Porcelain Doll

brokendoll

(Image from Gusten’s Restoration Studio Portfolio… would that it were that straightforward)

I have, as I may have mentioned, made a few trans friends online who do not fit within anyone’s stereotypes, whether those of obvious “men in dresses”, nor those of glamorously uber-feminine Caitlyn Jenner types. Jaqueline Andrews and Dr. Aoife Hart are fairly often described as “truscum,”(1) though this label may be quickly exposed as unjust, since they routinely – to use a vernacular I am not even sure they would approve of – misgender themselves. They have, since I have known them, called themselves “males”, “men”, “gender non-conforming / transsexual males”, “trannies”… and so forth, and have often accepted the definition of gender dysphoria as a mental rather than as a medical illness.

This could be easily dismissed as self-hatred, but it is a strategy. Concerned that the identity politics that are arguably inherent in trans activism could (and do) cause some women to fear for the erosion of their own sex-based rights, and for feminists to turn their back on transpeople altogether, they have attempted to create a new rhetorical space in which transpeople uncomfortable with the potential of mainstream trans activism to alienate the masses can instead reach out to the concerned parties, albeit often at the cost of having to accept such definitions as those above.

Dr. Hart, in particular, sees this as a positive thing. She feels that transwomen are often too eager to fall into stereotypes of feminine fragility, or too ready to play the victim card at all times and rely on passive aggression to get their way in society. Concerned that cultivating an air of “fragile porcelain dolls” is likely to win us more contempt than sympathy, she intentionally piles what most transpeople would construe as grave insults upon her own head.

Aoife Hart is not, in her own estimation, a woman. No more am I, although she insists that there is nothing wrong with what we are: namely male transsexuals. We can call ourselves “transwomen” if we prefer, though the “women” in that word is thus an empty signifier. For we are still, essentially, men, albeit socially maladjusted ones within a maladjusted society, and thus broken but blameless creatures. There is, she states, nothing wrong with being this way. As long as we accept this with dignified resignation, it points up the flaws in our gender-defined society and gives us some common cause with radical feminism. Our inescapable maleness, she insists, is a morally and empirically neutral fact.

I see her point, I often feel its weight, and I admire her principles… but I would be a truly miserable liar if I claimed that reminders of my masculinity did not always leave me picking up the chips of my own wounded porcelain. But at all events it raises a valid question: at what price my comfort?

This will become an issue every time I move within society, which I fully intend to do more and more of. I have not began transition with the intention of living in hiding, nor of trying to secretly mutate away from the public eye, only to one day magically emerge as a fully passable transwoman, a la our Caitlyn. Most of us who are not rich, in any case, are expected to undergo this thing called the “Real Life Experience”(2) if we intend to go the distance… Therefore I certainly feel that I should grow stronger. I may, after all, never pass well enough to receive my preferred pronouns by instinct rather than by compassion and effort (though I shall certainly to work on that). Though I could never accuse Aoife’s perspective of being uplifting for such an “autoandrophobe”(3) as I seem to be, there is logic in it that I dare not fault: for whatever reason that people call me “she,” “her,” or by my chosen name, I will derive no sense of joy or personal authenticity from it if I know it is merely out of fear of violating equality laws, or out of shame of stigma.

Last week I was invited by the wonderful Lucy Goodridge, who organises our LGBT coffee mornings, to a showing of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” at the Sherman Theatre. Since the play has a strong pro-feminist theme(4) there was a pre-play workshop that I was also invited to attend… thus making me the sole transwoman at an unequivocally feminist event. The sense that I was probably enacting the nightmares of many trans-critical radfems gave it all a rather surreal air, but I must say I was given nothing but hospitable treatment. Artist Hannah Saunders talked us through her powerful exhibition “A Hyena in a Petticoat;” themes of the play were discussed within the historical context of the feminist struggle; and for additional insight into the trials of Victorian-age women, I was invited to try on a very heavy riding suit complete with corset. That was doubly surreal, as I could just picture the sort of reaction this scene might get from the most dubious of “forced feminisation” fetishists and the aforementioned radfems who like to conflate all transwomen with said fetishists. For the record, though, there is nothing much erotic (nor convenient) in a skirt with so much weight and inertia that it tries to keep on walking after the wearer has stopped…

