Cis Feminism in London 09

October 3, 2009

Feminism in London - it's for cis women onlyNext weekend sees the Feminism in London 09 event. There are various workshops and discussions on a range of subjects: for example, racism and sexism, self-defence and assertiveness training, activism training, etc – and nearly 30 speakers scheduled. Any self-identified woman, whether cis or not, would surely find something of interest there.

But what’s this on the front page of the website?

If you are a woman or a pro-feminist man, come along to join the discussion.

Any trans woman seeing that will surely already hear the alarm bells ringing. It shouldn’t need restating that the word “woman” defaults to meaning “cis woman” and excludes trans women as a consequence. And “pro-feminist man”? I wonder if that includes trans men?

But there’s more. At the bottom of every single page of the website is this little gem of transphobia:

Some workshops may be for women only.

I see. And which workshops might they be, then? Close reading suggests that there is, in fact, only one workshop which is open to cis women only, and it’s the Rape and sexual violence workshop.

Because, as we know, trans women never suffer rape and violence.

Scratch the surface and the same old hidden agenda can be seen. Biological determinism: if you were born male-bodied, you will only ever be male. And its corollary – if you were born female-bodied, you will only ever be female – is the flipside. The thinking, if that’s the word I want, is fundamentally cissexist. The implication is that, irrespective of how we self-identify, to cis people we are always and forever the gender we were assigned at birth. It’s interesting that a self-styled feminist event should choose to implement such an essentialist policy. Whatever happened to the idea that gender is entirely socially constructed? And what happened to the feminism that preached equality for all and an end to oppression and discrimination?

And what all of this means in the context of the event is that a trans man will be welcome at the Rape and sexual violence workshop (because cis women have decided that he’s “really a woman”), but not a trans woman (because cis women have decided that she’s not).

But then I suppose it would be foolish to expect anything else of an event organised by the rabidly transphobic London Feminist Network. The same people who were last seen supporting a transphobic bigot celebrity lifestyle journalist at last year’s Stonewall UK protest, and who are no doubt already gearing up for the annual Reclaim The Night (But Only For Cis Women) march next month.

Frankly, if this is state of feminism in Britain’s biggest city in the 21st century you know what you can do with it.

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ETA: Because trans women never suffer sexual violence.
(Via This Is South WalesPDF here)

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Cross-posted at Harlot’s Parlour

12 Responses to “Cis Feminism in London 09”

  1. queenemily Says:

    Yes, well. Even if we get hilariously optimistic and assume they include trans women in their definition of women, they have already failed. Given the horrific history of feminism – especially the largely rad-fem version the workshop titles seem to suggest – anything other than an explicitly tagged “trans women friendly safe space” is insufficient. As you point out, “women and trans” is rarely particularly friendly to trans women.


  2. Yeah, the fact that confusion exists kind of indicates that we don’t really expect to be included when cis feminists use the word women… It would really, really, be nice to live in a world where the bigots had to specifically mark trans women as not welcome instead of it being their assumption… *sighs* why am I just defining cissexism again? Oh, right… the whole pervasiveness of it.


  3. I understand that given the program and the organizers the “women-only space” can be read as excluding trans women, but on the other hand… well, I don’t know how to phrase it, but when it’s explicited it sometimes really make me feel like “we tolerate you”. I remember having to make posters for a “lesbian-only space” and I really didn’t know how to phrase it and I ended saying only “lesbian-only” in the title because given the context (a relatively trans-friendly event) it seemed the less worse of the options I saw. (A posteriori, I think I should have said “Cis lesbians are also accepted” :o )

  4. Helen G Says:

    I think there is no “quick fix” solution – the meanings have been attached to the words for a long time, and it will take a long time to bring about change.

    I guess what I’m wondering is, if an interim solution – possibly involving some positive discrimination (although I have reservations about that) – might offer a way forward for the short term.

    Agreed, in a perfect world there would be no need for the qualifiers ‘trans’ and ‘cis’, but that is sadly not something we, as a marginalised minority, have any control over. And this world is far from perfect.

