Reflecting on “​My message to those who would attend Radfem 2012”

Note: this is the second part of my response to transphobia during Feminist Times’ “Gender Week”. You can read the first part here.

It’s been almost two years now since I published the most widely-read piece I’ve yet written: “My message to those who would attend Radfem 2012“.

I actually wrote this piece quite quickly. I remember turning it over in my mind for a few hours, and then writing it up and posting it to my blog without any inkling of how it would be read by thousands of people. I was angry, but also upset, with part of my upset arising from a sense of empathy for those I disagreed with. You, like me, are damaged. You, like me, are hurt. Why is it that we must hurt one another so?

Ironically, it was also this piece that helped me come to the conclusion that I was right to engage in ideological struggles against transphobic forms of radical feminism. Engaging in this struggle is – in a sense – an attempt at self-preservation, as well as an act of solidarity with other trans people.

I don’t personally participate much in the never-ending arguments between trans people and trans-exclusive radical feminists (“TERFs”) across Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. I don’t have the energy, and I’m not sure that it’s always productive to argue with individuals who are never going to be persuaded to change their views.

But I do think it is important to intervene on many occasions – for instance, when transphobic views are aired by TERFs in the mainstream media, or when TERFs are afforded platforms at feminist or LGBT events. The point is not to deny people the freedom to express their awful views: instead, the idea is to always contest these views. To ensure that anti-trans perspectives don’t start gaining additional traction.

In light of this, I’ve strived to keep “My message…” alive, in one form or another. I’ve performed bits of it on a number of occasions with Not Right (ironically, this frequently does not go well as references to feminism have riled cis men in the audience on a number of occasions). I’m hoping to read the whole thing out during an upcoming feminist event at the University of Warwick. And I’ve recently been working on a number of revisions, as I hope to create a new version with the same sense of flow but a somewhat wider outlook.

It was in this spirit that I granted Feminist Times permission to republish the piece as part of their “Gender Week”.

I wondered initially if I perhaps should have thought this through better. There was some confusion as I was originally asked to write a companion piece to accompany an article by Finn Mackay, but (due to external circumstances) wasn’t able to meet the deadline.

In retrospect, I feel I should have ensured that my article was published as a stand-alone piece. I feel like both my article and Finn’s attempt to “talk to” the other “side” in the supposed trans/radical feminist debate, but the way in which both pieces were written independently means we’re kind of talking past one another. This is a pity. Finn and I have a lot of common ground, and I feel we could have a productive and interesting dialogue about our differences.

Whilst the comment sections on many of the Gender Week articles have seen some extremely unpleasant views aired, and the Twitter hashtag (#GenderWeek) has spun horribly out of control, I’m glad to see Feminist Times offer a platform for trans voices in an attempt to thoughtfully address transphobia in the feminist movement.

It’s important that we create safe spaces for trans people to discuss gender, identity and politics. It’s also important that we reach beyond these spaces, lest trans discourse becomes an echo chamber. I’ve experienced quite serious burnout recently, but fully intend to keep talking about the place of trans people in feminism. Keeping “My message…” alive is an important part of this.

Of course, the resulting attentions of both male misogynists and the TERFs are horrific. One lesson we can learn from this is that trans people who gain a platform benefit from content warnings, strong moderation and (during offline events) “no tolerance” door policies, lest we buckle under the pressure of hatred received.

In solidarity with Julie Bindel against rape threats.

Some things are more important than existing disputes, regardless of how deeply-felt and powerful those disputes are. I fully back the press release from Protest Transphobia (see below). No-one should ever, ever be threatened with rape or violence and we should stand by those who receive such threats.

Press Release from Protest Transphobia:

In solidarity with Julie Bindel against threats

Members of Protest Transphobia were shocked and dismayed recently to read that the commentator Julie Bindel had been threatened with violence including rape, allegedly by a transgender person, in relation to the University of Manchester debate on the pornography industry next week in which she had planned to take part as a panelist.

A protest at the event had been organised by a group of transgender students in Manchester, due to legitimate concerns about her writings on matters related to transgender identity and transition-related healthcare, and the impact of providing a platform to a speaker with a known history of making transphobic statements.

We understand rape and threats of rape as a vicious form of torture and a patriarchal weapon for the preservation of male dominance in society, and with some exceptions, an overwhelmingly male crime against women, both cisgender and transgender.

Regardless of the source of this threat, we fully support Ms Bindel’s action in reporting the incident to the authorities. Whilst transgender people may be directly endangered by certain points of Ms Bindel’s ideology, we unequivocally condemn the threats she has received and regard threats of rape to be categorically reprehensible.

We wish to take this opportunity to offer solidarity to Ms Bindel against any and all threats of violence.

​My message to those who would attend Radfem 2012

In you, I see the girls who spat in my face as I walked home from school.

In me, you see every man who has ever treated you like a lesser being.