I seem to recall it was during this good-humoured episode that one of the team dropped a masculine pronoun into the conversation, and I quickly stifled my reaction. I do not know if I was right to do so. Cal thinks not: that people will never learn unless we make a point of telling them. Extremely wary though I am of ever seeming to patronise people, he may be right. My only thought at the time was that the evening was going so well I did not want to suddenly make it all about myself and my “condition.” Trans and LGBT events themselves can be triggering, as people will (obviously) discuss their own negative experiences. This evening was an opportunity to just be treated and included as any woman going to the theatre, and not have to think about transition, transpolitics, etc. Except that most women going to the theatre don’t get referred to as “him,” of course… The word was certainly not malicious, probably not intentional, and definitely not meant to make me feel like an outsider. I even felt guilty that my internal reaction was so strong. If I could master that, I am sure it would be psychologically healthier for me. Then again, if I was capable of that, would I even be transitioning at all?

The week wore on, and another story erupted in the turbulent world of transpolitics: Professor Germaine Greer, second-wave feminist and author of The Female Eunuch and The Whole Woman, was invited to speak at Cardiff University, and the students’ union there responded with a petition to no-platform her, as has become a fairly standard response when speakers deemed to be transphobic(5) are invited to campuses. Much as these type of gestures are meant to be supportive and protective of trans students, I am not in favour of no-platforming, as I believe it is always apt to be read as a gesture of fear and unwillingness to engage one’s opponent in debate. Bearing in mind that the event had already sold out – one can imagine many feminist students were eager to see a true icon of their cause in the flesh – I could not help but think that a campaign against her could not possibly sway any opinions in our favour. Even if she was intending to speak actual hatecrime, I thought it better that she be given the opportunity, then perhaps doubts would be raised in her audience.

I was in a minority, though, with trans and LGBT friends sharing the petition for her silencing. Cal understood my reservations on this, but somewhat doubtfully, pointing out that there would be no such discussion if a speaker with known racist views, for example, had been forbidden from giving a lecture. I do feel, though, in most people’s eyes, being trans is not the same kind of issue as racism, feminism, or even gay rights as they are now (mostly) perceived, and trans issues still strike the general public as mainly the concern of a few maladjusted individuals, and what accommodations (if any) society ought to make for them.

Perhaps I am too cynical, or perhaps I truly fear myself that I am indeed maladjusted, and am afraid of inflicting my own inner turmoil on people. I crave that sense of total normality which I only felt at this year’s Pride Cymru event, and I know that I shall never give up trying to pass, however slim the odds. I definitely do my trans pride pretty poorly…

However, my opinions continue to evolve, and I have certainly never wished to return to who I was before transition. I know that I have matured more in the space of this still-unfinished year than I had done for the whole of the preceding decade. I am, at all events, growing in strength and wisdom, though I know I have much of both still to learn.

On a lighter note, last night I gave some change to a homeless person, and steeled myself for the typical “sir” or “mate” which is my lot. In the event, I received “darling” and “babe.” I daresay that, as a supposed feminist ally, I should not have been as pleased by this (especially the “babe”) as I was, but perhaps he was just very trans-literate. In any case, it put a spring in my step, guilty or not.

Also, with reference to the aforementioned no-platforming attempt on Professor Greer, I was reminded this morning on Facebook that I have the most wonderful mother in the entire world…

“Just to clarify for all. I have trans people in my family. I do not mind civil discussion of trans politics – I’m sure there must BE some civil discussion on this topic, though I have seldom seen it. But anyone else who’s planning to link to, or repeat, the kind of hate-filled, vulgar personal abuse peddled by the obnoxious Brendan O’Neill in his Spectator article, or Burchill, or Greer, or anyone else on this topic, please unfriend me first because it’ll save me some trouble.”

