Falling through the branches of the Ladybrain Tree

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Gender Queer

By the inimitable Ali Buttkicker Bee!

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Well I can look like a man, behave just like a man
But claim I have no privilege, just because I can
So open up your space for us and don’t be making any fuss
Cos we all should be welcome here,
Can’t you see I’m gender queer?

CH. I’m gender queer dear, I’m gender queer
Though I’ve got a hard on You should have no fear
I’m gender queer dear, I’m gender queer
Look at me cry a little gender queer tear

I might wear a shirt and tie and have a neck beard and a penis
But I’m not a man you bigot, I have no feels of he-ness
Put your trust in gender, gender means no harm
So let us in, there is no spin
And remember to keep calm

CH. I’m gender queer dear, I’m gender queer
Though I’ve got a hard on You should have no fear
I’m gender queer dear, I’m gender queer
Look at me cry a little gender queer tear

All of us know we’re men dear, though some of us say we’re aren’t
We can be whatever we want now, don’t you say that we can’t
Some days I will be a lady, some days I will be a man
If I want I will be a unicorn
Just because I can

CH. I’m gender queer dear, I’m gender queer
Though I’ve got a hard on You should have no fear
I’m gender queer dear, I’m gender queer
Look at me cry a little gender queer tear

We’ll let a few women in and they can be genderqueer too
But not too many cos we want control, of the crazy genderqueer crew
But they’ll buy the madness we sell, and hook line and sinker they’ll fall
They’ll lap it all up like a cat with the cream
And come whenever we call

CH. I’m gender queer dear, I’m gender queer
Though I’ve got a hard on You should have no fear
I’m gender queer dear, I’m gender queer
Look at me cry a little gender queer tear

If this sounds like the same old story, It may be that that’s what it is
But we don’t much care what you think now and who this crap damages
As long as we get our fun dear and things carry on much the same
We keep our privilege, wouldn’t want to change that
So we’ll keep making the rules of the game

CH. I’m gender queer dear, I’m gender queer
Though I’ve got a hard on You should have no fear
I’m gender queer dear, I’m gender queer
Look at me cry a little gender queer tear

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck
Don’t be surprised if it acts like a duck.

Is there a ‘state of emergency’ around trans murders in the US?

Interview With Kathy Mandigo

Mark Cummings and Lynna Lopez interview Kathy Mandigo on Transition Radio.

Watch here.

Loving Women

By Natasha Chart

You remember lesbians, right?

They’re sort of like gay men, but they are female people who are only sexually attracted to other female people. They are discriminated against in every society in the world, and often specifically targeted for rape because of their rejection of men. They tend to be gender nonconforming and are economically punished, not rewarded, for the perception that they’re insufficiently compliant with mainstream female sex roles.

They do not, cannot, constitute an oppressor class on the basis of their sexual orientation. Having a vagina is not an axis of power in patriarchy, because it’s a male supremacy, and for two women to love each other and reject all men is a deep revolt against the compulsory heterosexuality baked into the system.

Are we having a dim flash of recognition? Some stirring of memory? I ask because I’ve really been left wondering a few times recently.

It started when I was forwarded an article Jos Truitt wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review, “Why The New Yorker’s radical feminism and transgenderism piece was one-sided.” In it, Truitt said, “She leaves unquestioned, for example, the position that women are defined and oppressed by men as a class because of pregnancy, an argument that makes no sense for lesbian separatists to make.”

When I finally got around to reading it, I thought there must have been some kind of outcry over that statement when it was published. There was none that I could find. Is it really controversial within feminism that biological reproduction is a central axis of women’s oppression? This is pretty blatantly the case. Oppressing women is the point of reproductive health restrictions, and control over our own fertility is an important feature of the fight for women’s rights.

Men have always been seen, and construed in law, as having a right to control their own reproductive health decisions. Men have always been seen, and construed in law, as having a right to control the reproductive health decisions of the woman or women they’re seen as having authority over or simply whom they’ve had sex with, which is the same thing to a lot of men. Men are granted the ultimate in reproductive and sexual independence, without having to demonstrate the kind of gender-conforming reproductive and sexual responsibility that is expected of women in the conservative view of sex roles from our earliest childhood. Men have always typically been given the best in reproductive rights and sexual healthcare available to their social class, generally at the expense of women and children.

It is in no sense revolutionary, or even very interesting, in a feminist context to talk about expanding reproductive autonomy, without foregrounding that the people who primarily need this expansion of rights are women. The point of fighting for those rights for women is the belief that women should be recognized as the people with rightful authority over our own reproductive capacity and pregnancies, and that male coercion not be allowed to override our desire to be neither forced into childbirth at a given time nor deprived of our right to bear and raise children.

You can map out special cases all day long where this analysis wouldn’t apply. But in almost every common situation, it’s women who are denied reproductive rights, denied economic rights, and denigrated on behalf of the actual or inferred female parenthood, upon which undervalued economic bedrock our society rests.

Environmentalists talk about the unpaid-for natural capital that makes industrial profit possible. Women’s reproductive and care labor is the human version of that “natural” capital and it must not be disappeared. If women in the actual women’s rights movement can’t explicitly say that, then we can’t speak to the motivations of our oppression and will lose our ability to fight it.

Anyone in liberal politics, let alone feminist politics, should also know that a lot of lesbians have children and that being a lesbian doesn’t protect women from being oppressed for any of the reasons other women are oppressed. Being a lesbian is no protection against rape, indeed rape is a common form of anti-lesbian hate crime. It also isn’t as though lesbians, let alone lesbian feminists, are somehow not supposed to know or care what happens to other women, even where it doesn’t necessarily affect them as often.

Truitt seems to presume that political solidarity among women is a non-starter, rather than political solidarity with other women being something where we often fall short along racial and class divisions, but should continue to strive for. If no solidarity among women is possible, if we don’t exist even in possibility as a political class, then feminism means nothing.

We might as well pack up all the women’s legal advocacy, too. If women don’t exist as a materially defined sociopolitical class, one described at least in part by historical patterns of oppression based on biological reproduction, then we can neither be oppressed as a class nor liberated as one. And there goes the theoretical basis for sex discrimination suits in the courts, too.

For instance, why not support the position that discrimination against breastfeeding mothers doesn’t constitute sex-based oppression that poses a major structural obstacle to women’s economic equality? If pregnancy, and all that relates to or follows from it, has nothing in particular to do with men’s oppression of women as enforced by nearly every facet of society, there’s little basis on which to argue otherwise.

In short, I can make neither heads nor tails of a good reason to have publicly wondered what pregnancy has to do with women’s oppression, or lesbians, and have that represented as feminism. Because that sentence of Truitt’s, all by itself, is close to an argument that feminism has no reason to exist.

Although it could simply be ignorance. After all, Truitt also thinks that lesbianism is sexist, and I don’t even know any straight men who are willing to say such things in public.

Then there was this article in Everyday Feminism by Sarah Alcid, “An Answer to ‘Why Is She Dating a Masculine Woman Instead of Just Dating a Guy?’” She started it this way, “Maybe you’ve heard it, been asked it, or wondered about it yourself: Why do queer women and lesbians date masculine-presenting women instead of just dating a cisgender dude?”

I’ve never heard anyone ask something like that outside of a homophobic, conservative religious explanation of homosexuality as an “unnatural” attempt to be the other sex. And this is wrong because it’s perfectly womanly to love other women, and does not necessarily have anything to do with one’s attitude towards men or a distaste for one’s own, female body. The answer, in short, need have nothing to do with men at all. Just like lesbianism.

