Roz Kaveney (rozk) wrote,
Roz Kaveney

Sometimes I strike my face with my palm...

I had hoped, I had really hoped, that we were past all this...And yet, I know we are not.

Julie Bindel is still out there, and Sheila Jeffreys, and Germaine Greer. And it does not matter how many transwoman and transmen are killed or beaten by straight guys, somehow we still remain weapons of the patriarchy in the minds of women who should have better battles to fight than turf wars on 'The F Word'.

The excellent Questioning Transphobia" has been monitoring the current explosion of anti-trans hatred, and of feminist blogs that are prepared to defend trans rights and see them as inseparable from all other rights in general, and women's rights in particular. QT is doing a good job and I am not proposing to do more than acknowledge that, and point you in the direction of her ongoing work on these issues.

What I am going to do is say something about how dispiriting all of this is, simply because it wastes so much of everyone's time. I am going to go further, and talk, just a bit, about how much of my own precious personal time has been wasted by all of this down the years.

A quick summary - back when I first thought about transitioning, (at the cusp between the Jurassic and the Cretaceous periods say the Plain People of Hackney), I discussed it with my lesbian feminist friends because it was the early Seventies, and we all tended to submit personal decisions to the collective's discussion because we were not individualists and thought that other people's input was useful. And my friends sent me to talk to A Senior Lesbian Feminist, who explained to me that I suffered from False Consciousness and needed to get over it. (I was being told something similar by a psychiatric social worker, who reckoned that transpeople are incapable of ever enjoying sex even a tiniest little bit before the sacred rite of transition, and that my preparedness to say, well, sometimes I got sexual pleasure, meant that I was just not trans enough.)

So, I wasted several years in my mid-20s, made various lovers entirely miserable by being caught up in catastrophic gloom and the selfishness that derives from that, and in the end transitioned anyway, five years older than would otherwise have been the case. A key factor in this was that one of my friends died, and on her deathbed gave me a serious talking to about not frakking around any longer, and not listening to anyone except my own heart, not even her...

(Ironically, the Senior Lesbian Feminist cropped up in my life many years later as a colleague in Feminists Against Censorship, for which goddess bless her! At one of those Islington dinner-parties which characterise a certain sort of politicking, someone asked if we had ever encountered at Oxford. She was staggeringly quick to say, no, no, we never had. Which was fine with me, but amused me not a little...)

She meant well, but that is not an excuse, actually.

When I did transition, I walked into the middle of the Janice Raymond wars, because I started writing for Gay News, and got asked to review The Transexual Empire about which I was fairly rude. Somehow, I didn't get all that much flak for that, partly because most of the ire of the transphobes was being directed at a moderately stealth transwoman lesbian friend. Also, in those days, I still slept with boysm and wore tons of slap and was less of an issue accordingly...

On the other hand, I did lose two close women friends when I transitioned, both of them heterosexual feminists who decided that they 'could not support my decision'. I didn't want them to support my decision; I wanted them to be my friends. I am generally a very forgiving person, but I don't think I will ever forgive either of them - they were people I valued and needed, and they chose to absent themselves when I needed them.

A cynic might say that both of them have prospered in a middle-class careerist way and I might have been an embarrassment at smart cocktail parties. The fact is that other friends, with reprehensible politics in some cases, were loyal because they believe in loyalty - whereas those two women were not loyal and justified it in terms of their feminism.

Most of my feminist friends were loyal, and most more or less came round to seeing me as the same idiotic, loving, occasionally supportive, often amusing, sometimes insightful person I always had been, only happier and saner.

Generally, feminists have been part of my support mechanism and my community - I ended up being the reader at Virago for several years (and, when I left, it was over a political disagreement but with no particular hard feelings on either side). I've written for Feminist Review and for various collections of feminist and quasi-feminist criticism.

Every so often though, my friends and supporters have been screamed at for using me; there are people out there who would like to deny me access to some of the work on which I depend for my living.

Every so often, there are moments of unpleasantness - Germaine Greer had a tantrum when a mutual friend tried to introduce us and Julie Burchill clearly wasn't happy either. No loss, of course, but it was their disrespect for the choices of their women friends who actually knew and valued me that I want to point to.

