Erasing transgender women doesn’t erase gender

At an arts event some months ago, an older lesbian smiled at me as we walked out of the women’s toilet.

‘I just ran into a silver fox in the loos,’ I said. When I pointed her out, my partner informed me that person in question was Sheila Jeffrey’s girlfriend.

I’m not entirely sure why I’m telling this story. I suppose I think it illustrates something about gender, visibility, transphobia and women’s spaces. Toilets are a symbolic political battleground for anti-trans ideologues like Jeffreys, and as a result of her lobbying, a legal and practical minefield for trans people who have to navigate not only potential awkwardness but fear of violence and humiliation when going to the loo. But in everyday interactions, strangers read or misread gender through visual and auditory assessment, without knowledge of either your biology or biography.

I set out to write about Gender Hurts: A Feminist Analysis of the Politics of Transgenderism, a new book by Melbourne University academic Professor Sheila Jeffreys, in which she contends that ‘transgenderism’ is based upon sex stereotyping, is a setback for feminism, and harmful to society and trans people themselves. I find I have little to say in response to Jeffrey’s arguments because all of them are based on the idea that women are not really women if they are trans.

Jeffreys opposes the inclusion of trans rights in anti-discrimination legislation on the premise that she imagines it will allow men in women’s clothing to enter women’s toilets. She fearmongers around the threat of predatory men, who have nothing at all to do with trans women except that Sheila Jeffreys thinks you can’t tell them apart.

Of course, gender does hurt. As philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler says in direct response to Jeffreys:

If she makes use of social construction as a theory to support her view, she very badly misunderstands its terms.  In her view, a trans person is ‘constructed’ by a medical discourse and therefore is the victim of a social construct.  But this idea of social constructs does not acknowledge that all of us, as bodies, are in the active position of figuring out how to live with and against the constructions – or norms – that help to form us.  We form ourselves within the vocabularies that we did not choose, and sometimes we have to reject those vocabularies, or actively develop new ones. […]

One problem with that view of social construction is that it suggests that what trans people feel about what their gender is, and should be, is itself ‘constructed’ and, therefore, not real.  And then the feminist police comes along to expose the construction and dispute a trans person’s sense of their lived reality.  I oppose this use of social construction absolutely, and consider it to be a false, misleading, and oppressive use of the theory.

Or as Imogen Binnie says in her novel Nevada, ‘while gender is a construct, so is a traffic light, and if you ignore either of them, you get hit by cars. Which, also, are constructs.’

In Gender Hurts, Sheila Jeffreys claims:

Women’s experience does not resemble that of men who adopt the ‘gender identity’ of being female or being women in any respect. The idea of ‘gender identity’ disappears biology and all the experiences that those with female biology have of being reared in a caste system based on sex.

But trans and cis (non-trans) women share many common experiences. Trans women experience an amplified version of the misogyny that is familiar to any woman when they are judged for their bodies, belittled when they are ‘too feminine’, or censured when they are ‘not feminine enough’.

The thing is, women vary hugely in our bodies, behaviours, identities, socialisation and experiences. And unless you’re trans, these differences are usually accepted as something that doesn’t make you any less a woman.

Let’s get personal. I was raised in a family that expected women go to university and work outside the home in fields like science, medicine and technology. I am bossy, brave and sometimes belligerent. Like probably any woman who writes, I am occasionally mistaken for a man because any unsigned text is presumed penned by a man. My birth name is also ambiguously gendered to people who are used to English names. I have short hair, imperceptible breasts, and I’ve been called ‘sir’ even when I’m wearing a dress. But as someone who was assigned female at birth, I am understood as a woman regardless of how I dress, how I fuck, or how I behave. Feminists are usually first to defend the breadth of what a woman can be.

Back to toilets and how gender is constructed in everyday interactions: I’ve had women ask aloud if they’re in the men’s toilet upon seeing me but I’ve never been asked to leave. If I ever were, I would hope that it would be enough for me to say that I am a woman. I certainly wouldn’t be willing to show someone my junk. A woman does not necessarily have a vulva, womb, breasts or XY chromosomes. Biology doesn’t determine either sex or gender – people do. And your own sense of your sex and gender is surely more legitimate than the assessment of a doctor at your birth, a stranger in a toilet, or an academic who knows nothing about you.

The reception of Gender Hurts has been polarised. On Amazon, all but two of 116 reviews are either one or five star. Long-time trans activist Sally Goldner expressed concern that the University of Melbourne would promote Jeffreys’ views, and suggested that a book arguing people with a certain skin colour were less intelligent would be unlikely to receive the same support from the university.

Sadly, I wouldn’t count on that. Several buildings at the University of Melbourne are named after influential eugenicists like Richard Berry and John Medley. Earlier this year, the university appointed Stolen Generations denialist (and former Liberal MP) Sophie Mirabella as a public policy fellow. With regard to Sheila Jeffreys, Dr Shakira Hussein said that she once asked Jeffreys if a postgraduate student could interview her, prior to the publication of her book Man’s Dominion: The Rise of Religion and the Eclipse of Women’s Rights. Jeffreys demanded to know whether the student (who had a Muslim name) wore hijab as she believed there was no point speaking to a woman who wore hijab.

Racism in higher education isn’t confined to the University of Melbourne. I’m part of a network of women of colour in Australia, and many students have stories to share of racist comments from classmates, tutors or lecturers. While universities have a role in encouraging debate, they also have a duty of care to protect students from personal attacks. But while most universities have detailed policies around equal opportunity, discrimination and harassment, students who have tried to report incidences have sometimes found the processes convoluted, arduous and lacking transparency.

Additionally, such policies usually only contend with individual instances of discrimination, harassment and vilification, so they don’t provide a means to address issues of oppressive structures or offensive content. A friend currently studying postgraduate medicine complained to me that students frequently put on exaggerated foreign accents during role plays but that the issue could be resolved by teaching staff advising students at the start of each subject that such behaviour was inappropriate, rather than engaging individual students in a complaints process. A 2013 racial vilification case that was dismissed in court, Luke Hamlin v University of Queensland, demonstrates for me how inaccessible and inflexible a framework of dispute resolution can be when dealing with systemic issues. Outside Australia, Dr Satoshi Kanazawa remains employed as Reader in Management at the London School of Economics in spite of large-scale student protests against his work, which includes claims that black women are objectively less attractive than women of other racial backgrounds, as well as articles like ‘What’s Wrong with Muslims?’ and ‘Are All Women Essentially Prostitutes?’.

When we criticise universities for endorsing transphobic or racist ideologies, we have to consider that these instances are not aberrations by progressive bodies that otherwise exist solely to serve social good. Especially now, any research agenda has to be understood within the wider structural shift towards deregulation and privatisation – what Ben Etherington in Overland earlier this month called the end of universities ‘as civic institutions formed around the pursuit of unprofitable truth’.

There is a long history of protest against Sheila Jeffreys by trans communities, sex workers, women of colour and other feminists, especially those who have studied at the University of Melbourne where she has taught since 1991, but she has remained in her position.

One feminist and former student Liz Patterson also told me: ‘After Women’s Studies was changed to Gender Studies, she moved to the ever-so-women-friendly school of Political Science in protest. Then when there were protests against the cuts to Gender Studies and the elimination of the major in 2007-2008 she was absolutely nowhere to be seen, because it no longer affected her.’

