Monday, July 30, 2007

Some thoughts about gender.

Advance warning – this whole post is going to be me thinking aloud. Completely unfiltered and basically stream of consciousness. It’s possible that I may offend. If so, feel free to tell me so. In fact, feel free to tell me that I’m an ignorant jackass and here’s why! I won’t mind.

That said, I’ve been thinking about the ongoing grudge match that a small number of radical feminists seem to have against transpeople, particularly MTF transwomen, and a few things have been sort of jumping out at me. This isn’t meant as an attack, BTW – if there’s one thing you can say for me it’s that I’m honest. If I mean to attack you I’ll walk right up and smack you in the face with my gauntlet rather than sneaking around nipping at your heels. So, not an attack, just some musing.

What got me started were some comments by Qgrrl over at Alas. I don’t just mean her comments on the latest round of fighting either – I’ve been reading her musings about how she feels about this issue for a while now. And then I read a post over at Heart’s place about a trip she and a few friends took to some sort of women’s festival, and something clicked in my head. It was weird. I still don’t AGREE with the radfem critique of transpeople, not least because I dislike the fact that the way they frame it really does come across as an attack on the PEOPLE rather than on an ideology or a way of thinking and that just isn’t OK with me. I do, however, feel as if I understand where they’re coming from a little more, and I’m wondering if anyone else is seeing the same thing I am.

(Note : This is also where I may piss people off. Sorry, I’m really trying not to.)

So I was looking at the pics that Heart posted of the roadtrip she took, and you know what jumped out at me? Other than Heart herself almost every woman pictured falls into a certain stereotype, and that stereotype is intimately tied up with how we conceptualize gender as an issue.

This is a tricky area, discussing people’s sexual personae. What I’m trying to say is that there’s a certain type of woman that I encounter over and over again in feminist circles, and that that type of woman has a very distinct gender identity. It’s sort of butch, but there’s more to it than that, I think. I’m not even sure what descriptive term to use for that particular gender identity, but I’m willing to bet that everyone who has any familiarity with feminism knows the “type” I mean. It’s probably the most common “type” of woman that you meet at feminist events, along with the hippy earth mother “type” (ie. Heart, or our buddy Daisy). I’m going to call this “type” radfembutch, for lack of a better term, although if there already IS a better term let me know and I’ll use it instead.

(And no, male readers, terms that are designed to communicate disdain for a woman’s appearance do not count and I will not use them.)

The fact that the English language doesn’t seem to have a word for that “type” is interesting to me, and I think that it’s significant. It’s a basic principle of linguistics that anything a culture considers worth thinking or talking about, it has a word for. So why don’t we have a word for that particular female gender identity? It’s not like that identity is all that uncommon. I’m willing to bet that everyone here can point to a woman they know, even if only peripherally, who has that identity. So why the gap in the language?

I think it’s because our culture doesn’t much like those women. It doesn’t know what to do with them, how to classify them. They confuse a lot of people, because most people see gender as a binary and so they don’t tend to deal very well with people who don’t fit easily into the categories “masculine” and “feminine”.

Neither do transpeople, and I think this may be where the grudge match comes from. I looked at those pictures from Heart’s road-trip, and I remembered Qgrrl’s comments a while back about how the language used by transpeople made her uncomfortable because it made her feel erased. From what I can tell, she very much of the radfembutch type – not at all comfortable with being “feminine” but not identifying with “masculine” either. Not quite sure where she fits, feels as if she had to figure it all out on her own.

That has to be a scary position to be in. I’m not sure that those of us who have always felt more or less comfortable with our gender identity can really understand just how unsettling that might be, to feel like society was determined to slot everyone into neat little gender categories and not feel like you fit into any of those available. For a teenager that could be terrifying.

So, I started thinking about that, and wondering how many women involved in radical feminism had to go through something like that. And then something clicked in my mind, and I finally saw WHY those women are so protective of their “space” and why so many of them are so very hostile to anyone they see as an interloper. If you’d spent most of your life feeling like you didn’t belong, and then you found a place where you DID feel like you belonged, wouldn’t you be protective of that? Wouldn’t you want to hold on to it?

Qgrrl’s point seemed to be that trans language, particularly the word “cisgender”, left her feeling discomfited because she felt like it excluded her experience (and I’m not her, so if she happens to come across this and I’m misunderstanding what she mean then please, jump in and correct me). I’m guessing she’s not the only one. It seems to me that there are TONS of women who fit that mold, and that many of them feel like they found a home within feminism. I wonder to what extent that may be what’s really going on with the trans issue. The way that I see some radical feminists reacting looks as if they feel threatened in some way, and other than Heart most of those women do seem to be kind of on the butch side. How does that play into this whole issue? Is that where the root of the conflict lies, with one group feeling like their home and their identity that they worked hard to create is under attack, and the other group (transwomen) feeling like those women are attempting to exclude them from places that SHOULD feel like home purely out of spite? In some cases it does look like spite, but in others it honestly looks more like fear, or confusion, and in an odd way that’s kind of encouraging. Spite or malice are hard things to get around, but fear and confusion? Those can be addressed. Compromises can be made. People can become more comfortable with things that once disturbed them.

Putting that aside for a second, the little flash of clarity I had while looking at those pictures had a second part. I’ve seen a lot of arguing amongst feminists about the idea of a feminist “dress code” or image or whatever you want to call it, and what usually ends up happening is that two opposing camps form. One camp says “there is no dress code, what the Hell are you babbling about, you’re just being paranoid” (otherwise known as the “no one’s trying to take away your mascara, honey” argument when the speaker is being patronizing). The other camp says “Of COURSE there’s a dress code, are you blind? Go to any feminist event and take a look around and you’ll see it”.

Now I fall squarely into the second camp. Yep, there’s a dress code. Of course it’s not official, because that’s not how feminists do things. It’s there, though. But again, I always wondered WHY the other side didn’t see it. Then I looked at the pictures taken at the festival and I had a flash of clarity.

The women who have that radfembutch gender identity that I was talking about earlier? For them it doesn’t feel like a dress code. For them it feels natural. It’s what makes them comfortable. The mainstream idea of “feminine” makes them distinctly uncomfortable. For most of those women, feminist culture probably feels like a safe haven, and feminist events like the one place where they can be themselves and nobody will give them any shit over it.

I really don’t think they realize that for other women, ones who don’t have the same gender identity as them, that look, that way of being, isn’t comfortable at all. It feels unnatural, just as unnatural as a skirt, heels and lipstick would probably feel to them. For a feminist like me, whose gender identity is pretty “feminine”, feminist events don’t feel like a safe haven or like coming home. I feel out of place. People look at me funny, and it’s not just me being paranoid. I’ve seen pictures of myself taken at those events, and I stick out like a sore thumb. Even if I’m in jeans and a t-shirt and I have no make-up on.

This is the complicated, confusing part that I’m trying to get at. It’s the meat of the whole issue. Gender identity is about more than clothes. Put me in basically the same clothes as the standard radfem “uniform” and I still don’t look like I belong. I don’t feel like it, either, and people don’t TREAT me like I belong. They look at me suspiciously, like I’m a spy. Or possibly a really evil, dangerous ninja. And it’s weird.

And yet I’ve had this conversation with radfems of that type, and they’ve told me that I’m imagining things. And I’ve tried to understand why they don’t see it, and ended up confused. And then I had that moment, and it clicked. Those women can’t imagine why I (and other women like me) don’t feel comfortable in their environments because they really believe that what feels natural to them is what’s natural for all women. They think women who feel differently have been brainwashed.

