Guest post: Reading Whipping Girl 2

Guest post by Lady Mondegreen.

Hello again. I’m back with another installment of Reading Whipping Girl.

Last time I discussed Serano’s definition of gender, which appears in the first chapter of her book. Now, I’m going to take a look at her Trans Woman Manifesto, which precedes the first chapter.

Trans Woman Manifesto

This Manifesto calls for the end of the scapegoating, deriding, and dehumanizing of trans women everywhere.

I’m with her so far, (unless “no deriding” means “no criticizing,” as it so often does with trans activists).

No qualifications should be placed on the term ‘trans woman’ based on a person’s ability to ‘pass’ as female, her hormone levels, or the state of her genitals—

Wait, hold on.

So, no qualifications at all, then? Beyond “I say so”?

What might that mean for non-trans women out here in the Real World?

Some of you reading this may be unaware of it, but since Serano wrote this Manifesto in 2007, her insistence that “no qualifications should be placed on the term ‘trans women’” has become law in many places. It can be trivially easy for a person, be he ever so bearded and be-penised, to claim trans womanhood, and thus womanhood, and thus gain legal access to any and all women’s spaces. Bathrooms. Changing rooms. Sports teams. Homeless shelters. This video by Magdalen Berns provides some pertinent references.

Moving on–

—after all, it is downright sexist to reduce any woman (trans or otherwise) down to her mere body parts or to require her to live up to certain societally dictated ideals regarding appearance.

This here? This right here? This belongs in the dictionary next to the word “specious”.

A definition does not “reduce” the thing defined. If we agree, for the purposes of argument, that a “webbis”* is a tabby cat who misbehaves, we are not “reducing” certain cats to their coat patterns or their behavior. We understand that there is more to any given cat who belongs in the class “webbis” than her stripes or her predilection for stealing human treats.

Likewise, if we define “man” as “an adult person whose gonads produce sperm rather than ova” we are not reducing men to sperm-carrying vessels. Got it?

This claim that defining “woman” using biological markers “[reduces women] down to [their] mere body parts” is blatant bullshit. It needs to be pointed, laughed, and shouted at until it slinks off the public stage to sit in a corner and think about what it did.

You want to argue that the class of people signified by the word “woman” should include include trans women? Make that argument. Don’t avoid it with sophistry.

OK, moving on a bit further. After claiming that trans women are the most maligned among sexual minorities, Serano says:

“Trans women are…ridiculed and despised because we are uniquely positioned at the intersection of multiple binary gender-based forms of prejudice: transphobia, cissexism, and misogyny.”

Serano defines transphobia, and then cissexism:

While all transgender people experience transphobia, transsexuals additionally experience a related (albeit distinct) form of prejudice: cissexism, which is the belief that transexuals’ identified genders are inferior to, or less authentic than, those of cissexuals (i.e., people who are not transsexual and who have only ever experienced their subconscious and physical sexes as being aligned). The most common expression of cissexism occurs when people attempt to deny the transsexual the basic privileges that are associated with the trans person’s self-identified gender. Common examples include the purposeful misuse of pronouns or insisting that the trans person use a different public restroom. The justification for this denial is generally founded on the assumption that the trans person’s gender is not authentic because it does not correlate with the sex they were assigned at birth. In making this assumption, cissexists attempt to create an artificial hierarchy. By insisting that the trans person’s gender is “fake,” they attempt to validate their own gender as “real” or “natural.” This sort of thinking is extraordinarily naïve, as it denies a basic truth: We make assumptions every day about other people’s genders without ever seeing their birth certificates, their chromosomes, their genitals, their reproductive systems, their childhood socialization, or their legal sex. There is no such thing as a “real” gender—there is only the gender we experience ourselves as and the gender we perceive others to be. (Note: If you haven’t read my previous post on WG, you may want to read it now; it deals with Serano’s murky definition of “gender.”)

Be gender what it may, though, what people “make assumptions every day about” is other people’s SEX. It’s true that we do this without seeing their birth certificates, etc., but 98.3% of the time** we don’t have to—humans are pretty sexually dimorphic and most of the time we can successfully sex each other at a glance. Of course, we also rely on certain conventional cues to do this—clothes, hairstyles—but if we all went about naked we wouldn’t need those at all.

But, per Serano, cissexists are attempting to create an “artificial hierarchy” between real and fake genders, whatever those are exactly, by insisting that biological sex is a meaningful category. The dastards.

The “justification for this denial” (of access to restrooms, etc.) is not about validating anyone’s subjective feelings of “gender”. It’s about sex. It’s about the fact that male people are generally bigger and stronger than female people, and the fact that, sadly, a significant percentage of them will sexually harass or predate on women given the chance. It’s about the fact that there are times when female people need to be apart from male people, for privacy, or safety, or to play sports.

Trans women are not being kept down by an artificial hierarchy invented to make non-trans people feel better about their genders.

Whew. I’m only on page three of Serano’s 9 page Manifesto. This may take a while.

* Word stolen from Shirley Arthur Jackson

** Per the Intersex Society of North America, which estimates that 1.7% of the population is intersex.

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