Editor’s note: This piece is a compilation of comments, rejoinders and resources composed in response to Chris Hedges’ July 3 column, “The Battle Over What It Means to Be Female.” Truthdig’s editorial team opened the floor for submissions following the publication of Hedges’ column. 

Being Human and the Immutable Nature of the Spirit

After reading Chris Hedges’ column tracking a so-called debate that once again constructs a transgender narrative at odds with radical feminism, I have put together a response based on research that should have figured into Hedges’ piece.

More important, though, my response is based on my experience as a transgender person and is offered as a corrective to the lack of research and, in my opinion, compassion that went into his piece.

I do not need academic or celebrity validation. Nor do I need to be criminalized and degraded by a self-described radical feminist movement that may have sold its voice to, as Mr. Hedges has pointed out in the past, “some of the most retrograde forces on the planet” for a few pieces of silver. We are a small but resilient thread woven through the fabric of humanity globally since the beginning of time; aunties, parents, warriors, teachers, healers … human. Allotted an equal portion of the planet through the lottery of birth.

It horrifies me, in what should be an age of reason, with so many longing for divine or alien intervention, they are willing to destroy what they have been unable to comprehend, or what does not fit into their narrow, patriarchal, Eurocentric view of the world, discounting the beauty, wonder and diversity of the human being and its spirit.

If we are unable to put aside our differences, come together and do what we can within our means, unable to sift through the lies, junk science and violence thrown at us by these highly organized dark forces, often delivered by well-scrubbed white faces, our children and grandchildren are lost. If we continue on the path of criminalizing and degrading those among us viewed as less than human and invalid, it’s over, and my heart breaks.

Now for some facts, starting with reports, listed below, that come from a global human rights/health perspective. These studies—(1), (2), (3), (4), (5)—on brain development are also examples of material that should have been included in Hedges’ piece.

Relying on fear mongering, his column points to a BBC report of an individual in prison and use of the word “rape” to criminalize and degrade an entire segment of humanity without a discussion of the horror facing trans individuals imprisoned globally, subject not only to personal violence, rape by inmates and guards, but to the violence of the system. There was also no concrete discussion of inequalities faced by the trans community. (See Injustice at Every Turn.)

Missing, as well, from the discussion was any mention of the Standards of Care.

Here are a few points and questions that must be considered in any discussion that purports to include a transgender narrative:

● What is the trans narrative? I’ve come across a fair amount of writing from the Christian right and this brand of so-called radical feminism. What I find conspicuously absent from this discussion are actual trans voices. A realistic narrative from someone who identifies as trans might include the need for access to basic human rights, employment, housing, health care, education … and to not be killed.

● Readers may not be aware how beneficial arguments like these–even those coming from individuals claiming a feminist perspective—have been to the religious right. It may have been helpful to point out these so-called bathroom/anti-trans bills mentioned in Hedges’ piece were/are the work the religious right; FRC, ADF, both listed as hate groups (2) by the Southern Poverty Law Center when it seemed clear they were losing the marriage-equality fight.

● With regard to the reinvigorated “bathroom-bill” issue, most of the work from trans leadership has been reactionary. In fact, in a discussion with an elder who mentioned being pushed out of the trans rights movement in the ’80s by the people with money, she advised never to get drawn into a bathroom discussion.  Look where we are now.

● How can this be a billion-dollar industry when most of us cannot afford even basic trans care?

● How is the medical establishment pushing this issue when from my own experience, most doctors, even the so-called LGBT affirming ones, won’t keep you in their office, and provide us with substandard drugs and care?

● Does radical feminism come to us from Michel Foucault and that Lacanian nonsense? As I mention in a comment posted under Hedges’ article, much more research is necessary for pieces like this: “Is there a hierarchy of oppression? Is the notion of gender really based on that postmodern deconstructionist crap? Is radical feminism defined by the white Eurocentric, binary, patriarchal prejudices of empire, or is radical feminism to be found in the global south and at the edges, people like Berta Caceres and her daughter. Where is the research in this piece that goes beyond the confines of Eurocentric, Christian thought?”

