Browsing articles tagged with " front hole"
Mar
28

Sam Berg: Words in the World of Gender Identity

By Sam Berg  //  Articles, Sam Berg  //  4 Comments

Presentation for the panel “Deconstructing Gender Identity Under Male Supremacy” at New York City’s Left Forum 2016

    transcript

(intro cut from video)

I’m a linguist by education and I’ve been politically organizing radical feminists against prostitution for 14 years. This segment will combine those skills and examine how the new vocabulary of transgenderism functions to erase women and silence women’s speech.

(video begins)

Although I had been friends with and worked with transgendered people for many years in Portland — which is where I live, Portland, Oregon — it was through the issue of prostitution that I first came to question the possible harms of transgender politics.

Georgina Beyer lived as a white male in New Zealand before transition at the age of 27. Georgina had prostituted as a gay male before winning a seat in New Zealand’s parliament and pushing for the legalization of prostitution. When the law passed in 2003 legalizing prostitution, no female sex workers were serving in New Zealand’s parliament.

This fact led me to learn that many so-called “sex worker rights” organizations around the world have transwomen in prominent leadership positions, and I’ve had to put a lot of thought into why such a small demographic among prostitutes are given such a disproportionate media platform. With everything I know about how hierarchy in gender operates in prostitution, I could no longer ignore the increase in transgender activists being heard over women’s voices on laws that almost wholly concern women’s lives.

I’ve put on many conferences and events fighting prostitution, and I’ve long dealt with verbally abusive backlash from the sex industry, but I didn’t get my first credible threats of violence until 2012 when I directed a radical feminist conference in Portland. That’s when transgender activists started harassing conference venues I’d rented to make them rescind the rentals they had agreed to, and they started putting out public calls to assault the women I had invited to attend my conferences. They put up the list of the hotels they were staying at and said, “Go get them, go follow them, hit them in the head with bricks.”

I could speak about those terrorizing threats for many hours, but I only have fifteen minutes so I’m going to segue here into when I first started getting called SWERF and TERF.

SWERF and TERF definitions

As an anti-prostitution activist, my articles and my work revolve around the sex industry, so my status as a SWERF (sex work exclusionary radical feminist) was affirmed but my TERF status was only implied because I don’t write about transgender issues, I mainly care about prostitution.

Many radical feminists are themselves formerly prostituted women, but as with all of the words I’ll be going over today, the point is not accurate description, the point is verbal abuse.

A slow walk through any porn store should demonstrate how endlessly creative men can be coming up with ways to speak their contempt for women. There has been no coinage of slurs for the men who purchase sex, they’re still just known as johns. The johns who cause the rapes, assaults, and murders of prostitutes still get called johns. It’s almost as if the alleged crime of feminist exclusion is somehow the worst abuse prostitutes face. I promise you it is not.

Here are some examples of TERF in action. I could pluck thousands of these but I tried to pluck a couple just to give you a sense of what’s going on here…and then there’s this person…

Similarly, as there’s no new word for johns to talk about their violence, there is no word to talk about the men who disproportionately harm transgender people. SWERF and TERF were not created to shed light on the real problems that trans individuals face, which are significant. These words are used to bully women, to blacklist women, and to shut down women’s right to political assembly.

cis-

Another linguistic device that transactivists use is the prefix cis-. Popular transgender advocate Janet Mock wrote a book titled Redefining Realness that defines cis- as a term “for people who are not trans and more likely to identify with the gender that correlates with the sex they were assigned at birth”.

Fun little fact about Janet Mock’s book is the original title was Fish Food before it was Redefining Realness. “Fish” is a transgender term for a transwoman who is so convincingly passing as a female you can practically smell the fish on her. Just in case there are some sweetly naive persons in the room, men have long said that women’s vaginas smell like fish. I’m going to just assume most of you have heard this.

Back to cis-; cis- is supposed to be more neutral than TERF but still functions as a cudgel against women.

