This a book report on (the first half of) “The Transsexual Empire” by Janice Raymond. My opinion is still that transsexual (male) invasion of all feminist space should be patently ignored, however- I think these feminist Cliff notes might come in handy for those who want a reference as to why. I also think it’s significant that many of the things I’ve been saying, UP has been saying, and FCM has been saying over the last year or so (both of the latter much more than myself), are echoed here in Raymond’s words, despite the fact that none of the three of us read the book before I started it yesterday.
I find it auspicious and indicative of the fact that there is an objective truth inside women that some of us are getting at, and that when women-identified-women search within in response to the patriarchal culture around them, the same truths re-emerge. This should give us a confidence and a comfort. I also want to thank UP and FCM and all the gals who are writing about this issue for bringing it to the forefront of the online dialogue for us all. It is crucial at this point for feminism as a whole. Although I’m not a lesbian (yet), the book is written from that perspective and so I wrote my thoughts from a perspective of solidarity with my lesbian sisters.
Hope you gals enjoy. I admit it is disorganized, but if you’ve been following the dialogue, will pick it right up. Mostly just wanted to share a bunch of these quotes because they beat ass.
Janice Raymond on transsexual politics:
“If the stereotypes themselves are not confronted but are only frowned upon when acted out by persons of the ‘wrong’ sex, then the origins of transsexualism will be individualized and psychologized. What will go unexamined is patriarchy’s norms of masculinity and femininity and how these norms, if allowed to contain persons within such rigid boundaries, may generate such a phenomenon as transsexualism.”
In “The Transsexual Empire,” Raymond comments on the definitive work of her era on transsexualism, by Money (male) and Ehrhardt (female) which reinforced the obscuration of the primacy of females with statements such as “the antithesis of androgen is not estrogen, but nothing,”’ (p. 57) articulating the cognitive basis for the rationalization of post-operative transsexual males as female. The relevant patriarchal belief at play in transsexual theory, is that females are deficient males. Raymond reminds women of the underlying belief (fundamental to transsexual male rationale) of western, perhaps all, patriarchy, given original and most clear voice by Plato (the foundation thinker behind all occidental belief systems) that:
‘“…woman is defective and misbegotten..the production of woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence, such as that of a south wind which is moist.”’ (p.57).
In other words, your definition and value is that you lack a penis. Aside from the obvious implications for the credibility of male culture and logic suggested by the belief on the part of the man that Western patriarchy regards as time’s most brilliant believing that femaleness is a birth defect possibly engendered by humid Southern breezes, it remains that the belief that women are men who lack, for whatever reason, penises, underlies culture/patriarchy. Though at this end-game stage of female subjugation it may be in the majority of individuals a subconscious or inarticulatable belief, it is ubiquitous in the western psyche, and it forms the foundation for the rationale in transsexual male culture.
Raymond on gender socialization:
‘Erik Erikson..polished..an inner-and-outer-space analogy, where the “inner” sexual apparatus of the female and the “outer” sexual apparatus of the male were seen to be the prime determinants of feminine “inner” directed and masculine “outer” directed behavior.’ (p.63)
We are all familiar with this. I personally correlate many elementary school heartaches and experiences to this dynamic of socializing young children, as I’m sure any female reader can. We remember when this normative conditioning slid closed around us and we grew to live with the yearning for freedom that it engendered. This perspective is so pervasive in cultural thought as to be omnipresent. It is probably the basis for the personal belief on the part of some individuals within patriarchy that their very selves, their souls, are a mismatch to their bodies. Patriarchy is so normative as to make people believe that their characters are flawed, instead of the reality- which is that the system of male dominance based gender conditioning is so relentless and so unnatural that it literally puts people, female and male, at odds with our very essence. Undoubtedly, something is amiss in people who desire transsexual operations. But it’s amiss in all of us, and it’s amiss in the world around us. Patriarchy lacks representation of the truth of human yearning and experience, for females. And for males.
The reasons the transsexuals Raymond interviewing for “Empire” included “absolute knowledge” that they were enclosed in the “wrong body,” or simply an occupational preference for traditionally feminine behavior and occupations. Raymond states- “very little of the transsexual literature has highlighted the stereotyping problem as either causally or therapeutically important.” (p.71)
As Undercover Punk has stated;
“Gender and sex are presumed to MATCH, with gender naturally arising from one’s sexual organs. Simple as that! Authenticity is assumed and the assigned gender is socially accepted without question. If someone isn’t feeling or performing her “gender” properly, there is obviously something wrong with HER, not with the traditional concept of “Gender #2.”
The cultural blindness to the base assumption that the feminine gender matches a female genitalia and the masculine gender matches the male gender is at fault for “gender dysphoria,” not the individuals themselves or their parents, or individual experiences. Patriarchal culture denies the detrimental effects of sex-role behavior mandates even when “treating” those effects in people who request “sex reassignment”. To examine the effects for what they are would reveal the ridiculous predeterminist beliefs about female subjugation that underlie and justify all male abuse of women. It is necessary for patriarchy to relegate “gender dysphoria” theorizing to an individualist basis, a recurring patriarchal tactic for isolating problematic results that develop outside the cultural model/mandate. In other words, if the brainwash doesn’t stick, there must be something wrong with you. You know, individually.
