Janice Raymond & Transphobia

Janice Raymond’s “Sappho by Surgery” left me feeling very shocked, bewildered, and above all else, angry.  Judging by the other recent blog posts, it looks like I’m not the only one.  I was shocked at Raymond’s absolute disgust and hatred of male to female transgender people.  I could not wrap my head around the fact that she was so hostile to a group of people who had never caused her any personal harm. 

I was bewildered by the fact that she was so transphobic because she is obviously knows a great deal about being victim to patriarchy and homophobia.  I could not understand why she would want to exclude a group of people who had experienced similar forms of oppression.  If there is one thing that I’ve learned from taking gender studies classes, it’s that men are not the only ones who uphold and reinforce patriarchy.  Raymond argues that transsexual women do as well.  “Transsexually constructed lesbian-feminists challenge women’s preserves of an autonomous existence.  Their existence within the women’s community basically attests to the ethic that women should not live without men.” (141)  I would like to counter that and argue that Raymond (and other transphobic people) is the one who is perpetuating patriarchy.  Under patriarchy, women who do not fit into conventional ideas of femininity are rejected by the larger society.  This is exactly what Raymond is doing when she suggests that transsexual women are not “real” women. 

I found this video on youtube of a person who has personally experienced transphobia.  I think he does a really nice job of articulating the same kind of shock and bewilderment I felt while reading Raymond’s article.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaaGzsyZN_M

While Raymond’s general transphobia certainly made me angry, there was one particular part of her article that really set me off.  “All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves.” (134) When she equated transgender women identifying as lesbian feminists to men raping and violating female bodies, I really lost my temper.  Since my freshman year, two very close friends of mine have been raped.  I witnessed firsthand as they dealt with this traumatic event.  I watched one of them suffer through panic attacks, paranoia, and depression.  I watched the other get ostracized by her peers when she came forward.  I have seen how sexual assault can wreck the lives of its victims.  This is why I was so angry that Raymond could compare transgender women expressing their identity to something as awful as rape.   Transgender women do not rape women by virtue of their existence.  Saying so further ostracizes an already marginalized group of people.  I felt that this article was not only transphobic but very disrespectful to sexual assault survivors.    

-Zhaleh Breen


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