by DORIAN ADAMS
June 11, 2013
In her recent CounterPunch column “The Left Hand of Darkness,” Julian Vigo is very concerned about the silencing of radical feminists by transgender people. Choosing to focus on a very small subset of radical feminists who pride themselves on being “trans-critical,” she goes through a laundry list of people all claiming the same thing: that transgender identities and specifically the existence of trans women is bad for women and a tool of the patriarchy. Despite the truncated timeline she provides, this is not a new topic. This sect of feminism has been making this claim since the 70’s. The arguments that Vigo reiterates here are not new, or radical, but regressive and patriarchal.
What these “radical” feminists want is not a dialogue, but the ability to critique a marginalized community from the outside, without having to engage at all with how that community defines or speaks about itself. An external critique of a marginalized community is not a value neutral action, and it certainly is not a dialogue. You can’t have a dialogue with people that you exclude from the conversation. All you can do is talk about them without having to be accountable to their experiences of their lives and the impact your words have on how they are treated. Could you have a conversation with someone who insists that you give up your identity before even speaking with them?
She begins by accepting, uncritically, that there is no such thing as being privileged for not being transgender. She mentions that transgender activists make this critique of radical feminists, and just lets it fizzle out, with no further mention. This is the last time that anything vaguely resembling the words of any transgender activist is seen. For a piece on dialogue, its rather startling that there are no voices from the trans community at all. She makes general statements about what trans activists are reported to have said or believe but no attributions, no names, no sources. Even when discussing threats made against the radical feminists she profiles, nothing is given to allow the reader to see these threats for themselves. Considering that there are entire websites, run by some of the people profiled in her column, devoted to profiling the dangerous threats of trans women existing, it shouldn’t be that hard. Instead, trans people are treated as a faceless monolith, and any actual words are not referenced.
Vigo doesn’t show any proof that the people she’s discussing are trying to talk to the trans community, only that they want to talk about it without having to listen to what the community says about itself. She conveniently forgets to mention the ways in which some of her featured folk have refused a dialogue all together.
One example of someone who has shut down this dialogue is Cathy Brennan. Brennan is well known throughout the trans community for outing outing trans people she disagrees with, for stalking and harassing trans people , particularly trans women, and for working for a law firm that defends predatory payday lenders and financial firms that are known for fraudulently foreclosing on people’s homes. This is a person who has no feminist activism to her name that isn’t centered around attacking trans women, who uses the institutional violence of the American legal system as a cudgel against a community that makes up the majority of victims of physical violence against LGBT people and then uses their reaction to her as justification to antagonize them. She even attributes anonymous threats made against her to the trans community with no evidence in order to justify what she does. Please take note that none of this was mentioned in Vigo’s piece, and is all available with a few minutes of Googling.
How, exactly, are we supposed to have a dialogue with someone who does that? All attempts at dialogue have been not only rejected, but met with outright abuse. There is no opening for dialogue here, and there never was. To put the responsibility for dialogue on those being subjected to this treatment is expecting those who are imprisoned for surviving violence to ask nicely that the violence stop.
Likening accusations of transphobia to censorship, she states:
“As a result of this assault on dialogue, the true violence of transphobia (ie. assault, rape, murder and many other forms of discrimination) is cheapened and diluted in the larger space of discursive disagreements with feminists.”
Since when does someone who is not experiencing a particular form of oppression dictating how that community deals with its oppression a particularly radical thing to do? What gives her the perspective to say what the true violence against a community that she is not part of is? What gives her the unique perspective to know what “true violence” is? Surely a similar statement from a man telling feminists what to focus on would be seen as ridiculous, so what gives Vigo the ability to do the same to trans activists?
Continue reading at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/06/11/these-are-not-the-radicals-youre-looking-for/