A Review of Transmisogyny Embodied: Cathy Brennan

Trigger Warning: Trans*phobia, transmisogyny, cissexism, rape, assault, violence, harassment

On Sunday, October 27th, Cathy Brennan was a guest star on Roseanne Barr and Kathleen Wells’ talk show. This was of course in regards to Brennan’s stance on trans* rights, especially trans women. I decided to take a listen and see what this show was going to be all about, a “know thy enemy” type of deal. I do want to mention that this is my own personal review, feelings, and analysis of the show. I will try to go in chronological order of events as they happen in the show, with commentary woven throughout. I will mention some things out of order as they may tie into the current discussion. This is because Brennan’s thinking is very circular and repetitive due to her simplistic understanding of gender and trans* people.

The show is opened with Barr saying she was away for a meeting with a friend. This meeting was for a conspiracy theory involving the US government using mind control on its citizens as well as enslaving people as spies. Good way to open a show with a guest star who is obsessed with the conspiracy that trans women are forcing lesbians to have sex with them, among other ridiculous claims, but more on that later. I’ll be honest, I did not pay attention much to this section as it was of no interest to the reason I was listening to the show.

After they introduce Brennan, they talk about her history involving her activism with LGBT rights. She includes trans* people in this because at the time the “trans* community was very small” (this was early 2000s) and they were not pushing much for rights. She goes on about how she was active in even passing legislation for trans* non-discrimination policies. This was because she believes that gender and gender stereotypes are damaging and inherently oppressive. Brennan wants for the abolition of gender in its entirety since it is a system of oppression, specifically aimed at women (mainly cis women). Brennan mentions how damaging stereotypes are, yet is a person who holds trans women to gender and sexual stereotypes. Brennan believes that trans women uphold gender stereotypes by simply existing since according to her, all trans women embody female stereotypes and are hyper feminine beings.

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Cathy Brennan & TERFs Hate Women

Trigger Warning: Trans*phobia, transmisogyny, cissexism, rape, assault, violence, harassment

“I make it very clear that if people treat me with respect, I will treat them with respect,” Brennan said on an article, recently published on Bustle. Let me give some back story on who Brennan is. Cathy Brennan, also known as Bug Brennan, is a lawyer, and also a radical feminist of the TERF (Trans* Exclusionary Radical Feminist) variety. Brennan does not believe trans* people exist. In fact, she believes that the very existence of trans* people, specifically trans* women, rapes cis women. Yes, that is correct. Brennan believes that the existence of trans women is raping cis women and cis women’s bodies.

Source: TransAdvocate
Source: TransAdvocate

Brennan is also a biological essentialist. She believes that biology trumps everything, despite also saying that biology does not define women. Cis women are only the ones free from being defined by biology. Anyone else is defined by their genitals, especially if they have a penis. According to Brennan, those with penises are programmed to rape those with vaginas. Also, those with vaginas cannot rape people. According to Brennan, woman on woman rape does not happen (unless they are trans women).

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Where Academia Fails: Trans Inclusion/Education

“Transgender people are usually men.” This is how my Crisis Intervention text book started it’s only paragraph on trans* people. Despite the constant use of LGBT or just gay as a general term, they denote one definition and one paragraph to trans* people and perpetuate constant myths and stereotypes. In reality, the number of binary trans* people (thus, the stereotypical MtF and FtM) are equal.  Non-binary trans* people are almost never mentioned and are often referred to as pre-op transgender (or transsexual) people because many texts uphold the idea that all trans* people medically transition.

The paragraph continues to go on referring to trans women with male pronouns and even has scare quotes. “He may then choose to identify himself as a ‘she’ in society and even on legal documents”, is a prime example of this. This plays into the idea that trans* people and their identities are fake, constructed, and for the purpose of deceiving others. The scare quotes denote the fact that this is the incorrect gender of this person. The tone of the sentence is also problematic as it holds an air of holding trans* people as freaks, mentally ill, and so on. Did I mention that this was the textbook for my crisis intervention class?

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No Obligation in Education

There seems to be a trend among those who are interested or uneducated in feminism and other social justice movements. This need almost always comes from those who are from the majority (thus, generally white, straight, cis men) who feel that they can demand education from those who are knowledgeable in the subject. They get angry or upset when someone refuses to educate them or does not want to answer their many questions.

Often, the questions that are asked are easily answered via Google. There are many, many 101 courses that people have written to cover these questions. Many people have to answer the same questions, repeatedly, and it can get quite annoying. For example, I often get asked what the asterisk in trans* stands for or what does queer mean. These questions are easily entered into Google with hundreds of resources for people to look into.

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“Won’t Someone Think of the Children!?”

Warning: This post is dripping with sarcasm. Like, high levels that might be toxic.

“Defendant Toone denied Ms. Joganik’s request and stated that he did not want Ms. Joganik to wear female clothing in the park because ‘there are children around the pool’”. Children around the pool, won’t someone ever think of the children? When it comes to queer and trans* people, this is something that is played like a broken record as a reason we should never be visibly queer. What if some poor, hapless, innocent child sees these queer people? What will the kid think? How will it affect them?

The answer to this question is easy, it won’t. Most children that these parents are trying to protect are small infants or toddlers, many of whom won’t even remember the incident 10 minutes later. The worst the parent will get is “why is that ‘man’ wearing a dress?” or something of that nature. The simple answer is, “because they are a woman, not a man”. Most kids will take this and be done. If they are at that age where they play the why game for hours, it’s pretty simple to turn it around. Well, why are you a boy/girl/whatever?

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Where Do We Belong?: Gender and Privilege

Privilege is always a sticky discussion. It is something almost everyone experiences in varying degrees in some aspect of their lives whether it is gender, sexuality, race, social status, etc. Privilege and the lack of privilege is something that is extremely important in the discussions about intersectionality and oppression in feminism. However, as someone who presents and IDs as male, I’m left in a weird gray area.

As a trans man, where do I stand in feminism? I’ve experienced misogyny and sexism in the past, especially since I worked in a video game store for most of my working adult life. For 20 years of my life, I presented as female even if my gender identity did not match this, this is how I was perceived by the world. Working in a male dominated area, I experienced sexism and misogyny. I have a history with these things, a very personal history. Transitioning does not erase my history, as my history is part of me. I do not deny being trans* and fully embrace it as part of my identity. I should not be excluded from feminist spaces (not women’s spaces, as a man, I do not belong there). I also must sidestep and let women speak before me. I must acknowledge, accept, and understand how my new privileges affect me in my life. I am seen as a man (most of the time). However, this does not erase my history with sexism and misogyny.

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