Over the last year or so, I have read a number of blog entries and Facebook rants about the so-called “transsexual versus transgender” issue. For those who are unaware of this debate, it stems from a subset of transsexuals who feel that the transsexual community is not served well by being included under the transgender umbrella (some even go so far as to insist that there is a mutually-exclusive dichotomy between transsexual and transgender people). Along similar lines, these transsexuals also argue that inclusion under the LGBT umbrella does a disservice to the transsexual community, as it conflates two very different issues (i.e., sexual orientation and gender identity), and emboldens many cissexual LGB folks to appropriate trans identities and experiences, and to claim to speak on our behalf. I have purposefully tried to avoid entering into this debate, primarily because many (albeit certainly not all) of the umbrella critiques that I have read invoke horrible stereotypes, and sometimes even hate speech, to help bolster their case. I have seen blatantly homophobic and biphobic remarks made by some anti-umbrella advocates. One post I saw described bisexuals as sexual predators who fetishize and prey upon transsexuals - this comment draws on a long history of monosexist stereotypes of bisexuals as “sex crazed” and desiring “anything that moves,” and it deeply offended me as a bisexual trans woman. Along the same lines, anti-umbrella advocates often self-describe themselves as “real transsexuals” and dismiss those who support the transgender and LGBT umbrellas as being posers and mere fetishists. Some even cite Ray Blanchard’s sexualizing and scientifically incorrect theory of autogynephilia to make their point.
It is one thing to disagree with another person’s views about whether or not transsexuals should seek inclusion under the transgender and LGBT umbrellas. But when people stoop to the level of sexualizing those they disagree with, or dismissing them as “fakes,” then they are engaging in name calling rather than intellectual debate, and I want absolutely no part of it.
So like I said, I have mostly avoided this debate because of the name calling, disparaging stereotypes and nonconsensual sexualization that are sometimes associated with it. But recently, I read a post where someone referred to me as being firmly in the “transsexual” (rather than “transgender”) camp. This was the second time that I had seen such a claim, and frankly, it surprised me. Granted, in my book Whipping Girl, I argued that the transsexual experience is different from other transgender trajectories, and I also decried the manner in which some cissexual gays and lesbians appropriate transsexual identities. But I never once advocated that transsexuals should completely split off from the transgender or LGBT communities. Rather, my intention was constructive criticism - I hoped to make those alliances more aware and respectful of transsexual voices and perspectives. So, for the record, I am in the pro-umbrella camp, even though I acknowledge that sometimes umbrella politics are messy and less than equitable. In other words, I believe that the pros of umbrella politics outweigh the cons. But, of course, that is my opinion, and others may disagree. If we are going to have a serious discussion about this issue (i.e., one that does not sink into the abyss of sexualization, stereotypes and name calling), then it seems to me that there are at least three major issues that need to be addressed, but which have been largely absent from the debate thus far. (via Whipping Girl: A “Transsexual Versus Transgender” Intervention*)
so this went around before, but seems timely to recirculate.