History Theft: How Gay and Lesbian Historians Appropriate Trans History
October 9, 2010
De-transitioned in Death, How the Media Disrespects Transgender People
October 30, 2010

Todays Guest Transadvocate is Dr. Joelle Ruby Ryan. Ryan describes herself as a “transgender, Feminist, Queer, Fat+, Activist, Educator, Writer, Speaker and Firebrand”. She is also the author of Gender Quake: Poems and the co-producer of three autobiographical films.

This weekend, there was a conference at the University of New Hampshire entitled “Pornography as Sexual Violence.”

I was asked by the key organizer to co-present a panel with David Jacobsen at the conference. I titled the session Pornography and LGBT Identities: Documenting Harm, Plotting Resistance. My Power-point presentation was entitled: “From ‘She-Male Sluts’ to Trans-Sister Survivors: Interrogating the Degradation and Sexualization of Transgender Women in the Porn Culture” and I gave it the following abstract:

“For a number of years now, a sub-genre of pornography that depicts transgender women, offensively labeled “she-male”, has been gaining in popularity. Like other forms of pornography, “she-male” porn is filled with degrading, misogynistic and racist images that function to further the oppression of transgender women in everyday life. In this presentation, Joelle Ruby Ryan will utilize words and images from this sub-genre of heterosexual pornography to discuss the backlash against feminism, the economic and cultural war waged against gender-variant people, and the ways in which racism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia in pornography function to preserve the power and privilege of white, presumably-heterosexual, cisgender men. Against the backdrop of this archive of cruelty that celebrates rape, bigotry and abuse, trans-feminism can play a powerful role in fighting for a world which truly values all human beings and that will not stand for the fragmentation and destruction of our sacred sexualities.”

Leading up to the conference, I did a Google search for Lierre Keith. I had seen her the previous summer at the Stop Porn Culture Conference in Boston and knew she was attending this conference at UNH. Most of the hits about her concerned her views on veganism, and she has indeed pissed off a lot of vegans! However, I also discovered several troubling articles about her that linked her to transphobic bigotry:

here, and on a thread here a poster writes:

“This is a bit off-topic, but I just have to say that I find Lierre Keith’s ties to anti-trans politics troubling in the extreme. Keith is a founding and present member of the Radical-Feminist Lesbian Festival, which is ‘unalterably opposed’ to the existence of trans people. In addition to promoting the anti-trans works of Janice Raymond and Sheila Jeffreys, RadLesFes is explicitly opposed to allowing trans people access to trans-related health care.”

When I told the organizer about this, she reached out to Lierre and they had a discussion via email about this. Here are excerpts from that conversation in Lierre’s own words:

“Well, I’ve personally been fighting about this since 1982. I think ‘transphobic’ is a ridiculous word. I have no strange fear of people who claim to be ‘trans.’ I deeply disagree with them, as do most radical feminists.

Try this on. I am a rich person stuck in a poor person’s body. I’ve always enjoyed champagne rather than beer, and always knew I belonged in first class not economy, and it just feels right when people wait on me. My insurance company should give me a million dollars to cure my Economic Dysphoria.

Or how about this. I am really Native American. How do I know? I’ve always felt a special connection to animals, and started building tee pees in the backyard as soon as I was old enough. I insisted on wearing moccasins to school even though the other kids made fun of me and my parents punished me for it. I read everything I could on native people, started going to pow wows and sweat lodges as soon as I was old enough, and I knew that was the real me. And if you bio-Indians don’t accept us trans-Indians, then you are just as genocidal and oppressive as the Europeans.

Gender is no different. It is a class condition created by a brutal arrangement of power. I can’t fathom how mutilating people’s bodies to fit an oppressive power arrangement is frankly anything but a human rights violation. And men insisting that they are women is insulting and absurd.

There is no such thing as ‘woman’ or ‘man’ outside of patriarchal social relations. These are not biological conditions–they are socially created, by violence in the end. If I can’t be a rich person born in a poor person’s body, then I can’t be a woman born in a man’s body. Not unless you are going to argue that man and woman are biological or essential conditions. The whole point of feminism is that they are neither; gender is social to the roots, and those roots are soaked in women’s blood.

So there it is.

