Germain Greer: Transphobia is all in your mind

Issue 
Germaine Greer glitterbombed by the Queer Avengers activist group in 2012.

Dunking her biscuit into the cup now covered in a suitable amount of filth, she thinks about the time she went driving up a mountain range in Cape York. “What a beautiful area — shame about the people.”

Fully aware she’s been accused of intellectual snobbery on more than one occasion, she lulled herself into a meditative state, knowing she would have to turn on the charm once more. “I say vagina and cunt twenty times a day and they still accuse me of it,” she said out loud this time.

“They’re ready for you,” someone blurts hurriedly out of the side door. She gets ready to fill another quaintly English room with her personality, when out of nowhere comes a parade of glitter. “Oh fucking hell. Not a-fucking-gain.”

In case, you missed it. Germaine Greer was glitter bombed by a feminist activist group in London two years ago over comments on transgender people in her books. More recently she claimed that transphobia didn’t exist and that transgender women aren’t women “because they don’t know what it’s like to have a smelly vagina”.

Feminists are allowed to make mistakes, particularly when feminists in the public sphere, like Greer, are already under pressure to be the symbols of anything mildly socially progressive. (Lena Dunham is a great example of that.)

However, there are several issues with attacking trans people. Greer is not alone in this but, like a few other radical feminists, she is pretty much a career transphobe, so she will be the point of dissection for the time being.

Greer says, “Transphobia doesn't exist.”

Brisbane Reclaim the Night organiser and Resistance: Young Socialist Alliance member Sian Cumberland said: “I don't know how a person could think transphobia doesn’t exist when you look at the extremely high rates of suicide, unemployment and physical assault among trans people. It's obvious there’s systemic discrimination here.”

There aren’t many statistics on transphobia in Australia, but in the US transgender people accounts for 16% of all murders according to data collected by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. This is a significantly high number when you consider that only 5% of people in the US actually identify as transgender.

A report by Private Lives 2 at La Trobe University shows that 47% of trans identifying Australian people have committed or attempted suicide at some point in their life and they experience the worst levels of economic marginalisation in the country.

Yet Greer would have us believe that these stats exist in a vacuum?

Greer says, “Trans people don't know what its like to have vaginas.”

Yet obviously they do. Male-to-female transgender people, in some cases, know what it’s like to have a vagina, and female-to-male transgender people obviously know what it’s like to have a vagina.

However, what does having a vagina actually tell you about gender? Yeah, you guessed it — absolutely nothing. The harmful, biologically determinist attitude that women are defined by their vaginas or hormones (whether we find it in broader society or the feminist community) needs to be squashed once and for all.

After all, what self-identified woman wakes up in the morning and thinks: “You know what’s really defining my experience in this world as a woman? A part of my anatomy that no one sees and barely mentions.”

My vagina was the reason that man wolf whistled at me on the street and my vagina was the reason that I was discriminated against or sexually harassed at my job. Or was it simply the fact that people assumed I was a woman and discriminated against me accordingly?

If we stopped viewing the world in gender binaries what do we have left? We have feminism and misogyny — meaning that any gender can subscribe to either. What would that tell us? That men aren’t the issue: the system is the issue.

Men do horrible, callous and violent things but that’s because we have a system that is a perpetrator, a cruel master, a dictator and protector of misogyny.

Feminist activist and Socialist Alliance candidate in the New South Wales state election Mia Sanders said: “Perhaps the most concerning aspect of Greer’s politics is her active willingness to offend the trans community. Any political validity of her theories is cancelled out by her determined firebreathing hostility towards an oppressed minority. We all have so much more to gain by uniting to advance women’s, trans, gender diverse and gender non-conforming people’s rights, rather than fragmenting the movement towards our collective liberation”.

No one can deny that binaries are consistently reinforced throughout society, which is why when a trans person decides that they don’t fit with the gender role they’ve been forced into from birth, they may go through a period when they realise that the “man” or “woman” tag doesn’t quite fit. Who the hell is anyone to determine whether they pass some weird requirements to reject that tag?

If someone wants to identify as a woman, it is their right to have surgery to help them do so. To imply otherwise is inherently anti-feminist because it is part of the body policing attitudes that feminists have fought against for many years.

Even though at this point Greer might remind you of your embarrassing uncle saying something racist at the dinner table, we have to keep in mind that her determination to push people who identify as trans or anyone who wasn’t born with a “smelly vagina” out of the feminist movement is indicative of a broader, more insidious societal problem.

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