queer radicalism

anonymous asked:

Read some books! The terf echochamber which includes kittyit of all people is a bad place for exchange of ideas! Don't hurt women.

Kitty is a dear friend and I am consistently impressed by her nuance and compassionate discourse around subjects that can be very polarizing for most people. what books, specifically? I’m not sure what exactly you think I’m going to learn that will change my mind after 7 years of direct exposure to trans politics ranging from radical queer circles to transmedicalist ones, but you’re welcome to give suggestions. 

For a while now, I have been trying to wrap my head around why it is exactly that so much of the language and norms associated with the contemporary transgenderist movement bother me. I already know what my feminist concerns are with the very concept of being ‘born in the wrong body,’ but there was something more irritating and upsetting about the ways in which the words ‘woman’ and ‘man, ‘male’ and ‘female’ were being policed within the leftist community, which I’ve only recently been able to articulate.

The words ‘woman’ and ‘man’ (and their derivatives—men, manly, women, womanly, womanhood, etc.) are some of the most necessary, commonly used and understood words in the English language. If you were to learn English, whether as a baby learning their first language or as a student of ESL, these words would be among the first words you would ever learn. And these are ordinary words we all use every day—nouns (and adjectives) we use so frequently that they merit their own matching pronouns (he and she, his and hers, etc.) There is a commonly understood definition to these words which I would say 99% of English speakers all over the world understand, and it is this: man refers to adult male people, that is to say adults of the sex that have penises and testicles and who do not get pregnant, ever; woman is an adult of the sex that has a vagina and develops breasts, and though not every woman is capable of giving birth to children, and though no post-menopausal women can conceive naturally, all children are gestated and birthed by women and it is women who possess the only body parts necessary for pregnancy and childbirth, even if some of those parts in some women may not function fully.

Transactivists would disagree with much of this, but the point I’m making right now is that that factually is how 99% of English speakers understand the words ‘men’ and ‘women’ and their derivatives. The vast majority of English speakers, do not say ‘woman’ and actually mean “a group of people with any combination of genitalia and secondary sex characteristics, all of whom identify with some non-definable, nebulous concept of womanhood.” These words have meanings which have been unchanging for a long time, which carry a lot of emotional and cultural baggage (all of which it is important for feminism to unpack). But transactivists pull the rug out from under you by redefining words already in popular use, implying that even as people use these words with a certain common meaning in their minds, they actually mean a different thing, a thing which the common English speaker may not even understand; and that, in fact, these worlds have always meant what transactivists say they mean. That is to say that transactivists retroactively re-define the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ such that they imply a 16th century person saying ‘man’ meant “adult with any combination of genitalia who personally identifies with the concept of manhood and manliness”; and that though literally no 16th or 17th or 18th or 19th and most 20th century people ever understood the difference between biological sex and gender, nor believed that one could choose which restrictive gender roles to fill based on an internal, private conviction rather than the one assigned to them at birth, those people, all throughout time and across the world, always either knowingly used language in a pro-transgender way, or was merely incorrect in their language use, even though these words were mutually understood to hold certain meanings by every single person who spoke English.

It is a deeply prescriptivist view of language which grants a tiny and elite group of academics situated in a certain point in time total authority over an entire language. I disagree with prescriptivism on a personal level, and that is a topic for another discussion, but even most linguistic prescriptionists would not retroactively and dramatically change the definition of the most commonly used and understood words in a language such that not only does the meaning become unrecognizable to the great unwashed masses who use the word every day, but even to elite academics from merely a few years ago. If transactivists want to have a word that describes a class of people who may hold any combination of genitalia and sex characteristics but whom all personally identify with manhood, or with womanhood, they can make up a new word, but what I firmly object to is the arrogant and condescending re-definition of the most basic words in the English language, words which 99% of people understood to mean a certain thing, and which transactivists now insist means something else, and has always meant something else. This linguistic disorientation quickly shuffles around words and definitions so nebulously and obscurely that transactivists simply refuse to define certain words in concrete terms, or describe them in terms that are a blatant tautology (i.e. a woman is someone who identifies as a woman, and they do so because they identify with womanhood, an experience defined by lived by anyone who identifies as a woman), or describes certain words as being only understandable by certain people (like ‘internal gender identity,’ some kind of immaterial, spiritual sensation that has nothing to do with gender stereotypes but which apparently most people such as myself never experienced), or defines certain words only to revoke the meaning of those words under certain circumstances (e.g. Joan of Arc, who referred to herself as a woman, used the word ‘woman’ to mean ‘biological female’ even though ‘woman’ means ‘person who identifies with womanhood’ but actually Joan of Arc was a transman and this particular case of language use is an exception).

