Once again, there is uproar in the blogosphere over Joss Whedon and his occasional word-blunders. What’s he done now? Well he answered someone’s tweet, asking him how to write strong women for a comic.
What did he do wrong this time? He defined women as “not hav[ing] peeny/balls”. He completely forgot that all the rules of gender as we’ve known them for millenia have changed over the past couple years, as “Trans” has become a gender of its own. Ann Mardoll, in “An Open Letter To Joss Whedon” writes: “Some women have a penis and testicles. Implying otherwise, even as a joke, is cissexism.”
Irea Nicole explains: “Whedon’s joke is cissexist in being based on the joke that ‘of course women have vaginas duh’ which is transmisogynistic since there are many women who do not. His ‘joke’ insults trans women and intentionally or not promotes misgendering us which leads to discrimination and high levels of violence.”
Pardon me for being ignorant, cissexist, and transmisogynistic myself here, but I am totally confused. What on earth is a woman, if not a grown person with female plumbing? That some men choose to live as women (and some women as men) does not change the fact that women have vaginas (unless they had them removed.) Men have penises, both big and small. How on earth else can we figure out if we’re male or female?
The roles carved out for men and women in our society do not fit a good many of us, and that is one reason why some people may choose to live as a different gender. I’m sure there are gobs of reasons for changing one’s gender. If I’d been offered the opportunity to change my own gender before I was, say, 20 years old, I would have jumped on it. But I didn’t necessarily feel like a man. (How would I know how that feels?) I only knew that women had a lowly place in society, and seemed weak to me, and I wanted none of it. I wished I was a man because men had all the power.
I surely didn’t want to be a woman as defined by society. But thankfully I went to college and took some Women’s Studies courses and learned that women weren’t quite the pathetic weaklings I’d been taught they were. I gradually grew more comfortable with my womanhood. And I am glad that I never had a choice in the matter, because it would have been incredibly hard to figure out what gender I wanted to be (Buffy would have helped, but it was a pre-Buffy era.)
But if I can’t define myself based on the fact that I have a(n awesome) vagina, then what? How do I know I’m a woman? Because I feel like one? What if I don’t? Does that make me a man all of a sudden? What does it feel like to be a woman anyway? I feel like I should ask a trans woman that question, because only she will have known it both ways and can tell me. They didn’t teach me these things in college, because I am old, and there were no Trans Studies departments when I was in school. I learned all I know about Trans people on the street, as it were (and some from working on the magazine, “Anything That Moves” which was a favorite project in my 20’s.)
A commenter on Irae Nicole’s blog says: ”Cis people can just have that sticking point where they can’t wrap their head around the fact that physical anatomy can have nothing to do with someone’s gender.” I feel like I’m being pointed at specifically. I feel attacked. I don’t like being called “cis”. It’s an insult and it’s meant that way. So please tell me: if physical anatomy can have nothing to do with someone’s gender, then what does? If you know the answer to this, please comment and educate me, because I want to know!
I think that all these labels do nothing so much as drive wedges between us all. People from oppressed groups use labels to insult others just as much as non-oppressed people. I think of the number of times I’ve insultingly been called “straight” by lesbians, and it really pisses me off. For one thing I’m not “straight” and for another, would it be so wrong if I were? The wrongness of being straight, or white, or cis, seems to come from the lack of oppression. But I feel oppressed by oppressed groups. I feel like they judge me as white, cis and straight when they don’t even know me.
As long as “cis” is used as an insult, to imply that someone is an oppressor, I don’t think that Joss should really have to go out of his way to please the Trans Blogger population. They’re judging him and jumping on anything he says, with disgust. Do we really want to live in a society where it’s not safe to even perform a word blunder, lest the PC police come and take us away to a re-education camp? I don’t. I say shit’s complicated for everyone; don’t have a cow.
The lesson here is obviously “Twitter sucks, don’t tweet.” and also “They’re coming for you, watch out.”