AN OPEN LETTER TO DENISE BROGAN-KATOR

This is my response to a letter written to Catharine MacKinnon by Denise Brogan-Kator. For clarity, I have copied Denise Brogan-Kator’s letter below (in italics), and my response to each point follows.

A few weeks ago I got an email from my friend and former law professor, Catharine MacKinnon. She was reaching out to me for my reactions because others had reached out to her about one or more incidents of violence and/or hate speech between the communities of transgender people and radical feminists.

For ‘communities of transgender people’ please read ‘communities of male-born individuals’.

This “problem” has been nagging at me as I’ve continued to read each side’s “position” and its complaints about the other side.  This writing will attempt to describe my personal conclusions and thoughts on these issues, which I suspect will, forever, be a work in process.

Please stop right there. Your ‘personal conclusions and thoughts’ are not important here. You are male and this is a feminist issue. A HUGE feminist issue. Men always provide their ‘personal conclusions and thoughts’ on feminist issues, that’s something we’re used to. I understand that you identify as a woman, but that does not make your ‘personal conclusions and thoughts’ any more valid in feminist discussions than those of any other male.

I would like to state unequivocally that I am opposed to ALL forms of violence, for whatever reason.  The incident in question occurred at a recent “Law & Disorder Conference” held in Portland I am told that there have been other incidents of violence, but I’ve not seen any specific references.

Caveats:  I do not hold myself out as, nor believe myself to be, a leading thinker or researcher with respect to sex and gender.  I do not have an advanced degree in queer theory or feminism and I do not have an advanced degree in neurobiology.  What I do have are core beliefs, through which I shape my actions and which are subject to change with new information and evidence. 

I believe:

That gender and the entire system of gender is a social construct that has worked to keep women in a subordinate role and, as a consequence, has retarded humanity’s positive growth toward an ideal society where men AND women can accurately be said to be created equal.

No arguments from me there.

That violence, short of defense, has no place in our world and that it not only fails to advance the cause of feminism and social development, but also actually reverses it.  I believe that violence of any kind reinforces the patriarchy and diminishes us all.

No arguments from me there.

That patriarchy is real and pernicious.  It is the common enemy of all fair-minded feminists of any sex and gender.

No arguments from me there.

That sex and gender are not the same.  I believe that sex has its basis in biology and that gender and its attendant roles is the exclusive domain of socialization.

No arguments from me there.

I do not know, but I doubt, that sex is anything more than the size of the gamete produced by the body.  In other words, I do not know but I doubt that our brains are different in any way that matters.

No arguments from me there.

That said, I do believe there IS a biological difference between men and women – and that biology, especially the effects of sex hormones, do influence behavior (to a greater or lesser degree that is unknown? in individuals).  HOWEVER, the suggestion that such a difference leads to an inherent male dominance is absurd and destructive.  We need not deny the physical differences between men and women to condemn the destructive effects of patriarchy.  Difference should never be used as an excuse to dominate.

No arguments from me there.

I believe:

That trans-women such as myself, despite an outward appearance which arguably reinforces the system of gender actually help, in a very real sense, toward the deconstruction of gender.

I could not disagree more. The transgender movement is the very antithesis of women’s liberation. Trans women cause great harm to women by reinforcing gender stereotypes. More often than not, trans women wear clothing which is traditionally associated with women, for example skirts and dresses. More often than not, trans women adorn themselves with jewellery, and wear make-up. More often than not, trans woman grow their hair long, or wear a wig. More often than not, trans women wear constricting, uncomfortable, ‘feminine’ clothing which is neither practical nor functional. Many trans women wear ‘feminine’ or high-heeled shoes.

Radical feminists oppose the enforced feminisation of women. We fight for women to be valued as human beings irrespective of whether they wear their hair in long or complicated styles, or apply make-up, or wear high heels. We fight for women to be free from the ‘beauty’ rituals that oppress us, in the same way that men are free from such rituals.

Furthermore, it is the radical feminist view that trans women cause harm to women by reinforcing the patriarchal notion of women having to always be sexually desirable and sexually available to men.

Take a moment to consider why a trans woman takes synthetic hormones and wears padded bras: to give the outward appearance of breasts. What are breasts for? Feeding babies. Will a trans woman ever use his breasts to suckle his newborn infant? No. Under patriarchy, breasts have been sexualized to such an extent that breastfeeding is still taboo in many places in our so-called civilized Western world. Men who do everything possible to develop, or to give the outward appearance of, breasts perpetuate the notion that breasts are solely for men’s sexual pleasure.

This harms women.

