Less Than Woman, Less Than Human
Cathy Brennan and Elizabeth Hungerford have tendered a paper to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, in response to a query regarding the current international status of women. From this exercise, the Commission will be working to “identify emerging trends and patterns of injustice and discriminatory practices against women for purposes of policy formulation and development of strategies for the promotion of gender equality.”
In their paper, Cathy Brennan and Elizabeth Hungerford (who if they want to sign their names to this, I’m happy to give them ample credit for it) adamantly and explicitly oppose the extension of basic human rights to transsexuals, under the premise that providing rights protections under the classes of gender identity and gender expression “erodes” womens’ rights. Conveniently, Cathy Brennan and Elizabeth Hungerford waited until the deadline for submissions before making this public, so that transsexuals are not given an opportunity to respond, and once again have no voice at all in the question.
Cathy Brennan’s and Elizabeth Hungerford’s argument only works:
- if you refuse to accept trans women as actually being women,
- if you believe that the principle of human rights (that all should be equal) is negotiable, if the minority in question is small enough, and
- if you ignore the potential benefits women gain from gender expression inclusion.
Yes, it’s true that this paper is posted at Radfem Hub, where there’s never been a whole lot of regard for transsexual women in the first place. And even though the conversation may be specifically about whether or not we should be allowed to coexist and be accorded the same rights as anyone else, we’re not entitled to a voice in the matter there:
However, this is not merely an inconsequential blog post — it’s also a paper that has been submitted to a United Nations body that advocates for womens’ issues around the world, for their consideration as they formulate policy.
As I am apparently not woman enough to respond to them on their turf (nobody did a panty check or ask for a surgeon’s letter, so apparently those are irrelevant), and I’m also not human enough to merit basic human rights and equality anywhere in the world per the terms of the arguments Cathy Brennan and Elizabeth Hungerford make, I will respond in what few corners that there are left to me. And I want to be clear that I am not advocating threats (or worse, violence) to try to silence the authors — on the contrary, I’m perfectly happy to hold Brennan and Hungerford’s views up for all to see, and let the public be the judge.
So That WBW Spaces in America Can Trump Basic Human Rights Worldwide
In their submission to the Commission on the Status of Women, Cathy Brennan and Elizabeth Hungerford claim that:
the proliferation of legislation designed to protect “gender identity” and “gender expression” undermines legal protections for females vis-à-vis sex segregated spaces, such as female-only clubs, public restrooms, public showers, and other spaces designated as “female only.”
So put aside that what we are talking about — human rights — include the right to work, find housing and access health and social services… or even the right to not be subjected to violence because we’re trans (since that is also part of the UN Commission’s mandate). Because that’s of far less value to anyone than the right to have womyn-born-womyn-only spaces.
Public showers brings up public nudity, and most realize there has to be alternate (but not invalidating or unreasonable) accommodation for pre- and non-operative people. But beyond that, this is the flogged-to-death “bathroom bill” argument perfected by Maryland’s Citizens for Responsible Government (CRG) in 2007, and then exported elsewhere across North America. Cathy Brennan has probably heard CRG’s rhetoric before, given that she is an out lesbian attorney who has been actively involved in the activism surrounding trans rights in Maryland. Elizabeth Hungerford is listed as a lawyer and lesbian activist in Massachusetts, and should be acknowledged as clearly not being the noted UK-based soprano performer of the same name.
The Buried Footnote Contradiction
Radfem Hub is very clear about its policy that no one of transsexual history is to be dignified with recognition as a woman, and a similar attitude persists in many regions around the world — Brennan and Hungerford make virtually no attempt to state otherwise. In fact, the authors certainly make a point to tie sexual violence to “the uniquely female consequence of unwanted impregnation resulting,” to imply that anything less doesn’t actually count. There is a small contradiction buried in one of the footnotes near the very end of the document that offers an alternate definition of gender identity which allows for surgery (and creates qualifications that would not be possible for transsexual women outside Western nations), but it does not fit with the rest of the context of the letter (which disavows the concept of gender identity entirely). Personally, I’m not all that hung up on genitals, but I would be interested to know if Cathy Brennan advocates the logical conclusion that this paper implies: that even post-operative women should be denied access to a womens’ restroom. Why not just say it?
