Transfeminism : What does it have to do with Feminism?

(Note : this post was inspired by a comment I made over on the Ms. Magazine)1

If you’ve been paying attention to latest events and declarations by transwomen and transfeminists, you might be wondering, like I am, why transfeminism contains the word “feminism” at all.  Feminism is about the liberation of FEMALES/WOMEN from the system of MALE/MEN’S dominance (patriarchy), so one would expect any term containing the word “feminism” to have at least *some* connection to females (I am using the word female here to mean the majority of women in the world who have been assigned female at birth, including intersex, and raised as girls/women, in contrast to trans women, who were assigned male at birth,  have lived and been socialized as men, and remain biologically male even after -or if- they transition).  And yet, as transfeminism becomes more mainstream, it seems to be narrowly focused on only a few issues that are specific to trans people only, and not even exclusive to trans WOMEN.

For example, Julia Serano describes transfeminism as “a move away from viewing sexism as an overly simplistic, unilateral form of oppression, where men are the oppressors and women are the oppressed, end of story.”2   Avory Faucette complains “I also find that talk about gender inclusive feminism focuses a lot on men, or on battles of the sexes.” and “…not all menstruators are women.1  Both of these statements seem to be in direct conflict with the very definition of feminism, which requires that the agent of the oppression (men/males) and the oppressed (women/females) be named, otherwise, it’s just about “a system of prioritizing people who may or may not be men/males over other people who may or may not be women/females.”

One of the main issues for transfeminists currently, and an area where they consistently clash with feminists, is the demand that transwomen be included in all women’s spaces, everywhere.  Many trans women refuse to acknowledge the VERY REAL differences between themselves and WBW (womyn-born-womyn)  that affect our behavior, attitudes, and sense of safety.  Many transwomen also demand inclusion without acknowledging the patterns of male-socialized behavior by some trans women that, whether intentional or not, is misogynist and therefore,  causes discomfort for many women, especially those who seek these spaces for reasons of safety and healing, and/or are survivors of male violence, as many of us are.   Some trans women/transfeminists go about attaining the goal of inclusion in extreme and misogynist ways – by criticizing, policing, protesting, suing, and sending death threats to WBW for wanting to have WBW-only space or when talking about feminist issues that they feel are exclusionary to trans people.3 4 5   Socialized behaviors do not just instantly vanish the moment one decides to transition.  Women know this all too well, when continually finding ourselves wanting to be fair, or making excuses for abusive behavior, or feeling that our bodies are ugly and we are unlovable.

In contrast, one of feminism’s primary activities and goals has traditionally been calling out and changing misogynist behavior, but where are the transfeminists on record denouncing the misogyny, lesbophobia, violence and death threats that women and feminists have received from some trans women?  There are hardly any to be found, and the ones who do speak up get denounced and threatened by their own trans community.   Transfeminist Avory Faucette is on record supporting  trans women’s misogynistic and lesbian-hating Cotton Ceiling workshop sponsored by Planned Parenthood of Toronto earlier this year, in the name of “inclusion”.  The “cotton celling” – ironically, a play on the feminist term “glass ceiling” –  represents lesbians’ underwear as a “barrier” that transwomen need to break through to achieve full inclusion in women’s space.6  Faucette says,

Radfems, you’re not just missing out on great sex. You’re confused about what it means to be a lesbian, or a woman. I don’t care what your physical preferences are or what gender identity you prefer. I do care that you confuse those two things, and thereby insult trans women. I care that you don’t bother to interrogate the origins of your phallus-based distaste for transwomen, and think about whether it’s actually a dislike of the organ that’s happening here or whether transphobia and a refusal to view trans women as women is involved. I care that you assume describing yourself as a lesbian tells others that you prefer what you call a pussy, as if everyone has the same definition of lesbian, woman, or pussy. 7 8

If that’s what inclusion means for transfeminists – lesbians getting over their “phallus-based distaste for transwomen” – I WANT NO PART OF IT, and neither should any other feminist who supports lesbians and our right to define our sexuality and attraction to female-bodied people (this response to Avory’s comments argues the point quite eloquently).

It is not just enough to proclaim oneself a feminist or a transfeminist, just like one chooses to have a “gender identity,” and then subsequently use that term to describe every action one takes from there on out.

Where exactly are the contributions of transfeminists to FEMINISM?  If trans women and transfeminists genuinely wish to be included and work alongside female feminists in this movement, how are they showing their support for the issues of the 99.9% of the women in this world, like reproductive rights?  I’m not seeing any support by trans women on these issues.

