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It might seem like we’re dwelling on Chimamanda’s ‘TERF-Gate’ (that’s what we’re choosing to call it here on the Sexuality Blog) but considering how far reaching the ripples of her one minute statement has proven, we’ve been shown yet again that even the countries we look to as our vanguards of feminism and inclusion are nowhere near the level of equity they think they’ve attained. It proved that we all have subconscious biases that we’ve coated in fancy rhetoric and buzz words we do not really understand, we have adopted the institutions we have sworn to fight without even realising it.
Over the weekend, we’ve seen transwomen who do not want to transition ‘come out’ about their complicated situations, seen transwomen fight cis women on trans-rights and in the same breath turn their noble fight into a complaint about who gets paid for ‘speeches/talks’ on feminism. We’ve seen everyone with a pulse and an unwillingness to roll over and accept that trans women’s unique identities doesn’t make them different from cis women labelled TERFs* and then shamed off the internet. And we’ve seen women, formerly victims of the patriarchy, become oppressors once the opportunity was offered. People have closed their social media due to backlash for their opinions, people have opened social media accounts for the express purpose of adding their opinions to the conversation. Peak internet, as always.
However, following the flood of think pieces, twitter threads and strongly worded Facebook press statements, one thing stayed the same; on every side of the fence, the battle has been waged against other people instead of the institutions that have made them that way. Transwomen and cis women are all focused on the wrong thing. They are focusing on being accepted by other people or rejecting other people based on personal assertions or bias or experience.
The fight for equality has always been a fighting to topple institutions that perpetuate inequality for political, economic and sociocultural reasons. Sure these institutions originally begin as the brainchild of a small group of people often seeking to capitalize on some kind of entitlement and advantage by creating a system that protects this advantage, but eventually institutions outgrow and outlive the people that created them and continue to extend and expand the advantage they offer to people of subsequent generations who fit closest to the parameters that the system was created with.
This is why organized religion continues to place its adherents as superior to adherents of other religions, because once equity in religion is achieved, many of the perceived benefits sticking to one religion (usually access to ‘God’ or an afterlife that non-adherents are denied) are lost. Fighting Christians or Muslims or Buddhists who adhere to these religions for exhibiting bigoted behaviour neglects the institutions that demand this kind of behaviour from them.
It is especially in discussions where gender and sexuality intersect with feminism, such as trans lives that we don’t forget that the real villain is the institution; in this case, Patriarchy. Patriarchy imposes unrealistic, rigid standards on both men, women, intersex and trans people, forcing them to perform specific roles to gain the benefits that patriarchy can offer and punishing people who can’t and won’t conform to those unrealistic standards. Patriarchy is the reason why trans people have to ‘pass’ as their chosen genders, even though the act of choosing another other than one assigned to you isn’t radical enough.
When a trans person ‘passes’ for the gender they truly are, they merely substitute one set of crushing expectations for another. When they don’t pass they are punished for not conforming to either. So a TERF (woman) so to speak is as much a product of the patriarchal system she supposedly rejects and is not the enemy. In the same way a trans person seeking acceptance into womanhood is a product of the overwhelming pressure to be part of a community, even when the community is one that we are discovering has been infiltrated by patriarchal values.
If gender acceptance, or the acceptance of sexual minorities or even feminism as we envision it is going to happen, we must always remember that our fight is never with the people around us, especially when they are lowest hanging fruit. Our fight is always with the oppressive institution that threatens our lives.