Feminism in London workshop: follow-up

October 10, 2009

FiL09-161x162In my earlier response to Lucy’s comments (links here and here) on my posts “Cis Feminism in London 09” and “Reclaim The Night (For Cis Women Only) and the London Cis Feminist Network”, I said that I wanted to write a little more on the subject, and that’s what I’m trying to do in this post.

Additionally, I would recommend that anyone interested in following this thread also reads Laura’s post, Feminism in London workshop, at The F-Word blog.

Before I start, I want to make my own clarification. The views and opinions I express here are mine alone: I do not claim to be representative of transsexual women. Neither is it my intent to invisibilise, marginalise or silence the voices of other transsexual women.


Late on Friday afternoon, the organisers of the Feminism In London event updated their website with the following information:

On the website’s home page:

This event is trans-inclusive and transwomen are welcome in the one workshop that is women-only. The Feminism in London organising group would like to apologise for not making this clear from the beginning.

On the workshops schedule page:

This workshop is for women (including transwomen) only.

Whilst I consider this to be a positive outcome overall and I welcome the clarification, there are a few points I’d like to make.

  1. The whole situation need never have arisen in the first place. The term “women-only” is cissexist, and has been since it was first coined by cis women feminists. That a supposedly progressive and egalitarian movement continues to use it makes it clear that the overwhelming majority of its members have simply not checked their cis privilege.

    Had the original publicity material (and let’s remember that it was only the website that was changed, not any posters/flyers, etc) been clear from the outset that the entire event was open to all self-identified women (for want of another clearly inclusive term), then the risk of misinterpretation could have been eliminated.

  2. I wonder if there would have been any clarification at all from Feminism In London if a member of the FIL organising committee hadn’t seen Laura’s post at TFW (the situation only began to turn after the comment initiated further discussion between the organiser and TFW bloggers).

    And I know this will make me (even more) unpopular in some people’s eyes, but I cannot understate the contribution my TFW co-bloggers made to precipitating FIL’s clarification. The positive outcome is, I believe, due entirely to their input. As well as being my co-bloggers and my friends, I’m more than happy to call them my allies.

  3. I’m not comfortable with the term “transwomen”. It carries its own meanings of objectification and othering and I would have preferred to see trans used as an adjective. We don’t refer to (for example) Lesbianwomen, or Jewishwomen, or diabeticwomen – so why say transwomen?
  4. The FIL event was still strongly biased against sex workers, and that is another aspect which needs to be addressed.

I realise that to some cis women feminists I still sound like Angry Trans Harpy™ – which I’m not. Well… not completely. I am pissed off that this whole discussion even needed to take place, but perhaps that’s just a measure of how deeply entrenched transphobic views still are within cis women’s feminism. And although I’m glad that the organisers of Feminism In London clarified – albeit only at the eleventh hour – that their event didn’t exclude trans women, I remain sceptical that the London Feminist Network is any less transphobic.

So now this transsexual woman waits to see if the lesson learned by FIL will be applied to next month’s Reclaim The Night march.


6 Responses to “Feminism in London workshop: follow-up”

  1. Penny Red Says:

    One group I know solves this problem by declaring their meetings open to ‘all self-identified women’. Do you reckon that’s a good solution?

  2. Helen G Says:

    Penny: It’s a term I favour at the moment, certainly. There are two issues that I see: the fact of “women” defaulting to mean “cis women”; and the fact that I identify as a woman, transsexual, and as a transsexual woman.

    I do think that if there was some way to break down that inherited exclusionary meaning, we might be another step closer to breaking down the attitudes that transsexual women are something other than women.

    It’s about changing attitudes, and that isn’t going to happen overnight – I wish it would. I wish I wasn’t forever on the defensive about my identity. I wish my identity wasn’t endlessly the subject of debate for cis women. And I wish that there was a quick and easy way to break down the stigmatisation and prejudice transsexual women face.

    The journey of a thousand miles, and all that :/

  3. Penny Red Says:

    I’m with you 100%.

    It’s upsetting for me, because whilst I don’t believe that LFN is by default transphobic, and the group certainly has no official stance against trans people, some group members almost certainly are transphobic, at least passively if not actively. I have decided to involve myself in the group’s activities despite this, since I believe that nearly the work they do is valuable, and I will carry on campaigning for the rights of all self-identified women to enjoy the privileges feminism affords cis-women within its debate spaces. In just the same way that I will work with the Labour and Socialist parties even though I know some members and policymakers to be misogynist c*nts, and I’m not afraid to call them out on that.

    FWIW, I was in the rape and violence discussion, and it was, for me, a really good and useful session – I was able to discuss my own experience of being raped without judgement, and gained a lot of strength from that. I don’t know if we were all ciswomen or not, but I would have been happy either way.

    For me, TBH, the issue I would have run across in organising such a group was whether or not to exclude trans men, especially as many trans men have experienced rape whilst living as cis women or genderqueer women. I would have felt perfectly comfortable having trans men in the room (I think there were a couple, but I didn’t check as that would have been invasive) – but I and many others would have felt that the safe space was compromised if there were any *cis* men there, or anyone who had been raised as a man in this culture. Even though cis men experience as well as perpetrating rape.

    Would excluding cis men and not trans men have been transphobic, do you think? And would that have been the lesser of two evils?

    Sorry, this is just me getting theoretical now, feel free not to answer!


  4. Helen G Says:

    I think LFN’s got a major structural problem, in that it claims it doesn’t have a structure. Non-hierarchical, I think it calls itself. This is something we were talking about on the TFW list yesterday and Louise and Laura both recommended I read Jo Freeman’s The Tyranny Of Structurelessness for a better insight (I’ve never really been involved with any non-hierarchical organisation and would like to understand the theory).

    Also, good for you for getting involved even if you have reservations; I know the old arguments about entryism not working, but I wonder. I think as part of a wider process, it can definitely play a part.

    Thanks for sharing your experience of the workshop; I’m glad you found it helpful. It’s hard for me to understand why some cis women seem to have the idea that if transsexual women go into these spaces, they do so because they want to carry out acts of sexual violence. I simply cannot fathom the logic.

    And the trans man issue is a direct spinoff from the essentialist BS which states that transsexual women can only ever be men; by definition, trans men can only ever be women and I think that’s why they gain access. But I think it’s a reasonable assumption that if the criterion was “self-identified women”, then the paradox would evaporate. On which note, I think I’m going to evaporate to bed :) But please do feel free to comment, or if you want to take it off-blog, my email’s in the About page… Night night x

    ETA: There is also the question of why a trans man, who is presumably living as such, would feel entitled (or even want) to go into women only spaces anyway.

  5. Drakyn Says:

    You know, if there are that many men (and genderqueer folks who don’t identify as women and/or don’t feel comfortable in SIW’s spaces), then why not have a second group for discussing rape & sexual assault that is open to all genders?
    That way men (trans or cis; cis men get raped too remember), genderqueer folks, and women who don’t feel comfortable in SIW’s-spaces can have a safe, feminist place to talk about their experiences.
    I imagine men, especially cis men & stealth trans men, have few such spaces to talk about their experiences with rape & sexual assault in general.
    I’d also imagine that at least some women who were assaulted by women don’t feel comfortable in SIW’s-spaces and/or talking about their experiences in SIW’s-spaces.
    Most genderqueer people generally appreciate not having to enter specifically man/woman-gendered spaces in general ime.

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