the shattered glass

26Aug08

After having tangled not once but twice this past week with transphobia online (and occasionally looking stupid for not fully doing research…so much fail, Bene), and over the past several months with issues regarding second wave feminists I just thought I’d take a minute to say a few words.

But first, please be aware that Lisa has something to say about transphobia, oppression, and the nature of privilege.  I realize that’s been linked all over tarnation, but tough shit.  My blog, my posts, you stop reading if you don’t like it.

I’m not exactly a third wave feminist.  I take the ‘sex-positive’ thing with about a mineful of salt, and I’m too young to have been a Riot Grrl.  But I work off the tenet that there is little to be gained by separatism and that a house divided against itself cannot stand; that humanity should be focused on getting past its problems without demonizing whole groups within it; and that theory is effective only acting on other theory.

Trans issues are gender issues, and trans issues can be racial issues and trans issues can be class issues.  They are issues that stem from the greater problems of society.  The issues that face everyone who is dispossessed in some way may appear incompatible, but in the end doesn’t it all come down to ‘you don’t fit my paradigm so you’re worthless’?   To exclude trans people from the conversation when it comes to feminism is to insist that we all come down to the sum of our physical parts, and I can’t buy that.  My feminism is about equity and acceptance of all positive expressions of sex and gender, and it is demeaned by those who demonize and generalize about good people.

To those people, I also say fuck off.

I am not dumb.  I am not idealistic, either.  Not everyone in the world is good at heart, and not everyone is worthy of trust.  But each person gets judged on their behavior and their actions first, not by some twisted idea of what ze might be like because of misguided theories regarding their physical sex and socialization. That’s just a big pile of bullshit.

That, and you reap what you sow.



18 Responses to “the shattered glass”

  1. Thank you for this!

  2. 2 QoT

    Awesome post!

  3. Ah…Bene!!!

    Not dumb AT ALL at all!! I saw the smack down over getting the name wrong on the Greer thread at Hoyden – and the suggestion that the book’s ‘well worth reading’. FFS. The NAME is hardly important. All the points you made about the WRITING were valid and important and worth engaging with and showed you clearly HAD read at least enough of her work to get a feel for exactly what the issues were – I think the problem was that you had cutting criticisms, therefore the snide dismissal over the name was the only way to answer your points and ‘win’.

    I’m a bit exhausted trying to follow and argue with some of the comments flying through on the Carnivalia thread. I ended up feeling like I can’t actually engage anymore, as I both feel like I have been dismissed as simple/not well read enough, and ALSO I’m finding it just upsetting. HOW CAN PEOPLE TALK LIKE THIS??? This stuff is about people’s life, their safety, their right to basic goddamned respect…I just really don’t get it.

  4. 4 Laura (Admin)

    The name is important. It’s a play on hole/whole. A hole is what a denigrator sees a woman as, and a whole is what a woman is.

  5. 5 Laura

    Oh, I’m sorry it said (admin) there. I was still logged in from the class blog for my course, it’s hosted on wordpress.com

  6. Yes. The name of a book is important to the book. The name being cited incorrectly was irrelevant to the discussion of the points raised about the writing. But let us not, yet again get into disagreements irrelevant to the post at hand. My message is a response to Bene on her post.

  7. Thanks for reading, everyone. It was wicked to arrive back from work and find comments.

    Anyhow, my stance shouldn’t be interpreted as entirely anti-theory, I suppose. I think it’s more that theory has its place in analysis, but not directly in action, in my mind. Theory can inform activism, but it shouldn’t be the base of it, imo. It’s too ephemeral. Theory should come from action, and not the other way around, because theory is forced by nature to generalize.

    And that’s why the Carnivalia post bothers me more than the Greer, tbh, because I see the Greer as all about theory and less about what should actually happen to people. The Carnivalia post mixes theory and reality and makes them interchangable. The theory is offensive as hell, but as a theory, it’s metaphor. When people take a metaphor and make it flesh, it becomes pretty damn appalling.

    I should have brought up cyborg theory, but the truth is I don’t really feel like messing with it, so I won’t.

  8. Thanks for this post, Bene! And you’re not alone in being a grain-of-salt third-waver. [waves]

    Can I ask… not wanting to strain things any further of course🙂 what theory you’re saying is offensive, coz I’m confused about which bit? I find mAndrea’s stuff hideously offensive, but as a theory I sincerely don’t think it stands. Tigtog’s attempt to engage with her at that level revealed that, methinks. On the Greer thread, the stuff about metaphor… well, tbh, I guess I can’t draw as hard and fast a line between theory and practice as you seem to (or seem to want to?). That’s coz I think that the *theory* that transwomen are acting like Norman Bates does actually have effects: it leads back to the assumption that they’re fundamentally pathological and undermining of women. Which of course reinforces transphobia and thus violence towards transwomen. Is all bad😦 This is why I think theory is activist (but then I would ;-)): in reconceptualising things like sex or gender or trans or whatever, we give ourselves the potential to engage with people differently. Less hatefully. Less violently. At least, this is what I hope! And it helps us make sure that our activism does what we want it to, methinks.

  9. Hi WP!

    I was sort of referring to both mA’s wtfery/TERF thought and to Greer overall when I said ‘theory’. TERF stuff is like ueber-Greer, really…which brings me to my actual thought.

