Anti-Transsexual Investigations of Embodiment and Bodiliness

I recently got a troubling call for papers (CFP) for a conference titled "Meet Animal Meat." I'd just ignore it if the only things troubling me about this conference were the title and the CFP's academic doublespeak, which privileges professional academics while making it inaccessible to most everyone else. But what really concerns me is that the conference claims to be "Informed by feminist investigations of embodiment and bodiliness" and goes on to identify Carol J. Adams and Judith "Jack" Halberstam as the keynote speakers. So here is a conference claiming to be "Informed by feminist investigations embodiment and bodiliness" and it's two keynote speakers are both unapologetically anti-transsexual – that is, two cissexist feminists who disrespect the "embodiment and bodiliness" of transsexuals.

I've written about Adams' transphobia before, but it's worth point out again just how Adams disrespects the "embodiment and bodiliness" of transsexual women. In her recounting of a transphobic encounter with Carol Adams, Mirha-Soleil Ross describes how Adams completely disrespected her gender identity and how Adams felt justified in questioning her womanhood. But maybe this is what is meant by "feminist investigations of embodiment and bodiliness" – that is, cissexual feminists subjecting others' "embodiment and bodiliness" to invasive investigations and professional/academic exploitation. After all, there's nothing in the CFP suggesting that others' "embodiment and bodiliness" ought to be respected. On the other hand, the CFP does list "Gender Consumption and Ecofeminism" as a suggested topic. That seems fitting, since Adams obviously engages in gender consumption when she insist that she should be able to take (that is, consume) a transsexual woman's private medical history without that woman's permission and then uses that medical history in an attempt to destroy (again, consume) that woman's gender identity.

Like Adams, Halberstam also disrespects the "embodiment and bodiliness" of transsexuals. Halberstam's cissexism and anti-transsexual views are on display in the film Boy I Am, a film about transsexual men but made for and by cissexual lesbians. In this film Halberstam makes numerous statements about trans men that can only be described as outright transphobia. If the same statements were made about lesbians, especially by an academic straight woman in a film made by straight woman, the film would no doubt have been boycotted by the lesbian community for promoting homophobia. These statements include saying if transsexual men had more sexual experiences with lesbians they might not feel the need to transition and suggesting that trans men are transitioning because they are pressured to do so by other transsexuals. So these statements parallel the logic of homophobia and sound just like those classic homophobic statements that if lesbians just had (more) sexual experiences with men they might not feel the need to be with other women and that lesbians are being pressured by other lesbians. (The filmmaker claims Halberstam's anti-trans sentiments were included in the film specifically to refute them.)

Halberstam's transphobic arguments are real cause for concern. In the context of the film they were explicitly made in support of making hormones and surgery inaccessible to most trans men. Such restricted access to hormones and surgery is most harmful to poor and working-class trans men and trans men of color. That is, White rich/upper-middle-class trans men won't be harmed by such restrictions as much as less privileged trans men. Which is relevant, since the film follows poor/working-class trans men and trans men of color who are struggling to save and raise money for surgery. Halberstam's anti-trans views are not simply cissexist, but go much further by bolstering the intersection of cissexism with classism and racism.

That both Adams and Halberstam are the keynotes of a conference "Informed by feminist investigations of embodiment and bodiliness" is very troubling. The keynotes suggest that the conference is in fact informed by feminist investigations that are based on oppressive concepts of embodiment and bodiliness that are exploitative of others. It's hard to believe that a conference based on a principal underlying theme intertwined with disrespecting transsexuals and rooted in cissexism can possibly be supportive and respectful of the embodiment and bodiliness of other animals.

Re: Anti-Transsexual Investigations of Embodiment and Bodiliness

You know, whenever I see a conference or topic in which a "feminist" analysis will be "brought to the table", I have always thought that by default, this "feminism" will be white middle class straight able bodied Westernized etc "feminism." So, after reading your troubling concerns, I'm not really surprised that this would occur again.

I took an entire women's studies graduate course on Body Theory this term. All white able bodied class privileged Western perspective on body theory/embodiment. Once again, I was disappointed but not surprised that no people of color, trans identified people, or people who are living with disabilities part of the reading list. Once again, I got the feeling that "Feminist inquiry" is relegated to a "Certain" type of scholar who embodies "acceptable" mainstream scholarship.

Re: Anti-Transsexual Investigations of Embodiment and Bodiliness

If you could get funding, would you attend the conference to point this anti-trans feminism out? Or, would it just be emotionally taxing and frustrating for you?

Your post reminds me of the anti-trans campaign from PETA when they say, "Wearing fur is a drag". Maybe you were the one who brought that to light at first on one of your blogs postings... or perhaps on Vegans of Color?


Best,
Breeze





Thanks, Breeze.