Sometimes I want to ask transactivists and people who believe in gender as an immaterial, spiritual property: to what end is this hijacking of a language as it is commonly understood by the majority of its speakers? Does it bother you at all that the back-and-forth redefining of words, always retroactively changing the meaning of certain words or completely withholding the definitions of other words, is entirely characteristic of an Orwellian means of disempowering people by robbing them of the language used to articulate their own thoughts and experiences? Does it disturb you that language is how people structure much of their own thoughts, and when you muddy the waters of linguistic meaning and censor the use of certain words in their common context (e.g. don’t say women menstruate! don’t say mothers are the ones to give birth!) you gaslight people into wondering if their own thought system is organized enough for them to formulate an opinion of their own? The intentional creation of chaos, obfuscation and misunderstanding in genderist postmodern queer theory was supposed to be liberating, but instead it has provided the perfect weapon to the kinds of subtly abusive people who gaslight others and use constantly shifting linguistic norms to police group behaviour, to isolate and exclude certain people on a whim, and to render the articulated experiences of huge swathes of people meaningless, incorrect or deliberately misinterpreted.

The idea of getting married at 23 threw my family and friends, as two years before it would have thrown me. The people I’d known were going to get married when they were 18, 19, 20 had already done so and gone right ahead to having babies. In contrast, my university crowd was a ragtag group of kids in their early twenties unsure of how to be adults. They were also mostly queer, and in my home country Australia, my girlfriend and I are still not allowed to get married. Many of my friends don’t believe in monogamy at all, let alone a public declaration of it.

Along with many LGBT activists in Australia, they believe that marriage rights aren’t something the LGBT movement should be fighting so hard for. In Australia, de facto relationships hold most of the same legal rights as marriages, which makes the equal marriage argument a little more complicated. Many radical queers think that we are “weakening” our commitment to queerness by begging to be allowed into an institution created by a church and government that have historically has oppressed us. Some worry that by prioritizing equal marriage so highly, we are letting other — arguably more pressing — issues settle onto a second tier: from the safe schools legislation, to the rampant demonization of trans people, to the significantly higher levels of suicide and mental health issues experienced amongst LGBT Australians.

But it’s also impossible to ignore that the fight for equal marriage has been built on the back of the AIDS crisis; that a lack of partnership rights historically meant that same-sex couples were blocked from looking after each other, in hospitals and pensions and wills; that marriage is not, in fact, just an issue for the gay community, but for the entire LGBT community. While it is by no means the only issue on the table that we should be fighting for, equal marriage has become a cultural and legal necessity, and in Australia, it’s both embarrassing and dehumanizing that we have not followed the lead of the UK or the US.

—  How I Surprised My Queer Friends By Getting Married At 23 | Mikaella Clements for BuzzFeed LGBT 
gay rights vs gay liberation

I keep coming across pieces about the U.S. “LGBT” movement’s history that talk about how, during the 70s especially, one core idea of the movement was that gender and sexuality would, should, get blown wide open

That ultimately pretty much everyone was bisexual underneath; that gender itself was a big nonbinary mess; and everyone would be able to be their true bisexual, often genderqueer self after the revolution. We wouldn’t have or need the gender binary anymore. 

This was a much more natural belief at the time, because gay and lesbian and bi and ace had been thought of as essentially different genders. Because “normal” was two binary sexes, with two corresponding binary genders, which were attracted to each other, and would act on that attraction to make more little normal people. This was the function of society, the thing that gave women any value, the whole point of life.

From “Identity and Ideas: Strategies for Bisexuals,” an essay by bi activist Liz Highleyman in Bisexual Politics: Theories, Queeries, and Visions (1995), which I need to quote from more extensively but not rn:

“As the social movements of the early 1970s fell apart or lost their radical edge in the 1980s, the gay liberation movement, now known as the gay and lesbian movement, followed suit.”

This sentence puts it in a nutshell, I think. There was a really concrete shift, from radical “liberation” from the system for everyone, to acceptance from the system for these two groups.

“There was a growing emphasis on an identity politics model that likened gays to oppressed racial and ethnic minorities. Sexual identity was increasingly seen as an immutable characteristic without sweeping social or political ramifications. The movement became more focused on civil rights and assimilation into mainstream society.”