That’s not an unusual way of thinking, really. Most people assume that their subjective reality is the “truth” in some metaphysical sense and that everyone else is lying or wrong. In truth, though, everyone’s subjective reality is a little different, and we all see the world in different ways. Most of us never really grasp the fact that our reality isn’t universal and that others do not necessarily feel as we do. And that, I think, is where all these intra-feminist conflicts come from, the inability of people to see the world from someone else’s perspective.

I’m not saying that I’m some mystical being who’s above all this, by the way. It took me a while to grasp the fact that my reality wasn’t universal. For years I truly believed that everyone was bisexual and that people who said they weren’t were either deluded or lying. I finally accepted that I was wrong, but it took a while. I’m not sure that most people ever even try.

I’m not sure if any of this makes sense to anyone else. I just had a weird moment where something clicked and things that had been confusing me suddenly made sense. I’m still not sure what to do with that, but it was interesting enough that I though it might be worth sharing. Does anyone else get what I’m talking about? And, if I’m right and the core of the conflict here is partly that there are some significant differences in gender identity within feminism, and those differences are making it really hard for people to communicate with each other because our basic frames of reference are so different, what can we do about that?

It occurs to me that people who are used to doing work on race issues might have some interesting things to say about this, since they’re probably accustomed to having to deal with the “different frames of reference” thing.

Anyone?


88 comments:

Myca said...

What you say here:

And that, I think, is where all these intra-feminist conflicts come from, the inability of people to see the world from someone else’s perspective.

is fucking gospel truth.

I also think that part of the difficulty lies in the fact that there's not really a word for the social/gender positioning you point out.

So, looking at MWMF, for example, it ends up getting shorthanded to 'women only', when what they mean is something like "this is intended primarily for women who are radfembutch and meet this social/gender positioning, and we'll kind of be okay with women who don't (kinda sorta) but transfolk are right out."

Meanwhile, the transfolk might well have been okay with not attending a 'radfembutch' event, figuring, "well, yeah. I'm not a radfembutch. that makes sense."

But when you call it a 'women's only' event, there's a little voice in the transperson's head saying "You know what? I am a fucking woman, goddmmit."

Sigh.

Everyone needs more empathy.

Just . . . everyone. Me too.

Myca said...

Oh, and . . . great post.

:-)

Cassandra Says said...

"Sigh.

Everyone needs more empathy.

Just . . . everyone. Me too. "

And me too. I swear I'm trying, though.

The odd thing is that if you do try a little? Life is better that way. Fearing and distrusting other people is a shitty way to live, for oneself as well as for everyone else. Empathy is it's own reward, really.

DBB said...

Great post. And I think it is something to keep in mind for other contexts as well - the idea that just because you see things as a certain way doesn't mean everyone else does. And it doesn't mean any one perspective is right or wrong - just different - and if you don't recognize this, communication and understanding starts to become difficult to impossible.

But beware those who claim to recognize this, then try to, as you put it, explain the difference as that they have seen 'the truth' and that you are just brainwashed or wrong.

Cassandra Says said...

"But when you call it a 'women's only' event, there's a little voice in the transperson's head saying "You know what? I am a fucking woman, goddmmit.""

There's that, too. Rejection always hurts more when it comes from people who you feel like you ought to be able to trust, and I really think that the particular group of radfems who have issues with transwomen completely fail to take the fact that they have feelings that can be hurt into account. Not only am I not seeing any empathy or even attempt to empathise, I'm not even seeing the smallest trace of compassion, which is why the whole thing pisses me off so much.

Cassandra Says said...

DBB - Yep. That's been one of the startling things about blogging for me, realizing the extent to which most people never even TRY to see things from anyone else's perspective.

And that idea that one group has found "the truth" - nonsense. There is no one "truth". That's sort of Philosophy 101.

drakyn said...

Great post, just one thing though...
I think you mean "gender expression," not "gender identity."
Simplified definitions are: gender identity is basically your gender; gender expression is how you express yourself/gender.
For instance, my gender identity is male and my gender expression is flaming-geek. My sister's would be female and feminine goth.
And I think most radfems identify as women or females.


And there's a lot of language we need to develop. >.<
We need to figure out how to describe gender identity better, how to describe how it feels to have your assigned sex and your gender identity not match, to find a better set of words for the trans*/cis*/intersex/etc continuums, and more.
As for cisgender I've seem a couple places say that we should refine cis* to cisgender and cissexual. With cissexual meaning their gender identity and their assigned sex match. And then cisgender would mean their gender expression matches their gender role.
I like that idea, though I still think there will need to be more changes. Like, where do intersex people fit in? Do they fit in somewhere on the trans*/cis* continuum, have their own continuum, or both?
I don't think the two will split any time soon though, too many people still use words like biologically or genetic.

And I think maybe the general ignorance and stereotypes of trans*people mixed with radfem theorizing, examining, etc. causes some of the hatred and fear we see. I mean, most every radfem anti-trans* theory I've seen has been based on stereotypes, incorrect assumptions, the medical industry/society's policies and views of us and our lives, and/or the words and actions of a few assrags.
Maybe the next big radfem author that deals with the topic of trans*people will actually listen to us and not base their theories on stereotypes. Maybe by then we will have better language to describe things. ^.^

Cassandra Says said...

Drakyn - You're right, I did mean gender expression. Thanks for pointing it out gently and kindly...

FWIW, my gut feeling is that the whole issue boils down to the fact that we currently tend to conceptualise gender as a binary. I don't think it is, I think it's a continuum. In fact, I think MOST of the things that we think of as binaries (mind/body, body/soul, gay/straight, and on and on) are actually continuums. I think everything is linked to everything else and that any time something SEEMS to be really simple and cut and dried, you probably aren't looking closely enough.

(Why yes, I DO read Buddhist philosophy, why do you ask?)

And I agree with you that most of the radfem anti-trans stuff seems to be based on ignorance and wierd stereotypes. Which is what gives me hope that this thing can be resolved - I don't think most radfems truly hate trans people, they're just working on limited information. The ones that really DO hate trans people are a lost cause, but I think they're the minority.

And if you come across better terminology let me know!

Arwen said...

Can't comment for long - leaving for a week and half to sleep - but I heart you.

Arwen said...

Leaving for a week and HAVE to sleep. Duh.

Myca said...

There's that, too. Rejection always hurts more when it comes from people who you feel like you ought to be able to trust, and I really think that the particular group of radfems who have issues with transwomen completely fail to take the fact that they have feelings that can be hurt into account.

Well not just that, but purely as a linguistic thing.

I mean, if I hold a picnic for all the white residents of my towns . . . black folks won't like it, certainly, but at least they'll know where they stand. "Oh, okay, this is a racist picnic."

On the other hand, if I put up a bunch of posters announcing a picnic for 'all the people in town,' black residents would be rightly infuriated to show up and be turned away . . . especialyl if I used the justification that they're not really people.

If you're going to be a bigot, make your bigotry clear. If you hold a 'women's only' event, and you exclude transfolk, you're saying explicitly that transwoman aren't women, and I think above and beyond being excluded, that's an additional insult that can't stand.

---Myca

Octogalore said...

Cassandra, this is an interesting new angle on the issue.

I come from a city with a very high lesbian and also high radical feminist population (which, surprise, sometimes overlapped). We generally crassly categorized them into 3 categories: lipstick (rare); earth mother; and butch.

