Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Trans-misogyny primer

I am often asked to explain trans-misogyny to people. While I've written extensively about trans-misogyny in Whipping Girl and other places, I sometimes find it difficult to sum up the concept in a few short words. This is especially true when explaining the concept to people who are relatively unaware about trans issues and experiences. Such people are often stuck in the mindset of viewing trans women as "men", and as a result, they have a hard time wrapping their brains around how misogyny might impact trans women's lives.

So these days, when people ask me about trans-misogyny, I often forward them a primer on the subject that I wrote for the 2009 Women, Action, & the Media (WAM) conference (specifically for a panel called "In/Out of Focus, Broadening a Feminist Lens: Gender, Non-Conformity and the Media"). It is a one-page handout that provides a brief introduction to trans-misogyny. It is far from complete, mind you - while it highlights the ways misogyny exacerbates transphobia, it does not delve into how transphobia can exacerbate misogyny, nor does it discuss how transphobia and misogyny also intersect with other forms of oppression. But, it is decent intro to the topic.

Since I have found this primer to be useful for novice audiences and individuals, I have decided to make it publicly available for others who may be interested:

Trans-misogyny primer. by Julia Serano (PDF format)

If others wish to use this primer for their workshops/classes/activism/etc., I am fine with that, provided that they do not alter it in any way, and that I am properly credited.

For those who are interested in this trans-misogyny primer, but do not wish to download the PDF, the text of the primer can be found below.

Hope people find this helpful! -julia


Trans-misogyny primer
by Julia Serano

The words transgender and gender-variant are typically used as catch-all terms to denote all people who defy cultural ideals, expectations, assumptions, and norms regarding gender. While all people who fall under the transgender umbrella potentially face social stigma for transgressing gender norms, those on the male-to-female (MTF) or trans female/feminine (TF) spectrum generally receive the overwhelming majority of societal fascination, consternation and demonization. In contrast, those on the female-to-male (FTM) or trans male/masculine (TM) spectrum have until very recently remained largely invisible and under-theorized. This disparity in attention suggests that individuals on the trans female/feminine spectrum are culturally marked, not for failing to conform to gender norms per se, but because of the specific direction of their gender transgression - that is, because of their feminine gender expression and/or their female gender identities. Thus, the marginalization of trans female/feminine spectrum people is not merely a result of transphobia, but is better described as trans-misogyny.

Trans-misogyny is steeped in the assumption that femaleness and femininity are inferior to, and exist primarily for the benefit of, maleness and masculinity. This phenomenon manifests itself in numerous ways:

-- Studies have shown that feminine boys are viewed far more negatively, and brought in for psychotherapy far more often, than masculine girls.

-- Psychiatric diagnoses directed against the transgender population often either focus solely on trans female/feminine individuals, or are written in such a way that trans female/feminine people are more easily and frequently pathologized than their trans male/masculine counterparts.

-- The majority of violence committed against gender-variant individuals targets individuals on the trans female/feminine spectrum.

-- In the media, jokes and demeaning depictions of gender-variant people primarily focus on trans female/feminine spectrum people. Often in these cases, it is their desire to be female and/or feminine that is especially ridiculed. While trans male/masculine individuals are often subjects of derision, their desire to be male and/or masculine is generally not ridiculed - to do so would bring the supposed supremacy of maleness/masculinity into question.

Perhaps the most visible example of trans-misogyny is the way in which trans women and others on the trans female/feminine spectrum are routinely sexualized in the media, within psychological, social science and feminist discourses, and in society at large. For example, the media not only regularly depict trans women's bodies and experiences in a titillating and lurid fashion, but they also sexualize trans women's motives for transitioning - e.g., by portraying them as either sex workers, sexual deceivers who prey on unsuspecting heterosexual men, or as male "perverts" who transition to female in order to fulfill some kind of bizarre sexual fantasy. While trans men may face a certain degree of media objectification, their motives for transitioning are not typically sexualized in the same manner. If anything, those who project ulterior motives onto trans men generally presume that they transition in order to obtain male privilege rather than for sexual reasons. Thus, the presumption that trans women (but not trans men) are sexually motivated in their transitions appears to reflect the cultural assumption that a woman's power and worth stems primarily from her ability to be sexualized by others.

for more about trans-misogyny, see Serano, J. (2007) Whipping girl: A transsexual woman on sexism and the scapegoating of femininity. Emeryville, CA: Seal Press.

1 comment:

  1. I'm kind of new to part-time transitioning,
    but I am meeting other trans women and I would
    guess I have had contact with about 40 or 50
    women, I don't personally know a single
    women currently in a sex industry (I know one
    women who was at one time). What is so striking about that is I am unemployed and struggling
    financially, and really so is every one else I know (except a few people who are able to transition at work) but even I think of trans women as being employed in the sex industry,
    despite my own objection to making a living that
    way and the obvious fact that the people I know really need money and they have all refused to
    make money that way - regardless of how tough
    their personnel circumstances are - it's sort of
    like -I think the anology of Catholic priests and boys - honestly most priests find such things disgusting, but the sexualization of
    Catholic priests is a very powerful image,
    even if it is grotesque and really wrong as
    a stereotype.

    PS - I read your book about a week ago and really enjoyed it.