“If I had chosen the form of a man they would have named me God”
From Chloe Goodwin
Aphrodite sets the record straight:
People assumed I did not love my husband
that I cheated on him
because he was ugly; lesser
the truth is he was always beautiful
and I always loving
but never meant
to belong to just one
They portray me as valley girls
blonde big tits
naked pink yielding
young and lazy
yet I spent my youth busy
being in lust with the oceans
and the earth
I came home with dirt on my knees
and sea salt in my hair
a belly full of cactus fruit
I grew fond of apples
fell in love with
doves and bulls
of all things
I was absorbed
I worshipped trees and whales
the way ravens change colors
when the sun kisses them
I enjoyed sex
orgies of magnitude
the musk of man
the taste of woman
long bubble baths
posing in art galleries, on altars
listening to philosophers
and poets grasping for truth-
And I am old now
oldest of the gods still living
and still in love with my work
I find little pleasure in boredom
I have more house calls
than all my peers combined
everyone desires love
Yet still the press
I know I shouldn’t let it get to me but-
me who fights
more ruthlessly than War
sleeps with more women
than Zeus himself
comforts more children
Just between you and me
if I had chosen the form of a man
they would have named me
Chloe Goodwin is a poet, queer hedgewitch, intersectional feminist, tarot reader, and eclectic creative. She lives in the Pacific Northwest. Here’s her Tumblr.
“Reading this may cause you to think “Oh, I see where they’re trying to get. They’re a trans person. It’s all over the media now. I’m well informed” and although you’re not mistaken (I am talking about misplaced gender roles and you could easily be right) this one specifically is not about trans identity. It’s about something that’s even less talked about and understood.”
From Nathan There
“As far as I’m concerned, being any gender is a drag.” – Patti Smit
Ever since I was a young child I felt something’s inherently different about me. I never felt I could fit this invisible but already established role I was supposed to fulfill. Humanity chose to shove people in these tight boxes so they can feel comfortable and experience the sensation of something recognizable (consequently safe). This can stretch to several categories of human conditions but here I’m talking about one in particular: the chart which people are obligated to follow when it comes to identity and gender. Reading this may cause you to think “Oh, I see where they’re trying to get. They’re a trans person. It’s all over the media now. I’m well informed” and although you’re not mistaken (I am talking about misplaced gender roles and you could easily be right) this one specifically is not about trans identity. It’s about something that’s even less talked about and understood. I’m talking about non-binary gender. Now, while you may think I will try and give you a crash course on the matter, even if I educate a bit here and there, this time I’ll tell you about something palpable.
When I was about seven, I had my first kiss. It wasn’t very glamorous, it wasn’t particularly memorable. It was a regular kiss between a seven year old child and a girl about the same age. It didn’t feel right or wrong, so I jumped to the next girl, then the next one until I was seventeen, never quite filling a void I could feel existed within me. At first, as taught by Brazilian culture, I assumed it was something to do with my sexual tastes. This is tricky, so I’ll elaborate: society burdens us with the assumptions and choices of our ancestors. If your society is structured to believe that blue is for boys and pink is for girls, you’re undoubtedly expected to abide by these rules. In this case, binary rules. So, if you’re a “boy” (Which specifically here means having a penis – assigned male at birth), and you like pink, then you’re a sissy at first. If you happen to identify as a female, the burden is not lifted, so you are still a sissy boy, with just further need of attention. If you’re a girl you’re not even entitled to have an opinion so let’s not get into male privileges just yet. So, back to my past – this void lead me to believe I was gay. And being a gay boy in the 90s was the most dreaded thing in Brazil. You’re not a capital letters MAN (Male) and you are not just unlucky to be born under the fragile gender (Female) – you’re choosing to misbehave, you’re choosing to go by the pink book. That’s just despicable, so you can imagine I was terrified.