Take another moment to consider why some trans women undergo genital reconstruction surgery. The penis is removed and a ‘hole’ is dug out in its place. Trans women call this ‘hole’ their vagina, but it is not. A vagina is also known as the birth canal, but trans women’s ‘vaginas’ lead nowhere. No baby is ever going to be born out of a manmade ‘vagina’. Under patriarchy, vaginas are holes to be penetrated for the sexual pleasure of men. Trans women who undergo genital reconstruction surgery uphold the patriarchal view of women as ‘holes’ to be penetrated, at will, by men.

This harms women.

Far from ‘deconstructing gender’, trans women reinforce the patriarchal view that men should look a certain way and women should look another. Under patriarchy, of course, women are never the winners.

Enforced feminisation harms women.

That gender is made not born and, because gender is performative, I also believe, as Catharine put it to me, that there are many ways of becoming a woman including, sadly, sexual assault.

Leaving aside the gross offensiveness of this statement for a moment, consider its absurdity:

Children who are sexually assaulted do not ‘become’ women.

Men who are sexually assaulted do not ‘become’ women.

Animals who are sexually assaulted do not ‘become’ women.

It is grossly insensitive to suggest that one ‘becomes’ a woman by being raped. If you’re raped as a male, you stay male. Rape does not give a male person an experience of womanhood. Womanhood is not rape.

There is only one way a person can become a woman and that is if a female child lives long enough to reach adulthood.

Although I have survived multiple sexual assaults, I believe that I will never fully know the fear that many, if not most, girls and women are all too familiar with.  I was 17 before I experienced my first sexual assault.  Until that point, I never had a concern about being alone with a man, walking after dark, or in a parking garage.  I grew up with many forms of privilege, but this privilege is often overlooked.

Radical feminists do not overlook this male privilege. Radical feminists are all too aware of this male privilege. This is a privilege which men and boys have and women and girls do not.

That radical feminists’ attempts to deny transgender people their expression of gender – no matter how based in stereotype they may appear to be – operates from a form of essentialism that contradicts their analysis and diminishes our joint efforts.

Your ‘expression of gender’ perpetuates stereotypes that are harmful to millions of girls and women.

As the term ‘transgender people’ has been used here (as opposed to ‘trans woman’ which was used earlier), I take this opportunity to point out the differences in the reasons why some men and some women choose to ‘transition’.

Trans men (i.e. women) account for approximately 20% of the transgendered community. In the vast majority of cases, women make the decision to ‘transition’ because they do not conform to feminine gender stereotypes. These are the very gender stereotypes radical feminism opposes. No woman should be shunned or mocked or looked down upon for not conforming to societal expectations of ‘femininity’.

This is entirely different to trans women (i.e. men), who in most cases have never been mistaken for a woman (prior to ‘transitioning’). A man who ‘transitions’ is more likely to argue that he ‘feels like a woman’ or that he was ‘born in the wrong body’. In other words, men do not transition due to ‘failing’ at enforced masculinity, but simply because they want to.

Another important difference is that trans men (i.e. women) move into the dominant social class – men – when they ‘transition’. The 80% of transgendered individuals who are male make the decision to ‘transition’ into the subordinate social class – women. In doing so, they take on the appearance of the subordinate class as much as they are able to do so and thus they reinforce gender stereotypes.

As a class, women are historically oppressed by men. The transgender movement, and transgender legislation which is increasingly being passed, favours members of the oppressor group (men) ‘becoming’ members of the oppressed group (women). Thus, legislation is forcing a historically-oppressed group to accept their oppressors into their space.

And let’s get one thing clear: there are no ‘joint efforts’ here. The only efforts being made are those of trans women who seek to ‘become’ women and to have their identities officially recognized as such, and those of radical feminists who oppose the harmful, misogynistic, individualistic transgender movement which is erasing women as I type.

That in order to change the system of male dominance we must both allow and honor individual expressions of gender (even when, as with myself, that expression of gender is borne of male privilege) and engage in collective social activism.

Expecting women to ‘allow and honor individual expressions of gender’ IS male dominance. How can you say you wish to ‘change the system of male dominance’ when in the next breath you are asserting your male dominance? Of course, it’s entirely in your male interests not to change the system of male dominance, as you have benefited from it and continue to do so.

For the record, radical feminism is not concerned with ‘collective social activism’. Radical feminism fights for all women, everywhere. Our movement is not concerned with ‘social activism’ which benefits men at the expense of women.

That the increasing animosity and hostility between the radical feminist movement and the transgender movement is destructive to our mutual goal of the liberation of women from male dominance.

The ‘increasing animosity and hostility’ you speak of is borne out of entitled men asserting their authority over women. It is borne out of men telling women what to do. Men have always done this, of course – as women we are used to this – but radical feminists are here to tell you that we do not find this acceptable.

