The loudest voices in the trans movement remain those of trans women, and it is not coincidental that the primary concerns of these individuals center almost entirely around language control and reality control. (I.e. “You must not say” and “Instead you will say” and “I was never, even though I was”) . This insistence upon controlling language or re-working realities in order to cater to the special needs and whims of every fucking person is an astoundingly male concept, and to me, as a female, the endeavor is positively alien in its entitlement.
Which brings me to an atrocious Autostraddle (briefly lesbian publication) article I came across last week in which the author, Mari Brighe, argues that people must NEVER EVER acknowledge that trans women were ever male. (This variety of revisionist history is not uncommon in the trans/queer movement. See also this truly insipid piece from The Advocate.) The article is extremely long, and so, too, will be this post.
As I am wont, I have selected a few segments of the article, that I feel exemplify the type of damaging, misogynist rhetoric that so often comes from the trans/queer thought-and-word police, to comment upon.
Early in the tome, Brighe, to establish the case for never acknowledging that male-born people were ever, ever male, defers to GLAAD:
GLAAD explicitly informs journalists not to use the terms “biologically male,” “biologically female,” “genetically male,” “genetically female,” “born a man,” and “born a woman.”
1) What the fuck is GLAAD to tell journalists (or anyone for that matter) what they can and cannot say? 2) Is GLAAD now the arbiter of objective truth? 3) While not having to confront terms that hurt your feelings might make you feel better, removing said terms from public discourse does not mean that the facts have changed.
Then, the article gets personal:
I wasn’t born a boy, and I’ve never been a boy, and it’s like a knife to my heart every single time I hear that phrase.
Okay. I have empathy. There’s lots of things I’ve lived through that are like a knife to my heart to recall. There’s lots of things I’ve said and done that are like a knife to my heart to remember. I’m a human being who’s been around for nearly four decades, and there are knives aplenty that can be taken to my heart. And it sucks. But you know what? Our feelings don’t negate the facts of our lived histories. If we are to continue as a marginally rational, functional society, we cannot allow feelings to dictate what we will regard as “true.” The “this-makes-me-feel-bad-therefore-it-never-happened” is as delusional as it is untenable.
And this line, in which the author bemoans the fact that people continue to make publicly verifiable observations, I just plain liked (really, it may be my favorite sentence in the whole piece):
Despite all these people making it absolutely clear that this is something no one should do, IT JUST KEEPS HAPPENING.
I get this. I feel the same way about rape and child molestation and war mongering and, and, and – NEXT.
Later still, Brighe makes something “perfectly clear”:
I want to make a few things perfectly clear. Trans women are women. Period. End of story. We’re not “women who used to be men.” We’re not “men who identify as women.” We’re not “males who identify as women.” We’re not “men who became women.” WE ARE WOMEN.
Perhaps I’m dense, but no matter how many times I read this all-too-familiar assertion, it still doesn’t seem “perfectly clear” to me. I need someone to explain this. Trans women are women because . . . why? Because you state it IN NO UNCERTAIN CAPS? Because you’re full of male entitlement and feel that words must mean precisely what you want them to? Because gender profiteers (surgeons, pharmaceutical companies) benefit from this conviction? Because Autostraddle gives you a platform? I’m sorry, but the twains have yet to meet for me on this one.
Moving along . . .
Our past, present, and futures are ours to define and no one else’s. Even if we didn’t figure out that we were trans until well into our adult lives, it absolutely does not mean that we were ever boys and men.
This is very inspiring. Someone should put this on a poster with a mountain climber or an astronaut and find the nearest elementary school classroom to tack it up in.
However, while inspiring, it is, like all such platitudes, empty and meaningless. It is, like all motivational posters, intended to comfort and delude. And this is a big part of trans/queer politics – if you shout something long enough, if you insist upon something long enough, you make it true and real, despite any and all evidence to the contrary. This is not about making the world a more just and equitable place, this is about manipulating language, manipulating reality so that a delusion goes on unchallenged. This is about criminalizing basic observational skills when the observations do not fit the narrative the super-special individual has created for himself. This is not revolutionary. This is narcissism.
And on the subject of narcissism:
As much as I’ve talked about trans people and the trans community on the whole, we’re a pretty individualistic bunch, each with our ways of discussing ourselves and our journeys.
No. Fucking. Shit. (Also, guess what? We’re all “individuals.” That doesn’t mean reality has to bend to our individuality. Life doesn’t work that way. Grow the fuck up.)