But also, that opening sentence is the only time the word “lesbian” appeared outside of an acronym in the entire article. I think that people of only average clue-having would usually assume that two women romantically involved were probably lesbians, or maybe that one or both were bisexual, but that they were together because they liked women. And if the women we’re talking about are definitely lesbians, that should be all most people need to be told. Marriage equality is a popular enough policy that I somehow doubt there’s still a lot of confusion about what a lesbian is.

Mystery solved. Why is this so hard to just come out and say, without playing into the homophobic perspective of lesbian relationships as an attempt at being male, that Alcid seems to disapprove of herself?

When people see a heterosexual couple where the woman has a short haircut and gender neutral clothing, do they typically wonder why the man isn’t with another man, instead? Do people usually wonder why a gay man with a feminine-presenting male partner doesn’t just date a woman? I don’t think stereotypically masculine men get asked questions like this much, if ever.

Does an attraction to a local set of 21st Century fashion and behavioral norms constitute an innate sexuality? There is nothing down the line of this inquiry that does not lead into fresh hells of contrarian unreason.

Really, no one involved with that piece thought to themselves that it would be reasonable to include, somewhere in this article by a woman who dates other women, that lesbians don’t date men because they are lesbians and only date women? Alcid suggests that sex and gender shouldn’t be confused with each other, but then goes on to use “masculine” as an adjective in a way that completely confuses the issue even after multiple readings.

How are we helping people understand romantic relationships between women, if an article explaining these can’t get over the awkwardness of conflating women perceived as masculine with men, by suggesting that such women are somehow privileged? (And no, by the way, it does not give women masculine privilege women to opt out of performing mainstream feminine behavior and grooming, as about a million articles on “agency” have thoroughly explored in the context of the decisions of sex role conforming women.) And if this article never once fully acknowledges that some women exclusively love other women, the end?

Because even if we’re just talking about bisexuality, my own attraction to women has nothing to do with men or a fascination with exploring alternate permutations of masculinity. I can’t even relate to such an off-putting description.

My first girlfriend was a somewhat androgynous lesbian, but I can tell you, what I was interested in was her as a woman. My affection for her and view of her fully included recognition of that womanhood. I wasn’t confused. She was magnificent. The only photo of myself from those years where I had a genuine smile on my face was taken with her. I hope she’s well.

I did end up with a man instead of her in that near term, and a gross, abusive man who insisted that he was “a lesbian trapped in a man’s body.” That had a lot to do with both my girlfriend and I being broke teenagers who lived in different towns, had conservative families, and poor access to transportation. And I had not myself escaped the conservative, patriarchal mindset enough to understand how screwed up it all was.

He hit on her, too, which was gross. I didn’t want him near her, for reasons I couldn’t even articulate at the time. Too bad I didn’t think I had any options besides having him near me, either.

It’s previously been my habit to avoid telling people that I’m bisexual when I’m in a relationship. There has too often been the assumption made that I must therefore be polysexual, or at any rate, on the prowl or possibly available. No, poly wasn’t for me. No, I’m not telling you that as a prelude to hitting on you. No, bisexuality isn’t like some sort of atomic valence bonding condition where I must have both types of partner at once or be forever questing. But I’m not straight even though I am married to a man, so there.

I did always want to get married, though. While I know there are valid feminist, and progressive, and even lesbian critiques of marriage as a traditional institution; it wasn’t something that was on offer outside of heterosexual relationships during my formative years. It sounded science fictional. Did this subtly and sometimes not-so-subtly shape my behavior and preferences? Certainly it did, though like any such set of personal decisions, it’s hard to pin down a single cause. It did bluntly shape the options available to me as a young person, one who was still figuring out who I was after growing up surrounded by what I can now see as over-the-top homophobia.

In fact, two years before I was born, the largest LGBT massacre in US history took place. I was still a teenager when Matthew Shepard was left to die on that fencepost. I have read people wonder why the older generation of not-straight people don’t always like the word queer, and this is why. Because children still played a game called “smear the queer” on school playgrounds. Because when you heard about gay people in the media, they were dead. Maybe someone had murdered them, or maybe later because of AIDS.

Then your older relatives would make nasty jokes about how great it would be if more “queers” or “fruits” died, maybe even throwing some wrath of god into the mix. Everyone was happy they were dead and no one even felt like it was wrong to say so. It was terrifying. Every day we should respect the bravery of people who were out then.

Sometimes people say things like, “hearts, not parts.” As a bisexual person for whom that is about as true as it’s ever going to be for anyone, I don’t buy that. It isn’t like I have no perception of difference, myself, but that I potentially find both sexes physically attractive for different reasons. And I have to be realistic that even this is simply not a way most people live their lives or experience attraction. Not even other bisexuals generally choose partners without regard to physicality.

According to Pew, 84 percent of bisexuals have opposite sex partners. What would that ratio be if the entire weight of socioeconomic acceptance weren’t set up to support heterosexual relationships? What would it be if it weren’t simply so much easier to meet and date, as a fact of numeric majority and social acceptance, someone of the opposite sex?

How many bisexual people would end up settling down with a same-sex life partner if those relationships could expect a degree of stability that was similar to heterosexual partnerships? If none of us had grown up knowing how happy it made our families to read news stories about dead gay people? How many bisexual women have been discouraged from even trying to find a suitable female life partner because we did want marriage, or because we did want children, which is often much more expensive without a male partner?

Nor does assisted reproductive technology come with a lesbian discount. The kinds of men I met who’d be interested in “helping” for free were enough to make me feel warmly towards life as a nun. I’m not even Catholic, but still.

We can’t know at this time in our history what patterns of same-sex relationships would emerge without these layered incentives towards heterosexuality. We can only keep working to level the playing field and see what happens. But it hardly seems like a random, wacky coincidence that bisexual people, most of the time, end up in heterosexual relationships like most everyone else. Homophobia is still rampant, life is harder for same-sex couples, everybody can work that math.

We can also know that financial difficulties have long been recognized as injurious to relationship stability even for socially-favored, heterosexual relationships. It should make us more protective of recognition for lesbian relationships, where both partners are disadvantaged by misogyny and homophobia, and perhaps by additional oppressions over race or disability.

And you can’t protect what you won’t even plainly talk about. Feminism can’t fully include lesbian women and the fight for their rights if we can barely bring ourselves to say “lesbian” without hinting, as Alcid seemed to, that a same-sex attraction to women should be considered as if it were probably a phase, or “fluid.” Nor if we are more comfortable with saying “LGBTQIA,” an acronym that of necessity includes many men, than “lesbian.” So if you’re going to use the acronym and you’re part of a movement to liberate women, please be willing to spell that L-word all the way out occasionally.

“Lesbian.” See, it’s easy!

Then most recently, as a sort of last straw, there was Jessica Valenti, writing in The Guardian, “Feminists don’t care if you like hot pink, eat salads or shave your crotch.” I agreed with a lot of the points she made, but one portion of it typifies an attitude that I feel has become common and sadly unremarkable. From the article:

“What kind of feminist am I now?,” Vernon writes. “The shavy-leggy, fashion-fixated, wrinkle-averse, weight-conscious kind of feminist. The kind who, at 43, likes hot pink and men.”

Because the rest of us are all flannel shirt-wearing man-haters with hairy legs? This caricature died years ago, and any hint that was left Beyoncé promptly trounced last year.

Thank goodness, right? Now none of us have to worry that anyone will think there are feminists out there who give no damns about what mainstream male culture finds appealing in women. Phew!

I’d hope most people knew that, in addition to being an obnoxious stereotype of feminists, “flannel shirt-wearing man-haters with hairy legs” is also an obnoxious put-down of gender nonconforming women in general, and women who are considered to have “aged out” of the all-important beauty metric, and especially of lesbians.