At the age of seventeen, I kissed my first boys (Yes, two. That’s a story for another time), this way I could follow the role I understood I was obligated to follow: the gay one. That didn’t quite feel right either because it was crystal clear to me I was into girls too. I assumed I was bisexual and felt content with that even though I could feel there was something still uncanny about myself and I couldn’t quite grasp it. By that, I don’t mean bisexuality is something out of fairy tales. I just understood, later on, it does not apply to me.
Now fast forward to a few years later (Yes. I quoted Alanis Morissette. I’m entitled to have musical preferences). I started reading, debating, and I became an activist on the matter of human and animal rights, understanding that I should raise awareness to the issues I fought for. Then I came across a concept that literally changed my whole perspective on life and shaped the way I would understand myself from that point on. In an article about Judith Butler, I read the terms queer and gender performativity. At first, I couldn’t quite grasp it, but that is expected. My body and mind were always colonized, so I had to strip myself from the prefabs of past generations to actually understand what I was reading, and when I did… everything changed. It was a mirror. Not the hazy one I always saw my shapes and colours reflected on but a true mirror. I existed. It was the most freeing experience I have ever felt so far and I would understand more and more about myself and the restraints I put myself under all the years prior to that moment. I wasn’t bisexual because I had no gender to identify with nor needed to. That is an amazing feeling if you ask me.
After a few years of tweaking this and that on my understanding of my life and my relations with others, I understood that my sexual tastes are entitled to be fluid and that does not constrain me inside any “sexual orientation” category. So, if I decide to exclusively have sex with women from now on that can’t make me straight because I’m not a man, or lesbian because I’m not a woman. Consequently, if I choose otherwise, same idea applies but in reverse. OK? Ok. The thing is, there is such a thing as gender performativity. People still perceive me as a male, no matter what I say or do so I have implications on that matter. The fact that I am conformed under certain male performativities (eventual beard, no makeup, pants and tank tops, some normative male mannerisms and the fact that I view myself as a cisgender person) makes people question my gender. While this is reinforced by the media, the problem is further structural rather than individual. If the media allowed people like me to exist through narrative and storytelling, if the fact that we are non-binary was not treated as exotic or eccentric (in other words, sensationalist material), if through narrative we were given stories outside our identities or if non-binary people were cast to play non-binary characters, society would be acknowledging me. Making normative people’s inability to fit a person in a gender into jokes or belittling non-binary people’s experiences contributes to this invisibility, and therefore to a confusing and negative journey throughout life.
My experience led me into some conclusions – First, I understand that no theory or self-perception must ignore my “male” privileges. For this reason, I can’t pull the “non-binary card” to bend situations in which others can’t grasp non-binary concepts. Example: I’m not either man or woman, but I can’t go into the “lady’s room” under this premise. They’re not obligated to understand me as anything else other than a male performative person and a potential rapist. Male oppression. Not difficult to understand at all. Second, it’s my understanding that non-binary people are not oppressed. The LGBTQI+ community is oppressed. I’m not killed for being non-binary. I don’t lose my job for being non-binary. I don’t get raped, molested and abused for being non-binary. I don’t get beaten up or excluded or shunned or threatened in any way for being non-binary. I suffer all of the above because I fall under the category of LGBTQI+. This oppression is towards our community and engulfs all of us. That’s why I’m oppressed, not because I’m non-binary. And that’s actually a blessing. Although invisibility is a form of oppression, when people start talking about us, we’ll probably get there. Third, there is such a thing as non-binary invisibility. That is the reason why people don’t understand my gender (and why I must understand I enjoy male privileges) and it is also the reason why my gender is oppression free (To an extent. I only mean by that what I discussed in the second topic). Fourth, being non-binary is an innate sense within a person. It’s not a lifestyle choice, a trend or a phase. It’s something that resonates inside you and makes sense when you put the pieces together. In my case, I understand how gender roles are burdened upon people, I understand some people are gladly abiding by and fitting into those categories and I understand that they’re not inherently bad per se (its praxis is). I just can’t relate to the category. In most cases, other people’s perception of my
gender won’t be something that bothers me in any sense (sometimes even the opposite). Sometimes it will but not because I can relate to it, but because I understand their concept and/or can apply the experience of the concept negatively in my life. For instance, you can call me a sissy and I’ll enjoy it, but I can understand how belittling being called a “good girl” can be while being a bottom during sex, because of the way women are belittled (even in oppressed niches such as the LGBTQI+ community).
