There is No T in Lesbian

In a recent anti-radical feminist screed, published prominently on several leftist blogs, a trans* activist attempted to equate gender critical analysis with homophobia. This is the latest twist on the conflation of the lesbian and gay rights political movement with the trans* political movement. And it’s the latest indication that it will be lesbians, other women, and girls who are most harmed by that conflation.

Though there are claims that our groups have reason to have a strong political alliance, it’s arguable that Gay, Inc. – the large, well-funded and influential political groups – created this conflation simply to increase funding and reach. There doesn’t seem to have been a period of time where lesbians and gay men were allowed any discussion or input about this decision. But there are obvious reasons to question the unholy alliance.

The true similarity between our groups is in the bedrock homophobia and misogyny of those who work against us. But here is the terrible irony of that: Trans, Inc. does not want to acknowledge that reality, let alone work on dismantling it, because it undermines their talking points. Look at how their narrative is broken by the reality of lesbian and gay experiences.

A significant number of transmen are lesbians who report that they want to transition in an attempt to escape misogyny – their own internalized version as much as society’s. A significant percentage of transwomen are homosexual males, pressured into transitioning by conservative society that hates gender non-conforming gay men. And the majority of kids diagnosed with “gender dysphoria” will be or already are lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

Beyond these realities – that trans* activists refuse to acknowledge – lesbian and gay people have almost no connection with trans* people or their issues. Yet the trans* political movement has ridden the coattails of the lesbian/gay political movement. We opened the doors, they walk through them. We set the stage, they take it over and turn the discussion to themselves. They had no original movement of their own, but have bent our arguments to their own purposes.

And worse still, our resources are going toward meeting their needs. It’s long past time to look at what separates us and what has happened because of the mash-up of LGB-with-T.

Chart — What separates the T from the L and G
TfromLGChart-Thumb
[click on the image above to open/download the chart]

It is clear from looking at that chart that we have far less in common than is assumed. But despite the obvious differences in our experiences and interests, on the very rare occasions when this has been pointed out, all hell has broken loose. John Aravosis, a prominent gay blogger, wrote about this issue in 2007. This caused huge controversy and resulted in a public shaming of him for even daring to mention the false equivalency between lesbian/gay and trans* people.

When Ronald Gold wrote the blog post, “‘No’ to the notion of transgender” for the popular gay website Bilerico, a similar thing happened. But you’ll have to read his post and the account of what happened to him on a different web site, because the original and all discussion thereof has been removed:

BilericoSilencing

Since then the issue has become untouchable and you won’t find any mention of it in the lesbian/gay media or major online communities. Instead there is very nearly lockstep enforcement of silence on the issue.

The political alliances forced by the major political groups have created a de facto link in peoples’ minds between lesbian/gay political concerns and those of trans* people. So straight liberals have taken up the LGBT banner and with terrible irony, have bashed lesbians and gay men with it. Liberal online and print publications have been refusing to let us give our views when we disagree with trans* activist orthodoxy. The comments from the many gay and lesbian people who supported Aravosis are wiped off the post, but not the link to the rebuttal by the trans* activist transwoman and HRC Board of Governors member Dana Beyer.

The bottom line for women in all of this is that, of all the people that Gay/Trans, Inc. claims to speak for, lesbians are most hurt by the false alliance.

Employment discrimination against lesbians
As described by Margaret Ryniker in her article, “Lesbians still face job discrimination,” lesbians are in the unique position of facing sexual harassment as women and, at the same time, discrimination because of their sexual orientation. Lesbians also represent a larger percentage of female workers in male-dominated fields, making them even more vulnerable to workplace harassment and discrimination. And in the U.S., a woman can be fired in over half the states just for being a lesbian.

Yet the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would provide protection for lesbians from being fired just for being lesbian, has still not been passed by Congress. There was a window of time when it might have been passed, but trans* activists very effectively derailed that opportunity to fight for their own rights instead of the rest of their coalition’s rights. Outrageously, most of their socio-political resistance has focused on the inclusion of language allowing males to use female bathrooms on the basis of gender identity. (Also note at that link the hateful language used toward a gay member of Congress.)

In 2007, when Congressman Barney Frank was trying to get ENDA passed, even the Washington Post had some advice: “Delaying passage of ENDA, which was first introduced in the House in the mid-1970s by Rep. Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.), until the transgender community changes enough hearts and minds would be a mistake.” They may have said this because Frank was getting no help from Gay, Inc. In fact, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force was far more interested in trans* inclusion than in fighting for the named constituents of their organization.