For example, prominent transfeminist Julia Serano, said “…as an infertile woman, all this contraceptive-centric feminism over the last month has been alienating for me…” 9  and Joelle Ruby Ryan, transwoman and professor of Women’s Studies at UNH, stated that using the words/terms “sex class” and “female” was passé and offensive.10

Why should feminists work to include any transfeminists in our movement who are not only openly misogynist in their activism, but focusing on policing feminists’ wording and trying to silence feminists from speaking about our issues?

Feminists created the concepts of gender and sex class to describe and name our oppression decades ago (though Serano tries to claim that it was transfeminists who advanced the concept of the gender binary2 – as IF!!),  and subsequently, our oppressors, and now transfeminists – many of whom were raised as white, heterosexual males for the majority of their lives prior to transitioning – demand that we change our language because our terms do not describe every individual under the trans umbrella.  In doing such, they are acting exactly as the patriarchy has done for millennia in trying to control and water down the language that we have created, effectively erasing any means we have to describe the evidence of the existence of our oppression.   Instead of feeling alienated and seeking to change our language, why can’t transwomen acknowledge the differences between us and yet still support their “cis” sisters in our fight for our reproductive rights?  I know plenty of lesbians and infertile females who support these issues, regardless of whether they have need for those services, because they are about the rights for ALL WOMEN.

If transfeminists are genuinely seeking inclusion within the greater feminist community, rather than changing it to suit their needs, or destroying it altogether, I believe it is necessary that they first spend some time analyzing and working to change the misogynist behavior within their own community first, rather than focusing on protesting and blaming women/feminists for their oppression.  We do have a common enemy : the patriarchy.  If transfeminists would acknowledge that basic fact and focus their energies on dismantling the system that oppresses both of us, we could all move forward in support of one another.

Here is a relevant piece of advice for how to go about doing that, written in 2002 by Jenny Roberts, a transwoman who clearly understands the conundrum of transwomen’s inclusion in feminism, as well as women’s struggles, someone I would be proud to call sister and feminist.

_____________________________________________

1. http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2012/06/04/the-femisphere-trans-feminist-bloggers-part-1/

2. http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2012/04/18/trans-feminism-theres-no-conundrum-about-it/

3. http://www.rapereliefshelter.bc.ca/learn/resources/chronology-events-kimberly-nixon-vs-vancouver-rape-relief-society

4. http://theysaythisneverhappens.wordpress.com/2011/08/07/monica-roberts-and-anthony-casebeer/

5. http://theysaythisneverhappens.wordpress.com/2011/11/21/asher-bauer/

6. http://factcheckme.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/the-cotton-ceiling-really/

7. http://queerfeminism.com/2012/03/27/the-cotton-ceiling-is-real-and-its-time-for-all-queer-and-trans-people-to-fight-back/

8. http://radicalhub.com/2012/03/27/an-open-letter-to-the-national-center-for-transgende%E2%80%8Br-equality-on-the-cotton-ceiling-debacle/

9. http://factcheckme.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/the-cotton-ceiling-really/. See also: https://twitter.com/JuliaSerano/status/176090229650886656

10. http://twitter.com/JoelleRubyRyan/statuses/205476057506254849

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13 comments
  1. I would suggest taking screen shots of Joelle’s twitter statuses, she has a habit of deleting them.

  2. Lafaye said:

    It’s not “passé” to use words that are still incredibly relevant and lived realities. What is offensive is to try to dismiss the real, lived realities of humans born as females (with female reproductive organs). Which someone who was NOT born a female would, naturally, not understand.

  3. “Anti-racism efforts should focus more on how racism oppresses white people”.

    There ya go! Btw, the inability to apply the same principle to different but similar subjects, is the sign of a very low IQ.

  4. *sigh* I shouldn’t keep mentioning that they are below average in intelligence because that’s something they really can’t help, but gah, unfettered stupidit is actually HARMFUL to others. Anyway:

    “one of feminism’s primary activities and goals has traditionally been calling out and changing misogynist behavior, but where are the transfeminists on record denouncing the misogyny, lesbophobia, violence and death threats that women and feminists have received from some trans women? There are hardly any to be found, and the ones who do speak up get denounced and threatened by their own trans community.”

    Most excellent point, thank you. So they’re hypocrites as well as stupid, how delightful.

  5. Ugh, those Ms Magazines were so biased, they were terrible! And the comments section … barf.

    Some hypocrite faux-pleading “won’t you stop the hate?” with the next comment calling radical feminists radscum. LOL.

    Thank goodness for the few voices of sanity in the comments.

  6. Instead of feeling alienated and seeking to change our language, why can’t transwomen acknowledge the differences between us and yet still support their “cis” sisters in our fight for our reproductive rights? I know plenty of lesbians and infertile females who support these issues, regardless of whether they have need for those services, because they are about the rights for ALL WOMEN.