 It wasn’t an accident, that shift away from the overlapping bi/trans/intersex politics and bi/trans/intersex paradigm*. It was extremely deliberate.

It must have seemed like an easier sell to the straight world, which I can understand. I’m sure a lot of people thought that this strategy would benefit everyone.

But not only does it leave many of our issues completely ignored or actively erased, it’s also a model that can never work for us.

This just kind of jelled for me for the first time, reading this. It’s much harder to see if you don’t know about both models, at least for me. I tend to believe the “no no, we’re for you too!” without thinking about how and why that hasn’t been working.

The civil rights/assimilation model is very rooted in the whole idea that “the only thing that’s different about us is which gender we love!” It’s the we’re just like you model. It works pretty well for fitting-into-society stuff: marriage, health care, employment rights, military service, media representation. Stuff that straight people have, so they can go, “okay, I see how you’re like me, it seems unfair and terrible that you shouldn’t have these things too!”

It works really fucking badly for stuff where we are not like them.

The problem is actually that it works really fucking badly for stuff where we do not fit into the gender binary.

That’s the specific way the system demands that we Be Like Them. It treats everything else, everything that isn’t being a binary sex/gender and wanting a binary sex/gender, as a freakish and in-valid choice, and punishes us for it.

The only progress we’ve really seen is that sometimes, it’s not seen as a Bad Freakish Choice to want the “wrong” binary gender, and very occasionally, it’s not seen as a Bad Freakish Choice to be the “wrong” binary gender.

A lot of the trans movement’s progress has come from doing the same thing the gay and lesbian movement has done: “look at us, look how gender-normative and binary-gendered we are, look how we just want to be a normal gender and love a normal gender. Nothing threatening going on here!”

It works. I’m not going to knock that. People use this shit because they are fucking desperate and fearing for their lives.

But it also means those of us who can’t say “we’re just like normal people” become ballast.

You know: the stuff you throw overboard so your hot air balloon can take off.

I think this is what’s at the core of “ace discourse,” “sga discourse,” and all those other gatekeeping arguments. 

The system only, conditionally, grudgingly, gives certain rights, in some places, to the minority of us who have convincingly argued that we’re Just Like Them. It is exceedingly clear to those people that mixing with non-approved groups puts not only those limited civil rights, but also the entire model used to win them, in danger. 

It’s a choice. We all face it. If you identify more with the need for all those normal rights – or with the oppressions around being, or being into, into the wrong binary gender – or you just see that this model is working for some people and you want it to work for you – then you’re likely to cast your lot with the binary-gender-based “gay rights” model, which means you’re likely to take a “gatekeeping” tack. 

If you identify more with the need for total freedom from the rules of the binary gender system, for whatever reason – and you’re not put off by the fact that we don’t have a working political model around that – then you’re likely to cast your lot with the “gay liberation” model, which means you’re likely to take the “radical inclusion” tack that’s inherent to that model. 

* (I don’t think there was an intersex movement at the time; intersex people are still incredibly silenced by not only the media but actively, intentionally, by the entire medical industry. But it is an explicitly intersex-friendly and very ace/aro-friendly model, in a way that the existing model has definitely not been.)

Definition Time!

       1. of or denoting the sex that can bear offspring or produce eggs,          distinguished biologically by the production of gametes (ova) that can be fertilized by male gametes.

        1.of or denoting the sex that produces small, typically motile gametes, especially spermatozoa, with which a female may be fertilized or inseminated to produce offspring.

       -an adult human female.

       -an adult human male.

Now watch the Genderists lose their minds!!!

I honestly don’t really understand the logic behind “radical Islam killed the people in Orlando”.

Because, let’s say that was the case, and his sole reason for the mass murder he committed was because of Islam, that doesn’t mean America is any less responsible.

America sold him the rifle. America sold him the bullets. America failed to protect its citizens.

And the end of the day it doesn’t matter WHY he pulled the trigger, the problem is the fact that he was ABLE TO.

