Blog or Not?

A statistically improbable polymath's views on politics and culture.

Thursday, December 11, 2003
Forecasting the Next Big Civil Rights Issue, with help from Dave Eggers
A few days ago I bought the November 2003 issue* of "The Believer", everyone's favorite published-but-not-edited-by-Dave Eggers literary journal (eight bucks: not cheap. At least I got the Seminary Co-op Discount). Anyways, there was a piece in there, "Camp Trans", by Michelle Tea, which explores the conflicts between an old-school lesbian music festival (the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival) and male-to-female transsexuals who were denied admission to the festival and eventually started a protest camp (the eponymous Camp Trans) across the road. Apparently the Michigan Festival wants to make itself as man-free a place as possible, and so has decided to ban anyone who has possessed a penis.

The piece was thoughtful, and really well-written. It reminded me of why I roll my eyes at some aspects of second-wave feminism--for instance, spelling "women" as "womyn" seems to me to be a piece of pure political foppery. Other random thoughts follow:

--Some of the festival-goers who oppose the admission of trans women (most don't, according to the article) seem to have a real fear of maleness--male voices, male bodies, whatever. Some justify this by claiming that women want a male-free time in their lives; I can accept this. But some of these women seem to believe that trans women still harbor the "taint" of maleness--even after outright rejecting masculine identity to the point of undergoing painful, expensive surgical procedures--as if an excess of testosterone were a poison that could never be completely eradicated.

--Um, wasn't one of the original points of feminism to make physical sex not that important? And, by having a fear of maleness, aren't you transcribing some kind of special power onto maleness that you, as a female, can't fight?

--Regarding the lesbians who are attracted to "trannyboys" (female-to-male transsexuals) but fear being labeled as "straight"--aren't there statistics to show that a) most people aren't absolutely straight or absolutely gay** and b) females are more likely than males to have non-absolute sexual preference? I know you want to proclaim your unconformity, but isn't pigeonholing yourself to a category so much more conformist than not?

And finally, fulfilling the promise of the post title...
--Lesbians rejecting trans women oddly parallels early 70's feminists disassociating themselves from lesbians, male chauvinism in the Civil Rights Movement and anti-Vietnam movement, latent appeals to anti-immigrant and racist sentiment during the Women's Suffrage movement, sexism and racism (yes, racism) in the abolition of slavery movement... have I missed anything here?
So we have a consistent pattern of group A's movement being the Big Civil Rights Movement. In group A, there exists subgroup B which is marginalized in the movement. After group A wins major victories, subgroup B splinters off, attracts new members, becomes group B and the Big Civil Rights Movement... lather, rinse, repeat.

So--to sum up--based upon my great command of history, my strangely intuitive knowledge of America's subconscious, the University of Chicago gender-neutral bathroom debate, and the fact that I just read Middlesex, I predict non-traditional gender will become the next Big Civil Rights Issue (at least on the Left).

At least, that's the thing I see next on the horizon. I could be wrong.

*I also recommend the article on "Smallville" and nineteenth-century Midwestern Christian communalism, the Tina Fey interview, and... I need to finish the magazine (80 pages of prose with a few drawings and no ads, and it's finals week. I'm still embarrassed.)
**Dave Eggers reference: In the front of A.H.W.O.S.G. he gives a nice little line graph that shows him as mostly, but not absolutely, straight.

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