● Readers may also not be aware of the affiliations and background of those, such as Ms. Singleton, whom Hedges consulted in the piece. Ms. Singleton is a member of Hands Across the Aisle along with this panel at the Heritage Foundation offered by the Family Policy Alliance, described here by its president emeritus, Tom Minnery as having “an extraordinary legacy from Dr. James Dobson …” Ms. Singleton, a self-described radical feminist, is also a member of the Women’s Liberation Front, WoLF, which, in this letter to its members announced its partnership with the Family Policy Alliance. They are also reported to have received a $15,000 grant from ADF.

● This blog entry from AWID.org, an actual feminist collective, accurately points to how dangerous this brand of so-called radical feminism has become:

Particularly disquieting is the growing number of groups and institutions that claim to represent an alternate vision of women’s rights or feminism. In this line of arguing, women’s rights are not criticized qua women’s rights. Instead, conservative actors present feminist activists as self-interested advocates of a Western, sexualized radical ideology, and themselves as advocates for “real” women around the world, protecting their “dignity” and links to family and the home. This clever discursive device was first promulgated by the Holy See, and today employed by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) as well as many conservative Christian NGOs who also speak in this tenor. These tactics have also managed to gain legitimacy within human rights spaces, illustrated by, for example, UN bodies and actors referencing the OIC’s role in empowering women.

To think one of the most marginalized segments of society around the world is somehow a product of late capitalism and patriarchy designed to erase the female identity is beyond irresponsible—it is absurd and dangerous. Trans people are fetishized as sex objects globally, viewed as less than human and hunted for sport, as a YouTube video from New Orleans a short time ago demonstrated.

Can groups in concert with our fascist corporate elite, whose sole function appears to be the removal of protections, criminalization and degradation of transgender people really be classified as feminist?

I’m reminded of Magnus Hirschfeld and ask who were among the first the fascists came for toward the end of the Weimar period?

Here, at what could easily be the endgame for human development, with the stewardship of this planet and its resources left to our global elite who will squeeze every drop of profit from the fading promise left to our children and grandchildren, we must be diligent about allowing platforms to the voice of our enemy in an effort to divide us. More than five hundred years of patriarchy and empire have criminalized and butchered those of us who were unable or unwilling to be assimilated into the bipolar constructs of empire.

We are, all of us, made of the same stuff, beings who are human. Rather than characteristics of the body, we should perhaps speak to the immutable nature of the spirit. We bleed. We scar. We dream of a better world for ourselves and our children. Many long for opportunity, a chance to contribute to the improvement of all our relations. We seek shelter from harm, sanctuary from the increasing violence against all those at the edges, to be recognized as an equal part of the human experience—and to love, whether or not it is ever returned. Agape.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-5

*  *  *

In closing, here is a lineup of resources. I’ve had the opportunity to share the following list with a few agencies in the U.N. system as well as individuals and organization globally, most recently with the office of Rep. Joe Kennedy III to try to inform on trans issues from a global human rights perspective:

Human Rights and Gender Identity, Best Practice Catalogue

An Open Letter to the Void

A Broken Bargain for Transgender Workers

Lost in Transition

Transgender Health and Human Rights

Reducing Incarceration and Ending Abuse in Prison

From the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women

Recommendations to all States from the Special Rapporteur on Torture …

Discrimination and Violence Against Individuals Based on SOGI  

Protecting Persons with Diverse Sexual Orientation and Gender Identities

Immigration and Transgender People  

Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism

Human Rights and Gender Identity

Breaking Barriers: Improving Services for LGBTQ Human Trafficking Victims

Reclaiming and Redefining Rights

Report on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of Transgender Population of Latin America and the Caribean

I’m Scared to Be a Woman

Human Rights Violations of TransWomen in Costa Rica, etc,…

Report on Human Rights Situation of Afro-Brazilian Transwomen

Transgender Access to Sexual Health Services in South Africa

Transgender at Work; Livelihoods of Transgender People in Vietnam

For the Record; Documenting Violence Against Trans People

Policy Brief; Transgender People and HIV

The Night Is Another Country

The Transgender Question in India

From Blues to Rainbows

Improving the Lives of Transgender Older Adults

Australian Child Rights Progress Report

Realities of Violence Against Transwomen in South Africa

Hijras/Transgender Women in India

Government Response to the Women and Equalities Committee on Transgender Equality

UNHCR Leads in LGBTI Refugee, Asylum Seeker Protection  

Best Practices for Asking Questions to Identify Transgender and Other Gender Minority Respondents on Population-Based Surveys




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