Feminists Fighting Transphobia

A couple of weeks ago I came across a post on Twitter encouraging feminists to sign a statement in support of trans women’s inclusion in feminism. As a trans woman myself this immediately caught my attention. I read the statement, signed it and have since been in contact with the women behind it. The statement has now also been signed by both Skepchick and Secular Woman, among many others.

The statement is an initiative by three women, and it is a commitment to …

… recognizing and respecting the complex construction of sexual/gender identity; to recognizing trans* women as women and including them in all women’s spaces; to recognizing trans* men as men and rejecting accounts of manhood that exclude them; to recognizing the existence of genderqueer, non-binary identifying people and accepting their humanity; to rigorous, thoughtful, nuanced research and analysis of gender, sex, and sexuality that accept trans* people as authorities on their own experiences and understands that the legitimacy of their lives is not up for debate; and to fighting the twin ideologies of transphobia and patriarchy in all their guises.

The statement also recognises that trans* people have often been, and still are, required to conform to traditional gender stereotypes in order to get past the gatekeepers in the medical profession who decides whether those of us who wish to transition are “worthy” or not. This enforced conformity is one that is also often used against us by transphobic feminists, putting us in a lose–lose situation. The act of transition is not, as they claim, a way of resolving gender non-conformity by giving into the pressure of rigid gender roles and move into the “opposite” one. This is a deeply flawed interpretation of what lies behind a decision to physically transition, but it is very convenient to their distortion of our reality and therefore they stick to this view almost religiously.

The statement also recognises the tendency by transphobic feminists to appropriate the identity “woman” for themselves and police who is allowed to be recognised as a “woman”, forgetting, as Julia Serano points out, that your gender is something people assign to you when they meet you regardless of how you self-identify. Being seen as who you really are is a privilege, a privilege many trans* people rarely or never get to experience.

By positing “woman” as a coherent, stable identity whose boundaries they are authorized to police, transphobic feminists reject the insights of intersectional analysis, subordinating all other identities to womanhood and all other oppressions to patriarchy.  They are refusing to acknowledge their own power and privilege.

Transphobic feminists have an almost conspiratorial take on patriarchy where in some extreme cases trans women are seen as infiltrators in the service of the patriarchy, which is quite absurd. I personally find the views of transphobic feminism to be in deep conflict with a central idea of feminism: to abolishing restrictive gender roles, and the oppression that follows from these.

I asked one of the women behind this initiative how this statement originated. She explains that it all started with a conversation she had with a friend, a trans woman, just after the “Forbidden Discourse” piece had come out. Her friend was feeling very “dejected at yet another rejection from feminist leaders” and feared that we would never see cis feminists who were trans-supportive get together and issue a statement like this. These two women, in collaboration with another feminist academics, made this statement a reality together with the early signatories who also offered suggestions for the statement. So in line with the message and purpose of the statement, it is itself a collaboration of both cis and trans feminists.

Already before the statement was released, they started to get positive feedback. She explains:

Before we went public, we sent the final draft of the statement to all the signatories for approval and to check name-spellings and affiliations. This all happened in a little less than a month, I’d say. People were very responsive! We didn’t realize how overwhelmingly positive the response would be, even from the original signatories. Eventually it got to the point where some people heard about the statement through the grapevine and were contacting us!

The response since has been enormous. At the moment it has been signed by 731 individuals and 52 organisations from at least 39 countries, including many well known names, blogs and organisations.

I asked her what her own background was, to which she replies:

Myself, if I come out of any community, it’s out of a feminist one, and most of the political activism I’ve done has been around feminist issues, labor issues, and issues regarding race. If anything, I come out of a leftist tradition–my parents were part of the New Left in the US (they met in SDS) and they raised me with those values. My mother was a SAHM who raised me to be a staunch feminist, but with awareness of intersectionality before we knew a word for it, so I have always had a great respect for the accomplishments of the second wave, which I associate with her, and am always sad and disappointed when I run up against second-wave or white feminism’s various bigotries and stupidities. I always expect better than that.

Well, I for one am glad you choose to go ahead and do something about it! I know there are many feminists who are trans inclusive. I have no problem finding them both online and offline, but I am also always wary when I run into feminist organisations that I do not know already as I have been disappointed before. Not only does this initiative provide a list of names and organisations who have gone ahead and actively signed a statement of support and inclusion, it also shows transphobic feminists that we as trans* people do not stand alone in this.

When the reality of the existence of trans* people is a threat to certain branches of feminism, it is not this reality that is wrong, but the dogma of these essentialist views of gender and the religious adherence to these. As a skeptic and rationalist I can’t help but challenge these views. I hope more feminists will too.

If you agree with the content of this statement, please sign it!

Feature image designed by Veronica using GenderBreadPerson2.0

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  1. It was also interesting for me to see the name of someone I knew from college among the signatories that I haven’t interacted with in decades. At least I’m pretty sure it’s her. In any case, this is nicely done!

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