Protests are useful for highlighting the variety of other perspectives to students who might see Sheila Jeffreys as the only face of feminism. But ultimately I want to put my feminist energy into building a movement with and for all women, rather than against those who call themselves ‘leading feminists’ but do not lead us.

I am inspired by the work that is being done in Malaysia. A group of trans women have filed a groundbreaking court case challenging the constitutionality of a Sharia law against ‘cross-dressing’, which has been used to harass, arrest and imprison Muslim trans women for up to a year in male facilities. The policing of this law is often accompanied by rape and sexual harassment, with Human Rights Watch reporting several instances of trans women being molested by officials and Nisha Ayub, a trans activist with Justice for Sisters, talking about her experiences of being made to show her breasts to male prisoners and perform oral sex on the wardens. The Putrajaya Court of Appeal began hearing the case on 22 May 2014 and will continue on 17 July 2014.

The legal battle has been accompanied by a public campaign by Justice for Sisters to raise awareness of the issues facing both trans women and trans men, called I AM YOU: Be a Trans Ally. Justice for Sisters has been endorsed by a wide section of Malaysian civil society including reform movement Aliran and feminist organisation Sisters in Islam, as well as allies in Singapore, Thailand, Burma, Nepal, Indonesia and the Philippines. Two Australian groups, Queer Muslims and the Australian GLBTIQ Multicultural Council, have also sent statements of support.

I’ve been following Justice for Sisters since 2010 and promoting their work among my networks. Everyone I’ve spoken to has quite intuitively grasped the issues. Even if they have no familiarity with trans or feminist politics, people can usually see how the persecution of trans women is a form of misogyny, as well as transphobia. Most feminists understand that women vary greatly in who we are and what we need, and that part of the work of feminism is to embrace and protect our variety against a society that demands a very narrow path. It’s embarrassing to find a feminist professor who doesn’t understand that.

Jinghua Qian

Jinghua Qian is a writer, critic and commentator often found thinking about race, resistance, art, desire, queerness and the Chinese diaspora. Born in Shanghai, Jinghua now lives and works in Melbourne on the land of the Kulin nations., @qianjinghua.

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  1. Great article! When I was a student at Melbourne Uni Sheila Jeffreys was notorious for being rude and belittling to students who weren’t convinced by her politics. Now that I’m older, and teach, I can’t conceive of what could make it seem appropriate to publicly humiliate a 19 year old girl in the name of feminism. Sadly, this kind of open hostility to women who aren’t what she wants in some way seems typical of Jeffreys’ feminist praxis.

    1. If you did take a Sheila Jeffreys subject, you would fortunately find your mind opened to compelling and well-evidenced academic material, unlike this article.

  2. Brilliant! You have raised crucial issues for feminists globally. Do we want to impose our version of feminism on others or are we willing to listen and learn from each other?

  3. It’s such a relief that someone has been bold enough to write this (and given the University’s knee-jerk responses to any debate against Sheila from students I’m sure this could only have come from the outside). I’ve done Sheila’s classes before. Some of my favourite memories include; watching Shiela and her tutor reduce a 19-year old woman to tears in front of a lecture theatre, shouting at her “Didn’t you pay attention?” after she asked whether there could be any agency for women in the porn industry; hearing Sheila read from the diaries of colonists like Watkin Tench and Arthur Philip and then use their remarks about Aboriginal men as “evidence” of why the NT Intervention “didn’t go far enough”; and when she did an off-the-record lecture (according to policy all lectures need to be recorded) about trans men, including pulling up out-of-context images from google of people’s “botched surgeries”, calling the bodies of trans people “mutilated” “deformed” and “monstrous”. Oh and being told by heterosexual students during tutes that butch/femme relationships were heteronormative!

    Many peaceful protests by students have been met with security presence and threats from the faculty who simply refuse to acknowledge that Jeffreys’ jacked up pseudo-theories and shock tactics literally translate into more violence and disrespect for marginalised people. It’s interesting to me because I’m involved now with the ongoing protests against Mirabella’s appointment, and the faculty’s responses (excuses) have all referenced freedom of speech and the importance of having reasoned and respectful non-violent debate and intellectual challenges. But rather than actually respectfully engaging with debate Sheila likes to use her position in power to belittle and dismiss. This is not the behaviour of a true community leader. You have to respect the movement to get respect back.

    1. I find it disrespectful for trans people to define me as a cis-anything. You have no right to be making up adjectives of any kind. If I started making up adjectives to define you, you would find it disrespectful as well.

      So, I would look at the disrespectful behavior of trans people towards women before you start accusing women of the behavior in which you engage.

      1. Cis people thinking they shouldn’t be defined because they are superior is just ignorant of privilege.
        There’s words for non-cis people. One of them is trans. It’s more common for cis people to harass trans people then vice-versa.
        If you don’t like or agree with the article (which is written very well) then you don’t have to read on.
        It’s really sad that women would rush out of a bathroom without washing their hands because they have assumed someone’s gender and someone’s genitalia.
        You can never assume to just know someone else’s body.
        Are trans men supposed to use the female bathrooms because of their junk?
        Wouldn’t you’d just incorrectly assume that they have cis dicks and want them out too.
        It just doesn’t make sense to police bathrooms.
        They are designed to be used for one to pee and poop.
        Most households, cafes, hospitals and wheelchair accessible bathrooms are used by more than one gender.
        I’m not sure what the big deal is unless cis women want to have cis women only public orgys in bathrooms then why does one care about other people’s bathroom use?
        There is no logic in fear and prejudice that has no evidence to support it

          1. What’s the evidence that the comment was written by a man. Also do you mean man or male? BTW the use of cis as adjective to describe gender identity is attributed to Carl Buijs a trans man who Sheila would insist not a man but female.

      2. Disrespectful behaviour of trans women to cis women? Rosita, you have it twisted. Your attitudes and words, and those of Jeffrey’s and her ilk literally reinforce the systems that oppress trans people, especially trans women viciously and violently. Also, pro tip – all adjectives are “made up.”

      3. ahhh i believe an adjective has been made up to define trans people. it’s called ‘trans’.

        why do trans people have to carry a whole different identity because of our relationship to our bodies or gender.

      4. Please refrain from speaking for women. The majority of us have no truck with your bigotry or childish objection to the normal linguistic term cis.

  4. Equating believing that all types of gender are social constructs, including trans, has absolutely nothing in common with racism. Quite the opposite. This is what logicians call a “masked man fallacy” (lovely sexist term).

    Imagine if there were two socially acknowledged races, black and white, and some people felt they had been born with the wrong racial characteristics and changed them. The problem would not be that the people who changed wanted to be treated like one group, but were treated like another, or reviled for changing. The problem would be what it is – that racism exists at all, since it, like race, and like gender is a social construct.

    In reality there aren’t two races, black and white, though that is often how society behaves. Most people are genetically blended. The whole premise of racism is that biology = destiny (by way of culture). But biology does not equal culture, of course not, despite social pressure.

    The same holds true of gender. We need to get to a place where someone can behave as they like without having their biology called into question. That means smashing all gender identities, not creating new ones.

    1. Feminists have worked diligently to first become aware of the difference between sex and gender where sex is the reproductive biological characteristics we bring with us at birth–like nationality, race, culture, height, weight, etc. All those determinations describes the new infant.

