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Patriarchy

  • Posted on October 22, 2017 at 11:06 pm

It’s the cornerstone of feminism, and a simple enough question. How comes men seem to rule and dominate the world, how comes they always seem to have done so? For what reason? It’s the one item in Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens (do read it, it’s excellent for many reasons) that defies his analysis.

There really isn’t any single justification among all the superficial traditional arguments such as muscle strength, child-bearing etc., so if you are still stuck in these, do read the Sapiens chapter. The question remains as stuck itself, with continued inequality in treatment and reward between a strong binary of men and women. Why, in so many respects, is femininity seen to weaken a man and masculinity strengthen a woman?

And it is patriarchy that has sustained the silence and tacit moral support of the immoral that has been so clearly thrust into view by Harvey Weinstein. It is patriarchy that keeps a groping, abusive man in the US presidency.

A tsunami of #metoo may have shocked, but surely not surprised. Maybe the greater surprise has been the sudden collegial willingness of women to speak out. Their silence was surely because of the power relationships that exist, a patriarchal view that women are somehow the possessions of men, maybe not always individually, but certainly collectively. But #metoo names victims, not perpetrators. ‘It happened.’ No; it was done.

Men have responded online; the better have been to say ‘shut up and think; this is for us to work out’. (Example here, from Mike Morrell – it is a start, but will not, I think, spark a revolution.)

But ask: in what sense is it still business as usual? When will it not be time to call this out and change the way things are? Men will be men? No; there is responsibility here. Men are more than the passive subjects of a powerful hormone, and their sense of privilege and entitlement is learned.

Is there a trans perspective on this? I think there needs to be for several reasons.

First, trans women are viewed by too many commentators and self-opinionated people, and certainly by TERFs, as fundamentally men who like to wear different clothes and pretend. With simplistic narratives of biology and what a man/male and a woman/female are, they refuse to understand the nature of a trans woman. They underpin all their arguments with the safety of women’s spaces, predicated on the fallacy that men want to disguise themselves as women, give it a stamp of approval called transgender and do things that are already illegal.

In other words, women should always fear every man, because therein lies the seat of violence against women. Men have the power. Patriarchy sustains it. Don’t let the enemy in.

Second, trans women have uniquely experienced being among men who believe no women are present; they have heard it, unmoderated by apology. It isn’t just locker room talk, it’s any room talk. This is not just watching a hidden camera, but being invited into the conversation. They have also experienced being among women when no men are present, and know what men do that is not spoken about. In other words, we have seen the true nature of people from both points of view. Yes; we know what men really think, but more importantly what they say amongst themselves, which ratifies, encourages, condones, and gives them some shared permission.

What men really think about who has precedence, and whether they truly believe all women are of equal value as all men and due equal respect, may have improved in recent years. But I know, and they know, that women are still there to be imprinted upon. Even nice men mansplain, and talk over women and steal their ideas.

Third, trans people, male and female, know more than anyone else what it is to switch others’ perceptions of their gender. Trans men, after the effects of testosterone have masculinised them, see the world differently, and importantly, the world receives them very differently. Suddenly they have male privilege, passports to inclusion they have not had before. Trans women, conversely can be branded traitors to the male cause, and are diminished. They can be deemed to have lost their academic ability, skills and authority, simply for being women. Expectations of advancement or simply of qualified opinion are reduced: it doesn’t matter any more, you’re just a woman.

Male is the default, male is authority, men are in charge, men get the opportunities. That isn’t a resentful thought, just the experience that we have. It is there, maybe no absolutely, but it is there.

The trans perspective includes this understanding as well: that we confuse people who believe (and it really isn’t a simple biological analysis and conclusion) that there are only men and women and that we are all born incontrovertibly one or the other. And if we don’t confuse, we are inconvenient, because we intervene in the arguments of both feminists and patriarchists. The real problem with transgender issues is not trans people, but the invention of patriarchy that makes men a problem to women.

