Our Bodies and Lives: Questioning Cissexual Politics

Right after I drafted my response to the attack on transsexual men in pattrice jones' Aftershock, I came across a blog post perpetuating the same vegetarian-ecofeminist cissexism and transphobia.

Lagusta Yearwood posted about the boycott of Feministing, expressing doubt about the site's transphobia:

Claims of extreme transphobia and hostility toward trans women on the site: I can't claim to have read all of the long long long threads that the pages I've seen link to (and if you have specific examples of the perceived horrible treatment of trans women on the site, I'd like to see them), but man oh man! Trans issues are complex for a lot of cisgender people, myself included, and I appreciate Feministing's attempt to work through the more nuanced and complicated aspects in an inclusive way. Also, it seems that most of the problems people are having take place in the comments, and it seems ridiculous to blame the site for that.

Yearwood's doubts cannot be assessed without considering the cissexism and transphobia of fundamentalist "radical feminists" (radfems) in propagating a discourse that perpetuates anti-transsexual repression/oppression. This includes Yearwood's own active participation in perpetuating this hateful discourse about our bodies and lives. (Read more...)

Right after I drafted my response to the attack on transsexual men in pattrice jones' Aftershock, I came across a blog post perpetuating the same vegetarian-ecofeminist cissexism and transphobia.

Lagusta Yearwood posted about the boycott of Feministing, expressing doubt about the site's transphobia:

Claims of extreme transphobia and hostility toward trans women on the site: I can't claim to have read all of the long long long threads that the pages I've seen link to (and if you have specific examples of the perceived horrible treatment of trans women on the site, I'd like to see them), but man oh man! Trans issues are complex for a lot of cisgender people, myself included, and I appreciate Feministing's attempt to work through the more nuanced and complicated aspects in an inclusive way. Also, it seems that most of the problems people are having take place in the comments, and it seems ridiculous to blame the site for that.

Yearwood's doubts cannot be assessed without considering the cissexism and transphobia of fundamentalist "radical feminists" (radfems) in propagating a discourse that perpetuates anti-transsexual repression/oppression. This includes Yearwood's own active participation in perpetuating this hateful discourse about our bodies and lives.

Yearwood's Anti-Trans Activism

In June 2004, Yearwood wrote the anti-transsexual essay "Questioning Transgender Politics." Originally written as "Transgender Politics aka 'I Love Hate Mail,'" it was one of the principle anti-transsexual articles on Amy Winter's (now defunct) hate-site exclusively dedicated to attacking trans people, called Questioning Transgender Politics.

The Questioning Transgender Politics website was explicit about its cissexist and transphobic intent. The site specifically stated its opposition to transsexual women having access to services offered to other women. Furthermore, this opposition to trans women's inclusion in women's services cannot be separated from the transphobic exclusion of trans women from the Michigan Women's Music Festival (MichFest) and the Vancouver Rape Relief (VRR) and Women's Shelter.

In fact, Yearwood specifically recommends Karla Mantilla's trans-misogynistic article "Men in Ewes' Clothing: 
The Stealth Politics of the Transgender Movement," which she links to on VRR's website no less. The article specifically argues for the exclusion of trans women from MichFest, and goes as far as implying that trans women are actually male rapists. Since trans women are disproportionately targets of sexual violence, it is extremely offensive how often radfems – going back to Robin Morgan, Mary Daly, and Janice Raymond – promote this myth of trans women as the perpetrators as opposed to the targets of sexual violence against women.

The Privilege of Cissexual Oblivion

Given Yearwood's history and on-going dismissal and perpetuation of the "horrible treatment" of trans women, it shouldn't be a surprise when she fails to recognize it on Feministing. Rather than recognize our oppression as real and significant, Yearwood is insistent that the day-to-day issues affecting trans people are too "complicated" for her as a cissexual. This simply reflects Yearwood's cissexist bias where elite, anti-transsexual discourse is used to maintain the power of the existing cissexist relation.

