This is an invited response to an blog post made by Joshua Jones, which can be seen here – http://sanitys-cove.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/of-transphobe-bruhaha-rapists-and.html
OK, so first off, some background information for anyone who reads this – Joshua and I know each via mutual membership of a Nottingham based poetry collective called the Mouthy Poets. Our periods of regular attendance at this collective overlapped and we are consequently Facebook friends. Last night, I caught onto the now widespread internet debate concerning transphobic comments made by Germaine Greer. I was upset because bigotry is upsetting and also because I have experimented with gender fluidity and transvestism myself, and have huge admiration for people who make the decision to transition. I responded to the following comment by Greer –
“Just because you lop off your dick and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a fucking woman. I’ve asked my doctor to give me long ears and liver spots and I’m going to wear a brown coat but that won’t turn me into a fucking cocker spaniel.”
with the following post –
“I think if Germaine Greer really wants to identify as a cocker spaniel then she should be allowed to do so, and her doctor should give her all the help that they can”
This comment is referenced in Joshua’s blog post. Joshua, prior to writing his blog post, invited me to write a reply to it once he had done so. I agreed.
I’ll admit, initially I was nervous. I worried that I had made a knee-jerk response to the debate, influenced by my own liberal minded bias. I have read a few things recently, notably an article by Andrew Doyle – http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/andrew-doyle/germaine-greer-cardiff-university_b_8388502.html – which made me think twice about whether I’d jumped too soon.
Then I read Joshua’s blog – not only did it reinforce my view that the viewpoints expressed by Greer need to be challenged, but as a line of argument it has veered wildly and, I think, deliberately away from the original debate over whether people with potentially upsetting and certainly hateful views should be allowed platforms to speak.
As I have been invited to respond to Joshua’s blog post, that’s what I’m going to do. Joshua, I’m going to address you directly now. I think there’s a lot to be challenged in your post and I’m going to take it bit by bit.
You begin, in your first paragraph and initial meme, by disputing whether transphobia means what people thinks it means. The basis for this is that ‘phobia’ directly translates to mean ‘fear’. Your argument here seems to be that, while many people are uncomfortable with the idea of trans people, nobody actually fears them, and the term ‘transphobia’ may therefore be dismissed. Firstly, there’s the question of where discomfort stems from in those people who experience that feeling towards trans people and whether that discomfort does, in fact, stem from feelings of fear (not necessarily of the trans person themselves, but perhaps of the challenge to the observer’s perceptions and the implications of that).
Secondly, and more pressingly, I would argue that, in a social context, hateful comments towards any minority group warrant the suffix ‘phobia’ as that is what the term refers to. As a side point, beginning your argument with grammatical quibbling seems to be sidestepping the point slightly – we are dealing with hateful comments, no matter the term we use to describe them, and they are not to be dismissed on grammatical grounds.
So – onto paragraph two. Here you make the assumption that your view is “the view of the majority of us who live on planet Earth”. Which it might be, and might not be. You don’t know that. I don’t know that (and resent the implication that I’m implicit in your assumption by use of the word “us”). Let’s assume for a minute that you’re right, and that most people on planet Earth are transphobic. Are we there? OK. That still doesn’t make what you are saying right. It makes you part of a majority. That doesn’t make your views less harmful and is a terribly weak excuse to endorse them. And then just at the end of this paragraph, before we move on, we have the term “LGBT-jihadies” – there are so many implications in this I’m inclined not to go too deeply into it, but will only point out that this could be seen as further evidence of a latent disrespect for an entire community, if only in the attempt to paint everyone within it as immediately reactionary.
In paragraph three, I’ll quickly dispute the idea that allowing ‘self-identity’ is ‘radical’, but let’s continue to paragraph four:
“If I sincerely feel that I am a feline born in a human body, should I have the right to be recognised by society as a cat?”
Joshua, I would say, yes, you should. I feel we may disagree here, but essentially, yes. In terms of comic effect, you’ve got me – I was partly playing for laughs with my Facebook post, but I stand by it nevertheless. If you sincerely feel that you are a cat, that you want to be treated as a cat, referred to as a cat, then I will fully support you in that. I think that if there is comedy in this, it comes via the exaggeration:
Women are people. Men are also people. People are people. Gender, in terms of fashion, behaviour, power structures and countless other things, are social constructs. It would therefore strike me as far less surprising that someone born, biologically, as a man, would want to be, or feel they were, a woman, or vice versa, than that someone born as a man or woman would want to be, or feel they were, a cat. But, as I’ve said, if you, Joshua, sincerely want to be a cat, then go for it. I’m with you all the way.