From what you are saying, the latter two are the ones who are welcome at MichFest (whether lesbian or straight), and the former isn't. And possibly some of the people who do not want trans feel this way because they would put them in the "lipstick" category, and would ideally not be comfortable with anyone from this category, trans or not. In this instance, I agree that more empathy is needed.

Then there is another category, IMO, of radfems, who are not inclusive of trans not JUST for presentation and comfort reasons, but because no matter how radfembutch the transperson may appear, the radfem believes this person is colonizing or is an imposter because she isn't a WBW.

The latter belief system is one for which I have a much harder time feeling compassion.

belledame222 said...

well i dunno how much empathy i have really. say it's a WBW who's "lipstick;" again, if you bill yourself as all-inclusive, it's pretty shitty to treat the lipstick femmes as less-than and what-are-you-doing-here, too. but yeah, i suppose as long as you're technically not turned away at the door or nothin', you can't really officially complain. Just...eh, i dunno.

personally the Natural Wimbon and Lentil Loaf Fest in the woods is my idea of hell, but i suppose that's really neither here nor there...

Octogalore said...

It depends on the reason for "lipstick" exclusion. If it's because, as Cassandra posits, the radfem may feel judged for a more gender-neutral presentation, I can understand why she might want to be around people with similar presentation, although I think this attitude is unproductive.

If instead she doesn't feel personally insecure but instead feels that to be "lipstick" is inconsistent with being a true feminist, then I'm with you in not having an ounce of empathy for this postition.

I would bet that there are very few in the "lipstick" category at MichFest. Then again, having never been and never planning to attend, I have no evidence one way or the other... just a guess.

Cassandra Says said...

Octo & Belle - What I was trying to get at is that I think that the JUSTIFICATION given for rejecting both femmey women and transwomen may not be the actual REASON for the rejection. The justification given is a political one (which I don't agree with), but I wonder if the REAL reason has more to do with underlying issues of gender presentation and how people feel about that. I think it's a tribal thing.

At the risk of really raising people's ire...what if all the mystical essence of womanhood stuff is a way to solve the cognitive dissonance created by being a woman who's kind of butch but who thinks men are the devil, and therefore that anything "masculine" is suspect? As in, well OK, my gender presentation is sort of dude-like and dudes are bad BUT there's something special and mysterious about womanhood and I have that by virtue of my biology, therefore I am a member of the Woman Tribe (and you, transwoman, are not, so there!).

I'm not butch, so obviously I'm speculating (anyone who is more butch want to jump in and help me here?), but it seems to me that if a woman was butch and really bought into the "men are evil" viewpoint that would seriously fuck with her self-perception, and all the stuff we're seeing might be a (misguided) attempt to deal with that.

drakyn said...

Heh, I really agree with the idea of multiple continuums. It seems to me that they are not just linked, but inter-related. There are continuums inside continuums, parallel continuums, perpendicular continuums, etc.
And I have also studied various Eastern philosophies/religions. ^.^
(The Tao de Ching is great)

I actually started commenting on blogs because I wanted to debunk the "trans*man=butch lesbian" myth.
Since I'd sort of have to be masculine and primarily interested in women--and I'm neither.

I wish I knew better terminology, I try to look at different sites and remember different analogies and things, but language evolves slowly.

belledame222 said...

what if all the mystical essence of womanhood stuff is a way to solve the cognitive dissonance created by being a woman who's kind of butch but who thinks men are the devil, and therefore that anything "masculine" is suspect? As in, well OK, my gender presentation is sort of dude-like and dudes are bad BUT there's something special and mysterious about womanhood and I have that by virtue of my biology, therefore I am a member of the Woman Tribe (and you, transwoman, are not, so there!).

That is interesting. It makes sense of comments like lucky's, rabbitting on about how TF (!) had "penis envy" whereas she, not feminine though she was, transloathing as she is, loooooooves women, you know, women are "magic."

otoh i'm not sure if it really explains lemon drop, who's pretty conventionally feminine, lipstick or no lipstick. I mean, i really doubt she ever gets "sirred."

so yeah, i think there's a conflation of a few different types here, even with the 70's template: there's the andro-butch-dyke, but there's also the crunchy granola hippie chick; she may not ID as femme, she may be unshaven and barefaced, but the long hair and flowing skirts and monikers like WyndWillowChymeWombyn doesn't really get her tarred with the "gender incongruent" or even necessarily clocked as "dyke." Just, you know: hippie chick.

prosphoros said...

It seems almost like dueling epistemologies, linked to the idea that one's own identity can only be validated in relation to others, which makes the propagation of one's own perspective a vital necessity, no matter to whom it does violence. The whole 'I am like *this*, which requires everyone not like me to be like *that* and only *that*' mindset seems unfortunately common among resistance/identity communities, which makes a certain kind of sense, but it seems like the starting place seems to be taken as the promised land instead of, well, the starting place.

Daisy said...

FABULOUS post, and very insightful, thorough and empathetic. And I have always loved Q-grrls' posts, also!

My post about Michfest touches on this, as some women have replied who definitely match your radfembutch description. (I just quoted you on the thread, so drop by!)

I think you make so much sense.

Amy said...

I’m going to call this “type” radfembutch, for lack of a better term, although if there already IS a better term let me know and I’ll use it instead.

I think the word you're looking for is womyn or womon. It seems to have flourished between the mid-80's and '90's, but I don't know if it's still out there anymore, since I left any semblance of the womyn's community years ago. The term pretty much expresses the prototype of American lesbian feminist gender presentation.

Just a quibble with the descriptions I'm seeing here: womyn are not butch. The gender presentation common among this kind of feminist is meant to do away with masculinity and femininity altogether.

The idea that anyone can bake muffins or build shelves regardless of sex should not be radical, but one thing I'll give the womyn's movement is that they realize that in our society, it is still way more of a radical idea than it should be.

Although the terms "butch" and "femme" were used among womyn in my day, at least, what was meant by them was a slightly pink or blue tendency compared to the outright, codified, serious gender play that was traditional particularly among blue-collar lesbians in the later half of the 20th century. Calling someone "butch" or "femme" among womyn is kind of naughty poking fun at the "old ways", kind of a tee-hee "Aren't gender roles silly? Aren't we glad we've gone beyond all that?" Androgynous presentation among radical feminists is a complex, radical statement about the body that encompasses all expression -- work, dress, sexuality, language, and so forth.

Anyway, my point is that something really butch at the Michigan festival would go over about as well as a halftime show by the Cockettes. Hey hey, ho ho, this penis party's got to go.

Found this post through a transgender girlfriend of mine, and quite glad of it. This is a good blog.

Trinity said...

Cassandra:

I'm copying here what I posted at Daisy's. At the time I'd just read the excerpt at your place so I wasn't entirely sure what you meant by the way "radfembutches" feel their "discomfort":

"From what I can tell, she very much of the radfembutch type – not at all comfortable with being “feminine” but not identifying with “masculine” either. Not quite sure where she fits, feels as if she had to figure it all out on her own.

That has to be a scary position to be in. I’m not sure that those of us who have always felt more or less comfortable with our gender identity can really understand just how unsettling that might be, to feel like society was determined to slot everyone into neat little gender categories and not feel like you fit into any of those available. For a teenager that could be terrifying."

Thing is, depending on what exactly "radfembutch" means and "more or less comfortable" mean.

BEcause if they mean what I think they might, I feel that way. Or similar.

