitate to apply “transgender” to people outside of Euroamerican societies unless I know they use that term themselves. Otherwise, I try to use the terms they use for themselves.

      I get that you’re concerned about making sure you give them the right language to talk about this, but it sounds to me like you could give them a little more credit in being able to follow this type of discussion. 😉

  5. May 3, 2014 at 7:48 am —

    I think we may just be talking around the same issues in different ways. I actually do all of the things you discuss above in my class. I was simply asking for feedback on what new term to use. I am fine with gender variant people if that is a term that is going to be generally used. I don’t feel comfortable simply selecting my own word – one that they may not come across in the literature or in life. The reason I brought all of this up is that it seems common to use transgender* these days to represent the umbrella term. This seems a bit peculiar and confusing if the word transgender without the star is being used in this new way. Also, part of the question really is who gets to decide what term is going to be used. Do people who would have been defined as transsexual not long ago get to lay a claim to the word transgender? Should that be accepted and by whom and how quickly? How do you deal with the fact that the giant list of words people use to describe there identity on the gender spectrum just seems crazy and untenable to most undergraduate students? How do you deal with the tension between the language scholars use and the language minority groups use to discuss themselves? If some feminine identified gay men and drag queens, particularly in communities of colour, use the term “tranny” and see themselves that way why is their claim less legitimate? I really am not being confrontational. I am enjoying an opportunity to address these issues. It seemed to me that the point of your original post was to deal with the fact that there were conflicting understandings of the words meaning. That means there has to be a discussion of how we come to some decision about what language we are going to use in the broader culture. We have to have common words to be able to communicate.

  6. May 7, 2014 at 1:38 am —

    I finally got around to reading this. I was having similar thoughts. As we recognize that gender is nonbinary, it makes sense to view the state of being cis or trans as a spectrum. I see the strict policing of identities as more often than not being counterproductive. Nonheteronormative trans people have their trans-ness questioned. Binary trans people will argue heatedly on either side whether to include nonbinary folks like me. As a nonbinary person, I experience gender dysphoria and discrimination. If I’m going to face trans problems, it would be nice to be able to be part of the trans community, but I’ve never been the type to stick around where I wasn’t wanted.

  7. May 9, 2014 at 1:43 pm —

    The problem with Julia’s responses is that they’re aloof and miss the core issue that sparked this discussion. We don’t need a consensus of the entire LGBT community, or the entire trans community, or the entire trans woman community, to ask people (all people!) not to use slurs carelessly and not to teach teach others how to spot gender variant bodies carelessly. These words and actions hurt trans women. All that many trans women are asking is that people, where possible (such as on national TV), stop doing things that hurt us. If a someone who transitioned twenty years ago identifies as the t-word, nobody is trying to diminish her identity. It would be nice, though, if she didn’t use that word for others who don’t identify with it. Similarly, if gay people and drag performers could refrain from using it around people it hurts, the same way they’re careful about using the f-word, that would help us a lot.

    This whole fiasco is not about throwing anybody under the bus. It’s just about listening to people and choosing not to hurt them. I take you seriously as a genderqueer person, the same as I take my genderqueer friends seriously and they take me seriously. Your part of taking trans women seriously is not to throw a fit about semantics when we ask someone like RuPaul to change his language and behavior on his TV show. Your part of taking trans women seriously is not to extrapolate our requests for respect from RuPaul as “the bisexual problem all over again.” Your part of taking trans women seriously is to listen to us when we’re talking about our lived experiences.

    Sometimes, though, it begins to feel a little bit like oppression Olympics, where my identity as genderqueer is invalidated because I have not experienced the same kinds of oppression as trans people, and trans women in particular. And since I have not experienced a certain degree of a certain type of oppression, I must therefore be cisgender.

    I am not saying this. The argument that trans women are making here is that this slur and the clocking of gender variant bodies are things that primarily hurt trans women, and as such trans women should be listened to on this issue, the same as we make an effort to listen to people with disabilities about problems that primarily hurt people with disabilities. Trying to make this particular issue about drag performers or genderqueer people or anybody else is silencing. Not being personally hurt by the t-word doesn’t make you cisgender, it just means you should take a back seat when those who are hurt by it talk about it.

    • May 9, 2014 at 7:05 pm —

      The problem with Julia’s responses is that they’re aloof and miss the core issue that sparked this discussion.

      The fact that people see other issues at stake here than the ones you think are most important does not make them “aloof.”

      We don’t need a consensus of the entire LGBT community, or the entire trans community, or the entire trans woman community, to ask people (all people!) not to use slurs carelessly and not to teach teach others how to spot gender variant bodies carelessly.

      No one has made this argument.

      These words and actions hurt trans women.

      I have not argued otherwise.

