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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Alixx Dobkin's "The Emperor's New Gender"

Excellently written article which kept me going when all this insanity was starting to really take off, before we had blogs stating these opposing points of view, that Alixx finally brought up in her truthfilled and well thought out article.

minstrel blood
"The Emperor's New Gender"
by alix dobkin, originally published in off our backs
April 2000

"...disappointment takes out its knife..." Butch resisting the pressure to change gender – Elana Dykewomon
You know that glazed look certain born-again Christians get in their eyes when they're not listening? Or how voices of loud mouthed Republican politicians and TV pundits get even louder to out shout the opposition? To foreclose debate defends the fainthearted against attack, even when no attack is intended. Beloved tactic of cowards and bullies everywhere, shutting down discussion stymies challenges to the firmly held, vulnerable doctrine of the True Believer. Thus does insecurity unite with bluster to frustrate education's advance.

This brings to mind an incident occurring twenty years ago in Europe. At a concert in Zurich I identified myself as Jewish, whereupon a small group of women got up and left the theater. Why? They didn't say, but we can guess.

My deal with myself was that if I agreed to tour Germany and Switzerland it would be on condition that I declare my Jewishness at every show. Otherwise I could not have endured setting foot on those killing fields. But I was as unprepared for the shockingly defensive reaction that statement would provoke in my audience ad they were to hear it. Naively assuming that German Dykes were as used to discussing sensitive race issues as we USA veterans were, it never occurred to me how personally they would take this (seemingly) simple declaration. If I hadn't immediately calmed my audience with friendly assurances they would have shut down and shut me out, and by the time I reached Switzerland I understood that going public as a Jew required the following instant affirmations:

1) that I did not believe in God
2) that I did not necessarily support Israel's every action, and
3) that I did not blame any of them for the holocaust

These three disclaimers usually relaxed most of the crowd enough so that they could sit through my show without excessive distress. Passionate English and German post concert dialogues proved wrenchingly difficult, but they moved everyone forward, and we were all glad to have stuck with it.

I hadn't thought about that old story for many years until Elana Dykewomon told me of a similar experience at a reading only weeks ago of San Francisco Jewish Lesbian writers. When she spoke the name of her new poem (Butch resisting the pressure to change gender) a group of transgendered individuals and their supporters got to their feet and left the theater. Had they stayed they might have learned what this award winning writer and long time survivor of Lesbian community struggles (since before some of them were born) had to say, proving that closed minds are not limited to anti-Semites.

Like my Swiss departees, this bunch also refused to listen. Too bad, they lose. Experiences such as these and others have prompted this extensive preface to my (next) column on transgender, particularly FTM (female to male). I am well aware of how volatile an issue it is in our community and how personal it can feel.

Jim Fouratt, long time activist, writer, independent thinker and faery has lately taken quite the trashing for his forthright critique of Genderpac's "ruthless and aggressive attack in the gay and lesbian community based on gender bias..." Jim and I agree that, "once again men are defining who and what women are."

That's our opinion and we are entitled to it without being called "nazi," "fascist" and the like, as we each have in the past when overstepping the party line on gender. Therefore, in the hoops of contributing more light than heat to the discussion, let it be known that I am aware that:

1) transgender issues present complex and difficult terrain loaded with quicksand and stumbling blocks which I approach respectfully and with an open mind.
2) Over the past decade I've accumulated masses of information and engaged in much study, reflection, thoughtful discussion and process with a variety of people representing diverse perspectives.
3) In conversations with transgendered individuals and their supporters, some of whom I like and some not, I am aware of their pain and try not to add to it.
4) Everyone needs a community where they feel respected and safe.
5) There is more to learn.

Further credentials are available upon request.

Now here is the question to my Queer/LGBT community, particularly young butch Lesbians who are considering "changing" genders: Is thoughtful, open discussion possible without personal attacks and hurt feelings?

"A thousand years from now... the archaeologists who dig up their bones will know that they were women"
– The Whole Woman, Germaine Greer
"FTM" means women, usually young, who undergo hormone injections, sometimes breast reduction ("top") surgery in their pursuit of "maleness." Reservations about this procedure, when voiced at all, are frequently answered with hostility and charges of "discrimination," discouraging even further candid exploration of the "transgender" vogue and it's meteoric rise to the top of the "queer" order.

Transgender presence and issues dominated the 1999 "Creating Change" Conference. Notable and new, to me at least, was the spectacle of matronly gents dressing up as their mothers, aunties and schoolmarms in dowdy conservative outfits, cheerlessly dispensing disapproval over all. More unsettling though, were the sheer numbers of FTM's everywhere in evidence, their flight from womanhood conspicuously endorsed by the oddly invisible gay men and Lesbians running the show and bent on "inclusion."

