Koyama, I’m glad you finally reread your “Manifesto”

In all honesty, I was extremely excited when I first read the title of Emi Koyama’s piece. I thought, “Hell yes! Something I can congratulate and praise!” Then I read it. Although I was not disappointed by Koyama entirely, I was not as impressed as I had hoped to be. Throughout the Manifesto, she makes an average effort to attend to those who are not transwomen, but mostly she uses them as add-ons, merely to lengthen her argument. Koyama addresses sexism, homophobia, abuse, medical issues, and even body image; yet she fails to make just as strong arguments for the “others” as she promises early in the introduction. And yes, I realize she speaks to this lack of inclusion in the Postscript, but c’mon!

Apart from the disgust I feel, I have to admit there were a few sections I absolutely loved, and others I wish I could have deleted and never read again…

“The suggestion that trans women are inherently more privileged than other women is as ignorant as claiming that gay male couples are more privileged than heterosexual couples because both parents have male privilege.”

First, I appreciate this sentence because whoever is that ignorant (either claim) is a fool. Second, this is one of many failed attempts Koyama makes to provide the necessary support for her highly inclusive claims.

“Transfeminism views any method of assigning sex to be socially and politically constructed, and advocates a social arrangement where one is free to assign her or his own sex (or non-sex, for that matter).”

I was just confused by this sentence. I understand she was trying to say that any person should have the right to choose. However, it comes off as suggesting a newborn has a say in what happens when she/he is born.

“…trans people are much more vulnerable to attack because they are often more visible than gays. Homophobic terrorists do not look into people’s bedrooms when they go out to hunt gays; they look for gendered cues that do not match the perceived sex of their prey, effectively targeting those who are visibly gender-deviant.”

First, the visibility of trans people vs the visibility of gay people is not measurable. Second, how does she know what “homophobic terrorists” do? I am sure there is plenty of evidence to suggest gay people have been abused, arrested, terrorized, etc. because someone happened to look in their bedroom window or barge into their home (i.e. Bowers v. Hardwick). Third, she is suggesting that all gay people (non-trans folk more broadly) are gender conforming, and thus never the victims of attacks based on gender deviance. I don’t know about everyone else, but I (a non-trans person) was under attack many times in my younger years for not being as gender conforming as my peers would have preferred.

Now, if my take on Koyama’s Manifesto was not your cup-o-tea, I’ve found some other blogs which may interest you. (Note: I neither agree nor disagree with any and/or all of these blogs. I am merely providing further opinions.)

http://transcolumbia.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/the-transfeminist-manifesto/

http://jenrogue.wordpress.com/2009/06/22/strengthening-anarchisms-gender-analysis/

http://writingforstrangers.com/writing/non-fictionopinion/trans-exclusion-and-the-feminist-movement/

– Jocelyn Crizer

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Multiple and Competing Conceptions of Sex/Gender Intersections and Causations

            Within the realm of gender studies, sex and gender are generally understood to be two related but distinct facets of personal identity which contribute both jointly and independently to an individual’s experience in the world.  Expanding to include the larger world, the sex/gender relationship is understood in conflicting ways, and many of these ways imply judgments about how identities are formed and which facets of identity determine an individual’s self expression.  From plain old Biological Essentialism to Emi Koyama’s “Reverse Essentialism” to what I will call Janice Raymond’s “Gender Essentialism,” I’d like to explore the conflicting ways that the interaction of sex and gender gets imagined, while thinking about how these imagined schemas affect the lives of real people. 

            As all who will be reading this blog know already, “biological essentialism” is the theoretical position which takes for granted that biology- in this case sexual anatomy- determines a person’s reality, including their gender identity (and often sexuality as well).  A person who subscribes to biological essentialism would assume that a person’s biological sex would determine her/his gender identity, sexuality, and physical/mental capacities.  This theoretical position is often chosen by those who believe in the naturalness of conventional understandings of gender, and thus within this theoretical perspective a male-bodied person would be assumed to be heterosexual and to have a masculine gender identity. 

            In Emi Koyama’s “Transfeminist Manifesto” she devotes a short segment to what she titles, “Deconstructing the Reverse Essentialism.”  She writes,

“Trans people have often been described as those whose physical sex does not match the gender of their mind or soul. … To say that one has a female mind or soul would mean there are male and female minds that are different from each other in some identifiable way, which in turn may be used to justify discrimination against women.  Essentializing our gender identity can be just as dangerous as resorting to biological essentialism.” (5). 

While it is undeniable that a simple sex/gender separation makes easy work of why some individuals may feel compelled to alter the configuration of their bodies, this cut-and-dried logic essentializes conventional conceptions of masculinity and femininity and roots them in some identifiable terrain other than physical anatomy.  In other words, the heart of what it means to be a man or a woman (which are assumed to be consistent and meaningful categories) resides in an insulated core of gender identity which is acted upon by neither biology nor socialization.  This talk of essentialized understandings of gender remind me of a) Koyama’s discussion of gender clinics’ naturalization of gendered behavioral roles-to the point where would be-MTF trans people would talk about their proclivity for sewing when petitioning for GRS and b) all the news coverage several years ago about the differences between the male and female brains.  Here’s a link to an article from 2008 that I found on a Psychology website on the subject: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-scientific-fundamentalist/200803/male-brain-vs-female-brain-i-why-do-men-try-figure-out-t-0.  Try not to be too offended by the assumptions that all men treat people like robots and all women talk to inanimate objects- these are only the least harmful of the consequences of essentializing gendered personhood.

            Finally, I’d like to return to the way that Janice Raymond, in our assigned reading last week from her Transsexual Empire, conceives of the relationship between sex and gender.  For the purposes of this blog post, I am calling this “Gender Essentialism,” for lack of a better term, although this schema differs importantly from the one that the brain scientists are arguing for and that Koyama critiques.  In her chapter “Sappho by Surgery,” Raymond writes that true women are necessarily “encumbered by the scars of patriarchy that are unique to a woman’s personal and social history.” (133, Transgender Studies Reader).  Later she asserts that there are important differences between men and women which “may spring… from the total history of existing as a woman in a patriarchal society.” (139, Transgender Studies Reader).  Clearly, she intentionally avoids a logic of biological essentialism by claiming that socialization rather than biology determines a person’s true gender identity; however, this is a less-than-significant move once it is added that she believes gendered socialization is based upon an individual’s sexual biology at birth.  Essentially (no pun intended), biology=socialization=gender identity. 

            Each of these understandings essentializes some aspect of the relationship between sex and gender and ultimately restricts the number of sex/gender combinations existing in real life which are granted (arbitrary) legitimacy.  As Koyama elegantly put it, “Transfeminism believes that we all construct our own gender identities based on what feels genuine, comfortable, and sincere to us as we live and relate to others within given social and cultural constraint,” (5).  As the world holds an incredible diversity of people who exhibit every combination of the numerous human sex, gender and sexuality traits, utilizing any theoretical ideology to attempt to understand sex and gender as teleological is an exercise in futility.  I guess we all must learn to live with the frustrating yet refreshing realization that sex and gender do not occur in reality as neat, readily intelligible and predictable categories of being. 

-Roz Rini