We therefore threaten patriarchy, and we thereby unsettle some forms of feminism that require men to be immutable. The main reason trans people and how they express their experience, are not understood, is because fixity in the binary is a necessary condition for propping up both male privilege and male threat. But can men in power (any kind) in sufficient numbers, change where we are? Or is patriarchy too structural?

If so, why isn’t it blindingly obvious that the patriarchy is a falsehood to be shattered by every woman standing up and saying ‘me too’? Or do we really not see it?

I do. And I don’ think many men do. It’s there in whose idea is best, who talks loudest, who has most entitlement (is it just confidence?), and who concludes the conversation. That men today can still joke about the casting couch, shows how normal it still is to think this has an element of inevitability and acceptability.

As a background to this, I am always reminded that four out of five of my teen/twenties girlfriends suffered abuse from men, and that since then I came to know just how many women around me suffered everything from rape, marital rape, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, domestic abuse and attempted murder. That is not true of the men I have known, on anything remotely like the same scale. This is still a fact of life – not in an overtly patriarchal society where women are covered, walk a distance behind men, cannot drive, be educated or socialise freely – but in 2017 European culture.

What sustains patriarchy

A friend asked me this morning why this has persisted, why patriarchy is so old and still has such an implicit grip today. I feel quite strongly that it lies with patriarchal religions, which have shaped cultures, and stained almost every civilisation for thousands of years. Once you have a supreme deity who is male, you can use that deity’s voice to justify the supposed order set in place by that deity. Yes, the argument is circular but no more than that of the bible saying that it is the inspired word of god. There is no other external reference for giving primacy to the male (or indeed to the female). Once you give a supposed deity authority to declare that its gender is to rule, you can then impose that authority as has been invested in you. Who dares argue with the deity, the natural order, the way things are?

Tell me I am wrong, by all means, but I see many women’s voices from religious and conservative bases supporting the patriarchy as divine order, and blaming only individual men for gendered abusive behaviour. How can women stand up within their patriarchal religions and declare the end to patriarchy? I don’t think they can, not without structural resistance.

And our post-religious cultures too are so often shaped by that past. Women have come to believe that they need to accept, respond and even be flattered by male attention in order to be wanted, approved of, or seen to be included – because of that natural order. There is nothing ‘natural’ about it. The delusion of male protection and chivalry is not derived from anything other than male behaviours, arrogance, violence and privilege, based on a false primacy, whether to be lord of the manor, cardinal or knight. Economy, religion and war are tightly intertwined in a tapestry of male order to act as they wish in order to shape the world the way of their god-given entitlement.

Maybe now we should require that this natural order be debunked in our religions and cultures, because the way patriarchy has always played out is so far from divine, so far from right, and we are staring it in the face.

Summary

Trans people suffer from patriarchy as much as anyone, but we see things non-trans people cannot in the same way. Patriarchy goes beyond sex and gender and is increasingly absurd in non-binary environments, as if we need the binary to keep it and to hate it.

Men are not all bad, and we have all been cultivated into a patriarchal society. But men being good is not the point.

Patriarchy has deep roots in places that may never revoke the concept, because it defines patriarchy as divine, or a natural order.

It’s simply time we all saw patriarchy for what it is, what it causes, and why it must end, whatever has to change in order to do so.

Basket of Memories

  • Posted on August 10, 2017 at 11:30 pm

There is a series of drawings I should have bookmarked, illustrating grief. One shows two people walking side by side, each holding a handle of a basket marked ‘memories’. The grief version of this image is one person, holding just one handle. Memories are something else when shared, repainted, renewed. Something is forever lost in memories unshared.

And then there is the business of separations, and memories that are denied, memories longed for, memories stirred, and not the same from both sides. This poem began in light of my lost family: chosen and deliberate breaking of memories. And I have seen shared belongings in an unshared space, and wondered about the ways in which I am forgotten.

