PODCAST: Miranda Yardley on being a gender critical transwoman

The debate around transgenderism and feminism feels as though it’s getting ever-more heated. Journalist, Michelle Goldberg, wrote about the rift recently for The New Yorker, explaining the crux of the argument as such:

Trans women say that they are women because they feel female—that, as some put it, they have women’s brains in men’s bodies. Radical feminists reject the notion of a “female brain.” They believe that if women think and act differently from men it’s because society forces them to, requiring them to be sexually attractive, nurturing, and deferential.

On August 11th BBC’s Newsnight had planned a discussion on retired boxing promoter Frank Maloney’s announcement that she is in the process of transitioning and is now known as Kellie Maloney, and more generally, what it means to “identify as a woman.” A number of gender critical feminists had declined the invitation to join the discussion out of fear that the response to their arguments and views would be extremely hostile.

Miranda Yardley, a transwoman who takes a gender critical approach to transgenderism and feminism, made herself available to participate in the conversation with two journalists: Paris Lees, a transwoman and Fred McConnell, a transman. At the last minute, both Lees and McConnell pulled out of the debate and the show was cancelled.

I spoke with Miranda about what happened, as well as, more broadly, her experiences as a transwoman, what it means to be a gender critical transwoman, and her perspective on trans activism today.

Miranda is the publisher of extreme music magazine Terrorizer. She blogs about personal fitness, music and transgender politics. You can find her on twitter @TerrorizerMir and on tumblr.

Miranda published some notes about our conversation, which you can read on her tumblr page.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • man

    Judith Lorber’s essay “Imagining a World without Gender” from “Breaking the Bowls”: http://paste.pound-python.org/show/QGJwDfVVulEjLTdEmdmU/

  • Wonderful!

  • huha

    Miranda is such an intelligent person. Thank you, Meghan, for the interview. Thank you, Miranda, for speaking up about this issue.

  • Maggie Q

    I’ve never heard of Miranda until the BBC controversy, but I feel deeply fortunate to hear her speak on this. She’s handle this with such grace and intelligence that it gives me hope that there will be more mature, civilized dialog with this problem. I look forward to hearing more from her. Thanks for this interview.

  • CD

    Haven’t had time to listen to the podcast yet, but for anyone interested, here is another article from Yardley (for the New Statesman):

    http://goo.gl/ReaYgV

    Looking forward to listening to the podcast later! I have to admit, though, that I’m confused as to how someone reconciles their own transition with an acknowledgment that claims about “brain sex” are unsubstantiated, and that male privilege and experiences are not erased by transitioning. I’m sure it’s a painful position to be in, though, and I was particularly impressed by the neutrality of this article and the one in The New Yorker.

    • Meghan Murphy

      This article is what, in part, this interview is based on and is linked to in the show notes.

      • CD

        Oops, sorry! I thought that was a separate BBC article 🙂

        • Meghan Murphy

          No worries!

  • A lot of trans women (especially on tumblr) remind me of myself. Right when I hit puberty I had this strange wish to “be a woman”. A few years later I started to think that “I was a woman in a man’s body”. I even considered transitioning. But when I started to read radical feminism I thought to myself “What am I doing? Is this what women are supposed to be? I am a parody.” And I really was. The New Yorker could have had me as a cartoon. I literally have radical feminists (the “””TERFs”””) to thank for a large part of my life (“for showing me the light”).

    Trans (j-)activism is totally getting out of hand. It’s completely deplorable how radical feminists (“””TERFs”””) and lesbians are villified and demonised by men… oh I meant trans women.

    • man

      I’m male and used to call myself “agender” and considered getting people to use gender-neutral pronouns. This lasted a few months, until I actually took the time to read radical feminist writing and learn that these kind of individualized practices don’t change anything about reality.

    • Thomas, you might be interested in Plastic Girl’s review of Gender Hurts by Sheila Jeffreys. She is a trans woman who calls Gender Hurts “a five-star book” and a “must-read for anyone considering transitioning.”

    • I agree that it is getting out of hand. The way I see it, it’s because the Internet, Tumblr in particular, is the great amplifier. Unfortunately, what it chooses to amplify are the minority of lunatics in any movement, generally because they shout louder. I certainly think that trans* rights are an important thing, and one that should be fought for. But we need to separate the Betty Friedans from the Valerie Solanases in doing so.

      As for why I chose to make this comment a reply… I have no wish to police your gender identity. But why should transitioning involve “becoming a cartoon”? Did you feel that you had to fit a stereotypical gender role in becoming a woman? Because I don’t think that’s true, and most trans* people that I know don’t.

      • huha

        Woman = adult human female.
        Men can never “become” women. They are male. Forever. It’s biological reality.

