Lierre Keith: A Case Study in Anti-Trans Hatred

[Note on Comments: People who connect themselves with Lierre Keith's and Derrick Jensen's Deep Green Resistance have been leaving comments attacking and degrading women who are trans. Comments that attack trans women's existence/oppose trans women's survival will not be published!]

Lierre Keith is the author of The Vegetarian Myth, a polemic against plant-based diets, and the forthcoming Deep Green Resistance, with Aric McBay and Derrick Jensen. Last year I wrote a post "Questioning Lierre Keith's Transphobia" when asked on another blog, "Can you site anything written by Keith where she expresses views about Trans people?" Joelle Ruby Ryan came across my post in preparation for a conference where Keith was presenting. Having discovered Keith's anti-trans connections, Ryan informed the conference organizers. Here are excerpts of Keith's response to being asked about her ideologically driven hatred of trans people, as posted on Ryan's Transmeditations’s Blog:

Well, I’ve personally been fighting about this since 1982. I think ‘transphobic’ is a ridiculous word. I have no strange fear of people who claim to be ‘trans.’ I deeply disagree with them, as do most radical feminists.

Try this on. I am a rich person stuck in a poor person’s body. I’ve always enjoyed champagne rather than beer, and always knew I belonged in first class not economy, and it just feels right when people wait on me. My insurance company should give me a million dollars to cure my Economic Dysphoria.

Or how about this. I am really Native American. How do I know? I’ve always felt a special connection to animals, and started building tee pees in the backyard as soon as I was old enough. I insisted on wearing moccasins to school even though the other kids made fun of me and my parents punished me for it. I read everything I could on native people, started going to pow wows and sweat lodges as soon as I was old enough, and I knew that was the real me. And if you bio-Indians don’t accept us trans-Indians, then you are just as genocidal and oppressive as the Europeans.

Gender is no different. It is a class condition created by a brutal arrangement of power. I can’t fathom how mutilating people’s bodies to fit an oppressive power arrangement is frankly anything but a human rights violation. And men insisting that they are women is insulting and absurd.

There is no such thing as ‘woman’ or ‘man’ outside of patriarchal social relations. These are not biological conditions–they are socially created, by violence in the end. If I can’t be a rich person born in a poor person’s body, then I can’t be a woman born in a man’s body. Not unless you are going to argue that man and woman are biological or essential conditions. The whole point of feminism is that they are neither; gender is social to the roots, and those roots are soaked in women’s blood.

So there it is.

I would highly recommend reading the work that radical feminists have produced critiquing the entire culture of queer, including s/m and porn, that gave rise to the phenomenon of ‘trans.’ Sheila Jeffreys’s books _Unpacking Queer Politics_ and _The Lesbian Heresy_ would be a great start.

[The Trans Community is] in fact deeply misogynist and reactionary when it comes to any understanding of male power. Indeed, they often claim it ‘oppresses’ them to even use the words ‘men’ and ‘women.’ Meanwhile, men are raping and brutalizing women on a mass scale. I hate to say this, but it’s porn culture that really created the whole concept of trans. I watched it happen… for your own edification, you might want to read up on Pat Califia, whom I talk about at length, and whose life and writing proves every point radical feminists make about queer politics, pornography, violence against women, sado-masochism, the eroticization of power and breaking boundaries (including the boundaries of children), and trans. All of it is right there.

Transphobia is not a psychological term like "agoraphobia" or "claustrophobia." Transphobia, like fatphobia, homophobia or Islamophobia, is a sociopolitical term. The suffix "-phobia" is thus analogous to the prefix "mis-" in misogyny. In terms of anti-oppression, both mis- and -phobia denote the perpetration of fear, hatred and violence arising from and supportive of a pervasive system of social oppression.

Women experience misogyny in the form of gendered violence that is systemic, institutional, as well as interpersonal and direct. Women's programs and services have been established to reduce and help women survive this gendered violence.