The liberation of women is NOT ‘our mutual goal’. You wish to continue to oppress women. You harm us by trying to become us. You harm us by helping to pass legislation which directly benefits you at the expense of women and girls.

The women’s liberation movement is not your movement. The two movements are diametrically opposed. Can you please stop doing the male thing of inserting yourself into places where you have not been invited.

That Julian Vigo is right to observe that “[i]f gender is inherently detrimental as the radical feminists maintain and if trans identification occurs in part because gender is rigidly interpreted and represented through normative modalities of behaving, then there will be unceasing dissonance between these two groups.”

No arguments from me there.

Nevertheless, I do not think that the two groups have to be at war with one another.  We need not trade verbal barbs and comments that denigrate the other.  And, most of all, we need not inflict violence upon each other. 

YOU waged the war on US, let’s be clear about that. You, our oppressors, are simply trying to keep your oppressed group oppressed.

Violence is a male pastime. Women generally do not engage in violence. Historically, men are violent towards women, children and other men (including trans women). Historically, women have defended themselves against male violence, and we continue to do so. Your suggestion that ‘violence’ is a two-way street is entirely disingenuous.

I wish we could find a way to lift up one another.  I think that the system of gender has hurt us all for so long.  I do not want the voices of radical feminists silenced.  I just wish they would focus on the very real threats to women (and, in this, I will agree that a physical assault is of course a real threat!) and not turn their anger at this hateful system against trans persons.  On the flip side of that coin, I wish my brothers and sisters in the transgender community could either find a way to lift up the voices of radical feminists in areas where we so obviously agree, or at a minimum, ignore the arguments and words with which we may disagree.

You say you do not want radical feminists silenced, but in fact – on this issue at least – you do. Your next sentence says as much. The transgender movement IS a ‘very real threat to women’. Again, we have a man trying to tell women what to do, how to organise, which threats are real and which aren’t, which things should concern them and which shouldn’t. Just STOP. We have had ENOUGH.

Let us commit to working, together, for common values like the true liberation of women, the advancement of women in this society and around the world.  The real problem here isn’t whether or not trans-women get to claim womanhood. It’s about the number of women on the bench, in Congress, on boards of directors, in the CEO chair of Fortune 500 companies, and being paid less than men. It’s about the ongoing problem of a rape culture and the struggle it took to pass the Violence Against Women Act and the subsequent striking down of its key civil remedy provision.  It’s about the mass murder and mutilation of women around the world.  Please, let’s put our priorities in the right place.

Women are perfectly capable of organising for their own liberation. Men have had thousands of years to ‘assist’ us. It is in the male interest not to liberate women because no oppressor gives up their power willingly.

The real problem here is that trans women are trying to claim womanhood when they have no right to do so. No right at all.

You talk about the number of women ‘on the bench, in Congress, on boards of directors, in the CEO chair of Fortune 500 companies’. If, as is your wish, trans women manage to ‘claim womanhood’ then the numbers of women breaking through the glass ceiling will not increase but if men can be officially ‘recognised’ as women, then statistics will suggest otherwise.

This will harm women.

Thank you for telling us what issues women should be concentrating on. Mass murder and the mutilation of women around the world are feminist concerns. The transgender movement is also a feminist concern, and believe me we are more than capable of dealing with more than one issue at a time.

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4 comments

  1. “Men have had thousands of years to ‘assist’ us.” And if transgenders born male are so terribly concerned about the plight of women, wouldn’t they be a better ally for us if they stayed in the Patriachy as Men, and stood up for women’s rights there? Be a visible, vocal and financial male supporter of women’s issues. Mansplain to the men for a change.

  2. Reblogged this on OUT of My Panties, Now!!! and commented:
    How transgender harms women… An excellent overview

  3. Can’t stand it when people go “both sides this, both sides that” as if there are symmetrical aggression. Truth: women keep trying to gather in peace and transwomen keep sabotaging their efforts. Number of times women have sabotaged a trans event = zero.

    The only “animosity between both sides” I see here is that between a bully and his target.

  4. Reblogged this on You think I just don't understand, but I don't believe you. and commented:
    As a class, women are historically oppressed by men. The transgender movement, and transgender legislation which is increasingly being passed, favours members of the oppressor group (men) ‘becoming’ members of the oppressed group (women). Thus, legislation is forcing a historically-oppressed group to accept their oppressors into their space.

    And let’s get one thing clear: there are no ‘joint efforts’ here. The only efforts being made are those of trans women who seek to ‘become’ women and to have their identities officially recognized as such, and those of radical feminists who oppose the harmful, misogynistic, individualistic transgender movement which is erasing women as I type.

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