Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Dear Kayla

I’m really happy to explain my views, because I believe we are standing at a crossroads, and our rank and file has not had the necessary self-education about the science involved in changing our bodies through drugs and surgery or broad-based political and philosophical discussion of the theoretical and practical implications of re-defining sex and gender.  (I am deeply concerned about transgender civil right; I think these studies and meetings/conferences/forums need to happen immediately.)

I’m also glad that both the Open Letter and the Response are carefully written and show great respect to those who disagree.  Unfortunately, up to now, careful thinking and respect has been in short supply in this debate.

I would like to continue talking about this with you and anyone else who would like to be involved.  I want to hear what you think, and I’m happy to explain why I think as I do.  If you’re interested, let me know. 

I found the Response very interesting and thought it brought out some valid points about the rights of transgender people, but it bothers me that the Response did not respond to the thrust of the Open Letter which had to do with the effects that the proposed changes in terminology would have on the practice of midwifery, on the health and well-being of birthing mothers and babies and their families, or what impact it would have on the political strength of the midwifery movement.  Instead, they changed the conversation to focus very narrowly on the justice or injustice that transgendered people suffer in our society and to suggest that the change of terminology would somehow be the first and most significant change that we have to make and that it would somehow end misogyny and social injustice.

One reason I know that most people, including medically-trained doctors, midwives, and other practitioners lack the necessary understanding of how our natural hormones work in the body and how the hormone-like drugs that are being used to prevent pregnancy and to bring about changes in people’s secondary sex characteristics is that over 30 years ago,  the Feminist Women’s Health Centers (FWHC) undertook to learn enough about hormones to enable us to write a chapter for our book, “Women’s Bodies in Women’s Hands.”  (That chapter was never published.  It was cut and the shortened version was published as “A New View of a Woman’s Body”.)

To remind you, the FWHC learned much about the healthy functioning of our female bodies through self-examination in groups.  But, to write this chapter, we did much, much more.

We formed a “hormone team”, which consisted of Lorraine Rothman, inventor of the Del’em, Kathy Hodge, Suzann Gage, illustrator of A New View and me.  We met all day, five days a week for months while the rest of our group kept the health center going.  We read scientific papers and journals.  Al Rothman, Lorraine’s husband, came up to L.A. from Orange County, at least one day a week to spend the day answering our many questions.  Al was a professor of Biology at University of California at Fullerton.  

We immediately learned that human beings, like all animals, aren’t cut out of a cookie cutter.  Of course, in self-help, we had seen that although we were all females, our bodies looked different, and we were all normal and healthy.  Our menstrual cycles weren’t all “28-day”.  Our genitals had a wide range of difference.  We realized that the concept of “male” and “female” was an oversimplification, albeit a very practical one.  We also realized, as feminists, that the Patriarchy exaggerates the differences between males and females, and that both males and females produce estrogen and testosterone.  Males and females are not “binary” (a mathematical term meaning that all units are either one thing or the other), however in the course of embryonic development, two normal curves develop.  How many people have ever taken a course in elementary statistics?)  Most people (about 60%) who present as males fall into the “normal-type curve”.   There is the same normal-type curve for females.  I don’t know if pre-historic societies created gender roles to fit in with their social and economic structure, but today’s world, gender roles definitely further patriarchal militarism, male dominance and female submission.  As a feminist, I challenge these restrictive roles, although I believe that as females gain more real power in the society, both individually and collectively, the oppressiveness will decrease and the content of these gender roles will change. 

I believe that white male supremacists are the most powerful force in the world, and they use their wealth and power to enforce these norms.  As a feminist, I battle against their ability to harness our reproductive capacity to further their nationalistic and imperialistic agendas.  Any discussion of sex and gender that doesn’t start off with this awareness just ends up defining the problem as social conditioning and the solution as changing public opinion.   

In our hormone study, we learned how little science really knows about how our body functions, and how the medical profession generally relies on their “detail salesmen” to tell them about drugs.  We found the average doctor knew less than we did—and that was frightening.  That was over 30 years ago, but our scientific understanding of hormones and the complexities of their relationship to our body’s functioning does not justify the reckless experimentation with hormone-like drugs to prevent pregnancy or to change our outward appearance.  Our present knowledge of GMO’s does not justify experimentation in changing the genetic structure of plants to make bigger profits.  We all know the capitalistic motivations of the scientists who promote GMO’s and other technological innovations like fracking, but most of us do not know the motivations of those who promote population control.

The books and blogs I’ve read on this issue gives the impression that the authors can explain these issues with the laywoman well enough to arm us with answers, not just questions.  I know how hard we worked, and I know how all the analogies that people use to explain these phenomena distort and mislead more than they enlighten.

I believe that the understanding of what is “sex” and “gender” is fundamental to having a sound theoretical base for our feminist struggle.  It is a spectacle of see us constructing manifestos out of the poorly understood and adequately researched “biological facts”, especially if it’s to push an agenda that doesn’t deal with the problem that all females (those identified as females in ultra sound in utero) are either being destroyed on the basis of their sex or raised to perpetuate their oppression.

Now, getting to the Open Letter and the some specifics of the response.  To me, the midwifery movement is much, much more than giving women “choices”.  To me, it’s restoring birth to its rightful place in human society.  The respondents mischaracterize the Open Letter’s exaltation of birth as a biological event, relegating it to “merely” being biological.  The biological reality of birth is the essential precondition of everything else.  It is awesome.  I’m concerned that de-emphasizing the fact that unless a human being is born with ovaries and a uterus, it cannot produce a new human being will weaken Midwifery’s powerful support of each woman’s right to birth without outside interference.  We females are the ones that the patriarchy is controlling; we are the ones that must work collectively to fight our struggle to regain control.   

I could say that this gender discussion is a side-show, and some people in power have been and no doubt will no doubt continue to use it for that.  But, actually, I think it’s very important.   

Right now, I can only hope we’re in an awkward phase and eventually we’ll be able to accommodate the needs of anyone, male, female or intersex, who wants to live in that way without undermining the gains of the feminist movement. 

Especially as it relates to the birth issues and the philosophy of midwifery, I think that, much as we respect the rights of mothers to drink and smoke and use drugs, we seek to keep environmental toxins and technology away from the birthing process.  This is a fundamental distinction between us and the male-dominated medical profession.  I believe that accepting the use of hormone-like drugs and surgery in our sexual and reproductive organs as being healthy will weaken our position as guardians of the birth process and clouds our thinking.

Please forgive my wordiness!  As Mark Twain said in a long letter, “I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.”

Warm regards,

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