This poem is a poignant and very real portrayal of losing my family to my personal changes with which they could not cope or embrace. But then I thought about it after writing, and realise that it also applies to my mother’s slow loss of memory (even that I am her daughter), whilst well-remembered things could be found in her house. Things shared, that no longer are; things that could be shared memories, but are not.

The basket of my memories

has a broken handle, many spilled—

I found them arranged on your shelves
hanging in order on your walls

where my eyes are pools
not wells, and dry in the sun
between showers.

There is a mother and there is a daughter
who don’t remember, deliberately—
one doesn’t deliberately remember
the other deliberately doesn’t.

I am a memory in a basket
with no handles
a pool without reflection.

There is a photo of a cat who died—
on your shelf, on your wall.

The recycling basket lies by the door.

 

2017 © Andie Davidson

Process and Protest

  • Posted on July 24, 2017 at 10:09 pm

I didn’t go. Again. The first year, it was the day of my surgery, so I wasn’t processing anywhere – or protesting. It would have been a good year: the first Trans Pride, and Brighton taking the lead. But whilst I did manage to do my bit at Brighton Pride one year (in the literary tent), and I did enjoy the relief of acceptance in public, I haven’t felt especially drawn.

I think it boils down to a range of ambivalences. For one thing, I imagine a whole bunch of men and women walking through town, singing, shouting, clapping, making music and noise, with pink and blue banners, looking just like, well, women and men, boys and girls, and plenty of completely indeterminate androgynous people. Like we see every day, everywhere. I would belong there. I just am not one of those trans people who feels a personal need to celebrate my trans-ness, and I love just being myself, as the woman I am comfortable being, looking like I do every day. Gender dysphoria was just something I sorted out.

Another ambivalence is whether it is a procession for visibility or a protest against invisibility (or rather, erasure). Many of us would have no problem with being invisible, but a lot of problems with erasure. And many of us have some problems with not being able to be unnoticeable, and that noticeability making us a ‘problem’ to other people. Reading comments under the press reports shows how much people would like us to disappear. Almost always, I feel, it is because anything to do with gender must be ‘about sex’, in the sense that sex is a secret pleasure and anything un-missionary must be dirty. Here I do want to protest: against ignorance and unwillingness to find out.

I protest ignorance

And yet, when on the same day as Trans Pride 2017, the government announces a review of the tardy and incomplete Gender Recognition Act of 2004, I do start to get animated. I went online to fill in the government survey and it brought back a lot of memories, things I have tended to forget since gaining my own Gender Recognition Certificate. Aside from not being a LGBTQI survey (itself a lot of erasure) it was reasonable, if a bit thin. I understand that everything was asked about experience in the past 12 months in order to avoid things that may have improved, but I don’t see that they have a lot, and especially not in the past three years.

Immediately we have a small move (by a lesbian politician) towards finding out about LGBT lives, we have the backlash by those who think that it’s only about ‘dubious sex practices’, and in such a way that families and marriage will be destroyed. Rooted almost exclusively in religion and religious cultural history, these are groups and individuals whose social structures and religious beliefs are so fragile that they dare not learn or grow. I imagine their confusion if Trans Pride did just look like ordinary men, women and androgynous folk. Maybe celebration by deliberately dressing up in carnival helps sustain their bigotry. And yet this is precisely why we must protest, not with violence, but with fun and provocative banners.

Our biggest enemy is, and always has been, ignorance. But ignorant people (about anything, and I’m sure it includes me too) find their favourite ignorances difficult to destroy. If by learning this, you have to let go of that, it will be embarrassing, awkward, lose you friends, shatter your world view, or knock a corner off it … We love stability, and yet constant change is pervasive and inevitable. It is what the world is made of. There is nothing in the universe that is not merely a rearrangement of the basic stuff everything is made of.

