So long and thanks for all the fish

May 5, 2008

This piece began as a simple thank you to my co-bloggers and a brief summary of my feelings on the interaction between feminism and my transsexuality. I originally thought it would be my final post to the blog, but – as well as some quite personal thoughts – it contains a couple of things that would quite likely enrage certain radfem trolls. Not wishing to start a firestorm at TFW just as I was leaving, I decided to leave it as a general email to the group rather than posting it at TFW proper. Having said that, at the time of this post, one of my TFW co-bloggers has asked me why I haven’t posted it and three others have said that I should, so who knows, maybe it’ll yet appear there too – but we’ll see…

But as I make a point or two in it that I do feel quite strongly about, and as this space is My Toys™ after all, I thought oh what the hell – so here it is anyway:


from: Helen G
to: TFW co-bloggers
date: 3 May 2008 11:51

So long and thanks for all the fish
Or: Helen’s last post that never was…


My two months’ sojourn at TFW as Guest Blogger has been an interesting if challenging experience, coming as it did at a time of great personal unhappiness; nevertheless I’m grateful to Jess and my co-bloggers for the opportunity to try my hand at blogging to a wider audience than the handful of friends who read my personal Journal.

I believe that both maxims, ‘the political is personal’ and ‘the personal is political’ hold true and I came to TFW hoping that I could learn more about both aspects as viewed through the lens of feminism. I hoped to find a more political side to my ongoing transition, which is unarguably a personal experience first and foremost. Having focused on that personal side for some 18 months, my journey of transition had brought me to a point where I believed I was ready to think about other aspects apart from the ‘prime directive’ of simply surviving. Having been a reader of TFW for some time, I believed that there was a sense of community, of inclusivity and tolerance of a wide range of views and opinions. And I welcomed the chance to take a more active role in that community, if only for a short while.

During the early days and months of my transition, my sense of feminism seemed to come quite naturally, albeit in an almost instinctive/intuitive way. I don’t consider myself particularly well-educated; I find book-learning difficult and have tried to piece things together as best I can with the help of the interwebs, so there are, unsurprisingly, many large gaps in my knowledge. Perhaps more than anything, the so-called Real Life Experience aspect of my transition really helped me to see the inequality and injustices that women suffer, as well as offering a new perspective on the other problems facing me as I began to build a new life as a trans woman.

In putting these things together, I wondered if I could begin to find a synthesis of my experiences as both a trans* person and as a woman: a trans feminism in which I could reconcile my personal and political beliefs and experiences. I’m still looking for that holy grail, but at the time of writing, I’m not optimistic. My current thoughts are that my search for that synthesis has more in common with the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The basic idea(s) of feminism made sense but didn’t go far enough: problems were identified but I saw no clear solutions. I began to look at radical feminism but, although it offered a suggestion (dismantle the patriarchy) it didn’t seem to have a definite plan for doing that. In that sense, it seemed remarkably familiar to Engels’ idea that, after the working class had risen up and seized power, the state would simply – somehow – just wither away.

And then there were the radical feminists… Or rather, some radical feminists, who would have me believe that, oh, d’yknow, I just don’t have the energy to rake over those old and cold ashes. Suffice it to say that I found myself fundamentally opposed to their “analysis” of trans women. And I’m not convinced that “once a man, always a man” is a particularly useful stance from which to discuss trans women.

Yes, the existence of transsexual people does pose a problem to certain feminists because it directly contradicts some very strongly held assumptions about gender, gender identity, gender roles and gender expression. The problem, I think, originates here: to me, as a trans woman, gender is first of all personal – whereas it seems that feminism views gender in political terms. And it is there, in the reconciliation of those two diametrically opposing views, that we should be searching for common ground. Instead, it has become a battlefield, and me, well, I’m a pacifist, I don’t see why there needs to be conflict, or yet another binary. Is it really so difficult to simultaneously hold two different views, or is it easier for me because I’ve had to do exactly that as a sufferer of gender dysphoria and its integral dissonance?…

Had de Beauvoir known about gender dysphoria, perhaps her assertion that one is not born woman but becomes one would have been less binaristic, less dogmatic, less silencing.

As long as transphobia of the magnitude that I have experienced continues to exist then I’m not sure I want to think of myself as a radical feminist. How can I possibly be part of a movement that condones such hatred towards me simply because of who I am, because I have the temerity to undergo massive social, hormonal, psychological and surgical changes in order to alleviate my gender dissonance and live in my ‘true’ identity as a woman, even though I was born and raised male?

All of which leaves me, where, exactly? At this moment, I really don’t have a definitive answer; I doubt I ever will. I feel isolated, confused, lonely, alienated, disconnected, disenfranchised, a long way from home (wherever that is) – but there’s nothing new there. I still think that women – including trans women – are oppressed by patriarchy, amongst other power structures, and I feel strongly that that imbalance needs to be addressed and redressed as a matter of urgency by everybody, irrespective of gender. But feminism needs a plan – a consensual and inclusive plan – of how, exactly, society is to change and be changed. I hope when that stage is reached, I will still be around to take part – although, given my age (51), I’m not sure how likely that is. Right now I’m feeling, in the words of Antonio Gramsci, a ‘pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will’. It’s a massive disconnect and there is much work I need to do…

But now I’m miles off topic. Thank you for letting me blog at TFW, I really miss it and you all already, as sad as that probably sounds. I hope I may contribute again in the future, but in the meanwhile I think I’m going to – finally – start using the blog I set up last year before I went to Bangkok for my surgery. I didn’t get to use it then, for various reasons, but maybe now it’s time I did. I need to talk about these matters. And yes, J, it does have an RSS feed ;)

I hope all your dreams come true. Take good care of yourselves, and of each other.

love and hugs
Hells Bells

Later edit: I am a feminist because I accept the basic tenets of feminism – namely, bringing about an end to oppression and inequality by the dismantling of patriarchal power structures – even though there seem to be no specific methods proposed for doing this.

But, on a personal level, I cannot be a part of a feminist movement in which a majority appear to condone transphobic hate speech by a minority of its members.


©2008 Helen G

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