All politics aside, I hope I may be forgiven for being one happy daughter…


(1) Roughly defined, “truscum” are transpeople who have gender dysphoria, and who believe that this or the fact of their transition grants them a valid right to identify as their reassigned sex / gender. They believe this right should not apply to non-binary, non-transitioned, or non-dysphoric transgender / genderqueer people. I certainly do not find this a tenable definition for transpeople who do not even claim any validity for their own reassigned gender, but continue to accept (and even to encourage) use of their birth sex signifiers.

(2) “The Real-Life Experience (RLE), sometimes called the Real-Life Test (RLT), is a period of time in which transgender individuals live full-time in their preferred gender role. The purpose of the RLE is to confirm that a given transgender person can function successfully as a member of said gender in society, as well as to confirm that they are sure they want to live as said gender for the rest of their life. A documented RLE is a requirement of some physicians before prescribing hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and a requirement of most surgeons before performing genital reassignment surgery (GRS).” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real-life_experience_%28transgender%29)

(3) As opposed to an “autogynephile.”

(4) Without wishing to give too many spoilers, the play follows “perfect” housewife Nora Helmer as she gradually comes to the realisation that her fine, upstanding husband is an abusive, gaslighting, cowardly little hypocrite… a fact which any modern audience should pick up on relatively quickly.

(5) It would be fair to state that Greer’s published views are unabashedly contemptuous of MtF transpeople (though there is no indication that she intended to speak on this subject at the Cardiff event):

“There is a witness to the transsexual’s script, a witness who is never consulted. She is the person who built the transsexual’s body of her own flesh and brought it up as her son or daughter, the transsexual’s worst enemy, his/her mother. Whatever else it is gender reassignment is an exorcism of the mother. When a man decides to spend his life impersonating his mother (like Norman Bates in Psycho) it is as if he murders her and gets away with it, proving at a stroke that there was nothing to her. His intentions are no more honourable than any female impersonator’s; his achievement is to gag all those who would call his bluff. When he forces his way into the few private spaces women may enjoy and shouts down their objections, and bombards the women who will not accept him with threats and hate mail, he does as rapists have always done.”

Greer, Germaine. The Whole Woman (Great Britain: Doubleday, 1999), p.93.

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16 thoughts on “Porcelain Doll

  1. You could enjoy the corset and suit if you want, comrade. I enjoy wearing uniforms a bit too much, as you know. πŸ˜‰

    I don’t think, as I understand it, radfems would mind *as much* if people have fetishes (although they can look with a suspicious eye on the whole “kink” business and especially BDSM, which is fair enough because of the power assumptions). It’s what they see as a deception about it they don’t like.

    Not, of course, that I’m saying you do have one. It seems you just really like clothes. πŸ™‚ Sounds like a good night out!

    As for Prof. Greer, if she had been going to the university to speak about trans people disparagingly, I could understand the reaction better. But her talk wasn’t on that topic, another reason I think no-platforming wasn’t warranted here (also, would a flood of TERFs show up and start beating everyone up? I don’t think so, whereas violence is not unknown when fascists speak).

    For your main point, I don’t want to mess up your blog by commenting here on it…

    Liked by 1 person

    • For reference, I do not have a kink for uncomfortable theatrical replicas of even more uncomfortable Victorian outfits, but I agree it is better not to judge those who do. Weirder things happen…

      And I am in no position to judge the uniforms, as for an oft-alleged pacifist I do have a quite a thing for military chic. At least you’ve a fair chance of being dressed for the occasion when the Revolution comes. πŸ™‚

      I agree, the no-platforming was not warranted, and my mum later chipped in with the following…

      “For the record, I am not in favour of banning any speakers (that is not what this post is about, as anyone who reads can see). On the contrary I would go along and disagree, fluently, civilly and vociferously, with whatever she said, because I know a bit of history here…”

      (The remainder of this was an unflattering anecdote about Prof. Greer from a local literary festival they were both at, but not strictly relevant other than to confirm your own followers’ opinion that Julie Bindel is probably a much nicer person.)