I would highly recommend reading the work that radical feminists have produced critiquing the entire culture of queer, including s/m and porn, that gave rise to the phenomenon of ‘trans.’ Sheila Jeffreys’s books _Unpacking Queer Politics_ and _The Lesbian Heresy_ would be a great start.

[The Trans Community is] in fact deeply misogynist and reactionary when it comes to any understanding of male power. Indeed, they often claim it ‘oppresses’ them to even use the words ‘men’ and ‘women.’ Meanwhile, men are raping and brutalizing women on a mass scale. I hate to say this, but it’s porn culture that really created the whole concept of trans. I watched it happen… for your own edification, you might want to read up on Pat Califia, whom I talk about at length, and whose life and writing proves every point radical feminists make about queer politics, pornography, violence against women, sado-masochism, the eroticization of power and breaking boundaries (including the boundaries of children), and trans. All of it is right there” (italics mine).

So there it is? Umm, so there it ISN’T. Lots of hogwash that belongs back in the 1970s. Needless to say, it is quite obvious from this diatribe alone that Lierre Keith is a transphobe. Since she finds the word so ridiculous, perhaps we can call her a trans-hater instead. Would that pass muster, Lierre? And how dare she put my identity in scare quotes; but in the spirit of tit for tat, I will put her identity “radical feminist” in scare quotes, since my version and vision of radical feminists do not hate an entire group of people due to prejudiced and bigoted assumptions and stereotypes. Keith’s rant is not even remotely original, but an old page out of Jan Raymond’s hate-fest The Transsexual Empire (right down to her ludicrous comparison between transgenderism and race-switching) and Sheila Jeffreys’s bullshit, attention-craving prose. Any one who calls a life-saving surgery (Sex Reassignment Surgery) a “mutilation” is, by definition, a rabid, anti-trans hate-monger, and not someone I wish to have anything to do with. And I love how Patrick Califia somehow becomes a stand-in for all trans people, or somehow emblematic. Because it is so fair to stereotype an entire community based on one individual, right?

Despite this, I decided to go forward with the conference. I thought it would be easy enough to avoid Lierre and her ilk. And I had a project that deserved attention. The feminist critiques of pornography have not been inclusive of looking at images of transgender women, just like they have done little to be inclusive of women of color, gay men and others outside white, heterosexual pornography. As is typical with feminism, the needs of white, able-bodied, cisgender, heterosexual women have been elevated above the needs of all others. In addition, the voices of non-white and non-cisgender critics have been glaringly marginalized in feminist anti-pornography discourse. White cis women (lesbians and heterosexual) and white, straight cis men have dominated anti-pornography discourse for far too long, My experiences both this summer and today don’t hold much promise for this changing, as this is a movement which is utterly uninterested in inviting diverse identities into the fold as they are too obsessed with propagating their narrow, outdated “radical feminist” and “lesbian feminist” ideology rather than welcoming in fresh voices. While Bob Jensen asserted that he and the rad fems are against she-male porn, you would not know it from their writings since they ignore the topic.

Early in the conference, I went to the women’s restroom and found this lovely hate screed next to the toilet in a plastic case:
No Such Thing as a Transsexual By Margaret Jamison:

If there are so many males who “just want to change their body,” without regard to gender, then why are they calling themselves “women” after they’ve had themselves chopped up? A mutilated male is a mutilated male. As I’ve said before, if males just want to hack off their penises and shove plastic bags under their pecs, how about they call themselves eunuchs instead of “women,” “transwomen,” and “transsexuals”? How about calling themselves males who wanted to chop off their penises and have it fashioned into a hole?

I get so sick of seeing women defend the “transwomen” they know in real life with reminders that not all “transwomen” want to wear dresses and pantyhose. OK, fine, they don’t want to wear dresses. What does that have to do with the fact that they’re still walking around calling themselves all manner of “woman”?

That is the crazy part. That is what makes them insane. One cannot change sex, and any indulgence of the, yes, insane, notion that they can is anti-female. I don’t give a damn what eunuchs wear or don’t wear. All I care about is whether or not society is actually obliging them in any way by calling them women. They are not women, insofar as ‘woman’ means adult human female, and they never will be.

