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Alyson Escalante
December 7th, 2016
Philosophy 607
Censoring Transgender Voices:
Materialist Feminism and Transgender Liberation
We are told that we are at a tipping point for the social acceptance of transgender
individuals. While there have certainly been shifts in media and pop cultural representations, and
while movements for transgender liberation have inserted themselves into mainstream politics,
the site of therapeutic and psychoanalytic interventions into the lives of transgender people has
not faced significant scrutiny. The very constitution of transgender embodiment and subjectivity
is at stake in debates about this psycho-therapeutic intervention, as access to surgery, hormone
replacement therapy, and legal documentation is largely predicated off of a transgender
individual's ability to meet certain diagnostic criteria. As such, a critical discussion of these
criteria, and the institutional regulation of gender which they perform, is of urgent political and
social concern for those seeking to establish a liberatory transgender politics. In this paper, I am
interested in attempting to understand a particular feature of these criteria within Ray
Blanchard’s transsexual typology: namely, the insistence that the “true transsexual” is a
transgender woman (assigned male at birth) who is attracted primarily or solely to men. In order
to understand how this became a central concern for allowing transgender women access to
medical transition, I will look to Monique Wittig’s writings on sex as a socially imposed
relationship, used to maintain hierarchy and contradiction within a heterosexual and patriarchal
society. I will demonstrate that transgender embodiment and medical technology pose certain
challenges to the natural-status of sexual difference, and thus pose a threat to the ideological

component of this heterosexual society. My claim is that these diagnostic criteria are meant to
neutralize this threat, by making sure the women produced through this technology conform to
the dictates of heterosexuality.
This project cannot be understood as purely conceptual. There are significant and urgent
concerns which make this inquiry necessary. Transgender people, and transgender women in
particular, are faced with real and material challenges as a result of the gatekeeping surrounding
access to hormone replacement therapy and other medical technologies. A study from the
American Foundation of Suicide Prevention found a 60% higher prevalence of suicide attempts
among transgender people who had been refused access to medical care. I also cannot separate
this from my own experience of navigating these psycho-therapeutic institutions, or from my
own experience of feeling the need to lie about my own relationship to lesbianism when I was
attempting to gain access hormones. The regulatory function of the criteria of transsexuality
place all transgender women into contexts which are impossible to navigate, but often force
lesbian transgender women to erase, hide, and lie about intimate aspects of their own lives.

Sexual Difference and Heterosexual Society:
Before we can understand the regulatory practices used to define the transsexual woman,
we have to have an understanding of what ​sex itself is. Sex is always already understood, in this
context, as sexual difference; the transsexual is precisely the person who crosses from one side of
this difference to the other. We cannot understand the political, or ethical issues surrounding



those who cross over, until we understand the material function of sexual difference itself within
a socio-political context. Monique Wittig’s essay ​The Category of Sex provides an analysis of

this material function of sex and sexual difference. She boldly states that “The ideology of sexual
difference functions as censorship in our culture by masking, on the ground of nature, the social
opposition between men and women. Masculine/feminine, male/female are the categories which
serve to conceal the fact that social differences always belong to an economic, political,
ideological order” (Wittig, Category, 2). There are several features to this claim which I take to
be central to Wittig’s understanding of sex. First, the category of sex has an ideological function
which attempts to present sexual difference as a natural division, and in so doing, removes the
ability for us to see the structural domination which occurs along the lines of sexual difference. If
sexual difference is merely a fact of nature, than the domination of one sex by the other becomes
an apolitical reality, not open to critique or examination, because it is fundamental to reality
itself. Second, the actual difference which is at play is one which is socially imposed, and which
must be understood as a political division. This ideology thus constructs a determinist
understanding of sexual difference, where women are bound to a certain fate. Wittig explains
that this view would have us accept that, “Being murdered, mutilated, physically and mentally
tortured and abused, being raped, being battered, and being forced to marry is the fate of women.
And fate supposedly cannot be changed” (Wittig, Category, 3). The category of sex is therefore a
political category, an ideological myth, meant to quite literally quel revolt by reducing the reality
of domination and struggle between the sexes to nothing more than a natural inevitable
condition.
If the category of sex serves an ideological function, we must then account for what sort
of material base it is simultaneously reinforcing and emerging out of. Wittig tells us this in
explicit terms: “The category of sex is the political category that founds society as