All in all, the subtleties between gender, gender identity and gender performativity must be understood and stressed enough before people can understand non-binary existences, maybe even fitting into one of the multiple categories this gender understanding comprehends. But that’s for another time.
Nathan is a musician from Brazil, a queer non-binary vegetarian person with interest in game design, tattooing, and combating social disparity issues.
The Pre-Sale for Anthony Rella’s Circling The Star is here.
Shay Woodall: “I’d like to take a moment to discuss sexuality and gender, particularly discourse from the cis gay and lesbian community.”
“I won’t date you if you’re trans, or a POC, or fat, or disabled, or neurodivergent. Sorry it’s just a preference”. How many of you have heard or seen this in your lives or on dating/hookup apps and sites?
In this first of three essays I’d like to take a moment to explore the landscape of power and desire by examining various strands of the kyriarchal matrix. This topic is very close to many trans people’s hearts because we, like so many of those on the margins of the acceptable, are often told that we are unlovable, that our bodies are perverse, and that our gender is merely a trick to ensnare cis folks and violate their consent. I hope this inspires some real self-reflection and brings all of us into deeper relationship with ourselves and others.
As always, the writing here reflects my own intersections and my best understanding of these topics at the moment. Thank you, as well as to all the comrades who gave feedback on earlier drafts of this essay.
I. Theorizing Sexuality and Gender
Before we can really delve into how we theorize sexuality we first need to define what it is. That might seem an easy thing to do, after all human sexuality is “simply” how people experience and express themselves as sexual beings. Yet underneath this seeming truism lurks a complicated mess. Is sexuality something that we are (the identity model)? Is it something that we do (the behavior model)? Are we born with our sexuality as-is or is sexuality linked to social structures and culture (nature vs nurture)?
The overarching view of sexuality and gender in society is that there are only men and women and people can be attracted to only one or the other, possibly both, but always heterosexuality is normative[i]. This dominant paradigm of sexuality and gender is underpinned by the kyriarchal matrix. Patriarchy (particularly cissexism and heterosexism), white supremacy, colonialism, capitalism, ableism and more all weave together to weigh in on how we view ourselves and especially our capacity for relationships, sexual or otherwise. It informs who and what we find attractive, how we create and maintain relationships, and so much more. Let’s look at some, though hardly all, of these kyriarchal strands:
1. Patriarchy. Women are often granted sexuality only insofar as it lends itself to the “male gaze”[ii] and the desire of men. Women don’t have sexuality in our own right, instead our sexuality exists only for the consumption and commodification of men in heterosexual matrimony. Our sexuality is, in short, viewed and treated as property.
As a case study let’s look at the phenomenon of “frigid women” which came to prominence at the turn of the 20th century (though the idea is much older). Sigmund Freud came up with the idea that cis women first associate sexual pleasure with clitoral stimulation and later in life must transfer that to vaginal stimulation and if they don’t they suffer from “penis envy” (and thus masculinization). This idea would be developed by psychoanalysts and sexologists who would go on to depict a woman’s inability to sufficiently enjoy sex with their husbands as a sexual disorder that should be pathologized and treated. It’s also part of what motivates oppression against aspec folks now, given that their very existence disrupts the idea of sexuality as consumption.
2. Heterosexism. A couple of years ago there was a push from the cis gay and lesbian community to exclude the T (trans) from LGBT. Which is strange given that heterosexism, cissexism, and biological essentialism are all inextricably bound. The dominant model of gender and sex is binary, grouping people into two distinct largely opposite categories of “male/men/masculine” and “female/women/feminine”. Considering this view of gender and sex is binary only three possibilities for sexuality emerge: heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual. When the scope of gender and sex is widened however to include the full range of human diversity such a model becomes obsolete.