Sure, the point of the article is that it shouldn’t matter to your ability to fight for women’s rights if you conform to patriarchal beauty standards. Everyone has to pick their battles and there are a lot of others out there. We get it. But when someone basically taunts you with lesbian stereotypes, replying with the equivalent of shouting really loudly that you ARE NOT A LESBIAN is not a good response.

It’s nothing special to seek conformity with patriarchal conceptions of how women should act just as hard as the next woman. Everywhere we turn we’re being encouraged to do that, or taught how if we’ve somehow missed a step. We’re all drowning in advice about how to please men, suffocating in it, swaddled in it from the cradle in a society that was built from its foundations for the task of breaking women’s wills and stifling our humanity.

It’s not some kind of feminist political act to brag about our “free” enjoyment of the mainstream beauty rituals that signify our compliance. Rituals that can be by turns poisonous, painful, unhealthy, hobbling, tedious, and expensive. Rituals whose results will be viewed as successfully “beautiful” in comparison to standards that center around coded, and often racist, public displays of emotional or mental fragility and submission to male dominance.

We practice the ceremonies of femininity as if they will save us from the hatred of men. We hope against hope that we, too, will not be instantly discarded once we’re no longer regarded as sex objects, and that we can postpone that reckoning a few years longer than the next woman. We’re often rejected as worthless and unfit for public viewing at the very same time in a man’s life when he’s seen as being at the height of his power, the time of his greatest potential to build his accomplishments into a legacy for his family, his community, or simply for himself.

Nor does it invalidate the strides that have been made in expanding mainstream U.S. beauty ideals beyond a narrow set of blonde white women, and the occasional brunette white woman thrown in to liven things up, to say that there is little place in media culture for women who don’t bother with any more in the way of grooming rituals than men do. The studio executives even make Rachel Maddow femme up before turning on the cameras.

All the usual words to describe a woman who shows up to life clean and neatly groomed, wearing clothing that’s comfortable and suited to the activity at hand, have an unfortunate whiff of the male about them. As if it makes a woman manly to simply not bother with the usual painting and pinching. As if it suggests that she is not really a woman and therefore affection for her might have something to do with men.

This means that all the words that easily convey such simplicity of presentation by a woman don’t seem adequate to express loving her as a woman. The not-femme women I dated were not manly, or masculine, or masculine-presenting. Someone might describe them that way but it seems a bit off to me now. I don’t know that “butch” would have really fit any of them either, and they never claimed that when I knew them. They were women. They were delightful to me for that reason.

Is a woman not a woman when she doesn’t “put her face on,” as my mother used to say? And really, it’s one thing to engage in elaborate and obvious beauty rituals because it’s your habit, or because you personally like it, or because you feel you must, and another to see beauty rituals as the true face of any woman. Beauty rituals are a performance, as feminists have discussed for many years, and that performance is rarely something women have originated for ourselves based on what we find appealing in each other and our own lives.
Jessica Valenti even knows this and has said so quite recently, yet the stereotypes creep in unnoticed.

But again, this very specific trope of supposed un-beauty in mind and body is heavily associated with lesbians, as everyone who gives the matter any thought is surely aware. You don’t actually have to call someone a lesbian as if it were an insult in order to make the same point.

And also, if you’re concerned about being an ally to the lesbian community, or being welcoming to girls just waking up to the different ways in which society hates the unfeminine woman; you should definitely refrain from performing thinly veiled victory dances over having distanced feminism from women who are or would read as lesbians. Why is a feminism that delights in successfully rejecting association with lesbians and gender nonconforming women not simply seen as a recapitulation of everything we insist that we’re fighting?

Why must feminism, like every other space in mainstream society, be dominated by a terrible insecurity over being found sexually unattractive to men? It isn’t as if that keeps us safe. We’re feminists, we should know very well that there are no ways a woman can look or behave that will protect her from sexual or other male violence. It isn’t as if lesbians are keeping the straight women down. It sounds ridiculous put that way, and it should sound ridiculous by implication, as well.

There’s a reason that suicide is the leading cause of death worldwide in girls aged 15-19 years-old, and it isn’t the fault of other women or girls. Have too many feminists spent so much time around nominally liberal people, steeped in benevolent sexism, that they have forgotten we live in a society built on thinking of women’s bodies as the rightful, unrapeable property of their husbands, and that this view is still publicly acceptable to many people under the guise of Christianity?

We are seen as things. Things for men. Things whose worth and desirability to men determines everything about our perceived value, even society’s willingness to redress wrongs against us. Regardless of whom we love privately, there is no fighting this state of affairs unless we can publicly love women when no one else will.

Women are not our clothes and makeup and depilatory habits. Genuine love between women, romantic or sisterly, isn’t about men, or imitating men, or looking for an imitation of a man. You can hardly get rid of men for trying, if that’s what you want, one would think they run the place.

No. Just as lesbian relationships are about loving women as women, whether they bother to perform local feminine gender roles or not, so should the women’s movement be about that. Our business, every day, should be loving women. Trusting women, as Dr. Tiller used to say, as well. We must care for each other. This is something we can’t realistically do if we see women who refuse to perform for men as an embarrassment to us.

So stop asking if you can be a feminist if you conform to patriarchal norms or go along to get along, posing the question as if it’s judgmental feminists oppressing you instead of the men who think your only worth revolves around their erections. If we could get ourselves free by encouraging the male sex drive, we’d have gotten there by now. Stop worrying so much about the lipstick you may be expected to wear at work. I’m sure there must be at least one unleaded brand out there. You have to get by, we get it, as Valenti and many others have said.

Think more about the undoubtedly sexist business practices of the institutions that take a cut of your every financial transaction, or any mainstream institutions at all, and what would need to be done to make things better. Because they’re all sexist. Every one. We each support sexist institutions every day out of necessity, and the places where we can fight are so small.

This is a spiritually crushing realization, a psychic burden of such immense weight that it seems tangibly heavy. I won’t hate you if sometimes it actually succeeds in crushing you, because that would make me a terrible hypocrite.

Consider, instead, if one can be a feminist without participating in the project of liberating women as a class, because feminism is a political practice. Then look for a way to participate that works for you. Consider if one can be a feminist while shunning women who reject local racial, ethnic, or mainstream norms of feminine behavior and grooming, who may reject men as partners or arbiters of women’s worth. Whether it’s because you’re afraid of contamination by association, or because you have unresolved feelings of despair over living in a society that you accurately perceive as hating female humanity, or because you feel conflicted about your personal ability to fight every battle … please face that in yourself instead of punishing other women for noticing different aspects of our sexist society that you participate in.

Because all women participate in sexist aspects of our society. It’s all right. It’s not your fault. Dead men set it up like that before you were born. You can’t personally fight every battle. It’s impossible. Make peace with it. That’s what movements are for. Individual women didn’t get into this mess on our own or because of something we personally did. We were born into it. We comply out of duress. We can’t get out alone, and we can’t because there is no “out.” There is no place to go in this world that isn’t patriarchal and sexist. The only out is to build another world together.

Feminism that regularly tolerates or expresses this much casual hostility towards lesbians and same-sex female relationships isn’t just walking the well-worn paths of homophobia, of lesbophobia if you want to be precise, though it is doing that. It’s failing to love women in even a sisterly fashion, failing to provide a cushion for the extremities of hatred towards us. A feminism that can’t love women, or the women who love them, or celebrate female bodies for the particular ways in which they differ from male bodies, is pretty pointless. It can create no sense of community within which we can stand together and gradually increase the space in which it is acceptable to be a woman who does not serve men.

Online feminism is long on jokes about misandry and male tears, but for all that they’re not usually funny jokes. They become a farce teetering into tragedy in a movement whose mainstream seems increasingly isolated from unapologetically woman-loving, woman-centered perspectives.