      Gender, on the other hand, is as much a social construct as Santa Claus. Neither exist yet they can exert great pressure to participate in the nonsense to the point that it becomes mandatory and oppressive. Gender is not nature; it is nurture, i.e., learned behavior.

      Juliana Qian totally misunderstands this by stating that Jeffreys thinks that trans people are the social construct. Though a medical invention, trans people are not a social construct. Gender is a social construct. It is a belief system over which Qian, and many trans people, lack awareness. Because of that lack of awareness, trans people engage in homophobia by thinking they cannot love someone of the same sex unless they put on the fetish. Self-hatred also seems to play out a lot with trans people as they would not allow themselves to love someone who resembles them–another trans person.

      Separation of sex from gender has given women a great sense of freedom in that it allows women to pursue what they like without the constraints of the socially-constructed gender mandate.

      1. Feminists have worked diligently to first become aware of the difference between sex and gender where sex is the reproductive biological characteristics we bring with us at birth–like nationality, race, culture, height, weight, etc. All those determinations describes the new infant.

        Transgenderism works retrograde to women’s liberation. Until transgender folks find intersectionalities with women, the conflict will continue between the two movements.

        In other pages, I have began to read about some more enlightened trans people who are beginning to see how gender hurts trans people as well and that getting rid of gender will prevent girls, boys, and transgender children from being subjected to the gender tyranny around choices of color, kinds of toys, and gender-mandated behavior. Hopefully more trans people will become educated to the difference between sex and gender and work with alongside feminists to get rid of one common enemy–an ideology that oppresses all of us.

        Gender, on the other hand, is as much a social construct as Santa Claus. Neither exist yet they can exert great pressure to participate in the nonsense to the point that it becomes mandatory and oppressive. Gender is not nature; it is nurture, i.e., learned behavior.

        Juliana Qian totally misunderstands this by stating that Jeffreys thinks that trans people are the social construct. Though a medical invention, trans people are not a social construct. Gender is a social construct. It is a belief system over which Qian, and many trans people, lack awareness. Because of that lack of awareness, trans people engage in homophobia by thinking they cannot love someone of the same sex unless they put on the fetish. Self-hatred also seems to play out a lot with trans people as they would not allow themselves to love someone who resembles them–another trans person.

        Separation of sex from gender has given women a great sense of freedom in that it allows women to pursue what they like without the constraints of the socially-constructed gender mandate.

  5. This is a fantastic and really thoughtful article and I’m so glad someone has managed to talk about transphobia and racism alongside one another in this way.

    I just wanted to throw in a word about Sheila Jeffreys’ old subject, Sexual Politics. I took it in second year as an already active young socialist feminist in the late 1990s. Despite the fact that I and a few buddies of mine were deliberately red-baited by her in front of the whole lecture, I still found it enormously useful in firming up my view of exactly why radical feminism (let alone its separatist variants) was never going to be the way to achieve women’s liberation. It helped me understand why class society matters and why women’s oppression could never “trump” other oppressions but rather operates alongside them, why missionary-style saviour-ism was a totally bourgeois and approach to the sex industry, how radical feminist identity politics could neatly dovetail with conservative/right-wing moralism, how it could lead down the dead-end path of reactionary culture wars.

    That said, if the subject was attacked for sexist or anti-feminist reasons, I defended it tooth and nail – such attacks were not part of a progressive critique of Jeffreys (such as the one presented in this great article), but tied into a broader conservative push in universities to put a stop to political discussions of power and oppression (vale “Change and Conflict in Australian Society” which used to be run by Verity Burgmann).

    There is a handful of students this semester who have the curious and unique fortune to be doing Sheila’s breadth subject alongside another breadth subject called Same-Sex Desires: From God to Genes (run by Graham Willett), which is very pro-trans and incorporates a section on theology – I envy their opportunity to cut their academic and political teeth in this way. I just hope they end up on the right (ie, left) side of academic radicalism.

  6. No wonder you were never asked to leave a FEMALE bathroom. I would be afraid to tell a man to leave our space. I would leave until he finishes and get out of there. Deal with males, since you were born this way. You never learn the difference between sex and gender, dont you? Queer biology is so hilarious!

    1. I have been reading in more enlightened trans people’s pages how they are beginning to become aware of how gender hurts them as well and how if they worked with feminists to get rid of gender, we would all be much happier because it means that no child will be subjected, again, to the tyranny of the gender mandate regarding choice of color, type of toys they like, and behavior.

    2. Yes, that cautious smile is a gesture of self-protection. All women do it to all men. Children do it, from about three days old. They are happy they are protecting themselves “See I’m harmless”. Apes do it too, dogs get down and roll over. Perfunctory smile at the shock and get the hell out. Men know so little about women, and assume we don’t know men when we see or hear them. It’s worth out life not to.

  7. A very astute critique of Professor Jeffreys’ deeply problematic politics. Particular kudos to the author for taking to task the white supremacy of Jeffreys’ work.

    On the above note: Is it any surprise that Jennifer Oriel (the right-wing media’s latest ‘It’ girl and a supporter of abolishing 18C) was once Jeffreys’ student, acolyte and ‘right hand woman’?

  8. yes, it’s always difficult to be déclassée, an anomalous category of culture – Jeffreys is a step to the right, i take it, but of whom?

    1. Now perhaps more than ever before, the radical/cultural feminist standpoint on issues such as trans, porn, sex work, reproductive health etc has found most favour with the Christian Right. The name Melinda Tankard-Reist must surely ring a bell here.

  9. One small detail– it was previously known that all females had XX chromosomes (the article *seems* to imply that XY is the typical association). For those that haven’t had their mind reblown, by the way, it turns out that there are XY females (and even more XY women) which you may have heard about. However, you may have heard that they had testes where their ovaries would have been, blahblahblah, but apparently there is another type of XY woman that has ovaries and is fertile. We don’t even know how common it is because most of these women wouldn’t need DNA testing because they are healthy females!

    So, to get off that tangent, this was a great read, and I had no idea who this woman was, so I am glad to be informed. It bugs the heck out of me when people say trans women can’t be feminists because they haven’t had the same experience and whatnot. Personally, I have not had a woman’s experience growing up, I get that. I had a man’s experience, but I am a feminist (and even trans woman). While our upbringing can preclude you from identifying with women’s experiences “growing up,” we can at least listen. We can at least keep an open mind, and try to ameliorate the situation. I like having a close body of friends where many of them are very knowledgeable about feminism. As a trans woman, I am in a particularly awesome position in that I am shaping who I will be for the rest of my life. I have a chance to be more of help than a hindrance to feminism, and that’s why I try to learn, and why I listen.

    I was listening to a great speaker on the subject gay rights, when he brought in race, ethnicity, gender, class. He spoke of another time, when he was on this subject, when a white male raised his hand for questioning. He said, “This feels hopeless because I am not oppressed, so I can’t understand. How could I possibly help?” The response was simple: Listen. Listen, don’t try to interject because more than likely, you aren’t going to get the full picture. Eventually you will understand.

    I have rambled enough.

      1. It is, though? I spent a large portion of my adolescence and young adulthood unlearning internalised misogyny and learning about feminism. Most women have to do this at some point. It’s a constant project.

