Isn't A Political Party: My Case for a Real Liberal Feminism
(c) TaraElla 2017. All rights reserved.
more Princess's Spirit Ideas
are more fiction and non-fiction titles by TaraElla relating to the
Princess's Spirit concept.
also maintains a blog and (upcoming) show inspired by the Princess's
Spirit, called The TaraElla Show.
to find out more.
effort has been made to describe accurately the historical events
referenced in the book, the accuracy of such events described cannot
is a book about liberal feminism, why feminism should be liberal, and
what real liberal feminism should look like, in my humble opinion.
book is actually made up of excerpts from my other books. I could
have written a similar book with similar ideas from scratch, but I
thought this approach was better. Firstly, a theoretical book about
liberal feminism, arguing its case from front to back, really looks
too similar to some of what's already out there. While I believe I do
have something new to contribute, there is a possibility that the
similarities will drown out any differences for many readers. To
effectively introduce new ideas, a fresh format is often a good
option. Secondly, I have already, in the past, chosen to make my case
for liberal feminism via fiction, again for effectiveness reasons. To
select excerpts from that novel to highlight and make my case more
clearly and succinctly would be a good idea, I think. Thirdly,
liberal feminism is actually liberalism as applied to gender issues,
no more or less, and therefore liberal theory in general can directly
apply to liberal feminism too. As liberalism is already universal,
there is no need to rewrite liberal theories and ideas specifically
for applying to feminism, just like there is no need to reinvent the
idea of freedom of speech for each kind of speech one may encounter
strong and keep the dream alive,
Why Liberal Feminism, Part I
from Liberal Revival
Now: A Moral and Practical Case for a 21st Century Back-to-Basics
now in the early 21st century, it appears that feminism has come of
age. The equality of the genders is a mainstream concern like never
before. We have a great opportunity to right the historical wrong of
gender inequality, once and for all.
there appears to be a complication. Feminism is supposed to bring
about freedom and equality for everyone regardless of gender.
However, many of the very people feminism should benefit most do not
feel that feminism is doing this right now. For example, many young
women still feel that feminism is about boys vs girls which they want
no part in, or that feminism means supporting specific viewpoints
which are incompatible with their own ethics. When so many mainstream
celebrities are voicing these viewpoints, it really poses a problem
for the future of feminism. Some young women feel that feminism, at
least in its current form, is all about the aspirations of career
women only, and doesn't care about stay-at-home mothers. Some women
even associate feminism with hairy legs and butch attire, thus
thinking that their feminine high-maintenance attitude makes them a
poor fit with feminism. And this is not to mention LGBT women, who
have actually sometimes suffered discrimination at the hands of
so-called feminists. It's not much better for men, who are
simultaneously told to identify as feminists too and told that
identifying as a feminist is 'cultural appropriation'.
dedicated feminists will quickly cry out that the aforementioned are
merely misunderstandings about feminism, and that more 'education' on
what feminism is (sometimes by shouting down or mocking opposing
viewpoints) will change things. However, I believe this is an
authoritarian attitude. The liberal attitude is to be inclusive,
respect others' viewpoint, and acknowledge its existence. If so many
people view feminism this way, then maybe feminism really comes
across like this sometimes! What is clear is that feminism is failing
in its mission of freedom and equality regardless of gender, at least
in the eyes of these people.
a lot of mainstream feminism right now isn't exactly liberal. In the
current quest for equality, illiberal currents have surfaced, and
some have received substantial support within the feminist movement,
unfortunately. These include an increase in political correctness,
marginalisation of certain viewpoints, restrictions on freedom of
speech, and an increase in gender boundaries and their rigidity. For
example, feminists who have concerns about affirmative action or who
are pro-life are increasingly excluded from the feminist movement.
Even those who want to speak up for their inclusion are sometimes
seen as 'traitors'. Trans people are told to put up with outdated
second-wave feminist policies that make their life painful, in
exchange for 'inclusion' in the sisterhood. Other young women want to
speak up, but don't dare. In order to keep your feminist cred, you
must shut up and 'respect' your overlords, it seems. This dog's
breakfast of a situation will become the undoing of feminism itself,
if things don't change. But how can things change?
liberal feminism. It is actually returning liberalism to its origins.
Feminism is about freedom and equality after all, the very things
liberalism is about. Liberal feminism is thus simply liberalism as
applied to gender issues, and this is also what true feminism should
be, no more, no less. In this way, liberal feminism is no more than a
subset of broader liberalism, and no less than a very important part
of broader liberalism, being concerned with issues that affect
arguably the majority of the population deeply. Thus liberal
feminism, like liberalism, is also all inclusive in its nature, and
does not require adherents to toe a particular 'party line', except
for a general and sincere belief in freedom and equality for all. No
longer will anyone feel that they are misfits with feminism, unless
they actually do not believe in freedom and equality for all.
Why Liberal Feminism, Part II
following are excerpts from my novel, 3
Movements (Feminism, LGBT Rights, Marriage Equality), 2 Diaries, 1
Trans Woman's Message
could have written a manifesto of inclusive feminism, but I know that
some of you would still be unconvinced.
instead here is a story, inspired by real life stories I have known.
I am sure many of you will be convinced of the need for a more
inclusive feminism after reading this.
is a young trans woman living in the early 21st century. Her diaries
chart both her own transition story, and the cultural and political
events of the 2000s and 2010s in the US, UK and Australia. In the
beginning, she had felt rejected by feminism all her life, and also
decided to reject feminism. Feminism's complicated relationship with
marriage equality, something she was passionate about, became yet
another reason for her to reject feminism. However, as feminism
changed, so did her perspective. Did Natalie ultimately decide to
become a feminist? And if so, on what terms?