heterosexual… the category of sex is the one that rules as ‘natural’ the relation that is at the base
of heterosexual society and through which half of the population, women are ‘heterosexualized’
(the making of women is like the making of eunuchs…) and submitted to a heterosexual
economy” (Wittig, Category, 6). Thus the material and social formulation which the category of
sex is meant to normalize is one of heterosexuality. This heterosexual society is understood in
explicitly economic terms where women are relegated to a certain reproductive and productive
role. Wittig states that, “The compulsory reproduction of the ‘species’ by women is the system of
exploitation on which heterosexuality is economically based” (Wittig, Category, 6). This
reproduction, “must include… the appropriation of the work which is associated ‘by nature’ with
reproduction, the raising of children and domestic chores” (Wittig, Category, 6). This
heterosexuality thus is not just brute domination of women at the hands of men; it operates more
insidiously to force women into certain forms of labor while allowing men to benefit from the
gains of this labor. In this description, Wittig is drawing specific parallels between her theory of
heterosexual society, and the Marxist theories of capitalism. This relationship is absolutely
compulsory, and functions to render women “sexual beings” who are constantly “sexually
available to men” (Wittig, Category, 7).

Heterosexualizing the Transgender Woman:
This materialist framework which understands sexual difference as a site of dominance
and hierarchy strikes me as profoundly useful for understanding the policing of transgender
women’s sexuality and presentation. Wittig makes it clear that this system is imposed through
specific mechanisms. She tells us that is, “has its inquisitions, its courts, its tribunals, its body of

laws, its terrors, its tortures, its mutilations, its executions, its police” (Wittig, Category, 8). The
stakes here are clearly life and death, execution and mutilation are not metaphors but the real
potential consequences imposed by this system. Given this reality, we can understand the
regulation of transgender women’s sexuality as not an anomaly which occurs merely for those
whose relationship to the category of sex is one of potential transgression, but as a phenomena
which is central to the ideology of sexual difference itself.
Now that we have a framework through which to view and understand the foundation of
sexual difference, we can examine the psycho-therapeutic practices used to regulate those who
attempt to bridge this difference. There have been several thinkers whose work has been
foundational not only to the theoretical understanding of the phenomena that they label
“transsexuality”, but also to the clinical models used to regulate this phenomena. Although the
work of Harry Benjamin, Magnus Hirschfeld, and several other early 20th century sexologists
have been influential, I will focus primarily to the framework developed by American-Canadian
sexologist Ray Blanchard. In ​Human Sexiality and Its Problems, John Bancroft summarizes
Blanchard’s theory of transsexaulity as a theory predicated on dividing transsexual into two
distinct groups, which he calls "homosexual transsexualism and heterosexual fetishistic
transvestism… The latter type has been described as 'autogynephilia' by Blanchard, defined as a
male's propensity to be erotically aroused by the thought or image of himself as a woman"
(Bancroft, 290). Thus, Blanchard creates a distinction between autogynephilic transsexuals,
whose desire to transition stems from a festhization of womanhood, and ​true transsexuals. While
this might sound like an innocuous typological distinction, we can uncover an ideological
component motivating this distinction by examining the construction of the true transsexual​.

Blanchard insists that this true transsexual is a “homosexual male.” What Blanchard calls a
“homosexual male,” would be far more likely to call herself a heterosexual transgender female.
The complexity of transsexual constitution makes language here difficult, but to put it simply,
the true transsexual is a person who was assigned male at birth, is attracted to men, and seeks to
live her life as a woman. On the other hand the fetishistic transvestite is a “heterosexual male,”
meaning a person who was assigned male at birth, is sexually attracted to women, and desires to
be seen as a woman. Thus, under the typology established by Blanchard, trans women must be
heterosexual woman (a woman who is sexually available to men).
If we have been keeping Wittig’s framework in mind, we ought to already be suspicious
of the main distinction which Blanchard makes between his two types: heterosexuality vs
homosexuality. For Blanchard, to be a true transsexual requires that a transgender woman make
herself sexually available to men. She must be someone whose sexuality is defined in
relationship to men. On the other hand, those transgender women who do not make themselves
sexually available to men, by placing themselves into the structure of heterosexuality, are denied
status as true transsexuals. According to Blanchard, these women are in fact merely fetishists,
reduced to the status of ​autogynephile. Whether or not a transgender woman counts as valid
under this framework is determined by her ability to integrate herself into heterosexuality.
Now, we might wonder why exactly this matters; what import does Blanchard's theory
have on the lived reality of transgender women? The reason that this theory has such importance
for the lives of transgender women lies in its influence and the far reaching effects of its legacy.
Bancroft explains that the DSM IV maintains this division between the true transsexual and the
fetishistic transvestite by distinguishing between “Gender Identity Disorder” on the one hand,

