I may have mentioned that I don’t really like censorship. Recently, this blog was trolled by some radical separatist feminists from a subreddit (which I understand to be something like the old IRC). WordPress caught the comments and sent an email to Megan to moderate the comments, who in turn passed the buck to me during our weekly chat on the phone.
This put me in the position of “morality police.” While this is not a place I like to be, I very much appreciate that the choice of what kind of space I want my blog to be was placed firmly in my hands. My first reaction was to channel my inner Bugs and spin out a series of terrible puns in the vein of “burning the TERFs” and other such nonsense. While that response would have been extremely satisfying on a visceral level, a place where someone has an opinion, even and especially an offensive opinion, and gets mocked for that opinion is not what I want this blog to be.
So, instead I am issuing an invitation: let’s have a conversation. It’ll a little slow with me being in prison and all, but if you’re willing to have an honest conversation, please do write. I mean, you where to find me. For this conversation, I am going to insist in a civil discourse (meaning no erasing each other’s identities, no name calling, and no dehumanizing or demonizing each other), because otherwise it’s just a shouting match. I’m in prison and will thus automatically lose all shouting matches.
So I guess I’ll start, y’all can join in or not dependent on if the terms of engagement are agreeable to you and others are welcome to chime in.
My understanding of the events is as follows, and keep in mind that I get everything second hand. There was a conversation on a subreddit about trans women in prison for murder, and I was mentioned as an example. Someone linked to my blog, specifically the post about my difficulties with WA DOC Medical (thanks, btw, for the free advertising). This led to some thoroughly insulting comments being left on my blog.
Meanwhile, more interesting conversation was happening on the subreddit. While much of the commentary was quite mean-spirited, some of it was clever and other parts less mean-spirited and more in formed.
An example of this: someone said something along the lines of “nothing says anarchism like lifelong dependence on the government and big pharma,” which I find to be thoroughly entertaining. It’s a good line and I kinda wish I had thought of it to roast myself. There is a kernel of truth to it.
I do identify politically as an anarchist. I believe that the best person for figuring out how to live a life is the individual person living that life, and the best way to do that is to find people who are willing to surround us with love, car, and accountability, and to help us figure out what that means for each of us as individuals and a collective.
It is also true that I am dependent on the government for my HRT meds, among many other things, like food, water, clothes, and toilet paper. As long as I am in prison, this will remain true, and odds are I will remain in prison until I die of medical neglect or suicide. Sure, I might be able to get clemency and there might be a change in the law, but of course there might be peace in the Middle East tomorrow morning. (Free Palestine! End Anti-Semitism!) Just sayin’, it’s a long shot.
So rather than refuse any resemblance of dependence on the government in the name of ideological purity, I eat food and drink water to keep living. I use CI brand toilet paper we are issued by the DOC to wipe my bum. And I take my estrodiol and spironolactone to keep from slipping back into depression and suicidal ideation. I do this while realizing the PIC and big pharma are institutions which perpetuate patriarchy, white supremacy, and general oppression.
This is, in my mind, similar to my owning a Casio watch and Casio scientific calculator. I realize that these items were built in sweatshops in China and shipped through Latin America becore coming to the US. These items were then sold to Union Supply Group, who has an exclusive contract with the WA DOC, meaning that USG is the only store I am allowed to shop at for property, religious supplies, and food packages. I can either not have a calculator for doing math homework and not have a watch which helps to keep me out of trouble by allowing me to know the c/o’s may be coming around in so many minutes, or I can have a calculator and a watch which was manufactured and shipped by exploiting the labor of black, brown, and indigenous people through the mechanisms of colonialism and capitalism.
Due to my positional as an incarcerated person, I don’t have the option of opting out of the Empire, so I do my best to recognize the harms I am causing and object to the system I am coerced into participating in.
