In his post Feminist Theory and Identity Politics (link here) A Very Public Sociologist writes about a recent talk given by Professor Lois McNay, a cis women academic at the University of Oxford, when she talked about how feminism is “moving into an era of post-identity politics, which is stepping away from issues of difference and is grappling again with the problem of agency”.
Professor McNay’s theory serves only to highlight her own privileged position, comfortably ensconced in the leafy groves of academe. Any trans woman who has had even the smallest brush with cis women’s feminism will know only too well that the overwhelming majority of cis women feminists – if they even give a fuck about trans women to start with – are openly hostile to our presence within “their” movement. That stance, by definition, seeks to deny us not only our agency but our very right to exist at all.
Why? Because our existence demands the rethinking of vast swathes of feminist theory and the reshaping of 40 years of transphobic attitudes. And that, apparently, is simply too much like hard work. Far easier to demand that – in the words of feminist icon and transphobe Janice Raymond – we are morally mandated out of existence.
And to suggest that “the problem of agency” is feminism’s concern when so many cis women feminists flatly deny trans women’s agency is just a joke.
You want to talk about the “problem of agency”? Because I agree that it exists. No question. So where shall we start?
- The “agency” enshrined in an Equality Bill where trans rights were added almost as an afterthought, and are so poorly protected as to be almost worthless?
- The “agency” of a non-gendered person living in a state which demands that per identifies as either male or female?
- And where was this “agency” when Allen Andrade unilaterally decided that Angie Zapata had no right to live, because he disapproved of her genital topography?
- What about the “agency” of an LGBT solidarity organisation to operate without state-imposed conditions? Or the “agency” of trans people in a country where the state tacitly condones transphobic violence?
- The “agency” trans people have when it comes to changing our documentation to match our gender identities without having to jump through a needlessly complex series of hoops?
- Where’s the “agency” of trans people in a centralised database system that requires us to pay for two different ID cards?
- How about that old favourite, the “agency” that trans women have to use (cis) women’s toilets?
- Or the “agency” we have in a healthcare system which demands that we submit to being pathologised as “mentally disordered” before it will dispense the medications and surgeries which have been shown countless times to ameliorate a condition which is rooted in how we perceive our identity?
I could find many, many more examples of the forms of “agency” denied to us but, frankly, any cis person – be they feminist, socialist or some high-faluting academic an ivory tower – who doesn’t ‘get it’ by now is demonstrating not only a monumental failure to grasp the simple fact that trans people across the world are forcibly reminded every single day that our “agency” is defined, administered and controlled by cis people – but also that, as long as the situation remains unchanged, there cannot possibly be any such thing as a “post-identity feminism”.