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Gender Wars History Series: The Lesbian/Transsexual Misunderstanding Part II
The mansplaining continues
Back in August, I wrote about a 1975 editorial titled “The Lesbian/Transsexual Misunderstanding” in Gay Community News by a trans-identified man named “Margo” where he mansplained to lesbians how he was a lesbian too. In the piece, Margo expresses his disappointment that the lesbian community will not accept him and chalks it all up to a misunderstanding: lesbians just didn’t understand how strongly he felt himself to be a lesbian. If they did, surely they would acquiesce, as good women and lesbians should do.
Well, Margo wasn’t done lecturing and pestering lesbians. In volume 2, number 38 of Gay Community News he published a follow-up piece titled “The Lesbian/Transsexual Misunderstanding Part II.”
The article begins with a blurb that informs the reader:
Last time Margo told us that Lesbians and transsexuals do not understand each other. This week she explains some of the reasons and opts for a better relationship between native and transsexual Lesbians.
Let’s see what Margo will enlighten us with today!
The gold starts right off the bat, with Margo writing:
To some Lesbians, transsexuals are essentially men who enjoy donning dresses, going out on the street for five minutes, and then claiming the honor of being a woman.
He very generously grants that these kinds of men “have no place in the women’s or the Lesbian movement” because they are not transsexuals (today’s trans activists would likely disagree). True transsexuals, like Margo, feel from a “very early age” that they are “female.”
He also asks us to believe that he is a lesbian in addition to being female because he fell in love with his chemistry teacher at age 17. In fact, he “wanted to be like her” which is “essentially a Lesbian passion.” Excuse me, what?
He went on to read some lesbian literature before declaring himself a “cross-gender lesbian” in 1971.
An understanding of transsexualism as a deep and life-long identity crisis concerning one's most basic gender identity will distinguish it from the kinds of impersonations which Lesbians reject, and reject rightly, as a basis of female identity. Once this distinction is made, much of the ground for anti-transsexualism will suddenly vanish.
Margo offers no rationale for why lesbians can reject other men’s claims to womanhood and lesbianism but not his own. Why must we be beholden to certain men just because they have a “deep and life-long identity crisis”? If anything, that’s even more reason to reject them.
In the next section, Margo the male lesbian expert discusses the “overly narrow concepts of lesbianism.” He argues that lesbian sexuality has nothing to do with genitals. He also says that sex change surgery does not make one a woman. We agree! but only for a moment. Margo only takes this position because “The crucial turning point is changing socially from a man to a woman.”
Then we get this gem:
I am taking a careful approach to surgery, and, in the meantime, celebrating my Lesbianism in non-genital ways.
Non-genital ways. To explain himself, Margo tries and fails to wax poetic about how a “genital relationship” between two women is “patriarchal” and how what lesbian love is really about is “love, affection, commitment, and empathy.”
In other words, Lesbianism is not exclusively to be defined as genital sexuality between women (although this is one beautiful Lesbian expression), but rather as love between women, no matter how it is expressed.
Obviously, a loving relationship has all of these other factors, as it would between a man and a woman or two men. But the downplaying of physical attraction and intimacy is so self-serving it makes my skin crawl.
After he’s done telling women they should accept men sexually, Margo turns to the broader issue of including trans-identified men in lesbian and feminist movements, writing:
The idea of ignoring or even crushing such a group of sexually oppressed people in the name of a feminist revolution shows the kind of patriarchal ruthlessness which male chauvinists confuse with strength and commitment.
What’s astounding to me is that this blatant guilt-tripping has worked on so many women and lesbians. It is the constant refrain of liberal feminists that ALL women (meaning women and trans-identified men) must fight together against the “patriarchy” while ignoring perhaps the patriarchy’s most obvious expression in our society today: the ability for a man to put on a bad wig and spy on young girls in women’s changing rooms.
Morgan continues trying to hammer home the point that knowing what men and women are is patriarchal and sexist:
There is a danger now that the Lesbian feminist movement will cling to sexist definitions of femaleness and maleness in dealing with transsexuals.
The sexist definition may be summed up by these three rules: (1) All people can be classified physically as either male or female; (2) all people have gender identities which match their physical sexes; and (3) it is impossible for a person to change sex.
He refers to these very basic and obvious truths as “two-genderism,” and calls it a form of “oppression.”
He attempts to debunk them all, starting with the invocation of intersex people, then asking questions like “what is a woman’s body in the first place?”, and finally insisting that “people do change physical sex.”
Then, he takes some time to feel sorry for himself in a passage I found interesting enough to quote at some length:
In my experience, and I say this with regret, most of the people who have been down on me have been radical Lesbians and feminists rather than liberals. For example, at the time of my social change I was a graduate student at a certain Jesuit institution; and this university changed my records without any hassle. The people in charge were not only tolerant but even helpful.
Now living as a woman, I naturally went over to join the campus Women's Center. Several of the members knew about my transsexualism, and they encouraged me to help out. I continued for five months without problems.
Then three of the members called me to meet with them and they declared that they were just not "comfortable" with me because of my transsexualism. Further, they argued that I could not really be a good staff person, because I did not have first person experience with birth control and abortion!
To me, this entire lament shows a stunning lack of empathy. Morgan’s attempt to live and be treated as a woman likely wasn’t going to affect random people in a school’s record office (not yet at the time, anyway), but the people who it did affect, like the women at the women’s center, were the ones who very understandably had a problem with being asked to play along.
Instead of understanding their point of view, he tells radical feminists how they should be doing their feminism better (and more favorably to him):
Breaking with old rules always leads to insecurity. The question arose: "If we no longer follow the traditional roles, then what actually makes us women?" The truly radical answer would be: "We are women because we have female gender identities, regardless of either our genitals or our adherence or nonadherence to sex roles; in short, we are women because we feel ourselves to be women in our own terms." Quite naturally, this answer would lead to the embracing of transsexuals as sisters.
Quite naturally, the answer should be whatever allows Morgan to get his way and force people to see him, a man, as a woman and as a lesbian.
I wanted to draw attention to these two pieces not simply as a chance to rant and be snarky (as fun as it was), but because we are still dealing with exactly these kinds of arguments from exactly these kinds of men today.
They try to pull out all the stops—from invoking disorders of sexual development to lecturing lesbians about what lesbian love is—in order to force agreement that they really are lesbians, too. They try to obscure reality with word games and guilt women and lesbians into compliance with invocations of the “patriarchy.”
These tactics are as manipulative today as they were in 1975, and the only thing to do is continue saying “no.”
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