My previous post (link here) has drawn me into looking further back along the organisational chain of command, and the results are as depressing and predictable as one might expect; as much for the failure of would-be allies as for the actual transphobia of the organisers.
Reclaim The Night and Feminism in London are both organised by the London Feminist Network and one commonality in all their literature is the use of the trans exclusionary phrase “women only”.
The problem arises because the term is grounded in the use of the long-established trope which states that transsexual women are “not really women” – hence my assertion that the phrase women only is trans exclusionary. The definition is essentialist in meaning as it infers that one can only be “born a woman” (and never “become a woman”, to paraphrase de Beauvoir), and in so doing it denies not only the existence and agency of transsexual women and transsexual men, but also the potential for change itself. Thus women comes to mean cis women, just as surely as women only means cis women only. The biological determinism underpinning this rationale ensures that these definitions become permanent, unquestionable, immutable dogma.
However, it also results in the anomalous situation we now see in the cases of both Feminism In London and Reclaim The Night where transsexual men (“really women”) will be welcomed to these events, at the same time as transsexual women (“really men”) will be excluded. The bias in favour of transsexual men not only makes use of one of the most offensive manifestations of transphobia – ungendering us – but silences and further marginalises transsexual women in the process: it is divisive too. At the same time, it reinforces the male/female binary which, in their next breath, those same cis women feminists will tell you they are committed to destroying – because, they reason, gender isn’t really absolute, determined by one’s genital configuration at birth, it is in fact a completely malleable, socially constructed concept.
But regardless of the contorted and contradictory logic employed by LFN to exclude transsexual women, it’s interesting to note how the cis women feminist organisers then go on to avoid being called on their hidden transphobia by saying nothing explicitly about who is included in, and who is excluded from, the term women only. Their cis women feminist supporters at these events, who blithely go along with this hypocrisy by telling themselves that if transsexual women aren’t explicitly excluded then they must be implicitly included, are therefore not only complicit in the silencing of transsexual women, but their complacency allows the organisers to manipulate and exploit them in pursuit of this hidden transphobic agenda.
Which brings me to the real question: who decided this? How many people were responsible for implementing this trans exclusionary policy – and would they have been successful if the majority not been so apathetic? In a situation like this, saying nothing is no different to actively supporting the bigots. And given that transsexual women are highly unlikely to have access to the decision-making process, it falls to those cis women feminists who call themselves allies to take a stand on our behalf.
No more excuses, my sisters.
Cross-posted at Harlot’s Parlour