I am using colonization as a national/geographic metaphor here – but there is another national/geographic metaphor that in my opinion applies to gender critical transwomen – transwomen who accept they are male but want nothing to do with manhood: defection (“the desertion of one’s country or cause in favor of an opposing one.”)
Some background: The “radical” in radical feminism means getting to the root of the problem. The root of the problem is gender, meaning the idea of male (masculine/dominant) and female (feminine/subordinate) personalities. Feminists have long objected to the idea that femininity is innate to females; we see femininity – which is signaled by certain time-and-place-specific aesthetics but much more importantly is about submissiveness and dependence – as the result of female socialization in the service of male supremacy.
The necessary corollary to an analysis of femininity as socialized rather than innate is an analysis of masculinity as socialized rather than innate. And here we get to the crux of the problem in modern transgender identity politics: Too many people remain unwilling to accept that human qualities *traditionally labeled* feminine can and do exist within male bodies.
These qualities include positive traits, such as empathy and gentleness. They also include neutral traits, such as an interest in self-decoration. They also include negative traits, such as the tendency to fall into the trap of self-objectification as empowerment. All of these qualities can and do exist within male bodies. However, as these qualities are cultivated in female humans in order to keep us dependent upon males, and as we are supposed to pretend that no such cultivation occurs – in the popular imagination, women are not socialized to be feminine but are innately so – males who exhibit those traits (males who give the lie to gender) are punished both within their families and within their larger communities.
Many de-transitioned transmen have written, quite movingly, of how they were socialized trans – they were made to believe their personalities were unacceptable in female bodies. I personally have no doubt that similarly painful socialization is inflicted upon some males – they are made to believe that their personalities are unacceptable in male bodies. I find it unsurprising and frankly even obvious that such socialization would sometimes lead to sex dysmorphia: a rejection of maleness, a rejection of the phallus, a wish to flee manhood entirely.
Which brings us back to the metaphor of defection. Some people are told their opinions/activities/interests will not be tolerated in their countries of origin, so they flee to another country where their opinions/activities/interests will be tolerated. They undertake a journey – we are not expected to lie and pretend they are in country B while they are still in country A simply because they strongly desire to be in country B (see: the “I’m a transwoman/woman because I say so, respect my female penis” camp.) Furthermore, when the refugee arrives in country B, we are not expected to lie and pretend the refugee was born there (see: the “I was never a boy, I was always a girl” camp.) And we certainly do not expect the citizens of country B to adopt the values of a country from which people have felt the need to flee (see: the “woman is a male fantasy” camp.) The refugee is offered safety, with the expectation of a certain level of acculturation – they will learn how things work in their new home (rather than relying on whatever propaganda they may have received in their country of origin,) and ally with the citizens there. This is what gender-critical/pro-feminist transwomen do.
Why do we never hear this defection narrative in the mainstream media coverage of trans politics? Because the defection narrative shines a harsh light on the destructiveness of male socialization. Instead, we have a narrative that is meant to appease men who have accepted their male socialization – and refuse to question the privilege it brings: It’s OK, Bepenised Overlords, these people might have been born into male bodies just like yours, but we all know and agree that their personalities are not acceptable for males, so we’re going to pretend that ladybrain makes them female. We’ll all continue to pretend that dominant behavior is innate to maleness, so you will remain entitled to male supremacy. (Whatever is considered innate to maleness remains unquestionable in the social order, no matter how much harm it causes.)
Of course, appeasing bullies never works. Liberals are yelling at the top of their lungs from every media outlet available that penis is female if the penis-haver says so, and men are still killing transwomen, – along with women, children, and other men. And they will continue to do so as long as their violence is naturalized and excused via gender. But people are so terrified of confronting males over male violence that they instead blame women (“TERFs”) who won’t go along with an appeasement narrative which is (not only patently ridiculous but also) obviously ineffective.
Meanwhile, this ladybrain narrative – some personalities are unacceptable in male bodies, so we must lie and call them female – IS EXACTLY THE KIND OF CRUELTY THAT CAN LEAD TO SEX DYSMORPHIA.
I’ve written before about the liberal desire to perform “high disgust tolerance,” and how it leads to a knee-jerk reaction to anyone who disagrees with transgender identity politics – we must not be tolerating our disgust. But what if we-who-are-labeled-TERFs don’t actually feel any disgust at males who exhibit “feminine” personality traits? Furthermore, what if we are not disgusted by the existence of transsexuality, but rather view it as an understandable (though obviously painful) reaction by highly empathetic persons subjected to male socialization? What if the only thing that disgusts us is the infliction of that socialization?
Dear self-styled social justice warrior types: What if the disgust and fear you project onto us is actually your own? Because that is all I see when you prance and posture all over social media, demanding everyone pretend that male people are female: disgust at feminine males, and fear of masculine males.
Can you take a break from spluttering violent threats at women to ask yourself why you believe personalities are sexed, in direct contradiction to the evidence in front of you? Can you ask yourself why you can’t admit that qualities traditionally labeled “feminine” – positive, neutral and negative – can and do exist in male bodies? Can you ask yourself what kind of effect this must have on the males who possess those traits – what pain you must be causing them? Can you ask yourself why men can’t be expected to encounter “feminine” males without reacting in violence? And can you ask yourself why you are so terrified of men that you must always blame women for male violence?
If, for once, you are honest with yourself, the truth you will finally have to confront is that the social world of men – the country of men, if you will – is the problem. That is what must change. Not the country of women – not our language, not our self-definitions, not our boundaries, not our movement for liberation. We can welcome refugees without submitting to colonizers – they are easy to distinguish, if you judge from behavior, rather than self-labeling. However, only when the country of men is safe for “feminine” males will the painful process of defection become unnecessary. And the country of men will only become safe for “feminine” males when men stop expecting women to bend over backwards to solve the problem for them, embrace *all* their brothers, and take on the work of standing up to the gender bullies.
When so-called Leftist/liberal men can embrace transwomen as their fellow males with the same conviction with which they now denounce women who won’t call penis female, we will have made progress.
Note Added 6/25/15: In the third paragraph of this essay, I offer a clarification of the word “gender” in case any readers are accustomed to using that word to mean “sex category” (male/female) – the word “gender” is commonly used this way outside of feminist contexts, which can lead to a great deal of confusion. Some people have been excerpting the text “gender, meaning the idea of male (masculine/dominant) and female (feminine/subordinate) personalities” and removing the link that takes you to a page I wrote all about gender as an exploitative hierarchy, in order to misrepresent me as a person who does not think gender is an exploitative hierarchy. That’s a dick move.