I’ve written about “bathroom bill” rhetoric amply, before:
I’m transsexual, and have been using the womens’ restroom ever since I transitioned, years ago. It has never been illegal for me to do so. Trans-inclusive legislation does not change what is legal and appropriate behaviour in washrooms. The Transgender Law and Policy Institute notes around 130 jurisdictions in the US where explicit legal inclusion for transgender and transsexual people exists (some back to 1975), and yet no such pattern exists….
Empty Lip Service To Opposing Discrimination, With No Alternate Solution Given
Cathy Brennan and Elizabeth Hungerford also go on to say that:
… we recognize the legitimate needs of transgender and transsexual women to operate in the world free from irrational discrimination. However, we cannot deny the implications of this legislation – and the radical shift in priorities it represents for females. Female reproductive vulnerability has a long history of exploitation by males in the form of sexualized violence….
In other words, they claim to recognize that we need basic human rights, but actually granting those rights harms women and constitutes sexualized violence by males. In different venues, Cathy Brennan has previously advocated for a disease-based model of coverage under “disability,” but in this document, a suggested alternative form of rights protections isn’t even offered. It’s entirely possible that Brennan and Hungerford may have opinions that differ from what is presented here, but I’ve done my best to not misrepresent the text of the letter itself — and one would assume in a paper such as this, they would want their message to be absolutely clear.
At one point, Brennan and Hungerford attempt to raise fear that gender identity is not typically defined in a way that requires documented proof in legislation. But even the inclusion of a definition at all is unusual: we don’t define terms in legislation, since that starts defining into law who is acceptable to exclude from human rights. We do not, for example, define “disability” to include only physical disabilities on the basis that mental disabilities scare us — on the contrary, the principle of human rights is that individuals should be judged by their individual actions, rather than a characteristic. The authors are calling for a specific definition that requires some undefined proof… proof which would probably not be easily obtained in Russia or Nicaragua, let alone Uganda or Saudi Arabia. Even in North America, there will be people (at Radfem Hub, for example, where the authors considered “home base” enough to guest post their letter and archive their PDF) who assert that a psychiatrist’s letter — or even that of a surgeon — is not valid, objective medical evidence of one being a woman. And if this standard is not met, then Cathy Brennan and Elizabeth Hungerford feel that legislation should exclude transsexuals — or at least transsexual women — from fundamental human rights.
Nothing More Than The Same Old Prerequisites
So here is what this is about. Radfems want the right to exclude transsexual women (and sometimes also transsexual men, but they sometimes waver on that point, because they don’t really consider them to be men) from womens’ spaces. Apparently, this is a major problem in Nepal, Turkey, Bolivia and Kuwait. Not to mention the unfair treatment given the Malaysian Womens’ Music Festival. Typical prerequisites held up by radfems to invalidate trans women can include:
- Physical milestones that women endure, such as puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth. Of course, MTF hormone therapy induces physical puberty (though circumstances differ, see next point), and not all cissexual women can become pregnant or experience childbirth. Some cissexual women with various medical conditions never experience menstruation.
- Having always been excluded from male privilege. Certainly, many if not most pre-transition MTF transsexual women have questioned male privilege when they’ve observed it, been sensitive to it, and chose not to assert or regard it in their own lives. I know that before transition, I’d never felt particularly entitled, and generally-speaking, society usually picked up on that, and treated me as lesser, accordingly. Even so, yes there were times that privilege had been granted without my assertion. I bring none of that privilege with me from my former life, save the very clear lesson from seeing the before and after of how I as a woman am now consistently denied it. To my thinking, transsexuals — both MTF and FTM — are able to provide the strongest testaments that male privilege exists, and just how disparate that gap really is. That said, people early in transition sometimes have to run through a few conflicts before their eyes are opened to this.
- Chemical traits stemming from hormones. Within one to two years of hormone therapy, transsexual women become hormonally equivalent to cissexual women, both in physical (muscle-fat distribution, endurance capabilities) and chemical regards.
- Chromosomal DNA. Of course, we don’t test everyone on this, we just assume that anyone born with male genitalia has exclusively male chromosomes. Science has been unearthing some conflicting data, but we don’t have it all collected, yet. Stay tuned.
