If the recent firestorm around Julie Burchill has got me thinking about anything, it is the notion of intersectionality. I am by my very nature an intersectional being, I suppose we all are really. But for most, I contend that paying heed to intersectionality, is an optional thing rather than a must do.
However, for me I have no choice since one of my intersections is fairly obvious, I am in a wheelchair. I am also lesbian and trans. On one level, it could be said that this puts me at odds with the rest of the human race. To me this is also a victim stance.
On a positive note though, this gives me a chance to see the world through three sets of very enriching eyes, to bring something to the table that perhaps other people could not.
I began to blog precisely because, in as much as there were some very erudite accounts of life with a disability, or life being trans, or being lesbian. However though, I saw no stories and heard no anecdotes of all three together together in one big stew pot. Sometimes you know, in my experience they even fight, argue and squabble for attention. We need intersectionality though, and desperately. The need to live , understand and breathe by the credo of intersectionality for the benefit and maintenance of a socially cohesive society.It has a mandate but the question truly is , do we truly use that mandate to its full potential, and tap into it enough?
At the height of my mindset around the Julie Burchill, Suzanne Moore debacle, I was kind of thinking in a grumbly way to myself, that it was easy for the rest of the LGB community, because they did not have to contend with this kind of resultant abuse.
Later though, I began to think again in a cool headed way. The simple truth is, it is not that the LGB community suffers no oppression, it is just that it presents itself in many inglorious and frightening forms.
The general population are en masse users of social networking. A common trick nowadays is to log into someone else’s Facebook account, and post something they absolutely would not. My friendship group is predominantly LGBT. Now , as a woman, I have a dilemma here.
A common lesbian prank is to write “I WANT C**K” on another lesbian’s Facebook. The dilemma is evident. I have two voices screaming in my head at this point.
The trans voice, inevitably will say, hang on a minute, women have c**ks too, it does not make them lesser women, which is true.
However, the woman’s voice also presents another scenario. The c**k is also a phallic symbol. It could and maybe does trigger. We need to be empathic and alert to this possibly.
One of the problems with society at large is that it is too dichotomous, reinforcing too many binaries.
As well as being a person with a disability, a lesbian and trans, I am a feminist. I believe that women’s rights in society are pivotal. You see friends, right from birth, I have been different, silenced and not normal. So female spaces, and feminism were always atrractive to me, it was a narrative that sp0ke to me, and pierced loudly through my heart. From my own standpoint as the feminst sociologist Dorothy Smith would have it, the world looks pretty unique, and pretty shit for women.
Women are consistently used and abused and objectified by a patriarchal society. They have 0ne night stands after which the girl is a s**t and the guy is a stud. Why is that? Due to male privilege. He gets a pat on the back and a beer perhaps, the girl gets objectified and villified.
I have had too many conversations that start with the opening gambit, “I’ve got something to tell you.”
I have grown up with and been around women all my life. One of the most painful things of my life was when a friend confided in me she was suffering from anorexia.
It is a disorder, quite simply that strips away your mind, body, energy, self esteem, confidence and soul. My friend talked to me for three hours, solid. She said to me that it meant a lot, just to be listened to. I supported her, loved her, cried with her, and heard her. I never judged her. To me, this is the quintessence of what being a woman was about. My childhood was a discourse of feminism really. Of periods, boyfriends, gossip, and fun and clothes. But the thing with it is, all the time, women are jostling to gain a voice in a society which is largely not given to them. They are oppressed. Women go through blood sweat and tears to be approved of by the rest of society. Their painful insecurities are often manifested in disorders like anorexia, and self injurous behaviour. Yet this is a hidden narrative, concealed on numerous support forums. My friend’s anorexia was a painful experience. I almost lived it with her. But the other thing is, women are strong. You will I suspect be glad to know that my friend recovered, but it was a long and painful journey for us both.
But nowhere is female oppression more evident than in the scenario of r*pe. Seeing the disregard, and the cruelty with which Fantine (wonderfully portrayed by Anne Hathaway) was maimed and objectified by her rapist in Les Miserables was truly stomach churning. But for many women (and men too) this is a reality.The arrogance of it, and its cavalier nature. What right does anyone have to violate the body and soul of another, leaving emotional scars and physical scars that may never heal?We read it in the news almost daily but what I see is a chilling ambivalence towards it.