          1. I’m actually a cis woman, which is something I try not to use to give my opinion more legitimacy in feminist spaces. I was disinclined to respond to this at all — I’d be no less entitled to have an opinion about Sheila Jeffreys if I were trans. But I just have to point out how utterly ridiculous it is that this person assumes anyone who disagrees with them is a trans woman — so in their eyes, not a woman at all. I’ve said literally nothing to give the impression that I’m a trans woman other than the fact that I don’t hate trans women. They’ll probably accuse me of lying about this and infiltrating feminist comment threads.

        1. No. We are not holding “trans women” to a higher standard than “cis women.” We do not believe trans women to be women, you see. Not everybody has been cowed into repeating your nonsense. You are a misogynist man who believes that being a woman is a matter of clothing and hormones, and you are being called out for trying to bully women. Not “other” women. That’s ridiculous.

          1. yo TERF check your international charter of human rights, i believe you’ll find it validated the identity of P as a woman. trans women are women.

  10. methinks you used a lot of fancy English and theories to justify transgenderism. I believe it is all about distorted view of oneself which includes body image, personality, and gender. It is more psychological than biological. I’ve had transgender people tell me they felt they are in the wrong gender. I believe the simplest solution to remedy that would be taking hormonal injections to restore the imbalance (there is proven research this works), but, no, you rather a complete transformation and challenge the society on gender views. It is like a friend who lived a hetero life who had three bad marriages because she was attracted to a certain male type – all of her three husbands were the same personality types – she decided she had enough and chose an alternative lifestyle and is now in relationship with another female and labels herself as a lesbian. The trouble is she is not a lesbian but chose the lifestyle because she is “finished” with men. A cop out. I view transgenders to be the same. Just dress the desired gender and perhaps surgery if possible – I am aware not all transgenders have surgery which is why some transgenders are quite obviously walking around in wrong gender clothes.

    My point being transgender have no right to force society to accept them. They want to be transgender, fine, but expect to live in a society that has a clear definition of each gender and to work with it. If they are biologically male, go to men’s restroom, yes, in female clothing. The men in restroom will see you pull of your sex and recognize that you are in the right place. I believe that will be all they care about – not what clothes you wear. As a woman, I am not comfortable seeing a transgender female come in knowing biologically he is a male. I rather him go to men’s restroom. Thank you. While they want to be the other sex, expect to use facilities intended for their biological sex and not their favored sex.

    I think the psychology field has not yet caught up with the complexities of transgenderism that they have yet to develop a curricula to counsel them – of which I think would be much more effective than dressing the opposite sex and surgery.

    1. Riiight, cause anyone who wants to be respected by society should just shut up and deal with not being respected. Or is that your special rule for transgender people? Your little prejudice?

      Well, it’s so great to hear that you know so much about being transgender, given that you’re not yourself, transgender. Now that this little problem is solved, maybe you could solve some problems for other minority groups? I’m sure they would all appreciate being told they shouldn’t expect respect.

      Trans men and women, and non trans people who look just that little too butch of femme to neatly fit into a gender box, can face violence for trying to go to the bathroom. I think anyone deserves to use the bathroom that they feel safest using. The fact that people are forced to chose between two bathrooms, neither of which might fit them, is a problem. In the end, everyone is going there for the same reason.

    2. methinks you have no right to tell other people where to go potty.

      As women, trans women are are not comfortable using the men’s restroom. They would rather use the women’s restroom. Thank you.

      I think you need to catch up with complexities of transgenderism, because you’re just like any other racist or homophobe who thinks it gets to police the potty.

      1. Thanks so much for providing a wonderful (yet naturally unwitting) example of male privilege. A man in a dress is not comfortable using the man’s restroom. He would rather use the women’s restroom. So move over, women! Who cares about your privacy or your safety? (And before you trot out your terrible, terrible fears of being assaulted: all I can say is CHRISTOPHER HAMBROOK. Now, what was the name of that man who assaulted a dress-wearing-male such as yourself in the men’s restroom? The one you folks are constantly evoking?)

        1. Also, picking up on what Lisbeth said below, I know quite a number of cis women and gender queer people who use women’s bathrooms, who have either been abused, or had security called on them whilst using the bathroom. Your whole augment that trans women shouldn’t use women’s bathroom comes down to you having some idea of what an ideal woman looks like. If a trans women doesn’t look trans and you ‘can’t tell’, then you’re not going to be ‘scared’ of them. If a cis woman happens to look butch enough for you to misgender her, then you’re going to be ‘scared’ of her, and you’re going to make her use of a public bathroom uncomfortable. Think about people who have to deal with this shit everyday from people like yourself who as you put it, want to “police the potty”. That you think you have the right to look at someone and police their gender is misogynistic. You are who feminists are fighting against.

          1. Yeah, I’ve known a number of very masculine/butch cis women who’ve had really unpleasant experiences in women’s toilets.

      2. You need to respect how people feel about bathrooms. I can understand that you are not comfortable using the men’s restrooms. Women, also, are not comfortable with your presence in women’s bathrooms.

        Perhaps we can work together in the creation of transgender people’s bathrooms? The medical profession that has produced hybrid human bodies neglected to foresee this bathroom problem.

        1. “Hybrid human bodies” – labels such as this are beyond offensive. It’s exactly this kind of name-calling, and also a refusal to engage with those she’s writing about (trans people, sex workers, etc) that has prompted criticism of Jeffreys’ work.

        2. The problem with making the exclusion of trans women from toilets a battle ground beyond just being blatantly transphobic (which by itself should be enough of a reason to not do it) is it is inevitably misogynist as it is dependent on being able to tell the difference between trans and cis women – which assumes an ideal type if woman (or female for those who reject woman as an appropriate term) and subjecting anyone who deviates from this ideal, which is different from how women are treated in this society how?

        3. Rosita, again, you are wrong, deluded and disgusting in your words and views. Why do so many TERFs believe that cis men can’t enter F labeled bathrooms if they actually want to attack people using the toilet? The sign on the door is not a magic lock – and it’s predominantly trans women being attacked in bathrooms (and other public places) so fuck offff with your bullshit pseudo scientifically endorsed violence.

          1. Thank you for saying this. Throughout reading through the comments I failed to understand the fear of trans women using the female toilets. I’ll perhaps oversimplify, but hardly any trans women ARE trans women because they wanted access to female toilets to be able to assault cis women? And a cis male whose intention it is to do that can find many ways to realise his ambition without pretending to be a trans woman.

      3. “I think you need to catch up with complexities of transgenderism, because you’re just like any other racist or homophobe who thinks it gets to police the potty.”

        Umm, this is exactly what you’re doing.

    3. Go into the men’s room? But that’s not the point of transgender activism around toilets, which isn’t to go to the bathroom, safely, as they are fond of saying. It is getting to enter women’s sex segregated spaces, working out their sexual fetishizing of female oppression. They don’t even want M/F single use toilets. What would be the point, for them?

      1. P.s. Men have been pissing on everything everywhere forever. Just whip it out from under your dress and continue. Oh but again, relieving oneself isn’t the point.

  11. The author admits upfront that she refuses to engage with Jeffreys’ ideas because Jeffreys doesn’t accept that ‘woman’ is a metaphysical identity that can be claimed by anyone.

