I recently became aware of the RadFem group and their outspoken leader Cathy Brennan, who writes a blog over on Tumblr called Bugbrennan. If you have any idea what I’m talking about already, you know this isn’t going to be a “let’s buy these guys some milk and cookies” kind of post. At the same time, as tempted as I am to go all hissy fit on them, I’m going to try to look at this in a calm rational manner, with maybe just a tiny bit of humor thrown in. It’s all about getting a dialog started here people, and yes, I hope they find this and engage. Don’t worry, I’ll beat a path to my door.
I have not had time to read the entire RadFem site, but one of the predominant themes is a palpable anti-transgender agenda. They appear to be working this pretty hard; a tireless dedication to blocking or reversing any gains in rights that we make. I found this pretty surprising to be honest. I mean, there really aren’t that many of us out there, and to have an organization dedicated in part to working against us seems fairly ridiculous. When there is so much work left to be done to advance the equality of women all over the world, spending this much time and energy to give a micro-population a really shitty time of it seems either mean in spirit, or there is something else going on entirely. I can’t quite pin down whether it’s a Westboro Baptist Church kind of thing, or a Larry Craig/ Mark Foley denial and lash out, but either way, it’s not making a lot of sense.
I’m also not clear on the name choice. The ‘rad’ is for ‘radical’, as you may have well guessed. Generally speaking the population at large, especially those empowered to make any sort of policy decisions, typically eschew groups who actively promote that they are in fact radical. It has flair and is appropriately militant sounding, but downright horrible in the pursuit of any type of credibility whatsoever. It is comforting to know their stated goals are almost instantly thwarted by the name alone.
If I understand correctly, the end game for RadFem is to achieve unquestionable female equality in all areas, as well as promote the guarantee of female safety in society under all circumstances. I’m pretty sure that is something most women can get behind, including the trans population. For some reason, there seems to be a widespread belief among them that denying the existence of the trans population is a sure fire way to promote this. Yeah, I said the same thing. It’s sort of like being sent to prison and picking the weakest most pathetic inmate to beat up to establish dominance. I understand where they want to go, but they seem to be taking a very unnecessarily contentious way of getting there. There are a lot of sub themes to choose from, but I’m going to pick the two most prevalent to address.
Ms Bug et al take the line of David Hume style extreme rationalism. Born with penis = male, no exceptions. Binary logic is wonderful for running machines, but rarely applicable to the human experience. Exceptions are plentiful such as the intersex and other variations. I have not found evidence that there is clear consensus as to whether post operative transsexuals are still considered male by all or not. Either way, this simplistic world view either reflects the lack of ability to process complexity, or a convenient black and white rational to attack individuals who don’t fit a highly improbable binary model.
I’ve also heard the argument from this camp that there is no medical evidence indicative of transsexuals having a brain structure more resembling that of the identified gender. This is very easy to look up by going here (you have to click the link). If you spend some time here, you will see many articles both for and against this hypothesis. The Wikipedia entry is also fairly accurate, though not comprehensive. It may well be that RadFem is taking the line that a lack of a clear ‘smoking gun’ proven causal link is firm evidence to the contrary, thus ignoring the basic principle of scientific investigation that requires a significant amount of data to achieve conclusive results. Not that many studies have been done to date in comparison to much better understood conditions. I would also like a clear, validated and independently replicable test that yielded yes/ no answers, but currently the study of transexualism is about where that of homosexuals was 50 years ago. The RadFem position is comparable to that of creationists who point to as yet undiscovered data points in the fossil record to argue evolution as an unlikely theory in simplistic protection of a highly biased world view.
While the nitty-gritty of neural mapping remains fuzzy at present, there is conclusive evidence that a population exists wherein members recognize a core gender identity opposite to that their birth genitalia and hormonal function. Much like a Mac OS loaded on a PC, function will degrade rapidly (I know, I know, it’s an imperfect analogy). Hardware modification to resemble the hardware configuration of a Mac, however, will improve function dramatically. The transsexual population is in the same predicament. Unlike brain mapping studies that are still in infancy, there is a mountain of causal evidence that physical and social transition to a person’s core gender identity significantly improves overall functionality in spite of the enormous social, emotional, physical, and financial costs involved. To date it remains the only successful form of treatment. My point is that whatever the true root cause is, transsexuals are recognized as existing by every credible medical and scientific organization that possess the expertise to render a meaningful opinion. The end result of transition is a person who has a physical appearance that matches their gender identity. Philosophical disbelief in our verified existence does not provide a moral, legal, or social platform to ethically argue against equal rights.
I think this brings us right to the bathroom issue. Yes, I’ve talked about this before, hence the handy link. I understand the RadFem position to be that the societal protection of women requires the establishment and enforcement of segregated space that is designated female only. Concerning this statement, in and of itself, we are in agreement. Regardless of individual RadFem member positions on “is it really a he or she?”, they take the further position that allowing access to female facilities invites male sex offenders to adopt a disguise and commit rapes in the ladies room, primarily because this has happened, though very sporadically and never by a trans person. Let’s talk about that for a second.
The discussion brings forth an image of several shady characters huddled around an old radio in an abandoned warehouse down by the docks, eagerly listening to see when GENDA finally passes. “All right boys, they passed it! Let’s strap on some heels and go hit the crappers!” The unlikely part of this scenario is the notion that scheming rapists are currently stymied only by the finer points of an equality law only applicable to a tiny segment of the population. If a rapist is inclined to do this, he is going to anyway regardless of what the law says. Furthermore, it can be argued that given rape is brutal hate crime to establish dominance in the form of forced sex, and that the vast majority of men find adopting female garb humiliating and emasculating, it is further unlikely that the incidence rate of this heinous sort of thing is going to increase. From that it comes down to the fact that some females are uncomfortable sharing facilities with transgender women either due to fear based on misunderstanding or inherent prejudice.
Here are the facts of the matter succinctly. Cisgender women are not at risk from transgender women. There has not been a single recorded instance of a transgender woman acting inappropriately in a female only facility. Like everyone else, we just want to pee, check our make up, and leave without hassle. Transgender women, however, are at significant risk of physical and sexual abuse in a male only facility. Barring transgender women from female only facilities is directly comparable to barring African-American women on the basis of fear based on prejudice and misunderstanding. Forcing trans women into a situation of real documented risk in order to cater to prejudicial fears based on a lack of understanding is unconscionable. Furthermore, due to the risks involved to our well being, trans women have and will continue to use female only facilities. We are humans with physical needs, identify entirely with the gender the segregated facility is for, and must look after our personal safety. Attempting to block passage of equality laws is not going to change this.
I do understand this is a difficult issue overall. I do acknowledge that risk of abuse exists and I am personally concerned about it myself, as are we all. I also understand that there is no clear means of telling the difference between a post-op transsexual, pre-op transsexual, cross-dresser, or drag queen without utilizing personally invasive means. I would, however, vastly prefer to work together to discover and implement mutually acceptable solutions designed to safeguard the well being of all women. This makes much more sense to me than expending considerable time and energy fighting a battle that ultimately benefits none, and puts some at risk.
You all may notice that in spite of getting a little contentious at times and drawing from unsavory or exaggerated examples and comparisons to drive the point home, I kept this much less provocative then I was originally inclined. I would like to urge my trans friends and trans allies to resist escalating the battle. I would like to see if a dialog can be established and foster communication to see if common ground or a common cause can be found.