Transfeminist Disucssion

I went to panel discussion on Trans Feminism at the London Transgender Film Festival yesterday, which I think was a very good discussion, although emotions did run high. The panel had four people, two of whom were mtf and two of whom were F2-genderqueer.
Near the start, one of the panelists made an excellent point about how gender is a force acting on everyone in society, but trans people end up being perceived as responsible for all gender because of transition. (I’m not stating this quite right.)

The panelists were talking about second wave and third wave feminism. Bridget, a panelist, talked about conflicts between second wave feminism and trans people and noted that the people in conflict were feeling wounded and attacked by society in general. And the people who were the most vocal were the most hurt. And that, I think, shed a lot of light on the conflict between radfems and trans people. Both of those groups have common cause, but both of them have suffered terribly under groups that (falsely) appear to have commonality with the other.

It also came up that a lot of women’s groups avoid having a trans policy to avoid controversy and then trans people don’t know if they’re welcome or not. Given the history of acrimony, these groups should be willing to make a statement for trans inclusion. For example, one of the Take Back the Night Marches last year was not listed as “official” because it had trans participation . . . which is so terrible because trans women have an even higher incidence of rape perpetuated against them than do cis women.

One of the audience members was involved in some women’s march in London (the one that shut down their mics rather than let a sex worker speak!) and she was talking about how she was in favor of trans inclusion and everybody come along, etc. But she wasn’t speaking on behalf of the group, so it was an invitation to push for inclusion.

This didn’t come up, but I want to note that “not having a policy” is a position of privilege. Cis people get to avoid having discussions they’d rather avoid. And then trans people get mixed messages about whether or not they should show up. And then, if they do come, all of the controversy is directed at them. So their quiet allies can avoid having to get involved. I’m a bit bitter about this because I got involved last spring with a feminist thing without an official policy and, as I was on T barely four months by then and feeling incredibly vulnerable anyway, a controversy focused on my own gender presentation was hugely stressful and not ok.

Anyway, somebody in the audience wanted to note that the experiences of trans women resonate with dysphoric (read: eating disorder) cis girls, and trans feminism is thus a valuable contribution to feminism because it benefits cis women. This did not go over well. I know she was well-intentioned, but it simultaneous came off as “they think THEY have it bad, but look at you (exotic) lot!” and “well, your stuff also matters to REAL females.”

The person sitting in front of me tried to defend Julie Bindel, by raising the point that Bindel apologized for the tone, but not the content, of her transphobic column in 2004. But she gave up quickly. During the break, she said she had been hoping for a panel of ftms talking about how we still care about feminism. And she wanted to talk about socialization. Given that this is a cornerstone of why some feminists are transphobic, it’s easy to see why the panel wasn’t keen to bring it up. Also, I’m concerned about why a feminist discussion that mostly included ftms would be more desirable than one that included mtfs. The implications trouble me.

What was largely lost in the whole discussion, was that third wave feminism, as an extension of second wave feminism is thus a validation of the second wave. If the second wave hadn’t been useful and made great gains, there wouldn’t be a third wave. We want to build upon the success of the second wave while, at the same time, making critiques of some of the shortcomings of the previous wave. Second wavers were feeling attacked and third wavers get annoyed and don’t spend much time on the positives of the second wave. Which is logical, really, I mean when you’re complaining about radfem transphobia, you shouldn’t have to start every complaint with an acknowledgement that they were the originators of the concept “patriarchy.” But it should come up more often than it does. We owe these women a great debt, but it doesn’t mean theyre right all the time on everything.

Anyway, the discussion was lively and I think productive and it can’t help but continue.

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Charles Céleste Hutchins

Supercolliding since 2003

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