When at the end of a butch/FTM panel I asked how constructed "males" felt about the lifelong commitment to the medical establishment and their utter dependence on doctors and drug companies for their identities, the only response was a noticeable chill in the room. If I was FTM I wouldn't want to think about that either.

Germaine Greer notes, in The Whole Woman, that, "Born women are all too aware of a disharmony between who they are and what their gender role requires of them." Everywhere at the conference young FTM's defied gender roles and "performed" "masculinities." But say, isn't "masculine" a construct preserving male rule? And isn't being/creating our own individual version of a woman what lesbians have always been about? So why would a Lesbian embodying infinite female potential ever think she needs to be - or actually could be - a man? Impatience for male power and privilege combined with monumental lack of faith in the future of women could explain it. But "woman" is much bigger and expansive than a stunted masculinist vision of female possibility.

Can you conceive a population more exquisitely groomed to "change gender" than the generation informed by deconstructionist Queer Studies? In the blur of "Gender," represented as little more than a "social construct," injustice might easily be confused with inconvenience. To girls confronting their powerlessness, scant attention paid to "gender's" political roots and historic consequences leaves "masculinities" looking good, and personal adjustment through technology even better. Hey, why not jump at the chance to escape "gender distress" - the universal female condition forever afflicting "the second sex"? How instantly gratifying, how perfectly consumer friendly. This postmodern all-American quick fix comes complete with academic sanction.

In today's "LGBT" hierarchy the last may indeed be first, but beneath the surface of lock-step acceptance lies an unspoken universe of discomfort. Doubts and qualms fill the closets of newly silent Lesbians and gay men now afraid of being labeled "bigoted." Rather than injure feelings or appear oppressive toward a sexual minority, many remain silent, unwilling to deviate "...from the politically correct gender rhetoric (which) subjects one to being called and dismissed as transphobic," as long time gay activist and independent thinker, Jim Fouratt, writes.

To my eyes and ears, young butch dykes walking the FTM path look and despite vocal alteration, sound , quite like the young butch Dykes many of us have been and known for decades. However, these days we hear mostly their echoes and see only their backs as the flee womanhood. But they are our line, and by rejecting their female bodies along with our shared history, they break our hearts.

Gays and lesbians have struggled for decades to be able to name ourselves and to BE ourselves. But now, in our own community we are expected to applaud Dykes rejecting womanhood and embrace men taking it over. In our smart, brave and compassionate community, being "different" is the unifying thread holding us together in a diverse crazy quilt of which queers are justifiably proud.

But while we're at it, let's also honour our identity and history. And our women. Then maybe our girls won't be so eager to run. So lets put away the knives. Can we talk?

7 comments:

  1. And this:
    "To my eyes and ears, young butch dykes walking the FTM path look and despite vocal alteration, sound , quite like the young butch Dykes many of us have been and known for decades. However, these days we hear mostly their echoes and see only their backs as the flee womanhood. But they are our line, and by rejecting their female bodies along with our shared history, they break our hearts."
    So true! I am heartbroken! So many beautiful baby dykes choosing to surrender and conform to hetero-patriarchy's gender norms rather than stand and fight by our sides! It's not that I don't understand their caving to pressure and "letting the side down". I truly understand the urge to NOT be "queer". But I mourn for every one.

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  2. "Gays and lesbians have struggled for decades to be able to name ourselves and to BE ourselves. But now, in our own community we are expected to applaud Dykes rejecting womanhood and embrace men taking it over. "
    And applaud them as "advant guard" and "edgy" and brave...when they are really just enforcing mainstream gender-norms. So sad.

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  3. Thanks for your courageous blog!

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  4. You speak very intelligently about gender and the important issues going on today regarding the lesbian and butch/dyke communities. I might even agree with you that some FTMs are not truly transgendered, but are choosing to transition for more societal or internalized anti-feminine or anti-gay issues. However this is not the case for all of us, and not the case for me. I've always felt that my female anatomy was wrong, and that I was born in the wrong body. But I was never encouraged to be anything but what I was. When I wanted to chop my hair off, my parents took me the next day for a cut. When I refused to wear skirts and dresses, there was no pressure to wear them, and my parents happily shopped between the girls/boys departments for what I liked. When I decided I wanted to play hockey, I was signed up, and my Dad even made nets for me to practice at home. When I decided I wanted to play softball, my Dad taught me how, coached my teams, and my whole family came to cheer at almost every game through high school. I have never known anything but acceptance and support. When I entered high school, and started dating my first girlfriend I thought, well maybe being a lesbian is the answer to everything I've ever felt. My entire family accepted my coming out without a question beyond "when can we meet your girlfriend". Maybe the transgendered people who fit into your view that they are rejecting womanhood do exist. Maybe. I know that I'm not rejecting womanhood or being butch. I'm rejecting the belief that just because I was born female bodied and like women, that those are the correct roles for me. If we are to believe, and I personally do, that being lesbian/gay is something you are born not choose to be. Then why would it be hard to imagine that the same goes for being trans? Why do I have to be in anyway rejecting womanhood or the dyke community? Just because my body was born female, that doesn't mean that my brain was. I fully believe that there is a spectrum for sexuality and gender. For sexuality the polar opposite points being obviously homosexual and heterosexual, and the middle consisting of the varying degrees of bisexuality. When it comes to gender I feel the two opposite points would be female and male, and the center every gender expression in between. Just because you fall in between and are proud to be a woman. Why do FTMs have to? Why can't I just be a male suffering from an unfortunate birth defect during fetal development where my brain developed male, and my body female? Why can't this be a form of being inter-sexed? That obviously exists, and they get to be treated with hormone and corrective therapy. No one accuses them of rejecting anything. I love the lesbian community. During my teenage years when my body started to betray me more than it had up that point. I was able to find something that allowed me to express myself, and give myself a role that got me through the turmoil. But that's all it was for me. A role. Calling myself butch was something that explained most of my feelings to myself and those around me, but never fit everything. It was like that last puzzle piece that you jam in because you can't take it anymore, but it's not meant to go with that puzzle. I've found my piece and my internal peace. Why do I have to be rejecting the community that embraced me, so I can have it?

