By: MK Worthington
Janice G. Raymond’s chapter “Sappho by Surgery: The Transsexually Constructed Lesbian-Feminist” is filled with reactionary rhetoric to unsubstantiated ‘facts’ about transsexual women who identify as women– and even as lesbians. Her biggest claim seems to be “As one woman put it: “A man who decides to call himself a woman is not giving up his privilege. He is simply using it in a more insidious way.”” (137) In Raymond’s point of view, transsexual women are in fact men masquerading as women in an attempt control them and gain access to female spaces and privileges they otherwise could not experience.
While this assertion is damning and false for transsexuals, the entertainment industry has frequently cashed in on straight male characters who did just that. Consider Robin Williams’ character in MRS. DOUBFIRE, for example, a man who transforms his outward appearance to that of a woman to gain access to a traditionally female job. Also, in SOME LIKE IT HOT, Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis portray men who disguise themselves as women in order to join an ‘all woman’ big band. Cartoons are full of examples as well. Disney, Warner Brothers, Dreamworks—they all periodically feature characters in drag who use their ‘feminine appearance’ to their advantage in some uncouth way.
In the beginning of the chapter she goes so far as to make the claim that: “It is not accidental that most male-to-constructed-female transsexuals who claim to be feminists also claim to be lesbian feminists. In fact, I don’t know of any transsexually constructed feminists who do not also claim to be lesbian.” (132) In her position as a leader of the ‘lesbian feminist’ movement it makes sense that she wouldn’t personally know any heterosexual transsexual feminists; such individuals would, by definition, belong to broader Women’s Movement. This little detail, however, is not mentioned in her argument.
Later, Raymond goes on to imply her vague and wild arguments are unquestionable truths, and she furthers her argument with the claim: “At this level of analysis, it might seem that what men really envy is women’s biological ability to procreate.” (135) This, just a few short sentences before she contradicts herself by pointing out the idea that overpopulation is fast making women obsolete, their ability to procreate their downfall rather than something men covet.
This line of thought brought to mind scenes from the 1994 Arnold Schwarzenegger film, JUNIOR.
In the film, Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito play a pair of male doctors and scientists who are working on an experimental new drug that would improve the chances of a high-risk pregnancy lasting through term. Right off the bat it is a tale of ‘men’ trying to fix a problem that is exclusive to ‘women.’ Their efforts are blocked by laws and regulations – written by ‘bad men’ – and, in order to circumvent these barriers, our two heroes, two ‘good men’, must use a ‘male’ body to carry out a task exclusively achieved by the ‘female’ body. They, of course, are acting for the good of women. They are taking it upon themselves to improve the lives of heartbroken women the world over. How on earth could anyone be critical of that? (That last was written sarcastically.)
In Junior, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character is anything but feminine. He is quite the opposite actually, the epitome of masculinity, but during the course of his pregnancy he develops a softer side and a distinctive feminine quality. By becoming pregnant, during the course of his pregnancy, Schwarzenegger’s character essentially becomes a ‘female man’- ruled by irrational mood swings and the urge to nurture. To my mind, Raymond’s argument is that ‘female transsexuals’ are the first step leading to this very outcome—men replacing and eliminating women altogether.
But let’s back up a minute. I thought society was ruled by ‘white, heterosexual, males.’ …seriously, why on earth would they want that?