An Open Letter to Lierre Keith and Derrick Jensen

24 Jun

by Sasha Ross / Earth First! News

Your recent article, published in Counterpunch on the summer solstice, opens up the space for much discussion. While we’ll all hopefully look back on this problem as a frustrating distraction, for the time being we must confront the issue with positivity and direct action.

Before I begin, I would like to remember the lives of the those killed on this day, forty years ago, in the largest massacre of LGBT people in US history—the arson of Metropolitan Community Church. In an event that mimicked the massacre of 1913 in Calumet, Michigan, immortalized by Woody Guthrie, some anti trans people blocked the door to the first LGBT church ever, and burned the place down. In 15 minutes, 32 people lost their lives. Their crime was loving one another, and celebrating the forth anniversary of the Stonewall Riot (coming up on the 28th, btw).

For Earth First!, the issue of gender is worth hashing out, because trans inclusive policies make EF! what it is. There are currently two Trans and Womyn’s Action Camps affiliated with Earth First!, and some of EF!’s most dedicated and long-time organizers are trans people. These are people who put their bodies on the line consistently to stop a genocidal machine that is destroying the earth. 

I work with several trans people and queer folks at my job at a Cascadia biodiversity group, and I am proud to count myself among their numbers. I have been part of LGBT communities since I was in second grade. I am also a co-founding moderator of the Earth First! Newswire, where much of the debate has taken place. I want to use this space to speak out: please, stop the insanity. Stop spreading ignorance about the trans community. Let’s break bread with our trans allies and all people struggling to be free. Now is the time for fearless love.

EF fistThe EF! Journal collective has formally repudiated DGR’s transphobia, but I have attempted to maintain some degree of integrity in moderating the public fora surrounding this issue, in spite of my deep, personal feelings. Rather than getting pulled into the abyss of degenerate animosity, I would rather approach issues of patriarchy and misogyny as a student of nature. In spite of this approach, I have been personally insulted by you, Derrick Jensen, when you launched an ad hominem attack on me in public forum. While I stated that calls to censor a post on the subject of Russian art group, Voina, reminded me of the case against Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” you called me a “misogynist” and a “rape apologist,” stating that I had given you evidence that queer theory is misogynistic.  

In your Counterpunch article, you state, “[r]ight now the gender fundamentalists are doing their best to shut down dialogue.” It takes two to tango. If you are responsible for the rude and discourteous treatment, and even silencing, of the trans community and its allies, you should not be surprised that you receive the same treatment. You complain that “genderists are literally shouting feminists down to shut us up,” but you have institutionalized trans exclusion in your organization. 

Of course tempers flair, things get out of control, and we all need to tone down the rhetoric—it’s time to come together, to end the animosity, and to get over this division in the environmental movement. 

Do you receive threats? Are there some bizarre photoshopped photos of you snuggling, fully clothed, with an oversized salmon? Yes to all of those. If I could, I would apologize, but I have nothing to do with any of that, and the EF!J collective has already denounced all oppressive conduct in this debate in the strongest of terms. But here goes nothing: I personally apologize for anything I have done to deepen the rift in the environmental movement, and I am calling for reconciliation.

Do you deny and exclude trans people in your organization? Do you call trans women names like “trans boys?” Do you identify them as “deeply misogynistic” men who are trying to undermine women? Yes, those are direct quotes.

Lierre, you stated, “Well, I’ve personally been fighting about this since 1982. I think ‘transphobic’ is a ridiculous word. I have no strange fear of people who claim to be ‘trans.’ I deeply disagree with them, as do most radical feminists.” In summarizing your view on trans people, Rachel Ivy states, “men insisting they are women is insulting and absurd.” This is the blunt denial of trans people that you put forward, and Ivey goes on to declare, “there is no debate” over this issue in DGR.

Derrick, you can be even worse. That you called me a “rape apologist” for my views on censorship shows how vitriolic and volatile this discussion is—if you have a point of view, anybody who disagrees with you becomes the target.  While I have nothing to do with the personal attacks against either of you (or any of DGR’s members), you have gone so far in this Ahabian quest as to label trans people the “Taliban in a skirt.” Can we get any closer to a phobia than symbolically associating it with terrorism?

Your dismissal of gender and identity suggests that trans women do not belong in feminist communities; that they ought to be ridiculed. You admitted as much in a leaked private email that bragged about telling a trans woman who “wanted to join DGR,” “You are not a woman. You are a man who believes he is a woman.”

In spite of the claims of your article, “The Emperor’s New Penis,” DGR’s treatment of trans people frequently enters the territory of abuse. You note, “[t]he most heartbreaking element of the transgender narrative is their hatred of their bodies.” How are we to reflect on this statement in light of the RadFem anti trans slogan, “Sorry about that dick!” as anything but the most destructive form of bullying? You know perfectly well that there are lots of trans people who do not hate their bodies whatsoever, and that bringing up this old canard only reminds trans people of the deep levels of chiding and jeering that they experience on a daily basis, not least of all from your ilk. 

Are we trying to defend the planet, or are we trying to alienate and marginalize a community that is already under attack by society? We have already taken a stance against both transphobia and the attempts of others to “get back at you.” Are you ready to stop this war, so that we can heal our hearts together and unite our souls in spiritual positivity to overcome the world’s greatest death machine?