Just love women. Even if you don’t like them very much. You can’t get feminism right if you leave that part out.

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Ruth Barrett, 40th National Women’s Festival

Ruth Barrett gave the Keynote Speech at the 40th National Women’s Music Festival in Madison, Wisconsin on July 4, 2015.

OUR HOLY BOOK HAS ALWAYS BEEN OUR FEMALE FLESH AND BLOOD

Embodied Feminist Spirituality, Gender-ism, and Women’s Mysteries

(Below are some excerpts from this wise and eloquent speech.)

“We recognize that our daily human experience is filtered through and informed by our female bodies, our specific female physiology, and how our attitudes about the female body are affected by gender socialization.”

“In ancient times, women’s exclusive gatherings were recognized as being vital for the good of the greater community. We continue today to gather to hear our shared stories of survival, of courage, and to celebrate our lives.”

“Had I been raised by Scythian Amazons in a matrifocal culture, I would have been raised thinking that becoming a woman meant to know how to be a capable warrior, hunter, and horsewoman, a weaver of cloth, a gatherer of herbs, a strong, brave nurturer and protector of the young.”

“Speaking as a Witch, the ability to name something or someone is the power to define its very nature. To know, name, and speak the true name of something is to possess the spiritual ‘handle’ with which the speaker can control or influence that thing.”

“….must we also continue to oppress ourselves by perpetuating unexamined misogyny and deny our differences that may actually be sacred gifts? Different but equal is not possible in the dominant patriarchal culture we live in.”

“If you are not living inside your body, where are you living? And who has taken up residence inside you in your absence? Whose stories do you believe? And whose agenda does that serve?”

“…we must learn how to discern the boundaries between ourselves and the toxic environments we live in, how to wisely filter extraneous debris from essence, pan for gold in the swift currents of a river.”

“Remember that, ‘magick requires a great amount of practice and very little effort.'”

“Listen to what is sounding here and now, feel and see all that is actually happening in this moment, in addition to what you’ve planned.”

The transcript of this speech may be read in its entirety at Gender Identity Watch.

Isis, Astarte – Kate West

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My Disservice to My Transgender Patients

By Kathy Mandigo

image  I am packing up my stuff to move, and I came across a folder of work-related papers. One item was a card I had forgotten I had, but as soon as I opened it, I remembered it and the sender. It was a card of thanks from a transgendered patient, a lesbian who transitioned to a man, expressing appreciation for my help in her* journey to become the man she felt she was.

*(While I used to accede to my patients’ chosen pronouns, I now use the biologically appropriate one.)

I saw this patient at a youth clinic (patients under 26), and she was usually accompanied by her girlfriend. She had been seen and assessed and started on treatment at the Gender Dysphoria Clinic that ran at the time in a local hospital. I initiated nothing, merely administered the testosterone injections they prescribed.

I watched my patient change: she gained weight and muscle, developed a lower voice, sprouted facial hair, and described increasing sex drive and aggressiveness. I remember feeling comfortable that this patient seemed very grounded and confident, and I did not feel manipulated in our interactions, which helped me feel comfortable to administer the injections.

I saw this patient in the mid or late 1990’s, I don’t exactly remember, and as I recall, she was the first transgendered patient I had seen. I was less than ten years into medical practice and hadn’t been taught anything about transgenderism in medical school. I was young and naive and trusted science. There was no science about transgenderism. What was I to do?

With the growing criticism of medicine and physicians as paternalistic, we were encouraged to listen better to our patients, to their expressed realities. Although we did not take the Hippocratic oath in our medical school, we did still attend to the tenet of first do no harm, but I had no idea how to weigh the risks and benefits of attempts at gender transition. I didn’t have a personal opinion then about transgenderism, and professionally I felt an obligation to try to meet my patients where they were, rather than where I was. I wasn’t willing to diagnose transgenderism, but if the team of proclaimed professionals at the Gender Dysphoria Clinic had made such an assessment, I was willing to be the family doctor who provided follow-up.

A few years later, a pilot project clinic was opened within one of the community health centres in our city, a clinic specifically for queer patients. We staffed our clinic with as many queer providers as we could find. We expected a flood of queer patients alienated from the traditional medical system; those whom we actually saw were mostly alienated transgender patients, who either had not been accepted for gender transition by the Gender Dysphoria Clinic (often for psychological reasons) or were unable to tolerate the long assessment process of the Gender Dysphoria Clinic (again, often for psychological reasons).

As I recall, all of these patients were men wanting to transition to being women, and, as I recall, all of them struck me as psychologically unwell, as manifested in their behaviours. I remember thinking that there was an atmosphere of coercion among the staff in which it was uncool to question the validity of the patients’ desires and expressed gender identity. Any psychological disturbance was often attributed to the patient’s suffering of living their life in the “wrong” gender.

I remember often feeling that these patients tried to intimidate me into giving them what they wanted, that they often assumed outraged insult if I asked questions (how dare I enquire, presumably doubting them), that if I did not give them what they wanted they exploded into enraged diatribes and stormed off. I felt very uncomfortable with them and it was challenging to try to do my job and not react to their anger.

The pilot project did not last long, as there were few patients, other than this handful of disaffected transgendered patients. It may have been that, because the clinic operated on Monday afternoons, more well-adjusted patients were likely working and unable to access the clinic. It may have been that most queer patients by that time felt comfortable accessing the health care they wanted. Those questions were never asked to sort out whether it was lack of accessibility or lack of need.

Over the next years, I did not see many transgendered patients, until recently, and with most of them disproportionately appearing among the demographic of mentally ill and addicted in our city.

One patient came to my private office, a lesbian who was transitioning to a male, under the care of a gender specialist of some sort. (The Gender Dysphoria Clinic had ended, I wasn’t clear why. I believe this was effected under the guise of rhetoric that all doctors ought to provide this care rather than it being relegated to a specialty clinic, but I expect there were other politics at play. Disturbingly, what has been opened is a transgender clinic within the provincial children’s hospital.)

She came to my office telling me that she had heard I was a great doctor and that I specialized in transgender issues.

I immediately felt I was being manipulated with a big buttering-up job, and I said this was not true, I was neither a great doctor nor a transgender specialist. My guard was up. I expected this patient read me as a dyke, though I never disclosed, and over subsequent visits, this patient continued to try to be my pal, with an overly-friendly us-two-dykes demeanour, like we were butchly comrades, as though she was forgetting that she believed she was a he.

Over time, I discovered the patient had been withholding unflattering information from me that would have sped up diagnoses of her other issues. I increasingly felt she was attempting to manipulate me with her excessively friendly behaviour, and then pressure me with her sense of what my obligations were (e.g. that I should provide a letter of support for her to have the gender on her birth certificate changed, when in fact this was her specialist’s responsibility, as the diagnosing physician, a responsibility that he had fulfilled, despite the patient’s claims and demands to me).

I tried to be professional, to mind the boundaries (e.g. not provide personal information, not collude in the play of friendship), and I administered the testosterone injections her specialist had prescribed, until the patient’s girlfriend felt comfortable to take over. I held this ground, and eventually the patient tired of me, undoubtedly disappointed and disparaging, and left my practice.

Another patient I saw in my other, public health work, was a man transitioning to a female. What I was told by a nurse of the patient’s story, of what clinics he had attended and who his doctors were, was all over the map, which made me suspicious about what the “facts” were and that I had to verify anything he said.

When I saw him, he began by being all girl-friend-y with me, like we were two girls together in this crazy world, behaviour I assumed he had seen and adopted as how women get what they want (had he ever read me wrong! he was mimicking behaviour without having the years of lived experience by which a women learns, if so inclined, when to use that tactic).

