Sunday, February 22, 2015

Critiquing the Green Left's problematic article on Germaine Greer's transphobia

Below is the letter and critique wrote in response to an article, published in issue #1040 of Green Left Weekly, looking at Germaine Greer's recent transphobic and trans erasing comments during her appearance at the Cambridge Union.

Dear Jemma,

I'm writing as a trans woman, a feminist and a Marxist to express my concern about your recent article addressing Germaine Greer's recent comments regarding transphobia at the Cambridge Union. As I have attached a line-by-line critique of your article, I will try to keep this letter brief.

Before I start - I don't know you or how you identify but from how your article positions people I am assuming you are a white cis woman - if those assumption are incorrect I apologise.

When I first saw your article on Facebook the person sharing it said it was positive that GLW had run an article on the issue. While I agree with that sentiment I had a sinking feeling just from the title alone as it reads like an endorsement of Greer's position. When I read your article I found it hard to follow your argument. I felt that your article misses the intent of Greer's statements - which are to deny the validity of the identities of trans people generally and trans women particular. Greer's historic statements and writings around the nonexistence of trans women and that they are instead “deluded men” “masquerading as women” with object of infiltrating women’s spaces, is a position which has a long tradition within transphobic discourse within feminism and broader society.

span id="fullpost"> While your article attempts to combat Greer's gender essentialism it does so inconsistently and in ways that could be seen as both cissexist and as erasing of the experiences of intersex women. Your article also does not address Greer's obsession with "smelly vaginas", which I think reflects an embracing, on Greer’s part, of misogynistic disgust at women's anatomy.

I think you are correct to say that having or not having a vagina does determine a person's status as a woman. However I don't think it is correct to say that gendered violence against women has nothing to do with vaginas. Indeed much violence against women, including street harassment - is premised on women having vaginas.

The use of statistics to discuss transphobia is problematic both in the casual way it is done but also because it both ignores the everyday transphobia that people experience. In addition to the very real threat of violence there are also difficulties involved in navigating medical system to access assistance in presenting as their affirmed gender this combination results in significant levels of psychological injury amongst trans people.

The discussion of statistics is made more problematic with your argument that men are not responsible for violence against women (including trans women) but instead the system. Beyond reifying the system, such an argument denies the agency of those who commit violence towards women – while this violence is based on men embracing sexists ideologies that legitimate their dominance and entitlement to control women – this adoption of sexist ideology by men is not simply a consequence of the power of ideology but as a consequence of these both experiencing material privilege from the subordinate position of women but also their perception that the liberation of women as threat to their own position.

Ultimately there are a number of sections of the article which while trying to explain the experiences of trans women, which would not be seen by trans women as reflecting their experiences and instead would be seen as examples transmisogyny. It is my opinion that when an article is going buttress it’s argument based on what it is to be a trans woman, that the article needs to be either written by a trans woman or written in close consultation with trans women. If this has been the case then it is really important that it is clearly stated that it is not cis people speaking on behalf of trans people. Otherwise you risk having an article which is patronising and alienating at best and outright transphobic at worst.

I hope that both you and the Green Left staff take this letter in good faith and that you find my comments helpful in addressing issues relating trans issues in the future. I’m happy to discuss the content of both this letter and the critique of the article.

In solidarity

Lisbeth Latham


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Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

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