Sunday, April 27, 2008

It's 2008: How are we doing on bi and trans inclusion?

It's interesting to me that we are *still* having arguments about whether/how to include bisexual and transgendered people within the larger queer and women's communities.

Lately, there have been some pretty ignorant and bigoted comments made about trans people. It's not like this is anything new - there are several radical feminist blogs that continue the same kind of trans-trashing language and the refusal to recognize cis privilege.

But I'm struck by the fact that this kind of narrow thinking persists, even as I witness such changes in my peers' and in my own thinking around this issue, largely as a result of coming to have trans friends and acquaintances who put a personal face on all of this.

As feminists, what we share is the belief that we do live in an oppressive society. And let's be honest about it - it flat out feels good to have a common enemy, to be able to say, for example, that men, and male energy, and male thinking, and so on, are the problem. It feels *great* to be able to blame other people for the ills of the world - and there are certainly blame-worthy individuals out there. Of course, this "us-them" mentality conveniently allows us to ignore our own role in shaping the world, particularly those of us who benefit from the status quo, such as cis women, heterosexual women, white women, able-bodied women, Christian women, etc.

And for many feminist cis folk, trans is a tough issue to get their heads around. Much as the Lesbian Nation decries bisexual women as traitors who just want that conduit to patriarchal privilege, some radical feminists decry transmen as selling out (or, slightly more kindly, giving up on) women in order to buy this privilege - and transwomen as men who want so badly to own women that they are willing to recerate their own bodies just to do it.

Er...kind of a long way to go, wouldn't that be?

Anyway - so we have now seen several supposedly radical feminists react as if transpeople are oppressing them by existing; as if transwomen aren't women; as if transmen don't exist, for the most part; as if transpeople of color don't exist at all; as if cisgendered women have the right to determine who else gets to use the term "woman."

At the same time, I've been part of a dialogue around the Bi/Trans Area Interest Group at NWSA. Without going too much into the history of the group, suffice it to say that it's been a space for bi/trans people and for people doing research in these areas for nearly a decade, and now we are planning to propose the formation of a separate Trans Caucus. Caucuses in the NWSA are an important part of the governance of the organization, and they are made up of otherwise underrepresented minority groups.

When this proposal was mentioned on WMST-L, it prompted one individual to argue repeatedly that allowing such a caucus would be damaging to the organization, as it would be giving disproportionate power to the minority of bi and trans people. She argued that, given the small percentage of the population that is trans, they would be overrepresented by a Caucus, and further, that bi and trans were already overrepresented in Women's Studies (!). In her argument, she implied that "women" was a category exclusive of "bi and trans people." She pointed out that the push for bi and trans inclusion was always motivated by "pure self interest", thereby implying that this inclusion would always have a negative impact and that it was always unwanted by cisgendered and monosexual people. (Thankfully, one activist responded, saying, "it's unfortunate that the monosexual, cisgendered majority is so silent about resisting and uprooting their unearned privileges, isn't it?")

So, here we are, still, in this place we've been in for the last couple of decades, at least, in which bisexual and trans people are perceived as vampires who have nothing to contribute to the discipline, organization, or community. Any work that we have done is motivated by self-interest, and therefore bad and wrong and selfish - unlike any other social movement, I guess, because certainly the feminist movement was not motivated by self-interest, was it? Nor the labor movement? Nor civil rights? Any contributions we might make as scholars who study bi and trans politics, identities, and so forth must simply be taking the place of scholarship made more worthy by its focus on cis women, het women, white women, lesbians?

It is worth pointing out that the majority of responses argued against this lone naysayer, and that I think the Trans Caucus will fly. But I am, as always, taken aback by this entrenched thinking that precludes any real conversation or understanding of others' experiences. And as always, it is disappointing.


Trinity said...

"She pointed out that the push for bi and trans inclusion was always motivated by "pure self interest", thereby implying that this inclusion would always have a negative impact and that it was always unwanted by cisgendered and monosexual people."

Well, dear monos, if that's *really* what you think of me...

Wow. *Wow.* And here I thought it was usually a lacking in clue thing.

Kinda cool to see people coming right out and saying it, though. The "well, I just mean some bisexual people are ______" trash is in some ways worse, because you know it's there, but they can always say they didn't mean that.

So congrats to this person for going balls out (or something) with her nastiness. Thanks, yo.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Well, it's certainly easier to confront when it's presented with such clarity, anyway...