When Suffering Just Isn’t Enough (Part 2)

by Ciaran Hunter (he/him)

The link for Part 1 of this series can be found at the end of this post

The Trans person as an existential threat to this category

How Trans women threaten the Sacred Suffering

How Trans men threaten the Sacred Suffering

How NB people threaten the Sacred Suffering

The focus on suffering does not lend itself entirely toward a trans-exclusionary perspective with regard to gender identity and so-called biological sex. In fact, it should by all rights point towards quite the opposite. Surely, having experienced such almost insurmountable and near constant suffering, compassion and benevolence would be the watchwords of those who have understood this truth. The Divine Suffering of Woman should, and perhaps still could (keep your eyes peeled for the last instalment) lend a unique perspective through which one can identify the myriad of suffering that isn’t inevitable. It could then follow that the devotees of the Suffering Woman would be the fiercest and most tireless advocates for those who suffer the most. Those who, for example, are up to four times more likely to be the victim of violent crime or where at least 1 in 5 of a community has experienced homelessness where the larger population reaches 14%, or even where 1 in 5 have had medical professionals attempt to pressure them to access dangerous services aimed at making them “normal”.

However, as we have seen, instead of taking a stance of compassion and recognition of parallel suffering there is a denial. One such example (found here) reports that Trans people are being murdered at a rate of only 0.165% with the murder rate for women standing at 6 per million. In terms of raw percentage that turns out at a rate of 0.0006%. In fairness, saying that 1800 women were murdered in comparison to only 11 does fit a certain narrative much more neatly than including raw percentages. And it’s even neater to use the small percentages for trans victims next to the larger looking numbers for cis women victims. Neater, but not necessarily helpful or truthful. If the numbers of the dead are important then cis men outstrip all other groups by a factor of ~2.4% more. Proportionally that still only reaches 0.0014% (100% less than the figures provided in this example) but it certainly does not add to the argument that women are more ‘deserving’ of time and attention due to the rates of femicide. Increasingly the article continues to question not only the identities of the dead but whether their deaths qualify as tragic. The sex work of several victims is used as a way to invalidate their deaths, “it wasn’t really because they were trans, it was because they were prostitutes you see”. I see no benefit in arguing why the “justifications” for gender-based violence are less important than the gender-based nature of the violence itself.

If we were to pause for a moment and attempt to reframe our understanding of suffering in terms of my previous post in this series, things may become slightly more intelligible. Ordinary suffering is, indeed, a universal mark of existence. Innumerable religions, political movements, artistic modes, and works of extreme beauty and melancholy attest to this. We all suffer for being human, and through suffering, we sometimes identify brief moments in the warm sunlight that salve our emotional wounds. It is, however, an unequally distributed resource. The old joke that money doesn’t buy happiness but it’s nicer to cry on a yacht in the Med than on a bike in the scheme has more than a little truth in it. We need merely look to the situation in Ukraine, in Afghanistan, to the experiences of refugees drowning in the Channel to know that there’s always someone, somewhere, who suffers more than we do. And yet, this doesn’t make the sting of our own loss any easier to bear, and nor should it. Grief, loss, pain, and suffering might be universal but they are intensely individualistic too. No two people will ever respond to, and experience, the same traumatic event in the same way. We are, essentially, united in our emotional isolation whenever suffering makes itself known.

But, what if suffering could be measured in a way that made it intelligible? That made it worthwhile somehow, where one could rest assured that while they suffered, it was of a much higher calibre of suffering than others. If, for example, this suffering drew them closer to the Divine then it may become easier to bear, particularly when this suffering is itself in-built, so to speak. Well, perhaps then this identity, one grounded in such divine suffering, would need to be defended against all other pretenders who attempt to raise their own suffering to the attention of the world. Such a threat can be easily accommodated when such suffering is of a vastly different order. The suffering of the natural disaster, of the invasion, of the plague. These are contextual, they have a beginning and will have an end, they are not existential in nature; they do not define the survivors by dint of their survival. However, what happens when others claim your own suffering as their own? What if your own claim alternate suffering? On the one hand, you risk the dilution of your divinity, on the other its cohesion.

Not nearly enough time or attention is given to Trans men or AFAB Non-Binary people in these debates and discussions. They are almost always side-lined in every conversation, with Trans women and AMAB Non-Binary people placed directly in the spotlight. Partly I think this is simply an extension of the misogyny of our society and the resurrected misogyny of much of the TERF repertoire. AFAB people who do not still identify with their assigned gender are nevertheless still treated with the same usual misogynistic condescension that they do not truly know what is best for themselves. Rather, these misguided women need to be corrected and managed, their bodily autonomy curtailed and sexual identities externally controlled. Frustratingly enough the TERF maintains that a woman can become anything they like, except if that thing is not a woman. Whenever a woman decides that she is not actually a woman and that actually he is a man or they are neither, they cease to have autonomy. They become mere dupes of the patriarchy, poor souls to be re-educated, that really, they’re just butch lesbians and such silly talk comes from the strain of their enfeebled minds interacting with dangerous men. The poor dears.

Yet again the sexuality and bodily autonomy of women are curtailed and controlled in order to preserve an idealised purity, yet this time the biggest driving force for this control comes from powerful and vested interests in feminism itself. Trans men and AFAB Non-Binary people have control over their own identities removed, until and unless they desist from such deviant behaviour. In this, the TERFs perpetuate the sexist and misogynist myths of the hysterical and unbalanced woman. Albeit focused on a much smaller segment of society than before, it nevertheless perpetuates the constraints of femininity upon all women. Not simply a superficial femininity of appearance or profession, but a deeper femininity of identity. They may have buried it more deeply, but the chains of enforced femininity still linger around the TERFs and their Suffering Woman.

This is the true threat posed by Trans individuals, as much from Trans men and AFAB Non-Binary people as the more maligned Trans women; that they shake the foundations of the Suffering Woman Herself. Trans women by their claim to a share of Her suffering, trans men and AFAB-NB people by their rejection of Her as an ideal. They all open Her to the possibility that neither physicality nor society is an entirely reliable foundation upon which to build one’s sense of self. There are, as ever, many ways to respond to this kind of challenge. And, unfortunately, the response from Her most devoted of adherents is akin to the response of most religious authorities when confronted with something anachronous with their own perspectives. The gates were slammed shut, the faithful armed, and a bitter culture war was fought.

About the Author:

Ciaran is a graduate of religion (BA Hons) and Gender Studies (PGDip) with a particular interest in, and focus on, ideas of embodiment in queer theory, particularly how non-binary gender identities can illustrate our relationship to gender itself. He is also extremely interested in ‘Third’ Gender identities from majority world cultures, Queer themes in mythology and contemporary religions, and any opportunity to critique heterocisnormative assumptions. Forever striving in vain to find a book that collates Queer Myths into a single reference source.

Part 1 of this series can be found here: https://www.queerdisrupt.com/index.php/2022/07/14/thealogy-of-suffering/

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