Noah left a detailed comment to my first "Our Bodies and Lives" post discussing a specific example of the horrible treatment that trans women received from Feministing. This concerned protections for trans women accessing public restrooms.

Given Yearwood's own anti-trans activism and her praise of the anti-trans writings of Mantilla, it's not at all surprising that she didn't recognize Feministing's use of Focus on the Family's attack on trans people as oppressive. After all, the Mantilla article that Yearwood promotes contains the same basic trans-misogynistic myths about trans women's inclusion in women's space as Focus on the Family promotes with regard to public restrooms.

Furthermore, Yearwood says in the comments to her post, "a lot of my experience with on the ground feminism was at a feminist restaurant run by radical lesbian feminists who are themselves, in their 70s, just now adjusting to these ideas as well. They are pretty vehemently against trans women using women's bathrooms, for example...but their ideas are evolving." Yet, Yearwood doesn't actually acknowledge the effect her mentors' transphobia actually has on trans women who may go to this restaurant.

This just goes to show that Yearwood neither recognizes our lived experience as a group of oppressed people, nor does she recognize her own power and privilege as a cissexual. Instead, she forces our bodies and lives into cissexist assumptions about the oppression of cissexual women.

Again, Yearwood falls back on disguising this transphobia by calling it "complicated." She say, "I've gotten a lot of hate for my complicated feelings about what I call, in my mean moods, the medicalization of gender."

For Yearwood, trans people calling her out is "hate." This is a pattern going back to her use of "I Love Hate Mail" in the original title to her transphobic essay. Basically, Yearwood is trying to play the victim in order to dismiss criticism of her transphobia. This is akin to claiming that people of color are being "reverse racists." That is, Yearwood attempts to deny how she is the perpetrator of anti-trans hate by claiming the targets of her transphobic hatred are real perpetrators when we talk back.

Bloodroot: Serving Up Transphobia

The restaurant where Yearwood experienced on-the-ground "feminism" is Bloodroot, currently run by co-founders Selma Miriam and Noel Furie. Yearwood also worked with Miriam and Furie on two of the latest Bloodroot cookbooks, as well as the Bloodroot website.

In an essay "Ethical Vegetarianism," Bloodroot makes it clear that its lacto-ovo-vegetarian-ecofeminist politics is intimately connected with cissexism and transphobia. In the essay, Bloodroot specifically recommends selections from Mary Daly's transphobic and trans-misogynistic book, Gyn/Ecology, where Daly claims, "if some gynecologists have their way ... it will soon be abnormal for a woman over fifty to have her own breasts and/or uterus," with a footnote stating:

The normalizing and popularization of such maiming should not be seen in isolation from the increasingly popular phenomenon of transsexualism. As Janice Raymond points out: "Transsexualism has taken only 25 years to become a household word" ... Although, as Raymond points out, the majority who undergo "sex change operations" are men who want to become women, the same vested interests are being served here as in gynecology.

Controlling the Bodies of Others

On July 18, 2006, the Connecticut Post quoted Miriam of Bloodroot claiming, "The secret of life is transformation. You take a bit of wool and spin it [to make a scarf], that's magic. You take an egg and make an omelet. It's how I transform what [comes from] Mother Earth."

In a letter published in the Post, I disputed Bloodroot's magical thinking about the exploitation of other animals, saying, "Wool, eggs and dairy products are not magic, but are derived within systems of control over others' reproduction and offspring. Once these animals can no longer produce for us, just like animals raised as meat, they will be killed."

It is ironic that Bloodroot celebrates the non-consensual transformation of animals' bodies into commodities, yet would deny transsexual people the freedom to willfully transform our bodies. Since Bloodroot exerts control over the bodies of other animals, it is unsurprising that they seek to exert control over the bodies of other humans.

Furthermore, Bloodroot's hatred of transsexuals is made even plainer when they specifically recommend Janice Raymond's infamously transphobic and trans-misogynistic polemic The Transsexual Empire in the Ethical Vegetarianism essay. Raymond is perhaps the most notoriously transphobic radfem.

