August 26, 2009
In response to the Caster Semenya gold medal crisis, Germaine Greer — professor, feminist, and author of The Female Eunuch and The Whole Woman — wrote in a Guardian piece entitled “Caster Semenya sex row: What makes a woman?”:
What makes a woman? Are women made? . . . Even though we know that a Y chromosome is only an X that has lost a leg, we still think in terms of male = perfect, female = imperfect. . . . Nowadays we are all likely to meet people who think they are women, have women’s names, and feminine clothes and lots of eyeshadow, who seem to us to be some kind of ghastly parody, though it isn’t polite to say so. . . Other delusions may be challenged, but not a man’s delusion that he is female.
In response to Germaine Greer’s Guardian piece, Kate Bornstein — playwright, gender outlaw, and author of Hello, Cruel World and the forthcoming Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger — writes in a blog post entitled “Has Germaine Greer Become A Ghastly Parody?”:
In this new piece, Ms. Greer refers to transwomen—me and my brave sisters and mothers and daughters—as “ghastly parodies” of women. . . . Yes, yes. Ouch. It hurts to be called a ghastly parody. And that kind of talk feeds transphobia across the world. So, shame on The Guardian for printing these hateful words. But who is Ms. Greer to be hurling these invectives, and why? Greer is no one to dismiss as an idiot or complete jerk. Through her relentless work, Ms. Greer has raised the volume of women’s voices in the world. She got people around the world to start taking women more seriously.
And here’s the problem: all the time she was doing that great social activism, Greer believes to the core of her being that woman is an essential identity. The gender battleground on which Germaine Greer fought and learned her political strategies was gender-as-man-and-woman-only. On that battlefield, it’s easy to attack transgender people as freaks.
The good news is that Germaine Greer’s transphobia is more the exception among todays scholars, artists and activists. They work as tirelessly as Greer herself on issues of gender rights, freedoms, parameters, and dignity. Postmodern gender theory has been taught in colleges and universities around the world for over fifteen years. . . . Germaine Greer’s tragedy is that she has not considered as even possible the theory of gender fluidity. For her kind of activism to work, MAN and WOMAN can and must be essential as well as easy to tell apart from each other. . . . Ms. Greer is claiming that biology is, in fact destiny.
The price of being a writer of vitriol is that it reveals your most private fears, which you’ve penned in the form of an attack on someone else. And sadly, that makes Ms. Greer a ghastly parody of herself. What she wrote was painful and destructive. But the loss of her fierce presence on the front lines of feminism is more to be mourned than scorned.
Thank you, Kate, for not letting these “ghastly parody” comments slide — even if you had to take on the author of The Female Eunuch and one of the most prominent figures in second-wave feminism to do it. More of what Kate is taking on lately — including working on her sure-to-be-fantastic memoir, Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger, coming in 2010-2011 from Seven Stories Press — can be found at her blog.