I took the hate screed down and found another one in its place several hours later. A third copy of this hate speech was found in a bathroom on a lower level. While it is unknown who put the hate flyers there, I will leave you, smart reader, to your own devices to figure it out.

Finding the hate speech flyer was very upsetting. To be honest, I wanted to leave the conference but decided to go through with the session. David and I gave our respective talks and got to the Q&A part. I specifically did not talk about anti-trans feminism during my Power-point talk as I was not interested in “going there.” However, during the Q&A, a person asked about community for David and I as members of the LGBT community who are lodging critiques of pornography. I stated that as a transgender woman, I am caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, there is the queer and trans communities, which for the most part are caught up in the whole “sex-positive” or “sex-radical” tradition that tends to celebrate pornography, BDSM and prostitution, while on the other hand the rad fems have a long history of bigoted views of transsexualism and transgenderism dating back to the 1970s, views that sadly have not been updated in 30 years, apparently! Several more questions were answered until the last question, when Bob Jensen decided to launch into a full frontal attack on me as a transgender person. He just had to “challenge” my description of radical feminists and their views on transgender identity. Apparently, I have been mistaken all these years. Their views are not bigoted, nor are they hateful! They are a righteous political critique of transsexuals and our horrible habit of preserving rigid gender roles! Someone pass the puke bucket.

Thanks to Bob, the panel, and really the whole conference, ended on a completely sour note. Despite my best effort to bite my tongue, Lierre and Bob just had to push their HATE-MONGERING agenda. Lierre and Co. had wandered out for most of David and I’s session. But when I confronted Lierre about her rabid bigotry, she and her pals decided to quickly jet. Unfortunately, Bob decided to stay. For what seemed like the next hour (it was at least half an hour) Bob Jensen berated me about my trans identity, transgender issues, sex reassignment surgery, the invasion of “men” into women’s spaces like the Michigan Womyn’s Hate-Fest and the “failure” of transgenderism as a political project. Over and over again, he said that he was neither a bigot nor hateful. It reminded me of the person who says “I am not a racist” and then goes on to say the most incredibly racist things. Bob, you may not think of yourself as an anti-trans bigot, but I certainly do! Can you imagine the outrage if the identity under attack was Jewish, or Gay, or African American? But when is a hate crime not a hate crime? When it happens to a transgender woman, that’s when!

I won’t bore you with the outpouring of hogwash from Dr. Jensen, but I can assure you it was vile and pathetic. I learned that all drag queens are a bunch of horrific misogynists parodying real women, that sex reassignment surgery is a tragic mutilating procedure, and that the transgender movement that I belong to is an utter “failure.” While gay male and transgender politics and communities where raked over the coals, Bob could not wait to strongly defend all facets of 1970s-style “lesbian feminism” . It was a humiliating and grueling experience—having your identity attacked and told that your politics are reactionary and inherently anti-feminist. And when I complained about the oppression of transgender women, Bob informed me that that was not due to radical feminists, but due to the patriarchy. Umm yeah, kind of like when Audre Lorde called Mary Daly out on her virulent racism and she said racism was because of men and patriarchy—a perfect way to eschew taking responsibility for the very real hate that feminists also are responsible for. And, a convenient way to avoid actually transforming feminism to be inclusive of the lives of trans women and women of color. (And yes, the phrase “false consciousness” was ACTUALLY used! Another word I thought had been left to decompose 20 years ago.) I certainly hope Bob has never had any transgender students; I pity them if they have to put up with his obvious ideological bias and never-ending “fountain of undiluted foolishness.”

During the Q&A after the film screening, Bob told a story about an audience who watched the documentary “The Price of Pleasure.” It was made up mostly of people from the porn industry. Bob mistakenly thought they had had a civil dialogue after the film, and seemed genuinely surprised to find blogs that trashed him and the film in the days and weeks following the screening. I don’t know if he thought our “dialogue” (which was really him using his white, straight, male, cisgender privilege to talk AT us) was either civil or productive; so let me erase all ambiguity: NOT. EPIC FAIL. Sorry, Bob, I am NOT one of your students! I’ve got the same Ph.D. after my name as you, and your hate-filled bullshit did not alter my absolute pride in my transgender identity one iota, nor did it prompt me to think that your ideology, or Jan Raymond’s or Sheila Jeffreys’s, is not 110% WRONG. So thanks for wasting your breath. And though you said you had a “gay past” David and I want you to know that we were queer yesterday, queer today and queer tomorrow; we can’t run headlong into straight male privilege like you so easily can, Bob.

