I’m feeling pretty damned good about ground gained in western culture by transgender people. I was there at the beginning of this loosely-knit yet somehow united movement, and things are a whole lot better for trans people today in Western culture than they ever have been.
There are many people who are claiming and living lives far beyond man or woman. There are many people who live fluidly gendered lives. There are many people who know the dangers of gender when it plays itself out as an unconscious social binary.
It’s not Mission Accomplished, not by a long shot. But talented trans people are scaling the walls of political power and artistic genius. There are deeply compassionate trans people who are religious scholars and clergy. Transdora's box is wide open and we're never going back. I am tranny, hear me frakking ROAR!
And then along comes Germaine Greer—genuine warhorse and goddess of feminism—on 20 August, 2009 with an Op-Ed piece in The Guardian she calls Caster Semenya sex row: What makes a woman? In this new piece, Ms. Greer refers to transwomen—me and my brave sisters and mothers and daughters—as “ghastly parodies” of women.
I’m not going to talk about Caster Semenya’s dilemma beyond saying that she’s being treated with intolerable rudeness and disrespect by the media. It’s the same savagely uncaring journalistic strategy used against Dr. Renée Richards when she was so rudely outed to the world in the 1970s and 1980s.
Yes, yes. Ouch. It hurts to be called a ghastly parody. And that kind of talk feeds transphobia across the world. So, shame on The Guardian for printing these hateful words. But who is Ms. Greer to be hurling these invectives, and why? Greer is no one to dismiss as an idiot or complete jerk. Through her relentless work, Ms. Greer has raised the volume of women’s voices in the world. She got people around the world to start taking women more seriously.
And here's the problem: all the time she was doing that great social activism, Greer believes to the core of her being that woman is an essential identity. The gender battleground on which Germaine Greer fought and learned her political strategies was gender-as-man-and-woman-only. On that battlefield, it's easy to attack transgender people as freaks.
The good news is that Germaine Greer's transphobia is more the exception among todays scholars, artists and activists. They work as tirelessly as Greer herself on issues of gender rights, freedoms, parameters, and dignity. Postmodern gender theory has been taught in colleges and universities around the world for over fifteen years. It's over-spilling the walls of academia. The battlefield/playground has shifted. Nothing is essential any more.
Germaine Greer's tragedy is that she has not considered as even possible the theory of gender fluidity. For her kind of activism to work, MAN and WOMAN can and must be essential as well as easy to tell apart from each other. Greer is a fierce warrior, but to nail down the gender binary, she concludes her op-ed piece by saying,
“People who don't ovulate or menstruate will probably always physically outperform people who do.”
Ms. Greer is claiming that biology is, in fact destiny.
The price of being a writer of vitriol is that it reveals your most private fears, which you've penned in the form of an attack on someone else. And sadly, that makes Ms. Greer a ghastly parody of herself. What she wrote was painful and destructive. But the loss of her fierce presence on the front lines of feminism is more to be mourned than scorned.
And the point of all this is to assure you: it really has gotten a lot better for transgender people. There's a long, long way to go. But it's much, much better. I promise.
Your Ever-Loving Kate