Cissexist Power

It is in the context of this transphobia that we need to consider Yearwood's "medicalization of gender" comment. Yearwood is continuing these infamous attacks on transsexuals when she takes it upon herself to denounce trans-related health care – something she has no need for and no personal experience with, yet feels comfortable not only telling others not to seek it, but that those who do are perpetuating oppression.

It is almost impossible to believe Yearwood when she claims, "I'm trying to learn about it and be a good ally." Recall that Yearwood has been making this sort of claim for over five years, and yet she still continues to perpetuate the same oppressive discourse about trans people.

Regarding trans issues, Yearwood says "it IS complicated, and I don't think we can deny that–we just have to make sure that we don't end the discussion there." What transsexuals and our allies need to recognize is that the way Yearwood and other anti-trans radfems define the discussion of our lives is the very means by which they maintains their privilege over us. Like I said in my previous post:

Certainly, cissexual, anti-transsexual vegetarian-ecofeminists are exercising control over our bodies and lives when they purport to know – that is, define – the reason why transsexuals get sex changes. Given their socially privileged position, they can declaim transsexuals all they want without ever having to consider our everyday lived experience. Of course cissexism supports a system that invests them and other cissexuals with legitimacy as individuals and in societal institutions, while also denying us our self-determination.

The sort of discourse Yearwood has promoted in her essay, post and comments works to dominate and exploit our bodies and lives. This is what is at the heart of her "questioning transgender politics."

Lisa Harney, of the blog Questioning Transphobia, has done a lot of good work challenging the transphobic discourse of "Questioning Transgender Politics." Of particular interest is her critique of the "questioning" rhetoric in the comments to the post "Transphobia and Radical Feminism – a challenge," on Touchingly Naive:

I find it difficult to accept most "questioning" of transgender that I see from many radical feminists because it's not questioning – it's an imposition of privilege. You're saying, as a [cissexual] woman, that you're in a position to judge my life, my choices, and my identity. You're also saying you can do these things without my input, without listening to what I have to say about my life. This isn't analysis, nor is it theory.

I've seen very few informed discussions about transgender and transsexualism. Most of what I see is centered around trying to force us to remain identified as our birth sex, or denying that our lived experiences could possibly be real. Our own words are rejected outright as biased and subjective, while your words are enshrined as theory, analysis, questions, and challenges.

Harney's words speak precisely to the problem with Yearwood's discussion of our lives and bodies. Yearwood thinks she, as a cissexual, has us all figured out. In the comments to her blog, she stubbornly holds onto her cissexist, ideological belief that transsexual men are actually women suffering from internalized misogyny.

Cissexist Refusal to Listen

In an introduction to her essay, Yearwood claims she's not "anti-trans." Yet, Yearwood claims, "women who want to become men, who feel and have always felt that they are men living in a female body, have institutionalized [sic] misogyny (hatred of women) to a horrifying extent." (Trans men have single-handily "institutionalized" misogyny? Hopefully she meant "internalized.")

Yearwood insists that it is the "made up construct" of our "patriarchal and misogynist society" that causes transsexuals to "go around cutting up their junk and taking pills forever to fit society's ideas." Yearwood says that these "women who want to become men" (Yearwood resists acknowledging that they are men) "are obviously extremely stupid."

Yet Yearwood is unable to consider the possibility that it is she who is missing something, that it is she who is the one not comprehending the reality of transsexuals' lives – that her whole premise that trans people are trying to "fit society's ideas" is completely backwards. She is the one who is continually forcing transsexual people to conform to her ideas.

What I find particularly offensive is that Yearwood thinks forcing her cissexual theory onto our bodies and lives will make her a "better ally." Yearwood says:

If gender binarism is the problem, why just SWITCH genders? Why not DISMANTLE gender itself? When I understand that, I think I will be able to be a much better ally to trans people.

I think the simple answer is: it’s easier than changing all of society. And that's perfectly acceptable. But I still think it’s only the simple answer.