    It is the inherrent contradiction by trans themselves. On the one hand, they say they are, and wanted to be treated exactly the same as FABs. Then in the next breath, they shout about their differences from FABs, and how they are moar speshul (and moar oppressed) than FABs. Cannot have it both ways – pick one.

    Most radfems wouldn’t be interested in any way about trans – except for the fact that they are invading like an army, stomping all over the few rights we do have, dismissing our major concerns – then it becomes our business. If they were, like they claim to be, “just poor transwomen trying to get on with their lives”, they would barely hit the radar for us (except when faced with the same misogyny we face).

    And yes, many post-fertile or unintending-to-be-fertile feminists still fight for female control of reproductive rights, because they understand it is a pivotal area of the oppression of all women, directly and indirectly.

    Simply, “transfeminism” is basically anti-FAB. Our issues are not their issues, they have clearly stated that. Why libfems support their own oppression by putting their energies there is beyond me. Transwomen don’t give a shit if abortion was again illegal, contraception and emergency contraception became unavailable. Because they are not the ones that will ever have to face the major issue of unwanted pregnancy. Just ask my mother’s generation what a big deal unwanted pregnancies were. The ‘free-sex’ and ‘fun-feminism’ is not quite so rosy without contraception and easy access to abortion. Female reproductive vulnerability, something transwomen will never have, and don’t have a clue how it affects all other areas of one’s life. Therefore, a “boring” issue for “transfeminists”. One of our staples as proper feminists.

  7. thanks all, for taking the time to read my very first blawg post, and for your astute and witty comments!

    Weren’t those Ms. Mag blog posts horrible (I’m including Serano’s in my assessment also)? The interviews were a clusterfuck of questions to a handful of fairly young people who barely had a grasp on what feminism is (Avory said zie had only decided to become a “feminist” 3 years ago, at age 23), let alone TRANSfeminism. Davina Squirrel, you nailed it when you said they contradict themselves on wanting to be seen exactly the same as FAB women, and yet different – more special, more oppressed. So it’s no surprise that we are confused or skeptical, because it is so illogical. Nevermind the misogyny, hate and vitriol coming from such a large percentage of prominent transfeminists and trans women like Joss Truitt, Tobi Hill-Meyer, Drew Deveraux, Monica Roberts, Andrea James, Joelle Ruby Ryan and Julia Serano.

    Check out this trans woman, Marylin Collcutt, calling out the misogyny & sticking up for women and feminism in the comments section on this anti-feminist post about transfeminism : http://thefeministwire.com/2012/06/transfeminism-speaking-my-truth-to-power/. Now *that’s* the kind of analysis and awareness I’m talking about that transfeminists could take a page from. Like Jenny Roberts, I would be proud to call Marylin an ally too.

  8. If transfeminists would acknowledge that basic fact and focus their energies on dismantling the system that oppresses both of us, we could all move forward in support of one another.

    If they were to assist in dismantling a system of gender oppression, then there would be no plausible explanation for their need to transform their bodies. I suspect that whatever twisted neurons are responsible for transgenderism, would just focus on a different fetish.

    And even if they did scream bloody murder about the harm resulting from gender essentialism, they’d still be reifying the very thing they claim to oppose — so I’m not sure how they could ever support a genuine feminism. They appear to want “equality for everyone” in a very vague “all choices are equal” kind of way; and when they do get specific about the harms men inflict onto women, it’s always under the assumption that “women are defined as any human who possesses vastly different desires, ethics and goals from men” — so their entire position is circular. lol Can you tell I’m not hopeful at all? They’re only spewing that crap for brownie points.

  9. “You’re confused about what it means to be a lesbian, or a woman.” OH, WOW. The MALE ENTITLEMENT is RIGHT THERE. UGH.

  10. I do not have a ‘gender identity.’ I have a SEX. My sex is female. And for females, biology IS destiny. It takes a lifetime of fighting back for women to realize their hopes and dreams, and this fight is at great risk. If I could disregard my female sex, if the world would do that along with me, then I may have a modicum of sympathy for those men who do not like being male, and would rather be women. But one cannot change sex by putting on make-up and a dress, and speaking in a higher voice–and then claiming womanhood and superior understanding of it. You have failed. You will always fail, until you realize what the real struggle consists of: elimination of the oppression BY MEN OF WOMEN. Not ‘transwomen’ but biological females.
    You can’t force your way through this, or bully us into further submission.
    Rethink your position. Who is your real enemy? Who will you choose to fight?

  11. Karibee said:

    As a long-time feminist in the workplace, I’m still trying to figure out how to respond to these issues. Thank you for explaining your point of view. Lots of food for thought.

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