A long time ago and on shores I have long since left, I studied comparative literature at Glasgow University for four years. In my second year there we watched a lovely, poignant little movie called Ma Vie en Rose as part of a semester on ‘Identity’. It’s probably well-known in the transgender community, relating the tale of a young boy who decides he wants to (or is born to) live as a girl. Such a compelling character the kid plays it’s impossible not to root for Ludovic, as he (she – already with the pronouns) goes up against the prejudices of society and even his own family in a quest to discover his true self. If I recall correctly, prescribed reading for the movie was Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, a text which precipitated quite a profound shift in my outlook at the time. I haven’t read Butler since I left university and don’t know if her work is still relevant to the field of gender studies (it was a central text of the discipline fifteen years ago) but I presume it is. I no longer keep up to date with academia, and when I do dip my toes in it’s usually with nostalgia and with no more than a desire to titillate my own intellectual curiosity.
The transgender debate is unavoidable these days. It’s a minefield fraught with danger, so it’s with some trepidation that I venture in, armed with only a smattering of gender theory and feminist ideology, and the unwieldy, bungling attitude of the white male. I can almost guarantee that, if you are possessed of socio-political sensitivity of any sort and to any degree, I will find a way to offend you, and if you are such an individual, I urge to you to turn around now and exit my bastardised academic musings. But please make no mistake, even if I seem to make light of the subject matter (‘toxic’ – I warned you), I am in no way suggesting there isn’t a place for the discussion. I’m only sharing my opinion on the matter, unwelcome as it may be for some. I’m also for inclusion, plain and simple, as long as it remains within the bounds of reason.
I was turned onto to the debate after reading an article on RT about the academic Kathleen Stock, a lecturer at the University of Sussex, who is facing fierce opposition on and off campus from the transgender community for her varied and long list of ‘thought crimes’. Kathleen Stock is a feminist (but of which stripe, there are so many!?), what some have termed a ‘terf’ (trans-exclusionary radical feminist). Just what is it about Kathleen Stock’s academic beliefs that has the trans community up in arms? Well, from my own brief and limited research, it seems to be her assertion that gender identity does not trump biological sex, in particular around issues of law and policy. In order to examine this, it’s necessary to explore what precisely the trans community object to in this belief. One of the more common arguments around this issue is whether trans women should be allowed to use the same changing rooms as those who were born (biologically) women. It’s a fair question, and I don’t claim to speak for all women. But I’m quite sure that, if many women would be comfortable sharing an intimate space with trans women, many would not. We’re talking about penises in a female-only space here, to be clear. Kathleen Stock has stated that ‘many trans women are still males with male genitalia, many are sexually attracted to females, and they should not be in places where females undress or sleep in a completely unrestricted way’. From a purely logical perspective (and for me, science will always trump theory), I find it hard to disagree with her. I mean, you may think like a woman, act like a woman, and feel like a woman, but with that dangling appendage (cock) between your legs, do you think the lady at the locker next to you feels the same way? (Don’t forget the cock, reader. Keep your eyes on the cock.)
Or there’s the athletics debate, in which transgender people fight for their right to compete among the gender of their choice and not the one they were assigned at birth. Trans women born as men (and gender re-assigned) up against biological women – seems unfair, no? I mean, is the science at all in doubt?
Sigh. I dunno. Gender Trouble was an enlightening book for me and I remain swayed by its assertions to this day, the central tenet of which can be summed up in the following quote:
‘The effect of gender is produced through the stylization of the body and, hence, must be understood as the mundane way in which bodily gestures, movements and styles of various kinds constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self. This formulation moves the conception of gender off the ground of a substantial model of identity to one that requires a conception of gender as a constituted social temporality.’
Put more simply, gender is not fixed but rather a ‘stylized repetition of acts’. You put it on and take it off much like you would a shirt or a blouse. It’s performative, a show. Gender then becomes manifold, a universe in which a hundred, a thousand, different permutations are possible. Much like the ever evolving 2SLGBTQQIA+ acronym. (As British rapper Zuby jibed, ‘Headbutting the keyboard is now a sexuality’.)
Lawmakers will ultimately decide whether trans women get the right to use female bathrooms, and frankly, whatever is decided, one or the other group of people is gonna be left disaffected. Gender may be a performance, but we can’t pretend to ignore the stark, fleshy realities of the body. The emotional cannot erase the physical. And if you barge your way into those female spaces which may not entirely welcome you, aren’t you simply re-adopting aggressive male modes and mannerisms which you have, by the repurposing of your gender, done your best to leave behind?
P.S. We can still see your cock.
(Yep. It’s still there.)
‘A toxic white male, a feminist and a trans woman walk into a bar…’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.