Roz Kaveney (rozk) wrote,
Roz Kaveney

Here we go again

fjm put me in touch with ticking_fool on the subject of this piece The sort of rant I hoped we left behind last century

My response was as follows
Oh god. It is hard to know where to begin...

Part of the problem is that Karla Mantilla constantly shifts her ground so that at one point she is objecting to pre-operative mtfs using the showers at Michigan, because they still have penises, while making it clear at other points that she regards the removal of penises as not making any difference whatever. It is all transfolk she wants to exclude, not because of their genitals but because of what is in their heads.

And then Mantilla says that she is not an essentialist, and that radical feminists have never been essentialists. It is hard to see what else you can call a statement like Janice Raymond's claim that mtf's were a vast artificial penis raping women's sense of community. She reveals her constant essentialism in her assumption that her feelings about the Michigan incident are ncessarily those of all women who were there. And yes, if the incident is as stated, not, I fear, something we can assume,it was crassly tactless. On the other hand, once the decision to allow transwomen to attend the festival was taken, what was actually decided about where people could and could not urinate, defecate and shower? She turns into a horror story something that happened in a practical context and I want to know more.

Mantilla talks of socialization as if it were a simple one size fits all phenomenon, and as if the experience of mtfs and ftms were necessarily absolutely the same as those of standard males and females up to the point where we consciously claim an identity and start to transition. She also talks as if that claim automatically happened in adulthood and as if the experience of transfolk in childhood and adolescence of themselves as other were entirely irrelevant. For someone who claims to have thought about these issues, she is oddly ignorant, or affects to be, of the documented extent to which the socialization of transfolk is non-standard.

Personally, I have never entirely understood why anyone would want to go to Michigan, or indeed to any other outdoor festival. But what she does here is talk as if the demand for entry to it were a single thing that happens entirely out of context. The concept of women-only space has been used to oppress mtfs in far more important areas; in a very different way, it has been used to oppress transmen by expecting they would want to use spaces which they no longer neccessarily feel comfortable in.

In the name of separatism, trans victims of sexual violence (both mtf and ftm) were regularly denied access to rape crisis centres until recently when they were particularly liable to be stigmatized if they went to the police - I had to cope with my own two rapes by myself.

I can see very good reasons why Sheffield Poly ran women-only car mechanics courses, but no good reason why a transwoman was excluded from it and expected to train alongside sexist and queerphobic men.

Another area in which this constantly moves goalposts is its attitude to experience - it is liberalism to try and take on board the actual experience of actual transfolk. Mantilla arrogates to herself the right to determine for herself what that experience has actually been and accuse anyone who disagrees with her of false consciousness. There is a staggering elitism implicit here - particularly in reference to transmen whose personal experience is entirely denied.

She states that the idea of a common set of interests held by all transfolk is an illusion, that transmen and transwomen have nothing in common save false consciousness. Does she not understand how arrogant this is? To use the racial analogy of which she is so fond, it is whites arguing that the interests of AfroCarribean immigrants, Black British, South Asians and East Asias are so obviously different that any shared experience of racism is an illusion.

I note with interest that Mantilla assumes that all women and all transfolk operate on a precisely equivalent level of class and economic power. Specifically, she ignores the extent to which the stigmatization of transfolk by the patriarchy deprives us of access to employment oppurtunities, means that we are liable to be mistreated by health care professionals, deprives many of us of education rights. To say airily, as she does, that we should have equal rights is not enough - she clearly regards the pursuit of such equal rights as no concern of hers.

Nor does she understand that the issue of Michigan is in part a cry for help and a request for solidarity. Does she really think that the stigmatization of transpeople by Janice Raymond and Mary Daly in the 80s had no effect in keeping their rights off the agenda of the progressive community? Because if she does think that, she obviously ignored most of what happened in the eighties.

Does she really think that she is not, by saying that transmen should stop their fancies and return to being proper lesbians, denying their rights in all other areas? Does she not understand that by arguing that all transwomen are forever socialized into unacceptable behaviour she is betraying not only them but their partners and lovers?

I am seriously disheartened that after thirty years during which these points have been endlessly discussed and critiqued within the trans community, (and some of them taken on board, let it be said), we are still having to deal with this sort of thing.

The irony is that Mantilla accuses us of liberalism and divisiveness whereas raising this issue again and again has been one of the most divisive things that has happened to the women's movement and progressives over three decades. It is a debate that has been had over and over again; the reason why queer communities and many feminists stopped trannybashing is that they grew to be ashamed of themselves, and because Mantilla and the faction of which she is clearly part never stopped with transpeople, but moved on to bully a wide variety of other women.

This is a manifesto for the abuse of power against powerless communities. It does nothing to fight the power.
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