Tuesday, February 22, 2011

male voice/female voice

I just witnessed a remarkable, yet everyday, example of male privilege, that I thought was pertinent to the ongoing radfem arguments about the ways in which trans*women may or may not retain male privilege.

To paraphrase, a young (21-year-old) transwoman who recently came out as trans said she goes to a discussion group once a week, where she noticed that the boys dominated the discourse, and women were ignored. So, what was her solution? Switch back to what she called her "boy voice, the one [she] used before [she] came out as trans". Here, in a nutshell, is where the male privilege still resides with the transwoman: at this point in her life, she has the option to switch her gender presentation up and have her voice heard in a way that a born-woman does not. There is no milieu in which my voice will be heard as anything but a woman's voice. Eventually, if this young woman transitions fully, and moves into a community where no-one knew her as male, she'll lose that option, but for now, she just easily picked up the mantle of male privilege as it suited her.

And this is where the sticky wicket is for me and so many other radfems when it comes to residual male privilege. I don't wish to ignore the many, many ways in which trans*folk are discriminated against, and I suppose I can concede to the ways in which my born-female-ness comes with a degree of privilege over that of trans*women. Yet that little act of switching up in order to be heard is at the heart of the issue for me. Trans*women, for a time, and for as long as they choose, can opt to present as male and use that male privilege they were given at birth.

That for me is the very core of what makes born-women different from trans-women. Not better, not worse, but surely not the same. I am okay with a broad definition of gender and a broad definition of biological sex, but I'm simply not comfortable with or able to pretend that the life experiences of transwomen are the same as those of women born into femaleness.

To me, one of the primary goals of radical feminism is to do away with the gender binary altogether. Meaning all activities, all attires, all personality traits, all body shapes are simply *human*. Not female, not male; not masculine, not feminine. They just ARE, the way brown eyes are un-gendered. The way knees are un-gendered. And this is why I resist the idea that a person who wishes to have long hair and wear dresses should have to feel like they must be female if they have those desires. I, a born woman, am not that fired up about high heels and cosmetics and poufy hair. Does this make me less of a "woman"? Sadly, to some people, it does. To the Pentecostals around here, my pants-wearing and short hair make me pretty much the whore of babylon. My ongoing and futile resistance to the performance of femininity makes it very, very difficult for me to understand why anyone would fight for the right to perform femininity. To me, it's artificial, constructed, oppressive, patriarchal. I resent being judged as "less" because I don't pouf up my hair and wear makeup and pantyhose. Why on earth would ANYONE fight for that right? I honestly don't get it.

I don't have to, fortunately. I am totally down with people looking, dressing, acting however they want, as long as they're not assholes and they don't tell me what to do or how to dress, and if a person says "Hey, I'm not a boy any more, I'm a girl," then alright, that's fine. Name yourself, and I will respect that. Because we live with the gender binary and people, unfortunately, have to pick one or suffer negative consequences for their genderfuckery. I just wonder, without the gender binary, how many people would opt for hormones and cosmetic surgery and all of the intense body-modification that goes on in order to transition. I know a few transgendered folks who haven't opted for medical intervention. I wish it was easy for them to make that choice. I am not entirely convinced that body modification can turn a male body into a female body. It can make a body more comfortable for a person who feels "female" on the inside, but in the end, am I nothing more than a man with extra estrogen, boobs, and a hole instead of a pole?

The contradiction between desiring the end of gender and having grown up as a woman within the gender binary is kind of disorienting. I want to resist the idea that I am nothing more than a man with slightly different parts. I don't think it works the other way 'round, either: a female body doesn't become male through body modification. I guess what it comes down to is that I do believe you can change your gender identity, but I don't believe you can change your biological sex, and I don't believe you can entirely rid yourself of the gender identity you were given at birth.


Missy said...

How did I not know about your blog??? Also: What does that last part of your post say about people who were born with both or a combination of both sets of parts? Hmm.

Jezebella said...

Well, ideally, without the artificial gender binary, people who are intersexed (or XYY or XXY, androgen-sensitive, or one of the other many reasons a person might not fit into the standard defined scientific categories of male and female), could just be *people*, and not have to pick one gender or another.

I've heard some cultures have the notion of a "third sex": people who do not fit into one or the other. Such a construction might help folks more comfortable with their gender identity, as long as we have to live with the gender binary.

DaisyDeadhead said...

Fascinating commentary... my surrogate son, a transman, can pass very well, but the voice is the sticking point that he is now working on. And of course, its more than just the tenor of the voice, but the lack of "command" (or whatever it is you are describing so well here!) in the voice. You know?

I don't want to call his voice "timid"--since before he began transitioning, I would NOT have used the word "timid" at all-- just an ordinary voice. But now that he looks and acts and dresses male, the voice suddenly seems timid, although its the same voice!!!

Sort of what you are saying, but the same phenomenon in reverse.