Somebody asked a straightforward question about whether a trans person is their gender and suddenly the questioned no longer understands what “gender” is.
Make no mistake: It’s been done. It’s been done and done and done and done and done. It’s been getting done a lot more recently than it used to be since the rise to fame of Janet Mock and Laverne Cox and the coming out of Caitlyn Jenner, but it’s definitely been done before.
Bigotry is nothing new and it almost always takes the same forms, but I’ll stick to comparing apples to apples. There’s a certain kind of bigot who likes to pretend they’re supporting the group they’re oppressing and that they’re simply intellectually curious philosophers in search of the meaning of being human. In the queer community alone, as we’ve historically asserted our sexual and romantic attractions, heterosexual people responded over and over that attraction is a strange and mysterious thing and perhaps we don’t understand it. As we asserted our desires to marry and have families, we were met with completely frankly fucking irrelevant questions about gender modeling for children and whether government should ever have involved itself in marriage to begin with. Whatever it is, it’s always the same: culturally established simple, broad concepts suddenly become completely absurd once queer people want a piece.
One thing they are sure of, though, even as concepts like “woman” and “love” flitter away from them like ephemeral butterflies, never to return until all the queers are out of the room: they’re DEFINITELY not bigoted. As I groaned through post after post after post on Benson’s blog, I watched as she asserted firmly again and again that the words “yes” and “no” are too simple for great thinkers like herself, but:
“It has, and that’s one thing that some feminists feel uneasy about. It’s not transphobic or trans-excluding to say that.”
“This whole thing is just riddled with tensions, and it’s not transphobic to try to think about them.”
“And when it’s uncertain and/or new which pronoun is preferred then there’s the option of using names. I don’t think that should be considered transphobic.”
She sure has transphobia nailed down! Is Caitlyn Jenner a woman? Who knows? What even is gender? But is Benson transphobic? Ask and suddenly she’s remembered how to answer yes or no questions.
I never found the offending post, because it turned out not to be a post. It turned out to be a question that was posed to her off of the blog, the oblivious non-answer to which she wrote several posts to defend. I’ve heard @oolon waded through the miasma of proud ignorance and maybe has a more comprehensive list than anything I could come up with, but as my Skype window boops and boops with more links from my purse-lipped research assistant, I’ve had enough.
But because I’m feeling nice, I’m going to help Ophelia out a little. Ophelia, somebody posed the question “is a trans woman a woman? Yes or no.” They weren’t asking you what gender is. They didn’t care what you think gender is. What they were asking was: shouldn’t trans people be allowed the same degree of self-determination as cis people? And in spite of your oblivious insistence otherwise, you answered with a loud and resounding “No.”
Heather McNamara writes about indie literature, politics, and civil rights at HeatherMcNamara.net.