Later still (I’m telling you, this article was INSANELY LONG), Brighe says that because Fallon Fox, who beats women for a living, says we shouldn’t acknowledge reality, then we better listen up. Brighe also waxes philosophic about biology – “What is it to be biologically male?” – and seriously, if we’re going to do this, if we’re going to open basic biology up for debate, let’s please invite the fucking Creationists to the table, because I’m sure they’d love to be a part of this conversation.
Then, what follows is, bar none, my “favorite” part of the whole article:
In the end, male and female are just boxes on a form checked by a doctor making a semi-educated guess.
“Semi-educated guess.” Riiiight. A semi-educated guess is what I did repeatedly on the Math portion of the GRE’s. A semi-educated guess is when I’m lost and approximate that I’m moving in an eastward direction. A semi-educated guess is NOT a doctor with years of medical experience being able to determine that a baby’s penis and testicles are male sex organs.
Moreover, as much as the idea might appeal to young people and gender obsessed males, “female” is not “just a box on a form.” To argue this is to trivialize women’s actual, lived realities.
The effort to redefine the meaning of “female/woman” involves a tremendous amount of debasement. The lives of women and girls must be reduced to “boxes on a form” or “feelings in a man’s head” or “mere identities that one can try on.”
However, the fact that I’m female – with female chromosomes, female medical issues, female physiology, and all the bullshit that comes with being a member of the female sex class is NOT the result of a “box on a fucking form.”
Identify however you like. Be yourself. Wear whatever makes you most comfortable. Adopt a new name. Grow your hair out. Get a neck tattoo. Trust me, no one gives a fuck. Enjoy your special life, but don’t foist your bullshit on women. Don’t demand that women tow some PoMo line about our female reality being “just a box on a form.” Don’t tell women that they must defer to organizations like GLAAD or violent misogynists like Fallon fucking Fox.
So why does this matter? Why even bother responding to this egregiously lengthy piece? First of all, because this way of thinking is becoming pervasive and it has real, tangible consequences for women.
Words must mean something. Civilization rests, in large part, on some modicum of consistency around what we collectively understand words to mean. This is important for a whole host of reasons. For a much more thorough, and smart, examination of this concept, I would recommend reading this post, which I posted some weeks back.
Just as words must mean something, I also contend that we must acknowledge real, lived histories as they actually happened (inasmuch as the human brain is capable of this). This is particularly important in a cultural clime that has become increasingly subjective, where our grasp on even the slightest semblance of reality is becoming ever more tenuous.
I am reminded of a quote by the writer Tim O’Brien: “That’s what fiction is for. It’s for getting at the truth when the truth isn’t sufficient for the truth.” There is a tendency, among us as a species, to revise our own narratives, to want to dwell in the “seeming-ness” (another O’Brien term) rather than the “reality.” This is what art is for — be it film, fiction, poetry, performance art. Art allows us to explore truths that are not manifest truths, and this is wonderful and necessary. However, to apply the “seeming-ness,” that art busies itself with, to histories and claim it as manifest truth (while appealing) is delusional and dangerous.
Within every one of us – artistic abilities notwithstanding – live a whole host of fictions, of truths that are not manifest. For example, when I was twenty, I briefly dated a man. What that period of time “means” or how I would define that experience, within the broader context of my life, means precious little when we are thinking of manifest truth. The manifest truth is I DATED A DUDE. That is part of my actual, lived history. And sure, I can lie about it to myself, to others. I can try to make the truth more palatable by convincing myself that momentary boyfriend was really a closeted trans lesbian (he totally liked poetry, had long hair, and enjoyed The Mary Tyler Moore show so . . . maybe?). I can reframe the situation all sorts of ways so that it better aligns with how I understand myself today, and I can insist that people who knew me then NEVER ACKNOWLEDGE THAT FACT, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
There must be a line between what we tell ourselves as individuals in order to feel better, and what we collectively understand to be true. Reworking history and language based on the particular and peculiar emotional needs of individuals can only beget (if it has not already begotten) a sort of intellectual anarchy in which we are unable to communicate, organize around, or critically think about issues that matter. (As far as females are concerned, this variety of intellectual chaos benefits the patriarchy – if we are confused, if we cannot speak, then we cannot challenge or subvert or even clearly see the systems that oppress us.)
As females, we must insist that language and histories are not revised in order to suit the needs of males – even those who feel like women. As lesbians, we must insist that language and histories are not manipulated in order to placate males who feel like lesbians. If we allow our histories, our ability to talk about ourselves, our experiences, our lives to be so far debased as to become entirely subjective, wholly interpretive like a white-washed plank hanging on an art gallery wall, then we are fucked. We are erased.