Large political/legal groups don’t focus on lesbians’ issues and concerns
In addition to their fight against the better judgement of members of Congress, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has been known to create their annual conference program without any mention of issues and interests specific to lesbians.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is equally focused on transgender issues. For example, HRC has provided a $10,000 grant to a legal clinic focused solely on trans* name change issues.

The Astrea Lesbian Foundation for Justice is now a major supporter of trans* political organizations. A quick perusal of their philanthropy shows a $100 donation to the Lesbian Herstory Archives (one of the very rare organizations that still focus entirely on lesbians) and 10s of 1000s of dollars of donations to trans* oriented organizations.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) is now at least as focused on trans* issues as lesbian. From their website: “we are a national leader in shaping transgender law, and our Legal Director, Shannon Minter, is recognized as a leading architect and visionary of the transgender rights movement.” The legal director they are so proud of is a transman and NCLR states that 85% of their budget is spent directly on their legal programs.

In the “Issues & Cases” portion of their website, the NCLR lists the following: Elder Law, Employment, Families and Parenting, Federal Legislation, Healthcare, Immigration, Marriage
other Civil Rights, Relationship Recognition, Transgender Law, Sports, and Youth. That list is alphabetical, not hierarchical. What is most important couldn’t be more clear from reading closely. For each and every one of the other issues they address, “LGBT” is the community for whom they say they are working. There is only one constituent part of that coalition that is called out specifically and it isn’t “Lesbian,” it’s “Transgender.” The point is not to hate on Minter personally. The point is to see that Minter is taking care of a very specific community whose activism often works in ways that are *not* good for lesbians but probably always work in Minter’s favor.

This diversion of our resources is happening despite the fact that lesbians and bisexual women make up somewhere in the range of 2-3% of the human population, while the entire trans* umbrella (which includes males who cross-dress for sexual gratification and transmen who want nothing to do with lesbians, their issues and causes) covers no more than .5% of the population, contrary to the inflated claims of Trans, Inc.

It’s not hard to imagine that lesbians are major contributors to organizations with “lesbian” in their names and fully expect that their money is going to lesbians, their issues and needs. When lesbians donate to organizations that purport to serve lesbian interests, one wonders if they realize what percentage of resources are being diverted to the trans* cause. At what point does it become misrepresentation? And we have to ask ourselves why and with what input from the entire lesbian community has this focus become predominant.

Women-only spaces are under assault
The trans* political movement is deeply committed to ensuring that any male -– no matter his intent – is allowed into female-only spaces as long as he claims a trans-related gender identity. From bathrooms, to locker rooms, to dorm rooms, girls and women are being told they should not be able to refuse transwomen entrance. Beyond those spaces, what this means is that traditional enclaves of lesbians such as women’s music festivals and other cultural events, women-only political gatherings, and even athletic teams, are expected to be open to males who claim to “feel” like women.

Pressure on lesbians from the trans* community to accept transwomen as women
The event “Overcoming the Cotton Ceiling: Breaking Down Sexual Barriers for Queer Trans Women,” was held specifically to discuss how lesbians could be coerced to date and have sex with transwomen. In that vein, transwomen are creating accounts on lesbian dating sites without revealing their trans* status. And there is significant support online for the idea that transwomen should never have to reveal their trans* status when seeking to date lesbians online or in person.

Young lesbians and would-be lesbians being pressured toward transgenderism
In some communities there is significant social pressure on butch lesbians to identify as transmen. And the majority of gender non-conforming young girls and women become lesbians as adults. Yet trans* activists are now making substantial inroads into having such gender non-conforming girls declared “transgendered” and  to enforce this designation, parents are strongly encouraged to put their daughters on puberty blockers before they have any idea who they really are.

What now?
Given all this, there seems little rational basis for lesbians to continue contributing their political efforts, resources, time, and energy to the combined Gay/Trans* movement. We especially do not want our work conflated with some of the current goals of trans* activism, including the support for the idea of “transgender” children who are born in the “wrong” body and to the idea that girls and women should not to be allowed female-only resources, opportunities, and spaces.