Thanks, Breeze. I think you're right. If I could get the funding, I'm sure attending this conference would be both emotionally taxing and frustrating. But given the overall setup of the conference, anti-trans feminism is only one issue I'd have to contend with. There are other power dynamic such as economic class and education level that I'm sure would play into my having a dreadful experience.

Re: Anti-Transsexual Investigations of Embodiment and Bodiliness

As a member of the organizing committee, I'm sorry that our conference is generating some dissent, and generating "concerned" emails. Of course our conference is not anti-trans or anti-gender/queer, we are interested in continuing feminist (in our vernacular this includes critical race, queer, transglobal, and class) efforts to build solidarity between peoples and animals. Honestly, it never occurred to us (organizing committee which is comprised of queer/trans folks) that there would be these particular problems. (We thought there might be some tensions between animal activists/liberationists and animal theorists/historians). If we had known, we would have tried to intervene and make clear that our intentions are absolutely not discriminatory.

More specifically, and correct me if I am wrong, I don't believe Adams has ever published writing on trans/queer identities. Although I can't presume to know, it seems to me that her exchange--which is admittedly problematic--with Ross cannot constitute her final "position." (Legacies of conflict/struggle between trans/queer folks and radical/feminists have left everyone bruised/wounded). As for Halberstam, s/he has done important (supportive) work for gender/queer/trans communities--again, some of her work on TG/TS men is troubling and needs to be critiqued--and I'm hoping that her presence at our conference will guide a younger generation of feminist/gender activist/scholars to see the connections between gender/sexuality oppression and the innumerable oppressions/brutalities experience by animals. We need greater solidarity, not intensified fragmentation--some of these debates should be framed historically and put to rest so we can try to help the planet before it is too late.

We hope that our conference can continue the effort of resistance against anthropocentrism and animal violence . . . and build bridges between artists, activists, scholars of all kinds (and we really do mean "all").

E. H.





PS.

I would add that the conference is located in Sweden, organized by scholars/activists associated with Uppsala University. This context is not meant as an apologia, but to simply propose that "feminism" has its own critical currency in Sweden. We are a nation of 9 million people (since WW11 from mostly immigrant backgrounds, many trans-continental), most of us are required to learn British English so that out voices might be heard by "super powers." We are constantly in the process of "catching-up" (or, being taught that we need to) to the discourses generated by powerful presses and in a "global language" (as English is described around the world). This is only to offer a trans-national framework . . . how our national differences inform our scholarship/activism . . . an awareness of these difference creates the conditions for solidarity and possibility.



Ewa



@ Eva

Greater solidarity is a laudable goal, but, like you state, we need to do that by listening to those who have been excluded. Labeling them as fragmenting for speaking up positions trans people as the problem, not transphobia.

The anti-transsexual positions publicly held by the speakers are not a part of history. Halberstam has publicly opposed access to medical care for young people and generally devalues the need to physically transition altogether. This when US academics almost universally work at institutions that have health insurance polices that explicitly exclude transgender health care.

I'll gladly put the debate to rest when trans people in prison have access to hormones and surgery. When trans women can use women's rooms with zero fear of being told she doesn't belong. Or when gender neutral bathrooms are the norm. If we're talking about a historical framework, the relevant one is that trans people--particularly MTF spectrum people--have long been oppressed.

So the committee has chosen these speakers—fine, that's in the past--but now that they are chosen, I think the committee has certain responsibilities, namely, to raise these issues at the conference--to, for example, publicly ask Adams to go on the record at the conference on her views on the need to have a trans-inclusive feminism. (The fact that she doesn't include trans/queer identities in her feminist work is telling in and of itself.)

At the very least please just accept that what Adams and Halberstam have said is very damaging and continues to cause harm (it is not merely troubling or problematic). Please don't blame the controversy on the people who point this out.







Re: Anti-Transsexual Investigations of Embodiment and Bodiliness

Oh, my! I wish I had read this a long time ago. I probably did, but too long ago, at a time when I didn't even know who Carol J. Adams was.

Well, I had wanted to invite Carol J. Adams to speak at my university, but she cost too much - $3000. I am glad I am not bringing her. I read your other comments on Carol Adams' transphobia, but I didn't know it was this plain. I am bringing another speaker to campus instead (also a white ecofeminist), and I am just familiar with her from reading an article... I hope nothing bad comes of this... geez, I didn't know so many feminists these days were anti-trans. I hope the speaker I have coming is not also! The people I am inviting to the event will include a lot of my queer friends who are activists opposed to transphobia. I more wanted some other speakers to come (including non-white), but this one was the only one who responded to my e-mails. Not that I don't want her to come, at this point, but I am just worried because of the similarity in background to Carol J. Adams.

Hey, Ida, do you give talks at random universities? :D I think the best bloggers I read are easier to trust than the authors - more accessible and more humble. The conversations that take place on a blog are key.