Transphobia is not just about being horrible to transfolk; it is about being horrible to people who are not horrible to transfolk.

When I stopped sleeping with boys, and discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that there were women who wanted to sleep with me - I am the world's least competent sexual predator in the sense that people really have to beat me about the head with the cluestick before I notice that they are attracted - that lack of respect became an issue in my life and that of women who loved me.

People who slept with me were threatened with ostracism by their friends, or grotesquely patronized for not being 'proper' lesbians even if people were still speaking to them. It was the 80s and this stuff happened.

The saddest story in some ways is the story of my friendship with Sandy Horne. Sandy was an older woman, a battered veteran of psychiatric abuse and coming out and jail and the peace movement. We knew each other - and became friends for a while across the battle lines of the Sex Wars - because we ended up sharing a table in a crowded Chinese restaurant and swapping dim sum.

She was going through a messy breakup and confided in me a lot, and asked my advice, and seemed to find that advice useful. Unfortunately, the other people from whom she was getting advice were people in the most heavy duty of Radical Feminist circles, and Sandy was called to order by eg Sheila Jeffries. No matter how friendly and helpful I seemed to be - I had the brand of Cain.

Sandy rang me up in tears and said that she was going to have to end our friendship; I missed her, because she was someone whom I genuinely deeply liked, but I got that she could not risk the friendships of her heart. I just hate that people made her choose.

She died a couple of years later.

The pattern I am trying to show here is that anti-trans prejudice is a set of views that give the people who hold them a cast-iron excuse for being mean, mean to other women. In the nightmarish world we inhabit, it is not transwomen or transmen who are burning the forests, setting off bombs, raping and murdering; on the contrary, we are almost always victims rather than perpetrators because we have no power.

Yet slagging us off and slagging off our allies is a way of taking a 'radical' position that does not cost much - except time. How about if all the energy and anger that has been expended over maintaining women-only spaces had gone into making them genuinely inclusive and safe.

Back in 1978, I was raped. I dealt with it. I had to deal with it because there was no chance in the world that either the police or the very early stages of victim support networks would have helped me deal with it.

The guy who raped me was a serial rapist of transwomen, a transphobe who thought it funny to use a knife on us. I take it very personally when someone like Janice Raymond accuses me of being, as a transdyke, someone who rapes the community of women by my very existence. I get quite vexed when I am told by her contemporary followers that I transitioned in order to be abused by men as some sort of weird male ritual.

We should not be having to waste our time on all of this crap any more. There are misogynist homophobe racist transphobes in high places who want to KILL US ALL. Not just lesbians, not just transfolk, not just members of ethnic minorities - all of us in the progressive community.

I just think we should remember that. And transphobic feminists should remember that their feminism is the most important thing about them, and stop making feminism all about being mean to people.

It is not hard - just don't be mean to people.

When someone finds themselves tempted to say something like this:
This has now been enshrined in UK law, where anyone with a diagnosis of gender dysphoria (no sex reassignment surgery is required) can legally demand entrance to, for example, women’s domestic violence services. The consequences of this could quite literally be the death of those women from religious and cultural backgrounds where it would be inappropriate for them to share living space with a non related biological male. just don't say it, because it is stupid and mean.(I don't have a link, but it is quoted here.

(Unpack that a little - transwomen who might need to escape from domestic violence should not do so because there might be women in the shelter who are liable to be subjected to honour killing because of the presence of a transwoman in the shelter rather than because of eg leaving an abusive husband in the first place. And any resulting honour killing is the fault of the transwoman!?! And then there is the feline use of racist assumptions here - women victims of abuse are all in danger of being killed for leaving their abuser, irrespective of their religious or cultural backgrounds.)

Being mean is always a temptation - heaven knows I have a sharp tongue on me - but it is a temptation that we should try to avoid. We should especially avoid creating a politics out of it, and 'feminist' transphobia is just such a politics.

It is a waste of time, which has cost me years of my life. Years, I tell'ee.

added later
I should add, in respect of the domestic violence shelter business, note also the assumption that transwomen do not come from minority religious/ethnic communities which put them at risk of death from family. I have had two flatmates whom that fitted. And yet I missed the point until I was cooking, and came to adjust...
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