Wow. I hardly even know how to react to this one, except I guess just to say that Julian Vigo takes an extended opportunity to lay it down on us annoying, “hyper-feminine” trans women.
While I don’t really have time to sit down and write a proper response, there were a few immediate thoughts I had in response that I wanted to write out while they were fresh on my mind.
In the first paragraph, Vigo writes
“Even to undertake a strictly political analysis of the trans community one risks being labeled ‘transphobic’ especially if one is a radical feminist. As a result of this assault on dialogue, the true violence of transphobia (ie. assault, rape, murder and many other forms of discrimination) is cheapened and diluted in the larger space of discursive disagreements with feminists. Conterminously, the mislabeling of dialogue under the guise of ‘transphobia’ masks another type of violence perpetuated towards radical feminists who speak about these discursive differences with trans activists.”
So apparently Vigo thinks that calling out individuals (including but certainly not limited to “trans-critical” radical feminists) for making dehumanizing statements about trans women cheapens our efforts to combat sexual violence and other forms of violence against trans women.
A friend of mine Jordana Greenblatt called my attention to an interesting question on this point earlier. When mainstream media and other voices in society make dehumanizing comments about women, would Vigo accept patriarchy’s claim that calling these voices out for misogynistic speech cheapens the “real fight” to end sexual violence and other forms of violence experienced by all women?
Of course not, Vigo’s claim that verbally dehumanizing and harassing language has no relation to violence experienced by trans women is laughably absurd. And yes, some radical feminists definitely cross the line into harassing trans people both online and in real life. And I do get that some trans people have crossed that line as well, and I condemn that, but the fact that Vigo quotes some of the most aggressive harassers right in her actual article doesn’t give her much room to claim she rejects this behavior when it is committed by radical feminists.
Then we have Vigo’s absolutely hypocritical assertions that trans women or trans woman communities should be labeled as “hyper-feminine.” She uses the story of Adrian, an individual who medically transitioned to woman but later de-transitioned, to try to convince us that all trans women live according to a single false stereotype of what womanhood is. She quotes Adrian saying
“I don’t get involved in that community any more—it is so hyper feminized that it is almost disgusting in a sense. It is always about appearance since that is what they talk about. I laugh when I hear trans people say that gender is in the head, the majority of them are hyper-feminized and I am proof of this because I did it. When I was starting to live full time, I brought all my clothes to Good Will. I had to do my hair, my nails and this is not destroying gender because you were born xy. I was hyper-woman, or rather I thought I was being.”
First of all, there are plenty of trans women who are butch, who are androgynous, and it is completely underhanded for Vigo (or Adrian for that matter) to attempt to erase them. Personally, I am femme, but I don’t even wear make-up most days. Like most women, I have a range of gender expressions with which I’m comfortable, and of course it all varies somewhat from time to time. And really, it’s not *my* fault Adrian attempted to live her life according to some dumb stereotype of womanhood.
But what’s most aggravating about this claim is that the “hyper-feminine” stereotype that Vigo rejects for cis women is *exactly* the stereotype that she and Adrian both falsely and unflinchingly project onto trans women. How hypocritical is that?
Vigo also argues particularly that cis women have the right to have organizing separate from trans women. Here I will make a nuanced comment… to state the essence of it: I don’t disagree with her on this. I think that at an inclusive women’s conference, there definitely could be a couple of sections that are cis woman-only (and comparably a couple that are trans woman-only as well). In fact, when a group of trans women organized the “No More Apologies” conference in Toronto, we ourselves included precisely such break-out sections.
What I do oppose however is having a cis woman-only panel at which the main topic of discussion is “trans-criticality” (i.e. “what do we do about these nasty trans women”). So what does matter is the context in which these discussions are framed.
And FTR- Vigo’s point about the session at the “Pleasure and Possibilities” conference has validity in the sense that the framing for that session was off (and I had nothing to do with it, btw, in part for that reason). She’s right that the panel description came across in an inappropriate way and I agree that no cis woman lesbian should ever feel pressured to have sex with a trans woman on the basis of validating her identity.
However, my understanding of the event itself was that was basically just about eight trans women that got together in a room and expressed frustration about feeling left out of the queer women’s community is some ways (yes, including sexually, among others). It wasn’t much more that.
And as I’ve stated previously, the “Cotton Ceiling” was an inappropriate way to frame the issue about trans women inclusion in the queer women’s communities, and I apologize for going along with that initially.
But I also can’t help but notice that not a single trans woman that I know even talks about the “cotton ceiling” these days… we get it, it was a bad way to frame the issue. I agree completely. However, radical feminists seem to have latched onto the idea in a way that I don’t think trans women themselves ever did in the first place. In fact, if you google “cotton ceiling” most of the hits are radical feminist responses to the concept. (And while we’re at it, when are radical feminists going to apologize for “The Transsexual Empire: the Making of the Modern She-male” or the trans women who were targeted for harassment campaigns around that, some of whom lost their jobs?)
Moving on, there is of course the obvious point that Vigo’s constant refrain that pits “trans activists” vs. “feminists” is completely false. I am a trans woman and a feminist to my core. And I definitely think trans women bring useful contributions and insights into the feminist project regarding the dismantlement of patriarchy and male privilege.
[Note: apologies, I realize this piece ends a bit suddenly but it's late on local time and I need to move on to bed. Like I said, I mainly just felt the need to get out those initial thoughts real quickly while they were fresh in my mind.]