Like many of the feminists I know on twitter, I was sad and annoyed the other day to hear about the way in which RadFem12 has set out an entry policy to exclude transwomen from attending. Not a massive surprise, looking at the list of speakers, and it certainly isn’t a new thing for the radical wing of feminism to set itself up in antagonist opposition to transwomen - 10 years ago I remember reading Sandy Stone for my masters, and it doesn’t exactly look like things have moved on.
I’m not a Radical feminist, and I probably have a few views which would not be popular in that particular school - in particular the idea that gender norms harm men as well as women and that that harm should be investigated and critiqued, and the idea that the patriarchy is a structure we are socialised into rather than a specific force used by men against women. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t radical feminists who I admire, who have changed the way I think about things, and I think in any politics a radical fringe is important in terms of throwing up challenging ideas, even if these then turn out to be problematic.
The exclusion (and the years of bile against) transwomen goes beyond problematic, however - I think it fundamentally shifts a movement which claims to be the radical core to the position of being anti-feminist.
1) Rad-fem transphobia embodies the values which feminism, in its broadest form, encompassing a range of different strands - fights against. Oppression of minorities. Hierarchy. Restriction of knowledge and empowerment for those privileged with a body that matches their mind. Denial of multiplicity of oppression.
2) There are real issues with biological essentialism for anyone interested in advancing gender equality. Belief in the biologically distinct essence of man and woman - a belief which relies on and enhances the physical appearance of difference with little acknowledgement of the massive capacity for difference and or similarity between each and every human being, with sex representing only one strand - has been involved in thousands of years of life choices which can be described as restricted at best. Confine a woman to her physical sex, and you thicken the boundaries by which she will be defined by that, not by the multitude of other things which make her specifically her.
3)Radical feminists have for a long time pointed to the violence which women experience at the hands of the patriarchy as their defining issue in the call for separatism. And yet it doesn’t take much research to discover the bloodshed in the history of transphobia, over time and now, which a narrative which confines these women to the role of other can only act to culturally reproduce.
This summer I along with many of our movement will be joining with trans-sisters to tell RadFem2012 that excluding any woman from their conference is anti-woman and anti-feminist.
An example of controlling antitrans sentiments (Autumn Sandeen) http://pamshouseblend.firedoglake.com/2011/07/29/an-example-of-controlling-antitrans-sentiments/
Conway Hall respond on transphobia http://www.complicity.co.uk/blog/2012/05/conway-hall-respond-on-transphobia/