As I asked questions about his health background, he became uncomfortable that my questions were revealing inconsistencies in his story (suggesting to me psychological problems), and he got angry and leaned forward into my personal space and flashed me that “you fucking cunt” look.

All women know that look. This was the same look I remembered getting from the patients I saw at the pilot project clinic, but I didn’t know then what to call it, what it was. Now, after so many more years of life experience, I knew exactly what it was: it is a look that men give women to dismiss and devalue and intimidate; it is not a look that women give women (they dismiss and devalue and intimidate in other ways, often by being passive-aggressively haughty).

I was better able, after the years in practice, to hold my ground, and I calmly told him that his angry tone and demeanour were making me uncomfortable and he had to calm down or the visit would be over. He denied being angry, but continued to have the angry tone of voice and body language that goes with that look, part of the package of male power tactics.

I stood my ground and repeated that he was making me uncomfortable. Eventually he settled, I gave him the (non-gender-related) prescription he had come for, and we terminated the visit. I saw him a second time some weeks later, and he did not flare into anger. Whether he was having a better day or had learned to camouflage and control himself better, I do not know.

These experiences, of seeing more men wanting to transition than women, of seeing almost all of the transitioning patients behave in stereotypical gendered ways (their biological gender behaviours flashing through their assumed gendered behaviours) and out of these behaviours try to manipulate me (rather than being able to discuss the situation openly and honestly), seeing more of these transitioning men settling among the mentally unwell in the most disenfranchised neighbourhood, and especially seeing the transgender men continue to exhibit male aggressive behaviours, has convinced me that most, if not all, transgender patients are not in the wrong body but have mental health problems, problems they believe can be fixed if they get in the right body.

At the beginning of my years of practice, with my youth and inexperience, I thought I had an obligation to follow the patient. Now I believe that I failed these patients, and that I have a superseding obligation to tell the truth to my patients. I regret every testosterone injection I gave, every estrogen prescription I refilled, and every time I colluded with my patients in their gender delusion. I regret not speaking up to my colleagues and to my patients, instead giving in to the coercion I felt to go along rather than dare to question. I regret not having had the courage to ask questions to get to the story beneath the gender dysphoria story, to find out why my patients had ever been made to feel there was anything wrong with them in the first place. I want to tell the women that we need them as women, and especially as lesbians; I want to tell the men that no amount of medicalization will make them women. Women may have an easier time of masquerading as men, but as long as every man has within him the “you fucking cunt” look, no man can ever masquerade as a women.