    The ridiculous comparison of this to racism is intended to discredit Jeffreys’ arguments not by engaging with them, but by spurious association, and is also intended to distract from the fact that the claim that men are women if they say so is based on nothing but brute force assertion and a demand that others comply with a faith-based belief that is contradicted by material reality.

    I suspect the reason the reviewer wouldn’t engage with any of Jeffreys’ actual arguments is because she feared that many people, especially women, might respond to Jeffreys’ radical critique of gender as an oppressive and hierarchal sex-caste system, rather than a politically neutral individual expression.

    Here is an example of Jeffreys’ thought that Qian was afraid to expose Overland readers to:

    “Gender functions as an ideological system that justifies and organizes women’s subordination and for this reason it must be dismantled. Women and girls cannot access full humanity and the rights and opportunities of full human status while the idea that there are personality traits and appearance norms that are naturally and essentially associated with girls and women still has social currency and serves to control and limit their lives.” – Sheila Jeffreys, Gender Hurts

    The first and most crucial practical step we need to take to dismantle gender is to recognise it as system of domination and subordination, rather than a matter of personal identity. This is where radical feminism (and any feminism that isn’t ultra-liberal third-wave, really) clashes with trans and queer theory.

    The radical view of gender sees masculinity as the behaviour required of dominants, and femininity as the behaviours required of subordinates in a sex-caste system. The liberal or queer/trans theory view of gender sees it as an innate part of one’s self, and says the only problem with it is that sometimes people are put into the ‘wrong’ gender box.

    Simone De Beauvoir was the first person to articulate a radical critique of gender, which is summed up in her famous quote, ‘One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.’ She was speaking of femininity as an artificial condition that is imposed on girls from birth through a series of brutal and coercive processes, in order to create a subordinate sex class.

    Trans activists and liberal feminists LOVE to quote that line in support of the authenticity of trans identities, and in so doing they completely invert De Beauvoir’s insight to mean that a woman is something someone chooses to become, and that femininity is something that women choose. I suppose it makes sense in our neoliberal age of self-help and self-improvement that people like to believe we can all be and do anything we want, and that we are entirely beings of our own making.

    The problem with replacing a feminist analysis of gender with one based on identity libertarianism is that it renders sex-based oppression invisible. I mean, if femininity is what defines a woman, and it is something that women choose to do, then all women are choosing to be members of the subordinate sex caste, no?

    1. The commenter admits upfront that they aggressively engage in criticism of minority women, despite knowing nothing of their material realities.

      No, the first and most crucial practical step we need to take to dismantle gender is to clean up our own backyards, by liberating all things “sex,” “gender,” “masculinity,” “femininity,” “butch,” “femme,” and etc.

      We can worry about 1% minority women (for example) carrying purses after 99% of us stop carrying purses.

      Or better yet, we can just stop worrying about who’s carrying purses, whatever they are for whatever reason.

  12. It is male encroachment into female space and male colonization of female experience that is analogous to racism. Males are the dominant, ruling class, even when they are wearing dresses. Cries of harassment and vilification are absurd. Women do not want your penises in our changing rooms, our health care dollars to be shifted towards paying for your cosmetic surgery, or your sexist and regressive definitions of what it means to be a “woman” to be promulgated. (Because frankly, how would you know, except for fantasy and conjecture?) I too might smile at you in a restroom, as long as you are not disruptive. But you will not redefine what it means to be a “woman” on my watch. And I am not alone.

    1. Rrriiiggghhht. A 1% minority group is encroaching on “our” space and colonizing “our” experience… in “our” changing rooms and taking “our” healthcare dollars. And let me guess, taking “our” jobs, too?

      Why do you sound so much like a racist hating on Mexican-American immigrants?

      1. Men aren’t a 1% minority group, even when they cut off their dicks and change their name to Jennifer.

  13. What a petty collection of ad hominem attacks, overgeneralisations and bizarre conflations this article is. The article critiques Sheila for not understanding or engaging with the pro-trans scholarship that has begun to take prominence within the academy. Despite this the author then refuses to substantively address the arguments of Sheila and her fellow radical feminists against trans or their critiques of trans conceptions of gender as being conservative and limiting. Instead, the author falls back into the tired position of attempting to eviscerate radical feminism by selectively addressing a small out of context quote without any substantive engagement. Unfortunately this way of deflecting real engagement is as old as radical feminism and fits well with the mountains of writing on Sheila, Janice Raymond and company that has either not actually read their work or preferring to decontextualize any claims they make. Rather than forwarding this small attack on the person it might be time for the author to have another attempt at doing what they set out to do, actually writing about Gender Hurts or the thought of Jeffreys. By actually discussing the reasons why radical feminist reject ‘gender identity’ as a way to understand sexual politics it might move things forward, unfortunately it seems easier to attack a person individually, chat about their partner, compare them to a misogynist racist and refuse to address their thought.

    David Duriesmith

    1. Thanks for telling me how to feel about people who you think have no personal experience of women’s oppression having a place in feminist debates and spaces, DAVID DURIESMITH. jesus christ.

      1. Yeah, DAVID. Change your name to JENNIFER, put on a dress, and only then will you be qualified to speak of women’s oppression.

  14. ” The reception of Gender Hurts has been polarised. On Amazon, all but two of 116 reviews are either one or five star. ”

    A bunch of trolls who never read the book, descended on that review page and invited other trolls to giggle and post one star reviews. This says absolutely nothing about the book, and everything about the misogynists behind it. How ridiculous.

    1. Have you read the article? You don’t seem to have an informed critique of it. Is your position that it’s so hateful it doesn’t deserve serious engagement? I don’t agree, but if so, surely you can see that people might also feel that way about writers you happen to like.

  15. I took that sexual politics subject as an undergrad about a decade ago. It changed my life. Did I agree with everything that was said? No. Did it make me think? Hell yes.

    The point of studying at university is not going along to hear a bunch of stuff you already agree with.

    But the whole concept of academic debate seems to have been lost in this article, which opens with a description of a supposed interaction with someone who may (or may not – who tf knows?) have been Jeffreys’ partner, and the author’s own personal thoughts on the woman’s physical appearance. It’s difficult to take an attempt at critique seriously after that.

  16. “But trans and cis (non-trans) women share many common experiences. Trans women experience an amplified version of the misogyny that is familiar to any woman when they are judged for their bodies, belittled when they are ‘too feminine’, or censured when they are ‘not feminine enough’.”
    an amplified version is when female babies are murdered at birth in China for being female, or in India where windows are thrown on the bonfire of their dead husbands because old unmarried women are a burden, your amplified version seems to be rather selfish and not about feminism at all. feminism, is fighting not for your rights, because you already have rights, the right to fight, it is the fight for the rights of your sisters, because they have nobody to fight for them.

    1. Have you read the article at all? Can you stop and think for a minute about Qian’s criticism of white transphobic radical feminists’ appropriation of the suffering of women of a different culture to them? Why do you think women in India and China have “nobody to fight for them”?

      1. As in, what has made you believe it is the case that women in India and China have “nobody to fight for them” except, presumably, you?