Again, Yearwood is not listening. By claiming that transsexuals are simply assimilating, rather than challenging society, Yearwood is falling back on radfem anti-trans propaganda about why we seek access to trans-related health care. It is very offensive to see her claim that this dis-understanding of our bodies and lives actually enables her "to be a much better ally to trans people."

Yearwood is nothing close to an ally. By claiming that transsexuals only exist as a result of a sexist society, and suggesting that we wouldn't exist in a non-sexist society, Yearwood is actually denying that our bodies and lives have any inherent worth. Framing the lives of transsexuals in opposition to countering sexism is deeply cissexist. She's in fact exploiting our bodies and lives in order to promote transphobia under the spurious claim of opposing misogyny.

If Yearwood really wants to be an ally to trans people, like she claims, then she needs to stop questioning our bodies and lives and start listening to us. She needs to start recognizing and questioning her own position of dominance and cissexual privilege. And she needs to be active in support of our efforts for social change, including standing against those who would deny us services, health care, or the access to the appropriate bathroom.

Yet in every respect, Yearwood has done exactly the opposite of what an ally would do. Yearwood's discourse about trans people perpetuates cissexism and transphobia. As such, it is only appropriate to acknowledge that she is in fact a perpetrator, not an ally.

Re: Our Bodies and Lives: Questioning Cissexual Politics

Thanks so much for this and your continued analysis, Ida. I so appreciate how you can take these visceral thoughts and feelings that we have and turn them into such eloquent essays. It's only through this dialog that people -- friends, even -- will stop breaking my heart with their anti-trans, ovo-lacto hate disguised as "eco-feminism."

Vegetarian-Ecofeminism as Anti-Vegan Backlash

[Obviously the owners of Bloodroot are making money from their continued exploitation of other animals. And likewise, people are gaining materially and psychologically from the products (rabbit fur gloves, green tomato pie with cheese or butterscotch pudding with heavy cream) of this exploitation. This comment clearly centers the economic and human privileges being gained from exploiting other animals. As an anti-oppression website, The Vegan Ideal understands that the privileges perpetrators derive from the exploitation of a targeted oppressed group are the primary factor of that group's oppression. The point of veganism is to renounce the benefits that come from exploiting others, and to promote nonexploitative ways of meeting everyone's needs. As such, while I would like to discourage similar comments, this speciesist defense of the exploitation of other animals is a clear example of anti-vegan backlash. –Ida]

Heya Ida!

A couple points. I'm sorry you feel I'm not getting your message and am contributing to the problem. Maybe I'm just dumb? Could be, absolutely. Could also be that I simply disagree, but am too polite to say so because liberals aren't allowed to politely disagree on this topic. I'm not sure which is more true.

If you read my newer ideas, which I know you have, you will find that I am no where near "unable to consider the possibility that it is she who is missing something," I freely admit that!

Your overall hostile tone makes me not really want to respond to your points about me any further, so I won't.
However, I'll respond to the comments about Bloodroot.

It occurs to me to ask if you've ever spoken to Noel and/or Selma about veganism, since it appears that you live in Connecticut? If you had, you'd have a fascinating, nuanced conversation that would leave you refreshed and inspired about your own vegan practice. I've had countless talks with them about it, all of which were respectful and friendly.

Bloodroot is not a vegan restaurant, it's about 90% vegan. Selma and Noel spin wool and other animal fibers. These sentences seem so damning to vegans, but there is a lot behind them.

First of all, the tiny bit of eggs and dairy that they use truly does come from sustainable, humane sources. Their cheeses are all vegetarian and are from small, artisanal businesses, many of whom they have visited themselves to verify that the animals were treated well. I haven't eaten cheese in 17 years, but I respect the way that Bloodroot serves cheese.

Their dairy and eggs are locally produced, and the truth is that many of the dairy dishes on their menu are literally DEMANDED by longtime customers, many of whom would, without a doubt, stop coming to the restaurant if they couldn't get their green tomato pie with cheese or butterscotch pudding with heavy cream.

