Radical feminism came out of the idea that feminists couldn’t overstate the oppression of women. Its motto was “The personal is political” and this was promoted with the better-known but more-frequently misquoted addendum, “All men are potential rapists.” This is important to acknowledge when we fast-forward 30 years to take a look at recent declarations by an environmental radical resistance group called Deep Green Resistance (which shall be henceforth abbreviated to DGR). They’ve said some pretty incredibly shitty things lately, and I’m hardly the first person engaged in the process of coming forward to call them out for it. There is a growing list of articles located on this page. I guess you could say this is my own personal attempt to answer that call—even though I am a white person and a settler in relation to the territories upon which I have lived all my life. I am, however, am openly trans and gender-fucking queer.
The first aspect of the problem I would like to address involves looking at what it means to say that something is socially constructed. The second aspect of the problem concerns a terribly shitty use of analogy that ultimately fails. DGR believes that race and gender are both socially constructed and that therefore, to paraphrase DGR’s position, transphobia is a myth and they aren’t perpetrators of it. You can read all about it here, but for the purposes of this piece of writing, I will be quoting from that very article. It suffices to say that if you’re having a bad day (it’s been feeling a lot like Continental Transphobia Week for me — a helliday I just made up in part because of this), it might not be a good idea to read this right now. While I agree that race and gender are both socially constructed, it simply does not logically follow that therefore transphobia isn’t a Thing. For the purposes of addressing DGR’s position on this matter further, I am not going to be calling it explicitly transphobic, for I believe transphobia to be a distinctly separate phenomenon, even though DGR’s position is rooted in it. Rather, I am going to refer to it as a denial of the legitimacy of transgender/gender-diverse identities—which will be abbreviated from here on as transdenialism.
When we say that something is socially constructed, what we are saying is that despite the fact that there is no biological basis for this compartmentalizing of other peoples’ identities, race and gender labels are applied against us anyway (often non-consensually). So while it would just be silly to suggest that “white person” is a genetic phenotype, I am nevertheless socially read as a white person. And while I personally believe it would be equally as ridiculous to claim that my gender-fucking is a direct expression of my unique genetic make-up, I am nevertheless a confusing stimulus — read socially about six distinctive ways at any given time — in public spaces amidst people whose bodies are clearly identifiable as men and/or women. That race and gender are socially constructed means that even though both are more or less different chapters of the same fiction novel, society as a whole nevertheless buys into these ideas as if they were as real or biological as genetically determined facts such as sex and ethnicity. Even the 1980s radical feminist stock phrase “All men are potential rapists” exploits social constructions of masculinity, and dominant beliefs about who men are, in order to assume the risk of radically overstating the scale of male privilege. And that’s right about where a vast majority of radical feminists simply drop the disco ball. DGR is no exception.
Gender Smashing Vs. Gender Bashing
From the article wherein DGR compares claims of transgender identity to claims of transracial identity (I have much more to say on that, too, momentarily), Scofield writes that many radical feminists “believe the only reason a man would transition to a woman is to rape women, while any woman that would transition to a man only does so to escape sexism and assimilate into patriarchy.” These are all-too-common aspersions cast frequently by radical feminists, which again exploit social constructions of gender, to essentially scaremonger the general public into thinking that transgender individuals are simply elaborate con artists with no morals. As one stealth transwoman (among several who are known to me) once put it, it’s utterly astounding that men actually believe she has endured social rejection and emotional abuse by family members, friends, and greater communities; moved across the country several times; maintained hormone replacement therapy that has forever altered her body’s chemistry and physique; and even underwent a sex reassignment surgery at the risk of possibly never coming out of the operating room or never being able to climax again for the rest of her life; all just to fool some poor unsuspecting guy into sleeping with another guy. That’s right. She was referring to prospective male partners, whose crises emerge from a profound sense of homophobia. It is at this point that I am happy to point out that the radical feminism movement is led by lesbian separatists. Although, apparently these are women who are also rather tragically homophobic, for “lesbian” often does not mean to them what it means to anyone else.
And furthermore, on that idea of “escaping sexism” or “assimilating into patriarchy” for a moment: I am an XX-chromosomal individual who was assigned to the female sex at birth and I have been giving myself weekly testosterone injections for the past year and a half. I can tell you with confidence that there is no “escaping sexism”. If it is a point of unity between radical feminists and individuals such as myself that male privilege exists, then it logically follows that no matter what your gender, there is no escape from sexism, for we are all already heavily steeped in it. Sexism is systemic. How can anyone escape it? And for that matter, what is it even supposed to mean to “assimilate into patriarchy”? Patriarchy is fucking systemic. We are all assimilated into it as a matter of default.
