Janice Raymond’s “Transsexually Constructed Lesbian-Feminist” : A Belligerent Political Othering of Trans* Embodied Person’s .

As Riddell emphasizes in her article “Divided Sisterhood,” Raymond’s motive behind writing about subjects she refers to as, “transsexually constructed lesbian-feminists,” is a means to other their existence and acceptance in women’s spaces and political discourses; “Ms. Raymond makes her position absolutely clear. Trans-sexual women ‘are not women’” (Riddell 145).

For Raymond it seems a female-identity may only be claimed by those born to a female-embodiment and who have been “encumbered by the scars of patriarchy” (Raymond 133). Disregarding for the moment the naturalist argument behind this re-defining of female-as-category; Raymond emphasizes the influence of our lived experiences of our embodiments within a patriarchal structure as central to our constructions of self-hood. She denies that any person or embodiment which has experienced male-privilege could ever truly understand female struggle, let alone articulate anything on the matter through their involvement with feminist political struggles. Raymond therefore refutes solidarity with trans-women, and others them by marking them as essentially different from “true” female-embodied persons. She claims that their past-embodiments somehow protect them from comprehending the violence and prejudice of a patriarchal system. For Raymond the female/male binary is the flipside of a coin, as irrefutable a difference as black and white. This is evident in her disregard for these subjects’ female identity through her constant use of the wrong or un-preferred pronoun when referring to them as a means of intentionally misgendering them, and marking them as separate or other-than female.

Much of Raymond’s argument and her explicate line drawing between racial politics of whiteness/blackness and the gender binary, caused me to draw a parallel between her essentialist argument of XX chromosomes (139-140) to historic scientific knowledge produced under the thumb of Colonization to medicalize and naturalize racial difference. For these scientists there was a corporeal difference which naturalized whites as “the superior race”.

In much the same way Raymond is arguing that female-embodied persons have a unique view or more naturalized experience of the oppressive nature of a patriarchal system, that male-embodied subjects cannot attain. Or more-over that the physical male anatomy informs the psyche of males to always be penetrative, even for post-operative female transsexuals. While I am not attempting to disavow the important influence of male-privilege, or white-privilege, for that matter, in the lived experiences of people; I theorize that male-embodiments are just as equally upheld to rigid-constructions of maleness as female-embodiments who are expected to conform to feminine constructions. In other words, all bodies are implicated always in the histories which have motivated our constructions of race and gender. Where female embodied subjects have been inflicted by the violence of a patriarchal system which is systematically constructed against women, trans* individuals have been afflicted by this system’s appropriation of these individuals into gender categories they do not self-identify: TO DENY THEIR ENTRANCE INTO THE GENDER CATEGORIES THEY IDENTIFY IS JUST AS ABOMINABLE A SEXIST PRACTICE AS THE BARRING OF FEMALE SUBJECTS FROM “MALE SPACES”. To me this dualistic thought is the most dangerous aspect of Raymond’s argument as it works to reify the power of the binary; an overly simplistic model for any theoretical understanding of embodiment whether male or female, black or white.

The work of artist Kara Walker can be used as a tool for seeing through these dangerous binaries. Her work turns the use of an ambiguous silhouette on its head to comment on our assumptions of racial caricatures and demonstrates how race works to define us. Her work symbolically splinters our binary of blackness/ whiteness.

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Looking to her work as a means of strengthening how to see past the binary, we may begin to separate our own assumptions about male/female embodiments. When we look at these silhouettes we mark embodiments as male or female, black or white, but this marking of subjects is precisely our projection of how we categorize these subjects based on our socialization, because the subjects appear in monochrome silhouettes we simply conjecture what race/gender these subjects are. Similarly hetero-normative individuals that pass gender-liminal bodies often become obsessed with deciphering whether these bodies are embodied male or female, because they are threatened by these bodies’ ability to actively deconstruct the gender-binary.

-Sophia Koehler-Derrick

 

 

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