I'm not sure if you've ever run a business, Ida, but if you have I'm sure you understand the importance of keeping repeat customers. If you've ever fun a food business, where margins are notoriously tight, you will understand this even more.

In fact, I believe you could make a strong case that Bloodroot has done more to usher vegan meals into non-vegan's diets than most vegans I know. Because many of their customers are not vegan, the 90% of their menu that is vegan is serious activism--getting vegan food into non-vegan bodies.

Similarly, the animal fibers that they use in their fiber arts are 100% from living animals who are treated well--no animals are ever killed for their wool sweaters. I adore a pair of rabbit fur gloves that Selma made for me--the rabbit fur was spun from a rabbit while it sat in Selma's lap, being brushed and living a wonderful, pampered life. Selma dyed the fur with natural dyes made from plants grown in her garden, then knitted a pair of gloves I will always cherish.

As with the trans discussion, there is a lot of nuance to be seen if we are willing to open our eyes to it.

And Jenna, my lady, "eco-feminism"??? Pourquoi the quotes? Yeah, ECO-FEMINISM! Say it loud and say it proud!

Veganism is About Quality, Not Quantity

The idea of something being "90% vegan" is misguided. It's as absurd as claiming a business can be "90% feminist" if it only exploits women 10% of the time. Even if only a tenth of a business is actively involved in the exploitation of women, it should still be considered anti-woman and anti-feminist. The same goes for the exploitation of other animals. This is because exploitation is a qualitative matter, not a quantitative one.

Also, the use of percentages is intentionally misleading. A plate of pasta with meat sauce may be made up of 90% plant-derived ingredients and 10% animal-derived ingredients, but we rightly consider such a dish to be inappropriate for vegans. Regardless of the limited content derived from the exploitation of other animal, it is the quality of the dish as a whole that is important. Likewise, the 10% of the Bloodroot that is directly involved in the exploitation of other animals can't be separated out from the other 90% that is assumed otherwise.

As a whole, Bloodroot is still in the business of perpetuating the exploitation of other animals. The restaurant facilitates both customers and suppliers in the system of human supremacy. So it is the qualitative ways in which Bloodroot perpetuates institutional and systematic exploitation of others that we should really be concerned about.

Re: Vegetarian-Ecofeminism as Anti-Vegan Backlash

Seems like you're saying people have to exploit animals in order to advance veganism (or that it's OK if they do). I don't believe that's true. Moreover, it is possible to operate an egg and dairy-free vegetarian restaurant in Bridgeport. While I never patronized Bloodroot, I did enjoy going to Shandal's Vegetarian Café. Delicious!

"Your overall hostile tone makes me not really want to respond to your points about me any further, so I won't."

To be clear, the points were not personally about Lagusta ("me"), but about the anti-trans comments and essay. Thankfully we are not the things we have written. Nor is Ida the anger she feels and expresses when she experiences transphobia. Keeping this separation in mind can help us listen and connect to one another.

Audre Lorde wrote:

I speak out of direct and particular anger at an academic conference, and a white woman says, "Tell me how you feel but don't say it too harshly or I cannot hear you." But is it my manner that keeps her from hearing, or the threat of a message that her life may change?

It is not the anger of other women that will destroy us but our refusal to stand still, to listen to its rhythms, to learn within it, to move beyond the manner of presentation to the substance, to tap that anger as an important source of empowerment.

Re: Vegetarian-Ecofeminism as Anti-Vegan Backlash

Wow, accusing a vegan of "anti-vegan backlash".....just wow.
It must be wonderful to live in a perfect world. I'll keep on working to bring about a vegan utopia and so will the Bloodroot owners, and so will you, all of us in our different ways. I refuse to engage in hateful slander against others who are taking a different path than me, I wish you would do the same.

[Yes, anti-vegan backlash – please read the linked post. Also, pointing out that backlash or how Bloodroot perpetuates of the oppression of other animals is neither "hateful" nor "slander." Please take a moment to read the various posts on veganism and anti-oppression that are on this site. –Ida]

Congratulations

I'm excited to see that Lagusta has just removed the Questioning Transgender essay as a result of this (and others') critiques of it.