But back to my testosterone not giving me a free pass out of sexism and into patriarchy. Even after a year and a half of testosterone injections; which have changed the shape of my face, narrowed my hips, moved several fatty deposits all over my body inward around my internal organs, given me a very masculine-sounding voice, stopped my reproductive cycle in its tracks within the first few weeks, and begun changing the colour of my body hair a little bit every week, I am still frequently socially read as a woman and referred to with female pronouns. I can still fill up a D-cup bra, for starters. I still experience systemic sexism as if I were living as a woman, and this experience is occasionally compounded by both men and women who exploit various frivolous claims of alleged male privilege on my part to validate being incredibly condescending or outright hostile towards me. Transitioning to become a man (even if that was my ultimate goal, which it is not) is simply not as instantaneous and socially liberating as waving a magic wand and being accepted immediately as a man among men. Sure, some transmen are fortunate in that their genetics express a more masculine embodiment significantly faster than has occurred in my individual case, but it still isn’t a matter of waking up one morning and simply deciding to be a man for the rest of one’s life. And even if men accept fully stealth, socially passable transmen as men among them, the problem still remains of finding a way for women to accept them as men. While my instinct tells me that this feat must be harder for straight transmen, I also realize that gay men are often more misogynistic than straight men. Thus, remaining stealth — or “fooling people” in the radical feminist’s narrative — is also a persistent challenge, and a constant process that presents many of the same serious hazards faced by women. The male privilege gradually inherited by stealth transmen is conditional on their ability to remain stealth.
Of course, radical feminists believe that transmen — whom are categorically assumed, by radical feminists, to actively want to be stealth by default in order to go around “raping” poor unsuspecting women with deep unresolved crises revolving around homophobia (again!) — inherit permanent, irrevocable male privilege, while transwomen (even completely stealth transwomen) never ever lose their prior male privilege. Most, if not all, radical feminists take this ideology to the point of transphobia, insisting that transwomen are just men “masquerading as women.” All sorts of transphobic aspersions, which are also often rooted in homophobia if not also misogyny, follow from there. DGR is, again, no exception. Scofield quotes DGR co-founder Lierre Keith as stating DGR’s official stance, “that men insisting they are women is insulting and absurd.” Again, DGR’s official stance is what I would call transdenialist, or an outright denial of the legitimacy of trans and gender-diverse identities. However, I am not at all conflicted about stating that while I personally believe this isn’t explicitly transphobic in and of itself, it is still very much rooted in transphobia (i.e., an intense and irrational fear that one is being “duped” by another person’s gender embodiment, whether or not they are even actually a trans or gender-diverse person).
Racism, Cultural Appropriation, & Pan-Indianism
DGR attempts to validate its official gender bashing policy by attempting to appeal to reason using a relevant analogy. If I had any way of reaching anyone at DGR by this point, I would directly suggest to them that logic isn’t their strong point, but the relevant analogy they chose for the purposes of attempting to debunk the legitimacy of trans and gender-diverse identities is the completely fictitious phenomenon of transracialism. Scofield quotes DGR co-founder Lierre Keith again for this clusterfuck of colonialism:
[H]ow about this. I am really Native American. How do I know? I’ve always felt a special connection to animals, and started building tee pees in the backyard as soon as I was old enough. I insisted on wearing moccasins to school even though the other kids made fun of me and my parents punished me for it. I read everything I could on native people, started going to pow wows and sweat lodges as soon as I was old enough, and I knew that was the real me. And if you bio-Indians don’t accept us trans-Indians, then you are just as genocidal and oppressive as the Europeans.
Gender is no different. It is a class condition created by a brutal arrangement of power. I can’t fathom how mutilating people’s bodies to fit an oppressive power arrangement is frankly anything but a human rights violation. And men insisting that they are women is insulting and absurd.
There is no such thing as ‘woman’ or ‘man’ outside of patriarchal social relations. These are not biological conditions–they are socially created, by violence in the end. If I can’t be a rich person born in a poor person’s body, then I can’t be a woman born in a man’s body. Not unless you are going to argue that man and woman are biological or essential conditions. The whole point of feminism is that they are neither; gender is social to the roots, and those roots are soaked in women’s blood.
So there it is.