I have lived through women’s problems and pain all my life. One of my friends who I went to school with said to me she was surprised I did not start growing ovaries and a womb! Another friend told me I was too much of a girl to be a guy for too long. Another said “you act like a girl , you’re like us, but you are not a girl. Why? That is what made me want to transition. For I had been pondering the same question from the moment I could talk.
I never owned my gender in my former life, which I can truly say was a living hell. I was massively proud to change that, and go from darkness to light. A former counsellor said I would lose power. I was never really interested in power though, not in that sense of patriarchal power anyway.
I am massively proud now to have a gender which matches up the inner identity and the outer.
What I am not so proud of though is the vile vituperation that was metred out to Suzanne Moore last week. I was more unhappy with the creation of the word”cuntards” in one of her Tweets and told her that.
The Tweets were nasty, and not befitting of fellow sisters. As I suggested in my original blog last week, the article contained much good food. She was arguing that welfare cuts are having a disproportionate effect on women and other minorities I guess. A point worth making. This is why I love feminism so much. It is a philosophy that speaks for the oppressed, and I include myself in that oppression frankly. Were I just looking with my disabled head on, I would say, fab! go girl! she is giving me a voice. Ditto to lesbian.
But I was upset by the Brazillian transsexual slur. I said that she spoiled the article with its use. However there was much good food there.
The reaction of the trans community was disproportionate though, and could be equally construed as hate speech by Suzanne as Burchill’s article was to the trans community. Suzanne has not picketed the homes of Tweeters though.
The fundamental mistake made was to fight oppression with oppression. I see all too often that the trans community is quite happy to do to others what it does not want done to it, and that disturbs me, greatly. If Suzanne does it, it is oppression. If we do it, it is campaigning or activism. It is not right, unfeminist, and distinctly wrong. Here’s an idea, I am being quite out there I grant you.
If the trans community had not reacted the way it did, then perhaps Julie’s abhorrent piece would never have been written. It did not just float out of a vacuum. Something had to happen for it to happen. Cause and effect. Snowballs perhaps relevant.
Finally the oven ready broad porn star stuff. It reminds me of a certain bird often cooked at Christmas but that is a funny aside. I believe there is pressure on all women to look glamourous, sexy, wear lovely high heels and dresses and look sexy for men’s (sometimes) benefit. Social pressure, peer pressure and inner psychological pressure that all women, trans and not, fall vicitim to. And that my friends is fucking sad. Women should be able to be how they want.
Many lesbians understandably rock against this pressure. I do not have a particular type. I love faces, eyes and smiles make me giddy. I want to get a tattoo. But I digress.
Throughout my University degree, I subconsciously weaved a narrative of oppression. Postcolonialism, feminism and other such things.
I was born othered through my disability, othered was not something I became. I am guessing this is why I loved feminism so much.
Feminism is my narrative. What is not my narrative is seeing women oppressing women, and driving them off Twitter.
Women’s concerns should be ours too. At every opportunity, we should be shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with our sisters. The concerns of people with disabilities should be our concerns too. The concerns of lesbians and gay men should be our concerns too.
I have always been characteristically loyal, caring and empathic, before and after transition. I am not a different person but a happier one. Women themselves made me a woman, through consistently including me in their space, not due to a smash and grab violation on my part, but, more simply, because they wanted to. The transition was gaining a fun wardrobe and a better name. Apart from that, business as usual, but at the outset of my transition, I did feel very blessed to be invited to a hen night.
So, how intersectional are we? The answer is not nearly enough. There is a tendency for some to retreat into the trans bunker, and moan. That option is not open to me, because I am intersectional by proxy. I have my disability and lesbian identity too. So in order words, it is a juggling act, rather like plate spinning in a circus. However, I want to say categorically that none of my identities are a stigma to me. I am proud of them all.
If we want change, we have to be the change. For radical feminists, we need to see behind the lens of why they think the way they do. I do not want to invade their space, but perhaps understand it better.
Trans oppression is not the only oppression. We need to be careful not to be the perpetrators of hate speech instead of the victims. It just gives Julie Burchill more reason to think that her polemic might be true.
So how to change things? Solidarity with feminism is a good start. We also need to be intersectional. This is why disability rights succeeded. It was due to common aims, goals and objectives. What are ours?
We need articles like that penned by Burchill. They challenge us, we can rebut them and argue with them. But we do not need to respond to hate speech with hate speech. We have a responsibility to show we care not just about our own plight, but that of others too. Finally, to the radical feminists, I hear your position. You may not respect my gender. But I hope you can see that this is a decent piece written with the best of intentions.