Raymond: A Proponent of Myths

Most of us would probably agree that Janice Raymond is crazy.  To put it pretty bluntly, and not to oversimplify the issue, but it is probably true!  Her radicalism makes her crazy.  Most can often see two sides to every issue – I consider myself a pretty open-minded person, as I can usually understand the dissenting opinion to my own pretty well, even if I don’t agree with it.  I can even understand crazy at times.  There are some points that Raymond tries to argue that I can honestly actually understand where she is getting them from, but for the most part really, anybody who reads this chapter can probably see that her reality is a little off from everybody else’s.  Her radicalism is just so extreme and it is shocking and a little hard to understand how she had such a loud voice and influence in society.  I would argue that it is probably her radicalism that gives her a sort of… charisma.  But besides that, we need to talk about, what I consider, her dysfunctional schema of the way the world is supposed to be run.

After reading her article and thinking about it, I was reminded of a video from a youtuber, Laci Green, that covers pretty elementary ideas concerning gender and society that we discuss in Gender Studies classes that Raymond most certainly would not agree with.  Oftentimes, people share a general similar idea of the way the world works, with details being nitpicked at times and disagreements developing that way.  But for the most part, usually people can agree on general ideas.  I feel that it is these basic and pretty general ideas and beliefs that she does not share that leads to her radicalism.

In her video, Laci talks about “three myths” that she says need to be debunked.  Here is the link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sHBAVjahp8&list=UUJm5yR1KFcysl_0I3x-iReg

Myth #1:  There are two rigid genders.

Her little segment about boundaries exemplifies this idea.  Although later she complains about people posing the question about gender differences, she encourages the idea herself.  She believes that there is a special feminine energy, as she puts it, which I can understand and I believe does exist, but she feels that, “These women also fail to recognize that accepting transsexuals into the feminist community is only another rather unique variation on the age-old theme of women nurturing men, providing them with a safe haven, and finally giving them our best energies” (137).  She seems to think that “feminine” energy only applies to women, and the idea that biologically born males might understand stereotypically “feminine” feelings or energies is lost to her.

Myth #2:  Sex=gender.

Clearly, Janice Raymond supports this myth as she constantly refers to trans women as “male-to-constructed-female transsexuals,” and talks about them in such a way as if it is a farce and a mere attempt to “infiltrate” and “invade” female spaces.  She also refers to numerous trans women with the pronoun of “he” rather than “she.”  Even though she acknowledges the socialization of gender, she seems to reject the idea that it is much more complicated than she seems to imply and does draw bigoted opinions on how one defines gender.  Which brings me to the last myth discussed in the video.

Myth #3:  Others can define YOUR gender.

On the issue of defining gender, she acknowledges the socialization of it, but also rejects the idea that gender is fluid and that one can choose for oneself.  Her idea of gender is the gender that one is raised being called by others.  In discussing intersexed babies, she says that, “Thus those who are altered shortly after birth have the history of being practically born as male or female and those who are altered later in life have their body surgically conformed to their history.  When and if they do undergo surgical change, they do not become the opposite sex after a long history of functioning and being treated differently.”  While she brings up a good point, as the way one is raised is highly important, but her opinion seems to lie in what one is called throughout childhood, not what one calls oneself based on his or her own experiences or feelings.  Sometimes one is raised as one gender but has much more complex experiences and feelings.

These are all basic ideas and values which we probably all share, but not Janice Raymond, and that is what makes her so crazy!  While calling trans women rapists, she overlooks the fact that trans women are not in fact trying to “steal” the feminine energy, but rather are putting themselves in the position of being treated like second-class citizens.  So instead of continuing the marginalization of trans folk, she might want to consider trying to understand another person’s viewpoint, even if it differs from her own.

-Chrissy Goss

Transgender Individuals and Genital Reassignment Surgery: Is the Personal still Political?