That first patient’s composure stands out from my subsequent experiences with transgender patients. Surely it helped her navigate the Gender Dysphoria Clinic. Was she truly of a different nature, or had she, with her relative youth, not accumulated distorting grievances? After finding that card, I tried to look her up. I wanted to ask if she was still grateful for transitioning, if she was still as happy to be living her life as the man she believed she was, if she still believed she was a man. I could not find her, at least not under his name.

~~~~~

Kathy Mandigo is a general physician in Vancouver who has been in medicine for over thirty years. She has a Masters degree in Epidemiology, and has worked in public health and private practice, at the Canadian HIV Network and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, and Health Canada.

Gender Hurts, Thistle Petterson

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Beloved Women, Beloved Earth

When I look around now, in 2015, I do not see the changes I had hoped to see for women in this world or Mother Earth. Our Mother Earth, and all living beings who rely on her, are at risk of extinction.  Men search for other planets – as if  moving there would solve the destruction men are inflicting. Men and their sadomasochism never end.

In Patriarchy,  women are only seen as a resource, a material to exploit. Brave New World and 1984 are upon us. Women scurry about uncertain, but women know: we feel it, we see it, we smell it, we touch it, in our children’s behavior. Women know intuitively that our children’s increasing rates of ADHD, gender dysphoria, autism, porn culture and prostitution; mental illness, violence, and unemployment are all connected. Corporations engineer our food, growing it with pesticides, growing it in nice engineered rows so the chemicals that make it grow can be easily applied.

In Canada and elsewhere colonized Indigenous communities are under siege for their homelands, again. Indigenous ways of life have sustained their cultures for thousands of years. Their cultures are  threatened when their lands are corrupted, maimed, damaged, and forever altered by civilization’s “henchmen-corporations.” This destroys the rights of a land-based culture to survive. The greed of civilization, capitalism and unchecked growth is unceasing and pathological at this point.

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Chipko Movement

Recorded human history is traditionally seen as a record of humans exceeding Nature’s limitations. Growing numbers of us ask: What about learning to live within our human and ecological limits? I know it sounds simple, but this is actually quite controversial.

In 1969 Rachel Carson [1] stood up to the pesticide industries and started the modern day environmental movement. A courageous women, a scientist, and a lesbian; Carson suggested this culture is insane for using chemicals that would inevitably end up in our food supply, water, wildlife, and our bodies. For unveiling this simple truth Carson was vilified, threatened, and harassed. But time would prove that her research, determination, and courage were right – she woke a whole generation to the hazards of using   technology to control nature. Man-made technological and chemical solutions to man-made problems, such as population and distribution of wealth, make matters worse.

Carson’s research, books, and voice were considered “radical.” Her perspective and call to awareness was fueled by the same energy, passion and resignation that drove Mary Daly to distill, ruminate, write, and reveal her understanding of radical feminism. [2] They were both lesbians in a patriarchical world and women in a decidedly patriarchical institution; academia.

Early radical feminist [3] and radical ecological feminist theory critiqued the human arrogance visible in attempts to master and control nature [4] and advanced various strains of environmental schools of thought: conservation, preservation, animals rights, vegan, vegetarian movements and critiques of capitalism and civilization all emerged out of Carson’s work.

Canadian naturalist John Livingston was my introduction to the vocabulary of anti-capitalism and anti-civilization. Livingston’s [5] critique of the anthropocentric and humanistic mindset driving human relationships with nature was grounded in his observations as a naturalist. Livingston was also a broadcaster, testified at The MacKenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, lectured, supervised, graduate students and wrote a number of books that contributed a valuable Canadian critique of capitalism and civilization.

Livingston argued: “Civilization cripples the mind and cripples the heart by offering a humanistic ideology in place of our evolved naturalness or wildness.” [6]

Or as I came to understand, using “ideas” or “ideology” to connect with our true human nature is not an effective strategy for protecting and preserving life. Those ideologies or ideas were after all simply a form of “prosthetic,” filling in for a lost sensibility that resulted from our alienation from nature.

Livingston believed a natural cooperative instinct was at the root of animal and human behaviour. Humans needed to spend more time being in and with nature, rather than dominating her. He argued that our Judeo-Christian belief systems had humans brainwashed into believing we could somehow rise above our nature.

A key theme was the idea that humans are “domesticated.” Our domestication leads us to a reliance on culture and ideology. Ideology is a straitjacket when changes in human behavior are required. For Livingston, cultural ideologies do far more harm to the Earth than human nature and unless we learn to take the “lens” or glasses off, and de-program ourselves, humans are destined to never understand or accept our dependence on Mother Earth.

Without an understanding of and a connection to nature, humans can expect profound distress and malaise to spread steadily and rapidly – a form of psychosis. Kinda like what is happening today. A cloud of psychosis has seemingly taken over human brains, eyes, and ears, and has us submerged in a sea of shock, irrationality, disbelief, and inaction.

Livingston was convinced that when the lens of ideology was removed we could start to understand, shape an ideology that would stop making our species sick – separate from our true human nature.

“All domesticated animals have this piece missing; all of us are prosthetic beings. The animals depend utterly on us. We depend utterly on ideology. My dogs depend on me and whatever I offer them. I depend on what ideological crutch my culture offers me? Ideology is my master.” [7]

Livingston explains further:

“No one in his right mind denies natural selection. But the fuel of it does not need to be competition. He could have used some other principle. However, he didn’t. And here we are with competition and territoriality and said dominance and all the rest of the rubbish we’re fed by mechanistic biology and the Sunday supplements.  Social dominance in gorillas and whales and wolves and elephants? Come on. I have often wondered how Darwin’s argument would have looked had he invoked cooperation, or compliance.   Even more persuasive I would think.” [8]

What if, Livingston asked, we choose the principle of cooperation instead of competition to view humanity’s relationship to nature?

When I left school I left with the question: Would a “paradigm shift” [9] stop the environmental degradation that humans, patriarchal culture, civilization, and unquestioned growth were inflicting on the Earth? Would replacing the principle of competition with cooperation prevent Earth’s and all living beings’ death? Should civilization be dismantled before every living thing is eradicated?

I have recently come to terms with the idea that a new story will not do the trick. We have had fifty years to act, and there has been only more of the same. The only option left now is: Resistance.

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Deep Ecology was coined in 1973 by Arne Naess, a Norwegian who came up  with the concept to address the state of environmental thought and action he was seeing. When naturalists and philosophers looked out at the reality of the 70s and the actions that were taken to address environmental contamination of ecological systems, these remedies usually involved a mechanistic fix. And yet nature, Earth, is not a machine. Human arrogance and shallow thinking around environmental quick and dirty fixes resulted in the emergent blueprint offered by Deep Ecology.

As Naess was struck at how shallow the approaches to the environmental crisis were, he recommended that what humans needed were deep inquiries around humanity’s relationship to nature. Naess saw no hope in the dominant environmentalism’s ability to prevent the collapse of civilization and the death of all living beings. Humanity’s hope lay in implementing Deep Ecology.

The Deep Ecology Platform  [10]

1. The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: inherent worth, intrinsic value, inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.

2. Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.

3. Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.

4. Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.

5. The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.

6. Policies must therefore be changed. The changes in policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.

7. The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent worth) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.

8. Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to participate in the attempt to implement the necessary changes.

Explicit in Deep Ecology is an understanding of the need for a radical paradigm shift in human ideology. Rather than humans seeing themselves as overlord dominators, men would have to put their sadomasochist tendencies aside and adopt a relationship with nature based on intrinsic value, not utilitarianism. There would need to be multi-level interventions to effect change. This shift in attitude would have to be legislated at local, national, and global levels to be successful – to stop the destruction of our Mother Earth.

Deep Ecology put cooperation as the central principle. Ecology is a the science of healthy ecosystems: how all the members of a biotic community work together. Once humans accepted the intimate inter-connectedness and intrinsic value of every living being, we would be part of that biotic community once more.

Climate change, in 2015, is our biggest universal indicator that our Earth is exceeding her limits to growth.   For conscious humans, the signs of our inability to change our path, to shift our operating principle from competition to cooperation has never been so fully obvious – men and their greed.  Profit and power are a seductive addiction and destructive of living communities.

After 25 years of looking for a new story, a new narrative that could address some of the hopes I had for future generations, I found it! But it is not a story – we are long past a story change being of any value. Resistance is our only option.

Deep Green Resistance [11]

1.    Deep Green Resistance recognizes that this culture is insane.
2.    Deep Green Resistance embraces the necessity of political struggle.
3.    Deep Green Resistance must be multilevel.
4.    Deep Green Resistance requires repair of the planet.
5.    Deep Green Resistance means repair of human culture.
6.    Deep Green Resistance recognizes the necessity of militant action.

All significant changes in human organization have entailed direct confrontations with power: the American Revolution, French Revolution, Irish Independence Movement, Suffrage Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, Front Liberation du Quebec, the Anti-Vietnam War Movement, Cruise Missile protests, Claquot Sound, Meares Island……