Think of the children, don’t scare the horses, god made only man and woman …

Predictably, after the launch of a review of the GRA, in order to make process easier for people born transgender, the ‘family concerned’ groups got on the media to scare the easily-afraid that predatory men will have their birth certificates changed on a whim so they can get into women’s spaces and attack them. And again it soaks into the headlines and the summaries that people read most, and often no further. Anyone and everyone, suddenly will be able to ‘change their gender’ or ‘swap their sex’ and it all becomes so easy, too easy. The sky will fall in. And again, trans people are pushed back into psychiatric scrutiny, invasive enquiry, withheld treatment, long and purposeless queues, years of unsupported transition, and finally a bill for accumulating a mountain of paper to go before an anonymous panel who are assembled to judge whether you are right about your own gender.

We do not change our gender. We only change what you say our gender ‘should’ be.

This is what fuels the powerful, conservative, mainly male, mainly religious right in the USA that insists on trans men having to go into female locker rooms and loos. Because trans women must be male predators. It just doesn’t happen, folks. But it could happen here too, and the arguments are already being rehearsed on Channel 4, reporting the government proposals to review gender certification.

I always ask why it is that I can be a lesbian without scrutiny, examination and certification, but not a woman. And why does it matter? If, as a lesbian, I am aggressively propositioning women, or if a gay man is acting similarly, that is no different from a man invading women’s spaces (or it it were likely) the reverse. Harassing or criminal behaviour is just that, and is covered in law. A man dressing as a woman to be a peeping tom is just that, however trans people are treated or respected. Few non-trans people really appreciate what it means to have your essential identity erased, belittled, or simply disbelieved. The transition process is cruelly flawed, and so long as we are not seen, proud or otherwise, we must process and protest.

I wave my little flag here, but even in filling in this latest government survey, I am reminded that there are places where I cannot casually say, ‘yes I’m trans’ without that diminishing my status as woman. There are many places where I cannot risk being spotted and outed, because I would be attacked, at least verbally, and my life would be reduced in scope and comfort and ability to take part socially or in work. And I am one who normally wouldn’t be spotted in a crowd. I am careful with my words, careful with my history, even sometimes careful with partner pronouns, just as my partner is careful holding hands or kissing.

The whole point is, I should not have to be. Nor to worry whether I ‘should’ be marching, processing or just being at Trans Pride. But I am glad that 2,500 people were this year, and that it isn’t going away.

Reflections as I near three years old

  • Posted on July 2, 2017 at 12:58 pm

I am nearly three years old. My gestation was longer than that of an elephant. Those three years feel like – I don’t know – ten or more. Every week I read someone else going through the final stages. It might be surgery, or a gender recognition certificate, birth certificate, or a new job in a new presentation. It might just be the latest verbal or physical threat, of psychological pressure to stop. I still feel very lucky indeed to have had such an easy ride through. But I still count years. When did I first realise; when did I first ‘come out’; when did I first go out – yes, ‘like that’, when did I realise I had to set out alone; when did I leave; when did I last see or speak to my daughter; when did I come home from hospital; when did I burn my mistaken birth certificate and know it was all, finally, over, no questions?

I remember a friend who had gone before me, in a café a few days before my op, saying that it was not the end. It was more like a start, and that it would be five years before it was all fully realised. I am feeling it is certainly three. But then I have the fortune of having found a quite complete new life, in many places where I was not known before. I have no need to hide, no need to proclaim. I can go to the beach in a bikini and swim, share life experiences as a woman, not be known as suspicious, unsettling or a curiosity. My joys and uncertainties are no different from any other woman my age, on HRT, considering her pension, keeping fit and enjoying life.

But I don’t need to look far over the fence to know that I live in a safe place. I have four characteristics that threaten me in a lot of places in the world, and sometimes it feels like those threats are getting closer: trans*, lesbian, woman, older. In past civilisations, these would have been different. Not absent, but different. There is something about religions that has eaten into modern civilisations everywhere, that claims some deity, invariably male, says that women are secondary, purposed for procreation and male pleasure, and that any characteristics undermining the power of patriarchy should be eradicated. It is writ overtly in the presidency of the United States, but embedded in most institutions and organisations still.