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  5. (I had to split this but bare with me it's long.)I'm an FTM but alot of what you touched on that I agreed with. I am sure you are aware that among the trans people right now there is a bit of comotion going on. Both sides are being unfair to one another to a point, which is unfortunate. First of all I believe that all women, should explore all possiblities within the comumnity BEFORE even concidering transistion. If you can't love your insides and your sense of self before T you won't after, no amount of hormones will change that. If you can be a Loud Proud Dyke embracing womens bodies and your own I say go for it. Unfortunately this is not what I see. I don't condone gender therapy online. AT ALL. That will upset some transguys, sorry. You need to meet face to face. I don't condone geting hormones from the street. Again sorry but no. If people complain that takes to long then they should not be transistioning in the first place. Dispite all the "feelings" one has, transistion is not a cure for GID. If you have GID you will always have GID transistion is a way to cope so that your GID becomes manageable, and you can funtion on a more productive level. I went through therapy and 3 years of RL living before I determined I wanted to to take the next step, dispite all the "feeling like I had I took it slow. I had sexual experiences and determined what worked for me in relation to my body and what didn't. Women who are thinking about going through with this need to know exactly what it means and have no illusions about the side effects of hormones. Again I repeat it is not a cure at the end of the rainbow where everythings happy. They also need to know that just because you have gender varrient feelings does not automatically make you trans. It is Okay to be a lesbian, to be andro, to be a Dyke. There is nothing wrong with that. Being FTM is something I feel like people are rushing through, that they have to get to the end. And that is wrong. When you are trans you have to be so down and out, with every other option exhausted, and the only other solution to your mental agony is death. ONLY THEN can you honestly go to forward. And I don't think that to be the case with alot of the younger generation. I think that is why it does seem to be a band wagon of sorts especially to others in the LBGT. Do I reget my choice? No. but that does not mean that someone else won't because they made a snap decsion. Also, in being that I see myself as a Man,I do not ID as any shape or form of lesbian or butch. Those are not my spaces and I don't belong there. I respect and understand this just as I would not expect a Lesbian to be in a Transmale space. I think that alot of disrespect and misjudgement is on BOTH sides and that trully is shame. No transman should threaten any woman no matter how angry, and no Lesbian should show us disrepect because we ID differently. If one is truly trans you should feel as if you should have a dick and balls, and it should be so extreme that you would honestly concider taking a knife to your own chest. I know that sounds horrible but thats the gravity of it. Not just because you don't like dresses and love women. I hope that the majority can find empowerment in their womanhood and be content because being trans is long laberous costly process. Cont.

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  6. Part 2. Would I do it again? Yes. Do I actually think all the young people saying they are FTM really are? no. If you are trans you have alot more respect and even wary understanding of what it means. It is not to be taken lightly. While I do think some expressions of lesbian sentiment are a bit too hurtful in the manner in which it is dlivered, and some tactics were uncalled for(ie. pictures), I can see the core opinion and understand its orgin. I just hope others can see too that not all transmen are negative and woman hating, and that there are even some of us who think the influx of young people is well shocking and should be a cause for concern. Because, the actual satistics over all for truly trans indivduals is very low. I actualy am in a way rejecting womanhood. In the physical sense. I don't want it, but not because I hate women or lesbians, no I stand up for them as I would any Gay or trans person. It just was not the path for me.

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  7. Butch wome reject feminity
    transmen/FTms reject "womanhood"

    you reject social gender
    we reject physical sex

    yeah, u are allowed yr freedom to reject what is irrelevant to u, but transpeople cannot.

    how is this not double standard and utter right discrimination?.

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