Humans make change to ideological straitjackets because we possess an inbuilt character trait called a “moral imperative.” [12] A moral imperative is like a chemical reaction. Humans are hard-wired to defend ourselves or our Beloved, just like a mother will defend at any cost her child.

This compulsion to act, this moral imperative, is an instinct and a powerful one.  This impulse to defend our Beloved is hard-wired into being human.

Question:   What do you get when you blend the theory and actions of American marine biologist, conservationist and lesbian Dr. Rachel Carson with the ideas of American radical feminist philosopher, theologian, and lesbian Dr. Mary Daly; and the cultural and historical perspectives of nature found in the work of Canadian naturalist, broadcaster, writer and teacher John Livingston?

Answer:   A 21st century Radical Feminist Resistance movement with a clarion call to Rise, Act, and Defend our Beloved Earth:  because to defend our Beloved is human and it is in our nature to do so.

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Trish Oliver is a lesbian radical feminist, deep ecologist and Sculptor. Trish is a founding member of Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF), a Teacher, has practiced the martial art of Aikido for twenty years, and is a member of Deep Green Resistance. Trish graduated from York University in Toronto in 1989. John Livingston was her Masters supervisor and “thinking” mentor, and his “radical” ideas changed her life path.

ENDNOTES

  1. Carson, Rachel. (1962) Silent Spring
  2. Daly, Mary. (2015) https://philosophynow.org/issues/3 “There are several definitions but I’ll give you the core of it. First of all the word ‘radical’ means ‘going to the roots’. It is derived from the Latin radix, meaning root. Radical Feminism goes to the root of oppression and the way out. And I define it as ‘way of being characterised by (a) an Awesome and Ecstatic sense of Otherness from patriarchal norms and values (b) conscious awareness of the sadosociety’s sanctions against Radical Feminists (c) moral outrage on behalf of women as women (d) commitment to the cause of women that persists, even against the current, when feminism is no longer ‘popular;’ in other words, constancy.”
  3. Daly, Mary. (2015)  https://philosophynow.org/issues/3 “The definition as I wrote it is still the one I would maintain, but in the current crisis of life on earth and the danger to all animals, plants, rocks, minerals, as well as women from the phallocrats who are destroying the planet, I now say ‘radical ecological feminism.’ There is a desperate commitment in my writing to ecology and feminism.” https://philosophynow.org/issues/3
  4. Evernden, Neil., (1992), The Social Construction of Nature.
  5. Livingston, John. (1973), One Cosmic Instant (1981), The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation (1988), 8 Lectures on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8Y7PZ_DVes (1992), Rogue Primate: An Exploration of Human Domestication
  6. Jensen, Derrick., (1995), Listening to the Land, Interview with John Livingston
  7. Jensen, Derrick., (1995), Listening to the Land, Interview with John Livingston
  8. Jensen, Derrick), (1995), Listening to the Land, Interview with John Livingston.
  9. Kuhn, Thomas., (1962), The Structure of Scientific Revolution.
  10. Naess, Arne and George Sessions.,(1984) The Deep Ecology Platform http://www.deepecology.org/platform.htm
  11. Keith, Lierre, McBay, Aric and Derrick Jensen., (2011). Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet
  12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_imperative

REFERENCES

Carson, Rachel. (1962) Silent Spring

Daly, Mary (1990)

Gyn/Ecology Aug/Sept  (2015) https://philosophynow.org/issues/33/Mary_Daly

Evernden, Neil. (1983) The Natural Alien (1992) The Social Construction of Nature

Fertile Ground Institute (2014) Earth at Risk 2014 Social Justice and Sustainability

Firestone, Shulamith. (1970) The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution

Hedges, Chris. (2010) Death of the Liberal Class

Jensen, Derrick. (1995) Listening to the Land, (2000) Language Older than Words, (2002) Culture of Make Believe, (2006) Endgame 1 & 2, (2008) What We Leave Behind

Jensen, Derrick & L. Keith. (2013) Earth at Risk : Building a Resistance Movement to Save the Planet

Keith, Lierre. (2009)  The Vegetarian Myth

Keith, L., McBay, A. &   Derrick Jensen. (2011) Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet

Kuhn, Thomas. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolution

Livingston, John. (1973) One Cosmic Instant: A Natural History of human Arrogance, (1981) The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation (1995) Rogue Primate:  An Exploration of Human Domestication, (1988)  YouTube. John Livingston Lectures on Cultural and Historical Perspectives of Nature.

The Wyrd Sisters: Farewell to Clayoquot Sound

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Pornography and Humiliation

By Rebecca Whisnant

On the cover of a porn DVD, a young white woman clad only in skimpy underpants kneels and smiles coyly over her shoulder at the camera. Her name is Jamie, we’re told. In her hand is a glass containing a milky substance. The tagline reads “Watch hot sluts drink spooge out of their asses!” The copy on the back cover gleefully clarifies the mechanics: “Nut in her butt and watch her push it out and swallow!” The film is entitled “Anal Cumsumption #4.”

What has happened to this woman, to Jamie? Many things, no doubt, but prominent among them is that she has been humiliated. But what does that mean?

In ordinary conversation, the concept is often used interchangeably with that of embarrassment. “I was so humiliated,” one says, “when my child had a tantrum at the grocery store,” or “when I realized I’d had spinach in my teeth during my presentation.” The notion of unwelcome public exposure is central to both concepts.

The distinctive core of the concept of humiliation, however, is captured in its dictionary definition. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to humiliate is “to make low or humble in position, condition, or feeling.” The term’s etymological root is the Latin humilis, meaning low. Merriam Webster echoes this emphasis: “to reduce to a lower position in one’s own eyes or others’ eyes: mortify.” Jamie has indeed been made low—in others’ eyes, at least, and very likely in her own. This in turn illuminates the OED’s second definition for humiliate: “to lower or depress the dignity or self-respect of.”

This latter theme looms large in philosophical discussions. As Daniel Statman observes, “Humiliation is seen as first and foremost an injury to the dignity of its victims, an injury usually described in figurative language: in humiliation, one ‘is stripped of one’s dignity’, one is ‘robbed of’ dignity, or simply ‘loses’ it.” Avishai Margalit, who makes non-humiliation the centerpiece of his concept of a “decent society,” defines humiliation as “any sort of behavior or condition that constitutes a sound reason for a person to consider his or her self-respect injured.”

That much will have to do for now, definition-wise. You’ll also have to take my word that the “Anal Cumsumption” example is not an outlier—that in fact, the humiliation of women is a virtual constant in contemporary mainstream pornography. Here a woman crawls on hands and knees; there a penis is shoved in her mouth sideways, distending the face, so that she looks ridiculous; and everywhere, she intones “I’m such a filthy little whore.” Over 40% of the best-selling porn titles analyzed in a recent study contained “ass to mouth” scenes, in which a man removes his penis from a woman’s anus and puts it directly, without cleaning, into her mouth or the mouth of another woman. A more total humiliation is difficult to conceive.

So what? Why does this matter? It matters, first of all, for the women who perform in pornography. What is the impact of humiliating performance on those from whom such performance is extracted?

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When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in 2004, many noted that, while some of the Iraqi prisoners were physically harmed, the horror of the abuse lay at least equally in their humiliation. Men were made to crawl on the floor wearing leashes, to wear panties on their heads, to masturbate for the camera, to have other men urinate in their mouths, to climb naked onto a pyramid, all so that pictures could be taken and passed around and crowed over.​

Many survivors of torture, in fact, report that the worst element was not the pain but the humiliation. Pain ends, but one remains haunted by the image of oneself exposed, soiled, splayed, begging, in abject passivity and shame. Indeed, David Luban points out that humiliation is central to the evil of pain itself—in general, and especially when the pain is humanly inflicted and watched by others: “acute pain is itself degrading because it collapses our world and reduces us to mere prisoners of our bodies. . . . when it happens in front of spectators, the experience is doubly shameful and humiliating.” The humiliation tactics used against War on Terror detainees, he observes, “were ‘Ego Down’ and ‘Futility’ tactics—the Army’s names for tactics designed to break the detainees by making them feel worthless and filling them with despair.” It should not surprise us, then, that (again according to Luban), “a recent medical study found absolutely no difference between the traumatic psychological after-effects of physical torture and humiliation.”

So in some contexts, we recognize easily that being humiliated is terrible and traumatic—indeed, a violation of human rights. What, then, of humiliation in pornography? Oh, we say, well, that’s totally different you see . . . because unlike the Abu Ghraib prisoners, the women in porn are consenting, and that makes it all better. See, here is the form where she signed on the dotted line, all grown up at 19 or 21. Big girl, knows what she’s doing, next topic.

But this gets it exactly wrong, missing just what is so destructive about humiliation in pornography. The presence of consent does not make the humiliation here better; it makes it worse—not worse all things considered, but worse in a particular and important respect.

If anything, consent exacerbates the shame for the woman herself. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: what we see in the picture or film is not that this low and dirty thing was done to her, but that she did it. The pornography thus purports to reveal some essential truth about her, not about someone else’s wrongdoing.

Think back to Jamie: No one else is in the frame, handing her the glass of ejaculate or encouraging her to drink it, let alone making her do so. She drinks ejaculate out of her own rectum all on her own, apparently, because that’s just the kind of girl she is.

And what kind of girl is that? What are we left to think of Jamie and all the others like her who populate this multi-billion dollar “empire of images”?

The women’s consent—whether actual or merely apparent—leaves us grasping for explanations. The most readily available such explanations make it seem that the women are not really being degraded after all, but simply treated in ways congruent with their own nature and will.

These women humiliate themselves willingly—perhaps because they place little value on their own personal dignity, or perhaps because they are too stupid even to realize that they’re being insulted and degraded. Almost certainly, they are economically desperate (in a culture that sees such desperation, especially in women, as an occasion for contempt rather than empathy and help). Take your pick, mix and match: at the end of the day, they are just whores, and we all know what whores deserve.

