A while back (and in this post) I confessed to an anxiety that my desire to become, in some measure, a “lady” meant that my gender dysphoria had a morbid and regressive side to it: a desire to enact an outmoded, antifeminist gender model… which immediately drew some fire from the Radical Feminist trenches. Though I used the term “lady” utterly loosely to signify “a woman with manners / standards” (and since I can but hope I have managed to have some standards as a man, that should not theoretically be too difficult for me), that word still comes loaded with less innocent associations: oppressive codes of behaviour, and misogynistic double-standards which any feminist, radical or otherwise, would very rightly spit upon. To quote, in somewhat ironic circumstances, one of Radical Feminism’s more moderate, if scarcely trans-friendly voices – Rachel Ivy of Deep Green Resistance…
“[…] if gender is voluntary then people who are oppressed by gender are choosing to be oppressed. I come back again to the fact that no one chooses to be oppressed. If we accept this definition of gender, we accept that people who are oppressed for being born female are choosing to be in that position and that if they wanted to they could reject that and move away from it by their own personal choices and do something else.”
Though I certainly have deep issues with many aspects of Ivy’s hypothesis – especially her imputation of “voluntarism” to transgender people, as if they could simply opt-out of their condition (which I find singularly ungenerous, bearing in mind the above quote) – I certainly agree that no-one (of sound mind) chooses oppression, and that includes transpeople, though we can baffle each other on that subject… One transman I know is astounded why I would want to throw away all of the masculine physical advantages I possess (from his perspective), but to me they do not seem advantageous. I am no “jock”, that is for certain, and my idealised image of strength is a completely feminine one.
To expand on that: three months or so ago I was in the process of writing a fantasy novel. Its central character was a elven queen, also a scientist and engineer. Genius, polymath, martial artist, political schemer, and freedom fighter. Disfigured in some conflict, she hides behind a steel mask lest her mutilation be taken as a sign of weakness by her enemies. Thus she is cagey, unapproachable, plagued with bouts of shame and self-loathing… I was well into the novel before I realised I had basically written both myself as I was and myself I would wish to be (I always wanted to be a scientist when I was a child, until a particularly nasty secondary school science teacher pushed me towards the humanities…).
Thinking of my heroine-avatar, I find I agree with key elements of the Radfem manifesto, though I suspect they will not find it too hard to pick holes in my agreements… For one thing, I do think it undeniable that the core positive attributes or “virtues” of any human personality – male or female – are universal. Compassion, courage, empathy, generosity, honour, humility, etc. None of these may be said to be “more becoming” to one sex or the other. In that case, if gender is not based in distinct personality traits, does it merely boil down to an arbitrary set of external expressions? Possibly, and thus is not entirely subjective which of those are “more becoming” to one sex or the other? Very probably, and I have seen a fair few Radfem advocates arguing that transwomen ought to just live as “effeminate men” (i.e. without seeking gender reassignment) and find fulfilment that way while challenging the stereotypes (Cf. the comments thread at http://www.varsity.co.uk/news/8105, but TRIGGER WARNING if you do…).
Sadly, that proposal falls flat with me, as I tried living as a frilled-up, gender-fluid goth for so many years and I just ended up feeling like a complete tit… whereas having a feminine name and a feminine appearance to match my feminine airs and inclinations makes me feel free, dignified, and happy. Even more so with the prospect of one day attaining some, albeit imperfect degree of physical womanhood. But maybe I am just a freak of nature best left for the medical professionals to assess, and can for now be safely ignored in political manifestos that find my existence problematic… but moving on.
A society in which anyone can dress as they wish, wear whatever make-up they like (or none at all), wear their hair however they like, adopt whatever mannerisms and speech patterns they like, and in which children can play with whatever toys they like, without coercion, bullying, judgement, ridicule, or any reference at all to one’s birth organs and chromosomes… I would vote for that future in a flash. If that is the goal of the Radfem movement, I am all for it. What concerns me is the possibility that it is not merely the gender tags they wish to abolish from these modes of expression, but the modes themselves. I have already blogged on how little utopias of negation appeal to my imagination, and the idea of some perfectly beige future in which everyone is dressed in identical shapeless robes, everyone sports identical haircuts, makeup is banned per se, and foreplay consists of tentatively working out what sex one’s partner actually is* does not exactly fire my enthusiasm… but my apologies if I have grotesquely misrepresented the future envisioned by Radical Feminism as a whole. I am happy to hear any more detailed information on that score. Abolishing the very concept of gender itself seems a herculean task, though I shall not say impossible (Improbable, I suspect). I would be much more interested to learn about the constructive phase, however. Any good revolution ought to have that planned in detail.
However, whatever the plan, I’m afraid I cannot wait on such likely very distant prospects. I know I will never be my fictional heroine even if I fully transition (and retake GCSE science), but with the support of my employer, my friends, my family, and my doctors, some progress towards that ideal seems eminently (and tantalisingly) attainable…
*Joke plagiarised from the late Terry Pratchett. Such an inspiration, and sorely missed…