    So maybe it needs to be made clear – for the benefit of everyone – that in this space, for this event, all self-identified women are welcome? Something like that. I don’t have firm suggestions – this is potentially new ground for all, and I’m just thinking aloud. Not saying this is how it must be, or this is the only way, or claiming to represent all transsexual women, or anything.

    I’m just wondering how – assuming there is the will amongst all interested parties – how this can be moved forward. Or even *if* it can be moved forward.


  5. “I think there is no “quick fix” solution”

    Yes, and I think what really changes things is whether there are actually trans women/lesbians in the space or not, and whether the people who organize the space are actually welcoming or not: whether they ask me “hey, are you coming to this event?” or visibly try to ignore me usually give some indication on how well I’ll be welcome.

    “that in this space, for this event, all self-identified women are welcome?”

    On the other hand a significant number of dykes I know (including trans ones, including myself), don’t define as women, so, hum, not so easy :o) In a local group it was specified “(bio or not)” which I found relatively clear (though I would have preferred cis to bio, but locally even trans people use “bio”, so, well, c’est la vie)

  6. Helen G Says:

    Ellie: Yes, and I think what really changes things is whether there are actually trans women/lesbians in the space or not […]

    I’m not sure that is the issue here: to my mind, the question is about a refusal to accept the identities of trans women as valid while cis women’s identities go unchallenged.

    […] and whether the people who organize the space are actually welcoming or not: whether they ask me “hey, are you coming to this event?” or visibly try to ignore me usually give some indication on how well I’ll be welcome.

    Yes. How the borders of the space are policed, in other words. In this case, trans women are excluded by ungendering. Theoretically, I could gain access by pretending to be a “pro-feminist man” – but would still be excluded from the women only workshop.

    On the other hand a significant number of dykes I know (including trans ones, including myself), don’t define as women, so, hum, not so easy :o) In a local group it was specified “(bio or not)” which I found relatively clear (though I would have preferred cis to bio, but locally even trans people use “bio”, so, well, c’est la vie)

    The core issue is around the acceptance of trans women, not whether or not one is a dyke, or anything else. Fundamentally, it comes down to the question of whether or not you are trans or cis. If you are trans, then you’re not welcome.

    And “bio”? Short for “biological”? I personally don’t think that’s really any different to born woman or FAAB or any of the other essentialist terms, in that it then positions trans women as “non bio” (ha!).

    In other words, the focus is still on cis women. They are centered as “the norm” while trans women are “the Other”.

  7. SArah Says:

    I think, (as with most things) it’s not the members who have the problem, but the organisers. To this end, we need to get the members to change their system. I therefore propose the following…

    We get a large group of mtf and ftm transsexuals, to turn up at their next meeting en mass.

    They have to let one part of that group in under their own rules, now as you say and as is probably the case, that would be the ftm’s who probably wouldn’t want to be their anyway, as they’re not women, they’re men.

    Now if they let the mtf group in, all is fine, if not, and they allow the ftm group in, then the ftm group cannot look like they belong there, in other words, they should turn up with ZZ Top style beards, therefore making a mockery of the current rules.

    People have always done some very strange and silly things to prove a point, and this should be no exception.


  8. […] to Helen at Bird of Paradox for pointing it […]


  9. […] changes have been made! Feminism in London conference was not open to transgendered women, read the Bird of Paradox blog to get a better understanding of the implications and problems with […]

  10. Lucy Says:

    I am happy to see that Feminism in London now states they are trans-inclusive and all women are welcome to the women-only workshop (though they use the word “transwomen”, sigh). They even have a short apology for not being clear on this. So, it’s a win in that sense.

    OTOH, the cissexism that resulted in their mistaken belief that trans women would know that “women” included trans women may or may not be still present. Only time will tell on that one.


  11. […] on Reclaim The Night (For Cis Women Only) and the London Cis Feminist NetworkLucy on Cis Feminism in London 09Black Looks » Silencing transsexual women on Cis Feminism in London 09Steph on Reclaim […]


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