      And I appreciate your tact, but you have never discussed anything with me without keeping it civil, and if it relates to anyone other than me, I am pretty sure Jaqueline and Aoife have thick enough skins to take it…

      (Though if you would prefer to contact me and raise any points privately, I am also very happy for you to do so.)

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  2. I’d had the same thought as Cal regarding the situation if a known racist had been the intended speaker. I believe the best way to tackle these issues is to allow people to debate them, not use the power of veto to silence them and then have that become the main issue.
    Also, so pleased to see the support from your mother. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I embraced my non-binary gender identity with fervor when I finally came out. I have always done this when my mind has been made up about something. Since I am active on tumblr I saw a lot of fear mongering about “truscum” and “TERFs.” I was nervous about reaching out for help because of the fears induced. When I finally connected with the trans community I found nothing but acceptance and have yet to encounter someone from either camp. The online world has a way of amplifying minority viewpoints, sometimes from causes I believe in and sometimes for opinions that I don’t agree with. I refer to myself as trans, agender or genderqueer. I don’t usually refer to myself as transgender but don’t mind being so identified. As a friend my only comment would be to be yourself and take your cues more from people in your real life over opinions expressed online; except for mine of course πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Probably the best advice I will ever get, as real life has been overwhelmingly encouraging, if one discounts the apathetic healthcare… and I will always eagerly listen to your views on any topic like this, my beautiful friend. xxx

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  4. I think Eleanor would agree I’d be called a TERF, jerbear (although it’s not a valid label IMO). So you encountered one now…

    I really like Eleanor’s writing and the way she expresses herself. I imagine that if I met her IRL we’d get on. A lot of this stuff is “assuming the enemy”. If I’m assumed to be one because I fail to describe penises as female and worry about people being stuffed into gender boxes – and indeed the concept of gender at all – then it’s difficult to speak to your enemy. And the Internet dials everything to 11 anyway.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I always refer to “trans critical feminists” rather than that ugly grassy acronym… My rule is call people as they would prefer to be called, and I gather that “trans critical” is the preferred term. After all, if I desire that of other people, I may as well practice what I preach (not that I wouldn’t be nauseous if I caught myself ever preaching).

      In any case, if the “TERF” term has any meaning at all, it would not apply to you as you allow me to comment on your blog and you communicate perfectly pleasantly with me. That is hardly exclusionary… I can also understand why you cannot approve of my actions per se. One would have to be staggeringly naive to transition without realising it was a controversial action on various levels. I wish that it wasn’t, of course, but no sense living in a dreamland.

      I read an article today by a feminist who has been unjustly accused of being a “TERF” (Helen Lewis), which aims towards reconciliation and understanding. The fact that you and I do get on is, I hope, some evidence that this is not impossible. πŸ™‚

      http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/feminism/2015/10/what-row-over-banning-germaine-greer-really-about

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  5. I used the grassy acronym early on (and still find it fits some feminists rather neatly). However, having a slanging match is unlikely to further the cause of anyone.
    I’ve thought about what you’ve said about no platforming, Eleanor. I’m still not quite sure . . . As an Australian who almost literally learned about Germaine Greer at my mother’s knee, I don’t know if I’ve quite gotten over my profound disappointment enough to be rational. For me the question is really whether Greer’s presence is, in itself, promoting hatred and prejudice.
    In recent years, I’ve been interested in how other countries differ from the US and their First Amendment in relation to hate speech and inciting violence. Perhaps it’s simplistic, but I tend to think that I will tolerate everything except intolerance, and on those grounds have no issue with someone like David Irving, for instance, being banned from speaking.
    I am perhaps also simplistic when it comes to welcoming transwomen to the sisterhood. I also admire Dr Hart’s stance, but think it would be unbearably difficult for most folk to maintain. I am happy to share feminine solidarity and experiences, regardless of who has a womb, or a vagina, or breasts, or female DNA. There are simply too many exceptions within women’s experiences to police who gets to be ‘real’ and who doesn’t.
    Finally, your Mum brings tears to my eyes. I think I am missing my own Mum at the moment and a little envious of the love, acceptance and ferocious protection she shows you. Lucky you! xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Update: I love the New Stateman article that you linked to! I wish I’d read it before I waffled on here. I also feel like saying something even more banal – perhaps, like Greer, I’m just feeling a bit tired. Why can’t we all just love each other? Or at least just try to get on??? ❀

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m glad you liked that. πŸ™‚ I am dismayed that Helen Lewis got accused of being a “TERF”, but as I recall that also happened to Caroline Criado Perez who wrote a wonderful article about transwomen and feminism. There is a dangerous orthodoxy on both sides that is not aiding reconciliation, and I hope I can do something to work against that.