      • @kingdomevil,
        thank you for the reply.

        I said “becoming a cartoon” because that is just how I felt at the time. Everything I had internalised on “being a woman” was nothing more than stereotypes and just plain old misogyny. So I honestly believe that transitioning does not change the person’s biological sex.

        I just want to say that I have absolutely no problems with someone (let’s say a male) acting and dressing in a “feminine” way. It’s ultimately their decision and I’m not going to be the one that stopps them. However, I have a problem with them insisting they’re “actual women ™”. Radical feminists have already written about such cases god knows how many times.

        P.S. What’s wrong with Valerie Solanas? Yeah, she shot at some dudes but she was quite desperate (especially because of Warhol). And her manifesto was a most interesting read.

        • “Everything I had internalised on “being a woman” was nothing more than stereotypes and just plain old misogyny.”

          That’s quite unfortunate, and it is clear that you have moved on from that – always good to see. (I myself have internalized many stereotypical and misogynistic views, which I would hope I have moved on from.) But who is to say that every man who internalizes something about being a woman will internalize those same things? I honestly doubt you could find two people, male or female, with exactly the same conception of what a woman is.

          Also, transitioning DOES change your biological sex – by my understanding, that is the physical parts. I think perhaps what you meant to say is that you believe it doesn’t change your gender, what you feel you are. To be honest with you, I’m not really educated enough on this topic. All I will say is that someone’s identity is their choice, and someone else can’t choose what you are – only you can decide that. Live and let live and all that.

          P.S. I dislike Valerie Solanas because she represents exactly what the MRA movement would like to create as a straw feminist. That said, there are far worse out there – Cathy Brennan, say. I choose her by analogy merely to say that we should separate those who are true leaders and a force for positive change from the (often unreasonable) radicals on the fringe.

          • Meghan Murphy

            No, transitioning doesn’t change biological sex…

          • I may have misunderstood something here, but if it does not change biological sex then what does it change?

          • Mar Iguana

            “…then what does it change?”

            Not much actually. It’s just the latest incarnation of misogyny men have come up with to obliterate everything about women except what is useful to them, to make sure there is nothing and nowhere that can be designated as “woman only space,” to show they are superior in every way, including “being” female.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Pronouns? Some body parts? Not chromosomes, though…

          • gxm17

            It’s body modification. No different than piercings, or tattoos, or breast implants. Do breast implants make a born woman more of a woman? Of course not.

            Sex is biological. Gender is not. A biological male has organs to produce spermatozoa for fertilizing ova. A biological female produces ova or bears young. This is the biological reality. At this point, medical technology is not advanced enough to produce a true sex change. Perhaps at some point in the future but, right now, “sex change” operations are merely cosmetic surgery to give one the appearance of the sex they weren’t born with.

            Gender is a cultural, often oppressive, stereotype that children are raised to adopt based on their biological sex.

          • Henke

            The appearance.

          • Diana

            I heard there was a case when a biological woman, who lived as a normal woman, had the Y chromosome. Even chromosomes do not fully define sex.

            While I absolutely think that male or female brain doesn’t exist (in terms of cognition, emotion, logic…), I think there is something that gives us a physical sense of what gender we are that it is not cultural.

            I believe that gender dysphoria is real and that it is caused by a physical discord between someone’s body and their sense of gender. But I think there are also some people that transition because of fetishes and fantasies of being a woman, which is a completely different thing. A person shouold be thorougly examined before transitioning to determine that their gender dysphoria doesn’t have psychological causes. A tragic example was belgian trans man that was consequently euthanized after being misdiagnosed as transgender, but was actually just in psychological trouble.

            When I see photos of some people before transitioning, I can see their sense of being caged in a wrong body, they just seem “wrong”, their suffering is very obvious. After transition they seem completely changed, happy and in feeling good in their body, because they finally accept it as theirs. That’s why I believe these people, but such decisions (especially lower surgery) should not be taken lightly.

          • Mar Iguana

            Bullshit.

          • Diana
          • gera

            you are on the wrong website if you think Friedan is the shining star of feminism and Solanas should be ignored / relegatedto the dustbin of history.

            Identity is not a person’s individual choice, it is the complex interrelation of the pre-existing culture they were born into, social relations and social interactions that person is involved in, and identity is ultimately conferred socially, not individualistically. Sorry. No one can “choose” with absolutely no limits “what they are.” I can’t choose to be a dolphin just because I feel a deep kinship and love for them, and would prefer to be one than a human. I am a human and I must accept that.

            Transitioning does not change your biological sex. Neither would having a fin made of muscle and skin grafted to my back make me a dolphin. Neither would having a lump of hamburger put into my chest make that lump of hamburger a heart.