School Have To Be Like This?
hate putting on my school uniform. Why? It marks me out as 'male'.
But the rules say I have to wear it anyway.
do schools have to be so mean, to make rules that make people
unhappy? Well, you may say that they don't make these rules for trans
people. That's definitely true, trans people are so rare that schools
and rule makers are generally unaware of our existence. I mean, my
school isn't 'bad' anyway, they have made an effort to make gay
students feel included, for example, which is better than what many
other schools are like. You can't expect them to know about trans
why does the school have to have a male and female uniform? Out
there, in the real world, many clothes are unisex nowadays. But
schools are like, stuck in the 19th century, where all clothes are
either male or female.
ask another question. Why can't trans students go to school as their
real gender? This would work well, right? But there would certainly
be an uproar from other parents. There have indeed been a few cases
around the world where trans students have attempted to go to school
as their real gender, but it hasn't always worked out well
apparently. Which explains why there have only been very few cases of
this happening. This also only happens in some very open-minded,
'progressive' areas, and I'm sure where I live doesn't count as one.
Furthermore, all of the handful of cases I know of are in places
where students don't have to wear a uniform. I guess this makes it
brings me back to the uniform, and rules in general. Rules are bad
for minorities. Rules are inflexible, and minorities who aren't well
catered for get caught up in them. Which is why society shouldn't
have that many rigid rules, in my opinion.
Girls Not Welcome?
I have been very into reality TV. American Idol is my favourite, but
there are many others. I like watching people chase their dreams,
stepping up to new challenges week after week, trying to do their
best. In fact, their spirit has become great inspiration to many
people around the world. For most shows, there are also internet
forums, where fans can gather to discuss the show, and of course,
cheer on their favourites. Quite a few on there have also said that
their favourites have inspired them to try out next year.
what about me? Do I want to try out? It's complicated. In an ideal
world, I would. But I wouldn't want to go 'as a boy'. It's not the
real me, and I don't want people cheering on someone that's not the
real me. Can I go 'as a girl'? Maybe. After all, drag queen Courtney
Act was on last year's Australian Idol. But then, she didn't get into
the top 12. Besides, drag queens are often seen as just a bit of
entertainment, actual trans girls may be seen quite differently. So
it's probably not worth it.
complain about the glass ceiling limiting women's advancement. But
then, trans girls don't get even the opportunities average people
enjoy. How can this not be a bigger problem?
was never likely to end happily, but this year's US elections were
horrible. Anti gay marriage referenda passed in every state they were
on the ballot, meaning that the introduction of gay marriage by
courts or state legislatures is now prohibited in more than 30
states. The Republicans' strategy to court the religious vote also
triumphed: not only has President Bush been returned, but they now
control both houses of Congress. Analysts are already wondering if
the Democratic party has any chance at all of getting back into
government in the short to medium term. With the Republican party
benefiting so much from the religious right, this bloc is expected to
have an increased say in future government policies.
analysis have paid particular attention to the religious vote, or
'values voters'. Which is probably just a nicer way to say voters who
were stridently opposed to gay marriage, given that this was the only
'values' issue being widely debated this year. There are now
suggestions that the Democrats should engage with these voters, and
perhaps somewhat alter their platform to suit these voters. This
makes me very worried indeed. While the immediate results of this
election was bad enough, if a 'bipartisan consensus' forms around a
need to bow down to the demands of the religious right, a lot of
needed reform will be blocked for a generation or more.
it was only a 'messaging' problem, other people have suggested. For
example, the religious right has painted gay marriage and its
supporters as anti-family, and their platform as pro-family-values.
But what's so anti-family about encouraging gay couples to get
committed and 'settle down'? These election results have also
prompted the rise of a 'religious left', who criticise the religious
right for failing to address the economic needs of many struggling
families. How is this consistent with family values? The truth is
that the religious right agenda is not 'the family values agenda',
and its opponents are not anti-family either. We need to get this
message out, before it's too late.
what we have got is a wake-up call. We really need to fight for our
values. We really need to engage with the public and explain and
argue for what we believe in. Otherwise, our opponents will gain the
upper hand, by default.
Feminism Relevant Anymore?
I read an article discussing if feminism is relevant to our times
anymore. The author made the point that most young women don't
actively identify as feminists nowadays, because they do not feel its
relevance to them. They feel that the main goals of feminism, like
voting rights, equal pay for the same work and anti-discrimination
laws have all been achieved even before they were born. They just
don't feel that feminism has anything to offer them.
think that if young women today don't embrace feminism, it's not
their fault. Rather, it may be the fault of feminism itself. If
feminism claims to be a movement that is about empowering women, it
certainly isn't living up to its ideal, from the point of view of
today's young women. Maybe it's because feminism isn't listening.
What I mean is, it hasn't been inclusive and adaptive enough to meet
the needs of modern young women.
as somebody who identifies as female, feminism has also failed me.