Another interesting point emerges from this as well because gender becomes framed through a heterosexist gaze. Take for example that gay men aren’t just oppressed for being attracted to other men, society treats gay men as *emasculated* (and thus not performing “masculinity” correctly). Lesbians are often treated and seen as “masculine” with corrective r*pe being used to “feminize” lesbians (thus lesbians aren’t performing “femininity” correctly). Sexuality through this lens becomes a performance of the “proper” gendered order and violence, often sexual in nature, becomes a tool for enforcing that order. Going further, sexuality as a performance of proper “gender” seeps its way into otherwise queer relationships by seeking to reproduce in part heterosexist logic (the butch/femme and top/bottom dichotomy in lesbian and gay communities).
The existence of trans and non-binary genders complicates the discourse arising from cis lesbian and gay communities. Those who police the boundaries of what is and isn’t “queer” (aka: gatekeepers) appropriate queerness to mean only certain ways of being against the normative order and not others. As Susan Stryker notes in the Transgender Studies Reader vol 1:
“Like recent feminism and feminist scholarship, queer politics and queer studies also remain invested, to a significant extent, in an underlying conceptual framework that is problematized by transgender phenomena. “Sexual object choice,” the very concept used to distinguish “hetero” from “homo” sexuality, loses coherence to the precise extent that the “sex” of the “object” is called into question, particularly in relation to the object’s “gender.” Queer studies, though putatively antiheteronormative, sometimes fails to acknowledge that same-sex object choice is not the only way to differ from heterosexist cultural norms, that transgender phenomena can also be antiheteronormative, or that transgender phenomena constitute an axis of difference that cannot be subsumed to an object-choice model of antiheteronormativity. As a result, queer studies sometimes perpetuates what might be called “homonormativity,” that is, a privileging of homosexual ways of differing from heterosocial norms, and an antipathy (or at least an unthinking blindness) toward other modes of queer difference.”
3. Capitalism. In Caliban and the Witch Silvia Federici argues that capitalism developed in response to peasant revolts in medieval Europe to curtail the growing popularity of communalism. Federici writes: “capitalism was the counter-revolution that destroyed the possibilities that had emerged from the anti-feudal struggle—possibilities which, if realized, might have spared us immense destruction of lives and the natural environment that has marked the advance of capitalist relations worldwide”.
As part of this process gender became a “specification of class relations”. That is to say class is stratified by various hierarchies and gender was animated by capitalist logic to divide labor and wealth within the working class itself. Or as Federici summarizes:
“The expropriation of European workers from their means of subsistence, and the enslavement of Native Americans and Africans to the mines and plantations of the New World, were not the only means by which a world proletariat was formed and ‘accumulated.’ This process required the transformation of the body into a work-machine, and the subjugation of women to the reproduction of the work-force. Most of all, it required the destruction of the power of women which, in Europe as in America, was achieved through the extermination of witches. Primitive accumulation, then, was not simply the accumulation and concentration of exploitable workers and capital. It was also an accumulation of differences and divisions within the working class, whereby hierarchies built upon gender, as well as “race” and age became constitutive of class rule and the formation of the modern proletariat.”
Sexuality in light of this view and anti-capitalist critique can be seen as a further “specification of class relations”, one in which the reproductive capacity of those in relationship (and individually) are seen as paramount for the continued production of an exploited underclass. The capitalist logic here goes so far as to create laws regulating sexuality, from laws governing marriage to abortion to sex work and more.
4. White Supremacy. As we’ve seen from previous sections sexuality and sexual violence are animated in support of a system (or systems) of exploitation and oppression. When white supremacy and colonialism enters the conversation the violence of the system is compounded in soul crushing ways. Gender and sexuality are racialized and exist as much within the matrix of white supremacy as within patriarchy and capitalism.
