The Rebuttals to Burchill have been made, but what of the future?

To follow up from today’s news, it feels as though things are beggining to calm down. There have been a number of blogs written in response to Burchill’s article, and we have had some good responses are now online from Ruth Pearce, Roz Kaveney and Paris Lees. I’d also like to link this blog as an example of the excellent rebuttals we have seen online today.

Whilst these articles have calmed me down somewhat as it seems to round the whole thing off with a nice, calm response from the trans community, and I really do hope that this draws a line under everything, I cannot help but feel dissatisfied with the outcome.

Yes, trans people have had their say, and I suspect that the Guardian/Observer will think very carefully before allowing another tirade of transphobia onto their pages. But the fact is that we have been here before: The Guardian publishes a transphobic piece, the trans community get angry, and then a trans commentator is invited to give a rebuttal, we all get on with our lives, that is until the heat cools off and an editor allows another article to slip through the regulations…

Surely there must be a way to not only draw a line under this individual incident, but to ensure that the paper never again allows itself to be used as a platform for hate speech?Some good responses are now online from Ruth Pearce, Roz Kaveney and Paris Lees. Whilst these articles have calmed me down somewhat as it seems to round the whole thing off with a nice, calm response from the trans community, and I really do hope that this draws a line under everything, I cannot help but feel dissatisfied with the outcome.

Yes, trans people have had their say, and I suspect that the Guardian/Observer will think very carefully before allowing another tirade of transphobia onto their pages. But the fact is that we have been here before: The Guardian publishes a transphobic piece, the trans community get angry, and then a trans commentator is invited to give a rebuttal, we all get on with our lives, that is until the heat cools off and an editor allows another article to slip through the regulations…

Surely there must be a way to not only draw a line under this individual incident, but to ensure that the paper never again allows itself to be used as a platform for hate speech?

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When a Transphobe Cries Wolf.

The representation of trans people in the media invariably tends to be awful. Comedy shows will happily use trans women as cheap plot devices to get laughter out of the fact that the character “used to be a man”. Newspapers will happily dig up information on trans people’s history and splash old photos across their pages as if we were some kind of freakshow piece. This I expect from right wing rags, but you’d hope that somewhere in the media there would be a voice of reason: because, guess what? Trans people are human beings and many of us would like to just get on with our lives.

I may be naive, but I would have hoped that a newspaper such as The Guardian wouldn’t be publishing pieces which read like an article from The Daily Mail. Unfortunately it would seem we are a legitimate target, and god forbid we answer back. “Here comes the trans cabal!”, “its a witch hunt!” decry the journos as they sip their champagne. No, the trans community is not some kind of hive mind hell bent of wrecking destruction through the pages of twitter. We are a diverse, and disparate group of people who are fed up with the discrimination and condemnation we receive on a daily basis. Of course many of us are going to be angry when you abuse your power to run a media campaign against us. Yes, we may not have our own newspaper columns, but we do have the right to answer back.

The problem here is that I cannot help but feel we are being baited. Given The Guardian’s recent piece on Dr Curtis, and the subsequent response of the trans community moving to his defense,my cynical side wonders if Moore’s faux par, and the subsequent twitter row in which she said some less than endearing things about trans people, is being used as a political lever by the likes of Bindel and Burchill. After all, if you can whip up a social media furore against yourself through poking the angry bear (and damn right we’re angry), then you can have a fun game of smoke and mirrors in which you can distract against where the real battle lines are to be had.

Moore asked why trans people never speak out on government cuts. My answer is that many of us are, but unfortunately, her refusal/ inability to understand the implicit racism and transphobia in her “brazillian transsexual” comment has now weakened that fight through diverting precious time and resources to once again defending against yet another media attack on the trans community. Only, as someone who is unashamedly left wing and a feminist, I feel these attacks are coming from within the ranks of my would be allies. Much like members of the SWP claiming that feminism is dividing the left, your claims that trans people are dividing feminism hold no water. It is you who divides us.

Transphobic values are Patriarchal values.