Misogyny affects all women, whether we are trans or cis women. Yet, trans women also encounter transphobia. This includes the systemic and institutional exclusion and preclusion of trans women from the same women's programs and services that are supposed to help all women respond to misogyny in our society. Thus the intersection of transphobia and misogyny means that trans women are actively denied programs and services that can save our lives and help keep us safe. This intersection is known as trans-misogyny.

Thus transphobia as advocated by anti-trans feminists like Lierre Keith and others is not a psychological aversion. Rather, transphobia is the actual perpetuation of violence against trans people. Trans people, specifically economically poor trans women of color, are targets of violence at rates disproportionate to other demographic groups in North America. (According to a recent report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, of the 22 reported anti-LGBTQ murder victims in 2009, "People of color accounted for 79% of these murders; 50% of those murdered were transgender women.") These acts of interpersonal violence are not accidents, but the logical results of systemic and institutionalized forms of violence, such as trans exclusion. Anti-trans feminists significantly contribute to these trends and should be held accountable for the effects of their promotion of anti-trans hatred, also known as transphobia.

ETA: Also be sure to read Quinnae Moongazer's analysis of Lierre Keith's and Robert Jensen's transphobia in her post "Outside: An Exodus From Patriarchy on the Backs of Women."

Re: Lierre Keith: A Case Study in Anti-Trans Hatred

The thing is, though, there is a persistent, lifelong and biological component to gender dysphoria. This has been proven by studies performed in the Netherlands on transsexual women's brains. This was documented in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Her transphobia is merely just another form of misogyny.

Re: Lierre Keith: A Case Study in Anti-Trans Hatred

I cannot even respond to Keith's comments. I can't believe someone who has never had the embodied experiences of being trans could just say what she has said in that quote with such confidence and believing that she is right. I am simply speechless.

Re: Lierre Keith: A Case Study in Anti-Trans Hatred

I'm also curious as to what Keith thinks about cultures that believe there are more than two genders. I have not read this book but heard of it: Will Roscoe's "Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders In Native America." New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.

I'm just really confused about Keith's comments.

This reminds me of how deep transphobia is and that people who claim to not be individually transphobic still benefit from institutional and structural transphobia. Just thinking out loud here.

Re: Lierre Keith: A Case Study in Anti-Trans Hatred

I'm not convinced that it matters whether character traits come from a biological root more than it matters that those traits are straight-jacketed by the normative categories of Male/Female-Masculine/Feminine-Man/Woman. I think that regardless of how biologically rooted gender dysphoria is, the conflict is when one's character traits clash with gender norms. That it may even be dangerous to emphasize the biological roots, since that can be a basis for a eugenics whereas an emphasis on the inadequacy of our sex/sexuality/gender concepts opens up to a possibility for a social change based on an acceptance of difference. The utility or instrumentality of these categories is useful to the extent that they generalize and summarize a certain range of traits and preferences for the convenience of various relationships. But, beyond that I am not so sure that they serve me and others who are 'queer'. Then again, without demonstrating a strong biological component... prejudice creeps will make an attempt to "cure" deviance from whatever norms. That's the difficult thing about prejudice - if the goal is to abolish an Other, anything can be ignored or twisted to fit that agenda.

Re: Lierre Keith: A Case Study in Anti-Trans Hatred

I think the most bizarre thing about Keith's (and many rad fem arguments) against trans people is that gender doesn't exist, but people are oppressed using it. Trans peoples' genders do not exist and are made up, by Keith's gender as a woman is very real. The oppression trans people face is justified as their genders are made up, but the oppression cis women suffer is real because their genders are real. So, what is it, Lierre? Is gender real or not?

And isn't it funny how she used things that are real (native genocide, etc) as comparisons for something she believes is only real for cis people in patriarchy. What a ridiculous argument.

I think most people who believe gender is a social construct still acknowledge that it plays a real role in our lives and that people can be whatever gender they are and deal with that shit.

The more I read about her, the more I believe she deserved a pie in her face. No one would argue against a pie in some trans phobic anti-animal politician. Keith is kinda worse bc she hides behind the guise of radicalism...