Over at The New Republic, writer Monica Potts argues that “Trans Activism is Threatening Women’s Colleges’ Mission.” This statement — bold, hyperbolic, and just generally ridiculous — heads an article that swings wildly back and forth between a seeming belief that it’s one’s gender identity that should determine enrollment eligibility or that it’s one’s gender birth assignment that should determine this. Though her argument is muddled, one thing remains clear: a belief that “transactivists” are participating in a particularly misogynistic activity — destroying the very concept of women’s colleges.
Potts asks a somewhat reasonable question: “What to do about transgendered (sic) students at women’s colleges?” Sadly, it’s here that she begins to demonstrate just how little she understands about trans students:
She talks of schools that have remained “strictly single-sex undergraduate institutions” as though allowing trans women to attend somehow changes this. Trans women, like cis women, are female. I don’t care what your genderbread illustration tells you. If you disagree with me on this, go tell someone else. As the awesome Samantha Allen once wrote, “sex is gender in doctor’s clothing; nothing more, nothing less.”
As to Potts’ point about trans men being allowed to attend women’s colleges, to be entirely honest, not only am I unsure how I feel about it as policy, but I can’t understand why a man (as, you know, trans men are) would want to attend a women’s college. Given that I’m not a trans man, though, I don’t really have much to add on that.
Oh man, here come trans women, trying to steal your art, and ban colleges, universities, community theater groups, and just regular ol’ people from licensing Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues! That’s outrageous!
Oh, wait, that’s not what’s happening? One college simply decided they didn’t want to perform a play that’s become increasingly dated as time goes on (as most artistic works set in the present do…), has been criticized for being reductionist, and has come under accusations of racism? I mean, couldn’t the college decide not to perform the piece based on, you know, any reason they wanted? “Let’s put on (any other play) instead! I think it’s time for a change,” is as good an excuse as any. No one needs to perform this work, and what Potts and TVM proponents have pushed as “freedom of speech” is actually the opposite: rather than allowing a school to pick and choose what plays to perform, trying to mandate that a school put on TVM is the forced speech, not free.
This also brings up another fairly solid question. Why? Why on earth does anyone get so fired up about whether or not someone performs Ensler’s play? How did this piece of “meh” writing end up becoming such an untouchably revered (bordering on religious fervor here) production? Just the other week, Rosie O’Donnell went into full meltdown mode after a woman of color asked if O’Donnell planned to ask Ensler a question critical of her and her advocacy organization. What followed was an epic spectacle, complete with O’Donnell posting pictures of her alongside black children (ah, the ol’ “but I have a black friend!” defense) and declarations that Ensler had done more to advance women’s rights than any other person, living or dead (bold). TVM worship is, well, just that: worship; and like most forms of worship, it makes little sense to outsiders.
One last thing I’d like to add about that passage. Despite Potts’ claim that “Dr. Jane Chi” (not her real name, but who has time for fact-checkers these days?) is a “transgendered (sic) activist,” as someone who knows her (she even once helped me assemble an Ikea bedframe!), I can attest that she is not transgender (or, “transgendered,” as Potts would write). For one to figure this out, they would have to… look at DJC’s Twitter profile…
One needs to be truly oblivious to how the world treats trans women (not “transwomen,” Monica) to act as though we’re somehow immune to sexism, the wage gap, difficulty obtaining positions of power in large companies, etc. Actually, fact is, things are just as bad (if not worse) for trans women in all these categories. So, yeah, I agree with this paragraph, but it has nothing to do with the general thesis.
Boom! And here we go. Potts declares that TVM is “one of the few plays so explicitly about women,” and that one needn’t “erase references to body parts” in order to criticize the play. So, to Potts, a play about vaginas is “explicitly about women.” I think there are some trans men who would beg to differ. I know there are some trans women who would beg to differ. If being about one’s genitals makes it “explicitly about” a gender, you’re saying that yes, you believe genitals = gender. You can dance around it all you want, but it’s become clear what you really think. Additionally, I find Potts’ accusation that trans women are attempting to “erase references to body parts” particularly amusing given the sub-head:
“Erasing references to women” = “erasing references to body parts?” Oh, is that so? So, in Potts’ mind, it would seem that to her, women are nothing more than walking, talking vaginas, and men are nothing more than a dick and some balls. That’s a feminist viewpoint… how, exactly? It’s not. It’s conservative, and it’s unbelievably reductionist.
And here’s the paragraph where Potts’ writing becomes completely and totally indistinguishable from that of a trans-exclusionary radical feminist. “There is still a need for their exclusionary existence,” she writes before going into talking of women who were “born women,” and how having a uterus is “an important part” of being a woman.
Sadly, I only saw 1 of the dozen or so mutual Twitter followers Potts and I share say anything about this piece. Others told me that they believe she’s a “good journalist” (she used fake words like “transwoman” and “transgendered;” misidentified someone as trans, used an alias, didn’t interview that person… yeah, great journalism here), or that they read it, but didn’t have any comment on it. I have a feeling that if someone would have written a piece arguing that admitting gay men to all-men’s colleges was destroying them, many of the same individuals who sat silently would have spoken up.
Unfortunately, that just doesn’t happen on trans issues, and as a result, trans people are left with few options. We could speak out on Twitter (but that gets us labeled as “outraged”), we can write blogs like this on personal sites (that a significantly smaller number of people will read in comparison to the original), or we can just deal with it. The whole thing just makes me sad. Not angry. Just sad.
I am a woman, and it has nothing to do with my genitals. I am a woman, and it’s not because I “identify as one.” I am a woman because I am a woman.
Featured image via Montgomery County Planning Commission