  17. “I find I have little to say in response to Jeffrey’s arguments because all of them are based on the idea that women are not really women if they are trans.”
    So, you have correctly identified one conclusion of hers in a long line of argumentation. Yet a review and evaluation of that line of argumentation is missing from your entry. If you do not accept her conclusion because you do not like it, why claim to offer a critical evaluation of the thesis in the first place?
    A huge component of the radical feminist response to having female-only washrooms open to males who identify as trans (whose only requirement for entry is an in-person self-identification with females) is that it actually does put female people in danger. The picture you paint of Jeffreys ‘imagining’ the danger of male access to spaces created in the first place for relief from male violence, when males (with a self-identification no different than that of males in the trans community) regularly assault female people in washrooms makes transparent your intentions here to pass over the important feminist content of this book. Jeffreys illustrates the already prominent contributions of liberal gender theory to the obfuscation of sources and sites of male supremacy – sex-based oppression. If Jeffreys had not done it, someone else who had been paying attention would have. The lived experience of gender non-conforming people is certainly not incompatible with the approach to gender and sex elucidated in Gender Hurts. I encourage other readers to dissect the book’s line of argumentation themselves once it appears in their local library or online.

  18. “Trans women experience an amplified version of the misogyny that is familiar to any woman when they are judged for their bodies, belittled when they are ‘too feminine’, or censured when they are ‘not feminine enough’.”
    Utter bullshit. Trans ‘women’ have such privilege, being awarded spots in Time magazine and celebrity stardom, all for getting plastic surgery. That’s all they seem to think being a woman is anyway, SRS and estrogen.

    1. I think you mean ‘Laverne Cox’ instead of trans women cause otherwise the cover would have been really crowded.

      And fairly certain she was on the cover for being a significant public figure over the last year as an actress, producer, and activist…

  19. What an extremely disappointing, closed-minded and ignorant article. (I should have known when it commenced with a nasty cheap shot at Sheila Jeffreys and her long-term PARTNER, not ‘girlfriend’). SO many intellectual short-comings to respond to in this article, but it would be a great idea for the author to study the following fundamental premise underlying much radical feminist work, before she writes any further misguided articles: that it is division and subordination based on the construction of gender that creates gendered (or transgendered) identities.
    Also, having encountered Sheila Jeffreys in many fora, I find the personal criticims of her extremely bizarre. Sheila models respect to all people in her academic work and activism. Sadly, it seems that the courage to critique damaging social structures and practices has once again been mistaken for personal critique:(

  20. Trans cult politics are right wing. Fundamentalist Iran pays for “sex changes,” but executes Lesbians and Gay men.

    It is Lesbians and other females who are being erased and defined out of existence when anyone says that men can be women and even Lesbians. How dare we say no to the rape and death threats we are getting from these men who fetishize women? Whether they insult us with “cunt” or “cis,” their female-hating is obvious.

    Lesbians are the bottom of the heap, yet men still are systematically destroying our last female-only space. Men always demand and expect access to women.

    Basically, trans is a mass delusion, cult, and myth. It is taken seriously only because of male supremacy and female-hating. If there were white people insisting they are Black and demanding to be accepted as authorities on Black culture, that would rejected. Or able-bodied people pretending to be paraplegic. Yet, there ARE white men who insist they are Black women (one has a blog), and an able-bodied man who insists he’s a “trans-paraplegic Lesbian.” Another man pretends to be an adult baby woman and wears diapers. But who are we to say people can’t just identify as they want?

    Men who say they are women are extremely woman-hating and are the most male of men. They have no right to appropriate our identity, caricaturize us, and then destroy our culture. Women who say they are men are simply female-hating since they are not men. Neither surgery or hormones even begins to approximate the bodies they say they have. And the minds certainly don’t change.

    Meanwhile, men claiming to be women complain about being victims of violence without saying it’s other men attacking them. And men appropriating female identity are among the most violent of men, changing statistics about women and violence. After killing women, some are demanding the government pay for their “sex changes” and put them into women’s prisons. DEFINING LESBIANS OUT OF EXISTENCE — “TRANSWOMEN” ARE STILL MERELY MEN (And over 80% don’t even have surgery)

    Read the archives here to see the truth about men claiming to be women.

    1. Astute comments. If a white person chose to wear extremely dark make-up every day and adopt a ‘black’ identity, it would not only be considered ridiculous, but highly offensive. It is a self-evident and well-accepted truth that someone from a dominant racial group cannot possibly understand (and therefore not simply ‘adopt’) the life experiences of a racially-oppressed minority. Yet not so when it comes to sex class …

      1. it ain’t about race or gender no more as fixed natural identities, it’s more about which cultural group a person chooses to identify with, i would have thought

        1. By your reasoning Andrew Bolt could now choose to identify with the Australian Aboriginal people…and the group he has chosen to identify with should not comment on that, or they are bigots and racists.

          1. yes, but he hasn’t, so your in some hypothetical realm – and there would always be a need for and the question of sincerity (doxic ‘belief’ modalities)

          2. correction – (you’re for ‘your’) you are in some hypothetical realm etc

  21. Erasing Women Doesn’t Erase Sex Caste Oppression

    The author minimizes the entire history of oppression experienced by people born as women, but then also uses it to magnify the oppression men experience when they “transition” to being what they imagine a woman to be: “The thing is, women vary hugely in our bodies, behaviours, identities, socialisation and experiences. And unless you’re trans, these differences are usually accepted as something that doesn’t make you any less a woman,” is a statement directly contradicted by the author’s own account of being assumed male in women’s restrooms because of her flat chest and short hair. It simply isn’t true that women are accepted and read as women no matter how they appear or present themselves to others. Gender non-conforming and non-sumbissive women have always been teased and reviled as being “manly.” And how can she say, on one hand, that “a woman does not necessarily have a vulva, womb, breasts or XY chromosomes,” while asserting that such a category as “woman” actually exists? The origin of the word “woman” is from “wife” and “man” – we are literally defined as being a distinct, oppressed caste of people on the basis of our biological sex and resultant vulnerability to reproductive exploitation. Nobody is trying to “erase” people who identify as transgender – but we refuse to be erased as women because of men who insist that we are no more than a feeling or an outfit.

  22. Wow, great way to start off an article, with a prejudice slur against an older lesbian and then proceed to take the high moral ground against Jeffreys. You clearly don’t care about discrimination, you just want to parrot the trendy, reactionary anti-radical feminist bs. Such a poorly written article would never had been published if it wasn’t upholding the status-quo.

  23. What an incredibly misinformed article that fails to engage critically and meaningfully with the content and feminist analysis that is actually raised by Jeffrey’s. In regards to the author questioning the career of Jeffrey’s by stating ‘but she has remained in her position’- of course she has! Quite simply, this is due to her in-depth and thought provoking contributions across a range of issues over decades, as well the popularity of her subjects that students choose to undertake.

    1. As mentioned in the article, this is the same university that just hired Sophie Mirabella — hardly someone with a background of “in-depth and thought provoking contributions across a range of debates”. It’s very clear that Melbourne Uni makes its hiring decisions based primarily on how high the profile of their potential staff member is.

  24. This avalanche of ridiculous, bigoted, spiteful comments Qian has received for daring to criticise Jeffreys demonstrates exactly why this article was needed.

  25. Also, I’m really unclear on why comments are now unmoderated, given that some of these comments clearly constitute hate speech against trans women.

