Roz Kaveney (rozk) wrote,
Roz Kaveney

My 1980 Raymond piece by request...

My thanks to ffutures and Helen Wilson for running the pdf of this through text recognition and transcribing/editing respectively.

Janice Raymond:'The Transsexual Empire'

Janice Raymond's overt subject is the medical professions' views on,
and treatment of transsexuals; one need not be unusually paranoid to
observe her own loathing and contempt for transsexuals. On the surface
she discusses, much of the time calmly, how transsexuals, poor deluded
victims that we are, are exploited by masculinist doctors determined
to maintain rigid sex roles: she quotes those laureates of the Academy
of the Over-rated — Szazs and Illich — on the way professionals
create a `problem' to get praise for 'solving' it. Periodically she
shifts into overdrive with claims that transsexuality and cloning are
a plot to exterminate biological women and that lesbian feminist transsexuals are tools in an attempt by the 'fathers of patriarchy' (alias the Elders of Zion?) to control the women's movement from within. In a higher-minded mood she explains the ethic of ' integrity'-faithfulness to 'organic' 'truth' — a philosophy coined for the purpose of showing that transsexuals violate it. She demands that transsexuals submitourselves to `non-sexist' counselling --ie. counselling that will persuade us not be transsexual — and join the struggle to ban transsexual surgery and provide non-sexist PE in school.

Throughout she uses chromasomal sex — only perceptible
by an expert with a microscope — as the 'real' dividing line between
men and women; inconsistently she also claims that psychological
sex differences are purely socially determined. She alleges that
male-to-female transsexuals are trying to "possess females' creative
energies by possessing artificial female organs", rather than considering that it might have more to do with the desire to have sex with organs, however artifactual, which do not falsify one's emotions.


Throughout Ms Raymond talks in terms which reveal deliberate
self-abstraction from the real problems of real people. She prefers
glib sarcasms — "Pain provides the illusion of life" to discussion of the concrete oppression of transsexuals - police harassment, assault, rape. The frequency with which her tone alters makes parts of the book hard to follow, but primarily it hides, conveniently, weaknesses in her argument; she fires off a polemical gun to hide the difficulty she is having in getting her rabbit out of her hat. She tries to impart authority to her monocular and philistine pronouncements on human history and culture by an obseesional use of dictionary definitions, etymological information and quotations as if to draw the reader into a conspiratorial huddle with a perpetual "It is not insignificant that...." She shows the pettifogging inhumanity of the academic without any touch of intellectual honesty.

For an advocate of plain-dealing, she is guilty of too much
misinformation - or of a cavalier attitude to research which amounts
to the same thing. Incorrect Statements abound, eg. that no male-to- female transsexuals are heterosexual feminists, that no female-to-male transsexuals are gay men, that transsexuals blame their transsexuality on their mothers. She condemns the deception that she sees as intrinsic to transsexual&
lives, both in getting treatment from unsympathetic doctors and in
avoiding harassment yet herself is flexible with truth. Interviewing
transsexuals, she asked questions about hypothetical objections to
transsexuality which might be raised by a hypothetical feminist. Only
when answers revealed that she was on safe ground did she reveal that
she was that masked feminist.

She is fond of the old fashioned smear; amid feline protestations that
it doesn't prove anything sinister, she points out that early transsexual surgery was tried in Weimar Germany and in Auschwitz. She
claims that female-to-male transsexuals are an attempt by doctors to
confuse the issue by tokenism and to steal potential radical women
from the cause - this allows her to dismiss them from the argument
for the rest of the book. The only occasion on which she quotes a
female-to-male transsexual is when she finds one putting down
male-to-females. The most hurtful smear is purely linguistic; she uses
terms like "male-to-constructed-female" etc, uses throughout the
pronoun of original sex and is free with offensive semi-humourous
terms like "she-male". She claims piously at the end that she is
not unsympathetic to the plight of individual transsexuals - expressions like "Pull the other one" seem in order.


In her treatment of lesbian-feminist transsexuals the real voice of
the Royal Hospital for the Terminally Correct comes through. It seems
none save Ms Raymond and a few like-minded sisters ever adopts a moral
or political position for reasons which are not dubious. She produces the undocumented and implicitly sexist claim that post-operative transsexual lesbian feminists regret their decision rather than having sincere convictions. She and her friends have trained themselves to observe "subtle differences" of ''body language" by which transsexuals who have infiltrated
the movement give away themselves and their unpurged, secret sexism.
Where some might see those transsexual lesbian feminists who have
achieved minor importance in the women's movement as having
done so because of a determination to prove good faith by hard work, Ms Raymond sees a Trojan Horse of male control. In a flurry of Transylvanian metaphysics, she claims transsexuals are draining energy which women have carefully nurtured; worse:’All transsexuals rape women's bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves However the transsexually constructed lesbian feminist violates women's sexuality and spirit as well. Having castrated (herself) (she) turns (her) whole body into a phallus which can rape in many ways all the time.’