      All that many trans women are asking is that people, where possible (such as on national TV), stop doing things that hurt us.

      See, that’s where we disagree. That’s not “all” that has been asked for by a number of trans women. There are plenty of trans women asking for more than that, including for the LGBT community to start stigmatizing drag queens and cross-dressers.

      This whole fiasco is not about throwing anybody under the bus. It’s just about listening to people and choosing not to hurt them.

      Again, I don’t agree that that’s what “this whole fiasco” is all about. There’s more going on here, and that’s why I’ve written these posts.

      I take you seriously as a genderqueer person

      And yet, as I will get to in a moment, you have called my discussion here “throwing a fit.” I don’t find that at all to be taking my concerns seriously.

      Your part of taking trans women seriously is not to throw a fit about semantics when we ask someone like RuPaul to change his language and behavior on his TV show.

      So, this is really fucking irritating. First, I have not “thrown a fit,” and you should be ashamed for trying to paint my genuine attempt to have a discussion about identity politics that affect me as hysteria. Second, I have not ONCE argued about the semantics of the words “tranny” or “she-male,” and, in fact, I avoided discussing those words and their uses entirely. The semantics I have been discussing is the semantics of a particular word: “transgender.” Not slurs or slang. I have not, AT ALL, said that I disagree with asking RuPaul or anyone else to stop using those words. The next time you comment on this thread, if you even come back, you better acknowledge these two points, or you will no longer be allowed to comment on my posts. I am really fucking tired of you coming in and trying to re-direct a conversation to what YOU think is the most important topic when, in reality, I am not even trying to have a conversation about RuPaul or those words, but about stuff that happened afterwards that made me start thinking about what kinds of people fall under the “transgender” category.

      Your part of taking trans women seriously is not to extrapolate our requests for respect from RuPaul as “the bisexual problem all over again.” Your part of taking trans women seriously is to listen to us when we’re talking about our lived experiences.

      Again, you have misread I wrote, because I never “extrapolated” trans women’s requests for respect from RuPaul into the bisexual problem all over again. What I did was point out how the contestations around the category “transgender,” SOME OF WHICH HAVE BECOME MORE VISIBLE IN LIGHT OF THE RUPAUL FIASCO, have a tendency to ignore people who do not fall into the cis/trans binary.

      So, your part of taking a genderqueer person seriously is not to tell them that their concerns over identity politics are NOT IMPORTANT, which is what you’ve repeatedly done here. Your part of taking a genderqueer person seriously is to take MY LIVED EXPERIENCES seriously and not try to ignore them because you feel that trans women are the only people who have something at stake in these conversations.

      I am not saying this.

      Well, it’s a good fucking thing it wasn’t addressed to you then, wasn’t it?!

      Trying to make this particular issue about drag performers or genderqueer people or anybody else is silencing.

      So, I’m only going to try to clarify this one last time here to close out this comment. When you say “this particular issue,” you are referring to a specific situation about particular words and actions on a particular show by a particular person/set of persons. What I am talking about here is something a little bit different: That particular situation spurred a lot of other conversations and actions all around the internet that got me thinking about identity categories, and in particular how “transgender” as a category is contested and constructed. The semantics I’ve been wanting to talk about are the semantics of the identity category of “transgender,” not of slurs or slang words used to refer to trans women. The stuff that happened on RuPaul was a catalyst for some conversations, both online and in person, that have illuminated the ways that “transgender” as an identity category continues to change and be challenged. I wanted to open up a conversation about how certain people are placed under “transgender” or left out from “transgender” depending upon a variety of contexts, and what that does for those of us who do not identify as trans but are nonetheless sometimes placed under the “transgender” umbrella, as was done TO ME IN THIS VERY THREAD. That’s the conversation I’m looking to have, and that’s not really about the particular slurs or problems with language on RuPaul’s Drag Race, it was just brought to my attention (again) via the various responses to RPDR.

  8. May 9, 2014 at 11:45 pm —

    Uh, Serano made that argument:

    Let’s please stop pretending that there is one single consensus among trans women regarding drag, Ru Paul, the “T-word,” and other issues. We can disagree with one another without resorting to good-versus-bad, righteous-versus-oppressive, subversive-versus-conservative hierarchies.

    We don’t need consensus to ask people not to use the t-word for trans women who don’t identify with it, and we don’t need consensus to ask people not to propagate its use on national TV.

    There are plenty of trans women asking for more than that, including for the LGBT community to start stigmatizing drag queens and cross-dressers.

    I haven’t seen trans women asking for the LGBT community to stigmatize drag performers or crossdressers. Zinnia’s open letter certainly doesn’t ask for that. I have seen tons of drag performers and gay men saying awful things about trans women, though – things run on large platforms like Huffpost and Bilerico and whoever runs RuPaul interviews.