    1. Right on cue! You know, as a lesbian, it never bothered me one bit when people debated gay marriage, or even whether gays and lesbians should teach school. It was obvious that truth and clarity would emerge from those discussions; that people needed to hear the truth, to hear their fears aired, to understand the issues. SO different with the trans movement. Your message, when it is spoken aloud, is so regressive, so misogynistic, so mired in sex stereotypes that it cannot brook discussion among reasonable people. Hence, all discussion must be labeled “hate speech.” Too bad. It’s going to be discussed. It is being discussed. Did you REALLY think you could so easily hijack women and shut them up? You gentlemen aren’t the first to try.

      1. (Oh, and yes, people did debate whether gays and lesbians should teach school and not that long ago. Yeah, the gays and lesbians who have SO MUCH privilege in comparison to your poor, poor, poor oppressed selves.)

        1. You know nothing about that person. You don’t know their gender, their sexual orientation, or anything about their experience of the world. In fact, they told you something about themselves earlier and you ignored it. If you’re willing to call yourself a feminist, someone who fights for women, please check your privilege listen to people who are women who have a different view on the world and are people you are definitely not fighting for. Right now, you’re laughable, a cis woman trolling to defend her racist, misogynistic idol.

      2. the hate speech from jeffreys and her supporters in this comment section is absolutely disgusting and i don’t think it should have to be argued WHY trans women are women- this isn’t an argument that you can win by saying over and over again hateful things such as ‘they are just men in dresses’. it isn’t a ‘discussion’ that you can have an opinion about- its just a reality that people live- people can be trans*- we exist!!! this is the type of opinion that leads to the murder of trans women. and that is the murder of WOMEN. you are a misogynist for policing how/who a woman can be. and before you call me a man, like you just assume people who disagree with you are, i’d just like to say i am trans* non-binary person, so stop assuming ppl’s gender.

  26. I wanted to add that I think it’s really, really, important to call attention to the racism of Jeffreys and her fans. Thanks for doing this. I once took a Sheila Jeffreys subject where she spent a whole lecture raving about how increased levels of breast and ovarian cancer were due to higher levels of oestrogen in water due to contamination from the urine of trans women on hormone therapy. No mention of, say, industrial pollution. Then she’d have to talk about how it predominantly affects poor, racially marginalised women, unlike Sheila Jeffreys, tenured white academic at the University of Melbourme, biggest bastion of white settler privilege in the country. No, she had to go with the analysis that made her the victim, not the perpetrator — even though it sounded like something from Doctor Strangelove. They continually use women of colour’s experiences of suffering to shore up their own flat, self-serving political analysis. I’ve never met a Jeffreys fan who wasn’t white and professional class — no doubt they exist, but they are definitely few and far between.

  27. the dialogue / monologue and the growing number of comments here all suggest an exploded silence and considerable repression of transgender concerns, methinks, so the post and this exercising / exorcising of ideas is proving more than worthwhile

  28. Excellent article. Trans women are not cis women but they are women. Why is it so hard to respect and accept someone gender identity? I am not trans and my identity is not erased by trans women. I am who I am. I note that this article has been flagged up Sheila Jeffrey’s Facebook page encouraging people to come and comment. No wonder some people are here. If people who want to abolish gender ever succeed then I may change my view on the need for some people to transition. Until then, I believe: gender dysphoria is real; treatment including hormones and surgery exist and help alleviate the condition; gender identity should be respected. Respect being the operative word.

  29. ‘Trans women are not cis women but they are women.’

    Why are biological males ‘women’, though? What makes them ‘women’?

    A woman is an adult human female. To a feminist, there are no behaviours, feelings, modes of dress or expression that are inherent to women. We are just female humans. I don’t believe in brain sex, sex roles or metaphysical feminine essences.

    If you erase adult human female as the definition of woman, the only possible definition you are left with is one that relies on gender stereotypes about how women are supposed to look and behave, or one that is so circular (‘a woman is anyone who identifies as a woman’) it is ontologically meaningless.

    So LizLox, how do you define ‘woman’?

    1. It’s simple for me: cis women + trans women = women. I’m not arguing that cis=trans or trans=cis. I don’t think enough is understood about how someone who is transgender experiences their gender dysphoria but I believe it to be a ‘real thing’. I am confident enough in my own gender identity to be inclusive of my trans sisters.

  30. disgusting this article and the personal attacks targeting women who are critical on genderism which we see all over the net.Gender roles are based on sexist stereotypes and sexist stereotypes are based on men’s sexual objectification of women and porn.Women are oppressed on the basis of their sex, not gender. Sex is a reproductive category

  31. I find this piece fails in what it sets out to do, as it does not seem to address the heart of Jeffreys’ (and other radical feminists’) critique of transgenderism: that it is the product of sex role stereotypes and gendered understandings of what it is to be a ‘man’ and a ‘woman’ that are oppressive to women.

    Jeffreys argues that gender is harmful to both women and transpeople, the former because they are subordinate in a gendered hierarchical system, the latter because gendered systems cause them to feel uncomfortable in their own bodies, to the point where they may consider cosmetic surgery on their (healthy) bodies as a way to alleviate the discomfort. This hardly seems like a positive situation for either of those groups. Radical feminism suggests that we should remove the prejudices, stereotypes, assumptions, etc. that are at the heart of both women’s inequality and transpeople’s discomfort with their bodies and their place in the world. How is that a bad thing? The author should engage with this fundamental argument if her piece is to have any weight. As it stands, it reads more as an attack on an individual woman (which feminism in all its forms should surely abhor) than a critique of a political perspective.

    The introductory remarks about Jeffreys’ partner appear irrelevant to the article and thus an unpleasant way to bring someone’s family into a discussion to which this is not relevant. Regardless of whether the author thought it was a harmless, throwaway comment, it should be clear that, in a piece that quite viciously attacks someone, it would be more appropriate to leave their partner out of it.

    In terms of Jeffreys’ subject “Sexual Politics”, it is one of the most popular in the school. I took the subject during my undergrad and found it challenging, engaging and difficult, but always respectful and rewarding. It is a subject which makes you think, question your own assumptions and reevaluate the society in which you live. There were always lively debates in my tutorials (from both sides of the argument), which the tutor managed deftly. I would highly recommend it – it was the best subject I did in my degree.

    1. I also took Sexual Politics, Kate, and I found it bizarre, racist and misogynist in addition to transphobic, and in terms of teaching style, characterised by belittlement of students with different views. Perhaps your appreciation of it might be grounded in your own privilege?

  32. Academic debate should be founded on attacking the argument not the person. Instead this article reads like some of the rubbish we are all too accustom to in the media these days. Trans sisters and their supporters do themselves no favours by lowering the tone of the debate like this.

    1. Civility is indeed a great virtue. I assume you’ll be taking on the numerous commenters referring to trans women as “men in dresses” who’ve “cut off dicks and called themselves Jennifer”?

  33. Cis and TERF are slurs. I do not wish to be called either, I do not identify with either. Cis refers to someone who identifies with the gender role they were assigned at birth. I was assigned to the role of woman at birth (this is why I identify as a “born woman” because that was the role I was born into; I do not call myself an “inborn woman” because, before I was born, my gender did not exist; my sex role didn’t exist in my infant body as some kind of magical timeless entity that was always just “there,” and I’m convinced that, in a non-hierarchical world, I would just feel like a human inside. I do not believe in gender as a god-like essence that exists somewhere outside social reality.