As for the charges of entitlement…. okay, I’ll take that. I mean, I get paid $0.40 an hour when I am employed, and I haven’t had a job in a year and a half because I’m a full time college student and am focused on maintaining my 3.9 GPA, a college education which I am only getting due to the charity of others who have donated to the UBB. Speaking of charity, I beg for $10-$20 from my penpals every 2-3 months for things like shampoo and postage, which I hate doing because it brings the lie I tell myself about self-sufficiency to light (hmmm… this may be an ableist script I’ve internalized, gonna have to think about that). But no, I’m obviously entitled and just cashing in on trans issues being popular in the media.
There were other things said, but I’m not even going to bother refuting them because they are nothing more than frivolous name-calling and mud slinging. We, meaning all of us humans becoming, are better than that. While I am dismissing the name calling which was done by radical separatist feminists, I am recognizing their opinions, even the opinions based in transmisogyny and cissexism, as legitimate. I do this because while the things they believe are hurtful to me, I have to be able to look myself in the eye each morning. So I have to find a way to recognize their humanity without accepting the erasure of my own.
I first came across the concept of radical separatist feminist when I was reading the Transgender Studies Reader, specifically chapter 15 “Where Did We Go Wrong? Feminism and Trans Theory — Two Teams on the Same Side?” by Stephen Whittle. Since then, I have come across other literature, some arguing for and some arguing against the radical separatist feminists’ position that trans women are not real women. And to be perfectly blunt, I think both sides of this debate have missed the point. There is a higher value at play here than if trans women are invaders of the sphere of women or if radical separatist feminists are perpetuating patriarchy through transmisogyny and cissexism. The reason I think both sides have missed the point is because they have made the bodies of trans people their battlefield. In fact, I would go as far as to say the adversarial conception of a “battle” doesn’t help either. The “us versus them” construct inherent to the approach is decidedly flawed.
Instead, I believe a framework informed by the awareness of trauma and grounded in compassion is a better way to go. I’m not going to say it’s the “right” way, which would cast out radical separatist feminists as “wrong,” but I will say my approach makes space for the messiness of human lived experience, which is far more valuable to me than the emotional reward of being “right.”
It is my understanding that radical separatist feminism is grounded in the harms “white” women have experienced both on a person and a systemic level at the hands of men and male privilege. Taking this as my starting point, I contend that those harms have resulted in complex trauma which is triggered by men and things that remind radical separatist feminists of men. The issue is then that radical separatist feminists are worried about someone with toxic masculinity entering what would otherwise be a safe space for them. This is why, from a trauma-informed standpoint, they would automatically exclude all men from their spaces. Since most men have not dealt with their toxic masculinity, I can empathize with their position in this regard. I am surrounded by an unbelievable amount of toxic masculinity. However, there are men in my life who have and continue to address their toxic masculinity and so I give them the benefit of the doubt and help them be accountable if they do or say something sexist.
Now, to apply this to trans women. I was socialized male as a child and I picked up some toxic masculinity. I have a trans femme identity and in high school I picked up some toxic femininity. Since then, I have done a lot of personal work to deal with the internalized messages from both of those and I continue to do personal work to keep myself from (re)internalizing these messages.
While there are many trans women who have arrived at the same place I have, there are also many of them who are still in the process of dealing with their toxic masculinity and toxic femininity. There are also some who don’t recognize themselves as having toxic anything and thus are not working on it.
My opinion is that the reason radical separatist feminists do not want to allow trans women into their spaces and argue that trans women are not women is because they have had negative traumatizing experiences dealing with trans women who have not yet dealt with their toxic social scripts which have led them to conclude that dealing with any trans woman is not worth the risk of having their trauma triggered.
I don’t know what “the” solution is for this, but I do know that there are plenty of things that could be tried which do not include seeking out trans people, who are having a hard enough time dealing with all the negativity heteropatriarchy is throwing our way as is, and throwing a bunch of Haterade at us. If you need a space for cisgender women to deal with your trauma, internalized oppression, and toxic social scripts, then just say that. Hopefully at a later date there can be spaces for cis women, trans women, and gender nonconforming folks to come together, and after that invite in the cis men so that we can help them deal with the toxicity that affects us all. But we do any of that as long as we keep dehumanizing each other. Amazing how that works, ain’t it?