KRISTA SCOTT-DIXONâe(TM)s collection, blending gender theory and a remarkable range of personal narratives, provides a powerful, complex and deeply moving introduction to a relatively neglected and misunderstood area of feminist study: the experiences, gendered multiplicity, personal and social struggles, and the touching humanity of people identifiedâe"for lack of a better termâe"as trans.
The book thoroughly explodes the dualistic conception of gender (he or she), reviews research into the âeoeconstructednessâe of our gendered identities and demonstrates dramatically some of the diverse ways in which gender is made manifest. This book, carefully produced and edited, ought to be snatched up by womenâe(TM)s and gender studies instructorsâe"it will be a terrific addition to introductory classes, but it should also resonate with all of those who are willing to entertain the idea that the human world is not divided tidily into female and male.
Like many scholars who see critical theory as a central part of their professional mission, the editor invokes bell hooksâe(TM) understanding of theory as a âeoelocation for healing.âe To theorize trans identity and experience is to take steps towards challenging oppression, towards understanding and complicating a central part of our identities. She rejects a facile embrace of trans identity among non-trans sympathizers (âeoeitâe(TM)s hip to be trans; maybe Iâe(TM)m trans, tooâe ), and the narratives are as painful as they are celebratory.
The legal and ethical issues the book raises such as events and organizations with âeoewomyn-born-womyn onlyâe policies or âeoeno-penisâe policies similarly resist easy answers or sloganeering, but reveal the complex and uncertain alliance between self-described feminists and trans people. Just how inclusive have feminist organizations been? Can exclusivity be a legitimate strategy?
The terms used to categorize different identities, different understandings of sexual selves, are messy, overlapping, ambiguousâe"an indication that the theory is new, and that exploration of trans experience is still in its formative stages. While metaphors such as gender-bending or a gendered continuum have been useful constructs, names for the wide variety of gendered expression can be baffling: genderqueers, birls, FTMs and MTFsâe"the categorical language seems inadequate. And yet labels, however damaging they can be in one sense, afford a kind of group identity and can have explanatory and healing power.
Scott-Dixonâe(TM)s book might be the most accessible and potentially influential treatment this subject has yet received.âe" Richard C. Taylor
* * *
WHAT PRIVILEGE? AN EXCERPT FROM Trans/forming Feminism:
From Kyle Scanlon's "Where's the beef?", where he addresses the accusation that female-to-male (FTM) transsexuals are in part seeking to escape their oppression as women and access male privilege.
In my opinion, there isnâe(TM)t an FTM in the world who could spend a whole lifein a female body, experience oppression because of it, proceed throughtransition and suddenly begin to experience a few moments of privilegewithout any question at all. Weâe(TM)re outright stunned, in fact. And many of usdo not accept the privileges when offered. But even more fundamentally, howmuch male privilege does a trans man actually have if he is forced to burnhis old pictures, avoid old friends and make up a new history to avoidanyone discovering the truth about him?
A trans man who transitions at hisworkplace and who may never become âeoeone of the boys,âe and that glass ceilingmight always be there hovering just above his head. If he tries to changejobs, for the rest of his life he cannot use his old career references andwill have to start from scratch.
An FTM-identified person starting transition who begs a gender clinic forhormones may be told he has to live without them for a year as part of areal-life test. Or he may be told at this clinic that he must divorce hissupportive husband of several years before he can begin transition. Whereâe(TM)sthe male privilege in these situations?
Once heâe(TM)s out about beingtranssexual, a trans man will definitely lose social status. Worse, he mayface a threat to his physical safety. That slide down through the chutes andladders game of status is exactly the opposite of male privilege.Transsexual men arenâe(TM)t the only ones being accused by feminists of âeoehavingmale privilege.âe Transsexual women are often being targeted with thatinflammatory phrase as well. I recently heard those two words used, in anextremely accusatory tone, I might add, to explain that âeoemale privilegeâe wasthe reason why an MTF transsexual woman wouldnâe(TM)t be able to access servicesat a shelter. A transsexual woman canâe(TM)t even get a much-used mattress at anovercrowded shelter for one winter night, and youâe(TM)re saying sheâe(TM)s gotprivilege? Whatâe(TM)s the privilege, exactly? That sheâe(TM)ll get to freeze outside,I guess.
Consider another set of examples, also drawn from my experience. ATwo-Spirit woman is told that she cannot attend the Michigan Womynâe(TM)s Music Festivaluntil and unless sheâe(TM)s had costly, painful and invasive medical proceduresto remove part of her anatomy. An MTF-identified person who came out abouther transsexuality at her place of employment, where she had worked for twoyears, was fired. A trans woman here in Toronto was recently asked by one ofher peers to leave a local lesbian discussion group because it was forâeoewomen only.âe A young transsexual woman with two children is fighting acustody battle because her ex-wife doesnâe(TM)t believe sheâe(TM)s fit as a parentanymore.
Whereâe(TM)s the male privilege? The common denominator is not privilege buttrans oppression. Academic feminists/queer women have used a lens ofâeoeoppression and privilegeâe to view the world and have often urged men,whites, and middle- and upper-class people to consider their own privilegesas they move through life. Now itâe(TM)s feminists themselves who need to getreal about the kinds of gender privileges they take for granted. I refer tothe privilege of being a person whose assigned sex at birth matches theirgender identity throughout their lives. Iâe(TM)ve created a word to describe theassumption that people who âeoematchâe in this way are more âeoerealâe and/or moreâeoenormalâe than are those whose assigned sex at birth is incongruent withtheir gender identity. I call it âeoebiocentrism.âe
This comes up when, for instance, womenâe(TM)s shelters may be uncomfortableserving transsexual/transgendered women for fear that their non-transclients would be uncomfortable. Underlying this is a biocentric attitudethat transsexual women arenâe(TM)t real women. When a service implies that transwomen clients should be âeoegratefulâe when they are included in âeoewomenâe(TM)s onlyspaces,âe this is biocentrism. And when some of the drag performance artistsand gender theorists out there forget that âeoeplayingâe with gender is itself aprivilege, that too is biocentrism. These feminists need to tackle their ownbiocentrist attitudes. If they canâe(TM)t, or wonâe(TM)t, then, ironically, they arethe ones perpetrating gender-based oppression.
My recommendation? Feminist scholars could play a tremendous role in drawingattention to the real-life experiences, needs and issues of trans people ifonly they could turn their attention away from their own idealized conceptsof what fun it must be to explore masculinity. Instead of focusing on howmuch privilege comes with being accepted as a man in society, female-bornfeminists and lesbians could instead be critically considering their ownprivilege and power as women-born- / women-identified women in a world ofbinary gender systems.
And thereâe(TM)s my beef.âe"Kyle Scanlon
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