Let’s start with some deep skepticism when we see the claims that trans* rights equal lesbian rights. Then we can move on to the complete awareness that our needs and interests are not (and are not going to be) served by being allies with people whose interests are so different (and in some cases counter) to our own. Our allies are in the radical feminist movement and elsewhere. Let’s raise our awareness and raise our voices. Things need to change.

Note: Though Noanodyne is the author of this post, I developed it with the input of Gender Slayer, who came up with the initial idea for the chart, and with help from Elizabeth Hungerford, who contributed significant research for the reference sourcing as well as reviewing and refining support. I’m grateful for the collaboration.

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25 comments
  1. ancientmotherwisdom said:

    Thank you for saying what I feel so eloquently! Women and girls concerns always get shoved to the back of the line. Now the Trans community wants to rename us as “cis” women! My name for myself is woman. Choose another name for the confused people. Woman is taken!

    Best,
    Kimberly

  2. druidwinter said:

    Reblogged this on Sharia law in the LGBT, and society at large and commented:
    Actual lesbians are brutally cut out- or ciss’ed into a third class by a hijacked gay community that now allows gay-bashing by Near-Queers. Near Queers are like near-beers; They are not gay or homosexual but call themselves the right to stand beside gay & lesbian people, often bashing them in the most horrific homophobic ways and constantly push a hetrosexual sex agenda on the female side that has more to do with a strange porn addiction, than actually being gay. Who loses out? Effeminate gay men and non-conforming gay women. There were very few actual transgender M to T in the 1990s and the overwhelming majority wanted a nice husband and a life as a women. They had no interest in bulling women out of their few resources that mostly attempts to find reproduction-related health care issues, addresses equal pay and human rights. Now I am susposed to believe that there are more ‘lesbians’ then straight trans females? No these are guys with fetishes that expect all lesbians to be porn-lesbians and want the right to watch us take our children to pee.

  3. oserchenma said:

    Thank you for laying this out so cleanly and taking a clear stand. Radical feminists do have many of the same issues with Trans, Inc, and are the natural alliance here, as stated. Good work!

  4. Reblogged this on OUT of My Panties, Now!!! and commented:
    If you support rights for Lesbians and Gays, make your voice heard. Tell others you support rights for Lebians and Gays, but that feel Transgender is a different thing, and needs to be addressed separately. You have a right to be heard. You, my readers, know better than others, the devastating sexual arousal history and focus behind the political Trans*. Don’t be shy, be honest. Listen to your inner voice and stay strong.

  5. Thank you for making it easier to point out to my friends, who are eager to support equal rights for Lesbians and Gays that they cannot recklessly shout “Yah! For LGBT!” without a complete understanding of how the T impacts them, personally, as well as L&G.

  6. Fevrier Honnete said:

    I want absolutely nothing to do with the “trans” borg and their agenda. They are hell bent on ERASING women as a sex and replacing us with an idea in a man’s mind. No thanks, dudes. I’ll take my sex with menstrual blood, mother’s milk and sex-segregated facilities, thank you very much. Male “trans women” can swing their lady sticks around me when Hades is under a mile of ice.

  7. I love this post, but I disagree with some of the commenters: I do not believe that all trans people or all transwomen have maliscious intent. I believe that autogynephilia is a real fetish, hence the need for “improper purpose” exclusions in “gender identity” laws.

    At the same time, the contemporary proliferation of people self-identifying as “trans,” and the reason for feminist POLITICAL dissent, is because defiance/resistance of gender “norms” is a natural and forseeable response to an oppressive social structure that strictly enforces sex-based social roles. I don’t believe that MOST of these people are consciously attempting to reinforce the structure from which they attempt to escape. I think the “trans” identity is most often caused by the power of suggestion/peer pressure (trans is the new punk) combined with a massive failure to understand the complexities of our gendered social structure and the mechanics of class-based oppression.

    What is so infuriating is the self-righteousness with which many trans supporters cling to their simplistic frameworks, using words in completely asinine ways, and hurling insults (up to and including defamation) at people who are arguing at a much more advanced level than they are. 😦

  8. oserchenma said:

    I agree Elizabeth, trans theory is in an immature, hectic, uncontrolled state. Many of the simplistic stands taken have not been analyzed AT ALL to consider their impacts on women’s liberation theory and goals. There is an insensitivity here, if not maliciousness, a reaction of “I’m gonna get mine and if it hurts the women’s movement, tough.”