To do this, I implore you to include trans people in thought, word, and deed, and you can begin by taking down the straw man you have made of the trans community. In your article you purposely misidentify trans people as men, and you fail to cite more than a few words from trans activists and intellectuals. When you do cite them, you misrepresent their arguments. Your presentation of trans and queer theory in “The Emperor’s New Penis” relies on a patently false premise: “(t)he disagreement is that queer/trans activists believe gender is a binary, and we believe it’s a hierarchy.” You should know better. Plenty of queer and trans activists insist that gender is multitudinous, not binary. A queer understanding of gender is, to paraphrase queer theorist Monique Wittig, that “everyone has their own gender.” So, the disagreement is not over whether gender is binary, but whether it is to be denied outright.

You deny trans people, and we look to the people of the world and ask them to tell us their stories. That’s the difference, and that’s what this debate is about.

It is not the case that “porn culture that created the whole concept of trans,” as you have written in the past. Ignorance is the first step on the path towards hatred. The bodies and souls of trans people, under different names in different cultures, times, and places, have thrived on the earth for hundreds, if not thousands of years, but today their voices are often silenced by violence. Trans people face disproportionately high rates of murder, are twice as likely to be unemployed, and are actively discriminated against in the workplace.

We are talking hate crimes here. Forced sterilization, unethical experimentation, and so on. There are extensive reports about the dire problem of institutionalized human rights violations against trans people around the world. In spite of this fact, you maintain that trans people are guilty of human rights violations against themselves, vis-à-vis their adoption of gender and particularly the pursuit of sex affirmation surgery. The Earth First! Journal was mired in a deep debate over the issue of surgery about ten years ago, but organizers today believe that their role is to empower activists, not to try to mold them into a cookie cutter image of the appropriate sex imposed from the outside. We are actively engaged in dismantling any hierarchy that places one theory or one identity above all others. 

Let’s not only recognize honor trans people for who they are: the fearlessness of openly flouting oppressive gender constraints, the wildness of practicing love in uncharted waters, the absolute dedication to the nature of honesty and integrity.

You assert in “The Emperor’s New Penis,” “We believe that a social system of male domination starts with human beings who are biologically male or female and creates two social classes of people: men and women.” Using class as your watch-word, you insist that gender is a construct of capitalism. However, if gender is a construct of capitalism why does it exist or has it existed in non-capitalist societies? You could change that and state that gender is a construct of patriarchy, but what about examples of non-androcentric female gender construction? The identification, as with Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray, of gender as fluid and flexible, crossing boundaries, existing in several places at once. If there is a sound anthropological basis to hypothesize that gender is not a product of capitalism or patriarchy, gender can be considered a product of human circumstances and environments. One might even go so far as to say it is neither totally “natural” nor “hierarchical,” but perhaps something else.

Consideration of the existence of non-binary gender roles in a plenitude of societies may indicate that trans people are not a construct of capitalist society (and certainly not of 1970s porn culture, as Lierre has averred). Gender is not some white whale to be hunted down and vanquished. We know too little to begin shooting the harpoons of condemnation against those of us brave enough to experiment or challenge the norm.

We can, however, all appreciate the natural beauty of defiant difference. As Russ McSpadden has eloquently stated, “Transgendered animals thrive. Bighorn sheep, which live in sex-segregated herds for most of the year, nevertheless exhibit male-sexed individuals that adopt female-sexed behavior patterns and remain year-round in the female-sexed herds. Numerous species of fish… [transition] their sexual and reproductive system to other sexualities. Testes transition to ovaries. Ovaries transition to include testes. Gender playfulness and genderlessness teem.” 

There are more than 1,500 species of queer animals. That’s not theory, it’s not misogyny, it’s just a wild and queer fact. Let’s talk about consilience, and stop clearcutting the wilderness of desire, love, and sex.

The Earth First! Journal has publically encouraged you to embrace trans people and renounce transphobia (rather than denying that trans people and transphobia exist as such). The claim staked in “The Emperor’s New Penis” that Deep Green Resistance has nothing to do with transphobia—and that such allegations are “absurd”—calls for a bit of analysis.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on what transphobia actually means. It does not mean you do not like transpeople or are literally afraid of them. Furthermore, if we say that the label transphobia can only be applied to physical assaults against trans people, then we have totally missed the point. Would we say homophobia is only applicable to violent attacks or fear of gay people? No, we say that homophobia is a patriarchal form of institutionalized sexual repression. We can also say the same thing about transphobia—transphobia is a power relationship that totally demeans and degrades trans people, and even denies them their right to be who they are talis qualis. It is another way of re-enforcing the false male/female dichotomy. It means that you contribute to the institutionalized repression of trans people. 

The summer of 2011 saw a large part of DGR’s core organizing crew walk out based on trans exclusive policies. Coauthor of Deep Green Resistance, Aric Mcbay (parenthetically recognized at the end of your article), walked out and has since written a damning letter, stating, “I find these transphobic attitudes to be disgusting and deeply troubling, and it bothers me a lot to have any past association with people promoting transphobia… Solidarity between movements is the only hope we have.”