With the advent of modern racism, race became enshrined as an essential characteristic and hierarchies of “humanness” thus justified the exploitation of racialized bodies, lands, and resources. The sexuality of people of color is often seen as inherently violent and/or uniquely promiscuous because of how race is produced in a modern context. Sexuality becomes a way to create and reinforce racial stratifications and hierarchies.
The sexuality of people of color is often reduced under a white gaze to one of hypersexualization or desexualition for white consumption. The jezebel stereotype for example relies on the idea that black women are inherently hypersexual and that Asian men are often seen as emasculated and unsexual. Or consider that Jewish women in the Shoah[iii] were forcibly sterilized and subjected to regular sexual violence. Sexuality for people of color is inherently racialized and through the logics of white supremacy considered inherently deviant and thus subject to surveillance and policing (whether through codified laws or through normative cultural values).
5. Animacy Hierarchies. In Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect, author Mel Y. Chen offers a poignant discussion of the concept of animacy. In a nutshell, animacy is a concept from linguistics that describes how “sentient” or “alive” a noun is. This concept however can be broadened past the realm of linguistics to the ways in which a given body is “invested” with humanness or animateness. Cognitive linguist Mutsumi Yamamato describes animacy as:
“The concept of “animacy” can be regarded as some kind of assumed cognitive scale extending from human through animal to inanimate. In addition to the life concept itself, concepts related to the life concept—such as locomotion, sentiency, etc.—can also be incorporated into the cognitive domain of “animacy.” …A common reflection of “animacy” in a language is a distinction between animate and inanimate, and analogically between human and non-human in some measure. However, animacy is not simply a matter of the semantic feature [+-alive], and its linguistic manifestation is somewhat complicated. Our cognition of animacy and the extent to which we invest a certain body (or body of entities) with humanness or animateness influence various levels of human language a great deal.”
Sexuality (along with gender, race, ability, etc.) reveals underlying schema about what is considered more “alive” more “human” and the agency thus granted to varying body’s sexuality. Consider that plants, in being lower in animacy hierarchies compared to animals and humans, have their sexuality discussed in largely mechanical terms devoid of the passion, the animateness, that we might discuss the sexuality of other beings. Likewise, human sexuality outside of the normative follows much the same pattern, with intersections and social positioning interacting to affect the animacy of a given body’s sexuality.
In many of the examples discussing sexuality so far, we’ve seen a hiearchialization set up between “normative” sexuality and “deviant” sexuality albeit through differing but intertwined system logics. Sexuality of the deviant is more attuned to a state of being “animal” than human, more “dead” than “alive”, and through the essentializing of identity these logics combine to frame deviant sexuality as static, and justifies exploitation and oppression on those grounds. The process of queering, breaking down binary and normative structures, can be seen as a returning of animacy to the body and the phenomenon of sexuality that body is engaged in.
II. Re-imagining Sexuality
In the previous section I teased out various threads that weave together to underpin our understanding of sexuality, yet these threads aren’t truly separate from each other. They weave in and out diverging at points only to link up later. The importance of intersectional critique is its ability to disrupt “ontological priorities”. That is intersectionality allows us to examine the complicated weaving of oppression and systems without positing any as a “first cause”, instead choosing to see these strands as reflexively[iv] informing each other.
Unfortunately, I’ve given a lot of critique but not so much in the way of solutions and that will hold true for the rest of this article. Given the complexity of sexuality and its centrality to the human condition there aren’t “one size fits all” solutions. But I do have some suggestions for directions we might travel to heal this:
1. Self Examination. Sexuality isn’t static because we aren’t static. We are constantly changing and growing and our sexuality does the same. Unfortunately, we and our sexualities didn’t develop in a vacuum devoid of wider social power systems. By critically examining our sexuality and “preferences”, we can weed out the bits of the oppressor buried deep inside and allow ourselves to really bloom.
2. Revolution. All solutions run up against a limit: the system we live under can’t be merely reformed. You can’t take oppression out of an inherently exploitative system. The system *must* be destroyed and we must dream new ways of living into existence.
