Western society habitually presents itself as the society of the rights of man, but before a man could have rights, he had to constitute himself as an individual, to consider himself such and to be considered such; that could not happen without the long experience of the European arts and particularly the art of the novel which teaches the reader to be curious about others and to try to comprehend truths that differs from his own.

Milan Kudera, quoted in this JSTOR Daily article on literature as resistance. There is a lot to this argument, and it is also a reason why diverse literature is so important:  The more stories of e.g., trans people,are told in literature, the more the public can imagine this group as a part of society with individual, civil rights.

Burn, Gender Binary, Burn: Against Me! Turn North Carolina Show Into Protest

A while ago, when rock’n’roll behemoths like Bruce Springsteen canceled their respective North Carolina shows in a sign of protest against that state’s anti-anti-discrimination bill HB2, Against Me! and particularly frontwoman Laura Jane Grace announced that they would play their show in Durham, but would turn it into a form of protest. And they weren’t kidding: Laura Jane Grace, who is a trans woman, burned her birth certificate on stage, smiling, saying goodbye to gender. 

In an earlier interview she also pointed out that, in contrast to Springsteen’s mega stadium shows, her cancelling the gig wouldn’t hurt the city or state financially, and only affect the fans (and, let’s be real, the members of Against Me. The band is fairly successful, but losing touring income must still hurt them.)

As stereogum reports, she also made clear that HB2 is about more than just bathroom access:

“You know, there’s been a lot of focus on just the bathroom part of HB2, but one of the other huge parts is that it takes away a transgender person’s right to sue for discrimination on the state level and that is huge. I mean, if someone else has the right to sue for discrimination and I don’t, how that is constitutional?”

Against Me! released a live version of True Trans Soul Rebel as a precursor to their upcoming new live album, which is awesome on its own, but it also means I get to add the best punk song of recent memory to my running Best Of 2015 Spotify playlist, aptly called “Wait, it’s 2015?”

Judith Butler addresses TERFs and the use of theory against transgender people

This is a really good (and actually understandable) interview with Judith Butler in which she clarifies her positions on trans people undergoing transformation and surgery (”brave” and “there is nothing more important than for transgender people to ) the use of social construction theory against trans people (”a false, misleading, and oppressive use of the theory”) and TERFS (she rejects them, even calling their actions against trans lives a “kind of feminist tyranny.”) The interview ends with this perspective on her own work:

Gender Trouble was written about 24 years ago, and at that time I did not think well enough about trans issues. Some trans people thought that in claiming that gender is performative that I was saying that it is all a fiction, and that a person’s felt sense of gender was therefore “unreal.” That was never my intention. I sought to expand our sense of what gender realities could be. But I think I needed to pay more attention to what people feel, how the primary experience of the body is registered, and the quite urgent and legitimate demand to have those aspects of sex recognized and supported. I did not mean to argue that gender is fluid and changeable (mine certainly is not). I only meant to say that we should all have greater freedoms to define and pursue our lives without pathologization, de-realization, harassment, threats of violence, violence, and criminalization. I join in the struggle to realize such a world.

I can recommend reading the interview in full. (via @hagalope)

Judith Butler addresses TERFs and the use of theory against transgender people

Goldberg’s One-Sided New Yorker Article “Undermines Transgender Identity,” And That’s Still A Euphemism

I subscribe to the New York Times digitally (mainly because it can be useful as a North American cultural studies student) and recently subscribed to their “what we’re reading” newsletter, a selection of articles from other publications NYT editors like every week. When I opened Tuesday’s newsletter, I was briefly exited. A recommended article from the New Yorker,  called “What is a woman?” I’m really interested in gender identity, gender construction, etc. My high hopes waned a bit when I saw the article is by Michelle Goldberg, who hasn’t really represented nuance, intersectional feminism, or just openness to positions that aren’t her own in recent time. Reading the article, I felt uncomfortable and at odds with her portrayal of the radical feminist v. trans women debate. I couldn’t really put it into words at the time, so I didn’t write about it. 

Yesterday, Bitch Magazine posted online a comment on the Goldberg piece that puts into words a lot of my thoughts, and then some more. Here’s one of several important passages:

Reading this passage, one might think TERFs [trans-exclusionary radical feminists] and trans people have a philosophical or semantic debate. Trans people’s identities, for which they and their allies are waging a worldwide human rights campaign to define as legally legitimate—backed by decades of medical and psychological data—and TERFs’ hateful academic theories carry equal weight and import. If those two sides were balanced in the piece, readers might walk away with a shoulder shrug, “Who knows whether trans identity is legitimate or not?” The title of the piece certainly encourages this confusion, making it a question as to whether transgender women should be seen as women.

But the piece isn’t even balanced. In a response to Goldberg’s piece published on Autostraddle, Mari Brighe noted that Goldberg cited 14 radical feminists, quoting nine and including two quotes from books. In contrast, she quoted only four trans women, including no quotes from books;  two of her trans sources actually support radical feminist viewpoints. Likewise, Goldberg quotes TERFs misgendering trans women repeatedly, never mentioning that trans women find such language dehumanizing and hurtful. “Sadly, what she presents is a disturbingly one-sided view of the situation that relies on heavily anecdotal evidence, uncited claims and debunked theories, and ignores the extended campaign of harassment and attack that the trans community has endured at the hands of radical feminists,” writes Brighe.

In Goldberg’s narrative, it’s TERFs who come off as oppressed. Their ideas lack the “power and cachet” of the trans movement, and they’ve found themselves now “shunned as reactionaries on the wrong side of a sexual-rights issue.” To understand how unjust this characterization of things is, one has to understand all the issues relating to trans people and TERFs that Goldberg doesn’t mention.

TERF framing of trans rights activists as bullies is bad. Bullying, rape and death threats against feminist women are really, really wrong, something I see as so problematic that I’m writing my master’s thesis on it. However, Goldberg, TERF, and to a degree also Caroline Criado-Perez describe both camps in too homogenous, undifferentiated terms. Extreme bullies in both camps exist, sadly. People in both camps are affected by structural and individual sexism and/or transphobia and/or racsim and/or homophobia. But one thing Goldberg and TERFs claim is, in my opinion, simply wrong: Transgender people, as a group and mostly as individuals, do not have hegemonic power over ciswomen. It could be argued argued that ciswomen who consistently get their one-sided opinions published in magazines/papers/cultural institutions like The New Yorker or The Atlantic have (comparatively!) more power than most trans people…

The Bitch article by Leela Ginelle  does a good job of explaining all these issues, so read it in full.

One last thing: I strongly believe that both cis and trans women are women. Women can have a multitude of experiences and individual “forms” and bodily issues. Within this group different forms of relative degrees of privilege exist, not just on a cis-trans scale but also on a class scale, race scale, educational scale, etc.