So there it is, indeed. To Keith, gender is a fiction novel—until it doesn’t read the way one’s chromosomes do, then it’s real and biologically determined, so live with it instead of going to such elaborate lengths to trick her into buying your false narrative. For her gender narrative is so clearly objectively true and superior for absolutely no reason whatsoever. And to Keith, gender isn’t a biological or essential fact. That is, unless a given person’s essential gender “condition” (i.e., genetic phenotype or biological sex) doesn’t align with the fictional narrative being projected in the presence of a deeply unsettled radical feminist, in which case then it is an essential fact, and your body is just a walking record of human rights violations and women’s systemic oppression. Oh yeah, and all of those human rights violations and oppressions originate from violence against people whose biological “gender” is “woman”, WhichNeitherIncludesTranswomenNorTransmenBecauseYou’reAllFakingIt AndNoneOfYouEverWereOrEverWillBeWomenEvenThoughAllTransmenAreWomenPretendingToBeMen, even though gender isn’t real and yet would necessarily have to be for any part of that statement to be even remotely logically consistent or make any sense at all.
The mental gymnastics required to talk like that with a straight face must be utterly exhausting. No wonder Keith let that little gem, which basically amounts to Grey Owl’s autobiography, slip out in such shitty linguistics, effectively revealing her deep contempt for indigenous peoples and a profound ignorance about their cultures. Yeah. That’s right. Cultures. The plural of one singular culture. The reality of a rich diversity of cultures spanning two continents, as opposed to the Pan-Indian narrative she has so vaguely painted a portrait of, as if straight out of the literature she must have learned everything she ever wanted to know about “native people” in order to validate her contempt of them.
Again, I really wish I had a direct means of delivering this clue-by-four to DGR: “Native American” isn’t a race/ethnicity. Here’s a useful application of reasoning by relevant analogy. Black is a (socially constructed) race. Massai and Hamar are each ethnicities that are indigenous to different locations on the continent of Africa. African-American describes someone whose distinctive ethnic make-up has been erased and replaced by a political affiliation to a North American colonial state power. A civic identity. Let’s do that again, shall we? Indigenous is a (socially constructed) race (not to mention a highly relative one for that matter, due to the nature of its construction). Hopi and Ojibway are each ethnicities that are indigenous to different locations on the continent of North America. Native American describes someone whose distinctive ethnic make-up has been erased and replaced by a political affiliation to a North American colonial state power. A civic identity. Here, I’ll even do me this time, just so the point sinks in nice and deep. White is a (socially constructed) race. Slav, Jew, Brythonic Celt, Caucasian, and Jute are are each ethnicities that are indigenous to several distinctive locations across pre-colonial Europe and Asia; and in the case of the first Jews, technically no one is certain, but in all likelihood, they originated from North Africa. On paper, I’m a Canadian citizen, which erases my race and my unique ethnic make-up, as well as my relationship as a settler to the lands on which I live, and replaces it with an alleged political affiliation to a North American colonial state power (I would certainly not call myself a Canadian—I just live here as a matter of birth lottery).
I also think it’s just positively rich that DGR’s “official stance” is comparing the decision to transition to a new gender embodiment to cultural appropriation, revealing that not only do they have not even a goddamned clue what the word genocide even means in relation to the history and constant reproduction of colonialism in North and South America, but they don’t seem to realize that Two-Spirit people (more on that term in a second) were a part of every indigenous culture all over the world. The Navajo are considered responsible for coining the English term “Two-Spirit”, by which they intend to mean anyone who is trans or gender-diverse (although it may or may not also refer to those who are attracted to people of the same sex/gender). The Coast Salish also adopted the term, to describe anyone who is trans, gender-diverse, or attracted to people of the same sex/gender. Many other peoples have adopted the term as well, and apply various (but similar) meanings to it. In Navajo culture, Two-Spirit people are recognized in every generation and play the role of carrying out burial rites. In other indigenous cultures, Two-Spirit people are valued for their unique perspectives, as they are considered to be both a male and female spirit inhabiting one body, and thus uniquely endowed with the ability to see into two worlds at the same time. In still other indigenous cultures, Two-Spirit people (or people who would be thusly described, if we are referring to, say, South Pacific Islanders) were considered destined to be powerful shamans. In many but not all pre-colonial indigenous cultures, Two-Spirit people were socially marginalized (sometimes this was temporary, in which case it was often conditional on having not yet gone through a rite of passage) even if their distinctive social roles were considered important, but this fact has largely shifted to a more positive appreciation in recent decades.
In other words, DGR’s official gender bashing stance is a transparent by-product of internalized and unresolved colonialism, that vomits several lifetimes of transphobia, homophobia, and racism directly into the faces of their indigenous allies in the radical environmentalism movement—especially that part about the selective permanence of essential gender in the case of trans and gender-diverse people. Well done, guys. Someone cue a slow clap while I look for any reason why anyone’s gender embodiment has even a slight relevance to the fight for the environment in the first place.