For those of you who have read my first two blogs, you will know that I am very much against the infighting between the trans community and elements of the feminist community, of course, the categories of “trans” and “feminist” are not mutually exclusive. This, of course, does not stop transphobic extremists from trying to argue away our very existence in the name of feminism, the long term impact of these transphobic diatribes is not only the proliferation of transphobia, but continued harm to feminism itself. As I have often stated, we cannot have trans liberation without women’s liberation; for the marginalisation of both trans people and of women is a product of the patriarchy. Feminists who spread hate against trans people, rather than protecting the women’s movement, are doing the patriarchy’s work through denying the validity of trans identities. Through variously presenting trans people as “infiltrators in women’s spaces” (used to refer to trans women) or as “traitors selling out to the patriarchy” (used to refer to trans men); or through the less paranoid position of trans people simply being “deluded”; these people are, whilst simultaneously calling themselves “feminists” are churning out repetitions  of patriarchal notions of trans identities.

Take for example the idea of trans women being “infiltrators” or “deceivers”: where have we seen this before? This is an idea frequently displayed in media representations of trans women whose appearance aligns with society’s standard of beauty. The plot frequently goes as follows: a straight, cis man meets a beautiful woman (usually tall with carefully arranged make-up) and finds himself attracted to her, only to later find out that she is “really a man” before going through a perceived crisis in sexuality. How then, is it feminist to uncritically regurgitate misogynist views on trans women?

The idea that trans men are somehow turn-coats who sell out to the patriarchy in order to obtain male power is another way in which trans people are depicted as having ulterior (and sinister) motives behind transitioning, and another means by which to deny that a trans person’s gender identity holds no validity. Added into this is the assumption that trans men do not care about sexism, and will happily comply with it whenever they are read as male simply for the purpose of obtaining privileges, finally, it is a denial of cis privilege through proposing that it is somehow the “easy way out”. Not withstanding of course, the inherent contradiction between this, and arguing that trans women retain male privilege post transition.

So let’s be clear here: trans people aren’t gender ninjas trying to infiltrate feminism and assassinate it, nor are we cowards hiding from sexism behind a beard.

Image< Essential misogyny deflecting eye wear.

The last misconception I want to touch on is the notion of “delusion”. For those who still insist on being transphobic, but don’t subscribe to the conspiracy theories, this is used as a get-out clause; “trans people aren’t evil, they’re just deluded!” At this point it turns into a game of “good cop, bad cop” or, “nice transphobe, nasty transphobe” (there’s no such thing as a nice transphobe), coupled with this stance comes the acknowledgement that, yes, trans people discriminated against in society, and yes, that isn’t good. Well, I guess that’s some progress, but all that is taken back with the word “but”, wherein we are told that we’re not “really” trans, we just have false consciousness, or we’re “deluded”. Trans people are therefore given a paternalistic pat on the head and are told, “its ok dear, you’re not really a man/woman/genderqueer etc. you’re just a victim of the patriarchy”. To my mind this isn’t much different from telling an L/G/B person that they’re not really a lesbian, gay, or bi, they’re just allowing themselves to be tempted by society. The result of this stance is for people calling themselves radical feminists to converge with conservative psychiatrists who advocate “curing” trans people using talking therapies. People who advocate “curing” homosexuality are rightly condemned by feminists, so why not those who want to cure people of being trans?

I could probably write far more here, but throughout this there is a very basic point: transphobic values are patriarchal values, and they have no place in feminism.

Thoughts on the Ben Cohen Foundation.

After attending NUS LGBT conference 2012, at which former England Rugby Union player, Ben Cohen gave a speech regarding his anti-homophobic bullying foundation “The Ben Cohen Stand Up Foundation” I went away feeling less than impressed. Some criticisms of his speech can be found here: however, I actually want to speak about the work which his foundation carries out.

Within his speech, he talked of how the foundation; which is designed to fight homophobic bullying, has drawn up a t-shirt contract with Nike in order to raise funds, now this immediately raised flags in my mind: why use a company which has a record of using sweatshop conditions and child labour in order to fight homophobia? Personally, I do not want any cause I support to be associated with such practices, of course I am against homophobic bullying, but I cannot support the Ben Cohen Foundation. You cannot claim to be working to make kids lives better, if within that you are raising the money by making the lives of children worse elsewhere in the world.