I think I would be much more frustrated if I were younger, trying still to forge a career, rather than gracefully letting such aspirations slide away. Yes, society, at least where I live, has vastly improved for women, older, lesbian or trans*, but it is still only slowly improving. Why no female coders where I work? why were the admin staff female and the sales engineers male, in my previous job, and why male senior leadership in the one before that? And I cannot imagine in that job, ever finding universal acceptance while transitioning in work. It wasn’t all bad, but it still isn’t all good. Only this week, a new report (NatCen report PDF) abut trans* acceptance was that the majority of survey respondents claimed not to be transphobic, but that only a third thought it acceptable for a trans* person to be a primary school teacher or police officer. The majority of people around us in everyday life are afraid of what we might do. We represent a risk. We represent a danger. If we speak up, we are a subversive ‘trans lobby’.

I am three years old, and born into disadvantage. Welcome to the world of women. Welcome into the world of transgender.

Don’t look back in anger

The point of this blog is not to criticise what is painfully obvious, nor to complain about the role of religion and culture in threatening my existence. Rather it is to pause and reflect, for all those following after me, what it is going to be like in the years ahead.

Expect normality. If you don’t, you won’t find it. Don’t belong more to the inside world of trans than to the outside, but speak normally about your life if you need to, or if it helps to defend the lives of others.

Recognise that life ‘before’ will change in your memory. If you weren’t male, don’t imagine your memories will be. So neither deny your memories as something to disown. They contain your life skills, many achievements, and the good ones are worth keeping safe. Yes, you have to be careful, for example, when you are assumed to have been the one giving birth, but you were still there. It may be surprising to be a woman who knows plumbing and wiring a house, but be real, be honest, and never hide from yourself.

Hormones and surgery change your physiology and drives, but they don’t change who you are. That’s why others think you have changed more than you do. However, we all change throughout our lives, so don’t hold back from new challenges, or be afraid to drop things that no longer inspire.

Accept that whilst regrets change nothing, they can be real. I regret many things about how I could have lived, learned and expressed myself, growing up perceived as a girl. Maybe I do regret some of the downsides too, because they would have formed me, shaped my observations, positioned me differently. Never let someone call you ‘lucky’ for not experiencing these things. We had enough downsides ourselves, and lacking self-acceptance can be more damaging and limiting than lacking the acceptance of another.

Allow your dreams and visualisations to feel real. Maybe they can never be; maybe it is too late; maybe they would always only have been dreams anyway. But they too are a part of you. Just don’t let them distract from what you can achieve.

Never believe that you owe anyone anything in reparation for being trans, and for finding your authenticity. I see many people living in guilt for being born as they were, giving over everything they gained in life to separated families, partners, spouses, children, colleagues. It is not selfish to be equal, so never take on board the blame that others throw at you just because they feel hurt by the way life is. Being trans* is not decision, trait or behaviour, and what you are is not less than what anyone else is. Live your life as only you know how.

Pronoun

  • Posted on November 21, 2016 at 1:24 pm
Every transgender person experiences misgendering. The wrong pronouns may slip out accidentally, or reveal some underlying belief that you aren’t really what you say you are. Or they are deliberate, making a point. The trouble is, you don’t always know which it is, and to point it out can lead to saying far more than you should ever need to.

It was a bit like a bullet
tumbling through empty air
an interruption
a moment in thought
a maybe

Did you say ‘he’? No
I’m not asking, not really
I’m sure I misheard you
I mustn’t be sensitive
of course

If that’s what it was, I’m alert now
and I am ready to turn or duck
I’m twitching
alert to your words’
intention

I am pronoun selective
afraid of shooting myself
with your slip of the tongue
unconscious mate/guy/fella/he
meaning she

It’s not the word that wounds
but the mental image
the association
the feeling: but-you’re-really-a
aren’t you

Why should I need to explain
why I think ‘bullet’
when you say ‘he’
and it won’t make any difference
will it