Glosswitch: Anorexia, breast binding and the legitimisation of body hatred

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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15 Responses

  1. veronica d says:

    So Glosswitch is kinda-maybe trans. This explains a lot, actually, as she is rather famously transphobic.

    It’s not always unresolved self-hate that drives certain people to bigotry, but still, we see it so often. The pattern is repeated again and again. I’ve spoken here before about the “broken eggs” phenomenon, which is AMAB people who yearn for womanhood, but who decline transition, and who then become weirdly bitter against trans women. It’s like, the psychology is painfully obvious.

    Anyway, I support bodily autonomy, so I guess there really isn’t much to argue about.Report

    • Murali in reply to veronica d says:

      I thought transphobic feminism was a thing of the 90s.Report

      • veronica d in reply to Murali says:

        It’s certainly on the decline, as the more “out there” young feminists have embraced third-wave style thinking, and most “liberal feminists” (I’m speaking broadly) kinda don’t care about trans women either way, as long as we play nice and don’t speak too loudly or whatever. But all the same, if you’re a queer trans woman, and if you want to interact at all with the existing lesbian culture spaces, then you will encounter older, well respected “political” lesbians of the more TERFy strain.

        I got kinda run out of a local queer women’s writing circle here in Cambridge a couple years back, by a pair of old “gold star” types, assisted by a young fiery TERF. I wasn’t banned exactly, but they made it super uncomfortable for me, and I kinda needed a writing group to be a supportive environment, not a hostile one.

        The writing group had been founded by a lesbian-turned-trans-guy. It was at that point being run by an AFAB genderqueer person. It was officially “trans accepting,” but in practice that meant the trans masc bowtie set. The culture strains of transphobic feminism run deep.

        In any case, it’s complicated.Report

        • Murali in reply to veronica d says:

          Thanks. I had to look up TERF. Btw, how do you demarcate liberal feminists from radical feminists? I associate liberalism with the private-public distinction and neutrality business, but no feminist I know endorses either of these any more.Report

          • veronica d in reply to Murali says:

            “Radical feminism” is a very specific subset of the second wave:

            I’m using “liberal feminism” in a loose sense, as basically the feminism of Hillary Clinton and Anita Sarkeesian and that “Lean In” woman — basically contemporary feminism that appeals to mainstream, professional women, as opposed to “social justice feminism,” which is derives from 3rd-wave + black feminism (womanism) + trans feminist ideas.

            Note, I do not pretend to have a fully thought out typology of the various strains of feminism. I’m not the sort to “box” things that way. I like fuzzy boundaries.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Murali says:

        1970s I thought. The more radical part of the Feminist movement adopted an anti-trans belief system for a variety of reasons. Liberal feminists tended to be more accepting.Report

  2. I’ll defer to Veronica on how to interpret Glosswitch, whom I haven’t heard of before now. I just am not familiar with the debates within feminism about transgender identities and don’t know how Glosswitch fits in.

    I will say that I didn’t quite understand the point of this particular article by Glosswitch. Is she trying to say that body hatred is a good thing? that it’s something to be understood and acknowledged even if not good? Or maybe she wants to decouple the notions of “good,” “healthy,” and “deserving of understanding and accommodation”?

    On a somewhat unrelated–but not completely unrelated–note, I do wonder how much of what Glosswitch says (assuming I can understand what she’s saying) can be applied to self-injury behavior, like cutting but not only cutting. Some people equate some eating disorders with that type of self-injury. And some who write about or have engaged in it wish for something like understanding and accommodation and empathy of the sort that Glosswitch may be arguing for (again, assuming I understand her article).Report

    • Murali in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

      Glosswitch is saying that body hatred (by cis women) is a legitimate response to female oppression under the patriarchy. Surgical/medical interventions if solutions at all to body hatred, are deeply imperfect in virtue of a) not addressing the root cause of body hatred (patriarchy) and b) in fact re-inforcing the patriarchy by legitimising (in her view) the notion that female bodies (and female shaped bodies) are there for heterosexual male desire.Report

      • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Murali says:

        Thanks, that seems to make sense.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Murali says:

        This sort of interpretation of anorexia and body hatred as always struck me as too pat. The patriarchy is such a vaguely defined concept that anything you don’t like about current gendered mores could be attributed to the patriarchy and get rid of an agency a woman or women might have. Its almost conspiratorial or in some cases actually is. There should be a better way to talk about sexism than creating the sort of metaphysical idea of the patriarchy.Report

        • Murali in reply to LeeEsq says:

          I’ve found that the best account of the patriarchy is not as a conspiracy, but as an emergent and unintended order comprised of individual acts none of which need to be aimed at subordinating women (either collectively or individually). Just as in the market, efficient prices are achieved (a lot of the time) regardless of whether individual participants intend the prices to be efficient, an invisible hand creates a situation where women find themselves systematically disadvantaged relative to men. For instance, it is individual men and women responding to social cues and incentives that might make it the case that women feel that they are expected to bear children etc even if no individual man around them has demanded such. Invisible hand processes are not metaphysically strange or at least not so metaphysically strange that it would be reasonable to exclude them from our ontology.Report

          • Kimmi in reply to Murali says:

            It’s a way different story to have “women expected to bear children”
            “16 year old sis expected to have sex with her 12 year old brother”

            both may in fact be invisible, but I think we have a bit more trouble with the second… and deservedly so.Report

      • veronica d in reply to Murali says:

        This interpretation misses many of the contours, however, specifically that she is describing anorexia as a kind of transgender identity, which if not a new idea (she cites Hunger Strike by Susie Orbach, of which I am unfamiliar), is at least new to me.