While they claim to be against the 'patriarchy', many feminists are
even more transphobic than the patriarchy itself. Moreover, the
'rights' that the feminist movement are all about sometimes feel like
another layer of exclusion to me. The anti-discrimination that they
support is clearly for 'women born women' only, and some feminists
have even opposed anti-discrimination laws for trans people. The
affirmative action they support is again for 'women born women' only,
and every time I apply for something and know that I will be
considered as a 'man' for the purposes of affirmative action, it
increases my gender dysphoria ten-fold. Most feminists don't even
care about the likes of myself.
point is, if feminism has ceased to be relevant, it's because older
feminists haven't actually listened to what young women really want,
and haven't been inclusive enough.
of the hassles of gender transition is the need to change your
documents. And even though I am only 20, and I don't have bank loans,
mortgages, insurance policies, or even a car, there are actually many
documents to be changed. To make things more difficult, each document
is handled by a different organisation or government department, each
with different rules on what other documents you need to bring, and
what forms you need to fill out. (In contrast, most people only
change their name due to marriage, and a marriage certificate would
generally suffice for that.) To make things even more difficult, some
departments are only open on certain days, and some are located at
inconvenient locations I've never been before.
key to success here is to have good organisation. Firstly, you need
to decide which ones to change first. Doing them in a certain order
can make everything more convenient. Secondly, each document to be
changed needs to be treated like a project on its own, ideally with
its own folder. For every such 'project', there are forms to fill and
supporting documents to keep track of. Finally, you need to arrange
for times to visit the departments, some of which require bookings. I
guess in this regard I'm luckier because I'm still a student.
then there's the nervousness, and the surreal quality of it all.
Throughout the process, I kept wondering what the man or woman
reading my application was thinking. Did they see me as weird? Have
they handled other trans cases before? (Probably not.) Are they
surprised to receive my case? (Probably yes.) Everyone I've come
across have been very professional, though.
no wonder that some trans people just keep putting off the whole
process for years, or only do some of it. Besides actually costing
some money, it is also both intellectually and emotionally demanding,
especially if you want to get it right in one go. I guess it would be
particularly difficult for those in a depressed mood.
it be easier?
That Much Has Changed
favourite topic of discussion among the internet trans community is
'how is life different now that you're perceived as a different
be honest, not that much has changed. I love the way I look and I
love my clothes, but I don't see much of a change in my life.
Certainly, you would expect that people who know already me wouldn't
treat me differently. But I am a university student and I meet new
people every day. I can say with confidence that I have not noticed
any substantial change in the way strangers or newly introduced
people treat me.
have been a few subtle changes, like other women complimenting me on
my clothes and accessories, and that's very nice. I feel that men are
more likely to hold doors open for me, but this is not a consistent
thing, nor did this consistently not happen last year. I like the
subtle changes, but I have to say they are subtle.
more changes will come. Maybe not. We'll see.
relationship between transwomen and feminism is, complicated.
are currently divided on how they perceive us. There are those who
think that only 'women born women' (as if we aren't) should be
included, and there are those who believe that transwomen should be
included too. Those who want to exclude us have traditionally been
the majority view in feminism, but some younger generation feminists
are now arguing for change in their movement. Still, it appears that
those who want to exclude us continue to have the upper hand.
the other hand, many transwomen actually want to be feminists. It is
as if they see being a feminist, and acceptance by other feminists,
as the ultimate validation of their identity as a woman. Transwomen
who are feminists often call themselves transfeminists. In fact,
there are websites dedicated to the idea of transfeminism.
Transfeminists regularly join with other trans-friendly feminists to
argue for trans inclusion, against old-school feminists, using the
internet as their battleground.
see it this way: I have no interest in joining a club that doesn't
want me there anyway. I do appreciate that quite a few younger
feminists want to welcome us into their movement, but it is clear
that many feminists, maybe the majority, are still hostile to us. I
feel that, in the feminist club, I would have to battle even harder
to have my identity recognised than in the outside world. So, no
the way, it's not as if you have to be in the feminist club to be a
real woman. Just two years ago, I read a newspaper article
questioning if feminism is still relevant. Many young women our age
actually don't want to identify as feminists. Some feel that the term
is associated with a 'boys vs girls' attitude, and others think that
the big feminist fights are over in the West anyway. So not belonging
to the feminist club doesn't make you less of a woman. In fact, it
may mean that you are simply with the majority of young women
That's The Way It Should Be
few months ago I recorded whatever (few) changes I saw in my life as
a result of being perceived as a different gender. At the time I was
semi-expecting to see more changes as time went on.
I have to say, no, my life is still mostly the same as before. I love
not being referred to by a male name and male pronouns, but
apparently I'm still the same person. As I'm still the same person
with the same personality, the way I interact with people and the way
people treat me have remained very similar to before. What else
should I expect?
in this day and age, it's not like that men and women are treated
very differently anyway. We don't live in the 1950s anymore, and I'm
thankful for that. So what was I thinking, expecting that people
would somehow treat me 'very differently'?
guess the idea of being treated 'very differently' as a result of
gender transition comes from the observation that masculine men and
feminine women are certainly treated in different ways by their
peers, mainly as a result of the different ways they interact with
the world. But trans people don't go from very masculine men to very
feminine women. I didn't put up a masculine act two years ago, and I
don't put up an ultra feminine act now. I wouldn't have interacted
with the world like the very masculine man back then, and don't
interact with the world like the very feminine woman today. Whatever
gender I am perceived as, I always interact with the world as myself,
in my own style. Consequently, it shouldn't be surprising that I am
received in a similar manner.
internet trans women love to say things like they lost 'male
privilege'. I don't know if it's a genuine reflection or just another
attempt to look 'feminist'. Even before transition I did not notice
much 'male privilege' in everyday life, but back then, as I had not
experienced living as a girl my opinion probably wasn't as valid. But
recent experience has, if anything, confirmed my previous view.
Certainly, there may be an element of 'male privilege' if you want to
be a CEO or a politician, but to experience 'male privilege' or
'female disprivilege' everywhere in everyday life is a bit of a
stretch of imagination in my opinion.
of the surprisingly important things I have learnt through gender
transition is that gender is only one 'property' of a person, and not
the most important one by far. It doesn't undermine the importance of
my transition though, as I had to do it to get the gender
'distraction' out of the way. (It DOES undermine the argument that
marriage must be between a man and a woman, and I feel glad that I
can now use my personal experience to argue for same-sex marriage.)