Quite a trick . Lesbian feminist women who knowingly or unknowingly
sleep with or find attractive lesbian-feminist transsexual women are
thereby revealed to the eagle eye of Ms Raymond as closet straights,
complicit in their own rape. (lf I seem a little acerbic here, it is because, while living as a woman l have been raped – not metaphysically – by a straight man who felt that my crimes against normality justified his holding a knife to my throat while he buggered me. Here, as elsewhere, Ms Raymond uses imprecise abstract language to falsify the concrete experience of others.)


Overtly Ms Raymond is indicting the medical profession -
though it is transsexuals that will suffer if this book is taken
seriously in the women's movement and the gay movement. Medical
opinion about transsexuals is taken as the last
word - before her, that is - as if transsexuals were,at all times and
in all places, totally passive in our attitude to medical
technicians. Some of the points raised by Ms Raymond are ones on which transsexual groups and individuals have expressed concern for years - the sexism of many doctors in the field, the use of transsexuals as guinea pigs, etc —but nothing she says can he valuable in such a context. She is as
gloating as Dr Rubin in her remarks on possible side effects of
hormone therapy and surgery. By identifying any struggle for
control over the medical technology important to transsexuals with an attack on transsexual rights, Ms Raymond wilfully darkens counsel.

She is not unduly bothered with the sociology of trans-sexuality or
with how we see ourselves. She claims to have talked to fifteen
transsexuals, two of them female-to-male, excusing the thin sample
with the pathetic excuse that it is comparable to those in surveys
such as Kando's — as indeed it is, a good reason not to take those
surveys as gospel. She sneers at the middle-class aspirations of the
seventeen male-to-female transsexuals in Kando's survey, without
noticing that in his sample the street transsexual community - prostitutes,
dancers — predominates, implying in turn an unrepresentative
proportion of transsexuals backgrounds (who have few alternatives to street life). She quotes with approval Kando's finding that the views on sex roles of transsexuals arc more reactionary than those of men or women, without
noting that he fails to describe the socio-economic status of his
control populations. The only transsexuals Ms Raymond allows to speak for themselves are middle-aged middle-class ones whom she then cites as
typical, without considering whether Jan Morris's views might have as
much to do with her age and her class as with her transsexual status.
Transsexuals have yet to come together and find a voice — but Ms
Raymond is prepared to ventriloquize to get a conviction.


Finally, we come to the piece de resistance. her philosophical
argument. This is supposed to clinch things and have us all scurrying
off in non-sex-identified denim dungarees to see 'non-sexist' counselling services — and this is the sort of thing:’ thus it is that the realization of integrity comes back to the intuition of Be-ing for such an ethic can only ultimately he grounded in this intuition. The quest for integrity is a major part of the intuition of Being for it pushes one beyond the limits of self-hood into an ever-expanding process. When this intuition occurs, one
suddenly realises that a given entity exists and exercises its highest
activity of being [her lower case] in its own way which is total.’
Ms Raymond is borne off to the Empyrean in an orgasm of abstract nouns
while we lesser mortals sit in the mud strumming our bottom lips and
going 'wibble, wibble'. Elsewhere she criticizes that common verbalization of the transsexual condition, "I have a woman's (man's) soul trapped in a man's (woman's) body" as sentimental metaphysics but at least it expresses, however inelegantly and inadequately, the real feelings of real people about real things: Ms Raymond's woolinesses only obscure feeling and evade responsibility.

Few people are going to take the whole of this book seriously, but
some of the mud thrown will stick unless people are conscientious in
their thinking about it and its subject. For years, to closet
Stalinists on the left, feminism and gay consciousness were products
of bourgeois decadence and a potential brake on the forces of
revolution; national minorities like the Kurds in Iraq are smeared as
the tools of reaction and the CIA. A minority which has yet to find
its own voice is especially vulnerable to slander. It would he tragic
if Ms Raymond's lies were to make it impossible for anti-sexist transsexuals to continue to work with women and gay men - and yet that is what she is trying to do by pre-empting rational radical discussion of the issues.

Raymond did not start all of this - that dubious honour belongs to Germaine Greer and Robin Morgan and Dennis Altman - but she was primarily responsible for decades of misery inflicted on trans women and trans men in the LGBT world. It is probable that her influence is present still in things like the betrayal of trans people over ENDA.
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