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The Hidden Essentialisms in White, Trans, Anti-Radical Feminist Discourse

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This blog exists to challenge white heterosexual male supremacy as an institutionalized ideology and a systematized set of practices which are misogynistic, heterosexist, racist, genocidal, and ecocidal.

essentalism Power Point slide is from here

I want to explicitly state a Trigger Warning, in particular for survivors of patriarchal sexual atrocities. There is not anything very graphic below, but particular manifestations of rape culture are discussed by me as an important factor in understanding male socialisation and privilege.

I have had the feeling, for years, that important stuff ain’t getting named, when I read some arguments white anti-RF pro-trans people make to discredit and distance themselves from those seemingly essentialist white Radical Feminists. What isn’t getting named, are the experiences of most people in the world. What isn’t getting named are hidden forms of ‘essentialism’. I’m not yet hearing anti-essentialist pro-trans activists call this stuff out in trans-friendly spaces, possibly because that would mean decentering whiteness as a norm.

While I made a very small change to some of the content, the whole of what follows has been copied and pasted from the comments section of an A.R.P. post from late 2011:

The comments, however, are brand new as of February 2016.

 enhanta bodlar said…
Julian: it seems like you believe that trans women specifically are subject to male socialization and thus, male privilege–and in the case that they are also white, another level of advantage. However, despite being exposed to a form of male socialization, transgender women do not receive the same social instruction that shapes cisgender males, as they still internalize the example of female behavior that influences female socialization. Trans women’s socialization really is distinct to trans women, and in reality they do not really benefit socially from any element of male socialization they may retain.

 Julian Real said…

Hi enhanta,

TW for discussion that includes violating practices in rape culture.

My response is in a few parts.

Thank you so much for your comment. I’ll do my best to clarify my position. Most trans women I have known grew up with some levels of male socialisation, male privilege, male entitlements, and so forth. Some with a great deal of it. Here’s one example. A white, class-privileged trans woman was raised to be a boy and a man. She excelled in Anglo-white-masculine pursuits, including using firearms, negotiating a world from the vantage point of having wealth, and having a military career. She transitioned in her forties. She got involved with a nontrans lesbian and became controlling and abusive, in ways typical of people socialised to value power and domination as white men practice it. She was possessive. She leaned on her partner for economic survival. (Her family disowned her and she had no poverty survival skills.) This rendered her especially dependent on her partner, who grew up in poverty. She was sexually coercive and insensitive to her partner’s reality as an incest survivor. (Of course some nontrans lesbian women can be batterers and committers of sexual assault: the point is that it is still learned from patriarchal socialisation.)

And, of course, regardless of being trans or not, whatever sex or gender we were or are, we are all raised, systematically, to value maleness, manhood, and masculinity. Some of that maleness and manhood is more despised, due to being raced Black or Brown, being effeminate, and so forth. And some forms of femininity and womanhood are less despised in colonial patriarchies, such as lighter-skinned people of color relative to darker-skinned people of color.

So I would say *we all do*, to varying extents: we are, collectively, subjected to colonial and patriarchal male socialisation, regardless of gender. And, in this view, there’s no way a U.S.-raised trans woman would be exempt from such male socialisation, even if one never identified as a male, or boy, or man. If the issue is whether and how we benefit from it, I’d argue that, too, is very complicated, due to age, region, ethnicity, race, sexuality, generation, class, weight, height, build, tone of skin, abilities, and religion, among other variables.

 Julian Real said…

When you state this, “transgender women do not receive the same social instruction that shapes cisgender males”, do you mean pre-transition or post-transition? And, are you assuming all transgender women are transsexual, or have transitioned in medical or other ways? The current measure of being trans in trans spaces I’m familiar with is how one identifies, not what one has done in an effort to mitigate dysphoria, to whatever (again very varied) extents that has existed in one’s life. Many trans, non-gender conforming, and genderqueer people do not identify as male or female, as masculine or feminine, and so have a different relationship to binary socialisation than do those who find meaning in expressing what they understand to be ‘one end’ of the binary. I find that younger people in queer communities are less ‘observant’ of the gender binary.

I reject the cis and trans linguistic binary because many, if not most, trans people also carry various forms of what is termed ‘cis’ privilege–particularly if one did not suffer greatly from dysphoria and if one is not transsexual. “Trans womanness” is not one thing, does not necessitate having dysphoria, does not mean one didn’t feel like the gender of the child they were assigned at birth. For some, dysphoria comes later, for some ‘dysphoria’ isn’t the compelling experience leading one to ID as trans.

Also, many people are ‘trans’ to gender dominants: whites view Black nontrans women’s cisgender as unstable, for example. Many nontrans people who cannot but help present as gender ambiguous, or as effeminate males, or as butch lesbians, are not viewed as ‘cis’ by nontrans people. We all have our own relationships to the values and victimisations of male socialisation.

You write, “they still internalize the example of female behavior that influences female socialization”.

On what are you basing that? Again, who is the ‘they’? Black women internalising misogynoir? Many nontrans gayboys positively internalise the example of female behavior that influences their own socialisation–this is true of some non-gay boys too. The very elements that are highlighted as ‘female behavior’ may be embraced by a group of Brown gay men while rejected by white lesbians.

 Julian Real said…

***TW for discussion of the violations of rape culture***:

You continue, “Trans women’s socialization really is distinct to trans women, and in reality they do not really benefit socially from any element of male socialization they may retain.”

What is this alleged universal (or ‘essential’) distinction? I’d appreciate it if you could articulate that.

Do class-privileged white trans women not benefit from any element of rich white male socialisation, if that socialisation acculturates someone to be a more successful navigator of white male supremacist society, such as the corporate business world? What are the lessons learned when one’s experience in childhood, when socially regarded as an adolescent boy by other boys, was to not be targeted for sexual ‘interest’ and assault by those boys? Being bullied and being forcibly fingered are two distinct experiences, are they not? How does not being part of the group targeted for sexually violent groping and physical invasion benefit one? Perhaps the answer is: One isn’t sexually assaulted by those boys at age 11 through 13. That’s quite a specific benefit of male socialisation, is it not? What about a father by-passing ‘the boys’ bedroom to rape his daughters down the hall? Are you saying there’s no benefit to that socialisation, for the trans child who the father regards as a boy (even if this child feared being discovered as a nonbinary child)? This trans child likely does not live with the internalised disgust and shame of their body that their sisters may carry, nor the fear of men entering their sleeping space. That child’s shame may be quite different, but we ought not conclude there were no benefits to not being raped from ages three to ten.

To make the arguments you present, we have to essentialise transness, do we not? And cisness as well? And to standardise male and female socialisation out of the real world, such that race and other factors don’t ‘factor in’?

I look forward to your responses and to continuing the conversation.

“An activist and writer at the blog, A Radical Profeminist”.


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