“The personal is political.”  This is a well-known slogan used by the Second Wave Feminist movement which served to politicize women’s experience of sexism in their personal or private lives; this politicization of experience- or the re-coloring of incidents with an eye for power dynamics- was meant to show women that their individual encounters with oppression were in fact part of a systematic and institutionalized prejudice. 

 http://faculty.uml.edu/sgallagher/Williams.htm  (great article about personal/political within feminism and also analyzes the Monica Lewinsky scandal (-: )

“To say that ‘the personal is political’ is to say only that private life is implicated in networks of power;” in the case being dealt with during Second Wave Feminism, the most concerning network of power permeating the private space was a gendered network of patriarchal power.  In the specific case of transgender individuals seeking GRS (Genital Reassignment Surgery), personal realities are often determined by underlying dynamics of heteronormative and patriarchal power.

            Another implied meaning of this slogan is a little more aggressive: if “the personal is political,” then every personal action can be interpreted as an enactment (subconscious or intentional) of political convictions, and the personal sphere becomes the setting for political change.  For example, say a heteronormative, feminist woman is told by her husband that she is terrible at driving; she protests, and he responds, “It’s not your fault- all women are bad drivers!”  Her reaction to this, whatever it may be, is political: if she acknowledges that what he says is true, she is acknowledging his power to define her reality; if she confronts him for being sexist, then she is challenging the (patriarchal) power dynamic he is trying to set up.  The idea that “the personal is political” would suggest that the woman’s personal decision about what to do in the described circumstance ought to be determined by her political convictions about how power dynamics should be set up in the world.  Thus, if the woman is a feminist and believes in the equality of men and women, she ought to challenge sexism (rather than accept it or ignore it) when it is encountered.  This interpretation suggests that there is a symbolic political meaning or weight attached to personal actions. 

            I began thinking about this idea of the personal being political while reading Janice Raymond’s “Sappho by Surgery.”  In this article Raymond shows a shocking loyalty to the bizarre and paranoid notion that transexual women (especially those that identify as lesbian-feminists) are secret male agents attempting to infiltrate lesbian-feminist organizations and halt the progression of women’s liberation.  Obviously, Raymond starts inviting problems long before she reaches her strange dystopian conclusion.  What interests me more than unraveling her strange brand of crazy, though, is to explore what on earth makes Raymond so eager to interpret a highly individualized life choice like GRS as an organized male attempt to attack femininity and feminism. 

On page 153 of our reading for this week, Raymond writes that just because MTF transwomen transitioned “does not mean that they are un-men, and that they cannot be used as ‘keepers’ of woman-identified women when the ‘real men,’ the ‘rulers of the patriarchy’ decide that women’s movement should be controlled and contained.”  Raymond’s language and suggestions in this passage betray her ultimate paranoia: not only does she seem to believe that there is some organized collective of “real men” who might “decide” to control things out there, but she suggests that transwomen are the duplicitously oppressive (ultimately male) agents of this organization and that they only seek out lesbian group formations as a way of keeping tabs on feminist activity. 

Obviously, there is a lot of room between the trope “the personal is political” and the way Raymond interprets the choices of individual transwomen to pursue GRS as an organized, political attack on femininity and feminism.  However, the question remains: regarding this choice to change one’s body, is the personal political?  When a person undergoes GRS, is there a larger political significance to her action?  I could truthfully answer this both ways and not at all.  There is so much stigma attached to GRS in Western culture that it seems unbelievable that any individual would undergo it without being incredibly personally compelled, and accounts of transpeople considering suicide after being repeatedly denied surgery evidences this compulsion.  Beyond cultural stigma, individuals seeking GRS often encounter obstacles like medical bureaucracy or flatly unwilling doctors, and they must intensely persevere in order to achieve their goal.  These factors suggest that despite any political implication others might try to impose upon the act, choosing GRS is a fundamentally personal and private action.  But this need not necessarily be true: I think it is important to leave the negotiation of meaning to the person who undertakes the action.  Thus, just as GRS can be personal (and not necessarily political), GRS can be simultaneously personal and also political in the sense of allowing for trans agency and self definition. 

-Roz Rini