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    • Cal and I were more moved by my mum’s comments than we can well say. It’s made this whole Germaine Greer debacle an unexpectedly positive experience for us, which makes me feel vaguely guilty when I just see it upsetting everyone else (for their own reasons).

      “For me the question is really whether Greer’s presence is, in itself, promoting hatred and prejudice.”

      The problem is, one then gets into the murky business of drawing the fine line between judging someone for being a figure of incitement and / or just for being a nasty person (the latter of which should be anyone’s right, sadly). I can find no record of Prof. Greer actually deceiving a university, or misusing a platform she had been granted for other reasons as a soapbox for inciting hatred against trans people. I may be overlooking some incident that everyone else has heard of, but there was a lack of recent citations in most of the stuff I have seen on this topic. But I wholeheartedly agree with silencing David Irving, or Nick Griffin (Currently our most prominent British neo-fascist and Islamophobe).

      I do feel much the same about Aoife’s stance, and that of the trans Gender Apostates in general: it would solve many problems if it could be accepted by trans people in general, but I don’t know that anyone puts themselves through the rigours of transition just to emerge as a “gender non-conforming” anything. I know the apostate / radfem answer to that is that gender itself is at fault, and we need to work on abolishing that, then possibly people won’t even need to transition, which is surely a good thing. But I can’t imagine an NHS psychiatrist and their gender-dysphoric patient actually succeeding in abolishing gender between them, or even in convincing the patient that gender is an irrelevant fact for them unless they opt out of society altogether. As I recall, even Andrea Dworkin believed there was little point in trying to talk trans people out of their mismatched identities while the society which she firmly believed was responsible for the mismatch was still in force (http://www.womanist-musings.com/2009/08/andrea-dworkin-on-transgender.html).

      Still, Aoife has huge points few would do well to dismiss. Not many transwomen will have the luxury of being fully and consistently accepted as women. I have not thus far, and probably will not. Aoife, whom I think passes perfectly well, has not. We certainly cannot afford to be too delicate and fragile about the whole thing… I would certainly encourage any transperson to examine their expectations very closely. Aoife’s words may be hurtful to some, but she is of course right that in the misogynist and generally femme-phobic society we have failed to deconstruct, they will like as not hear worse than hers and the violence may not even stop at mere words…

      …and just to avoid concluding on such a dismal note, thank you again for your wonderful support and acceptance. πŸ™‚ xxx There is nothing I regret about my coming out. It has strengthened all of my relationships that matter, and has brought new and wonderful people into my life. The sneers of people distant to me are a very small price to pay.

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  6. “For we are still, essentially, men, albeit socially maladjusted ones within a maladjusted society, and thus broken but blameless creatures.”
    I recognize your reasonable and well articulated personal conflict with embracing this outlook. For what it’s worth, though, it does –at least for me– radically alter the ground of discussion by stressing what we have in common [i.e., being broken creatures] and thereby calling forth genuine compassion.
    If opening minds and hearts is an aim of your work here, go ahead and add a mark to the ‘win’ column.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I wouldn’t dare to take credit for Aoife’s ideas. For one thing, I’d dread to imagine what she’d do. πŸ˜‰ I’ve no arguments on the “broken” bit, though. The jury’s out on the “blameless”, I admit…

      Compassion can only be born organically. Demanding it will tend to invoke the opposite. Thus, I write as dispassionately as I can, and let people make their own judgements. If I have succeeded in invoking compassion in so doing, perhaps that exercise is not wasted. πŸ™‚ Thank you for taking an interest in my musings.

      Liked by 1 person

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