I periodically wonder if I really am a "woman." I periodically choke typing that, going "no, women are that related and similar but not-me thing, generally with similar bodies and hormone levels."

But then I try to type "genderqueer" and it's worse.

And "man" -- well, I feel a little bit of desire there, which I'm sure will put me in the Illegitimate category with the policy supporters.

But that's not "fitting," either. It's "maybe I'd fit more if I were."

But then when I really think about that I realize that a big part of why would be sex -- I wouldn't have to be an impostor, my cock would be a prosthesis rather than a "toy," people would stop telling me what I do is "pointless" because I don't feel sensation, etc. I'd fit the sexual script and wouldn't have to feel so... off.

And if I were on hormones, it would be easier to craft the muscular body I want. And my clit would be bigger.

But all of that's about fitting easier in my body, not in my *gender*. My gender would still, I suspect, be ill-fitting, like a discarded t-shirt from my older brother.

And to have such a sexual reason -- to want my sex to make more sense and heighten my desire and my topness (both of which I hear T often does and suspect it would for me) -- well, there's such a struggle, such a

WE ARE NOT FETISHISTS

that what would it mean for poser me to get involved?

and also there's something transgressive, defiant, exhilarating when it's not bone-wearying about I'm a "woman" too

when I can get that word to fit.

sometimes, yeah, it's exhilarating. "I am woman, and if there's no room for me here I'll make it!"

but eh. right now it doesn't, so much. my feeling out of joint comes and goes. so who knows.

but the thing is: if that's the same discomfort, or similar, to the discomfort of woman-id'ed butches, as I suspect it might be

well, I don't see the supposed link between that and transfolk. someone handling feelings that might be similar (from what I gather, not the same, but I can see why people might think they're similar... heck, I keep wondering if I should, so) with a different strategy is not a threat.

it's the person handling where sie is in the best way for hir. it's making a choice. if you make another that is not about hir, and hirs is not about you.

Now to add: Yes, I think some of the bitterness of the person you're describing toward feminine women is what you say it is:

Wait, all that was foisted on me and I couldn't stand it! It all seemed like heavy makeup for some play that I was expected never, ever, never to scrub off lest my womanhood falter! How can you LIKE it and NEED it and claim that we the paintless are oppressing you for not wanting to see you in such ridiculous getup?

I've felt that way about women who like their femininity too.

Oddly enough not so much about feminine men... I guess to me they seemed like kindred, so I couldn't be mad. And it seemed not like forced painting, but chosen, careful adornment. Didn't have the nonconsensual overtones that femininity aimed at a woman had for me.

Cassandra Says said...

Trin - "well, I don't see the supposed link between that and transfolk. someone handling feelings that might be similar (from what I gather, not the same, but I can see why people might think they're similar... heck, I keep wondering if I should, so) with a different strategy is not a threat."

Agreed, and I wasn't saying that I think the way some radfems relate to transfolk is OK (it's not), more that I think I may finally get WHY they respond the way they do. Maybe figuring out the why could help towards some kind of detente, maybe not.

Agreed, and I wasn't saying that I thought the way some radfems respond to tran

Cassandra Says said...

And Amy's point got at part of what I was trying to say (badly, because I don't know the right terminology) - I don't think the stereotypical radfem gender presentation really is "butch". It's definately not butch in the way that a lot of dykes do "butch", partly because it's intended to read as "neutral" and partly because a lot of butch dykes are OK being viewed as "masculine", which most radfems are most definately not OK with.

Also RE Belle's point about hippy chicks...granted that I don't go to Michfest (apart from all the political subtleties I'd hate the music, and I don't like crafty, hippy stuff), BUT my impression is that amongst the radfem hardcore NOW the butch/neutral/wombyn thing is much more common than the hippy chick thing. I think it was different in the sixties. Something seems to have shifted, although it may just be that in the sixties most leftist people looked kind of hippy-ish.

Cassandra Says said...

Trin, I'd really love to hear more about how you in particular feel about all this. I kind of guessed that you would identify with the group of people I'm describing in some ways and in other ways not at all.

About the guys who play with
femmey presentation...well, I think you already know that they feel like kindred to me. And this is where I really empathise with you, because honestly, part of that is a sex thing - femmey boys definately trigger something in me, and it's partly a toppy thing. BUT, part of how I feel about guys playing with gender roles is also a political thing - I like the idea of fucking with the status quo on a visual level.

You know that wierd Japanese music scene I'm into? Not too long ago someone from one of the big bands actually came out as trans. I'm not sure where she is exactly transition-wise, but she's started using female pronouns etc for herself (she's always used a female name, but everyone assumed that was just a stage-name thing). Now, bear in mind that this is a scene in which men cross-dressing is perfectly normal and unremarkeable - pretty much every band has at least one or two.
So, when Dinah came out and finally said "yep, I'm a woman and I'd like everyone to address me as such now, please" the response was interesting. Nobody freaked out, nobody stopped listening to the band. The response was pretty much "Oh, OK, so Dinah's a girl now. That's cool. So has anyone heard the new album yet?". No backlash, no freaked out gender-normative bullshit, nothing. Which kind of makes me laugh every time certain folks start going on about how being exposed to gender-transgressive behavior doesn't really change people's underlying attittudes and so on because, hello? It really does. And that's a good thing.

Trinity said...

"BUT, part of how I feel about guys playing with gender roles is also a political thing - I like the idea of fucking with the status quo on a visual level."

Yeah, exactly. Well not exactly. But I do get it.

Because if I took hormones, I'd probably like what they did (though I can't imagine wanting the body hair or beard. Everything else, hell yes). But I'd blend in, suddenly, and a lot of the energy and fun of being so different would be gone. And I'm not sure I would really want that.

Trinity said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trinity said...

"You know that wierd Japanese music scene I'm into? Not too long ago someone from one of the big bands actually came out as trans. I'm not sure where she is exactly transition-wise, but she's started using female pronouns etc for herself (she's always used a female name, but everyone assumed that was just a stage-name thing). Now, bear in mind that this is a scene in which men cross-dressing is perfectly normal and unremarkeable - pretty much every band has at least one or two."

Yeah. For a while I dated a crossdresser who clearly did have an interesting gender identity. I mean, he used male pronouns and all and even had a beard (gods, I hate those things!) but he was very clearly not quite fitting into that box. And it was clearly not just about the clothes or something about "presentation" -- he presented, most of the time, as a geeky dude with a beard.

I wouldn't be surprised if he spent the rest of his life as a boy. I wouldn't be surprised to discover his preferred pronoun becoming "sie" or the like.

And I wouldn't be shocked at all if he transitioned, either.

I think that some of the "this is not a fetish" stuff can actually muddle things up. I've known a lot of males who get an erotic thrill from dressing, but who ALSO experience at least some low-grade gender "issues."

I certainly get why the distancing is necessary -- people like Bailey and their theories of sex-mad crazies seeking vaginas are terrifying and dehumanizing.

But at the same time, I think there are a lot of people who experience genderfucking/erotic genderplay as one of the first places they get to be themselves. And who do have erotic feelings mixed up in all this.

Or, for the people who are mostly sex-driven like me: have gender issues or gender role issues or presentation issues or comfort in their own skin issues wrapped in with the sex.

I mean, when women start telling me that they think strap-ons are silly because they feel nothing, it's a *weird* feeling to me to even hear.

Like a part of me has suddenly *become* detachable and inert... even though the reality is of course that I am using a detachable and inert object, and the reality is also that I'd get off a lot more quickly if I were using my skin.

