I feel like I keep up pretty well with changes in the areas of California law that interest me, but the fact that my state seems about to make it legal to register as a person with a nonbinary third gender completely snuck up on me. And what a delightful surprise in the middle of the 2017 experience of keeping track of the news.
The law has passed the California Senate and is in committee hearings in the Assembly. A final yes vote is expected “by the end of summer,” and it seems likely that Governor Brown will sign.
Questioned on whether the legislation will cover such identities as bigender, cisgender, intersex, trans and two-spirit, [Jo Michael, Legislative Manager for Equality California] added that female, male and non-binary options will “cover pretty much everyone.”
Earlier this month, Oregon became the first state to allow a third gender option on government issued ID cards.
This is truly a huge sea change, and if it does pass in California, I predict that it’s likely to spread fairly quickly through the blue states. I also predict legal issues (and probably harassment) when someone with a third-gender California or Oregon drivers’ license goes to Mississippi, or Texas, or Arkansas. This is how change happens.
Before I saw that news, I had already bookmarked the amazing Julia Serano‘s piece “Debunking Trans Women Are Not Women Arguments,” posted on Medium. Serano is one of the clearest thinkers, and most organized writers who tackles gender, and this essay is no exception. Body Impolitic has blogged her writing a couple of times.
Like women more generally, many trans women are feminists. Feminism and transgender activism are not in any way incompatible or mutually exclusive. As feminists who acknowledge intersectionality, we believe that we should be fighting to end all forms of sexism and marginalization — this includes both traditional sexism and transphobia. Forcing trans women into a separate group that is distinct from cis women does not in any way help achieve feminism’s central goal of ending sexism.
After clarifying her terms and setting the stage, Serano systematically sets up and knocks down
- the “biological woman” fallacy
- the Caitlyn Jenner fallacy
- the “male energy” and “male privilege” fallacies
Male privilege is a very real thing. In my book Whipping Girl, I talk at length about my own personal experiences of having it, and subsequently losing it post-transition. However, not every trans woman experiences male privilege (e.g., younger transitioners). Furthermore, the whole purpose of talking about privilege (whether it be male, white, middle/upper-class, able-bodied, or straight privilege, to name a few) is to raise awareness about the advantages that members of the dominant/majority group experience due to the fact that they do not face a particular type of sexism or marginalization. And the fact that the trans-women-aren’t-women crowd constantly harp about trans women’s real or imagined male privilege, yet refuse to acknowledge or examine their own cisgender privilege, demonstrates that their concerns about privilege are disingenuous, and that they are merely using the concept in order to delegitimize trans women’s identities and lived experiences as women.
- the “trans women as caricatures of women” fallacy
- the “brain differences” fallacy
- the Rachel Dolezal fallacy
- the “trans women refuse to acknowledge any distinction” fallacy
Here’s part of Serano’s conclusion:
There was a time in the 1960s and 1970s when many heterosexual feminists wanted to similarly exclude lesbians from women’s organizations and from feminism. The justifications that they forwarded were eerily similarly to trans-women-aren’t-women arguments: They accused lesbians of being “oppressively male” and of “reinforcing the sex class system” (see earlier Twitter thread). If you read the Wikipedia article I linked to earlier in this paragraph, you will find that lesbians fought back against such accusations. They didn’t do this because they believed that they were 100 percent identical to heterosexual feminists. They did it because some feminists were attempting to exclude them from feminism and the category of woman. Just like those who forward trans-women-aren’t-women arguments are attempting to do to us now.
Trans women are women. Trans men are men. And nonbinary people are neither. It isn’t complicated–and it’s only threatening if you are convinced that you are threatened when someone walks in the world differently than you do — and you don’t want to give them the respect of believing their truth.