    No, the conversation you want to have is nitpicking trans women’s reactions to oppression. You’ve seized on one of the points from Zinnia’s open letter:

    We reject James’ classification of RuPaul as transgender, as well as any implication that cisgender male drag queens are therefore entitled to use transmisogynist slurs. Cisgender male drag queens are assigned male at birth, and they neither consider themselves to be women nor live as women in their everyday lives.

    and you’re hobbyhorse-ing it into something absurd. These two sentences are derailing people into the academic question of whether drag performers are cisgender. But the context is one of being actively insulted by one drag performer who has been very specific about his identity – he doesn’t consider himself to be trans – and gay men who have claimed certain transmisogynist slurs as somehow their own. If trans women object to being harmed, and you launch a semantic investigation into the language of their objections instead of into the harm they’re objecting to, you’re making things worse. Especially when the nit you’re picking is an academic point, since drag performers at large (who don’t call trans women slurs and tell them to lighten up when they complain) continue to be welcomed under the trans* umbrella. (This is true both of my local support spaces and online LGBT communities I’m a part of, at least.) But being under the umbrella in some capacity does not give people who aren’t trans women immunity from charges of transmisogyny when they use transmisogynist language and promote transmisognist scrutiny – it doesn’t even give trans women immunity, and you’ll notice that we’re making the same points about trans women (such as Addams and James) who have responded similarly. Being in the LGBT acronym doesn’t give me free reign to yell the f-word, either.

    But if you look at the conversation that’s going on here, and you can see the vile shit that Addams and James and RuPaul and cis gay men have said, and you decide that what you want to focus on is one point of a larger defense mounted by cornered trans women, there’s a huge problem. If you want to do serious investigation into the multiple meanings and applications of “trans,” this is not the starting point. You need to approach it from a calmer place than simply analyzing pained responses to vicious attacks, slurs, and gender policing. That’s my point: Using this – trans women’s moment-to-moment impassioned defenses against mechanics of systemic oppression – as a jumping off point into how trans women as a whole relate to the larger community is going to be as useless and potentially misleading as a doctor taking a patient’s blood pressure only when she’s just run a marathon. Give it some space. Help us with the slurs and the GNC body policing. Then ask us what we think about drag performers when huge blogs aren’t running YouTube videos about the violent murder of trans women activists.

    If you prefer I not comment here, I won’t. I presume you have my email address if you want to talk privately.

    • May 10, 2014 at 12:24 am —

      Uh, Serano made that argument:

      That quote does not claim what you said it claims. You originally said, “We don’t need a consensus of the entire LGBT community, or the entire trans community, or the entire trans woman community, to ask people (all people!) not to use slurs carelessly and not to teach teach others how to spot gender variant bodies carelessly.” Serano said, “Let’s please stop pretending that there is one single consensus among trans women…” Serano is not saying we need a consensus as your original quote claims. She’s calling for people to stop speaking on behalf of all trans women, or about all drag queens, as a monolith.

      I haven’t seen trans women asking for the LGBT community to stigmatize drag performers or crossdressers.

      Oh, well since you haven’t seen it, I guess it’s not happening! It would take me a lot of time to go search out and collate all the instances I’ve seen of it online as I’ve seen it all over comments sections all over the place, but it’s out there regardless of whether you want to acknowledge it or not (even though I already provided one example).

      Zinnia’s open letter certainly doesn’t ask for that.

      I never said that it did.

      I have seen tons of drag performers and gay men saying awful things about trans women, though – things run on large platforms like Huffpost and Bilerico and whoever runs RuPaul interviews.

      I have seen that, too, and I said up front on my first post that I was not going to address those issues. I’ve never said that those things aren’t happening. They are definitely happening and they are quite disturbing.

      No, the conversation you want to have is nitpicking trans women’s reactions to oppression.

      No, that’s not the conversation I want to have at all. I’ve repeatedly told you this, but you seem utterly incapable of comprehending.

      These two sentences are derailing people into the academic question of whether drag performers are cisgender.

      I have two problems with this statement. First, it’s not derailing because I am not engaging in a conversation where that quote came from trying to change the conversation that’s going on there. I’m trying to open up another different conversation in another different space. That is not derailing, and it does not take away from any of the discussion or activism that’s going on in other places for me to open up this conversation on this blog. In reality, YOU are coming in here and derailing the conversation I am trying to have in this space.

      Second, I addressed how this was more than just an academic question in the post above that you clearly have not read very closely, so here we are again with you not taking me seriously as a genderqueer person. But still, it is partially an academic question and I have no qualms about that. I’m an academic. If you don’t like it, that’s too fucking bad. I’ll open up academic conversations in this space if I want to, and if you do not like it, you can leave.