and “Transvestic Fetishism” on the other. Transvestic Fetishism is considered to be a paraphilia,
while Gender Identity Disorder is not. Gender Identity Disorder takes on a broader meaning than
Blanchard’s true transsexual, requiring that the individual experience "a strong and persistent
cross-gender identification.” Transvestic Fetishism still maintains relatively strict parallels with
Blanchard’s ​autogynephilia. In the most recent edition of the DSM, GID itself has been removed
in favor of the less pathologizing term: Gender Dysphoria. In this edition, transvestic disorder
still maintains its status as a paraphilic disorder. Thus, this history of the diagnostic criteria for
transsexuality has been profoundly impacted by Blanchard’s typology, and current theoretical
and clinical perspectives still operate with the remnants of his original division.
This theoretical foundation has practical implications for transgender women in the
context of clinical practice. Within the healthcare system of the United States, access to hormone
replacement therapy, and the multitude of surgeries surrounding medical transition, are
predicated on the approval of a practicing psychologist. If a transgender woman want’s to gain
access to these technologies, she must submit herself to examination by a psychologist to
determine whether or not such medical intervention is the ideal “treatment” for her. Transgender
women are required to prove to these psychologists that they meet specific criteria. Judith Butler
explains in her essay ​Undiagnosing Gender, that "The diagnosis of gender dysphoria requires
that a life takes on a more or less definite shape over time... one has to show that one has wanted
for a long time to live life as the other gender..." (Butler, 279). How does one show that this is
the case? On the one hand, my therapist asked me for examples of “cross-gender” behavior from
my childhood. She asked if I played with dolls, if I had long hair growing up, or whether or not I
was mostly friends with girls. I answered yes to all three, because I knew that access to the

hormones I needed to feel comfortable was predicated on this specific answer. Finally, she asked
me if I dated men or women. Having read about the diagnostic criteria I was being evaluated
through, I knew that I only had one possible answer. I told her that I dated men exclusively. My
experience is not unique, nor is it even out of the ordinary; nearly every trans woman I know has
a similar story, and the ways we lied our way through these situations are a frequent topic of
discussion. Many trans women who in fact identify and live as lesbians find themselves in this
similar circumstance, and theorists have noted that this presumed heterosexuality is imported
into diagnostic criteria. Butler writes, “If we are to understand GID as based on the perception of
enduring gendered traits of the opposite sex... then the assumption remains that… girl traits will
lead to a desire for men" (Butler, 277). Transgender women know, that if they are going to prove
that they have the “girls traits” which would qualify them for accessing medical care, they must
include the pretense of heterosexuality. Regardless of her actual desire, the transgender woman
must be heterosexualized in the process of transition.

Censoring Dissent:

Now that we have explored the way that the diagnostic criteria which govern
psycho-therapeutic regulation of transgender women is based upon an attempt to heterosexualize
said women, we must determine ​why this is the case. I suggest that this occurs as a means of
pacifying a potential threat which transgender individuals might pose to the ideology of sexual
difference. After all, if the category of sex relies upon a naturalization of sexual difference, then
the presence of individuals who choose to cross the line of sexual difference poses a potential

disruption of this naturalization. A trans woman is not born a woman, but becomes one
nonetheless. If this is possible, then sex might not be natural after all, it might be a site where
social forces and technologies are at play constituting it. If one can become a woman, if one is
not ​naturally a woman, then perhaps the status of womanhood itself is not a natural status based
on mere difference. Thus the existence of transgender women might risk revealing the reality
which the category of sex obscures and censors. Wittig quotes Simone de Beauvoir’s revelation
of this reality: “One is not born but becomes a woman. No biological, psychological or economic
fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society; it is civilization as a whole
which produces this creature” (Wittig, Not Born, 10). In this account, transgender women
become a rupture of the supposedly natural status of womanhood by demonstrating that it is at
least not always a type of being one naturally begins with.
Transgender women might also of course, pose an even greater threat. What if those who
experience sexual difference as an unnatural and socially regulated site, might also choose to
critique it and to critique the heterosexual society which it serves to reinforce? Simply put, they
would have to be censored. The diagnostic criteria which transgender women are expected to
meet perform exactly this form of censorship. Butler notes that when dealing with these criteria,
“You would be ill-advised to say that you believe that the norms that govern what is a
recognizable and liveable life are changeable" (Butler, 279). You are not allowed to push back
on heterosexuality or on womanhood. She notes that while these criteria prescribe specific sets of
ideal possibilities, which trans people are meant to be constrained to, this is itself an attempt to
obscure and silence the fact that something else is possible. Trans people might have more
complex narratives that challenge the supremacy of heterosexuality, that challenge the idea that


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