i don’t normally like to delve into the realms of the TERFy these days, but i felt compelled by some recent experiences to talk about the ways that liberal feminism fails trans women, since trans folks tend to focus their criticisms on radical feminism almost exclusively. my aim is to show that the specific ideological differences are not the cause of trans-exclusion, but that rather these things are the result of pervasive cissexism that exists in the vast majority of cis people, and thus naturally cis women.
lisa millbank of the excellent radtransfem has talked about how liberal feminists “weaponize” trans women against radicals - and this definitely seems to bear out. someone who presents an apparent contradiction to ideas of wholly socially constructed gender is convenient for a group whose ideology depends on an unease with that concept, and an unwillingness to embrace it fully. you can dismiss radicals with, “well what about trans people?” without engaging their arguments or considering their implication for your own circumstances.
trans inclusion is predicated, i would argue, on this relationship. trans women are welcomed symbolically, without ever really achieving integration with the group. as long as the trans woman “behaves” - is sexless, not too radical, willing to be an artefact for liberal rhetoric, they are accepted. in exchange the libfems will very loudly shout buzzwords for them, about how “gender is between your ears not your legs” and that “trans women are women… period!!!!” that obfuscate trans discourses in favour of palatable platitudes.
for a while now i’ve been part of a local feminist discussion group, and while there are some excellent and engaged feminists in there, i’ve consistently sensed tensions between myself and the more liberal wing of the group. despite being trans myself, my comments about being trans are viewed with suspicion and distrust, because i speak with the language of radicalism. a cis woman is generally treated as the group’s authority, because she knows several trans men and does drag, and her comments receive a lot more respect than mine do. the rhetoric she serves up is simplistic and asinine, focused on trans-as-subversion, and overly biasing trans narratives that are constructed entirely out of empty appeals to gender identity and preferences in gender expression.
her arguments aren’t as interesting to me as the form of her arguments though, and i’ll refrain from addressing them directly here and now. because these arguments are made whenever trans radicalism raises its head. these arguments are veiled in the language of inclusion - “not all trans people want surgery or hormones”, she says, and she’s right, but the way she says it, specifically addressing radicalism and trans people’s voices, implies heavily that those that do, or even those that want dysphoria and transition to be considered important parts of what trans means for a lot of people, are not really… the right sort. they’re not useful to her, going out on saturday nights in drag to “indulge her boy side”. they’re kind of weird in fact, and hard to identify with. i think that the appearance of inclusion is more important to liberal feminists than actual inclusion.
this can produce disastrous results if the liberal in question radicalizes. one woman in the group, who didn’t know i was trans, took my comments about gender abolition and trans radicalism and explained that it had given her a lot to think about, and that really if you think about it female only spaces are a good idea. this was hardly my point. viewing trans women in the sort of dehumanized way that our society encourages however, the only way she knew how to respond to increased radicalization with regards to gender was to admit that she was suspicious of trans women all along.
these experiences have led me to a very obvious conclusion. the way libfems and radfems think about trans women is no different. what differs is their perspective on gender. while gender is fun, trans women are useful. when gender must be destroyed, trans women, as gender’s apparent avatars, must be destroyed with it.
so trans women, don’t be fooled. the liberals aren’t your allies either. the only solution is enthusiastic acceptance of trans women in women’s spaces, an acceptance where our voices are not taken from us and we are not held in contempt for radicalism. the irony is that to achieve this sort of radical acceptance we must be radical, liberal subversionism will only ever buy us false friends.
This is a brilliant post which says exactly what I’ve been trying to say for a long time but haven’t quite found the words, though I’ve approached it here and here. I’m very grateful this post exists as now I can just link to it any time I want to make this point!
Given that I might be linking to it, I wanna make one small note which is that where koboldfacedlie refers to “simplistic and asinine [rhetoric]” I want to be crystal clear that survival is never wrong, and that simplistic rhetorics can often be survival for trans* women. It’s when cis people ignore other systems of meaning, select those rhetorics, strip them of context and inconvenient detail and then present them as the One Trans Truth that there’s a problem.
Everything else though I’m 100% behind.
I’d also like to suggest a name for this kind of false acceptance in order to ward off radical feminism (and achieve other goals): transwashing. In my opinion liberal feminism (and other non-radical, e.g. many queer feminisms) has mostly successfully transwashed itself.
This also supplies the missing piece of logic for much of the social exclusion trans* women experience in cis-dominated feminist spaces. We’re there because they need us. They don’t have to actually embrace us; just as OP says, what matters is the appearance. They have to appear to be (and possibly be) safer for us than radical feminism. That’s all.
Other trans* sisters - especially other radical feminist trans* sisters - your thoughts?