Aric McBay is the primary author of Deep Green Resistance—if he leaves the group, calling the other founding members’ views transphobic, that should give us pause to consider whether or not these accusations of transphobia actually have merit. Even the title of your new piece (sans Aric), “The Emperor’s New Penis,” seems to imply that trans women are men in disguise who are attempting to instate a hierarchy with themselves at the top. What is presented in “The Emperor’s New Penis” is the notion that trans people represent the new image of Empire. Really? When I see trans people mounting the tanks and bulldozers, meeting in smoke filled rooms with corporate execs, revving up the fellerbunchers, perhaps I will agree. When I see the trans community marching with the tea party and speaking the language of Empire, I will understand. Until then, your claims are as hollow as the Pied Piper’s flute.

 One of the founding organizers of DGR, Premadasi Amada uses the language, “anti trans” rather than “transphobia.” Amada writes, “When I helped start DGR, as an organization, it did not have nor did it embrace the position on trans people it does now. If it had I would never have worked to start DGR. Some individuals who helped start DGR had anti trans positions, but I was clear, and as the main organizer in the beginning, made clear to anyone who asked, that DGR did not have an anti trans position… When this policy was changed to DGR taking on the anti trans position, against my and others’ objections, I left/was forced out about near the same time Aric [McBay] left.”

 Another former core DGR organizer named aidan shores up these claims, again without any rhetorical grandstanding: “When it became clear that the staff of DGR was intent on making the Radical Feminist position the official position of the organization, our local chapter tried to open spaces for dialogue on this issue. We were denied. It was made clear to us that there was no room in the organization for dissenting opinions on the subject of gender, and that if we didn’t like what the organization was doing on this front, then we had to leave.”

 Whether you want to call it transphobia, anti-trans, or just leave all the labels at the door, we should admit that DGR excludes and denies not only trans people but their allies as well.

 In your book, Lierre quotes Frank Bryan, a radical democrat, stating, “Hierarchy requires authority, which promotes symmetry, which causes rigidity. The result is awkward, reactionary and (most important) insensitive—and thus inhumane.” Derrick defines civilization with hierarchy: “Civilization is a specific, hierarchical organization based on ‘power over.’” According to Aric, “Resistance to civilization is inherently decentralized.” Through the practice of systematic exclusion and denial, DGR has morphed into an anti trans hierarchy that does not practice what it has preached. That the organization’s authoritarian turn took place at the same time as its commitment to exclude trans people shows the intersection of oppression and anti trans attitudes.

Nevertheless, Earth First! is engaged with DGR in a deep struggle to stop ocean acidification, climate change, the destruction of wilderness, pathological rape culture, and capitalism’s urbanized march towards suicide. We do not have time to quibble over moral objections to a trans person’s identity, let alone bar people from expressing themselves in radical way. Nor should we. We must openly embrace all people struggling to be free, because decolonization, liberation, and emancipation are the three cornerstones of our movement.

One person who knew this was EF!er Judi Bari. She united loggers with environmentalists in a move that would prefigure the teamsters and turtles of Seattle. She nearly lost her life in an assassination attempt, because she was so good at unifying all people through an ecofeminist analysis of civilization. She embraced everyone who wanted to struggle for a better world, including the LGBT community. She railed against patriarchy in and outside of radical movements. She was also a Wobblie who fought against exclusionary hierarchies. Let’s remember Judi Bari, and in the spirit of conviviality move towards a future of solidarity and love.

For the Wild!

Sasha 

Sasha Ross is a moderator of the Earth First! Newswire, the coordinator of the Earth First! Journal—Cascadia Field Office, and an activist with Bark. His recent writings can be found in continent., The Singapore Review of Books, Life During Wartime (AK Press 2013), and Masha Tupitsyn’s Love Dog (Penny Ante 2013). He is also the editor of the forthcoming anthology, Grabbing Back: Resistance Against the Global Land Grab (AK Press 2014).

Earth01

30 Responses to “An Open Letter to Lierre Keith and Derrick Jensen”

  1. Steve Ongerth June 24, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

    Excellent response. One small quibble: Judi Bari never thought of herself as an anarchist (I would know. I consider myself one and knew Judi personally).🙂

    • Earth First! Journal Cascadia Office June 24, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

      Thanks for clearing that up, Steve. I never knew🙂 Those days it was hipper to say you were “anarchistic” or into horizontal organizing, I think. Even Dave used to proclaim how “anarchistic” EF! was. I’ve asked around about the LGBT issue, and folks who knew her said she did not share Lierre and Derrick’s contempt for trans folks.

      • Steve Ongerth June 24, 2013 at 7:55 pm #

        I can safely say you are correct about how Judi would have stood on the issue. Indeed, she would have had little to do with DGR on many issues, perhaps even going as far as excoriating them for having a privileged, western civ. perspective (in spite of DGR’s professed views to the contrary), and definitely she would have called them out for their lack of class consciousness, even though she might have agreed with some of DGR’s critiques of /some/ industrial practices. I think she would have had wanted to have nothing to do with either Derrick or Lierre.

        Judi was very welcoming to anarchists and anarchism, but she tended to refer to herself (quoting Darryl Cherney) as a “communist with a small ‘c'”. I have recovered a great many of Judi Bari’s writings and interviews of Judi which are not as much focused on the bombing as are featured on judibari.org and those can be found here: http://ecology.iww.org/texts/JudiBari In my opinion–and I think she would agree–Judi successfully integrated a lot of the more positive aspects of the IWW, Marxism, anarchism, and deep ecology and transcended each of them. She also (along with many other EF!ers and IWWs in Ecotopia) put much of that into practice, something that is done all too rarely, but something myself and other IWW EUC folks are hoping we can get going again (and certainly EF! folks are welcome to join in those efforts).