“A person experiences role strain only if she or he has a self that is separate from the role.” (p.81)
A person with no gender identification would be incapable of social survival, so a prerequisite for success in life is some sort of sex role conformity (or a full time losing battle against it), We are under sex-role strain more or less constantly, but most people resign themselves to it and subsume their experiences under a role heading, in order to continue having “experiences” instead of problems, failures, or excessive traumas. We unconsciously understand that there is no social or material benefit to sex role deviance. Feminism has pushed and slightly changed the parameters of traditional womanhood for some women, but the role remains, and is mandatory. To break out of and completely redefine it without an examination of male social dominance is not possible.
“For example, I’ve tried to do this by identifying certain DISEMBODIED aspects of “femininity” that I enjoy practicing. Examples include my affinity for bright colors, giggling, and being mindful of other people’s situational comfort levels. I’m not sure that I want to describe femininity itself as a/my “gender,” but it *is* associated with the gender traditionally assigned (#2) to and expected of female bodied people.”
Genitalia is too arbitrary a signifier to dictate desired social behavior from. We are all, female and male, too complex as people to have our affect, behavior and preferences dictated by our sex organs. Extrapolating multiple classes of characteristics and actions from physical qualities is unrealistic. As UP states, we all want pieces of both genders, even men, and even the new era’s Self Defined Gender is still too binary and sex-role identified to really be representative of who people are. Patriarchy’s extreme identification with certain emotional characteristics is what drives people to feel displaced within their very bodies, and addressing the binary issue in terms of clothing and hair and job choices doesn’t do very much to address the emotional sense of self or sense of ostracization from our own selves that binary gender mandates creates.
Note: transsexual surgery is an attempt to cure an advanced level of genderized wounds. Compassion, from a woman, for the plight of men is misplaced pity. However, to be unable to see the extreme level at which patriarchy wounds men into abusers by removing their humanity first is to be unable to understand what is at the heart of male-to-female transsexualism. Many men do not want to behave in the ways society dictates for them. Men are different from women, but not in the ways patriarchy thinks they are, and the masculine gender role is not a natural one. It is not based on the nature of men. The extreme brutal socialization that males go through works all of the time. The grinding self negation, self hate of masculinity with no authority or impending judgment drives the cycle ahead- however, not all men want to be a part of it. Who cares why. In the binary construct, the only other option is to be women.
Note: it’s not that radical feminists don’t understand this. We get it. Terming our struggle against transsexual identification as hate is not accurate. We’re working for women alone, and that’s always unacceptable. Radical feminists are for women, struggling against what threatens us. While we are compassionate people, 45 years of evidence suggests that including male interests in our struggle turns out badly for us, and we are most definitely.. for us. No radical feminist is suggesting that someone doesn’t have the right to do whatever they want to their own body. But quite simply, we reference an already existing line between our experience and the transsexual experience.
Raymond spends a great and valuable amount of time characterizing the tone of early transpolitics. She imparts that the teams of treating doctors, evaluating psychologists and others involved in the early surgery and socialization of male-to-female transsexuals were almost exclusively male. That the men who first attained the sex conversion surgery were qualifying their desire to be female and new personas as such through other men. As young women go through a mandatory feminization before being allowed to live as females in patriarchy, these men also had to pass muster with the fathers. Raymond paints a picture of post operative transsexual “females” as the daughters born of the patriarchs. She quotes Kando as referring to trans “females” as the “Uncle Toms of the sexual revolution,” but in truth they are the Athenas of the new age:
“’Blaming the mother’ also functions to identify transsexuals with men….”
“The syndrome of ‘blaming the mother’ in each of these theories raises some fundamental critical responses. Most is indicative of a fundamental reversal. The biological and psychological theorists blame the mother for both female and male transsexualism. Neither asks who is actually transforming transsexual bodies into the desired sex and instructing them in the rudiments of cultural femininity and masculinity..” (she is writing about early formalized socialization processes for post op transsexuals) “…the irony is that mothers are blamed, yet it is transsexual “father figures” (the fathers of the psychiatric and medical domains) who are performing the operations and coaching into roles. One way of perceiving this reversal is to view such “fathers” as “male mothers” who see themselves redeeming the biological mothers’ defective handiwork, whether that defective process is regarded as biological (failing to give enough of the right hormone or giving too much of the wrong hormone in utero) or as psychological (failing to rear the child correctly).” (p. 74-75)
In a predictably patterned state of affairs, Raymond shows that transsexual operations are seen as a corrective of femaleness, whether perceived to be engendered in the male biologically or socially (since apparently in this case the fathers accept nurture as causal, but don’t you dare try to extrapolate that one- it’s as-needed valid) even though it is the male genitalia that is being removed. Even though the penis is being cut off in a transsexual “sex reassignment,” it is not the masculinity that is being corrected- always, in the patriarchal eye, the femaleness is errant and in need of correction- emotionally or physically. The operation seeks to correct an errant femaleness. (Maybe to create a fuckability for the perceived emotional vulnerability that is present? That part is worth thinking more about, but)
For me the above concept is the most significant aspect of the dynamic, being the reversal-thinking that creates both the problem and the therapy to “fix” it. We know that all life including humans is primarily female, and that maleness is a variation (not errant-that kind of thinking is strictly patriarchal because women know that nature makes no mistakes, but variant). The suffering from gender based conditioning is a result of this thought-reversal and stigmatization of the female.