    Trans theory gets wilder and wilder – I have just read a statement that some trans men are exploring how to “get periods”. The implications of this notion are just stunning. Up to now the surgical and hormonal intervention has been severe enough, but (and this is symptomatic of mental illness, to never be satisfied with the transformation), one can now see that the desire and therefore demand will never stop. A desire and demand to bleed monthly, to use technology to make “milk ducts” in breasts, to implant uteri…the bone surgery is going to get more and more serious, and the focus on little kids to keep them from developing into the sex they were born into is going to get more severe. Conservatives and the medical and psychological professions are going to have to deal with some of this – but some of it may have further, unforseeable destructive impacts on women’s liberation and is therefore very much for us to have to deal with.

    Our concerns, let me say as usual, are political. I have no particular hate or fear for transpeople. I worry about them, in fact, and wish them well as individuals.

  9. Kate said:

    Wow, lesbians (and their allies) have been brutally beaten and thrown in jail in Russia for months now with zero mention about this or about creating any activist strategies to respond to this new Russian anti-gay law on any Rad Fem blog. Clearly it was’t even discussed at the Rad Fem conferences. Are Rad Fems so focused on trans issues that they have turned their backs on our russian sisters and the brutalities that they are suffering? Why? You have an organized network of feminist activists… why aren’t you interested in this issue? Women are being beaten and imprisoned simply for loving women.

  10. Wow, Kate, you somehow know *everything* that was talked about at Rad Fem conferences and somehow you’ve read *every single word* on *every single* Rad Fem blog across the known universe and you’re here to tell us how bad, bad, bad we are. Somehow I’m thinking you’re really just a concern troll.

    But seriously. This is one of the oldest and most pathetic discussion and thought stoppers known to humans. “You aren’t talking about the correct thing! You don’t care about the right things! Why are you not worried about that thing over there!”

    Please point us to the place where your deep and abiding concern for lesbians in Russia is laid out in writing other than trolling here. I’d like to see what work you’ve been doing to help all those lesbians in Russia and elsewhere. You know, instead of telling other people what they should care about, write about, and do activism around.

    Oh, and Kate? Women can care about more than one thing.

  11. For those readers who really are interested in expanding the topics and discussion at Liberation Collective, please check out our Guest Blogging page. We’d be happy to hear from women who want to share their radical feminist perspectives.

  12. Kate said:

    In response to Noanodyne, I haven’t done any writing on the subject because I’m not a blog writer… I’m an activist and a (part-time) film curator. But i did assist a Russian dyke friend in getting US asylum 8 years ago by introducing her to a good immigration lawyer. Have met with 2 lesbians who were part of a group organizing the moscow lesbian & gay film festival both here in NYC and in Hamburg Germany. That festival only happened once because, after their office had been firebombed (luckily at night, when the office was empty) twice it was decided that it was to dangerous to continue. That was in 2011.

    I’ve been aware of the struggles that my lesbian sisters in russia and eastern europe have been facing for years. I met with a group of serbian lesbians, who have political asylum in germany, in berlin in 2005, 2007, 2008 and saw a documentary about the attacks on the 2004 pride march in belgrade during which 40 or so marchers were attacked by a crowd of over 1000 homophobic skinheads. Then spent several years trying to get that film over to the US so that lesbians here could be educated on the harsh climate of homophobia in that country. They were concerned that if the film was screened then the people who appeared in it could face violent backlash, or the package containing the film might get intercepted by the serbian police (it’s really a very different climate there!) I finally was able to screen the film in nyc in 2007 and helped to educate lesbians here as to what was going on over there. These stories are rarely covered in mainstream media.

    Can you please direct me to Rad Fem blogs where I can read about the oppression of lesbian women in eastern europe and russia? I know that women care about more than one thing. I’d like to read about the Rad Fem perspective on oppression against women in that part of the world. Thank you.

  13. I’m glad to hear you’re an activist, not a troll, Kate. There are dozens of radfem blogs, you’ll have to go find out which ones write about the issues you care about. You can start with the aggregate sites Radfem Reader and Radfem Central, then look for links on their blogs to more blogs. Do a search on Facebook, there are dozens of radfem groups and pages on there. You can go to Tumblr and search on the hashtag #radfem. There you will see why many of us are defensive of trolling and attacks and other derailing, but you’ll also find actual radical feminists and their allies and discussions. Likewise you can search Twitter on the #radfem hashtag and find links to that much more information. You can go to Reddit and really see how much grief and harassment radfems get. But here’s the thing, because we’re treated that way, we’ve found places to congregate that people who hate us don’t get into. There are private discussion boards, private Facebook groups, private Reddit groups, hidden WordPress and Tumblr blogs. And the way to get into those is to show that you’re a good community member who consistently and obviously cares about women’s liberation.