      If trans women object to being harmed, and you launch a semantic investigation into the language of their objections instead of into the harm they’re objecting to, you’re making things worse.

      That is not what I did. Stop fucking saying that. I am not looking into the semantics of their objections to slurs. I am looking into the semantics of the category “transgender.” Those are two really different things. You’re essentially upset that this whole thing around RPDR has spurred me to re-thinking what “transgender” means, and you keep focusing on that rather than on talking about what “transgender” means, which is the conversation I am looking to have.

      But being under the umbrella in some capacity does not give people who aren’t trans women immunity from charges of transmisogyny when they use transmisogynist language and promote transmisognist scrutiny

      I have never argued that it does.

      If you want to do serious investigation into the multiple meanings and applications of “trans,” this is not the starting point.

      I have never claimed that this is the starting point and, in fact, I have said multiple times that this is an ongoing thing. But even if this was the starting point, you do not get to decide what kinds of events spark inquiries anyway. If this is a starting point for some people to start thinking about broader questions of “transgender,” I don’t see how that takes away from them also considering the ways that language can be harmful. This is not a zero-sum game where we can only talk about one or the other, and people are capable of thinking about and talking about multiple issues.

      You need to approach it from a calmer place than simply analyzing pained responses to vicious attacks, slurs, and gender policing.

      Excuse me, I “need to” approach it how?? I have been calm in all of my writings and responses until the last two, where you have seriously started to piss me off with your bullshit. Plus, I don’t even know what you mean by a “calmer place than simply analyzing.” What the fuck does that even mean? How is “simply analyzing” not a calm place (as if “simply analyzing” what I was doing anyway)?

      That’s my point: Using this – trans women’s moment-to-moment impassioned defenses against mechanics of systemic oppression – as a jumping off point into how trans women as a whole relate to the larger community is going to be as useless and potentially misleading as a doctor taking a patient’s blood pressure only when she’s just run a marathon.

      That hasn’t been your point at all until right now. But anyway, I completely disagree with this point because I’ve had some really meaningful conversations about these issues despite your protestations.

      Give it some space.

      Excuse me, but how the fuck is me posting on this one blog taking away space from that conversation? What a crock of shit. I notice you did not comment on Veronica’s post on this blog that was opening up exactly the conversation you seem to be craving. That conversation has a space on this blog, but you’re not there engaging in it there at all. Instead, you’re coming to my posts trying to direct the conversation to be exactly what you think it should be. Talk about fucking silencing!

      Help us with the slurs and the GNC body policing. Then ask us what we think about drag performers when huge blogs aren’t running YouTube videos about the violent murder of trans women activists.

      You don’t know anything about what I’ve been doing either as a trans ally or as a queer activist, nor about the people I’ve had conversations with this about, so I really take offense at your assumption that this just comes out of nowhere and that I haven’t been doing other things as well. And, you know what? If I had to wait until there was nothing in the whole world that was harmful towards trans women to open this conversation, it would never get started.

      If you prefer I not comment here, I won’t. I presume you have my email address if you want to talk privately.

      I would prefer that if you do comment here that you read what’s actually written and stop trying to project your own feelings into what other people are writing. I would prefer that you stop derailing the conversation I am trying to have here and go have the conversation you want to have in the appropriate places. I would prefer that you stop accusing me of being too emotional to think clearly. I am dead serious: If you respond to this, the first thing better be a fucking apology for that crap. Otherwise, do not bother responding to anything I post on this site anymore. And no, I don’t want to talk to you privately.

  9. May 10, 2014 at 2:37 pm —

    You specifically mentioned me in your blog post. It seems reasonable that this is where I’d be, then, I hope? I also pretty much agree with Veronica’s post (which makes many of the same points as the open letter) and just saying “yep” seems kind of pointless. I haven’t said you’re too emotional to think clearly – more so the opposite. I’ve said that your starting point (in your original post) is an emotional defense put up by trans women and that’s a crappy starting point and if you were going to talk about this it would be way better if you’d left out all of the RuPaul stuff. In this way, you’re coolly (not emotionally) deconstructing things written in a very specific emotional context. It’s disheartening that gay men and drag performers and even some trans women have transmisogynist pieces slathered across some of the internet’s largest queer outlets, and you’re focusing on reactionary comment section responses from trans women to make your point. There just seems to be no kind of real equivalence there in terms of identity politics escalation.

    • May 10, 2014 at 11:55 pm —

      You’re so full of shit. You have gone from telling me that I was “throwing a fit” and saying I “need to approach it from a calmer place” to saying that you were telling me I was being too calm to think clearly. I’m done with talking to you. Stay out of the comments sections on my posts.

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