I mean, I have to actually stop and parse it: she's one of those comfortable in her body things, those "woman-in-that-sense" things, and this is a toy for her, and why should she necessarily like it?

I had a while where my libido was low from my whirlwind involvement with so-called radical feminism online, and THEN it did seem like a toy, and it was freakish and awful because I couldn't figure out what sex was all of a sudden.

I mean I've had quite a lot of sex that wasn't me penetrating in that way. More than I've had that was. So it's not that that's the only way I want to have sex. It was that experiencing that as unreal just... munged everything else.

It's like if someone pulled off some of your genitals and handed them to you and they were made of plastic. And suddenly "okay, what's the rest of me?"

I hope that makes some sense.

I couldn't enjoy my actual body as much as I can now because I was so invested in being a woman in the Feminist Way, in doing it right, in "okay, so if I'm not quite a man, who am I kidding, this is all fake."

And only the few moments when I could let myself *go* did I have good sex... and the good sex felt just the same as always, like I was falling into someone... sure as hell not like I was conscious of using a toy.

Trinity said...

I say pulled off part of and not all because of course not having my dick means still having a set of functioning genitals, that feel good, that do things.

But it's like Plato for me, that myth of the split people the gods made into halves:

where's the rest of my sex organs? those were important! i need those!

Trinity said...

Which is why (sorry for the comment takeover!) I felt so good writing the smatter of smut I wrote the other day. To be able to say: Yes, I feel both and experience both, and that can be okay, can actually be a wonderful overflow of pleasure.

Cassandra Says said...

Trin - Take over all you like!

I can see why people don't want the sex-specific stuff mixed up with the gender identity stuff in general, I really can, but for some people I'm not so sure the two issues can be neatly separated. For some they can - for me how I feel about my actual bodily configuration has nothing to do with how I want to fuck, really. I wouldn't mind experiencing things from the other side, just out of curiosity. And can I mention how bizarre I find it to keep reading things where women say "I'd HATE to find myself in a male body!". I'm always all...why? I don't have any desire to switch permanently, but isn't everyone kind of curious? Wouldn't you like to try it if you could just to see what it's like? The same way I'd be curious to see what it felt like to be tall, or really muscular, just because I never have. And then I realise that most people apparently DON'T feel like that, and I wonder what the hell's going on with me.

In a way I feel like my own sense of gender identity is just really...fluid. And I think the reason I had a hard time understanding what was going on with transfolk for a long time was that I sort of assumed that gender felt kind of fluid for everyone.

I think that's at the core of the radfem dislike of trans people, too. I think what they're not getting is that it's really not about presentation, it's to do with how people feel in terms of actually inhabiting their own bodies. I keep seeing people say that when the revolution happens there will be no more trans people, and if I understand what trans people are saying that's completely wrong.

Cassandra Says said...

Also, do you really think that the radfem stuff was what had that distancing effect for you? Because I had a wierd and non-positive reaction to my first exposure to radfem ideas about sex, too, but it was kind of different. I think I felt GUILTY for never having been raped or abused. I started to feel like my sense of reality must be off, because I kept seeing all these women describing their realities and claiming that they were universal. I'd never really been scared of men in a sexual sense, and I started wondering if I SHOULD be. And for a while it really fucked with my head.

Then at some point I realised that if something is manifestly not true for me then it can't be universal, by definition. And that I should trust my own instincts.

On some level I'm still really angry about that, actually, about the fact that my sexuality very nearly got mucked up in a way that was totally unecessary. I still get the feeling that a few of the more, um, vehement radfems think that any woman who isn't clearly and visibly traumatised is failing the sisterhood on some level and/or lacking in empathy, and that makes me really, really angry. In what way does that help women?

Cassandra Says said...

And about the femmey guys and actual gender identity issues as opposed to just presentation...for me it's been a mixed bag. I've encountered some men who like to dress up but are unambiguously male and comfortable with both their bodily configuration and their gender identity. They just like more showy clothes, and it so happens that in our era that pretty much translates to "girly". Then there are the guys whose temperament is conventionally "feminine", as is their body language, but who are still hetero in an uncomplicated way - I met one of those recently, and he shocked the hell out of me by coming on to me, because I had assumed he was gay. Then there are the guys in the first group who are bi (I dated a couple of those). I don't think I've ever encountered a guy who wanted to change his bodily configuration in the kind of intimate, sexual sense that we're talking about here, as in as a sexual partner.

And the thing is, for a lot of people I don't think the femmey stuff has anything to do with gender identity or how they feel about their actual bodies. But for some people it does. I think that most people have the two groups kind of mixed up in their heads, and that's where a lot of confusion comes from. For some reason most people can't seem to separate the concepts "gender expression" and "my body fits or does not fit". I don't think they're necessarily linked.

I'm curious what you mean by a lot of the femmey boys you've met having gender issues, BTW. And damn is this stuff hard to talk about clearly given the linguistic limitations!

Also, not so fond of beards myself. I can think of less than 5 men I've ever liked the look of facial hair on. Interestingly enough they all had something feminine about them. I think what I liked in their specific cases was the contrast between beard and delicate facial features. In general, though...skin. I like skin.

Cassandra Says said...

And this.."Because if I took hormones, I'd probably like what they did (though I can't imagine wanting the body hair or beard. Everything else, hell yes). But I'd blend in, suddenly, and a lot of the energy and fun of being so different would be gone. And I'm not sure I would really want that. "

I've never wanted to change my actual body, and yet still, I sort of get it. I think part of the reason I get an odd kick out of being kind of on the small side and pretty femmey is that I LIKE the fact that my personality doesn't match the packaging. It's fun fucking with people's perceptions.

thene said...

I think your reasoning here is excellent, but at the same time you might be overthinking. A large proportion of all people hate, reject and mistreat transfolk. (my best friend is TS, and there's an impressive diversity in the kinds of unkindness she experiences and the people who dole it out. I don't see radfem transphobes as a special case here, just part of a huge throng of existing hate.)

There's this assumption being put forward by the radfems (reading this made me feel ill) that you're echoing here; that gender isn't fluid for transfolk. I've heard the opposite. My best friend tried to live as gender-neutral at first, but found that few people could accept it - trying to use gendered pronouns when none existed, etc - so had to transition to find an identity she was comfortable with, because being stuck in the man box was no longer an option. She's also found it develops as it goes along; it's easier to be butch again when you've been trans for a long time. I've got the impression that the myth of TS people as embodying gender stereotypes stems partly from the fact that you can often only get diagnosed with gender dysphoria if you pretend to emulate a stereotype (the diagnosis is important because it's sometimes hard to get your legal gender changed without it. so yey, you have to be officially diagnosed with a mental disorder in order to assert your gender identity!) So the legal system encourages them to exhibit non-fluidity, even when they're feeling at the most fluid. This is because our legal system is transphobic, so seeing it used to back up transphobic feminist rants just makes me want to hit things.

Trinity said...

Cassandra: I don't really know how to explain it. I just mean that -- well, there were those experiences with M, for one. When I would ask him if he was a boy, he would say... eh. I can't remember his exact wording, and I don't want to mis-report. But sometimes he would say "pretty much" and sometimes he would say "I'm not always sure." And I didn't get the sense he was confused.

And every time I hang around crossdressers here, I find that a lot of them seem much more in that gray area than you'd think. I'm not saying some aren't uncomplicatedly hetero men

but quite a few THAT I'VE MET, when pressed, will say they're not comfortable, they dress more and more, they feel most like themselves when they do, it started out about sex but then they discovered it's not always, it makes them feel calm and good and comfy in their own skin, and being a boy is getting harder and harder because it feels so weird and icky, and they're wondering if they ought to transition.