There’s something truly strange about living in a historical moment in which the conservative anxiety and despair about queer bringing down civilization and its institutions (marriage, most notably) is met by the anxiety and despair so many queer feel about the failure or incapacity of queerness to bring down civilization and its institutions.
—  “The Argonauts” by Maggie Nelson
Translating Libfem to Radfem and vice versa

So, I’m getting pretty tired of seeing radfems and libfems/trans activists/radqueers* have conversations which devolve into arguments on the basis that they are using the same words to mean entirely different things.  Sometimes it’s like watching people trying to argue using two different languages and then they both get really angry when it doesn’t work out.  It’s controversial to say, but I believe that radfems and trans activists might actually agree on more than they’d expect if they could figure out how to see eye to eye.
So I’m trying to compile a list here of terms that I see radfems and trans activists use in entirely different ways.

Please note: all definitions included here are based on my own understandings of how these words seem to be used.  If you disagree with how I’m defining them, or would like to add some of your own, please please comment and add your thoughts.  I welcome discussion (but please keep it civil).

*I know these are three groups with distinctions, however, ideologically, I’m going to group them here because there seems to be enough overlap to do so, and they are all presented as opposition to radical feminist views.  I will use the term “trans activists” to represent all three of them, because trans activism tends to be the focus of these conversations.

Let’s start with Gender:

  • To radfems, the word gender means gender roles.  It is the hierarchical system created by men to control women.  The treatment you receive under this system is based on your biological sex.  You cannot opt out of it on the basis of personal identity.  This is not a system that can be reclaimed or fixed as it is built on oppression and inequality, so it must be destroyed.
  • To trans activists, gender is personal expression.  At its loosest, it can mean anything you want it to mean, but I think generally means how you view yourself as fitting within (or without) gendered expectations on the basis of personal expression/personal identity.  Because gender is based on how you view yourself as opposed to how others view you, it can easily be changed on a whim.

Female/Male and AFAB/AMAB (or variations thereof):

  •   When radfems say female they mean pretty much the exact same thing as what trans activists mean when they say AFAB 
  • These terms both denote the biological sex characteristics an individual is born with
  • To radfems, biological sex is immutable, if you are born a sex that is the sex you die
  • I’m not 100% sure about this one, but trans activists do seem to think that you can change your biological sex
  • A note to trans activists: female/male are, in fact, biological terms used to describe sex used across the animal kingdom, so when radfems use it, they are describing a biological state
  • A note to radfems: female/male are, in fact, often used as the adjectival form of woman or man.  It’s pretty common for someone to say “she is female” in lieu of “she is a woman”.  So when you say “trans women cannot be female” many trans activists hear “trans women are not women*” which is a pretty central tenant of their ideology  

*I understand that many radfems do argue this, but this post is just trying to clear up differences in terminology not actually solve disputes.  I’m not nearly good enough for that.


  • When radfems use the terms socialisation they basically mean the way in which a person is treated based on how others perceive them and the ways in which that treatment affects their development and actions as a person 
    • So when a radfem says that a trans woman received male socialisation, they are basically saying that the trans woman grew up being perceived as a boy by others and therefore was treated as a boy
    • This treatment can be incredibly nuanced and subtle and affects every part of a person’s life and interactions with others
  •  I’m not actually sure how trans activists define this one, but it seems pretty clear from their reactions that there is some miscommunication in connection with this term.  If anyone wants to chime in on the trans activists’ definition here, please do. My best guess is the ways in which people interact with the more explicit elements of gendered expectations.  So if a child chooses to play with barbies that is female socialisation regardless of their biological sex.


  • So this one is tricky because it means a variety of things across the board and part of the problem is there is no real consistent definition
  • At its most basic, it simply means someone who is not trans 
  • However, since the libfem definition of what it means to be trans is pretty loose and seems to include anyone who chooses to identify themselves as trans with no other qualifiers it can be hard to define what cis means in relation to that 
    • Honestly, what trans means is a post in itself and not one I feel qualified to make.  Especially taking into account the differences in dynamics of binary and non-binary trans people 
  • When radfems oppose the use of the word cis they tend to do so in reaction to the definition which means identifies with the gender roles associated with their birth sex.  Since radfems view gender as a harmful concept, especially to women, they tend to argue that no woman identifies with her oppression and, therefore, they reject the word

This list is just a start, but I hope it’s something that can be talked about and considered in the ever evolving discourse.  My ultimate aim with this is to ask both radfems and libfems, trans activists, and radqueers to be sympathetic to the fact that the other may have a different understanding of some of the words that you are using, and that if you ignore that fact, you may just be arguing yourself in circles.

As I said above.  This key is based on my own personal observations of how these terms tend to be used.  So if you disagree with any of my definitions, or if you want to add your own terms to the list, please, by all means do so.