        In many ways, Judi was much like Noam Chomsky, having a specific viewpoint of her own, but willing to be inclusive of others close to her own, and I think that is one of her greatest strengths.

        DGR, on the other hand, in my opinion, is worse than the RCP. In fact, they remind me of Lyndon LaRouche’s cult (in the early 1970s, they identified themselves as “leftists”, but were vilely homophobic. They also violently attacked other leftists in something known as “Operation Mop Up”). These days they’re crypto-fascists, with extreme rightist views (and by the way, they participated in anti Redwood Summer counter demonstrations with signs that read, “barbecue spotted owls”). Who knows what direction DGR might turn in the future, but I see a lot of parallels between them and LaRouche’s cult. I’ve been a radical activist for two decades now; I’ve seen lot of strange stuff. Who knows what the future holds!

        –Steve

  2. No Body June 24, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    So this is a good article that breaks down the arguments from DGR and gives tons of arguments against what they are doing. It is written with a nice tone and is worth the read. I appreciate Shasha being the bigger person about this.

    That said, why is anyone trying to make amends with these trans-phobic academics? (and yes, I am using the word academic as a slur).

    DJ even co-wrote an article denouncing black bloc because he thought we needed to try reform more, even though he preaches violent resistance wherever he goes. In reality it was just him having a grudge against anarchists because they don’t resist in the ways he wants. These ppl are opportunistic and trying to make a career out of revolution. Their kind are dangerous and should be avoided and confronted at all costs.

    Opportunistic, careerist, academics should not hold a place in the revolution.

    Here’s to never settling the rift. *clicks glasses*

    • stephen June 24, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

      Great Sasha!! Perfect tone. We need DGR and the unrelenting militancy of derrick and lierre to defeat the broader white male appendage freak culture. Know this as an absolute truth. That when derrick and lierre are incarcerated and awaiting trial for conspiracy to incite terroristic acts we will have finally done some serious damage to the the death machine!!! They are the fearless point of the proverbial spear!!! P.S. Anarchist breaking glass windows in downtown seattle rather speaks for its own impotent self!! I AM so embarrassed for them!!!

      • Earth First! Journal Cascadia Office June 24, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

        i’m not embarrassed for anyone. nor do i feel like we need derrick an lierre. i am an anarchist and i have been since i was 7 years old. i also don’t want to see any more activists go to prison.

  3. thank you so much for this article.

    “…So, the disagreement is not over whether gender is binary, but whether it is to be denied outright.

    You deny trans people, and we look to the people of the world and ask them to tell us their stories. That’s the difference, and that’s what this debate is about.”

    How anyone can complain about having their voices barred from discussion, and turn around and do the same to would-be members is beyond me. DJ and LK need to reevaluate their perspective or risk marginalizing themselves into irrelevancy.

    That said, let’s get beyond this already!! The “radical feminist (blecchh)” stance of DGR in no way discredits the strategy of decisive ecological warfare, written by McBay. Let’s actualize that vision and start mobilizing underground networks of asymmetrical sabotage to disrupt systems and dismantle infrastructure!

    In diversity, always and forever,

  4. Ben. June 24, 2013 at 10:44 pm #

    Thank you Sasha.

    • stephen June 25, 2013 at 12:32 am #

      Only when we are all in jail for our rational ecological perspectives will we be certain that we have seriously damaged the death machine. Do you really believe that the murderers of the earth would allow us to discuss our ideas freely if we were even remotely a threat to their tar sands, fracking, clearcuts, pesticides, mining, coal plants, animal cruelty, indigenous genocide, asian sweatshops, etcetera into infinity!!!!! We need to realize that this culture is a psychopathic killer and we need to lop off its hideous head by any means necessary. That will require a great sacrifice for the few sane people left on this earth. Get your head out of the sand Cascadia office !!!!! This reality is inescapeable!!!!

  5. Storm Son June 25, 2013 at 12:57 am #

    Sasha Ross ran away from his upper middle class East Coast lifestyle to play radical. EF has been destroyed by kids playing at protesting, pretending to be what they are not, etc. EF was and should be about defending wilderness and the wild, not “gender issues” or “social justice.” Damaged kids don’t defend nature and succeed, warriors like Foreman and Captain Paul Watson do. The biosphere cannot be saved by gay rights parades and TV shows like Glee. Keep your insecurities in your pants and get into the forest. Keep your abuse to yourself (this means you, Jensen) and take out a dam. Otherwise, it’s all just one big therapy session. Nothing more selfish and dull than someone crying all the time.

    • Earth First! Journal Cascadia Office June 25, 2013 at 1:27 am #

      I’m from Texas, son.😉 And put an exclamation mark after the EF!. Don’t they teach you that in Humboldt? – sasha

    • stephen June 25, 2013 at 11:42 am #

      Two French resistance groups had a fundamental difference in philosophy during WWII and spent their energies on hating each other. Meanwhile, jews were been shipped to the gas chamber!!!!!!

      • Earth First! Journal Sonoran Office June 25, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

        Were they arguing on whether or not Jews were a post-modern construction that would poison the resistance, one side arguing that they are actually part of the patriarchal Fascist regime and a problem for the resistance while the other side argued that they are part of the resistance, that the resistance is made up of Jews against the patriarchal Fascist regime and shouldn’t be further marginalized by several talking heads in the resistance? Because if so holy shit, history repeats itself for sure.

