on the unintended consequences of trans*nationalist discourse
April 27, 2016
I got the fun of reading an article today that basically stated that gender non-conforming people – who are apparently Not Trans – are likely to be the most impacted by NC’s bathroom law (and similar legislation). From the sounds of it the guy who wrote it is a cis man do had a period of gender non-conformity in his youth.
First things first: attempting to create a framework where ‘gender non-conforming’ and ‘trans’ are mutually excluding sets is bullshit and transmisogynist. To then go on and claim that cis gender non-conforming people are likely to be the most impacted by bathroom laws is, well, also transmisogynist.
In a way, I do get what he was trying to communicate. That despite the fact that the rhetoric around bathroom laws targets trans women, it is likely that anyone who looks visibly trans and/or gender non-conforming will experience the material impacts of this. Which sounds okay until you reflect for a moment and realize that its total bullshit.
These laws are about trans women and trans women only. Who is and isn’t impacted by gender policing in restrooms and other public spaces isn’t actually going to change much as a result of these (generally unenforceable laws). Anyone who’s been paying even the slightest amount of attention to these issues knows that butch cis women (for example) have been targets of this kind of gender policing for a good long while. This isn’t going to change because of these laws. Likewise, trans women who are visibly trans have been targets and will continue to be targets.
I suppose I could mention that there isn’t really a difference between trans/gender and gender non-conforming. Trans/gender as a political terms explicitly includes a bunch of people who are generally considered cis but gender non-conforming (like butch women or femme men). Of course, this is original intention hasn’t actually held out in practice… so I can see why some people talk about them as two distinct things. Which is fine so long as you understand that they are overlapping categories rather than mutually excluding ones.
What I really want to get into is how this rhetorical situation is actually an unintended consequence of trans/gender discourse. Its been repeated enough that lots of people (particularly those who style themselves as politically conscious or progressive) are willing to assert that ‘trans women are women’. Its basically an axiom of the trans/gender movement and/or community.
As such, many people who are either trans or sympathetic with us, have internalized this axiom. And this is a good thing! Except that… it does have the unintended consequence of creating this illusion that trans women are women in the same way that cis women are women. A notion not helped by the many assimilationist trans women who’ll assert much the same.
Of course this is a false equivalency. As a pinay, I’m not a woman in the same way that a white woman is a woman. Similarly, my trans womanhood isn’t equivalent to cis womanhood. Generally, what I’m trying to remind people is that there is no shared, universal ‘womanhood’. Erasing the fact that people who identify as trans women are trans isn’t all that different than trying to deny the fact that they are women.
But it actually gets more insiduous and subtle than this. The above is an unintended consequence of the axiom that ‘trans women are women’. The consequence, though, is much deeper than shoring up some notion of universal, shared womanhood. It somewhat relates to the trans part of ‘trans woman’.
The above position about gender non-conformity and transness is only coherent if one has externalized this axiom. The problem though? The vast majority of people do not subscribe to this axiom. As in, for most people trans women are not women. This reality – which is an important aspect to trans womanhood – is something that many progressives (and trans people) appear to forget when discussing transness in a general way.
This is also why most trans defense against these bathroom laws are meaningless to the people who advocate for them.
The reality of being a trans women is this: proponents of bathroom laws see no qualitative difference between a girl like me and Christopher Hambrook. For those who don’t remember, Hambrook is the cis male sexual predator who pretended to be a trans women in order to gain access to the women’s space in a homeless shelter. He then proceeded to sexually assault and harass women in the space. In other words: he is exactly the sort of person that conservatives and radfems invoke to animate hate towards trans women.
Now, most trans people I’ve seen who bother to acknowledge that situations like the above do happen utterly fail to address the issue in way that might actually be effective. And its because of the unintended consequences of the axiom and, basically, trans*nationalist discourse.
Again: these transmisogynist fear mongers do not see any meaningful difference between Hambrook and me (and other trans women). To them, we are all men pretending to be women in order to gain access to women’s spaces for neferious reasons. All of us. One more time: EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US.
Why? Because to them trans women aren’t women and will never be women.
This is why trying to explain the Hambrook situation by saying that he is a man and not a ~real~ trans women is meaningless to those people. It makes no difference to them whatsoever. And people need to remember this as they internalize the axioms. It is something repeated over and over again precisely because it isn’t a commonly held belief.