If you haven’t heard the story, there are plenty of news reports out there. In short: retired Navy SEAL Kristin Beck has released a book, Warrior Princess, that chronicles her life hiding from, and ultimately accepting of, her transgender status. It’s noteworthy not only because it’s one more of a growing number of notable trans “coming out” stories this year (the momentum is growing), but also because Bell was a SEAL and therefore shatters the typical stereotypes people hold about transwomen.
Bell’s book sounds like an interesting read. Needless to say, I’ve already purchased the book (Kindle edition) and I will probably blog a review when I finish it. What really prompted me to blog today, though, is not Beck’s story itself, but the reaction to it on the Internet.
Not surprisingly, this story has brought out all the transphobic haters with all of their stereotypes and ignorance. It’s dispiriting to read the comments section of some of the news sites [not that I could stop myself — it’s like rubbernecking a car wreck]. “No matter what he does to change his body, he will always be a man,” said one commenter at the New York Post, a statement that I’ve seen echoed a thousand times today. Or as a commenter at The Huffington Post put it, “He was born with HIM parts. Even though he may have an operation to change the parts is question he will always be a HIM aside from his pretend life.”
… pretend life. Ugh.
Being a Woman is more than just being a Female. It is more than having certain chromosomes and not others. Being a Woman is a sum total of both physical, mental characteristics and life experiences. […] This is not a question of gender which is a very complicated subject. This is me stating that just because he dresses like a woman and gets gender reassignment that does not make him a woman. Has he ever worried about people knowing he’s menstruating, by either the smell or by an accident? Has he ever been passed over for a promotion because he’s a woman, and therefor a man with even less qualifications is seen more fit for the job? Has he ever gone through puberty and worried that his breasts were too big or too small? Has he been given a separate set of rules to live by his entire life just because he was a woman/girl? Does he have the thought processes of a woman? The answer is no.
I know that this thought isn’t original with this post. In many ways it is representative of the general radfem view of transwomen. But KT’s presentation of it struck me today as a good, clear example of it.
The problem with this position is that it is what is called “moving the goalposts,” Effectively, there’s always an attempt to shift the cultural definition of “woman” or “female” to make sure that transwoman do not fit into it. Sometimes they will insist it’s down to chromosomes (confusing biological sex with gender identity). Other times they try to argue it’s a mental disorder (an argument that professional psychiatrists increasingly reject). This argument, though, is moving the goalposts about as far as they can go. Now being a woman isn’t just about gender expression or legal recognition by a court; now, to be a “true” woman, a ciswoman, one must have lived the life from birth. Thus, there is no way any transwoman could ever, ever satisfy this criteria.
The other problem I see in this position is that it holds that there is some supra-definitive female experiential narrative that every ciswoman goes through regardless of her ethnicity, culture, or upbringing. But aren’t our experiences in life what makes us unique? Sure, there are certain commonalities that almost all ciswomen share — menstruation, body development — but not all ciswomen have body image issues, or get passed over for promotions, or gets “given a separate set of rules to live by.” This is a view rooted in the western radfem view of ciswomen.
KT H ends her initial comment by pulling out the old faulty analogy argument we’ve heard before …
Being a woman is a beautiful thing, and if he wants to dress like one, look like one, act like one, more power to him. It doesn’t detract what he has done for his country, but it no more makes him a woman than me gluing feathers to my body and putting a jet pack on makes me a bird.
This is the transphobic equivalent of “If we let men marry men, what’s next? Will I be able to marry my dog?” By comparing Beck’s story with something ridiculous but superficially similar, she belittles the entire concept of transgender. In debate, this is called a false comparison. It’s logically inconsistent.
I don’t know why I do this to myself — read comments sections. I really should know better. They tend to only ever confirm the most negative views I have of my fellow human beings. But I will say this: I was heartened by the number of commentators on the ABC News story (and other sites) who supported Beck, who fired back at commentators like KT H, and who generally made it feel like there’s some progress being made.