More than 400 feminist authors, bloggers and academics have signed onto a campaign to speak out against transphobia and attacks on transgender people by other feminists. (Update: More than 500 people have now signed, as of the afternoon of Sept. 19.)
“A Statement of Trans-Inclusive Feminism and Womanism” is signed by people from all corners of the world, including some well-known writers and bloggers, including Melissa McEwan, editor-in-chief of Shakesville, and Rebecca Watson of Skepchick.
The statement argues that women-only groups which specifically exclude women who were born and raised male “collaborate with a rigidity of gender identities that feminism has historically fought against” and cause feminism and womanism to “regress or stagnate.” (You can read the entire thing yourself.)
You may be surprised to know that there’s tension, sometimes, between certain feminists and the transgender community—with some real animosity directed mostly toward male-to-female transgender people (transwomen), but also against female-to-male transgender people (transmen).
British activist and writer Julie Bindel is among the most prominent. An even better-known example is Camille Paglia, who claimed Chaz Bono was transitioning because it was “fashionable” and said he isn’t really a man, he’s just a woman who is “mutilating her body.”
A lot of the bashing happens on the Internet. Just as white supremacists and terrorists have found each other online, so have a small group of feminists who argue that transwomen are really men in disguise who are trying to infiltrate women-only spaces. They sometimes call themselves “radical feminists,” or “radfems.”
I could name a few of them, but I’d rather not, for fear they’ll show up here. In some cases, a few feminist activists have outed transmen or transwomen whose histories weren’t public, made threats of physical harm, or cyber-stalked them.
Back in July, Samantha Allen wrote about the phenomenon at Salon. “If the anti-trans* rhetoric … were transposed onto gay or lesbian identity, leftists would instantly recognize it as homophobic,” she wrote, adding that feminists who try to deny transgender and gender-queer people their existence have allied themselves “with those on the Right who viciously deter trans* folks’ attempts to secure employment, housing and safe public spaces.”
In fact, this cartoon by Barry Deutsch draws the parallels very nicely:
As a semi-out MtF crossdresser, one of the most hateful emails I’ve ever received wasn’t from a religious conservative. No, it was from someone who described herself as a “radical feminist,” and who read something (fairly innocuous) I’d written elsewhere. She told me that “people like (me)” are “disgusting” and “repulsive.”
Believe it or not, I could sort of understand where she was coming from, or least how she got there. I’ve met some transwomen or MtF crossdressers who were just oozing male privilege, or who went to extremes to model what they thought was stereotypically “girly” behavior.
And if you’re trying to make spaces for women free of patriarchal tendencies, I can see why you might be suspicious of someone who’s male-bodied, but identifies as female. I am very grateful that Sue and the other bloggers at Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents have allowed me the privilege of writing here, and I don’t take it for granted.
It’s always seemed to me, though, that transphobia has a strong misogynistic, or at least sexist, streak. As Allen wrote, “Even as (exclusionists) claim to desire the destruction of gender, then, they cling fervently to a reactionary and reductively biological definition of sex in order to keep transgender women out of ‘women-only spaces.'”
Christian conservatives have tried to argue that same-sex marriage destroys the institution of marriage. More and more, a majority of people seems to agree that’s not true, because civil rights isn’t a zero-sum game—one person’s equality doesn’t diminish someone else’s.
In the same way, the fight for acceptance by a transman or transwoman, or a gender-queer person, doesn’t diminish feminism. Instead, it blasts the patriarchy to bits.
Needless to say, I was really happy to see this effort to fight transphobia, and I’m proud to know (even if it’s from a distance) a couple of the people who are working on this project.