Sunday, 3 January 2016

The Transsexual Empire, by Janice Raymond

Janice G. Raymond, The Transsexual Empire, 1979, Beacon Press, Boston

It does feel like the Radical Feminists are the only people to raise their voices against the narcissism of the Transgender movement. These brave women have paid the price. Germaine Greer and Julie Bindle have both been banned from speaking and Germaine Greer has been glitter-bombed for her objectionable views on the topic of transgender.

The main issue that Radical Feminists have to transgenderism is that they hold that gender is an ideology, a definition of female sex roles that have been created by patriarchy to control women. The Transgenderists, on the other hand, want to absolutize these sex roles and use them to define a person as essentially female. Thus, Transgenderism upholds the sexual stereotypes that feminists oppose and is therefore utterly destructive to their cause.

The Transsexual Empire, written in the late Seventies was the first full-length feminist critique of Transgenderism. When it was written, the word transgender had not yet been introduced and the word used was transsexual. The empire in the title refers to the industrial complex of doctors, surgeons and counsellors who control the project of sex changing and act as gatekeepers of the constructed female identity. Our author accuses this medical industry of usurping control over what it means to be female and reinforcing a stereotyped view of womanhood.

Raymond sees the transgenderism primarily as an attempt by men to steal women's creative energy for themselves. It is also an attempt by the male-dominated medical-industrial complex, the Transsexual Empire of the title, to become a kind of male motherhood without any need for female. Thus men are able give birth artificially to women without any need for a truly female mother. Male-to-female Transgenderism is also, in Raymond's view a kind of minstrel show, in which the oppressed group is mocked through imitation. Thus, the exaggerated feminine personas adopted by many transsexuals. Yet despite their femenine mannerisms, she points out that male-to-female transsexuals actually behave in a very masculine way in demanding attention and privileges. What of female-to-male transgender? Raymond points out that this is far less common than female-to-male, but she argues that female-male transsexualism is a kind of tokenism, whereby small numbers of an oppressed group are admitted to the dominant group as an illusion of equity.

This is an old book, but with the increased prominence of the Transgender movement and the complex issues it raises, it is an highly relevant one.

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