Originally posted on FeministFriends.com
Dear Radical Feminists in attendance at the Shulamith Firestone Women’s Liberation Memorial Conference on What is to be Done,
I too, was gathered with you for this conference in New York City. I was excited to be involved in a consciousness raising session, and interested to hear your collective thoughts on what is to be done. I had heard the criticisms of transphobia within your movement, but naively hoped such sentiment came from a small, removed faction. As I sat among you, and your notable speakers, I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong. Transphobia and transmisogyny are alive and well within your walls. The disdain with which you referred to trans women and your collective refusal to accept them as women was shocking and horrifying. This letter is to voice what I did not have the courage, or the words to say when I was in your presence.
Ladies, you are not feminists. Feminism, as defined by bell hooks is the movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression. Your tactics and vision place you squarely as oppressors. You are fundamentally no different than the patriarchal system you supposedly seek to dismantle. Your vitriolic exclusion of women whose bodies do not qualify as appropriately “female,” is little different than the exclusion of white women from the public sphere or blacks from white-only spaces. The logic is the same. You are an elitist class exercising and maintaining privilege by denying a systemically oppressed class access to your space. It is an age-old tool of oppression.
Maybe you’ve been so focused on your own liberation, you failed to notice that trans people suffer immensely from the discrimination and hatred that those like you dish out. In fact, 41% of trans people have attempted suicide, one in five have experienced homelessness, and nearly all have feared for their lives. Trans women are the most frequent targets of anti LGBTQ hate crimes. Is this really the group you choose to target?
At the conference one of you spoke out about the fundamental right of lesbian women to bodily autonomy, emphasizing the importance of being free to choose who to love. Others of you made it clear that women should not be defined by their reproductive capacity. The hypocrisy in these sentiments were mind-blowing. In one breath you championed your own freedom from biology, yet scoffed at the idea that trans women are not defined by theirs. Your suggestion that SOME women deserve bodily autonomy, while others do not is horrible, self-aggrandizing and reprehensible.
I’d like to know how you determine which women are worthy of bodily autonomy and of occupying your space. You see, sex and gender aren’t quite as simple as you seem to think. Human beings are complex creatures, and sex, gender and sexuality can be expressed in an infinite number of ways at different points in time. It wouldn’t even suffice if one were required to show their genitalia before entering your space, since human sex/gender is not clear-cut. Yet, your obsession with the idea of “real” women makes this horrific scenario all too plausible.
By erroneously defining women as those with female physical characteristics you have elevated your own status as cis-women and willfully exercised your privilege to oppress others. You do so, seemingly with the belief that you must climb over the backs of others to achieve liberation. The exclusion of trans women is, as one of your invited speakers explained, the linchpin, the one issue that would be the most effective in gaining “women’s” liberation. Making an argument for women’s liberation by denying access to some women is simply nonsensical.
However, it all started to make sense when another one of your speakers ranted about how, “it is necessary to fight your OWN oppression, rather than focus on the most oppressed,” and that you “can’t get wrapped up in guilt over someone else’s oppression.” It became clear that unlike your radical feminist title suggests, you are not worried about systems of oppression. Your lone concern is for your OWN liberation from your OWN specific form of oppression. Contrary to the fundamental tenets of radical feminism, you will gladly uphold oppressive systems if and when they benefit you.
While radical feminist theory presents valid criticisms and strategies to achieve liberation, your perverse rendition does not. Your trans-exclusionary practices are not feminist, and are certainly not radical. They are based on the retrogressive principle of biological hierarchy – the same principle that has subjugated women (and others) for centuries. I implore you to consider adopting a strategy aimed at achieving liberation for all women, and all people, regardless of race, class, gender or sexuality.