Kate Borstein drew this relation between these old feminist slogans and their application to the bodies of transgender, genderqueer and other gender non conforming persons in her book, Gender Outlaw. She spoke to her struggles as a transwoman seeking acceptance in the feminist community and the irony of the application of such feminist slogans to the transphobic oppression she was experiencing within the community itself.
Certain feminists claim that transgender people seek only to serve the patriarchy. For example, a transphobic feminist might view a transgender woman as a type of male spy, slumming it in the oppressed class. Or this feminist could view a transgender man as a pure appropriator of male privilege. An especially extreme version of such transphobia prevalent in America's feminist history is evident in this quote about transwomen from Janice G. Raymond's 1979 book The Transexual Empire.
All transexual's rape women's bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves. However, the transexually constructed lesbian-feminist violates women's sexuality and spirit, as well.
Like Borstein, who heavily criticized Raymond and other transphobic feminists in Gender Outlaw, I find arguments that transgender people inherently serve the perpetuation of misogyny to be thick with lense of cisgender privilege and coming from a place of deep rooted cultural essentialism. Cisgender is a gender identity for a person who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth or its subsequent gender roles. Some people also prefer the identity term "non-trans." A common frustration with this label however, is that it creates identity in terms of the other, even if it attempts to make transgender people the normative label.
The lense of cisgender privilege, like all other intersections of privilege, heavily colors the assumptions that cisgender persons make about the live's of transgender people. The Cisgender Privilege Checklist can help break down what this privilege looks like from the view of those of us who do not experience these powers. If Raymond had examined her own cisgendered privilege, she may have been able to see her views for the transphobic oppression that they were.
The lives and legal regalities of transgender, genderqueer and gender non conformists are beginning to garner more and more attention nationally and internationally. As this happens, I think its pertinent for the mostly cisgendered legal community educate themselves on how their gender privilege affects their interest in trans legal justice and their attitudes towards trans people.
In the legal world where everything gray is attempted to be made black or white, transgender bodies get socially and legally and medically policed in way that often negates their identity soley to "surgical status." Surgical status meaning whether and what surgical modifications have been done to a person's genitals. Raymond did this when she negated transwomen to being "artificial" women. This reduces a person's identity to genitals and a transgender identity to being a medically based one. One good step towards addressing cisgender privilege in the feminist legal community is to encourage scholars and lawyers to move beyond seeing transgender people as defined only by their bodies.
Borstein wrote Gender Outlaw in 1994. In sixteen years has feminism in the US opened its mind and addressed its transphobia? Some age old struggles, like the transphobic policies at womyn's only music events, remain but many feminists have become fierce cisgendered allies to transpeople. The Gender Across Borders Blog has great resources for how to empower transgender children, for example. I think this speaks to the the main feminist populace as being more open minded and anti-essentialist as it may have been twenty or thirty ago when transgender feminists were still seen as tools of the patriarchy.
My hope is that one day most feminists will grow to the understanding that I think many people who live without cisgender privilege have come to themselves; that often the first step to dismantling the patriarchy is to dismantle your own gender and put it back together again as your own design. Like Borstein argues in Outlaw,
Well, its a patriarchal culture, and gender seems to be basic to the patriarchy. After all, men coudn't have male privilege if there were no males...Doing away with gender is key to the doing away with the patriarchy, as well as ending the many injustices perpetrated in the name of gender inequity.