    “Let’s get personal. I was raised in a family that expected women go to university and work outside the home in fields like science, medicine and technology. I am bossy, brave and sometimes belligerent. Like probably any woman who writes, I am occasionally mistaken for a man because any unsigned text is presumed penned by a man. My birth name is also ambiguously gendered to people who are used to English names. I have short hair, imperceptible breasts, and I’ve been called ‘sir’ even when I’m wearing a dress. But as someone who was assigned female at birth, I am understood as a woman regardless of how I dress, how I fuck, or how I behave. Feminists are usually first to defend the breadth of what a woman can be.”

    Maybe part of the problem is you sound as though you assume all women come from a privileged background. I was raised in a working class community where boys frequently teased me for having my nose stuck in a book when I should be preparing to be “bare foot and pregnant in the kitchen.” I have long hair and huge breasts. I was a C cup at age 12, and already 40 year old men would leer at me in public places telling me I had nice “tits”. If it had been discovered that I was a boy, I’d have been of no use to men like that in proving their manhood via sexual assault, (and if I had been dressed by my parents as a boy, I’d never have been subjected to the verbal abuse in the first place) because we live in a real social context of compulsory heterosexuality, meaning, men seek to prove their manhood via the rape of specifically female bodies, bodies with vaginas, bodies that must NOT have penises for the proving of masculinity to take place. That’s how MEN define “man” and “woman” and men still very much have the power to enact that definition in reality.

    I am also a writer. I have never, not even once, been mistaken for a man. It may be because my writing is always so overtly feminist. It may also be because I refuse to talk about myself having sex as “fucking,” or to say, “I fuck.” Men fuck. They make sex into something violent, about using another human being.

    Related to what you cited from Judith Butler, can I cite something from Malcolm X? “Some black senior social worker had been given a month off to investigate the “Black Muslims” in the Harlem area. Every paragraph sent me back to the dictionary–I guess that’s why I’ve never forgotten one line about me. Listen to this: “‘The dynamic interstices of the Harlem sub-culture have been oversimplified and distorted by Malcolm X to meet his own needs.’
    Which of us, I wonder, knew more about that Harlem ghetto ‘sub culture’? I who had hustled for years in those streets or that black snob status symbol educated social worker?”

    To me, Judith Butler talks like that social worker. Nothing she says does anything to stop male violence against born women, and I can hardly understand half of what she says. You sound like that too, though to a little lesser degree. I don’t understand your anger at born women. All we want is acknowledgment that being forced into the sex role of “woman” from birth with a vagina is different (and certainly not less horrible) than identifying as trans. This cis crap makes it sound like there’s something “privileged” about being pushed into womanhood in this world, but I find all the cosmetics and beauty practice and femininity crap m2ts seem to embrace so freely very, very painful. It’s nearly killed me at certain points in my life. I am not a man. I am a female person who is expected to identify with femininity (which is a performance, like Butler says, but one that, if you don’t do it, men punish the holy hell out of you, even to the point of killing and raping you.) From what I can see, m2ts don’t care about this. They don’t care if some women don’t want to share a bathroom with a person who has a dick because some of those women have been violated by one, and just knowing somebody with a penis is allowed in there with you now is terrifying. You can say that’s an irrational fear, but that is blaming the victim. Victims of male violence shouldn’t have to explain themselves to you or justify themselves to you just because we happened to be born in a female body. Why can’t trans people have their own bathroom. That way, f2ts would be safe from violence in the men’s room as well. Nobody cares about them because they were born with a vagina. I feel like you care more about m2ts than you do born women and you want anybody who doesn’t believe gender is innate and inborn to shut up.

    1. So if male prison wardens forcing Nisha Ayub to perform oral sex on them and show her breasts to male prisoners isn’t misogyny, what is it?

      And I don’t think the author is assuming that all women have the privilege of being born in 1980s China – I think she’s saying that though her experiences differ markedly from those of other women, feminists typically don’t see her as any less of a woman because of that.

  34. I loved this article and have many many problems with Sheila Jeffreys. To be honest, the day she retires will be a very happy day of celebration for women, sex-positive people and trans people everywhere!

    My view as a feminist, however, is that feminist and trans issues are not always aligned. They often are – for example, feminism is often concerned with women breaking out of sexist stereotypes, wearing whatever we want, being butch, being dykes, being everything malestream society considers ‘unfeminine’ with gusto. And also choosing to be whatever form of ‘female’ or ‘woman’ we like – sometimes I choose to wear make up and dresses, sometimes I choose to wear jeans and boots. This is my right, to perform my gender however I like.

    For the trans community, gender is harder to perform. Transwomen must commit to ‘femininity’ in order to be taken seriously as ‘women’. They can’t cut their hair short, wear jeans and boots and be recognised as women in the street. They must navigate a gender performance that is hyper-feminine and have far fewer choices about their appearance if their outside is to match their inside. Until recently, Australian courts being asked to authorise hormone treatment for trans kids would need evidence the child was engaging in ‘gender-appropriate play or activities’ of the gender they want to transition to. Transboys were required to show evidence of playing with trucks, loving sports, climbing trees and being uninterested in dolls. Transgirls were required to show evidence they refused to wear anything but frilly dresses and make up and only played with fairy dolls. Wow. This only stopped a couple of years ago when the legislation changed to allow parents to authorise hormone treatment. However, where the parents don’t consent, and the court still has to make this decision, I imagine the gender stereotype is still very much in play.

    But feminism can diverge from transgenderism in some regards, and these are important to recognise. I personally have really big issues with gender-neutral toilets. I fear having cis men in a little room with me when I am vulnerable. I have zero issue with trans women or gender fluid people sharing a bathroom, this is about a fear of being sexually assaulted by a cis man. I think that’s a reasonable fear so I sincerely hope most bathrooms remain gendered.

    Cis women also have a right to talk about and honour child birth and breastfeeding and there is an almost spiritual ‘earth mother’ vibe around pregnancy, child birth and breastfeeding which I celebrate. This is not to exclude women (trans and cis) who can’t or haven’t had children, but its a sizeable chunk of feminist writing and relationships. Aligned with that is the experience of single mothering, discrimination at work due to pregnancy or being a mother, being shamed about breastfeeding. These are parallel with injustices transpeople experience that are particular to them, but they are not the same experiences. And this is absolutely ok – no one’s injustice or discrimination is better or worse than anyone else’s. Any injustice is an injustice for all. I would just love to see more understanding from the trans community that there are really special parts of being a cis woman that many cis women cherish and we can feel attacked for it by trans activists. There are plenty of trans men that have birthed babies, I know, so this is not just a ‘cis woman experience’, but it’s so common to cis women it is a bonding life experience that we are sometimes made to feel is not important or should not be acknowledged.

    We are all finding our way in this world and kindness is in short supply sometimes. We are often jumping up and down demanding our rights without considering how that impacts on others. Sheila Jeffreys is a case in point. But so are the trans activists who heap abuse on women academics for voicing these thoughts. It is never ok to shut down debate and discussion when it is undertaken respectfully and with curiosity. We all are humans first, and we need to be able to talk about our different life experiences with openness and interest. We don’t all have to have the same views, and screaming at someone or calling them names has never, in my experience, changed anyone’s mind about anything.

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