Back Into Politics
upcoming Australian election has gotten me back to paying attention
to news and politics.
serving Prime Minister John Howard is up against Labor opponent Kevin
Rudd this time, and polls are indicating that Rudd will win. Which is
good news because it means Australia will likely pull out of the Iraq
recently been some controversy around Rudd's refusal to support
same-sex marriage. As I understand it, Labor's platform will provide
for equal rights for gay couples through both extending the
nation-wide de-facto (cohabitation) relationship recognition system
to all couples, and the recognition of civil union or registered
partnership systems to be set up by state governments. In other
words, gay couples will have equal rights finally, but not 'marriage'
really not surprising, given that this appears to be the most common
approach among 'progressive' side major parties in the Western world
at the moment. Two years ago the UK Labor government set up a civil
partnership scheme for gay couples, but maintained that marriage
would not change. The New Zealand Labor government also made similar
moves. It's really about electoral politics, I guess. Polls have
indicated 38% support for same-sex marriage in both Australia and the
UK just a few years ago, and you wouldn't expect majority support at
this point. We just need to take what we can, and aim to win the
battle over the long run. Progress comes in steps.
other thing that can potentially hold back same-sex marriage is the
lack of enthusiasm for it among some gay activists. Both in Australia
and the UK, some gay and lesbian commentators have even said that
they prefer civil partnerships because they did not like the idea of
'marriage', presumably because of their own feminist or radical
beliefs. Just last year some local gay groups and leaders refused to
support pushing for the reform, citing other priorities. I think this
attitude is unhelpful. Since some gay couples want to get married and
denying them this right is discrimination based on sexual
orientation, gay activist groups are indeed obliged to fight for this
right, whether the leaders themselves like the idea of marriage or
not! Wake up!
in a Name?
I said in my last entry, same-sex marriage is now called 'marriage
equality' by most supporters and activists. The name most favoured by
opponents remains 'gay marriage', which confusingly is still a name
sometimes used by supporters.
are two justifications for using 'marriage equality'. Firstly, it
highlights that gay couples do not want an additional right, and are
merely asking for equal treatment under the law. Secondly, it is
inclusive of trans and intersex people, who may not be in a same-sex
relationship but would still require legal reform to be able to
marry. I think these two issues are very valid, and therefore have
adopted the new term myself.
am concerned that some activists have indeed become very 'politically
correct' here though, almost as if 'same-sex marriage' and 'gay
marriage' are now homophobic terms. Guess what? They are not. I
remember that former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin indeed
called it 'same-sex marriage' when he presided over the reform in
2005, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron called it 'gay marriage' in
his now famous speech about supporting marriage equality and his
conservative values. If these are terms that our supporters use too,
they should not be derided, even if they are not the best terms.
Political correctness turns people off, remember.
here is what I'll do: I will use the term 'marriage equality' myself,
but defend the right of people to use 'same-sex marriage' and 'gay
marriage' if they feel like it.
Conservative Case for Marriage Equality
Zealand has become the second English-speaking country where marriage
equality is passed under a conservative government. In fact, because
unlike the UK the legislation does not need to go before the upper
house for confirmation, we should probably say it's the first. The
fact that this contrasts with Australia's left-wing Prime Minister
Julia Gillard's refusal to support the reform has also not gone
unnoticed in Australian media. It just shows that even conservatives
may support marriage equality, while 'progressives' are not
guaranteed to do so.
since UK Prime Minister David Cameron's speech last year, where he
said he supported marriage equality because he was a conservative who
believed in marriage, there has been an increased interest in the
so-called conservative case for marriage equality worldwide. It's
actually nothing new. I remember reading articles about this idea
written by some US Republicans, going as far back as 2009. At that
time, it was treated as just a curiosity. But Cameron's stance has
propelled this idea into the mainstream.
remember saying that a new approach to LGBT rights and marriage
equality, where they are seen as an extension of 'family values'
rather than something radical and challenging to existing society,
will help the reform gain widespread support. It appears that my
prediction has come true.
Australia's conservative opposition party still refuses to grant
their MPs a conscience vote, which actually represents the biggest
roadblock to reform here. (Despite Gillard's personal objection, most
of the Labor party already support equality.) Local marriage equality
activists have recently sought to bring about discussion of the
conservative case for marriage equality here, in an attempt to
increase conservative support and solve this impasse. I think this is
a brilliant idea. Reform can only be achieved when we bring as many
people together as possible, ideally from across the political
spectrum. As activists often like to say, no one party can achieve
marriage equality alone.
even the beginnings of this new phase of the marriage equality
campaign has drawn fire from more radical activists. They claim that
this focus will leave the more radical elements of the LGBT community
behind. Guess what? Marriage is not meant for those who want radical
relationships anyway, gay or straight. Those who believe in radical
relationships have left marriage behind already, in this sense.