We cringe at the Abu Ghraib images because in them we see people who have personal dignity to take away, who are being wrongfully “brought low.” By contrast, Jamie, for instance, is not being “brought low”—she just IS low. We can tell, because she does it all willingly. She reaches for the glass of ejaculate, she smiles, she guzzles. What would degrade others does not degrade her; rather it simply reflects and gratifies her nature. She is not a human being, she is only a woman.

In discussions about pornography, well-meaning people often aver that, however distasteful it may be, we must accept pornography so long as it depicts only “consenting adults.” That is, the absence of consent is assumed to demarcate the boundaries of the harmful and unacceptable. My brief analysis here, however, points to the damaging poverty of this approach. Images of women accepting and even welcoming their own debasement and humiliation are profoundly destructive, not only for the particular women so depicted, but for women generally. After all, pornography purports to reveal the down-and-dirty truth, not about men, or capitalism, or patriarchy, but about women—who we are and what we are for. And like all propaganda, it uses individuals as stand-ins for entire targeted groups.

Thus, at the level of ideology, Jamie is not just a woman, but Woman. In the world of pornography, and in the world pornography has helped to make, Jamie’s willing humiliation shows that she has no human dignity to lose, that she is only a woman after all.

Sources

Bridges, Ana et. al., “Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best-Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update.” Violence Against Women 16:10, 2010.

Luban, David. “Human dignity, humiliation, and torture.” Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 19:3, 2009.

Margalit, Avishai. The decent society. Harvard University Press, 1998.

Statman, Daniel. “Humiliation, dignity, and self-respect.”

Philosophical Psychology 13:4, 2000.

Aretha Franklin, “Respect.”

Coming Sunday: Trish Oliver says Fight for your Beloved, and Lierre Keith on the Girls and the Grasses.

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Will Men Really Benefit From Feminism?

By Vliet Tiptree

We feminists have promised men, at least the toilers who also suffer under the elite, better conditions after Revolution XX, but these conditions have remained vague. Will they really benefit from feminism?

Let me begin by saying that What About Teh Menz has not exactly been Topic Numero Uno for Radfems. However, it has been important to mainstream feminists to hasten to reassure men that feminism benefits everybody, including right-wing reactionary men. Radfems should weigh in on this topic. Why? Because we should weigh in on every topic.

Let me also add that I speak only of post-industrial countries. In the rest, discussing these topics may get one shot in the face, so I will pass for now.

We feminists have promised to support men’s ideal of classlessness, and it is true, we know class divisions and inferiority must be abolished so long as the shame of being low on the totem pole of male hierarchy causes so much male violence. We plan to put a stop to that, especially when directed at women and children. But men may say that all that will happen is that they will lose a time-honored likkered-up tradition of lashing out, because we can’t deliver on the classlessness. It’s fair to say that we’ll try, but if men themselves insist on keeping their male hierarchies, there isn’t much we can do about it, we can only prevent them from hurting women and children when they feel inferior and can’t get at the elite. So working men may lose their scapegoats and battering-objects and still be stuck with their elite. We can’t do that alone, and shouldn’t pretend we can.

We have promised a caring new world in which social welfare, rather than death and destruction, will become the norm. We say that old and disabled men in particular will benefit. True, we will have excellent hospitals and social services after Revolution XX. There will be food, clothing and shelter for all. No one will be homeless or commit suicide because she or he is being evicted. But this caring labor won’t come free. No longer will there be a daughter or wife to do the daily grunge work for such men out of ancient servitude rather than a living wage. And there will be no prostitutes to make up for the difficulty of finding voluntary sex partners. Further, all this caring will divert the money traditionally spent for war to life-affirming stuff, and the old guys are proud of their warrior pasts and support war in general. Therefore they may take this new caringness as a net loss.

We say men need to cry more and deplore their lack of emotion, empathy, tears, and other expressions which are currently denied to them. We want to make it perfectly acceptable for men to weep. However, it appears that testosterone is the main reason men don’t cry much, and male anger would have to give way to make room for the less, shall we say, virile, emotions. What man wants to give up his anger? I am not sure men will choose this option even when they are free to do so. Is squeezing out the occasional tear ever as fun as a mantrum?

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All feminists explain that equal women are much more intellectually interesting (radfems agree heartily). However, painting ourselves each morning and wearing crippling accessories and suffocating clothing items would have to go. We are not actually sure men would prefer us to be discussing the possible return of the drachma if we insisted on doing so in the same well-worn sweats and trainers they’re wearing.

We all know it’s not a win-lose situation. But there are only 100 U.S. Senators, and it must be admitted that we women would insist on being 50 of them. The men eased out from the apex of world power would be a considerable number, but we offer them the new privilege of becoming elementary school teachers and correcting feminist bias against boys.   It does cross our minds that individual men like Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Donald Trump might feel they were losing a privilege or two, even so.

Rape, too, would no longer be an outlet utilizing either men or women. The prisons will just have to muddle along without their main correctional device. The same goes for the most popular method of harassing lesbians in South Africa. These methods will be replaced by ameliorating poverty, supporting education, making liberal use of severe social stigma, and punishments more suited to the crime (see, A Clockwork Orange). Most men would agree that rape must go and applaud its disappearance in prisons, but may perhaps feel it is a deprivation to also, in consequence, get rid of the two social institutions which most strongly support rape culture, namely, prostitution and pornography.

We also promise that men will be able to see their little ones grow up, if they so choose (and whether they want to or not as regards the concomitant housework).   Yes, they will have equal parental leave when a new baby comes. Yet I see a certain shrinking back in many men from the prospect of leaving their outside jobs and staying home to maintain the household and sacrifice their time 24/7 to a squalling bundle. Perhaps this benefit we promise is not really something they will rush to take advantage of.

In addition, with women’s equal sexual freedom and control over our bodies, we invite men to imagine a world of sexual access that was previously denied them. Of course, many more women will immediately turn lesbian or celibate or vow never to have PIV intercourse again, once they figure out it’s not what men held it out to be.   So this may be less of a benefit than it appears.

But wait. Look what we have been holding back, a huge and beneficial change! Women will no longer be economically dependent on men! We will make our own money. We will cease our devious ways of finagling money from men’s wallets, we will stop marrying hypergamously, we will no longer be gold-diggers, we will not provoke and frustrate because we will no longer need to dress like hookers — we will abjure all those annoying stereotypes that drive men mad! We will become people who buy dinner! Then again, nothing will now compel those of us who unfortunately remain het to become involved with a man, other than the man’s merit as a companion and lover, but we’re sure men will rise to the occasion.

As for those family courts in which ex-wives get custody and spousal support, with women’s moneymaking parity, spousal support will become a non-issue. Both sexes will get to contribute to their beloved cheatin’ lyin’ ex! As for child custody, all divorcing men will be encouraged, delivered, even, kicking and screaming, to insisting on equal physical custody rights. We are sure they will break down the doors of family court and we will be there to cheer them on!

Then there are men’s inflated images of themselves. Little girls will no longer have any reason to be jealous of little boys’ genitalia, making the Oedipus Complex an anachronism. Men will be reminded, all in good humor, that not only are women as competent in the public arena as they are, we give birth. The re-valuing of women may be taken as a loss to a few, a very few we are sure, egomaniacal men.

Virginia Woolf was reflecting on such benefits to men upon the liberation of women, when she ran across another example of the gazillions of   historical pronouncements of women’s natural inferiority, a rather vehement pronouncement by a distinguished (male) professor, one with a familiar rancor (now called misogyny) detectable in it. Her thoughts ran this way:

“Possibly when the professor insisted a little too emphatically upon the inferiority of women, he was concerned not with their inferiority, but with his own superiority…because it was a jewel to him of the rarest price. Life for both sexes…is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything…it calls for confidence in oneself.

” …And how can we generate this imponderable quality…most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to oneself.”

“…Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size…Whatever may be their use in civilized societies, mirrors are essential to all violent and heroic action. That is why both Napoleon and Mussolini both insist so emphatically upon the inferiority of women, for if [women] were not inferior, they would cease to enlarge.

“That serves to explain in part the necessity that women so often are to men. And it serves to explain how restless they are under her criticism; how impossible it is for her to say this book is bad, this picture is feeble, or whatever it may be, without giving far more pain and rousing far more anger than a man would do who gave the same criticism.

“For if she begins to tell the truth, the figure in the looking-glass shrinks; his fitness for life is diminished. How is he to go on giving judgment, civilizing natives, making laws, writing books, dressing up and speechifying at banquets, unless he can see himself at breakfast and dinner at least twice the size he really is?”

Well, we believe and say that women can enlarge without men having to shrink. But we may be dissembling as still-not-fully-liberated women do, we aren’t sure. Perhaps we can all come together and find some inferior, non-human creatures who won’t be harmed, to enlarge both sexes, to praise us and witness our bravery and need us and curry our favor and scrub our toilets and suffer our blows. Maybe zebras will do, if they are still around.

If not, we must admit: men will shrink to meet our enlarging. They will deflate like one of Tom Brady’s footballs. They will be eyeball-to-eyeball with their equals, and that, as Gertrude Stein no doubt said, is that is that is that.

Or, as Simone de Beauvoir probably put it, tant pis.

Originally posted at Feminism XX

Ferron, “It Won’t Take Long.”

Coming Soon: Rebecca Whisnant on Pornography and Humiliation.

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