            You dislike Solanas because MRAs think such-and-such of her? What about her actual thought, which exists independently of MRAs using and abusing it?

          • ‘Identity is not a person’s individual choice, it is the complex interrelation of the pre-existing culture they were born into, social relations and social interactions that person is involved in, and identity is ultimately conferred socially, not individualistically. Sorry. No one can “choose” with absolutely no limits “what they are.”’

            I apologize here – I used the wrong word when I said “choose”. (I seriously need to proofread my posts…) What I meant to say was this. Gender identity isn’t a choice, just like sexual orientation or racial identity (to name a few) isn’t a choice. But that identity must ultimately be one accepted by you, and one should not, and cannot, accept an identity that is forced on you. And that is what LGBT rights, and indeed all social justice, is in my eyes – to ensure that the identity that they identify with is the one conferred on them socially, rather than another one that is oppressive and that they should not accept.

            Solanas’ thought doesn’t exist independently of it being abused. Thought cannot, and shouldn’t, exist in a vacuum. Yes, I know that the SCUM Manifesto was intended to be satirical. But here’s the thing – people didn’t take it as such. They took it as a genuine attack on the male sex, and that is how it is largely seen these days. And I believe that how a text is interpreted overrides what the author’s intent might have been (Death of the Author and all that). Her thought shouldn’t be cast into the dustbin – it can’t be, in any case. But the straw Solanas and the real Solanas are two very different things, and in a way, the first is the one that exists in people’s minds today. (Perhaps choosing her was a bad example in the first place. I was casting about for an example of the extreme fringe of feminism, to show how we shouldn’t nutpick trans* rights activists.)

          • Mar Iguana

            “…nutpick…” Haaaaaa. Perfect.

          • gxm17

            Gender identity doesn’t exist, it is a pretense, how can it be a choice? Gender is an unnatural, man-made construct that we indoctrinate children with. Do you not see that when you embrace “gender identity” as a “choice,” you sacrifice children to carry the weight of this *invisible* oppression. Are all the children, born girls, really so meaningless and inconsequential to you that you would put the male child who likes dresses and dolls before them? Is the born male really so much more valuable to you? If so, then it’s time you started reflecting on why.

          • Sass

            I don’t think it’s doing boys who like dresses and dolls any favors at all to tell them that’s ok but only if they and everyone else pretend they really are girls. I think it’s mind-bendingly cruel to tell a kid “oh, you’re born in the wrong body.” It breaks my heart, for a boy or a girl to hear such things, from people who are supposed to love them, no less.

          • Visitress

            Really? I think Cathy Brennan has been a feminist leader and has shown great courage in standing up to the massive smear campaigns and hate directed at her. What has she said, except that women are men, and lesbians and radical feminists have some legitimate critiques to make regarding the trans craze?

          • Henke

            I agree regarding Cathy Brennan. She is amazing in standing up for homosexual rights–in particular lesbian women–who is under attack from the trans juggernaut to the left and right.

            The transgender movement is the most anti-homosexual movement I’ve seen to date.
            It’s run by mostly white heterosexual males and under their wings comes a flood of people (most males but also some females) who are either bisexual or heterosexuals that demands access to homosexual spaces, that demands homosexuals to throw biology out the window. Who wants homosexuals to view a penis as female ans vaginas as male.
            Anything to convey the picture of this deluded worldview these pornsick white heterosexual males have.

          • “The transgender movement is the most anti-homosexual movement I’ve seen to date.”

            This is not literally true, but if it is meant as an exaggerated expression of the fact that the transgender movement is anti-gay, then I totally agree. I see the movement as an existential threat to gay people. Honestly, at this point for a lesbian to survive into adulthood is a feat.

  • gera

    in my opinion, even though it is fine that gender critical MtT (male to trans) people exist, the people whose voices feminists really need to amplify in this whole trans debate are those of the women who are affected most directly: those of FtT people and lesbians. And then after that all women. Not these men. They are gender critical and that is fine, but the voices of women still need to matter more and be given more support by feminists.

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  • Buster Brown

    The reason Transwomen react to to the critique of Radical Feminist with such hostilities (which includes misogyny) is they are men. They were reared as such. Their stalking, berating and harassing is indicative of what men do… when women dare to think outside of the patriarchal box. I am absolutely shocked by what is occurring here. Women who give childbirth, bleed every month, suffer all types of diseases and conditions of their reproduction system, unequal pay, unequal representation, high rates of poverty, objectified and minimized, are being told they have an advantage over Transwomen. What? Cisgender they call it. This is utter nonsense. It is simply another group of males who are doing what men have always done…which is to occupy women’s spaces and prevent woman from defining themselves.

  • Pingback: ‘Miranda Yardley on Being a Gender Critical Transwoman’ | Gender Abolitionism()