Raymond on the roots of transsexualism, and more on Blaming The Mother:
“We consider the psychological hypothesis of Henry Guze…Guze thinks that as a rule, boys will psychologically develop in a feminine direction unless a male model is present in some way.”
(p.78) (i.e., the dominant male role model is necessary to prevent the feminization of boys which causes “gender dysphoria”, read=too much Mommy)
In this sense, then, a patriarch allows that masculinity itself is a castration. The transsexual operation seeks to castrate where an emotional castration has failed. Although the emotional castration of masculinization is seen to remove the perceived female aspect of a male, and the physical castration is an alignment with that perceived aspect, we see that some type of castration is necessary for males to feel complete in their culture. I will tie this in to further writing on the necessity of sacrifice, castration, and circumcision to patriarchal male sense of self and reality, but for the time being, the point is supportive of the reality that masculinity is a wounding, abusive construct at its core. On a meta/mythic level, this necessitated bloodletting/castration, whether symbolic/emotional or physical, is an example of the constant dis-identification-with-and-concurrent-emulation of females by patriarchal males.
In a sense, the transsexual identity is a confirmation of the fact that gender has conquered sex, and that gender categories have superceded natural sex, an affirmation, again, of patriarchy’s dominance over nature. Which is obviously the entire purpose and point of patriarchy. Male-to-female transsexuals are simply required to be good examples of the feminine role for other sex-class members. Patriarchy is now confident enough in the sex-class category to allow greater numbers of voluntary admission to males.
Raymond discusses transsexual presence in lesbian-feminist space, first giving us the history of the eunuch role in patriarchal gender dynamics:
“There is a long tradition of eunuchs who were used by rulers, heads of state, and magistrates as keepers of women. Eunuchs were supervisors of the harem in Islam and wardens of women’s apartments in many royal households. In fact, the word eunuch, from the Greek eunouchos, literally means “keeper of the bed.” Eunuchs were men that other more powerful men used to keep their women in place. By fulfilling this role, eunuchs also succeeded in winning the confidence of the ruler and securing important and influential positions…the earliest mentions of eunuchs is in connection with the Minoan civilization of Crete, which was a transitional period fro an earlier gynocentric society. It thus appears that eunuchs, to some extent, always attached themselves to women’s spaces and, most frequently, were used to supervise woemn’s freedom of movement and to harness women’s self-centeredness and self-government. ‘It is stated that entrée into every political circle was possible for eunuchs even if barred to other men.’” (p.105)
“Men, of course, invented the feminine, and in this sense it could be said that all women who conform to this invention are transsexuals, fashioned according to man’s image. Lesbain-feminists exist apart from man’s inventiveness, and the political and personal ideas of lesbian-feminism have constituted a complete rebellion against the man-made invention of women..” (p. 106) (boldness mine, as usual 🙂 )
“What men really envy is women’s biological ability to procreate. Transsexuals illustrate one way in which men do this, by acquiring the artifacts of female biology. Even though they cannot give birth, they aquire the organs that are representative of ths female power. However, it is the transsexually constructed lesbian-feminist who illustrates that much more is at stake that literal womb envy. He shows that female biology, whether exercised in giving birth or simply by virtue of its existence, is representative of female creativity on a profound mythic level.” (p.107)
Finally, Raymond answers, 30 years ahead of her time, the transpolitical character assassination on radical feminist response to intrusion:
“ (transsexuals) would encourage us to set no boundaries by employing the analogy of how boundaries have been used oppressively against lesbians in the past/present. “There are so many painful parallels between how the world has treated strong women and lesbians and how Raymond and others categorize and discount transsexuals,” she quotes a critic, “but the analogy is false. The boundaries that have been used against lesbians are the boundaries of the fathers…(they) would have us believe that all boundaries are oppressive. Yet if feminists cannot agree on the boundaries of what constitutes females, then what can we hope to agree on?” Raymond tells us that transpolitical invasion in feminist space “encourages the leveling of genuine boundaries of self-preservation and self-centering.” (p.110)
Raymond quotes Robin Morgan in Los Angeles, 1973: “If transvestite or transsexual males are oppressed, let them band together and organize against that oppression, instead of leeching off women who have spent entire lives as women in women’s bodies.” (85).
With trans politics, anger at an experience is misplaced on women as per usual, instead of on the dominant patriarchal order where it belongs.