- Socialized, life-long experiences as women. Again, many of these experiences (rape, victimization and violence, sexist treatment, discriminatory assumptions, wage disparity, the way that the commodification of the female “beauty” aesthetic affects our value as humans, medical impositions on the body) are things that transsexual women can and do experience as well, but it’s often asserted that said experience has not been for long enough (yet a timeline when one has “arrived” at womanhood is never specified). Other experiences (i.e. puberty during conflicted childhood, socialization as “girl”) are more likely to appear exclusive, but overlooks the possibility that there may be comparative experiences in a transsexual’s life. For example, the childhood-long relentless and frequent beating out of me (both physically and mentally) of the effeminate traits that were natural to me could certainly qualify as lifelong lessons in the lesser regard that women and their associated traits are held in. Social prerequisites stem from a belief that women are oppressed from birth by men, and that only women with common experiences of oppression are truly women. Anyone who had ever experienced life as a man is thus excluded, by this reasoning.
I’m sure that Cathy Brennan, Elizabeth Hungerford and the good people at Radfem Hub can come up with a few more. There is a word that amply describes the motive at play and masquerading as a scholarly paper — although its use is often responded to with cries of “anti-woman” hostility and violence. Instead of saying it, I think readers are more than capable of seeing it and judging for themselves.
Meanwhile, In America and Around the World
The past week or so has been filled with it’s usual share of heartbreaking news. In Washington D.C., Lashai Mclean was put to rest, although the memorial service was marred by a mass walk-out, when the presiding pastor made comments that Mclean’s death was god’s will to make people repent, and a deacon commented that “… when you live a certain lifestyle this is the consequence you have to pay” (Monica Roberts posts a video by Diamond Stylz with more information). Meanwhile, D.C. police are investigating another near-identical shooting, and the possibility that someone is stalking and hunting trans women. Nearby, news is unfolding regarding foul play suspected in the death of a trans woman in Manhattan (as is always the case, identified as a man in initial police and media reports). And while murders of trans people around the world often go unreported, TGEU notes the murder of a woman named Didem, in Turkey, and information has run dry about the murder of Thalia, in Mexico.
In Malaysia, 25-year-old Aleesha Farhana Abd Aziz died of a heart condition following the high court’s dismissal of a three-year (or more) quest to have her identification updated to reflect the way she lived her life — something that affects franchisement at every step in society. In Vietnam, officials are fighting about whether a woman of transsexual history (post-op, because as with radfems, in Vietnam, the actual genital configuration apparently doesn’t count) should be jailed with men, and in Sweden, legislators are arguing yet again about whether trans people should be forcibly sterilized in order to be legally able to transition. Trans people in India are being denied access to food programs, and Metro relates the ongoing situation in Ecuador, which is not unfamiliar to many other parts of the world:
A frequent problem she comes across is transgender people being kicked out of home, leaving them with no option but to turn to prostitution. As a result, the transgender community suffers from high levels of HIV.
… Anamaria Bejar of the HIV/Aids Alliance, says attacks in South America are happening with widespread impunity. ‘When a transgender person is assassinated, mostly their friends organise and pay for the funeral as, for many families, “they were already dead” when they left home,’ she says.‘The police don’t take them seriously. Paramilitary and crime groups consider the assassination of a transgender person as “social cleansing”.’
But Cathy Brennan, Elizabeth Hungerford and the good people at Radfem Hub can sit back and smile, knowing that they are doing their part to make the world a better place for women, by urging the UN Commission on the Status of Women to abandon any advocacy for gender identity and gender expression. In fact, they claim that inclusion will “codify the notion of stereotypes based on sex into law,” rather than defuse such codification.
“The security awareness administration at Dubai Police is currently planning the launch of campaigns targeting transsexuals, boyat, domestic violence and sexual harassment,” police said in a statement.
… Universities and radio and TV programmes regularly discuss this subculture, often saying parents are not involved enough with their daughters as they hit their turbulent teenage years.“We are stigmatised and misunderstood,” Kool Boyah said, adding she was abused by a male relative as a child. “I wanted to be tough and appear so through my choice of tomboyish clothes and attitude.”
Boyat often wear masculine attire under their the abaya and shayla in public.
… According to Islamic tradition, it is forbidden for men and women to act like the opposite sex. Such behaviour is considered a deviance from God’s plan and from nature.
A better place for women, indeed, free of transsexuals, and free of pants. Because unlike patriarchy, Cathy Brennan and Elizabeth Hungerford know what is best for women the world over.
(Crossposted to The Bilerico Project)