Tears and Role-Play
May 01, 2008
Further to Amanda Marcotte’s ongoing tussle with the Even More Righteous Sisterhood, this seems relevant. A couple of weeks ago, I posted a link to an item on the tribal agonies of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and their struggles to be sufficiently sensitive and inclusive. Each year the festival is shadowed by an organisation called Camp Trans, whose activities include a “radical masculinities workshop,” “flirting workshops” and
Protesting the exclusion of trans women from women-only spaces, most notably the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.
Writer and activist Michelle Tea explains the origin of this dispute:
In 1991 a transsexual woman named Nancy Jean Burkholder was evicted from MWMF. Transsexual women, for those not up-to-date with the growing transgender revolution, are women who were born in male bodies and have been fighting against that ever since. They may or may not be on hormones, which can be costly or unavailable. Same goes for sex reassignment surgery, which is often prohibitively expensive and not covered by insurance… A lot of women inside the festival want to keep trans women out. Some staunchly insist that these individuals are not women but men in dresses trying to ruin the feminist event. Others concede that trans women are women, but because they were born boys and may still have penises, the festival is not the place for them.
Feelings continue to run high in both camps, as it were, and the list of possible identity subgroups continues to grow, along with a helpful lexicon of radical spellings, as can be seen from a recent festival communiqué:
I deeply desire healing in our communities, and I can see and feel that you want that too. I would love for you and the other organisers of Camp Trans to find the place in your hearts and politics to support and honour space for womyn who have had the experience of being born and living their life as womyn. I ask that you respect that womon born womon is a valid and honourable gender identity. I also ask that you respect that womyn born womyn deeply need our space — as do all communities who create space to gather, whether that be womyn of colour, trans womyn or trans men… I wish you well, I want healing, and I believe this is possible between our communities, but not at the expense of deeply needed space for womyn born womyn.
Such is the drama of identity politics and the competitive victimhood it necessarily engenders.
A reader, R Sherman, highlighted the following comment, made in response to the MWMF’s attempt at conciliation.
What really makes me angry about this whole situation is non-trans people deciding what is and is not transphobia… The sentiment of this release is blatant transphobia, and the section calling it otherwise is just rhetoric. I don’t really believe that anyone has the right or ability to accurately gauge their own actions as phobic or not. The community being harmed is the only one with the perspective necessary to make that distinction. It is overstepping and disrespectful, to say the least, for the non-trans authors of this release to say that their policies are not transphobic and further to attempt to explain why.
The implications of this claim did not go unnoticed among other regulars of this site. The Thin Man added,
Let’s transpose the object of that phrase and see what happens:
“I don’t really believe that anyone has the right or ability to accurately gauge their own actions as witchcraft or not. The community being harmed is the only one with the perspective necessary to make that distinction.”
“I don’t really believe that anyone has the right or ability to accurately gauge their own actions as heresy or not. The community being harmed is the only one with the perspective necessary to make that distinction.”
“I don’t really believe that anyone has the right or ability to accurately gauge their own actions as counter-revolutionary or not. The community being harmed is the only one with the perspective necessary to make that distinction.”
Quite. And throughout the Farce of Marcotte™ similar sentiments were internalised and expressed, with one reader of Ms Marcotte’s website offering the following pearl of wisdom:
As a white woman, though, I’m not the one offended, so it’s not my call as to what an appropriate response is.
And thus any claim to moral agency is surrendered to those members of a favoured group who happen to be shouting loudest. But despite the howls of victimhood, which so define our age, it’s hard to excuse the opportunist denial of any objective criteria or coherent ethical rationale. Thus, injustice is defined, unilaterally, by feelings, or claims of feelings - and, of course, by leverage. Phobias, prejudice and oppression become whatever the Designated Victim Group, or its representative, says they are. And the basis for apology, compensation and flattery becomes whatever the Designated Victim Group says it is. The practical result of this is egomaniacal license and the politics of role-play.