      • Chimera June 25, 2013 at 9:52 pm #

        >>> Were they arguing on whether or not Jews were a post-modern construction that would poison the resistance, one side arguing that they are actually part of the patriarchal Fascist regime and a problem for the resistance while the other side argued that they are part of the resistance, that the resistance is made up of Jews against the patriarchal Fascist regime and shouldn’t be further marginalized by several talking heads in the resistance? Because if so holy shit, history repeats itself for sure. <<<

        .

        They didn't have trans-jewish. But they likely had almost as much misogyny as today.

      • Rosa Smith (@quendergeer) June 28, 2013 at 2:49 pm #

        Actually their fundamental disagreement was about the extent to which it was morally acceptable to collaborate with imperialistic and racist regimes like Britain and America in the face of the more immediately present evil of the Nazis. That’s a pretty important issue and one which is still relevant (if in perhaps less apocalyptic terms) today.

  6. Catherine Orian June 25, 2013 at 5:14 am #

    “Your presentation of trans and queer theory in “The Emperor’s New Penis” relies on a patently false premise: “(t)he disagreement is that queer/trans activists believe gender is a binary, and we believe it’s a hierarchy.” You should know better. Plenty of queer and trans activists insist that gender is multitudinous, not binary. A queer understanding of gender is, to paraphrase queer theorist Monique Wittig, that “everyone has their own gender.” So, the disagreement is not over whether gender is binary, but whether it is to be denied outright.”

    This is ridiculous. It’s true that queer and trans activists do often insist that there are many genders, but their actions show otherwise – attempting to transition from one gender to another does not prove that gender is multitudinous. Instead, it is a virtual acknowledgement that the only way to be human is to comply to one of two highly-restrictive genders. The possibility of sex role non-conformity is therefore rejected, leading to the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes about women and men.

    Meanwhile, you do not address Keith and Jensen’s point that gender is a hierarchy: a hierarchy that valorises the social role “man” over the social role “woman”. From the moment of birth, women face discrimination simply because we are female. Globally, we are poorer than men, in poorer health, worse educated, more vulnerable after war and environmental disturbance, and face astronomical levels of sexual and physical violence.[1] I mention this not to engage in some kind of infantile contest over who is most oppressed: trans people are also often poor, unfairly discriminated against and subjected to violence because they are trans. But support of the “gender binary” (which is in fact a HIERARCHY), which transgenderism implicitly gives, is tacit support for this continued subordination of one half of the world’s population.

    Trans people and women will be best served by the complete abolition of gender and the hierarchy of male domination and female subordination, not by its continued reinforcement, as Keith and Jensen argue.

    [1] I really shouldn’t have to provide citations for this, but just in case, see http://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/products/Worldswomen/WW_full%20report_color.pdf and http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/jun/20/one-in-three-women-suffers-violence.

    • Rebelgrrrl June 26, 2013 at 6:07 am #

      Catherine Orian: What about trans people who only transition partially? There are people who transition towards greater ambiguity, and plenty of us trans folk do not try to fit into binary ideals of the genders we identify as. Not to mention those of us who don’t do anything to physically transition. Despite identifying as a woman, I do not try and act like a stereotype of what that means. I engage in activities and wear pieces of clothing that are associated with both masculinity and femininity. I try and walk a middle-ground and break down traditional concepts of masculinity and femininity.

      You say that “trans people and women will be best served by the complete abolition of gender and the hierarchy of male domination and female subordination, not by its continued reinforcement,” which I think is ironic, as most of the trans people I know would probably agree with that statement—I do. The big difference though is that I do not think that transitioning one’s gender inherently upholds that system. I recognize that many trans people do have very outdated, binary ideas of gender, and I vehemently disagree with them, as do most of my trans friends. And I have lost friends over those arguments in fact. But although I agree with the sentiment of that message, I really don’t think it’s the place of a cis person to try and tell a trans person how they will be best served because you likely have no personal understanding of the lived realities trans people face. Have you ever dealt with extreme gender dysphoria? Been constantly harassed and assaulted because you didn’t fit into the expected definition of the gender you were assigned? Cried yourself to sleep at night because you knew there was something not “normal” about yourself? I’m not saying all trans people experience these things, nor that cis people can’t face some of them as well, but I’m guessing the answer for most of the people who find an incredible need to try and tell trans people our identities aren’t valid would be “no” for most of these questions. And until you have experienced those experiences that we have faced, I really don’t think it’s your place to say what we should and shouldn’t be doing.

      I feel like one of the things that keeps happening in so many of these conversations about trans people (and let’s be honest, we are mostly talking about trans women here), is that this image gets painted of us as being unthinking tools of patriarchy who are buying into binary ideas about sex and gender, which frankly is bullshit. The trans people I associate with understand that the gender binary is fucked up, and we have dedicated our lives to fighting it. Trans people have been greatly involved with gender abolitionist thought, and we understand the ways the binary oppresses everyone. At the same time, we also understand that labels can have a profound effect on someone’s psyche and their day-to-day life. Even socially constructed identities like race, gender, sexuality, etc, have power and meaning in the world as it currently exists. And while I once considered myself a gender abolitionist, and in some ways maybe still do, I’m more of a fan of the idea of gender self-determination. I think everyone should be free to identify as they damn-well please and do what they want in regards to gender and sexual expression. People should be free to determine what (if any) gender they want to identify with, including making a new one up if that is what fits them and to construct what feels right for them. No one should be expected to act or dress a certain way because of what is in between their legs, or their hormones, or anything else. If that leads towards the abolition of all gender, great, if it leads instead to a blossoming of multiple gender choices, that is great too.

