On feminism and social justice activism, and liberation through humanity

Trigger warning: This post refers to rape in a non-descriptive way.

Oh, hello. I’ve just gone and started a blog and everything. Hello, I’m Zoltán, and I was an alcoholic and then I tool a lot of Spirotone and it made alcohol fuck me up and that made me not consume as much. Anyway, I intend to finally begin blogging about feminism, and so I’d like to begin on some of the principles surrounding my feminism.

Foremost on my mind is the desire to robustly defend a feminism that is trans-inclusive. Or perhaps trans-enthusiastic. Certainly a feminism whose conceptualisations of gender must centrally incorporate the fact that trans-people exist. One, too, that centrally incorporates intersecting identities; one in which trans women, women of colour, disabled women, survivors, disabled trans women of colour that have survived violence, and so on are not an ugly outcrop of feminism, but occupying the very same space of feminism’s central logic as relatively privileged women.

So here’s one way I’ve worked to do so thus far. Its my attempt to create a consistent manner of dividing feminism from bullshit, and more generally social justice activism from bullshit. The Humanity Question, it can perhaps be called. It looks like this:

  • Are you seeking the recognition of the humanity of oppressed people without denying the humanity of other oppressed people?
  • Do you define an enemy on the basis of actions that deny the humanity of others or structural advantage based upon doing so, rather than on the basis of identity alone?

I define the recognition of humanity, in the most simple and broad way, as the recognition that no one is an inferior human being that merits fewer rights, poorer treatment or the consequences of previous disadvantages. This can be more nuanced than that, and probably merits a whole entry some time soon. In other words, we act upon the fact that all people are born equal and remain so, and we do not kill a person for what their father has done, so to speak.

Equality talk and liberation talk are consistent with this definition. If someone’s humanity is recognised, equality ceases to be an issue because they cannot be unequal when fully viewed as human. The recognition of humanity means the rejection of structural constraints under which people live and to rectify the consequences of its denial.

When I see the distressing structures of oppression, I see humanity not being recognised, thus permitting one to treat others differently from the way one would want to be treated – She is not human, so she not deserve what I do as a human. Objectification is a clear example – She is a sex object, so she does not deserve the respect I do as a human. Rape requires that a person is not allowed control of their body or desires; that again denies humanity. It is never so phrased, but only in the absence of humanity can such things be justified.

As intersectional oppressions pile up, the denial of humanity pile up. Suppose, for example, we are looking at a visibly non-white lesbian that is an undocumented migrant. When, at any point of her life, is she recognised as at all human? Her basic needs are denied and she is likely extraordinarily vulnerable to violence in the spaces she must occupy if homeless or in detention, or simply extremely reliant on others to live.

Alright, so let’s finally get to what you were all waiting for: TERFs (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists). How do they do on the humanity question? (you probably have a good guess).

Trans-exclusionary radical feminism is generally reliant upon dividing the world into a human and a non-human part. Their spiritual führer Valerie Solanas was the master of this: The human part is Female(-assigned at birth) and Male(-assigned at birth). They have it extremely right that being FAAB (Female-assigned at birth) is a good predictor of oppression, and being MAAB a good predictor of privilege. Solanas would be the first to point out that FAABs are pretty brilliant, and ought to be viewed as humans. And yet they do so by denying the humanity of others.

They insist, first of all, upon the status of FAABs as a single “sex class”. At worst, the voice of working class women, women of colour and other women with significant intersecting of oppressions is denied, because their voice is not heard when it says “well, no; actually our experiences are very different”. This is the classic humanity-denial in activism whereby someone’s personal experiences are said to be wrong, irrelevant, or not a concern.

Secondly, they are equally insistent upon the status of all MAAB people as the non-human class of people. This has problematic implications in terms of MAABs whose gender or sexuality is not male and/or straight, though given the privilege of those that pass as cis men this is not the foremost worry of mine. Most harmfully, they with the most vitriol insist that trans women are part of the male(-assigned at birth) “sex class”. As such, they see trans women as male(-assigned at birth) infiltrators of their space; a threat to the liberation of the female(-assigned at birth) sex class, and at worst pretend lesbians that wish to rape female(-assigned at birth) people.

To do so, that humanity-denying tactic of rendering personal experience wrong, irrelevant, or not a concern is employed. As the experiences of women with significant other oppressions is inconsistent with their sex class theory, so too is the experience of trans women. Those experiences most often involve oppressions functionally similar to those of cis women, with some gay and/or gender-deviant male thrown in – objectification, harassment, fear, lack of access to services they need, not being taken seriously by authority/employers/etc., and so on. Those experiences involve having feelings, they often involve learning the lack of confidence with which cis women are socialised.

Further, they define that male(-assigned at birth) enemy without reference to actions or structural advantage (which trans women almost entirely lack); they define trans women as the enemy by the identity as a woman that was assigned male at birth alone. They can behave like decent human beings but not be treated as such. To a TERF, a trans woman is going to talk over them in a loud, booming voice whether or not she actually does that. A trans woman is a rapist whether or not she actually practices consent properly. A trans woman is male whether or not anything she does resembles being male.

TERFs merely represent an extreme or a logical conclusion of feminist activism that seeks liberation for certain women through ignoring or actively denying the humanity of other women (and other oppressed genders). When we are not working for the humanity of all, when we fail to practice intersectional feminism, we are approaching their “feminism”. So now you know how it’s done – don’t do it.

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