Cis-woman confers a power to women that women do not have. While it is true that trans-people suffer enormous discrimination, it doesn’t logically follow that makes being a cis-woman a privilege. In our misogynistic world, being a woman brings forth discrimination and disrespect at nearly every social intersection. Being seen as a women does not provide advantages, resources, or power by its being.

Also, not everyone who is not transgender is cis-gender. The most obvious example of that is lesbians. Lesbians are most definitely not acting in ways expected of women when they romantically love other women. Many other examples are easy to find.

There is nothing the prefix cis- accomplishes that the term “not trans” can’t accomplish without relegating literally billions of women into a subcategory. We’re already placed in subhuman categories, we don’t need to be subbed any more.

gender identity

The UK Select Committee recently reported this definition of gender identity, “Gender Identity is the gender with which a person associates themselves.” Your gender identity is your gender identity. That’s a terrible definition. You don’t need a degree in linguistics to know that is a horrible and useless definition.

Without some objective foundation for gender identity, gender identity seems to mainly refer to sex-role stereotypes. I have yet to see a definition of gender identity that doesn’t rely on either biological facts or sex-role stereotypes.

But if we’re not supposed to use biology, we need to know the new criteria for how we define men and women anymore. What is that criteria? The purpose of this particular segment on language is to get at how I’d love to be able to critique definitions of gender identity that make sense to me, but they keep shifting and refer to themselves so I can’t even find a foundation from which to start.

genderfluid and genderqueer

Genderfluid and genderqueer are terms used by people who identify themselves as being off the binary, they identify as not male and not female. They are non-binary.

Except, if gender is a spectrum, and not a binary, then everyone is non-binary. Nobody is a pure cartoonish stereotype of the pink box of femininity on one side and the blue box of masculinity on the other side. Penises and vaginas do not determine innate personality traits.

Genderfluid and genderqueer people assume themselves to be outside the pink and blue boxes, but we all live outside the pink and blue boxes. Nobody wants to be put in a box. I’m boxless too, don’t box me either. So are you. Gender boxes are a bad fit for human beings and feminists have known this for a very long time and railed against them for a very long time.

We need to break the power that gendered stereotypes have in shaping human experiences and stop insisting that men and women must identify with the pink and blue caricatures of human beings.

cis-sexism and transmisogyny

So on to cis-sexism, which is never going to roll off my tongue easily, and transmisogyny. Transmisogyny is committed by cis-sexists. One key rule of patriarchy is to excuse and obscure male supremacy and the mechanisms that maintain it, bonus points if you can blame it on a woman.

Accusations of transmisogyny are mostly leveled at women – mostly feminist women — much more than they are ever used to describe the men who commit the real violence that happens to transpeople. It’s as if it takes the transgender blood that men are spilling and smears women’s hands with it, but we are not causing this violence.

Feminine gender conformity, now being called cis-womanhood, does not protect women from being oppressed. For women, gender is most commonly a burdensome, threatening experience.

I wish I could count how many times men have told me about prostitution, “Gosh, I wish I could get paid just for having sex, that sounds awesome, Best Job Ever!” as if men bribing poverty-stricken women into sex they do not want is a privilege that you get for being a woman. Lucky us, huh?

It’s no accident that the stereotype of a prostitute is of a hyperfeminized woman wearing too much makeup, showing too much skin, wearing those stripper heels, as they’re called. The highest of the high heels that high heels can get are stripper heels. Prostitutes are the most feminized women of women, and they are the most raped women, and the most murdered women of all womankind.

Cis-sexism prevents women from addressing issues like prostitution which disproportionately and sometimes uniquely affect females. We can no longer say that misogyny experienced by females is a problem — that’s exclusionary. We have entered a politics that acknowledges transmisogyny as a problem and misogyny as a privilege women have over transgendered people.

As Sarah Ditum said, “I am trying to live as a woman in a patriarchal world, and frankly that sucks enough on its own without being told the female body my culture punishes me for is a privilege in itself.”

