Reclaim The Night (For Cis Women Only) and the London Cis Feminist Network

October 5, 2009

RTN cis onlyMy 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.

LFN cis onlyBut 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

19 Responses to “Reclaim The Night (For Cis Women Only) and the London Cis Feminist Network”

  1. Marigold Says:

    “Who decided this?”
    Yeah, I’ve been wondering that too. Is it a cultural hangover from 2nd-wave feminists, or is it a view that is actively pursued today?
    What would happen if, say, you and I turned up at an event? Surely they couldn’t *actually* not let you in – you are legally etc. etc. (as if FEELING female wasn’t enough) a woman!

    (In process of replying to your email, btw. Taking some time ;))

  2. […] Reclaim the Night (For Cis Women Only) and the London Cis Feminism Network – Feminism is not fully functional if it excludes trans people […]

  3. Helen G Says:

    Marigold: I assume they have ways to control who is granted entry and who isn’t – otherwise why have a cis women only rule? Not that I feel very inclined to find out, I have to say.

    And although all my documentation does indeed confirm that I’m ‘legally’ a woman, it’s unenforceable in this context. Sure, I could pursue a case for sex discrimination through the courts, but really, what would be the point? (Especially given that the event takes place in four days’ time)

  4. Zoe Brain Says:

    Ask them.

    Say that as a second wave radical feminist you’re concerned that there is no explicit definition of “woman”, and you want to be completely sure there’s none of those dreadful trans pretend-women Menz or hermaphrodite freaks there. Like that awful Caster Semenya thing.

    If they tell you to go take a running jump, you’ll know that leopards can indeed have melanotic change, new leaves can be rotated axially etc.

    If they give you assurances that of course they won’t be allowed in, but they’re not allowed to say that in public, then you’ll have your suspicions confirmed.

    Had the organisers not had a long and unbroken history of transphobia, I’d say you were being unreasonably paranoid in your suspicions. But they do, so you’re not. I’d still like to see them confirmed though.

  5. Mercedes Says:

    I’m with Zoe on that one. Get the confirmation, preferably written. As you pointed out, the stipulation is couched so that the exclusion is not obvious… so hold it up for all to see.

    Failing this, attend. And bring friends. Do so as peacefully as you can, the idea is not to stomp in and demand, but to show a visible desire to participate, and be seen when you’re refused.

    Until then, it will be easy for everyone else to ignore that there’s a problem.

  6. I found this link : concerning (partly) trans inclusion on the reclaim the night london 08 (though, not by the organizers).

  7. Helen G Says:

    Wow. That’s the first I’ve heard of anything like that being organised. Thanks for the link.

    I wonder how it went – and if the London Anarchafeminist Kolektiv (or any other group) is planning such a thing for this year’s RTN.

  8. R J McElroy Says:

    You obviously overestimate how much Trans men are actually welcomed at these events. Seriously, we trans guys are all-too-often berated by “feminists” as transitioning simply out of “deeply internalised misogyny” and as “betraying [our] sisters for a little male privilege”. Even Michfest has had incidents of denying entry and stage time to trans men and bands with even a single early-transition trans man member.

    You’re more than justified in being annoyed at the occasional welcoming of trans men into women’s spaces, which I agree is all-too-often at the expense of denying entry to trans women, and not to mention ungendering to both (and why so many Trans men even put up with it, I simply can’t fathom — trans men have absolutely no right to women’s spaces). But portraying this occasional acceptance as a universal welcome-with-open-arms in both intellectually dishonest and, in and of itself, divisive. Maybe you’re not intending such a portrayal in this piece, but it really reads that way.

  9. Helen G Says:

    Rowan: You’re right that I wasn’t intending a universal portrayal – I’m talking about one event, organised by cis women feminists from an organisation which is well-known for its transphobia, to be held on one day, in one city – but I refute absolutely your assertion that I am being “intellectually dishonest”. The fact remains that events which state categorically in their advance publicity, “If you are a woman or a pro-feminist man, come along to join the discussion” (FIL) and “women only” (RTN), by definition include trans men (should any wish to attend) under either category, according to how the organisers choose to identify them – at the same time as they emphatically exclude and invisibilise trans women.

    Whether or not a trans man is comfortable with having his identity determined by cis women feminists on the basis of how his gender was assigned to him at birth is, of course, another matter – but my point is that there is a double standard at play: trans men are, according to cis women feminists “really women” (by virtue of being FAAB) whilst trans women are only ever “really men”.

    My argument in this instance is not with trans men but with those transphobic cis women who, at the same time as they accuse trans women of upholding the gender binary are, in fact, upholding a mirror world binary of their construction – and using it to police the boundaries of spaces to which trans women have as much right to enter into as cis women. The divisiveness is not of my making and the active exclusion of trans women by bigoted cis women feminists remains my foremost concern here.

  10. […] of the phrase “women only” and the dogma of biological determinism is discussed over at Bird of Paradox in reference to the “women only” Reclaim The Night and Feminism in London events […]

  11. Steph Says:

    I’ve been on a few LFN RTNs and not experienced any problems, however, this might be in part due to my own ‘passing privilege’. When I’ve raised this previously with them, LFN have rather tried to buck answering the question straight as to whether they consider (trans) women as included in their ‘women only’ policy. From what I can gather, there are those in LFN that consider (trans) women as being included, and those that don’t, and it seems that the LFN organisers don’t want to set out a clear statement on it on the basis that it’ll offend someone within their membership!

  12. Helen G Says:

    Steph: The problem is the persistent use of terms like “women only”; that phrase in particular has been so invested with transphobic meaning by so many cis women feminists over the last 40+ years that it signals trans exclusion the moment it’s used.

  13. Steph Says:

    Oh I agree, Helen, and it’s not helped by groups such as LFN constantly trying to avoid making a clear statement as to the meaning of ‘women only’ – it merely furthers the problem.

  14. Lucy Says:

    Now that LFN have stated that Feminism in London 09 includes trans women as women, I do have to wonder if that’s a one-off or if it’s now standard policy for events. No clarification to that effect has appeared on either the LFN website or the Reclaim The Night website, so I’m considering FiL09 to be exceptional for now.

  15. Helen G Says:

    Lucy: Thanks for your comments here and here; you’re absolutely right in the points you raise.

    I will write again later today on the situation, there are other things I want to talk about – but I’m just now on my way out of the door and won’t be online until this evening. But I will say that, although this is just one small step forward, I think it’s potentially significant in the context. Although I don’t want to either underestimate or overestimate it, I think it is both notable and positive, and to be welcomed for what it is.

    Talk later

  16. […] in London workshop: follow-up « bird of paradox on Cis Feminism in London 09Helen G on Reclaim The Night (For Cis Women Only) and the London Cis Feminist NetworkLucy on Reclaim The Night (For Cis Women Only) and the London Cis Feminist NetworkLucy on Cis […]

  17. Donna Patricia Says:

    This whole debate baffles me.

    A person who has committed to her femaleness through surgery is a woman, no ifs and or buts. If that’s complete,then no question. None at all. If she is surgery-tracked (letters, et al) and just waiting for her op,then what’s the deal?

    How much more committment can a transsexual woman make to her femininity than surgery?

    Donna Patricia

  18. […] Day as it is in a trans related context; for example, the consent of trans women is lacking at a Reclaim The Night […]

  19. […] some cis women feminist friends about the continuing refusal of the organisers of the forthcoming Reclaim The Night (For Cis Women Only) march, and the two things combined to give me an […]

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