3. Relationship Anarchy. Its common for our relationships to mirror in microcosm the macrocosm of oppressive structures that permeate our lives. Anarchism at its core is a rejection of hierarchical power structures and this applies in our personal relationships as much as it does to wider society. While a full and detailed account of relationship anarchy is beyond the scope of this article I’d like to point readers to a series of excellent essays addressing this topic: Focus on Relationships, Time, Touch, and Talk, Using the 3-Ts, and The Big Picture.
4. Radical Self Love. We often internalize the hierarchies of desire and the structures animating them. Whether we are trans, non-binary, intersex, cis, people of color, disabled, neurodivergent, fat, or anything else, we are lovable. Our bodies do not have to meet arbitrary standards to be worthy. When we fight body terrorism we engage in radical self love and, at the threat of being cliché, love can change the world.
In the end our liberation occurs in the liminal places, at the edges of the “acceptable”, in the cracks of the “whole”. Let’s dream a new world into being.
[i] Normativity is the process by which society raises some phenomenon as the “default” and assigns it a privileged status of “good”. By virtue of this process it creates a counter of deviance from the normative, labeling it “bad”, and punishing deviation from the norm.
[ii] The “male gaze”, “heteronormative gaze”, and others are subsets of “gaze theory” and here articulated in conversation with ideas first developed by Michael Foucault. The “gaze” is a relationship into which someone enters that limits perception of a given topic or person and thus what knowledge can be formed. Gazes are created by systems of power and surveillance and can be likened to a set of glasses that block out certain perspectives.
[iii] While Jewish identity in relation to white supremacy is much more complicated in a modern context, Jewish people were unequivocally racialized during the Shoah as non-white.
[iv] Reflexivity is the idea that cause and effect share a circular type relationship, that there is no “first cause”. In the opening to part I of this essay I raised the nature vs nurture debate around sexuality. The answer is that these are reflexive and its that idea which underpins this entire essay and its analysis.
Shay Woodall is a Jewish Priestess and Pagan working to weave a queer and decolonized magic with radical politics. You can find her work here.
When I found a first hint of my Goddess, I was twenty and alone.
No one else at my small-town-South, church-affiliated college was openly trans. I wasn’t just socially stigmatized – I lacked spiritual tools with which to understand my alienation. Then one professor, a lesbian feminist with a goddess-symbol pendant, gave me a book: Beyond God the Father by Mary Daly. Daly’s post-Catholic thealogy taught me that a male authority figure wasn’t the only sort of God. Soon, I found a sacred place under an oleander tree and prayed to “the goddess;” within a few years, I’d gone through the Goddess Movement to the Meter Theon’s devotional service and the vows I’m under today.
In large part, Mary Daly set me free.
However, had I actually met her, she would’ve wanted nothing to do with me. Daly helped found what today we call the TERF movement: Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism, a strain of feminism for cisgender (that is, non-transgender) women who believe trans women shouldn’t exist. Some of them follow through with harassment or even physical violence.
I thought of this paradox — that a TERF’s book could set in motion a trans woman’s religious feminism — when the cis Pagans in my social media sphere recently discovered that certain Pagan leaders have TERF ideas. A professor at Cherry Hill Seminary, Ruth Barrett, signed a petition denouncing trans people’s involvement in gay rights; Cherry Hill stood beside her in a subsequent press release.
Of course, this is no one’s first rodeo. In 2012, similar criticisms emerged when the founder of Dianic Witchcraft, Z. Budapest, excluded trans women from a ritual at PantheaCon that had been advertised as a rite for women. Trans exclusion has been a fact for decades in many Pagan communities.
But where does this sentiment come from? Trans women exist and many of us are polytheists and/or Pagans; why should anybody mind?
“All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves…Transsexuals merely cut off the most obvious means of invading women, so that they seem non-invasive.”