        You are wrong to say this is about “cis women,” as many of the people she is speaking of are not properly cis at all, which is kind of the point. The term you are looking for is “people assigned female at birth.”

        (I’m not sure if she would agree with my characterization any more than yours. In the past she has been pretty terrible on trans stuff.)

        I think she is careful to draw weak links between female oppression and bodily dysmorphia. The links are there. She draws them. However, she no doubt is well aware of the various debates regarding the etiology of transness.

        The point is, it is also possible to understand this stuff as responses shaped by sexism, but not exclusively caused by.

        The latter would be more provocative. The former, however, seems more fruitful. I think she is doing the former.

        The central theme of the article is stated up front, just beneath the title:

        Forcing people to live in a body where they do not feel at home causes intense, often unbearable suffering.

        I of course agree.

        In the final paragraphs she dismisses simple narratives based on dimestore feminism, including body positivity in all of its forms. Basically she is saying, this fucking hurts and nice words don’t make it hurt less. At the same time, she rejects a simple “just accept our transness” message, as stated here:

        But the idea that sexed bodies do not match identities due to some innate mismatch – as opposed to the deeply political meanings inscribed upon them – is not just absurd, it is harmful. It leads us to focus only on our bodies and it short-circuits efforts towards long-term political change.

        I agree with this in its bare form. Does that mean I agree with the article as a whole? Well, no. The article is a very specific kind of trainwreck.


        There is a lingering suggestion in this text that, were sexism to disappear, then perhaps so would gender dysphoria. Myself, speaking as a transgender woman, that is simply false. After all, I was born on the winning side of the sexism divide. But still, my dysphoria was profound. I experienced hatred of my body to a degree equal to hers. Hormone therapy saved my life.

        The point is, this thesis does not work if you include trans women in the conversation, and inasmuch as glosswitch is famously transmisogynistic, I am not surprised that she excludes our stories.

        That said, she does not directly state the “lingering suggestion.” Instead, she speaks around its contours, nudging her audience toward her point.

        Which, there is stuff to talk about here. In fact, there is a pretty fundamental detach between those assigned-female-but-drawn-to-masc and those assigned-male-but-drawn-to-femme. The fact is, one’s assigned birth sex remains the central organizing factors in queer social spaces, even while we all pay lip service to “gender abolition” and “agendered” identities and so on.

        I hope we can agree that, without sexism, this divide would cease to exist. In fact, there would perhaps be no need for “queer spaces” at all, and the fact that some people thrive on cross-sex hormones would be seen in a manner little different from any other long term endocrinological condition. Childhood diabetes exists. “Cross-sex hormonal mismatch condition” might exist as well. There would be no value judgement except “don’t forget your blood tests, honey.”

        On the other hand, my politics contains little room for musings on utopia. I deal with the here and now.

        She says,

        I am not saying “burn your binders”. Forcing people to live in a body where they do not feel at home causes intense, often unbearable suffering. There is no quick fix, perhaps not even a lifetime one. But we need to think hard and keep asking questions, even if these contradict other people’s interpretations of what is possible for them.

        As a person who took hormones to (among other things) grow breasts and otherwise acquire a female-normative fat distribution, this paragraph is awfully one sided. I mean, I don’t disagree with it. We indeed need to “keep asking questions,” but my question to glosswitch is, “Hey what’s up with your completely ignoring trans women?”

        I’m pretty sure I can guess her answer, although she would probably deliver it in many turgid paragraphs that would do as much to obscure the point as to deliver it.Report

  3. greginak says:

    There is a whole lot of stuff in this piece to discuss. What she sort of glosses over (ha) is that if she was force fed with a tube it was likely to save her life. She mentions it once that she might not be alive without it. But that is the big reason for force feeding and people do actually starve themselves to death from anorexia. That doesn’t’ mean there is psychological recovery for all. For some there is who stop being anorexic, i know i’ve met them. And it certainly doesn’t mean the force feeding wasn’t terrible. But then she goes all in to mix in many many issues to fully muddy the issue.Report

    • Perhaps you (or someone else here) know the answer to this, Greginak. Are there other ways to “force feed” someone that are less invasive than a nasogastric tube? Can nutrients via an I.V. work just as well, or almost as well?Report