Marriage equality is mainly a reform that is important to those gay
couples who want to get married, and to achieve it soon. Such couples
cherish marriage, in the same way as Cameron and other conservatives
do. Therefore, the conservative case for marriage equality is
actually the voice of a substantial number, perhaps even the
majority, of those marriage equality will affect most. I believe that
radicals are in effect oppressing gay couples who believe in marriage
if they disallow this voice to be heard.
former Prime Minister Julia Gillard has finally given a proper
explanation as to why she does not support marriage equality. As many
people suspected, it is indeed related to her 1980s style feminist
views. She simply does not believe in marriage. The fact that she had
never married any of her partners should have given everyone a strong
marriage equality supporters remain disappointed in her stance. They
maintain that one can choose not to participate in marriage but still
offer the choice to others. But then, from my understanding, many
1980s feminists feel like they have a responsibility not to encourage
marriage in any way. Furthermore, as Gillard herself suggested,
historically many gay and lesbian people actually held the same view
on marriage as herself. In fact, since Gillard offered her
explanation, plenty of older generation gays and lesbians have indeed
'come out' to 'cheer her on'.
overseas people apparently believe that all 'progressives' and all
non-religious people must support marriage equality. This belief is
especially common in countries like the US, where almost all
opposition to marriage equality comes from the religious right. But
in Gillard we have a good example of someone who opposes marriage
equality on 'progressive' grounds, just like in (British PM) Cameron
we have a good example of someone who supports marriage equality on
conservative grounds. It just shows that marriage equality is
ultimately not owned by 'progressives' alone.
vs Marriage Equality
is a discussion on the fact that some feminists are actively opposed
to marriage equality.
get me wrong. Most feminists today actively support marriage
equality, in the name of advancing equality to the LGBT population.
some don't, because they think marriage is a bad thing, so bad that
nobody should have it. As a personal stance, I believe that's fine.
But then, a substantial number of such feminists actually actively
oppose the extension of marriage rights, almost in the same way as
the religious right. For example, if they were a politician in
parliament they would vote against marriage equality bills, and if
there was a referendum held they would vote no too. Some even go out
of the way to make a mockery of gay couples who sincerely want to get
know, feminism should be about upholding the equal rights and dignity
of all people, with a particular focus on women and others denied
their equality by the patriarchy. Going by that spirit, wouldn't that
require supporting marriage equality, if only as equality? What you,
a particular feminist, think about marriage itself is a non-issue
here. The issue is that there are many gay couples out there who want
to get married, and the patriarchal religious right is denying them
that right. In other words, the issue is not what you, a particular
feminist, think is a good choice to make, but what some LGBT people
want and are currently denied.
the feminist movement is serious about 'fighting patriarchy', it
needs to be serious about LGBT rights and equality. And if it really
is serious about LGBT rights and equality, it needs to support what
many LGBT people want, rather than imposing its view upon them. It's
time that old-school feminists really opened up their minds and start
part of her transition, Maria is growing out her hair, and it's
currently stuck at the length where it's very irritable.
hair became part of our conversation today. The vast majority of
trans women grow out their hair during transition. Which is probably
not a surprise, as short hair is considered masculine in our society,
and long hair is considered feminine. Maria, however, made the
observation that many trans men didn't cut their hair for transition,
as many have had short hair to begin with. The conversation then
turned to why trans women don't often already have long hair to begin
with, despite this being their preference.
truth is that, when it comes to presentation, 'women' (or who society
perceives to be a woman) have more freedom. Just think about it. The
'male' equivalent of a tomboy would be considered socially
unacceptable in a wide variety of settings. The 'male' equivalent of
butch women? I don't think I've seen one. 'Males' are practically
still in the mid 20th century or so compared with women, when it
comes to socially acceptable dress.
why is this the case? Historically, both men and women were subject
to oppressive gender norms in presentation, as in other areas of
life. However, the feminist movement changed all that, for women. As
for people who were male, the feminist movement didn't care for them
much, at least not until the third wave. But even today, this glaring
inequality is just accepted as normal, even by a lot of young
feminists. Shouldn't a movement dedicated to gender equality and
liberation think harder, and try harder for change?
course, there's another very important reason why feminists should be
concerned with this inequality. As women can dress butch and be
respectable but men can't dress femme and be respectable, this
de-facto means that masculinity is to be preferred and femininity is
to be shunned. Any numerical 'equality' that feminism can win on such
a playing field will be just numerical, where women can have
equality, but only if we behave more like men.
equality has officially begun in England and Wales. Scotland is set
to follow suit later this year. Nearly 20 US states are also on board
now. Australia? Who knows when?
I have been out and about, both on social media and in the real
world, drumming up support and momentum for marriage equality, doing
whatever one individual can about the issue. The marriage equality
activists in this country are unfortunately not playing it right at
the moment, in my opinion. Unlike in the US, where they are riding on
the wave of momentum, here the latest action seems to be a campaign
telling the whole country that 'We're Waiting'. That's really not
what's worse are the excuses I have encountered from other activists
or potential activists. They say that there are more important
issues. Like homelessness - except how is that an LGBT-specific
issue? Or like the inadequacy of LGBT representation in mainstream
media - except how is that as important as marriage equality to the
actual lives of people? I suspect that these people really do not
want to fight for marriage equality at all. It's really not that
surprising, when you think about it: many of the 'more radical' LGBT
activists have long resisted having anything to do with marriage
equality, and in recent years many have given the 'other priorities'
excuse. I thought that progress on this front internationally would
have changed their attitudes somewhat. But perhaps I was wrong.
may be controversial, but let me say it: I actually think that the
'more radical' activists are dodging reality, and indulging in
fantasy. Fighting a real political fight is tough and draining work.
But it has to be done, if only for the benefit of future generations.
On the other hand, one can choose escapism: like saying how 'marriage
is unimportant, and so I don't care about marriage equality'.
Withdrawing from the civil rights battle of our time maybe an easy
choice, but it's definitely an irresponsible one to make, in my
Social Justice Warrior Problem
many people undergoing transition, Maria has built a network of trans
friends going through transition, mostly at a similar phase to
herself. As I've personally experienced, it is very helpful to go
through the process with other people.