I've also seen communities of crossdressers in which you leave for a while and come back to discover that CDDiane and subbykristy are actually girls, etc.

I've seen it so often that while I understand trans women really wanting to distance themselves from CDs, but... eh. I'm not so convinced that the story is always

"oh, this never had any sexual aspect for me but I hung with CDs because I didn't know what else to do."

I'm sure it is really often. But I'm also not sure that anyone who starts with a sexual interest and then discovers something more is just kidding himself for a wank, either.

I think there is, in some people, a link between presentation and sense of self/identity that can get complicated, and I think we don't really have the words to say "well, sometimes these are totally separate, and sometimes they're connected."

Like for me... I don't really feel I am a guy, right now, sitting here. So that would suggest that my thing is all presentation.

But well, in that case, why did I feel so horrible, so much like my body was being consumed and warped and destroyed when I was on the Pill and my breasts grew? Why was that person in the mirror NOT ME?

Why did I feel like I might go crazy that one time my doctor thought (erroneously it turned out) that I had too much testosterone and gave me pills to lower it? I took them for a week and I thought I was going to explode.

I was seriously at the point of throwing them away but frightened that if I did have elevated hormone levels, I didn't know if it was OK to live with them or if that was risky, and I was terrified to ask and find I'd have to be on those horrible pills for the rest of my life.

Why have those kinds of reactions to bodily things if there's this clear distinction and all I am is presenting differently and fucking differently?

I mean I am not calling myself trans here... I'm calling myself horribly confused and uncomfortable at times, over gender and both what it is and how you "do" it, but beyond that I don't know.

I remember when I first heard Patrick Califia was transitioning. At first it felt like a blow, because I'd read his stuff from when he was a dyke and thought "well, if this person can proudly and defiantly be a woman, that makes it easier for me, too." And then when he wasn't one, I felt like something that anchored me to "You're a woman, just different" was now gone.

So I totally get the rage at "butch flight." I think there are a lot of people who are relying on people on the borders staying on their side of the fence, and it scares them because it makes them ask "am I happy? is this where I want to be?" and their politics means they're supposed to say yes, and if they say no they're deserting the army of women.

But then I read what finally prompted him to transition. And that was that his doctor told him "you're middle aged, you should be on HRT." And he simply COULD NOT PUT estrogen into his body, and, in a sense, testosterone was the other option.

And I know that feeling well. I remember it. I remember forcing myself to swallow the Pill and hating five minutes of every night of my life and having problems with mirrors and

I could see myself going "if I have to pick one of these, I choose the same... I think I'll still feel weird like I'm not quite a man just like I wasn't always sure about woman, but at least I won't be ingesting poison."

belledame222 said...

You know, I'm just thinking about the Radical Faeries. In some ways they're kind of the mirror image of the radical lesbian feminists: similarly back-to-the-land, picking new names, DIY, about male community instead of female community, gender transgression within, though--men with beards and skirts and glitter.

And there are some, I know, who really really don't want women around...but, I was privy to one gathering (while I was at a women's workshop going on simultaneously at the same retreat) where there were at least two or three biogirls. Dunno if they ID'd as trans or what, but they were definitely born female.

So, yeah, I've definitely encountered misogyny or at least deep suspicion and xenophobia from the Rad Faeries and similar types; but on the whole, whatever it says about me, I gotta say, the Rad Faeries seem like a lot more fun than the old-school landdykes.

I also get the strong impression that heart & co don't even know about these guys' existence, or at least care, for all their blathering about what a proper sort of no doubt far-in-the-comfortably-hazy-future gender-free utopia would look like (which presumably ought to include bearded guys in skirts and glitter, knitting and fixing plumbing and happily not giving a fuck, as these guys do -right now-)

Ineffabelle said...

I'd keep in mind that "The freedom to eschew masculinity and femininity" doesn't necessarily lead to where "womyn" are. That is to say, I don't see them as actually objectively neutral though they might think they are. It's actually pretty arbitrary.
The movement toward that is pretty admirable in its way though, and I have nothing against it. For my own part, I've chosen "a bit from column a, a bit from column b" as my way of making the statement that "gender" is an artificial construct. (which interestingly makes rad-fem gender my complementary opposite in a yin-yang kind of way, which might be why I don't react against it so reflexively the way some other transfolk do)
I know that many mtf transfolk get trapped in hyperfemininity in part because of the nature of the physical sex differences. In the beginning of the physical transition, there are a lot of things that can be "faked" by clever use of artifice.
By the time the body is starting to look vaguely "female", the artifice becomes habit. This tends to happen to older mtfs more often, in some part because they were programmed with more rigid gender ideas, and in part because they have further to go physically, testosterone has taken more of a toll on their bodies.
The other reason why mtfs become hyperfeminized so often is exactly the same reason why genetic females do, the patriarchial imperative. They are victims of much the same psychological forces as genetic women are, only they've been in "disguise" as the oppressor for much of their lives, so they haven't learned how to fight against or negotiate the storm of programming coming from patriarchal culture about what a "woman" is.
In some sense the rad-fem could (and should, IMO) be the greatest of allies with the mtf's (and vice versa), helping to guide them to a better idea of "womynhood", while also each deconstructing in their own way the attachment of gender to biological sex.

Of course I also know quite a few mtf's (mostly younger ones) who haven't become hyperfeminized at all, and if you didn't know they were mtf, they'd fit right in at something like MichFest.

humbition said...

"Then there are the guys whose temperament is conventionally "feminine", as is their body language, but who are still hetero in an uncomplicated way - I met one of those recently, and he shocked the hell out of me by coming on to me, because I had assumed he was gay."

Glad to know that there is some acknowledgment of my younger self and its "type." It brings up an interesting question of what is "temperament." There is a lot of feminist theory which seems to me to really trash the "feminine" as not having any independent reality or value but being simply the result of a subordinated social position. Oddly I think this leads not only to transphobia but also to a derogation of "femininity" in men, though ironically it is exactly such men who might turn to feminism in search of some kind of personal validation, which is not always forthcoming. And particularly if such "femininity" is not accompanied by an "official" identity on the GLBT spectrum.

Trinity said...

I was thinking some more on this today and thinking that I really wish there were... well, I'm not sure whether it would be a gender-word or a presentation-word

but I just keep thinking of female bees. Workers. They don't mate and do very different tasks than the queen: the upkeep of the hive, I'd imagine the defense of it, etc.

And that resonates with me a lot, actually... I see it in my mind as a gender like "neutral and female"

and I think, yeah, if there was a word for that in humans:

oh, she's a wozmazoo!

it would make my life ten times more comfortable. even if people hated wozmazoos.

Because I wouldn't feel like I was trying to shoehorn wozmazoo into "woman"... sure it might be a subset of "woman" but it would at least narrow things down.

I mean "top" sort of does that, so that kinda helps, but the only reason it does is because of sexist assumptions that a top is masculine... and that devalues and demeans femme ones of various genders, and I'm not interested in that.

So there needs to be a word. There's "butch," and yeah I sometimes use that, but it's not quite right.

humbition said...