During her history of the anti-pornography movement (much of which consisted of bashing Patrick Califia and feminists who did not toe the line of HER ideology) Lierre Keith stated that there can be no middle ground. And so, the sex wars détente continues unabated. It is precisely this unwillingness to find common ground that means this movement will continue to be dead in the water. And it is precisely this unconcealed hatred of diversity of thought and multiplicity of social identity in this movement that will guarantee its continued failure. With friends like these, who needs enemies? As Dr. Bob goes back to his wife and kid (though he was gay for a “period”), and his religion as a “radical Christian” (so it is possible to be a “radical Christian” but fundamentally impossible to be a transgender woman and a radical feminist. Huh?) , and his work as a tenured professor (although he is not, as he says, an academic; I wonder then what the University of Texas thinks they are paying him for, exactly?) I will also go back to my life: as a transgender individual, as a feminist woman, as a queer person, as a person of size fighting sizeism, as an economically-challenged person, as a first-generation scholar, as a non-tenure track instructor, and as a person who does not use my “radical” politics to shit all over one of the most oppressed, maligned and vulnerable populations in the society.

Reposted with persmission from Transmeditations blog

  • Sick of the “trans agenda” being “constantly rammed down their throats”? You know what you sound like here? A pathetic, ridiculous, rightwing zealot! “I’m tired of having the liberal agenda rammed down my throat!” “I’m tired of having the gay agenda rammed down my throat!” “I’m tired of having the feminist agenda rammed down my throat!” Get over your bullshit, “womononajourney”. The only “agenda” that trans-people have is to be accepted and respected as individuals who deserve the same rights as anyone else. Oh no! What a subversive agenda to “ram down your throat”!

  • Valerie Solanas

    More and more I stand convinced this conflict requires a foray into fire. I remember how in Arizona Jared Lee Loughner was motivated by Sarah Palin’s ‘hit-list’. Thorough anonymous doxing and real time intelligence on geographical movement and routine could enable a motivated freedom fighter to act effectively. While I expect this position to be condemned, I fully see this as a war for survival, as do they, by doxing trans women who have attended their precious music festivals. It fully IS anti-madfem cis lesbian mysogyny, but why not exercise some maabtastic privlgz? This endless appeal for dialogue is pointless.

  • Pingback: That Was the Week That Was (#23) « The Honest Courtesan()

  • Guest

    All porn now is degrading whether its women being degraded, men being degraded, the have porn where  transgenders dominate the male. They have racial humiliation porn where they use ethic slurs..i could go on..it is what it is..it’s porn..i don’t think this is a fight worth fighting

    • The other guest

      In the same light, do you feel that all sex is defacto degrading then? It stands to light that if all depictions of sex and sexuality are degrading simply because of what they show, then you must be deeply ashamed of any sexual act or thought as well. Oh to be so pure! Or, rather, no- it would suck to be that “pure”. Such a sterile world to live in, devoid of the pleasure and gifts of sex. I just don’t buy it. I just don’t buy the neo-fundamentalist assertion that sexuality is “wrong”.

  • I find so many things about this post disturbing I don’t even know where to begin. For one, since Joelle has apparently never been to MichFest, how would Joelle know what right does Joelle have to call it a “hate-fest”? I was there just last summer, and the subject of trans virtually never came up in discussions among the womyn there.

    Why does Joelle assume Lierre put up the Margaret Jamison poster? For all we know, it could have been one of the students at UNH who were/are sick of having the trans agenda constantly rammed down their throats. Because, believe me, at liberal colleges and universities, that’s exactly what happens.

    • Anonymous

      Fest isn’t just one week… it’d be nice if you could have a gander on the discussion boards, the ones that refust to spell trans womon/woman/wimmin/womyn correctly. (I will admit to considering my audience when I consider the spelling, but I’m rather fond of the non-modal spellings.) And with equal treatment to whatever normative construction of cis they’re chewing on this year.

