In general, I try to avoid intra-feminst disputes because, although I still consider myself a feminist, it doesn’t really directly effect me and generally it’s not good when allies wade into stuff like that. I also doubly avoid annoying fights. (Frankly, being able to ignore stupid pseudo-feminist bullshit is an example of male privilege, but anyway.)
There is a constant, long-running fight between some bigoted radical feminists (called TERFs for some reason) and trans women. Obviously bigots are in the wrong, but arguing with them is like arguing with my kitchen table, so I mostly ignore this except when it becomes relevant. (It used to be that TERFs wanted to save me from being trans . . in the same way the Fred Phelps wants to save people from being gay.) It’s really much more fun to ignore them. However, they’re planning a conference in London that actively excludes trans women and this is discrimination. I don’t want to see this kind of event pass without comment, lest anyone get the idea that this kind of discrimination is ok. I doubt very many trans women would want to spend a weekend hanging around TERFs, but they should still face criticism for their bigotry.
Meanwhile, one of them wrote a blog post defending their London event as being better than a trans health conference being held in the US. Astute readers will note that a health conference in the US and a political conference in the UK are really not the same thing, but let’s pretend this argument is worth examining (as my other planned activity for this evening is putting everything I own into boxes).
BugBrennan specifically attacks the sponsors of the health conference for including pharmaceutical companies, government and religious organizations. I will admit that I also find the participation by pharmaceutical corporations to be problematic, but this is a consequence of the how the US chooses (not) to organise it’s health care system. The participation of for-profit entities in anything health-related is morally suspect, but, alas, that is the entire basis of the US health system. And, indeed, it makes sense to have health providers involved in a health conference. If there were a trans health conference in the UK, I would expect to see NHS sponsorship and involvement. If it were a large, mainstream conference like the one up for discussion, I would be concerned if the NHS were not involved. Trans people who take hormones do rely on pharmaceutical products and it’s better that our health needs are taken into account by the manufacturers of these products.
If this were a political conference, the participation by companies such as Johnson and Johnson would be much more suspect. But it is not.
And, in the same way, government involvement seems appropriate as trans health is a public health issue. Because of systemic transphobia, many trans people in the US are reliant upon government services to provide health care as they are unable to afford private care. A social worker in the city of San Francisco once told me that it is a cost-saving measure for them to provide free transition-related health care to poor trans people. I would expect this to be true in other places as well.
So what about religious groups? I speculate that they wanted to participate because they wanted to show that they are open communities and because they perceive trans people to be a vulnerable community. If there were a gay men’s health conference, I would also expect to see health, government and religious groups involved. Lest that be construed as supporting the patriarchy, if there were a lesbian health conference, I would also expect to see those same groups involved. Also, being trans is not a spiritual identity, any more than being cis is a spiritual identity. Some cis women are religious. Some are atheists. Some trans women are religious. Some are atheists.
Of course, a political conference probably wouldn’t have church support or government support or big pharma support, but if you look at the very long list of supporting organisations, some of them are the kind of thing you might expect at both a health conference and a political conference. Let’s look at some of them:
- Trans Masculine Advocacy Network (TMAN) which continues to provide leadership towards making PTHC better able to serve communities of color.
- The William Way Community Center which will be hosting this year’s opening reception
- The Attic Youth Center which will be helping to host this year’s Teen Space
GenderReel which will be hosting a mini-film fest on Thursday evening at the conference
- Philadelphia Family Pride
- GenderQueer Revolution (GQR)
- Female to Male International (FTMi)
- Transgender People of Color Coalition (TPOCC)
There we have families, teens, community centres and non-white people! Now, I don’t know who or if anybody is sponsoring the radfem debacle coming soon to London and maybe they don’t have affinity groups for, say, people of colour. Maybe they think they don’t need them for some reason. Maybe they have a very good reason to sneer at gatherings that try to be visibly and openly inclusive to a racially and age diverse group of participants. I don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t want to jump to conclusions.
Really, the TERF conference is going to be much much smaller, so it probably needs a lot less support and it’s not really fair to compare things that are so unlike. But given that their intended venue threw them out for being bigots and they are keeping the new location secret, I think it was strategically wise of them not to try to get community support.
Now does this one health conference mean, as BugBrennan suggests, that trans people are now fully integrated into power structures in America? Well, one can only hope that this is a step towards the end of systematic discrimination, but I’m afraid post-conference statistics on trans unemployment, hate crimes, etc are not yet available, so we’ll have to wait and see. Unfortunately, I suspect we still have a while to go.
Some of you may be wondering how it is feminist to discriminate against some women based on sex/gender? I will admit I don’t get it, but if any of you understand it, feel free to explain in the comments.