      As for the issue of gender hierarchy not being addressed, I really have to say you’re wrong. Trans people on all sides have been calling out the gender hierarchy for decades, and we are sick of certain feminists refusing to acknowledge that we have been key parts of the struggle against patriarchy for a while. Many of us know what’s up, and those of us who don’t should not be a reflection on all trans people—it’s not like cis women don’t ever perpetuate patriarchy too. Obviously a natural and necessary part of valuing all people regardless of their gender expression would be the abolition of the gender hierarchy, so most of us are down with that struggle.

      As means of example, let me tell you more about my history. When I was in 9th grade, I came to the conclusion that I was transsexual, after reading about it in my mom’s psychology text books. I spent years in bitter pain about what I considered at the time to be the wrong body. I read about hormone therapy and sex-reassignment surgery, and I talked to my close friends about my feelings occasionally, with little understanding from them (even my best friend, who was the first out gay person at my school). But I never felt comfortable trying to transition because I was scared what might happen to me. So I tried really hard to bury those feelings. Right before 11th grade I became enamored with anarchism, as it seemed to be a good tool for analyzing all forms of hierarchy and oppression, including capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, the state, etc. I had always considered myself quite the social critic, and became so even more. I began identifying as a radical feminist (I had already considered myself a feminist from the minute I learned what it meant as a young child), as I considered gender oppression to be a key issue that must be addressed by any liberation movement. I had already been acquainted with the idea of gender as a social construct, as it was something I thought about a lot in my early processing of feeling transgender. At this time though, I began trying to rationalize my feelings of being transgender as having been false desires created by patriarchy. Mind you, I didn’t think all trans people were that way, I just thought that was the case for me. I thought I wasn’t really trans, I was just a feminine man and that was ok. I was proud to not fit into my assigned gender role, though I had felt that way ever since I was little, and still do. I liked not being like all the other boys and being the one who wasn’t afraid to be emotional, to act feminine, to have long hair, to treat women like fellow humans worthy of respect. This charade lasted through college, where I was actively involved in feminist struggles and focused my studies on the connections between sex, gender, sexuality, race, colonization, and globalization. I became even more well-versed in gender and queer theory, and in my last semester, began thinking a little bit more about my feelings from when I was younger. Within sixth months of graduating I began experimenting with what I at the time considered cross-dressing, which I did as an intentional act of gender resistance and non-conformity. Pretty much immediately though, I realized that I crossed a threshold I couldn’t easily cross back from. Interacting with the world while being perceived as a woman instead of as a man was something that immediately felt more comfortable and real than anything I had done before. I began presenting as a woman whenever I was out socially, while going to work at an elementary school as a boy with long painted nails, long hair, and a penchant for pink, which made every kid there think I was gay (to which I would always reply, “so what if I am?”). I was a model of gender non-conformity, and loved every minute of it. But I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of being a man. I didn’t even want to be a “good” man who “got it” and worked on my privilege. I wanted to be a woman, or at least, a non-man. And deep down I always felt that way. For me, transition wasn’t a way for me to finally be able to express my femininity, which I had done just fine prior to transition—I transitioned because people do treat you differently when you are perceived as a woman instead of as a man, and I hated being treated like a man because it was not what I felt like inside. This time around, I no longer identified as transsexual, choosing instead to consider myself simply transgender. Even today, after 3 years of being fully socially transitioned, I have yet to take hormones or have any surgery. And if anything, I now feel more comfortable expressing the masculine traits and interests I have than I did prior to transition, which is a common occurrence among trans people. In fact, I was talking with a trans man friend of mine today about how he feels far more comfortable acting feminine than he did when he was considered a girl. How is that fitting into socialized roles and upholding gender norms?

      So many trans people are gender non-conformists, and changing the pronouns we identify with, and sometimes our bodies, does not eliminate that basic non-conformity that many of us embrace—it just transforms it into something different and more complex.

      • Catherine Orian June 29, 2013 at 8:18 pm #

        The degree to which you transition is irrelevant here – it’s the very idea of transitioning which is the problem. It relies on the premise that there is some objective thing called “gender” which is rooted in… what? Biology is usually the answer given, but there is no evidence for this. Studies that attempt to prove that sex is somehow reflected in the brain are unreliable and have been debunked numerous times (see http://sexnotgender.com/brain-sex-does-not-exist/).

        “Gender” is really just a set of socially-constructed norms for male and female behaviour which has no inherent basis. And, as I explained in my earlier comment, it is used to enforce a hierarchy that values men over women. Transitioning gives credence to the idea that these norms for male and female behaviour are innate, and therefore that the gender hierarchy is based on something real and concrete rather than being a construct of male supremacy. This is harmful to women.

        I reject the label “cis” absolutely. I am not trying to tell you that your identity is invalid, etc., I am simply trying to show how the ideology you buy into is harmful to women.

  7. Actual Dykes June 25, 2013 at 6:38 am #

    It’s “sorry about your dick,” not “sorry about that dick.” And we can only be sorry since transwomen insist on giving us such grief over it.