Regardless of her motivation (she states that the essay was removed because she "got tired of being called a transphobe" as opposed to having a change of heart), at least that particular essay is not out there causing additional harm.

I know how much energy it takes to confront transphobia. Your speaking out clearly does make a difference, so please keep it up. We all benefit from hearing your voice.

Anti-Trans Sentiment is Obsolete

Thanks, Noah. Obviously it would be better if Lagusta Yearwood changed her mind. But as Bayard Rustin, an openly gay Black man and mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in "From Montgomery to Stonewall," our job is not to make those who hate us love us, but to control the extent to which they can publicly manifest their hateful sentiment. So in this regard the removal of Yearwood's anti-trans essay is a small success.

Re: Anti-Trans Sentiment is Obsolete

Why would you say that I "hate you"? Because I've tried to have a respectful conversation while maintaining my own beliefs? No wonder so many of us on the left can't ever get anything accomplished---instead of creating allies, we spend all our time creating enemies.

[Yet you maintain oppressive beliefs that define transsexuals in opposition to your brand of "feminism." And when transsexuals and our allies denounce how you turn our existence as trans people into the enemy, you claim we are the ones "creating enemies." It is your desire to maintain, rather than renounce, your anti-trans beliefs that is creating enemies. As I said in my post, your actions are those of a perpetrator, not an ally. –Ida]

Re: Anti-Trans Sentiment is Obsolete

Lagusta, I know it was not clear, but the word "hate" came from the original quote:

Our job is not to get those people who dislike us to love us. Nor was our aim in the civil rights movement to get prejudiced white people to love us. Our aim was to try to create the kind of America, legislatively, morally, and psychologically, such that even though some whites continued to hate us, they could not openly manifest that hate. That’s our job today: to control the extent to which people can publicly manifest antigay sentiment.

I've just tried to explain on your blog how what you've written--regardless of your intentions--contributes to the repression of transsexual people.

Ida is reacting to that public manifestation of anti-trans sentiment. What I am hearing is that you do not hate trans people and that you do not wish to hurt them. I do not think Ida wants to hurt you either. Nonetheless, both of you have been hurt.

Yet neither of you is the enemy. If there is any enemy, it is ignorance. I think this is such a powerful opportunity for learning. I hope it is not lost.

Re: Anti-Trans Sentiment is Obsolete

I second Noah's last comment. This conversation isn't just about Lagusta. Cis-privilege is far too invisible.

Lagusta- I get the feeling that the binary distinction between men and women in eco-feminism is important for you. A couple questions: 1) Can you explain what you're concerned with losing if we give up the binary? (I ask this to understand your concerns and not to criticize.) Is it a particular understanding of what it means to be a woman? Something important to feminist activism? 2) You've written in the past that you don't get the post-modern approach to feminism. Would you be up for some reading suggestions? I think the impasse here is rooted in different conceptions of the relationship between sex and gender. I'm asking this because you've said that you might have a knowledge gap here.

Ida, I very much appreciate your blog. You're bringing issues to the forefront that have not been addressed within the vegan community.

Re: Our Bodies and Lives: Questioning Cissexual Politics

Ida,

I saw this post a long time ago and have been thinking about it ever since. Admittedly a late comment but better late than never.

I had never heard of the troubled history of eco-feminism or its links to transphobia before, but what you are saying checks out. Bloodroot's home page has references to J. Raymond's book The Transsexual Empire - with no apologies. And I read through Lagusta's essay with sadness. It's heartbreaking. There are many misconceptions that could be addressed - such as the idea that transsexualism suddenly appeared out of postmodernism! I think of Leslie Feinberg's book, 'Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman'. Transsexuality has always been with us and it's a part of human expression as much as anything else.

Your tone is often harsh but I appreciate the work you are doing.

In solidarity,

J.