    Coming to a blog post on an issue that we care about and telling us that something completely unrelated to the post “wasn’t even discussed at the Rad Fem conferences” when you plainly didn’t go to those conferences (or you would already be hooked into the community), or that we have “turned [our] backs on our russian sisters and the brutalities that they are suffering” is not being a good community member. I hope you’re sincere and that you’ll take the time to be a part of the community. There’s always an open door to women who care about women’s liberation in the broader radical feminist community and related communities.

  14. oserchenma said:

    Hi Kate, I don’t know of a blog, but Catherine McKinnon did some very solid work on the Bosnian rapes and other topics from that part of the world in her book ARE WOMEN HUMAN? She has a powerful perspective as a lawyer, activist, radfem and lesbian.

    Soory about contributing to a slight derail!

  15. This is some of the text of a comment and my answers. I’m responding to this because these are tropes that come up again and again.

    trans* people are usually poor, of color[…]

    NO ONE, and especially not trans* people individually or collectively know the real demographics of trans* people because 1) the umbrella is so large it includes people who themselves don’t identify that way as well as people who couldn’t be classified based on any useful criteria that other people could rely on (because it’s things such as having a “feeling” about gender). But we can be sure that for every poor trans* person of color there is also a wealthy white male autogynephile transwoman working in the IT industry making significant money and not being oppressed in the least.

    [trans* people are] more likely to die younger.

    Again, we have no way of knowing because trans* now equals “gender identity” and even if it were possible to create some kind of classification, there are no currently available longitudinal studies to provide this type of information. If there were, the next question would be: Younger than whom? It’s true that self-identified trans* people have been shown to engage in risky behaviors (drug addiction) and there is evidence of co-morbidity in populations of the trans* people who have been studied for other purposes. In any case, if we did stipulate that, on average, trans* people die younger than gay or lesbian people and that there is a differentiating reason for that, that is another way that the T does not belong.

    instead of being incredibly reductive about who trans* people actually are […] take the energy to see the heterogeneity of the trans* community

    You’ve just made my point, thank you. Gay men and lesbians are heterogenous as individuals as well; what is stable is actually being identifiably gay or lesbian. This is the opposite from trans* people, who are not only heterogenous individually, but collectively. There is no single identifying feature of being trans* while there is a single identifying feature to being gay or lesbian. See how those things don’t go together? I may add this to the chart it’s such a good illustration.

    trans* potential for revolutionizing the entire concept of gender.

    Just the word “trans” is all the indicator anyone needs that the concept reifies and supports gender. If there were not two stable, identifiable, and rigid genders, there would be nothing to transition from and to. Butch dykes and effeminate gay men are the people who revolutionize the concept of gender. The trans* tropes of “women are like this and men are like that” undermine that. Yet again, another reason we don’t belong together.

    When “Woman” is no longer essentialized, naturalized, and confounded as “female,” one of the keystones of patriarchy can be dismantled.

    I’m sorry that language confounds you, but very simply and the world over, a “woman” is an adult human female. If anything and anyone can be a “woman” then it is far harder for women to be able to talk about the very real harms that women (and girls) suffer simply for being female. By muddying the language you make the patriarchy’s job much easier. Remember that white wealthy IT male who calls himself a “woman”? That conflation makes it look like an actual female got that job and that by extension, women are doing better in the world, when the exact opposite is the case.

    Additionally, it’s demonstrable that the white male IT person is more likely to have that job than either a gay man of color or any lesbian. The trans* movement has repeatedly shoved aside the concerns of the LGB population on whose coattails it clings.

    You’ve made more arguments for why the T does not belong, thank you commenter.

  16. Feminist at Sea said:

    Reblogged this on Feminist at Sea and commented:
    An important summary of how the transmovement is erasing the lesbian and women’s movement.

  17. Wooohoooo….great great article and I wont be contributing to ANY of those organizations and ESPECIALLY NOT NCLR OR NGTLF. Both boycotted Michfest and thusly led to the demise of our one Crown Jewel left of Lesbian Nation!!!
    -FeistyAmazon

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