    • North Feralina June 25, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

      Thanks Sasha, you put out troll bait and now the trolls are back. The fact that it took them over 24 hours to find the article means they were in the process of getting on with their own lives. If you love them let them go.

  8. Normy Wolf June 26, 2013 at 3:33 am #

    “Your presentation of trans and queer theory in “The Emperor’s New Penis” relies on a patently false premise: “(t)he disagreement is that queer/trans activists believe gender is a binary, and we believe it’s a hierarchy.” You should know better. Plenty of queer and trans activists insist that gender is multitudinous, not binary. A queer understanding of gender is, to paraphrase queer theorist Monique Wittig, that “everyone has their own gender.” So, the disagreement is not over whether gender is binary, but whether it is to be denied outright.”

    *ultimate facepalm*

    You are reading the ‘is’ wrong. The premise you quote says that queers believe gender is a binary, in the sense that it is a binary under patriarchy and that queers want to smash that binary.

    In a similar way, the author does not believe that gender ‘is’ in some ‘true’ or ‘final’ sense ‘a hierarchy’ – but that it is a hierarchy under patriarchy. You have confused ‘is’, as in a description of current reality as we live under dominant culture, with ‘ought to be’.

    The difference between a gender hierarchy and a gender binary is how we respond to female-only spaces. If it is a binary, if the only oppressive aspect of gender is its limitation into two legitimate categories of behaviour and the abuse of people who do not fit those legitimate categories, and that there is nothing at all oppressive about its prescribed content or the way it is forcibly assigned to females to mark them for abuse by patrirachy from birth, then it makes sense to consider people who fit the binary ‘privileged’.

    If on the other hand gender is a fucking weapon constructed by patriarchy to distribute its abuses, target females, girls, women for violence and males for conditioning into entitlement and weaponisation, maintained through the abuse of people who do not conform to gender (including but not limited to trans-identifying people), taking the form of a hierarchy down which abuse flows toward half the world’s population keeping them in a subhuman status as a sex caste – a caste used for sex.

    Then perhaps it is reasonable to request female-only organising and living space. And perhaps the entire Left and your EF! comrades shouldn’t participate in a campaign of sexual violence and death threats against females to attempt to shut those spaces down. Because that’s misogynistic as fuck.

    “everyone has their own gender.”

    This completely denies the political reality of our current situation. It treats ‘gender’ as being some eternal concept that exists outside of patriarchy, rather than a political tool that developed under it – etymologically, conceptually, historically, gender has been precisely that.

    If you uproot this construct of gender to say ‘gender is just how you behave with regard to X, Y, Z’ then whatever X, Y, Z are, they have come from patriarchy or they are not gender and will not be recognised as such. To the extent that they are gender, the very idea that you can categorise this behaviour comes from patriarchy, as will the way you categorise it.

    Gender as it is currently constructed, as it is currently understood by all members of dominant culture, as it is currently practised by males, females, regardless of ‘identity’, is a toxic set of behaviours that are forcibly prescribed onto people based on sex at birth. There is no ‘real’ gender, and if there is I dare you to point it to me.

    If you believe that everyone has their own gender, that there are no categories, what you are in essence saying is that there are just individuals who tend to behave differently, or would behave differently were it not for things **like** gender constricting their behavioural patterns. This is not disagreeable. What is disagreeable is you then calling this gender, claiming that this is what we should imagine gender to be, and so erasing the class character of gender and the abuses it is used to structure within patriarchy.

    I look forward to reading your response.

    • Earth First! Journal Cascadia Office June 26, 2013 at 11:50 am #

      “The premise you quote says that queers believe gender is a binary, in the sense that it is a binary under patriarchy and that queers want to smash that binary.”

      Not necessarily. I am saying that gender is, to some extent if not entirely, produced—in this sense I don’t necessarily disagree with Lierre or Derrick.

      “replaced ‘is’… with ‘ought to be’”

      Not at all. I’m talking about present reality, where people are constantly crossing lines of gender, in spite of themselves, while those categories, themselves (M or F) are more like “ought to be” symbolic categories that are never fully achievable. In this way, one is always in the process of “doing” gender, and never fully confident that one has successfully behaved “as a man” or “as a woman.” This is part of the root of the repressive nature of outside impositions of gender as forcibly assigned to one or the other sex and everyone in between.

      I agree that today’s gender assignations are ‘toxic,’ but that’s precisely why trans people who transcend those assignations, along with queer folks who work towards self-empowering gender deconstruction, are awesome!

      Some contend that gender has been anthropologically proven to be a tool that exists outside of patriarchy—something that people all over the world for centuries have had, made, used to empower themselves to do/be what they feel is correct, natural, or right. Gender can be very resistant, as we see with non-androcentric gender creation (see Cixous and Iragaray, for instance).

      If everyone is their own gender, it does not reduce the field to an annihilation of gender—as you try to do by saying that in some time before patriarchy, there was no gender, or rather, there has never been a time without gender, and we ought to create that utopia. If everyone has their own gender, it shows that gender, like identity, is truly a fluid thing that can change if you are self-empowered enough to work with it. In this sense, it’s revolutionary, because it is saying that we can overthrow the constructs that we are dealing with by being ourselves openly and that another world is possible in our liberated and wild hearts.

