You can be active with the activists…

September 10, 2008

It’s a sobering thought to consider just how long trans women have been subject to transphobic hate speech attacks from cis feminists. Most of the current exponents seem to take their cue from the Second Wave feminist movement of the 1970s, which was actively opposed to various forms of gender variance, with transsexual women and butch and femme lesbians in particular deemed legitimate targets. Ironically, although the Second Wave potentially offered many options for challenging transphobic oppression, some of the organising and thinking was, and in some instances remains, focused on an irrational hatred of gender variant people. Given the involvement, at all levels and over many years, of transsexual women in feminist politics, it’s hard to understand why there is such antipathy from some of those feminists who still subscribe to Second Wave values and beliefs.

Janice Raymond’s 1979 book, The Transsexual Empire: The Making of The She-Male portrayed transsexual women as dupes of the patriarchal establishment whose only aim was the destruction of the feminist movement. In hindsight, this seems to be little more than the kneejerk reaction of a short-sighted essentialism, which the passing of time has proved to have been as badly misjudged as it is embarrassingly naive. Unfortunately, the book was given an unjustified credence by certain high profile cis feminists of the time and, as a consequence, much of Raymond’s wrong-headed ideas became set in stone. And trans women are still having to deal with the fallout 30 years later.

During the 1980s and 1990s, there was a groundswell of resistance to the oppressions of Second Wave feminism – especially the fanciful notion that all women share some central, unifying life experience(s) – spearheaded by radical women of colour. Many other women, including trans women, also became involved in the struggle for a more inclusive feminism which didn’t marginalise and oppress them. Sadly, the oppression of trans people hasn’t ended and the accompanying hate speech continues unabated in too many places.

As I see it, the problem is that anti-trans cis feminists have made, and continue to make, a fundamental error in assuming that feminism is All. About. Them.

It isn’t.

The endless recentring of all discourse with trans women on to the pet concerns of anti-trans cis feminists shows either an astonishing ignorance or a breathtaking arrogance – or maybe a combination of the two. Anti-trans cis feminists have missed the point and misunderstood the situation in so many ways and for so many years that it’s entirely possible that some will never fully comprehend the damage they have done to the feminist movement.

The fact is that trans women simply do not need the validation of feminists; we do not need to justify our existence to anyone, epecially small-minded bigots. We are here and no cis feminist should think ze is entitled to be our judge and jury. Because we do not fit into their nice neat little categories does not mean that we cannot exist, or aren’t real – it means that they need to rethink their outmoded theories.

As has been pointed out by others far more eloquent than I: trans women do not reify gender any more or any less than cis women. Trans women do not benefit from male or cis privilege, not even residually. And we are certainly no less real than any other woman.

These are the sort of things that anti-trans cis feminists need to understand. I suspect that the more toxic and hateful ones actually do understand perfectly well how wrong they are. I believe they are angry at us because we are a constant reminder that their hardline social constructivist theories are also wide of the mark.

So how hard is it to make the necessary adjustments to their thinking? Surely it makes more sense to rechannel their energies into working with us towards achieving the important stuff – you know, things like equality and ending patriarchal oppressions – than to fire off another 2.000 word hate-filled blog post which will only be read by ten other like-minded transphobes? But I suppose that hate speech is the easy option; facing the facts and getting down to the real work requires a bit more effort.

Just remember this: trans people existed long before the emergence of Second Wave feminism – and we’re not going away any time soon.

Deal with it, sisters.


Billy Bragg – Waiting for the great leap forwards

It may have been Camelot for Jack and Jacqueline
But on the Che Guevara highway filling up with gasoline
Fidel Castro’s brother spies a rich lady who’s crying
Over luxury’s disappointment
So he walks over and he’s trying
To sympathise with her but he thinks that he should warn her
That the third world is just around the corner

In the Soviet Union a scientist is blinded
By the resumption of nuclear testing and he is reminded
That Dr Robert Oppenheimer’s optimism fell
At the first hurdle

In the cheese pavilion and the only noise I hear
Is the sound of someone stacking chairs
And mopping up spilt beer
And someone asking questions and basking in the light
Of the fifteen fame-filled minutes of the fanzine writer

Mixing pop and politics he asks me what the use is
I offer him embarrassment and my usual excuses
While looking down the corridor
Out to where the van is waiting
I’m looking for the great leap forwards

Jumble sales are organised and pamphlets have been posted
Even after closing time there’s still parties to be hosted
You can be active with the activists
Or sleep in with the sleepers
While you’re waiting for the great leap forwards

One leap forward, two leaps back
Will politics get me the sack?

Here comes the future and you can’t run from it
If you’ve got a blacklist I want to be on it

It’s a mighty long way down rock’n’roll
From Top Of The Pops to drawing the dole

If no one seems to understand
Start your own revolution and cut out the middleman

In a perfect world we’d all sing in tune
But this is reality so give me some room

So join the struggle while you may
The revolution is just a t-shirt away
Waiting for the great leap forwards

(YouTube link)

One Response to “You can be active with the activists…”

  1. […] from September, You Can Be Active with the Activists . . . The endless recentring of all discourse with trans women on to the pet concerns of anti-trans […]

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