So, After Ellen recently published an
article hot mess of transphobic fail on the cotton ceiling, a term coined by Drew DeVeaux to explain queer trans women’s experiences with “simultaneous social inclusion and sexual exclusion”. Other than the entire premise of the article—a cis woman questioning the validity of trans women’s experiences of discrimination—there are so many instances of trans ally fail, I don’t think I can even count them. I’m going to touch on the broadest type of ally fail in the After Ellen piece, then explain my beef with author Marcie’s take on what the “real” issue is, and finally try to respond to questions like, “So what are we supposed to do? Date people we aren’t attracted to?” (Spoiler alert: Obviously not.)
Let me try to lay this out for you, Marcie, as a fellow white cis lady. I bet you’ve experienced sexism; fuck knows I have. Can you always prove that what happens to you is a result of sexism, and not your own lack of vigilance, or your own lack of qualifications, or some other aspect of your character? I can’t! Sexism is often unquantifiable and unprovable, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know it’s happening. I sure hope you’d be mad as all hell if you explained your experience of systemic sexism to a dude, and he responded by telling you that you couldn’t prove it was sexism and not just one of your own character flaws.
Now, sexism and transphobia aren’t the same thing, but allyship works very similarly for any oppressed group, and a fundamental requirement of allyship is believing members of the group whose struggles you are supporting. If dudes want to avoid being sexist douchebags, the first step is believing women when they say “Sexism happens, and this is how I experience it.” (Usually the prerequisite to that step is a big dose of sitting down, shutting up, and thinking, especially if your initial response is skepticism.) Surely you can see how, if you want to avoid being a transphobic, exclusive douchebag, your first step as a cis woman is believing trans women when they say “Transphobia and transmisogyny happen in queer communities, and this is how I experience it.” This is all assuming you actually want to be an ally to trans women; if you don’t think that’s necessary or important, then I beg you to refrain from commenting on issues like this ever again. You’re giving me and all other queer cis women a bad name, and I don’t want your voice being perceived as mine.
Leaving aside the fact that you, as a cis woman, have no place deciding that the issue is “rather” one of an “underlying cultural problem of how women treat other women,” I think this assertion is flawed. Let’s make no bones about it; trans women are women, and thus the discrimination they face is a feminist issue. That does not mean their experiences of being women are identical to cis women’s experiences of being women; in fact, I believe that feminism must take into account the vastly different and particular ways oppression plays out in various women’s lives. Reframing a specific experience of cissexism and transphobia—not being considered datable or fuckable by the majority of one’s queer community—as simply women treating each other badly is not only delusional, it’s exclusive. Like, come on feminism, haven’t you learned yet that you can’t just look at white, middle-class cis women’s lives and assume that “all women” have the same struggles? Please see “My Feminism Will Be Intersectional or It Will Be Bullshit,” or Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. Until feminism can hear and contend with the specificities of different women’s different oppressions, it will continue to fail the vast majority of women.
I also completely disagree that “the fight for gender equality and the fight for sexual equality should be fought separately”. 1976 called; it wants its radfem, lesbophobic bullshit back. We tried separating those struggles already, remember? It sucked, and it didn’t work (or, less negatively, it had limited results and was unable to contend with a hell of a lot of women’s problems). Once again: come on feminism, haven’t you learned yet that you can’t just demand that women who experience multiple forms of oppression check some of them at the door? Haven’t we, as feminists, as women, as queer people, learned yet that all these systems of oppression reinforce each other, and when we try to “focus” on only one at a time, the real outcome is that we focus on only one small group’s needs at a time? Though gender and sexuality are different things, and it’s part of both the struggle for gender equality and sexual equality to convey that fact to the broader hetero mainstream, gender equality and sexual equality are inextricably entwined. When we queer cis women refuse to date or fuck queer trans women, it’s an issue of sexuality: who queer women feel they can date and/or fuck and still be with a woman, how queer women feel they can date and/or fuck and still be doing it queerly.
Final point: I think we can probably start by agreeing that most queer cis women, as things currently stand, do not often date or fuck trans women. Let’s try an exercise: draw your web. Yes, L Word-, Our Chart-style. How many trans women are on there? I will admit, right here, right now, that I have never dated or fucked a trans woman, and that to the best of my knowledge, exactly one of my close friends has. Cis women, I preemptively request that you please spare me the trope of accusing trans women of being (male) sexual predators acting entitled to cis pussy, accusing them of misogyny and indignantly demanding, “So what are we supposed to do? Date people we aren’t attracted to?!” Obviously not. Please don’t. If you’re asking that question in this context, you have a hell of a lot of personal work left to do before you can come close to being a decent partner to a trans woman.
At risk of sounding repetitive, because this is becoming a bit of a catchphrase for me these days: QUESTION YOUR DESIRE. If you have spent any time thinking about how damaging and fucked up it is that every women’s magazine photoshops models to be skinnier, whiter, and less wrinkled, then you’ve already started. Standards of beauty, aesthetics of fuckability, are not created in a vacuum. They come out of real societies, and they are built on that society’s sexism and racism and ableism and fat negativity and, yes, cissexism and transphobia. Furthermore, desire is not static or permanent. Do you think the same things are hot now as you did when you were fourteen, or has your desire evolved and expanded?
Desire is malleable. Desire changes, and it changes based on many things, including our understandings of what’s hot, who’s a woman, and what lesbian and/or queer sex is. We become less transphobic by learning to see our cis privilege and recognizing instances of cissexism, transphobia, and transmisogyny when they occur. The more we do that, the more “real” trans women become to us, the more legitimately women they become to us—NOT that they need our approval. We do not do this because they need our approval as women; they are women whether we are able to see it and whether we act like it or not. We do this because we recognize that our perceptions are warped and incorrect, and because we want to see clearly. We do this because we are giant assholes when we can’t recognize all women as such, and we’d rather not be assholes. Therefore, what is being asked of us is that we take apart our desire, see its transphobia and transmisogyny, and then we remake it. For me, this is actually a core element of queerness, and don’t fucking tell me it’s impossible, because I do it all the time and so do tons of people out there. Once again: question your desire. Do more. See more. And hey, date more and fuck more, too.
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