Maria is also worried that her new friends is pressuring her to take
particular political stances, and join in certain political
activities, all in the name of social justice. Like myself, Maria
also thinks that social justice is a good thing, but she is sceptical
of her new friends' politics.
have come to the conclusion that Maria's new friends are in fact
'social justice warriors' (SJWs). SJWs essentially believe that all
social inequalities need to be eradicated as soon as possible, and
can resort to extreme, illiberal means sometimes. For example, SJWs
have called for businessmen who have funded anti-marriage-equality
campaigns and scientists who have made sexist comments to be sacked,
and many support an increase in speech restrictions on university
campuses in the name of protecting minorities. The internet and
especially social media have become their favourite platform for
organising and 'collective action', often in the form of sharing or
retweeting similar messages together, creating a 'critical mass' that
demands to be noticed.
are kind to trans people. In fact, that would be an understatement.
Since they are all about protecting the welfare and equality of
underprivileged people, they are very protective towards trans
people. They take their opposition to transphobic behaviour and
transphobic speech extremely seriously, perhaps more than even we
transpeople ourselves. It is unsurprising that a substantial number
of trans people have been attracted to their ranks.
trans-friendly as they are, Maria and I both remain sceptical of
their ways. Our first criticism of them is about freedom. Oppressed
minorities only found their voice and got heard due to freedom of
speech in the first place, something that SJWs clearly don't cherish
enough. The first people to help such oppressed minorities also often
had to act against social expectations using their freedom of
conscience, another thing SJWs clearly don't cherish enough. Our
second criticism of them is that we fear their ways may alienate
people, paradoxically entrenching racist, homophobic and transphobic
attitudes. For example, in high school I had a friend who was opposed
to marriage equality because he thought that it was part of the
cultural elites' way of forcing the rest of us to embrace a radical
agenda. Years later he became convinced of the need for marriage
equality and the importance it held for many people's lives, and
today he is almost as dedicated to the cause as myself. I think that
if SJWs were around in the early 2000s, their behaviour would
essentially have confirmed his earlier views, and he may never have
changed his mind. Our final criticism of SJWs is that they
essentially aim to increase the number of rules which society has to
observe. I have always had a strong view that rules often
unintentionally disadvantage minorities, something that my own lived
experience as a trans person has taught me.
may mean the best for us and for the world, but we really can't say
that we accept their agenda in good conscience.
recent renewed interest in feminism in the Western world has
reignited interest in affirmative action. There has been a new found
zeal to set up affirmative action quotas where none has existed
before, and to increase quotas to 50% where affirmative action
already applies. (Quotas like 33% or 40% were more commonly used in
a truth I haven't dared to speak up about yet: I feel quite
uncomfortable about all this. Before my transition, affirmative
action quotas, which never included trans people back then, were a
major source of gender dysphoria for me. Nowadays, some (but not yet
all) affirmative action programs include all 'non cis-men', which I
think is a great improvement. But still, what about those trans women
who are still too scared to come out? I feel like supporting
affirmative action means that I will be complicit in increasing their
over the years where feminists haven't been the best friends of
gender non-conforming people, we trans women have instead formed
alliances with other LGB and gender non-conforming people. Over the
years, we have fought side-by-side for acceptance and rights. Now,
should I support affirmative action programs that will leave behind
those 'cis-men', who are gender non-conforming, who are often also
gay, and therefore actually suffer at the hands of patriarchy, often
even more so than us? I really don't feel comfortable doing so. It
would feel like betraying your best friend.
haven't spoken up because I fear that I would be seen as a traitor to
the sisterhood if I did. But here's how I feel. Unfortunately, many
feminists are still quite judgemental of those who don't think the
same way as they do. Meanwhile, real people are suffering.
someone in an online discussion asked the question of why the
momentum for marriage equality in Australia seems to have slowed in
the past six months. The answer most people gave? Tony Abbott.
me, but I'm not aware that Tony Abbott has banned discussion on
marriage equality, or that he even has the power to. It's true that
the Prime Minister is not a supporter, but that's just the same as
under Julia Gillard, except that we actually now have a supportive
opposition leader. So how is Abbott responsible for the lack of
discussion on the issue?
Abbott is not responsible, then who is? Those who should be
discussing it but are not doing their part, of course. Every social
change relies on those who believe in it to champion for it, to say
the obvious. If those who claim to be supporters start dropping the
ball, a rapid fall in momentum will be inevitable. For the record,
I've done my part, but too many supporters have simply dropped the
ball ever since Abbott came to power.
many so-called activists in this country would like to have their
prize handed to them by the government on a silver platter, rather
than going out there and putting in years of hard work to fight for
it. I'm not joking here - there's been plenty who have said we should
wait for Abbott to get voted out and pile the pressure on the next
Labor government to deliver. They want to go about it in what they
see as the 'route of least resistance'. But that's not how good
activism works. You want to know why Australia is lagging behind the
US on marriage equality? Let's look back to a decade ago. Australia
had Howard, the US had Bush, both were strongly opposed to marriage
equality. The difference was that US activists worked hard, while
Australian activists avoided the issue, mostly content to settle for
the limited rights the governments had granted us. Apparently, local
activists have not learnt that lesson, and are intent on wasting the
'Abbott years' as well.
know from my personal life the importance of putting in the hard work
to persuade people to change, whether you feel you are close to
victory or not. Bit by bit, I brought my own family on board in my
gender transition. It took years before they became accepting, but
over time they did. Change is something to be created day by day,
month by month, and year by year, whether it is on a personal or a
political level. If you seek to wait for the 'right moment' to act,
that moment will never come.
