You apparently just said something cissexist on your feminist blog. Now a bunch of people are angry at you. They’re posting nasty comments. Some of them might even use ALL CAPS. You don’t understand why they have a problem with your pro-choice rally. Don’t they care about abortion? Are they so selfish that they can only think about themselves?
Or maybe you were angry after a horrible breakup. Maybe your ex did something typically horrid, and now you’re on a “misandry” kick. But why are those trans women so upset? All you did was make a bunch of posts about chopping off dicks to get the anger out of your system. Don’t they understand the patriarchy?
Here’s the thing: we know how the patriarchy works. Not because we’re secret double-agents working to undermine feminism, but because patriarchy has us in its sights at every opportunity. We have a lot less privilege than you, and we have to navigate a minefield of potentially dangerous situations as trans people in addition to the minefield of womanhood. It’s possible that, sometimes, we just might understand patriarchy a little better than you do.
Insistence on cutesy but essentialist language like “the XX Factor” completely misses the point on how patriarchy functions. Men don’t run around with genetic test kits when they want to assault someone. They look for markers of femininity. (That’s not even getting into the other problems with equating chromosomes to gender, which yes, harms everybody.) Every time you equate “misandry” to “chopping off dicks”, you tell an entire group of women that they’re really men. I get that it’s upsetting and confusing to question the body of feminist language, but that doesn’t justify defensively lashing out against trans women, whether intentionally or not.
I’m pro-choice–I want you to hold that rally. I just recognize that we shouldn’t exclude people who can get pregnant (trans men), nor should we draw boundaries of inclusion hypocritically (welcoming infertile cis women with open arms while turning away trans women). I don’t care about the “misandry”–I care about how your version of misandry implicates me and countless other women. I don’t care about the pun you used as a blog title–I care about how it shouts to large number of feminists “YOU DON’T MATTER TO US!”
It’s the feminist version of when bashers call me a “faggot”–I’m bothered more by the inaccuracy of your language than the bigotry behind it. I’m sick of getting it from both sides. I’m sick of both sides shouting at each other without noticing all the people they’re silencing in the process. Feminism shouldn’t be a game of Pickle in the Middle.
I know it’s not easy, questioning problematic language. It takes work. It disrupts your daily flow. It makes you have to think a little more before speaking. That’s a good thing, though. I understand it seems like an endless process that’s impossible to win. There are more isms out there than the cissex variety. We are all imperfect, we all make mistakes, we all have privileges we don’t even know about. That is going to make other people angry. They’re going to post angry things on our blogs. Shutting them down isn’t the answer, nor is smiling and nodding condescendingly while continuing the status quo.
I have good news: the awkward transitional phase doesn’t last forever. I know firsthand; I was brought up with the same cissexist language you were. I still slip up sometimes, but I have a much better sense now of how to not hurt trans people when speaking. Cissexism is the air we breathe, nobody can escape it completely. But admitting to the problems with traditional feminist language isn’t the end of the world. It really isn’t.
It doesn’t mean you can’t hold pro-choice rallies. It doesn’t mean you can’t speak out about medical misinformation regarding vaginas. It doesn’t mean you can’t fight rape culture. It doesn’t mean you can’t make feminist porn. It doesn’t mean you can’t rage against the patriarchy via “misandry”.
This isn’t cis vagina-having women versus those evil trans women who want to take your feminisms away. This isn’t a pissing match. This isn’t an either/or game. It’s both-and. It’s power with, not power over. I’m appalled at how often this subject is turned into a stereotypically patriarchal zero-sum game. Cissexist language doesn’t make our message stronger. It is divisive, creates distrust, and weakens solidarity. It’s also, above all else, inaccurate. Any theory is only as strong as the assumptions it rests upon. If those assumptions are shaky, you want them to crumble. That’s how real progress is made.