In you, I see the boys who always wanted to pick a fight.

In me, you see someone who just won’t listen.

In you, I see my father, a man I’ve always considered to be wise and thoughtful, telling me that I’ll be outed by the press and kicked out of university for using the women’s toilets if I transition after my A-levels.

In me, you see a forceful male penetration into women’s spaces.

In you, I see a hundred tabloid headlines screaming “tranny”.

In me, you see a blind adherence to the oppressive system of binary gender.

In you, I see the doctor who tells me what I can and can’t do with my body.

In me, you see the stooge of a patriarchal medical system.

In you, I see friends who have been beaten or raped before being told by authority figures that they brought it on themselves.

In me, you see a systematic desire to control and define womanhood.

In you, I see a systematic desire to control and define womanhood.

How do we bridge this impossible divide?

My truth and your truth are both derived from a fierce feminism, but somehow remain diametrically opposed.  How is it that we can disagree so much over the existence of a feminist conference for “women born women living as women”?

I would tell you that my subconscious sex, the mental matrix that somehow marks the flesh I expect to see and feel when I behold myself, maps snugly onto the body I have inhabited since undergoing hormone therapy and genital reconstruction. I would tell you that for the last three years I have been happy and at ease with myself in a way I could never have been before.

I would tell you that I am a woman because I identify as a woman, I move through the world as a woman, and in this sense I have been a woman my entire adult life. I would tell you that I don’t even know what it’s like to be a man because that’s something I’ve simply never experienced. I do know what it’s like to be a teenage trans girl faking it as a boy though, and I can tell you that isn’t a whole lot of fun. I would tell you that trans women who transition later in life tend to encounter more significant challenges than I did, and that they are no less a woman for this.

I would tell you that yes, I agree that gender is a social construct that ascribes hegemonic power to the masculine. I would tell you that I, like you, am forced to negotiate a society where we cannot simply reject gender because we are gendered constantly by others. The body I inhabit, the things I enjoy, the manner in which I communicate, the clothes I prefer to wear fit better into the artificial category of “woman” than the artificial category of “man”.

I would tell you that “trans” is an aspect of my womanhood: womanhood is not an aspect of my transness. I am a woman who happens to be trans.

I would tell you that when I was with a woman, she loved me as a woman. Now I am with a man, he loves me as a man. I am entirely at ease with my bisexuality.

I would tell you that I reject outdated ideals of “appropriate” female behaviour. I don’t see why I should take on a submissive role within society, although I do feel it is important to recognise the voices of others and listen in a sisterly fashion. I  do not see why I should dress in a particular feminine fashion, wear make-up or force myself into uncomfortable shoes, but reserve the right to occasionally dress “femme” when the mood takes me.

I would tell you that I rage against sexism and misogyny at every possible opportunity. I have dedicated a great deal of time fighting in solidarity alongside my feminist sisters for equality, for liberation, for choice.

I would tell you that I, too am subject to sexism and misogyny in many of their vile forms. My transness does not spare me. I would also tell you that I have experienced worse for being trans than I have for being a woman, although these unpleasant experiences have been limited by the privileges that come with my class status and the colour of my skin.

I would tell you that I believe in the importance of women’s spaces. I would argue that no group of women should be rejected from such a space.

I would tell you that this is my truth, and that there is no universal trans truth. That some trans people feel their gender is essential and innate, whilst others reject gender entirely, and so many occupy a myriad of positions between these poles. I would ask you to acknowledge the diversity and complexity of trans truths.

And you would tell me your truth. You would tell me of the pain that comes from growing up as a girl and then a woman in a patriarchal world. You would tell me that I can never know what this is like, that I will always be a man, that my chromosomes and life experience alike cannot be erased. You would tell me that you have a right to organise without me. That I should just leave you alone.

And the argument could roll on for a long time. For instance, I might draw upon the wisdom of black feminist thinkers to argue that there is no universal experience of womanhood. And you might argue that I, nevertheless, will always have with me the male privilege that comes with being raised as a boy. And I would say yes, I accept that, but I seek to acknowledge and check this in the same way I seek to acknowledge and check my other privileges, and moreover this intersects complexly with the oppression I experienced growing up as a young trans person, unable to access hegemonic forms of masculinity.

Where does this leave us?

At the end of the day, we have to draw a line in the sand. So you have your conference, and I am explicitly excluded. But I necessarily object to your conference, because you not only reject me on grounds that trouble me, but you invite a speaker who actively opposes my liberation.

So I am left with no choice but to actively oppose the public manifestation of opinions that will do harm to myself and my friends and my trans sisters and my trans brothers and my queer and/or non-gender-specific trans siblings.

I oppose you not because I hate you, and certainly not because I oppose feminism. I oppose you because you would cause me harm.

And in doing so, you believe that I cause you harm.

And so the dance goes on.

 

TRIGGER WARNING:comments contain upsetting language, erasure etc.