Now, the next question here, will of course be “well, where is the evidence that Nike is still using sweatshop labour, after all, the media uproar surrounding Nike happened back in the 90’s. To find the answer to that, you only have to go online and see the same story repeated over and over again with information being leaked to the public at periodic intervals. For example this article here (apologies for referencing the Daily Mail) is the most recent article I’ve found (13th July 2011) , and this was when just taking a cursory glance over internet search results. On top of all this, the t-shirts which Nike are producing for the foundation don’t even mention homophobic bullying, or issues relating to LGBT people on them; now, perhaps that is intentional in order to make them safer to wear on the streets. But its not as if the range even gives the purchaser the option as to if they want to have an anti-homophobia statement on their shirt; but with Nike, you do have the option of having Ben Cohen’s signature on your shirt: Yay, Ben!

Now, just to round off the issue, here’s a quick video detailing Nike’s use of child labour in Pakistan:

Furthermore, there is the issue of where the money actually goes. Now, I cannot speak on all the organisations listed on his site for I do not have an in depth knowledge of all their work, but a list of organisations which the foundation donates to, (and a picture of Mr Cohen shaking David Cameron’s hand) can be found here. Now, the Foundation claims that the fund support their own original work, as well as funding to other organisations; but to be honest, I can’t actually tell what their own work is; maybe someone else can shed some light here. The list of organisations on their funding page also contains projects which are already highly funded, and at times problematic, with the two UK organisations being “bully free zone” to which the weblink on the foundation’s site is broken, and Stonewall UK. Of those which I am familiar with, the US organisations are also very mainstream. Now, I could go on here with trans related criticisms of Stonewall e.g. their nomination of a transphobic journalist for “journalist of the year”, the fact that when they mention trans issues they invariably misrepresent what trans actually is, and in this sense, go beyond “not having the T” to be actively damaging towards the trans community here in the UK.

But I feel it would be wrong to pick out one organisation, so instead I am going to talk about the “Non-Profit Industrial Complex”, INCITE! Women of Colour Against Violence have done some great work on this, and have published a book which gives a through analysis of the problem. Over the years, the use of funding foundations has created a model wherein non-profit organisations have to tailor their work to the demands of funders in order to carry out their work. The result is charities run on business models with CEOs, and a politics which has lost its critical edge. We now see a number of large, well funded Lesbian and Gay rights organisations, who work on short term goals in order to fulfil a tick box list of achievements, rather than working towards long terms goal. This is placed under the cloak of “pragmatism” wherein activism is divided into “achievable aims” and “impossible aims”, creating in of itself a self fulfilling prophecy. Furthermore, through holding the budget strings, foundations can actively limit the work of an organisation through withdrawing funding from groups whose work does not align with their own interests; whilst this might not happen with all foundations, it has been known to happen. The result? A small number of highly funded, and yet ineffective organisations dominate the agenda, and no matter how well intentioned they may be, they fail to reach the root of the problem. We need to have a politics which can be critical of capitalism, rather than one which relies on it if we are ever to achieve liberation, and in doing so we must be self aware of how we carry out our work; for what is the point of trying to do “good work” in one place, if we simply cause harm elsewhere? As trans people, we must also learn from this, with the T in LGBT all too often standing for “tokenism” we have directly experienced the impact of groups who claim to work for us, but in fact pay only lip service (at least in the case of Stonewall we know where we stand). Sure, we can attempt to get trans issues further up the agenda in these organisations, or we can seek to replicate their work in a trans specific context, but in doing so we will only replicate the flaws creating yet another movement dominated by an elite.

I realise that I may have gone off topic from the original context of this blog, but it all comes back around to the same core issue: no matter how well intentioned the work of a particular group may be, we must be careful not to replicate the conditions which create our own marginalisation when carrying out our work. Through making use of a company which uses child and sweatshop labour, the Ben Cohen Foundation is simply replicating these conditions unto another group, and for what? To fund a set of organisations who already receive huge budgets, with which they do relatively little. For those of you who wish to give money to fight homophobia and transphobia, perhaps instead of buying a t-shirt, you should find a local organisation which say, works with homeless LGBT  people, or works specifically with the trans community, or provides outreach work, a place which really could do good things with your money.

Feminism, language, and moving on.

