I am Facebook friends with Riki. I considered myself part of the Transsexual Menace. (Two “S” version.)
In the early 1990s her writings were so right on they were depression lifting, energizing and life saving.
Back then I was twenty years plus post-op and beaten down by all the radfem crapola, devastated by having watched so many of my TS/TG girl friends die from prescription drug over doses after having live brief lives of drug addiction.
I had saved my own life by quitting hard drug use in 1988. When I quit I had to move away from my friends, quit hanging out with them because of the way they pressured me to continue using. The lived their lives and died like the Amy Winehouse song “Re-hab”.
My family had disowned me when I had SRS.
So I was pretty much alone and while I had quit drugs I was so empty and yet filled with so much pain I drank myself into a state of constant numbness.
When Riki and Kate came along, but more Riki than Kate I started finding purpose to my life again.
I got a computer and fought with people on Usenet for a few months until the level of viciousness that was on Usenet caused me to leave.
I started volunteering at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center.
I met Jake Hale and Susan Stryker who made me aware of my place in history. Shirley Bushnell was the public face, one of the outspoken leaders of the transgender movement in LA. She asked why I wasn’t willing to take a more pubic role and I said I would rather stand behind her.
In 1997 I was 25 years post-op and still working on becoming sober and I didn’t have much to say to people just transitioning except, don’t get strung out on drugs, don’t work the streets and stop hurting yourself.
By about 2000 Riki and the people involved with the Transsexual Menace had pretty much burned out and GenderPac had announced it was shifting its focus.
In retrospect Riki Wilchins relevance started declining the moment she embraced the trans-misogynistic Judith Butler.
Riki never got the reality that most transsexual and transgender people are not gender transgressive unless you have some really narrow ideas of “proper gender behavior”. Some TS/TG folks are and that is perfectly okay, indeed I admire those people with the courage to not conform. But most of us are pretty ordinary women and men who dress and act like our non-TS/TG peers.
We even have the same causes, likes and cultural markers as our non-TS/TG peers. Often times we have more in common with our non-TS/TG peers than we do with our sisters and brothers of different classes and cultures.
I see TS/TG equality and the rights of TS/TG people to live in dignity with equal access to housing, employment education and quality health care as being the same as any other minority groups rights and issues, especially within the context of being a despised and discriminated against minority.
I don’t particularly want to go through the world as a poster child for TS/TG rights and issues. It is enough that I am open to other sisters and brothers and to friends within the various progressive activist communities I am a member of.
I honestly don’t care if someone chooses to be more out or less out than I am. Part of the ethos of the freedom to do your own thing as long as it doesn’t interfer in the ability of other people to do their own thing is the idea that I’m okay and you are also okay.
Before plunging into activism it would be a good thing for people to read Saul Alinsky’s books on activism.
One place to start as an activist is listening to what people want and think rather than telling them what they should want and think.
On December 6, Riki Wilchins had the following post in the Advocate: Transgender Dinosaurs and the Rise of the Genderqueers
In fact, my political identity for 30 years has been built on the foundation of my being visibly transgender, from the day I donned a Transsexual Menace NYC t-shirt and flew to the Brandon Teena murder trial in Falls City, Nebraska.
Memorial vigils for slain transgender women, picketing HRC, books on gender theory and public fights with radical feminists, and being booted from the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival on multiple occasions for not being a “born womyn” have made me who I am—inextricably intertwined with being publicly and very much a visible transsexual.
But what if all that were wiped away? Who would I be? What would I have become? With all the activism and writing that identity forced on me during the birth of transgender liberation, would I even be writing this today?
Unlike society’s unwritten rule, “prove you’re really a woman,” nature’s rule is “female, unless proven otherwise.” In that sense we are all born females in utero. It is only through the action of testosterone in the womb that about half of us develop into those “other females,” or men.
Androgen blockers, which prevent all the painful and irrevocable effects of puberty that I spent several years of my life trying to reverse – chest hair, beard, Adam’s apple, etc. – had made this blond 13-year-old into an entirely non-transgender transsexual. One whose gender, and social identity, will be always and completely female to every adult she knows or meets. With the right surgeon, she might not ever tell her husband or wife. She didn’t cross gender lines or even rub up against them. She fulfilled them fully and completely in a way I could never know.
In my adolescence, it was unthinkable to even mention being transgender to my parents or doctors, let alone seek treatment. And treatment, if it were forthcoming at all, would have inevitably meant a psychiatrist (not to mention probably having my father try to beat me into manhood – a project which, come to think of it, he pretty much started anyway).