– Janice Raymond, author of The Transsexual Empire
When TERFs and right-wing Christians talk about trans women, they agree that everything comes down to sex. Take a few examples:
Last November, Houston, TX (my hometown) voted to repeal an antidiscrimination ordinance that included protections for trans people. After months of TV ads slandering trans women as rapist men lurking in the bathroom, the final count was 2 to 1 against the ordinance.
Right now, in Washington State (my adopted home), lawmakers have written six different bills, all intended to deny trans people the right to use the bathroom that best matches their gender. All of these politicians (and their supporters) have endorsed that same bathroom-rapist lie.
The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which ran annually until last year, maintained a blanket no-trans-women-allowed policy. One year, a Lesbian Avengers chapter with a trans woman member did attend, and the trans teenager found herself surrounded by a hostile crowd of adults, some of whom threatened her with knives. The festival claimed that trans attendees would somehow pose a special danger to rape survivors.
Janice Raymond, who wrote the anti-trans manifesto The Transsexual Empire, explicitly equated the existence of trans women with rape, and claimed that trans lesbians who had consensual sex were actually, somehow, committing rape. When she developed these ideas as a grad student, her thesis adviser was Mary Daly.
No trans woman has ever been found sexually harassing people in public restrooms. The figure of the bathroom-rapist trans woman is like Hookman or Bloody Mary: an urban legend, not an actual person. But politicians don’t write bills cracking down on the cursed monkey paw market. So, whence this particular urban myth’s political credibility?
On Catcalling, Good Sex, and Nonconsensual Work
As I discussed in my last article, capitalist patriarchy runs on women’s unreciprocated social labor. I didn’t, however, much talk about the way that sex, sexuality, and sexual desire fit into this system.
In heterosexual settings, women generally put much more effort into sexually satisfying their partners than their men reciprocate. We see this in everything from the deeply-gendered nature of sexy underwear (lingerie for women is an industry, lingerie for men is comedy fodder) to the juxtaposition of normalized fellatio and stigmatized cunnilingus. Rape is simply the extension of this one-sided approach to sexual pleasure past the line of consent. Obviously, male-centric but consensual straight sex qualitatively and morally differs from rape. Nevertheless, both exist within a gender system that makes the work of good sex something that women generally perform both for ourselves and for men, but that men usually perform quite a bit less.
This happens outside of straight encounters, too. “Straight guys think lesbians are hot” is practically a proverb. Plus, the ubiquity of catcalling shows that no public space excludes what feminist theory calls the male gaze. When a woman goes down the sidewalk, puts on clothes in the morning, or wears makeup, her goal is rarely to give male strangers a moment of sexualized entertainment. However, when they catcall her, those men have just gotten their entertainment from the work she’s performed (even if existing in public is the only work she’s done).
She didn’t put together a public presentation in order to give men a show, but they got a show anyway by ogling and heckling. They’ve extracted benefit (entertainment) from her labor (wearing clothes and walking down the street) without her consent, and without reciprocation; they certainly aren’t likely to try to amuse her in return! In short, they’ve just exploited her work.
Every bit of this applies both to cis women and to trans women. All women, trans and cis, run the risk of rape and sexual harassment; all women who date men, trans and cis, deal with partners who demand that their own pleasure must always come first.
However, the exploited sexual labor of trans women goes past that of cis women. Patriarchy tries to reduce trans women’s entire existence to sex. Supposedly, we only transition to satisfy a sexual fetish; supposedly, the only people who sleep with us have a fetish of their own. We go into sex work much more frequently than cis women because hiring discrimination is so rampant. Mainstream cultural depictions of trans women at work rarely include jobs other than sex work and hairdressing. (And remember, patriarchy believes that women groom and get haircuts solely to attract straight men.) Without letters of approval from self-appointed psychiatric “experts,” it’s extremely difficult to access trans-specific medical care (mostly hormone therapy and various surgeries). Those gatekeepers have traditionally denied that healthcare to trans women they deemed insufficiently feminine, attractive, or heterosexual.