The issue of transphobia within feminism is well known amongst the trans community; and yet, this is in spite of many feminists being trans friendly, and many trans people being feminists themselves. The question here then, is why we place such great focus on those who discriminate against us within feminism, as opposed to working with feminists who support trans liberation, and as opposed to developing our own understanding of feminism as a whole?

There are many amongst us who do the latter, with there being a significant transfeminist community online; and yet when speaking of transphobia within feminism, many of us fall down by using sweeping generalisations. Let’s be clear here: when we speak of transphobes in feminism, let us not tar feminism as a whole with this brush, and let us not conflate transphobic feminists with second wave thought, for there are multiple ideological positions even within the second wave. Finally, when speaking of transphobia within feminism; it would be wrong to assume that it is unique to radical feminism, but also it would be wrong to assume that all radical feminists are transphobes. Through making such generalisations, all we do is demonstrate our ignorance as to what the word “feminism” means, and of the great variety of positions within feminism itself. Secondly, through focusing our efforts purely into fighting these transphobes, we fail to address other issues which impact on our lives as trans people, just as feminists who focus their efforts into arguing against our existence waste valuable time which could be put into fighting for women’s liberation. So, let’s stop providing transphobic feminists with a platform, and let’s put our efforts into fighting for liberation. This is not to say that we should ignore the existence of such people, just as we should not ignore any other group which specifically targets trans people in this manner. This is not to say that we should do nothing on this issue, we should of course be weary of those who do pose a danger i.e. individuals who actively seek to out trans people, or those who are in positions of influence who will seek to strip away access to healthcare, or other services essential to our wellbeing. But for the most part, a lot of our time and energy would be better spent proactively working towards liberation as opposed to mud-slinging and resorting to false generalisations.

As a feminist, and as a trans person, I see no contradiction between the core tenets of feminism and my gender identity.  It is my belief that trans people are an example of the beauty of gender diversity, for our existence demonstrates the fact that you cannot define someone purely on the basis of their embodiment. The existence of genderqueer, and other non-binary identified trans people demonstrates that we should not be limited to viewing the world simply in terms of male and female, and that it is possible to live outside of societal gender roles. Equally, anti-trans discrimination, and institutionalised transphobia tell us of the gendered organisation of society. The message we receive is clear:  through failing to fit the gender model set out before us, we are placed at the fringes of society.

The fact of the matter is that the very conditions which perpetuate misogyny are those which perpetuate transphobia, and we cannot hope to achieve trans liberation without first being feminists. Transphobes within feminism may argue that we are incompatible with a world in which women’s liberation is achieved, and my answer to them is that we will not stop existing just because you try to argue us away; that feminists who seek to out trans people are simply inciting violence against another human being on the basis of their gender. Let’s face the facts here, singling out another human being in this manner is not very feminist at all, no matter how much you attempt to dress it up in the language of women’s liberation; transphobia liberates no one. Let this blog mark a line in the sand, as a community, we as trans people have the responsibility to distinguish between those who misuse the tenets of feminism to preach hatred against a group which experiences gendered violence, versus those feminists who dedicate their time to achieving women’s liberation, and to those who will stand by our sides as we fight for trans liberation. Together, these struggles represent the fight for gender liberation, to the benefit of us all.

Now let us use our time constructively.

Welcome :-)

Hello everyone, and welcome to my newly created blog;  I thought I would start by introducing myself, and what I intend to write about here.

In creating this blog, I aim to add my voice to that of the wider trans community online, and to cover issues effecting trans people here in the UK. In doing so, I hope to create dialogue surrounding the future of the trans liberation movement through a transfeminist lens from the perspective of a young trans guy living in England. The name “cisginger, transgender” is a reference to myself, and at times the narrative will feature my own expereinces as a trans person, at others, it will focus wholly on wider issues.

It is my belief that we as a community need to develop a stronger, more cohesive liberation movement which is reflexive and engaged with the wider political context; and most importantly, this movement must come from the grass-roots. This, of course, is only a blog, and represents nothing more than one perspective within the trans community; I do not hold any grandiose notions as to what the writing here will achieve, my aim as a blogger is simply to contribute what I can through engaging with the existing community.

Thankyou for visiting my blog,

I hope that people reading the posts here will find it informative; and failing that, to create posts which are at least interesting.