Just to be clear: I don't think that feminism owes anyone personal validation, as such. Certainly not any man :)

And it wasn't me expecting it, back in the day, particularly. Rather, I'm kind of responding to certain blogosphere exchanges I have recently noted, for example one in which a young man was offered the helpful suggestion, by one self-described feminist (who is not necessarily, in this way, typical) that "maybe you ARE really gay."

And questions of theory such as those I mentioned kind of interfere with Cassandra's original point, that sometimes what look like theoretical issues have a lot to do with subcultures and with what feels comfortable in people's skins.

I think when we are conscious that the world contains a multiplicity of subcultures, we can still have a desire to "place" someone within them, and to be startled by someone whom we can't firmly "place." Certainly this happens to me, even when I consciously don't want it to.

So no matter how small the "identity group" there are still pressures both from the inside and, even, from the outside to have the group's members conform to what is expected within that identity. "Identity normativity." Ironically it is possible for some "liberal" people to be both consciously gay-friendly and also identity normative that heterosexual males SHOULD NOT present as either "feminine" or gay. (I am thinking here particularly of a post at Sage's.)

Sometimes the desire to have our categories match reality, proving to ourselves that we "really know what's going on," is what drives us. "Gaydar" can be a manifestation of that desire, too.

To bring the whole thing back to the main issue, since I hope I'm not derailing things too much: for me, it's not enough to have lots and lots of categories to shoehorn people into. I hope to try, myself, not to expect people to have to fit into the categories I am ready to put them in, no matter how many categories I have ready for the purpose.

drakyn said...

Trinity, have you tried asking a genderqueer or bigender forum if they know of any words that fit you? Even if no one knows any words that fit you, they may help you brainstorm a word. I'm sure you aren't alone in your feelings. ^.^
If you are interested, there is a community on livejournal, Genderqueer is it's name. (surprisingly enough...)

And not all genderqueer people identify as something completely other than man/woman, some people do identify as a 'subgroup' of either or both men/women.
One thing a lot of people don't seem to get is that man, transsexual, genderqueer, grrl, etc. can be combined; they aren't separate categories that never meet.

Trinity said...

"Trinity, have you tried asking a genderqueer or bigender forum if they know of any words that fit you? Even if no one knows any words that fit you, they may help you brainstorm a word. I'm sure you aren't alone in your feelings. ^.^"

No, but I always loved... was it Gary Bowen? I think...'s collection of "words for masculine women" (which actually included a lot more than that.)

Wish I could find it again.

Trinity said...

"And not all genderqueer people identify as something completely other than man/woman, some people do identify as a 'subgroup' of either or both men/women."

I don't think I quite realized that. I always figured I couldn't be genderqueer because the idea of not having any gender, or of being several genders, always seemed fascinating but foreign to me.

And Cassandra, I really like the idea of using both "cisgender" and "cissexual" rather than just "cisgender." I don't feel weird about the idea that I'm cissexual, but I often wonder what being cisgendered actually is, and whether I am or not.

drakyn said...

Trinity, http://www.forge-forward.org/socialsupport/spirituality2003.html
has the Gary Bowen list. ^.^
I googled for it. Of course, if you had googled it you wouldn't have been able to find anything because that is how the internet works. ^.~
For instance, I am now completely unable to find any of the websites that talked about differentiating cisgender with cissexual. >.<

Daisy said...

Great thread, and great remarks, Trin.

That was some link, to the (UK) Guardian. Way more harsh than radfems here, I think.

Cassandra Says said...

Thene - I know what you're getting at, and again from what people have told me the extent to which people see their own gender as fluid or not fluid varies among trans people. Then there's the fact that the medical establishment pushed people to be very gender-normative as a condition of accessing treatment, although I THINK that's changing. I had a friend who went through the process less than 10 years ago who was pushed into being very gender-normative, though.

I wonder how many trans people end up ditching the stereotypical gender role stuff once they've passed a certain point in transition, and how the medical establishment would react to that. Would they refuse to prescribe hormones any more, for example?

And yeah, the extent to which the medical people get to dictate how the process works makes me want to hit things, too, although hopefully it's getting better.

Cassandra Says said...

Trin said - "I think there is, in some people, a link between presentation and sense of self/identity that can get complicated, and I think we don't really have the words to say "well, sometimes these are totally separate, and sometimes they're connected."

But here's the thing...why can't we say that? That maybe the way these things work is a little different for everyone?

That's pretty much my view of the way ANYTHING to do with sexuality OR identity is. There are some broad categories or similarities, but in the end no two people ever experience things in exactly the same way.

Cassandra Says said...

Also Trin, about being on the pill...did it make you feel awful because you could see visible changes or was it more just the idea of it?

(On a physical level I think it makes a lot of people feel pretty crappy. I stopped taking it for that reason.)

Cassandra Says said...

Humbition - Your "type" is the type I've dated most, probably, so I really am sympathetic. In the particular case I was talking about the reason I read the guy as gay was because, well, he's sort of a celebrity and pretty much all his fans have always assumed that he's gay. I should know better than to assume that most people's opinions will be correct, so there's another mark in the "most people are idiots" column.


As far as feminists and the idea of a feminine temprament, or feminine personality traits..well, that's complicated. I'd say that cultural feminist valorize traditionally "feminine" traits IN WOMEN, but they have a very odd reaction to seeing those traits in men which never has made sense to me. It would seem as if, having labelled those traits as good and positive, people would want to see men adopt them too, but that's not always the case, and I'm not quite sure why. Maybe they're clinging to their own childhood gender programming in some odd way? Maybe they think the men with those traits are being insincere (that would actually make sense for those who lived through the hippy movement and ended up dissallusioned)?

Which bring us to...drag. Radfems seem to find drag offensive and think that it's actually intended as a mockery of women. I can see what they mean in some cases when it's clearly being played for laughs (think RuPaul), BUT since I've known so many men who do a sort of semi-drag (goths, visual kei boys, etc) I don't buy it. And the fact that they interpret things that way makes me think that either they have some serious ideological blinkers on, or maybe they've just never actually taken the time to TALK to one of those guys and, you know, ask them why they do what they do.

Actually it seems like the assuming rather than asking thing is a consistent problem among certain radfems.

You actually got told that you must be gay because you were insufficiently macho? By feminists? And they're still doing it?

Damn, that's dumb.

Also, about the validation thing, I'm not sure that I agree that it's OK for feminism to brush those guys off. Not that feminists OWE anyone anything, but from a practical POV it's really not smart to go around being callous towards potential allies. Even if you ignore the idea of compassion (which I'm not OK with), there's still the fact that feminism is never going to get anywhere without persuading at least some men to come along for the ride. If we treat potential male allies like shit what's their motivation for helping us? What kind of smart political movement does that?

Cassandra Says said...

ineffabelle - I don't think radfem gender presentation is neutral either. I think it MEANS to be neutral, but that certainly isn't how it's "read" by most people.

And then you get into...what the hell does "neutral" mean anyway? If gender is an artificial construct then surely whichever bits we're calling "masculine" or "feminine" are pretty arbitary anyway. So, if we believe that, what is neutrality?

If I'm being completely honest the main way that radfem presentation reads is "asexual", as in actively discouraging of sex, in a way that "butch" in a dyke sense doesn't read at all. Which statement is surely going to get me into all kinds of trouble.

Agreed about the artifice, BTW. A lot of what reads as "feminine" is artifice, and therefore easy to adopt as a sort of protective coverage. Or just for fun. I wonder how the process differs for people who are FTM, since the way our culture constructs "masculine" is a lot less artifice based on an appearance level (I'd argue that it's every bit as artifical on a personality level, though).