This extra layer of sexualization brings an extra layer of gendered violence. A majority of trans women have been raped and/or sexually abused, and anti-trans violence gets overwhelmingly committed by men who sleep with us. (Throw in race and occupation to the mix, and you’ll find that not only are most anti-LGBT hate murder victims trans women, but a large majority of those women are Black and/or Latina, with a substantial number of sex workers in the mix. When bigotry kills LGBT people, that bigotry is usually racism plus sexism plus transphobia.)
So patriarchy disproportionately sexualizes trans women, while disproportionately punishing us for it. Why? When that happens, what’s in it for patriarchy? It gets a class of women who perform extra sexual labor, while facing too much brutalization to easily challenge that. More exploitation, less resistance.
Anti-trans ideas only make sense in terms of that social situation.
Prejudice and stigma occur so that trans women stay in that extra-exploited situation. People who say that trans women are really men don’t mean that literally; after all, when most people say “you really are a man!” to an actual man, it’s a compliment. Those same words to a trans woman are an insult and a threat (and often precede physical violence). However, the combination of stigma, discrimination, harassment, and violence that gets thrown at trans women keeps us easier to exploit. In sociological lingo, that’s transphobia’s social function.
And plenty of trans women have stories about getting hit on by TERFs and conservative transphobes. As often as not, the people who rail the loudest in public about how we’re sexually disgusting are the ones who sleep with us in private. No surprise that those who most directly benefit from our sexual labor also most want us kept in line!
However, anti-trans politics does more than that. By campaigning against a hated and nearly defenseless minority, both right-wingers and TERFs gain visibility, prestige, and clout within their communities: conservative Christianity and majority-cis feminism, respectively. Pagan TERFs like Ruth Barrett bolster their position within feminist witchcraft and the broader Pagan scene. If the benefits transphobic actions accrued were to stop, so would those actions.
If TERFism hurt rather than enhanced someone’s position within Pagandom, then anti-trans practices would wither.
“An injury to one is an injury to all!”
– The Industrial Workers of the World
I don’t write this article for other trans people.
Trans Pagans and polytheists have already spent decades attempting to undo the power of anti-trans leaders within our communities. We already know just how dangerous and spiritually deadly transphobia gets.
Cisgender fellow Pagans,I’m writing for you. I don’t want to make yet another moral appeal to support us because it’s just and virtuous to do so (although it surely is); instead, I want us to consider, together, what anti-trans Paganism means for us all. If you’re a cis woman, I have as much a stake in ending patriarchy as you – andtransphobia only exists because it’s part of patriarchy. If you support full inclusion for trans women as women, you’re helping to reject one of patriarchy’s more violent ongoing projects! And if you’re a cis man, I have the same message. Transphobia is patriarchy, and patriarchy is capitalism, ishomophobia, is racism, andisevery other structure of exploitation that keeps the ruling classes on top. “An injury to one is an injury to all” is a statement not of moral solidarity, but of sociological fact. Propping up discrimination against someone else just strengthens the powers that oppress you.
So, together, let’s make the Pagan subculture a place where hating trans women destroys reputations instead of growing them. Let’s make our traditions islands of pro-trans feminism; let’s say “you’re being divisive”to transphobes, not to their critics.
After all, I know firsthand the power and intoxication of feminist self-embrace that people like Mary Daly offer at their best. If some of them fell short in their attempts to wash away patriarchy’s values, the strength of the Pagan feminist lifestance is surely enough to survive if we acknowledge that transphobia is patriarchy, and choose to do better than our precursors. Affirming trans women as women makes that feminism more powerful, not less.
And besides – if we can’t even reject patriarchy’s marching orders within feminist Paganism, how can we expect to do so anywhere else?
Sophia Burns is a galla, vowed to serve Attis and Kybele, and a Greco-Phrygian polytheist. After coming out in the small-town South, she moved to Seattle, where she is active in the trans lesbian community. Other than writing for Gods&Radicals, Sophia’s activities include political organizing, attending nursing school, and spending time with her partners, friends, and chosen family.