Paragraph five is interesting. Should someone be able to self-identify as the opposite race? I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. I saw a poetry show recently called ‘Soapbox Tour’ (see it if you can, it’s great, I think). In it, one of the poets, a black girl, performed a poem about self-identifying as white. Midway through the poem, it became apparent that the piece was a satire of, I’m assuming, the case you’re referring to. I believed her at first. I was shocked. It was challenging. I thought ‘bloody hell, this is brave.’ I don’t know, maybe I’m just naïve, and I imagine a lot of people would disagree with me on this one, but I think a world in which self-identification based on race was acceptable, even to the extent that gender-identification is now, would be a better world than the one we have. I’ve read the other article that you linked here and agree with you on the point about the perception of mainstream media towards identification seeming inconsistent. I’d rather see full individual choice in all areas, rather than a re-curtailing of choice, which I think is where we differ. Correct me if I’m wrong. The issue, really, I think, is what makes you most comfortable, provided that your actions cause no intentional and forcible harm to others.
Which leads us on to paragraph six, in which you, Joshua, directly equate trans people with rapists. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and hope that this wasn’t intentional, but that’s essentially what you’re doing here. You suggest that the delusional nature of rapists who feel they’ve done their victims a favour can be equated with your assumption of delusional tendencies in trans people. For obvious reasons, this is angering, but I’m just going to point out plainly what the difference is – rape causes immediate, deliberate wilful emotional and physical harm to other human beings. Identifying as a particular gender doesn’t. In my opinion, that’s as far as that one goes.
The next paragraph brings in the Science argument. Men are biologically men, women are biologically women. A man who transitions to become a woman does not have the history of other women, right? No, she has her own history, her own life, her own events that have shaped her to become what she is, and if she wants to be a woman, why is that wrong? Again, she isn’t harming anybody. She’s made a decision. She may feel that she’s always been a woman and that she was trapped. We should celebrate her bravery. Personally, I have experimented with Transvestism. It’s been a long process of slow incremental steps. I’ve debated with myself whether I’d be more comfortable identifying as a woman. I’m undecided, and it’s confusing.
Nevertheless, growing up male, I still very much dealt with “vulnerability before a world of teenage boys.” Didn’t you? ‘Putting on make-up and a dress and shooting oestrogen into (my) veins” will not give me the life experience of the woman, or women, to whom you are referring. In that you are correct. It would be part of my life experience and background from there on in, and that’s what matters. I would then be able to share that experience with others, as myself, openly and honestly.
And so we come to the end. And here I find your most upsetting paragraph. And that’s because, in all my own inner debates surrounding my desire to wear women’s clothes (and believe me, I am not equating my experience with that of people who have transitioned, that’s a level of bravery and certainty I don’t have), the nagging negative voice in the back of my head has always been “why are you doing this? Are you running from something? What are you trying to achieve?” That you would tap into that fear, not by yourself, but with the aid of a theistic belief system which you then by proxy impose upon me, is awful. Shall I tell you how I get over those nagging voices? I remind myself that I often feel more myself while wearing women’s clothes. I remind myself that peoples’ reactions tend to be positive, that I feel less scared, less out of place, and that I can interact with people more comfortably. I remind myself, also, that it doesn’t matter, hugely, what I wear. This is my perception, and I don’t mean to assume this applies to anyone else. But on a day-by-day basis, I am getting better and better at making decisions on what I want to wear based on what’s going to make me comfortable and happy, rather than what is going to satisfy bigots. You describe me in your post, Joshua, as a “friend and fellow poet”. Having read your blog, I must deny the first and put the second down to coincidence. I find your views abhorrent.
I’m not perfect. I have caused harm to people, certainly emotionally. It may be that in expressing who I want to be, or experiencing the uncertainty of that, some of this harm has been caused. But I do not see this as reason not to continue to attempt to find my most honest, open expression of myself, and I certainly wouldn’t deny anyone else that. To some extent, I envy you. I imagine your mind is set and there must be some great comfort in having a strict set of social rules to follow. That’s fine, but please, don’t impose your own codes on others. They are yours. Not anybody else’s. Love people Joshua. If you want to help Caitlyn Jenner, love her for the person she has chosen to be. Don’t patronise her. Refer to her with the pronouns she would like to be referred to with. Don’t attempt to control her behaviour. It isn’t hurting anybody.