Cassandra Says said...

About the terminology cisgender and cissexual...I think the point you're making makes sense, BUT I'm not sure to what extent using those words is wise from a strategic POV. I think that for a lot of mainstream people those words feel very alienating, as if they were being forced to see as complicated something that has always felt simple to them - I noticed in the last round of conversations at Alas it was the word "cisgender" that seemed to be setting a lot of people off into defensive mode. People don't like being made to think about complicated things, they prefer to pretend that everything is simple. Me, I think it's good to have your mind stretched and be forced to look at things in a different way, but I don't see those words being easily accepted. I think those terms might be like "patriarchy" or "male privilege" - useful for discussions amongst like-minded people, but of limited utility when talking to the general public.

Separating out cisgender from cissexual would make discussions like this a lot easier, though. I think that distinction may be part of what Trin is tripping over, for example.

Cassandra Says said...

Radical Faeries...I think they are much like radfem separatists, in a way, although I agree with Belle that they're a lot more fun at parties! It's been a mixed bag for me as far as I'm concerned - I've encountered some that have been pretty female-friendly, and some that have been very much not. I do wonder why there's an element of playfulness there that their radfem sisters don't seem to have.

(Although I bet Pony, Lucky etc would say that it's because they have male privilege)

Trinity said...

"Also Trin, about being on the pill...did it make you feel awful because you could see visible changes or was it more just the idea of it?"

Both. My breasts are a little bigger now and it *really* bothers me. Didn't bother me when my body made them, but... hey, they grew the way they grew. The idea that something I put in my body changed that bugs me. I can't really describe it, it's like it took something away.

and people were all like "Oh, look, I think your breasts grew a little, you must be thrilled."

"PLEASE SHUT UP."

"What?"

"They did. Now drop it."

belledame222 said...

per words, trin: what about "dagger?" seems like that'd suit you for more reasons than one...

belledame222 said...

per "cisgender:" lately I've been using the phrase "gender congruent" versus "gender incongruent" (with the unspoken part of the cumbersome phrase being "with the sex one was born and/or assigned to.") maybe it'll catch on. shrug.

humbition said...

Cassandra -- I am actually glad you are noticing the same general dynamic that I have been, regarding a lack of acceptance by some feminists of temperamental femininity in (particularly younger) men. I think this is a real thing and I think your comments are very much to the point.

I can't really accept your personal sympathy on the matter, because the dynamic I am talking about has long since stopped being important in my own real personal life. I do think it was once, giving me a kind of sensitivity to it, but as I get older I think I present in this way less and less. I posted the second time partly to try and be clearer that it wasn't so much about me (probably not clear enough), rather I have started to observe this dynamic in certain oddly telling exchanges in the blogosphere, though not really ones involving me.

(I think there is some kind of mellowing process when we get older; some people say men get less masculine and women less feminine, but I think the converse too can be the case for men and women who present themselves a little contrary to their "cisgender temperament." This doesn't apply I think to true "trans"ness but I do think it applies to how people are perceived who are just a little off their cisgender stereotype.)

There was an ambiguity in something I said in my second comment, but I really meant that I was acknowledging in myself the tendency to categorize people and expect them to behave in certain ways. Not that it was being done to me, but that I know that I too can do it. I was trying to "own" this.

Cassandra Says said...

humbition - I got the "that used to be me" part, I was sympathising with your younger self. And all the other young guys like that who, if you're right, may be getting the cold shoulder from feminists. Do you happen to have a link to the thread at Sage's you were talking about?

And as far as mellowing with age...eh, I think most people just get a lot less concerned with what others think of them, and therefore many care less about how well they appear to fit their prescribed gender role. I've seen it happen a lot with older women, and I'm seeing it happen with my Dad right now (he's 57).

I had one of those "hey, I'm categorizing people in a really silly way" moments myself yesterday. It was about men and dogs, specifically my surprise at encountering a big, masculine looking straight guy who owned a fluffy little dog. Which is a really dumb thing to be surprised by when you think about it - Mr Cassandra was laughing at me. We really do all have our gender-normative moments.

humbition said...

Cassandra--

Thanks for the good thoughts.

But I feel like backtracking even some more. First of all, in my real IRL circles these days, "feminist" just means, you know, "smart left-of-center woman (or woman-friendly man)," also known as "my kind of people." I certainly have not gotten this kind of vibe from this kind of feminist-in-general IRL for a very, very long time.

I am seeing it on the Interwebs, but it is hard to pin down. Sage's post doesn't really deal so much with feminists as with her neighbors who seem now to me to be not such feminists after all. And the simple "gaydar" question takes second place to the issue of "teenage males are sex crazed runaway trains and if they're not then they're definitely gay." Not the same issue, though related, and the gaydar issue related to feminine mannerisms gets briefly brought up but not developed.

http://persephonesboxblog.blogspot.com/2006/05/apology-for-evening.html

As for Internet feminists this is harder to substantiate. But by a kind of "cosmic coincidence" I have come across the trans theorist Julia Serano, who is kind of my inspiration in all this because she theorizes that a general cultural devaluation of femininity as such is at play among feminists and the gay community as well as in the general society.

http://www.juliaserano.com/whippinggirl.html

Anonymous said...

Interesting post and comments. I can't say that I meant what you got out of my original posts, but it's thought provoking where they led you. I've got a huge beef with the use of "cisgender" because it doens't work for me in a theoretical or linguistic sense. I'm with belledame's use of gender congruent/non-congruent.

My learning curve is still in full swing in regards to trans issues *and* with radfem politics. My own lifestory points to my non-congruent status, and the unique difficulties I've had with that. You remind me, though, that I did not have an internal recognition of the category "woman" until I came upon feminist politics. I always felt that I had failed as a "woman" and that I never would get it. I think you're more on the money than I care to admit; but in a good way.

Q-Grrl

Cassandra Says said...

Qgrrl - I like the idea of gender congruent/gender incongruent as terms, too, BUT I think they mean very different things to what cisgender/trans mean. Which is part of why I like the term gender incongruent - I think if you start looking at things in those terms MOST people are gender-incongruent in some ways. I know I am. I look very gender-congruent and I'm comfortable with that, but personality wise, inside my own head? Not so much, really. Certainly not in a way that the traditionally-inclined would be happy about. And that's true for most people I've met, or at least the ones I tend to find interesting enough to bother getting to know.

That's sort of the bigger point I'm getting at that I feel like some radfems are missing - gender is a complicated thing. Pretending it isn't is pointless. The specific way in which they're trying to make it uncomplicated irks me because it's cruel and victimises people who already get picked on more than enough, but on a broader level it's the theoretical framing that I'm objecting to. I just think that as soon as we start saying "a woman is a person with X, Y and Z characteristics and those who don't fit that description are not welcome here" we're heading for some dangerous territory. Isn't that what men have been doing to women for millenia? Telling us that we're supposed to be? Why would we want to do the same thing to each other?

Id' be interested to hear the specifics of what your theoretical issues with the terminology are, BTW, especially since these conversations always get so nasty at Alas that there ends up being very little real communication going on.

Also, sorry if I didn't quite grasp your position. It's hard enough to figure out what another person means when they're sitting right in front of you, never mind on the Net...

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Funny how people vary --

I was pretty sure I was a failure as a woman for a long time, which was significantly related to the feminists I ran into.

It was hanging out with transfolks and genderqueer people who made it possible for me to stop stressing about that. Now I just sort of geek out about it theoretically, instead ....

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