The Transgender Category in the Gender Binary

The previous post entitled: “Is Feminism Excluded For Biological Women” provides a considerable discussion on whether transgenders could be legitimate personalities of feminist movements. Answering the question is not an easy task, because there are different kinds of feminisms that are aligned into different feminist school of thought. The feminisms of equality see the gender binary as a dichotomy between male and female, while the feminisms of difference interpret the gender power hierarchy is not shared between two sexes, but assumed by masculine standards. For the adherents of the school of feminisms of difference the dichotomy is not necessarily between the males and the females, but between the masculine and the rest. The rest in this case is considered to be a symbolical woman and not the biological. A symbolic woman implies that the category is a political position of the “rest” or the “other”. The “other” sex, which is not masculine is therefore not just one sex, but many different sex/gender. At least, that is how I interpret Luce Irigaray’s work entitled: The Sex Which is Not One. The other sex are those who are marginalized by the dominant masculine social order. It is a social and political position that are oppressed by the one gender which is the masculine gender.

Luce Irigaray’s view on the language of gender domination in our society is not characterized by what we have, but it was mainly with what we do. Therefore, it is suffice to say, that for Irigaray, the very gender distinction of our society is not primarily based on the biological sense of maleness and femaleness. It moves beyond the biological determinism. She sees masculinity as a symbolic order. We live in a masculine world. This masculine world speaks the language of masculinity. It is a masculine game where the rules of the game is based on masculinity. The masculine dictate what the rule of the games and how the game should be played. It is therefore a monopoly of masculine power. The masculinity in this case means male, middle-class and white and not the male, poor and coloured. The male, poor and coloured are also in the category of the other sex being oppressed by that one dominant masculine normativity. It is not only women are being oppressed in our gender hierarchy, but also male of colours, male imigrants, women of colour and other gender variant groups who express their genders in fundamentally different ways such us transgenders and transsexuals.

To simply aligned the M to F transgenders to the male category of gender binary can be problematic, because that would automatically imply that transgenders are males who are privileged and who are also oppressing women. Like women, transgenders are also oppressed by the masculine normativity that requires heteronormativity. It can also be problematic to quickly aligned the F to M transgender to the biological category of women, because transgenders and transsexuals experience a different kind of oppression like the heterosexual women do. At least the heterosexual women (mostly white and middle-class) enjoy some privilege of adequate representation. Aligning M to F and F to M transgenders to their respective biological sex can erase their existence and representation in the society. Visibility is a prerequisite for representation and representation is essential in order to address and resist oppression. The concept of “sexual difference” of Irigaray then gives a possibility and opportunity to transgenders become visible not as men and women, but as their own: transgenders.

Is Feminism Exclusive For Biological Women?

We were presenting our abstract for our research paper in small group in class. My topic was about how the regulation of transgender can advance emancipation of this particular gender minority group and yet unable to improve acceptance amongst the member of the society. This topic was inspired by Judith Butler’s text entitled: Regulation in Critical Terms For The Study of Gender. (edited by Catherine R. Stimpson and Gilbert Herdt).

One of the members of the panel group said that my research proposal is a bit problematic, because it is difficult to position my topic to feminist debates, because feminism is literally about, for, and by women in a biological sense. Transgenders, even though they sought recognition of the social category women are not women in the strictly biological sense.

I felt offended with that remark. Of course, it was her opinion and she is entitled for her opinion specially in class. I cannot blame her. I do not want to. I said: “Like most women, transgenders, both males to female and female to male, are also oppressed by the phallogocentric society where masculine heteronormativity is considered the only standard.

We are too quick to equate feminism with women alone. It is of course very understandable that when we hear feminism the first image that come accross our mind is women’s liberation movement. And when we say women, we meant those who are women in biological, natrual, and literal sense. However, feminism is not single and universal. There are different kinds of feminisms as much as there are different school of thoughts within feminism. These two prominent feminist school of thoughts are the feminisms of equality and the feminisms of difference. 

The feminisms of equality argues that women should be equal to men in a sense that women must be similar with men. Women should not be second to men, because women are as much as capable of men. This implies that women must also have equal share on the public domein. From this ideological framwork, gender binary is composed of the male axis on one side and the female axis on the other. The equation would be: gender binary = male/female. One of the main characteristics of this gender binary structure is that it only represents two sexes namely the male and the female. It does not represent other matrixes of other categories where asymmetric power distribution is channeled namely, suxuality (male and female homosexuals), this representation is mainly Eurocentric and fails to adequately represent the coloured males and females, intersexed persons, and those who perform their genders in fundamentally different ways (transgender and transsexual men and women). The main figure of this school of thought is Simone de Beauvoir.

Another school of thought is the feminisms of difference. The gender binary from this school of thought is not strictly understood based on the male and female dichotomy, but the symbolic masculine order and the rest. The canon of our society is based on masculine standard. Science, hisotry and philosophy are all written based on masculine perspective. The paramiters of normativity in our society have been only based on the standards of masculinity. The others do not enjoy their own language of representation. In this framework, the term women becomes more than biological representation but also symbolic. Women is an emblem of strength and political strugle opposing and challenging the standard of masculinity. Women then is a collective identities of those who do not have proper representation in the phallogocentric society. It is so happen, that transgenders are also gender minority group who are oppressed by the regime of gender binary. Feminisms of difference do not only advocate that women become similar to men. It celebrates that there are a lot of gender variations aside from men and women and that every variant must have their own standards, language and representation.

Based on feminisms of equality, transgenders are just men. Being men, transgenders are also oppressors of women. That would be misleading, because transgenders are also marginalised group in our masculine society. However, following the school of thought of difference, transgenders – even though they are not biological women – allows them to become legitimate personalities of feminism.