With adolescents increasingly taking androgen blockers with the support of a generation of more protective, nurturing parents, public transsexuality is fading out. And I don’t mean only that in a generation or two we may become invisible in the public space. I mean rather that in 10 years, the entire experience we understand today as constituting transgender—along with the political advocacy, support groups, literature, theory and books that have come to define it since transgender burst from its closet in the early 1990s to become part of the LGB-and-now-T movement—all that may be vanishing right in front of us. In 50 years it might be as if we never existed. Our memories, our accomplishments, our political movement, will all seem to only be historic. Feeling transgender will not so much become more acceptable, as gayness is now doing, but logically impossible.
In other words, I may be a gender dinosaur.
Except Riki became a gender dinosaur long ago.
She became irrelevant the moment she embraced Judith Butler and started issuing pronouncements about her vagina that framed her relationship to her body in terms that sounded as though they came from the most transphobic people at the Michigan Women’s Music Festival.
I came into conflict with a lot of people because I never embraced the sort of outness that Riki and others did.
Riki is decrying how some transkids are able to transition without trauma upon entering puberty, with the support of their parents. She seems almost bothered that these kids will go through life unmarked by birth-sex hormones.
This group is going to be a minority group for a long time. Too many kids are still being disowned and thrown out of their homes. Too many are still becoming teenage street walkers and martyrs on the lists that are read every November.
There have always been those of us who never really view either transsexual or transgender as a permanent identity but rather as a temporary one on our way to reintegrating back into the communities we emerged from. this has always made the idea of a transgender community questionable for many of us.
At the same time that type of shame and oppression that Riki writes of as producing “community” has also caused people to live lives of denial and attempted cures.
How many lives been damaged because TS/TG people have wound up in sham marriages? They don’t enter those marriages out of malice. Instead they enter them filled with shame mixed with love and the hope of a magic cure.
I’ve avoided commenting on a recent case which on the surface seems to be about two adults behaving badly and abusing each other in print. The ugly divorce of Christine Benevenuto and Joy Ladin has been taken public like a Jerry Springer produced reality show. Two adults who should be acting civilized given their positions in life getting down and dirty for public consumption.
When we move beyond the civil rights and other political issues there will come a time when TS/TG communities will have to start providing services instead of doing political activism.
Perhaps the idea of gender transgressiveness amuses both Judith Butler and Riki but that sort of behavior destroys people’s lives and is lethal for way too many. Naturalizing and making TS/TG just another kind of normal may remove a lot of the drama that has characterized the world of drag bars, Imperial Houses and the like, but that way of life was so brutal. There is so much to be said for our being able to be ordinary people with ordinary lives and real jobs, having our own secure homes and some one we can love and even marry legally that giving up the trauma associated with the historical TS/TG communities is a no brainer.
I had sort of filed this under Riki being Riki, lost in the thrall of Judith Butler. The flu really wiped me out and I haven’t had the energy to write much of anything.
Then, thanks to Stephanie Stevens Transgender News Mailing List (Her list functions as a one of my main news feeds regarding TS/TG issues) I was turned on to the following article at the The Nuclear Unicorn: My Transsexual Menace: A Response to Riki Wilchins
by Quinnae Moongazer
on December 22, 2012
If I were to give a measured reaction to Riki Wilchins now infamous “Transgender Dinosaurs” editorial in The Advocate, it would amount to this: it is yet another example of hierarchal inversion where we assign a moral-political value to genders and then exile the ones we disapprove of. The kind of visibility Wilchins writes about is based on a trendy ethic that suggests if you aren’t visibly out of the mainstream, then you’re The Man, and part of The Problem. This, however, neglects the fact that ‘standing out’ in that way carried unacceptable risks for most trans women, historically. It also ignores, from a moral perspective, that if we attach moral value only to accoutrement—or suggest that the latter is indispensable to moral behaviour—then we are creating an exclusionary, even bankrupt political ethic that is based simply on what is fashionable, not what is politically necessary.
We begin with this quote which, in a way, neatly sums up everything that is wrong with Wilchins’ ideas:
“Never having passed as female as I’d grown older I’d finally given up trying. Besides, it seemed somehow counter-revolutionary…”
A revolution is about a substantive change in material relations of power and ruling; it is about making the world less violent, less oppressive, more equitable and just. It is not about whatever Wilchins is suggesting is revolutionary here, which seems to be little more than “women should dress and look the way I want them to look” and “trans people should express their gender in the way I want them to.” Do I even have to say something to the effect of “As a feminist, I think that’s sickening”?
But Wilchins’ transmisogyny goes beyond that. The entire story, an efficient distillation of radical transphobia, pivots around a woman with no voice, a girl that Wilchins renders a mute doll in order to make her trendsetting point that trans girls and women are now insufficiently transgressive, beginning immediately with the kind of objectification that characterises most mainstream media coverage of those same women.
Please go to Quinnae Moongazer’s blog and read the rest of her critique: My Transsexual Menace: A Response to Riki Wilchins