      – Sasha

      • Normy Wolf June 26, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

        “Not at all. I’m talking about present reality, where people are constantly crossing lines of gender, in spite of themselves, while those categories, themselves (M or F) are more like “ought to be” symbolic categories that are never fully achievable.”

        They are symbolic categories imposed onto people – including ‘cis women’ – forcibly through abuse and violence. Abuse and violence are used to maintain the hierarchical construction of gender that oppresses females.

        “This is part of the root of the repressive nature of outside impositions of gender as forcibly assigned to one or the other sex and everyone in between.”

        The forcible assignation of gender is not the only problematic aspect of it; the very nature of its construction by patriarchy is toxic. What defines a ‘man’ is weaponised and abusive, what defines a ‘woman’ is restrictive and abusive.

        These categories of ‘ways to be a human’ *are* gender – there is no other framework that is gender. Alternative, non-abusive frameworks of ways to be a human that dominant culture *claims* to be analogous to gender, are not gender. *Gender* is something to be analysed, responded to, and destroyed.

        “I agree that today’s gender assignations are ‘toxic,’ but that’s precisely why trans people who transcend those assignations, along with queer folks who work towards self-empowering gender deconstruction, are awesome!”

        Transcending gender cannot involve the selection of pre-formed gender categories. Transcending gender must take into account the recognition of the current class character of gender, its current, heavily political construction. Reducing gender to an identity erases the class character, and suggesting that it’s a value-neutral choice *or* an innate aspect of a person (depending upon what type of queer one is) erases its toxic construction.

        “Some contend that gender has been anthropologically proven to be a tool that exists outside of patriarchy—something that people all over the world for centuries have had, made, used to empower themselves to do/be what they feel is correct, natural, or right. Gender can be very resistant, as we see with non-androcentric gender creation (see Cixous and Iragaray, for instance).”

        What makes you associate these with gender? Gender under patriarchy has historical context/significance. This is like calling egalitarian traditional societies ‘communist’, when ‘communism’ has a historical basis in that it follows capitalism. Many societies will have constructed many different ways to be a human; gender is one of these, built by dominant culture, in such a way as to justify/naturalise and distribute its abuses.

        “If everyone is their own gender”

        When you say this, do you mean that everyone has their own gender *now*? Or that absent the constrictive abuses of this culture, individuals could flourish free from repression and hierarchical impositon/prescription, and so behaviours would emerge(/re-emerge) that we would currently associate as being ‘genders’?

        “If everyone has their own gender, it shows that gender, like identity, is truly a fluid thing that can change if you are self-empowered enough to work with it.”

        Identity and behaviour would be (a whole lot more) fluid, were it not for the dominant culture.

        Since we live under dominant culture, it is important to assess behaviour based on the ways that it influences/structures behaviour.

        “In this sense, it’s revolutionary, because it is saying that we can overthrow the constructs that we are dealing with by being ourselves openly and that another world is possible in our liberated and wild hearts”

        Another world is made possible through recognising the abuses in the current one, organising in response to them, and taking it apart. Male violence is an abuse that is constructed by the dominant culture at this time. It is reasonable and understandable that some females would want to be apart from male violence, and to organise with other females to assist in destroying its cultural causes.

        Queer theorists have long fought to stop radical feminists from criticising and undermining propaganda for abuse and naming male violence as a systemic problem. Now they are stopping them from organising without adulturation by the male sex (regardless of identity).

  9. Normy Wolf June 26, 2013 at 4:01 pm #

    Please note that in my most recent comment, I am not actually claiming that trans folk *themselves* are seeking to or wanting to control/dominate female-only spaces.

    In fact, I do not believe it is being coordinated by or for the benefit of trans identifying folk.

    Rather, I would suggest that for the male class as a whole, there is a class interest in destroying these spaces and as per usual within the Left queer theorists are serving that interest at the expense of the female class.

    • Rebelgrrrl June 26, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

      How does having trans people in women’s spaces destroy them? You make it sound like women’s spaces would be somehow better off without hearing the experiences of trans people. I fail to understand how that would be the case though. Many trans people are dedicated feminists who work very hard to tear down male domination and patriarchy.

      The arguments that get dragged out about trans women disrupting or dividing women’s spaces sound eerily similar to the arguments some white feminists used to make when black feminists and womanists began critiquing the racism within mainstream feminism. A lot of feminists at that time had this idea of women as a unique class that suffered from the same oppression, without much discussion of the vast differences in the female experience of patriarchy based on other identities like race, class, sexuality, national origin, ability, etc. There is no one unified female class, but rather multiple experiences of womanhood by all sorts of people. The project of feminism should not be to try and universalize the experiences of all women (thereby erasing other points of privilege and oppression), but rather to create a coalition of all people oppressed by gender and patriarchy. That includes trans people.

      I also think it’s really funny when people try and tell us trans people that gender is systematically and abusively forced onto people including cis women, like we don’t already know it. We get that. I think trans people more than any other group, understands the way gender is forced onto people. This isn’t news. Most of us also realize that there are value associations with each gender, and that there is a hierarchy of gender. And no matter how much we keep saying it, it seems like certain feminists still try to erase trans agency and experience, and pretend like we don’t understand anything about gender or patriarchy.

      • stephen June 27, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

        This whole group of idiotic bi-peds will never make a dent in the worldwide death machine!!!

  10. Uncle Ted August 5, 2013 at 6:54 pm #

    I warned you about this shit! I warned you!

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