      It’d be nicer still if we could somehow have voluntarily disclosed records of every attendee’s discussions, over phone and e-mail with every other attendee regarding trans issues…

      It’s misogynists (specifically on the trans and sex-worker but plenty of other spectra) networking with other misogynists.

      One of the many functions fest functions is a breeding ground for a network of anti-woman hatred. This is upsetting on many levels.

  • Moufawadpaul

    I really found this post helpful: I tend to accept the “radical feminist” critique of pornography but have been troubled by the transphobia that some/many of these “radical” feminists promote. It’s extremely frustrating because (and you did a good job of explaining this in your “rock and a hard place” colloquialism) I reject the banal and idealist (in the classic sense) “sex-positive feminism” (so many of them end up being libertarians) but, at the same time, do not want to align myself with transphobes. I know that it shouldn’t be that either/or but it’s often made into this bifurcation.

    (As a side point: I completely disagree that “false consciousness” is dated and useless. Not only is it still in use, but it possesses an explanatory depth. In fact, I would say that the person using the slur of “false consciousness” was actually guilty of false consciousness by its actual definition.)

    • Rudy1752

       Studies and statistics do not back up the claims of that sex-hating brand of feminism which apparently (and unfortunately) did not die with Andrea Dworkin.

      But you’re surprised they’re bigots?

      What right wingers aren’t? Just because they call themselves “feminists” doesn’t mean they’re progressive or liberal. These “real women” who are the “real feminists” are like those “real Islamists” in the Taliban.

      The anti-porn crusaders hate freedom and won’t be happy until they control everybody.

      If it weren’t cruel, it would be laughable that they call people “eunuchs.” Jensen is THEIR professional eunuch.

  • Anonymous

    An argument? Who says you deserve an explanation of why we should be allowed to exist? Who are you to question our identity?

  • km

    How about criticizing the actual argument and its premises instead of issuing a blanket charge of “phobia” and “hate speech” without providing any evidence whatsoever? By crying “phobia” without using any argumentation, it’s YOU who are policing thought and behavior. TRY AN ARGUMENT.

    • Anonymous

      Because the post isn’t addressing “the actual argument”. It’s addressing how she was treated and how she felt from the event and the people involved. Additionally, the arguments you speak of can be found on this site and in many other places on the web. Someone that refers to a surgery as mutilation isn’t someone that’s going to respond to a rational argument. It’s on the same level as arguing abortion rights with a pro-lifer. The argument is hardly ever a rational one. How do you argue with someone that puts up images of dead fetuses? You don’t.

      • ok, now THIS would be the time to say “fuck you” to km !  (lol!)
         It’s late, I’ve been up all night reading on this site (that I think is hella cool)
        but when I return if you have not already done so…
        I will tell kn to go fuck herself.

  • Mercedes Allen

    Lierre Keith’s reference to Patrick Califia is spurious at best. Califia is in fact, one of the brilliant minds of our community. I don’t necessarily agree with everything he’s written, but he certainly has a way of rethinking the constructs around misogyny and anti-sex beliefs.

    While I understand your objections to “she-male” and the like, personally, “pornography as sexual violence” is a perspective I have trouble getting on board with. Sex-negative perspectives have fuelled misogyny for centuries, as has anti-feminism fuelled a contingent of the anti-porn / anti-sex culture — and both, likewise, have fed transphobia and transmisogyny.

    And what seems most bizarre to me is that the segment of feminism that resides in the anti-porn sphere was largely sparked by someone who was anything but. DeBeauvoir, in fact, was very much about women taking control of their sexuality and sexual identity, which the lesbian pro-erotica contingent has been able to do far more successfully (deBeauvoir, in fact, has written much that is pro- ethical BDSM, although at the time that was unheard of and she was never “out” as such, or would have even thought to be out as such).

    Of course, what pro-erotic perspectives have not been able to do is to transform all of porn. The porn industry remains largely for men by men, and informed by societal constructions on beauty, which is the real problem. Women being empowered in their lives, proud of their sexuality, and even using their sexuality isn’t the problem. I see parallels of that in trans-related porn as well.

    So there may be some things on which we disagree, and that’s cool, I suppose. But I’m sorry to hear your experiences there were this bad… but also not too surprised.