New Landscape for Trans Youth
was talking to me yesterday, about how she hoped she could have
transitioned earlier. I simply told her that it would be unwise to
make a mess of one's life if the circumstances are not ready yet, and
her decision to stall transition back in 2007 was the right one.
Surprisingly, she told me that it wasn't even just 2007 she was
talking about. She had come across several recent articles about the
lives of trans teenagers nowadays, and she regrets not transitioning
at their age. She went on to list the things that she 'wouldn't have
had to miss out'. I had to remind her to be rational, to remember
what the world was really like back when we were in high school, and
how a successful transition there was very unlikely.
trans youth really have it much better nowadays. I'm not saying that
there's no discrimination or bullying, because I know that would be
false. (Maybe in another generations' time.) But at least they can
come out (as long as their family is not super conservative), schools
are often accepting, they can live authentically, and they can
receive proper treatment from dedicated medical professionals. They
probably still don't have an entirely 'normal' life, but at least
they don't have to 'miss out on everything watching life go by' like
of us had this opportunity. But then, the world moves forward step by
step, and we should be glad that the next generation gets a better
deal than we did, rather than regret upon the limitations of our own
youth today also know that they have more opportunities than ever in
life. Granted, discrimination still exists. But when trans women are
even allowed to enter Miss Universe and its associated competitions
(and at least two have already done so), you feel like the sky's the
limit, and don't feel like you need to compromise on your dreams that
much. On a more everyday, 'realistic' level, news reports of trans
people making it as professionals of all kinds, models, actors,
sportspeople, even YouTube stars are becoming increasingly common.
The very low 'trans ceiling' that I felt back when I was a teen has
certainly been lifted much higher.
world owes it to trans youth to not limit their life potential via
discrimination and disapproval. I'm glad we're moving in the right
had a talk with me about feminism last week. She has become a
dedicated feminist, and she asked me if I identify as a feminist too.
I told her I would get back to her later.
those years ago I decided to reject feminism because it rejected me.
I remember writing a diary entry about this in 2007. Essentially,
feminism was a club where a large number of its members rejected
transwomen back then.
things may have changed. At least among feminists of our generation,
acceptance of transwomen has become nearly universal. Moreover, many
young feminists actually fight side-by-side with us on LGBT rights.
And young trans-friendly feminists have become increasingly confident
about taking on transphobic feminists, even if they are otherwise
long-respected figures in the movement. Partly as a result of these
changes, more and more women's colleges in the US are opening their
doors to transwomen for the first time.
who want to identify as feminists today don't have to fight for their
right to do so like a decade ago. They are welcomed into the feminist
fold readily by the increasing majority of trans-friendly feminists.
is changing. And it's not just in relation to trans women. Marriage
equality is another area where feminism is evolving. While many old
school feminists like Julia Gillard oppose marriage equality, the new
generation of feminists not only support marriage equality, they
demand that everyone else support it too. It is still true that some
feminists, both young and old, remain sceptical of marriage. But for
younger feminists, even if they don't want marriage themselves, they
tend to see marriage equality as an equal rights issue rather than an
endorsement of marriage itself.
it has become 'fashionable' to identify as a feminist again, probably
for the first time since the 1970s. Celebrities and popstars are
increasingly identifying as feminists, and their popularity have
generally increased if they do so. In contrast to a decade ago,
nobody questions if feminism is still relevant nowadays.
this just shows that feminism, like everything else, is not fixed
through time. So should I reassess my approach to feminism? I think
it's time I did so.
the core of it, feminism is just about gender equality. I guess I can
call myself a feminist if this is what I believe in. It's OK that I
don't agree with many feminists over many issues. Many young
feminists disagree with Germaine Greer over trans issues and disagree
with Julia Gillard over marriage equality too. It doesn't mean they
can't be part of the movement. Feminism is not a political party with
a black-and-white platform, after all.
I attended one of the LGBT support meetings Maria regularly goes to,
because I was invited to talk to several trans people there about
what life feels like in the long term after transitioning.
know, before this invitation, I had never even thought about 'how
life is like now that I'm long-term post-transition'. It's not
something you naturally think about. Life just goes on, and whatever
new features of life that came about as a result of transition
gradually becomes the 'new normal'. Furthermore, while I don't feel
'gender dysphoria' anymore, my life is still quite similar to the way
it was before transition, except for gender-specific features. So
there really isn't much to talk or think about. But then, I realised
that this is exactly what some people in transition need to hear from
people like me: they want to know that there is a future after
transition, that life can feel 'normal' and just right.
the meeting itself was quite an experience for me, something
unexpected. While this was a regular support meeting for LGBT young
adults in the area, trans people did make up nearly a fifth of those
in attendance. This stands in contrast to my experience with the
so-called LGBT support groups and services that I came into contact
with during transition. Back then, they had generally not even seen a
trans person, and I became fed up with having to explain myself
eventually. Statistically, this change would also likely mean that
many more trans people have come out in the past decade. I calculated
that if the proportion of gay people vs trans people in this sample
is reflective of the wider reality, then trans people would actually
have a frequency of about 1 in 500, many times more than previous
reports. In fact, I wonder if there are actually many more trans
people than we believed there were all along, with many just hiding
in fear or unaware of their true identity all along.
interesting feature of the meeting was that it started with a 'name
and pronoun round', where everyone introduced themselves providing
their name and pronoun. It was the first time I had seen something
like this. So here was a solution that can solve all the pronoun
problems trans people have ever encountered! I'm still unsure if this
is going to be realistic to apply in the wider world where the vast
majority of people aren't trans. But then, I was told by someone
there that this practice is actually also being introduced in some
college-level debating tournaments. Apparently, another reason was
that some people wished to be referred to as 'they' rather than a
on Social Justice Warriors
don't agree with the agenda of the social justice warriors (SJWs).