    I do agree with you in terms of theory having an effect on practice, of course. Nothing exists in a vacuum. I think theory can be activist, too, but i think it also can be dangerous in the sense that it can be taken to constrain practice. It can be a great check, but on the other hand, it seems to be terribly exploitable, as the TERFs have demonstrated so well.

    Basically, I’ve been burned by theory in the past (and nearly flunked Film Theory in college, heh), and while I recognize it as important, I think that living a theory is one of the most appalling things one can do.

  10. Mmmm… probably depends on which theory🙂 There are some out there that aren’t about making normative claims at all, or universal claims, or *denying* people’s experiences, but about the responsibility to be ethical to the other—whoever and whatever they may be, and without trying to make them or their experience into something more comprehensible or palatable for you… that is my kinda theory🙂

    But yeah, I know that theory is often not good. I just don’t really identify mAndrea or Greer as actual theorists, really; which might be snobbery (i haz betta theory dan yu! which is of course totally troo ;-)). But I tend to think it’s not a theory because it’s not clear about its premises (so for example Greer’s implicit theory of sexual difference is a biological one that I would totally challenge—and did!—while she claims not to be about a biological essentialism…). But y’know, a wariness about theory isn’t a bad thing; it makes one critical about how a given theory negotiates with people’s lives. All to the good.

    I remain intrigued about the being ‘burned’ by theory, mostly because I find it incredibly enabling of good, thorough, contextually-specific and ethical critique, which is often not possible without it So I’d be intrigued, but of course all my ‘burnings’ feel like vulnerable spots, so don’t feel like you have to share!🙂

  11. WP: I’d usually explain better, but it might give away my Sekrit Identity…mostly it has to do with college, which was only a few years ago for me.

    Generally speaking, from an artistic standpoint, I encountered a lot of people who really lost the whole point of film as storytelling venue and as art by a really pedantic use and understanding of theory. From a personal standpoint, I encountered a lot of people who, like the TERFs, used theory as an excuse for bigotry.

    My degree was in cultural studies, and I have to say that theory from a cultural studies standpoint does do what you say. It provides excellent analytical talking points. But when theory addresses less general subjects, the issues I mentioned seem to arise, in my experience.

  12. Let us definitely protect your Seekrit Superhero i.d.Snazzy outfit, btw.😉

    Mmm… interesting what you say about film. I am not a film theory person, although I’ll confess when I hear film stuff presented in various places, I often have a ‘but how do you *know*’ kinda reaction. And yeah, the hyper-self-consciousness a lot of art develops not so much as a reaction to theory but as a reaction to the perceived *privilege* of theory just straight-up bugs me. It’s not a necessary thing—I saw/experienced my first camera obscura today in a room, having just wandered through some musings on reality, realism, fantasy, photography, representation and stuff, and it was totally fucking awesome. But there are lots that attempt to *represent* theory, and really… it often winds up in banality, not least because it seeks to *represent* theory that is attempting to engage with the *unrepresentable*…

    What really gets me about the use of theory in aid of bigotry is the tendency to fall into the naturalism fallacy: to theorise what is, and then presume that what is (theorised) is what *ought* to be. Slipping from is to ought I think should be one of the first fallacies pointed out, coz to me they’re the most common. TERFs luv ’em.

    And yeah, I am just an egotist; I do cultural theory, therefore all other theory is clearly inferior😉 I actually think most of these kinds of issues with theory arise when people think that theory is/gives access to The Truth. It’s not (and most poststructuralist theory, even if its uses don’t reflect this, would be sure to say this) at all The Truth; in fact, decent theory asks what gets to count as truth, and why… I like to tell people that theory lets us consider the effects of the stories we tell about things and people. But I have to be optimistic, I guess!

  13. Hee. I need to upload a Gravatar or something like. A fancy mask!

    And I think you need to blog again, you have some wicked good thoughts.

  14. What really gets me about the use of theory in aid of bigotry is the tendency to fall into the naturalism fallacy: to theorise what is, and then presume that what is (theorised) is what *ought* to be. Slipping from is to ought I think should be one of the first fallacies pointed out, coz to me they’re the most common. TERFs luv ‘em.

    This,

    My newest post sort of covers one of those kinds of theories, too.

    The “type here” letters are totally creeping me out, btw. It’s like finding “This page intentionally left blank.”

  15. Lisa: I’ll have to take a look as I totally agreed with that part of WP’s statement, even though my skills in logic are decidedly low. (I keep worrying that I’m going to mess up. I KNOW I must have made a strawperson at some point.)

    I’ll see if I can change it, because they were bugging me too. It might be part of this layout, in which case I’ll have to keep it ’cause I like this layout a lot.

  16. Bene: if you want to take the “type here” out of the comment box, remove this section from your style.css.

    textarea#comment {
    background: transparent url(‘images/comment-textarea.png’) no-repeat center;
    }

    It’s on line 915 if you’ve got a fancy text editor that does line counting or has a “jump to position” feature. My (not so secret) identity is that of a web-application developer. wheee… back to code. blah.

  17. Wicked! Thanks, polerin. I’ll have to go see if WP lets me fudge with that.

    CSS is one of Those Things I Keep Meaning To Learn And Have Been Meaning To For Several Years.


  1. 1 On heart, strength, endurance and engagement, or, a 2008 review « Zero at the Bone

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