Here are some examples of how accusations of transmisogyny are literally making the sexism that happens to women impossible to speak:

uterus-bearer’s rights

Raise your hand if you’re a uterus-bearer!

The Amherst student newspaper published an article on abortion rights and they filed it under their new category, “uterus-bearer’s rights”.

I have a theory as to why it’s unethical to say that women have vaginas but progressive to say that women have uteruses. That theory is based on the fact that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of slang terms for women’s breasts and vaginas — I’m sure we can all think of many words for that — but have you considered there is no slang term for the uterus? There is no slang term for an ovary. There is no slang term for a cervix. Women are judged by what men see, and they don’t see our uterus and our ovaries and our cervix, so who cares?

Men have not really shown much interest in the inner lives or the inner bodies of women, and I think this is coming out in these words.

This cartoon promotes awareness of abortion and they thought it was a good idea to replace woman with the term “adult uterus’d people”.

Laws restricting abortion are of course directed at women because we are women. It’s about society trying to control women’s bodies because only women can produce new human beings. We can’t disconnect the abortion debate from the oppression of women since the entire debate about abortion only exists because it’s based on the resource production that only women can do.

birthing parent and chestfeeding

The Midwives Alliance of North America in their 2014 Core Competencies Manual replaced the words woman and mother with “pregnant individual” and “birthing parent”.

(audience member adds, “In Spanish, you would translate “parent” as “father”.)

Just two weeks ago, transactivists were taking to social media to complain about how Mother’s Day is transphobic.

No longer do women breastfeed, now we chestfeed. Chestfeeding is being recommended because breasts are transphobic now. Mind you, men have breasts too. When men get breast cancer, they call it breast cancer, they don’t call it chest cancer to spare their hurt little man feelings. The biological term chest encompasses so much more than the mammary glands formerly known as breasts.

front hole

And now for the front hole formerly known as vagina.

Mount Holyoke College, a women’s liberal arts college, canceled a performance of Eve Ensler’s iconic play The Vagina Monologues, and here’s the quote on why they cancelled, “It provided an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman.”

Writing in the New York Times about the play’s cancellation, Elinor Burkett notes that transactivists are pushing “front hole” and “internal genitalia” as alternatives to the word vagina.

Look for the new play, The Front Hole Monologues, coming to you soon.

These irrational demands are sabotaging feminist fundraisers and they’re cancelling performances of feminist plays. This is not fringe stuff, it may have started there but it’s in The New York Times, and New York Magazine and The Nation and The Guardian. This is our world now: front holes, chestfeeding, adult uterus’d person.

Capitalism offers an infinite choice between irrelevant choices, but little choice on the most important, life-affecting choices. You can get underarm deodorant in a stick, a spray, a roll on, a cream, a gel, a powder, and a freaking rock, but your choices for president are Democrat and Republican.

Capitalism loves focusing on you the buyer, you the individual, you’re so special, instead of communities of class, race, and sex because it loves fragmenting people into ever more marketable demographics. Removing the word “woman” from the English language, and presumably all languages if transactivist goals are to be reached, makes feminism impossible by denying that women are a definable class. Women will remain the sexually exploited and will remain oppressed, but now we can’t talk about it without being accused of oppressing others.

Capitalism loves eternally shifting language games that splinter people into ever more groups, and the 50+ genders of Facebook shows that it’s impossible to keep up with the lightening-fast pace of these new terms. But a wall covered in mud is still a wall no matter how much mud you throw at it, and a woman with dirt stuffed into her mouth so she can’t speak anymore is still a woman. Thank you.

Prostitution FAQ

In 2005, I endeavored to write the best prostitution FAQ on the web and it still is.

prostitution faq

Radio Interview

“Interview with Samantha Berg: A Primer on Radical Feminism” with Ernesto Aguilar for Pacifica Radio, originally aired on Houston, Texas channel 90.1 FM KPFT, June 25, 2014

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