TW: cissexism, sexism, suicide
In case you missed the quite heated discussion over, well, the validity of transgender identities in the UK in the past week, and want to understand what set it off better than simply staring at the Guardian’s unconvincing and poorly written apology, Jezebel’s Lindy West has a rather excellent summary of the events leading up to Julie Burchill’s
opinion piece rant as well as some of the choicest quotes from it.
West begins with Suzanne Moore’s cissexist comment that women must deal with beauty standards purportedly matched only by “Brazilian transsexuals.” While breaking down the various ways this harms and devalues the lives and experiences of transgender women, her third point seemed particularly insightful, which noted, “It is extremely othering and exclusionary to hold up trans women as a counterexample to ‘real’ women.”
Part of the horrifying nature of that process is that women themselves are already held up as the counterexample to “real” people, the men, so to be among not only those who are exiled from humanity to some extent, but also be rejected by your fellow women who don’t want to include you within their dehumanized ranks, is a terrible thing to have to face. Which might explain why so many transgender women, even comparatively successful ones, contemplate suicide.
(Lana Wachowski after speaking about her suicide attempt while accepting her Visibility Award from the Human Rights Campaign, from here.)
Of course, while it’s quite clear how transgender women are being discussed as if unreal in Moore’s and Burchill’s screeds, it’s something that’s sometimes harder to see how women, both cisgender and transgender, are treated as distractions from what is real. But it’s an argument nearly as embedded in so many statements and actions as the invalidity assigned to trans people. It’s in the fact that killers only have gender if they’re female. It’s even buried in a valid point the Onion recently made about the ironclad focus on wealthy and famous Americans over the realities of those who are neither, which might not occur to you until I ask you to find a woman in the pictures we’re implicitly asked to care about more and a man mentioned in the statements we’re seemingly requested to care about less.
West wisely recognized that the way Burchill and Moore spoke about transgender women was “the kind of language that misogynist trolls use against [all women], to trivialize and derail and silence feminist discourse, every day” but in using it against transgender women, it was the same hostility but “coming from inside the house.” It’s the recreation of the same violence used against them, but redirected towards a specific group of those delegitimized alongside them that conveniently they don’t belong to.
In short, what these statements call into question are Burchill’s and Moore’s ultimate goal. Do they really want a more egalitarian society, or simply one that will stop its hostility against them? The personal may be political, but if your motivations end there, can you really claim to be intending to create equality?