Previously in this diary, I gave my reasons for this decision. It's
not that I don't agree with the idea of social justice or the need to
address bigotry. It's just that I believe in using more 'liberal' and
an SJW asked me what I think of the anti-SJW movement, and how I can
in my good conscience let these people use their 'freedom of speech'
to encourage hate and bigotry. I have indeed come across some of the
things people have said in the name of 'protecting freedom of speech'
against SJWs. And trust me, there's plenty of racist, sexist,
homophobic and transphobic things they have said, some of which are
quite hurtful to me personally as a trans person.
do not support the self-proclaimed anti-SJW movement. But then I do
support freedom of speech, and the existence of this noisy minority
is not going to change my mind. My belief is that whenever people
'use' their freedom of speech to spread false or hateful statements,
it is our responsibility to stand up for truth and equality, using
our own freedom of speech. For example, while it hurts me to hear
someone say that 'trans women are not real women', I am strong and
rational enough to argue confidently as to why they are wrong. I
believe that while these arguments may be painful, they are something
we need to have, in order to progress society. While I cannot in
good conscience support the SJW movement in its current form, I will
wholeheartedly support an alternative movement that seeks to address
misunderstandings and spread the message of equality and acceptance
using our freedom of speech.
I wonder if SJWs act the way they do because they don't have faith in
the liberal and rational approach to progress society. They see that
there is still plenty of bigotry around, and think that the only way
to truly change things is via more radical action. But from my own
personal experience, change comes in steps, and things are already
getting better all the time, proving that the liberal and rational
approach actually works. Today's discussion about trans rights draws
from discussions about gay rights and women's rights society has
already had, which in turn have drawn on the idea that everyone
should be equal, something once considered radical but is generally
accepted today. Today's marriage equality movement builds on the
gradual increase in gay rights, including importantly the civil union
and de-facto rights type reforms gained in the previous decade, and
the increasing consensus that LGBT relationships are part of the
fabric of families that form society. At each step along the way, we
need to secure the changes we can, and continue to push society along
through ongoing liberal and rational discussion. Radical action
undermines our ability to do these things, therefore I believe it is
If Stealth Disappeared?
many trans people chose to live in stealth mode - that is, post
transition, they don't let people know they are trans at all. Stealth
comes in many 'levels'. On a most 'shallow' level, you could even say
I live in stealth mode 90% of the time, simply because I don't tell
people that I'm trans generally, even though I have never attempted
to actively deny it either. Most definitions of stealth however
describe an existence where one actively prevents others from knowing
their trans history, for example by fabricating a gender appropriate
cis (i.e. non-trans) past. On the deepest level there is 'deep
stealth', where possibly even one's partner does not know.
definition, nobody knows how many people choose to live in stealth.
recently, some trans people are wondering where the opportunity to
live in stealth is disappearing. Firstly, everything has become
computerised and records are easily traced. The popularity of social
media also means that one's past cannot be easily completely hidden.
Secondly, trans awareness has increased greatly in the general
population in just the past few years, and it is becoming
increasingly difficult to 'pass' 100% of the time. Recently, there
have even been quite a few stories of genetic women being
misidentified as trans! Remember, just one or two failures to pass
can make stealth mode unravel completely.
agree that the opportunity to live in stealth is fast fading away.
But I don't think it's something we need to regret. Many trans people
only 'chose' to live in stealth in the past due to the kind of
discrimination they would face otherwise. In a society increasingly
accepting of trans people, why would we want to live in stealth? I
mean, it involves being 'fake', like being in a new closet, and makes
one's life very paranoid in general. In an era where the vast
majority of gay and lesbian people come out and live authentically,
wouldn't living in stealth be contrary to this spirit of authenticity
and acceptance for all?
think stealth isn't something we should cherish or celebrate at all.
It was just a necessity of life for many trans people historically.
With the evolution of society towards accepting trans people
wholeheartedly, one day, hopefully soon, nobody will feel the need to
live in stealth.
week ago was my one year anniversary of deciding to embrace feminism.
Here are some reflections.
finally made me able to embrace feminism was the more inclusive form
of feminism that I encountered from some in recent years. For too
long, I had felt that feminism was somehow exclusive of people like
me on many levels, and even with the more trans-friendly style in
recent years, I had felt that to be a feminist would be like joining
a political party, and having to toe the party line. This really
wasn't something I can take. While I was happy that the
trans-friendly feminists appeared to have generally won the debate
within feminism by early this decade, the whole thing still seemed
too much like individuals trying to bring a reluctant political party
along to embrace change, like more enlightened members trying to
bring a conservative party to reluctantly accept marriage equality.
This, for me, reinforced the view that joining feminism is like
joining a political party even more than anything else.
more recently, I realised that real feminism isn't that 'political
party'. While some feminists have unfortunately overly politicised
the whole idea and have also policed acceptable stances to take, this
really shouldn't be how the concept of feminism operates. And while I
am totally put off by this reality, it shouldn't be a barrier for me
to embrace what feminism really is: that is, a movement where women
and gender minority voices can get heard, and society can be changed
to make things more equal. I have become a feminist, but I will never
join that 'political party' and toe that party line, because to me,
that would be betraying the real idea of feminism. I hope that more
feminists can reflect on this idea, too.