|public domain, via Wikimedia|
I have identified as a feminist all my life, and as a radical feminist since first coming to understand what radical feminism is. That hasn't changed in decades.
(See this recent blog post: "A very brief introduction to Radical Feminism," at http://aquakerwitch.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/very-brief-introduction-to-radical.html.)
So I thought, Cool! I'll check this out.
But in good conscience, I can't go. And I can't in good conscience recommend it to other people, either. In fact, I hope none of my friends or colleagues goes.
The organizers have expressed cissexism, transphobia, and outright hate speech toward transgender women.
From the invitation I received, I couldn't tell if transgender women were welcome. So I asked, rather than assume welcome or not welcome. And the organizers reacted not just with cissexisst and transphobic language, but with outright hate speech.
Not just in response to me, but in response to other women who asked.
Here are some of my problems with this:
- Hate speech promotes violence.
- Hate speech against transgender women promotes violence against transgender women.
- Hate speech against transgender women promotes violence against all women.
- Hate speech against transgender women promotes violence against everyone who doesn't toe the line when it comes to gender stereotypes.
A few terms
I'm not an expert, and I'm not going to try to incorporate a thorough introduction to all these terms into this post. So, for now / for going on with:
Cisgender, cissexism, cis privilege:
Some more terms: cisgender, transgender, genderqueer
I'm a cisgender woman -- cis as in same or on the same side (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cis-).
Put very, very simply, the body I was born into matches pretty much with my gender identity.
Not everyone is born into a body that matches with their gender identity. I know a number of transgender people -- trans as in across, or on the other side of (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/trans) -- and also a number of genderqueer people, who don't necessarily identify on a gender binary.
Again, I am putting all this very, very simply. I'm not trying to do an exhaustive Introduction to Transgender and GenderQueer Issues, just give anyone to whom this is brand-new enough to go on with, at least in terms of reading the rest of this article.
I studied chemistry as an undergraduate and as a post-baccalaureate student; the language of cisgender and transgender has always made sense to me.
I don't buy that it's language foisted onto women by a dominant majority, any more than I buy that the term straight is language foisted onto women by a dominant majority.
As cisgender women, we are part of the dominant gender majority. And we enjoy cisgender privilege. Just as straight women are part of the dominant heterosexual (and monosexual) majority. And enjoy straight/heterosexual and monosexual privilege. See above.
I wrote about this a little in a recent post ("Pagan values, feminism, and transgender women," at http://aquakerwitch.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/pagan-values-feminism-and-transgender.html), and I'll expand on just one small angle of cisgender privilege for a moment: choosing to wear a skirt or trousers, and hair length.
As a cisgender woman, I have more freedom to choose to wear a skirt or trousers, and to choose to wear my hair long or short, than do my transgender sisters. Because I am a cisgender woman, I face less censure -- including from other feminists -- than do my transgender sisters if I wear trousers or wear my hair short, if I don't conform to feminine gender stereotypes in my appearance. Because I am a cisgender woman, I am also physically safer than are my transgender sisters if I wear trousers, or wear my hair short -- if I don't conform to feminine gender stereotypes in my appearance. I am less likely to be assaulted or killed.
This is cisgender privilege.
Another term: hate speech
Hate speech falls into two categories: that within the purview of the law, and that outside the purview of the law. According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hate_speech):
Hate speech within the purview of the law:
...is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which... may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or... disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group.
Gender identity is one of those characteristics.
Hate speech outside the purview of the law -- ie, culturally -- is:
...any communication that vilifies a person or a group on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or other characteristic.
Gender identity is one of those "other characteristics."
My radical feminism does its best not to include cissexism or transphobia.
My radical feminism absolutely doesn't include hate speech.
Hate speech and violence
You may be thinking, "Oh, come on. 'Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words may never hurt me.'" You'd be wrong. Or, "Oh, grow up and put your big-girl panties on; what does it matter what words people use?"
It turns out, a lot.
|public domain, via Wikimedia|
Groups and movements that use dehumanizing language and language that vilifies other human beings are more prone to violence -- even when they begin with a commitment to non-violence; even when they believe they retain a commitment to non-violence.
The research has demonstrated this, over and over.
Our experience has demonstrated this, over and over.
(See "The growth of political violence in the United States, http://aquakerwitch.blogspot.co.uk/2009/06/growth-of-political-violence-in-united.html.)
There is no place in my radical feminism for violence or for behaviors that promote it.
For more on this, and the connection between hate speech against transgender women and violence, see my recent post for the Pagan Values Project, "Pagan values, feminism, and transgender women," at http://aquakerwitch.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/pagan-values-feminism-and-transgender.html.
Cisgender-only space? Transgender-inclusive space?
So: I'm a radical feminist, and I'm a cisgender woman, and I'd been invited to a radical feminist conference. And I couldn't tell if it was open to transgender women.
I know a number of transgender women who are radical feminists. Actually, most of the transgender women I know are feminists, and of them, many are radical feminists. From my perspective as a cisgender woman -- worth not much in this situation -- this makes sense to me; from what several friends have said to me, and from what I've observed, feminist analysis is one of the only ways to make sense of many of life's experiences as a transgender woman. But the point is, I'm not a transgender woman -- I don't have the authority of that experience. My transgender sisters do.
I also know a number of cisgender women, feminists and not, who are uncomfortable with transgender women in general. And I know a number of cisgender women, feminists and not, who are uncomfortable with transgender women in women-only space.
I can accept this, even when it makes me sad, or uncomfortable, or angry, or confused, or empathetic. Patriarchy and violence against women have damaged us all. Some of the reasons are ones I can't help feeling are legitimate, even if they make me squirm. Other reasons are ones I have trouble with, but try not to judge, or try not to judge harshly.
I remember when I was new to this and trying to sort out where my own integrity led me with respect to transgender inclusion.
(I read that now, and can't help reacting: as if transgender women are somehow separate and apart, "other," asking to be let in, and not in many cases women who've been right here all along. Kind of like the situation with lesbians with NOW and the second wave of feminism in the US in the 1960s and 1970s.)
(More on that here:
Some women-only groups actively engage with this discomfort and struggle around the issue, or question, of whether their women-only space should be cisgender-only space or inclusive of transgender women.
I have been involved with groups that have handled this issue with the best of intentions and yet handled it poorly and painfully for all involved. I have also been blessed to be involved with one group in particular where this issue has been handled imperfectly, but with grace, love, openness, and patience, and where I have learned a lot.
I have learned that it is absolutely possible for me, as a survivor of violence against women and girls, to be in women-only space with other women who have some characteristics (physical or socialized) that may trigger flashbacks to that violence, and feel quite safe.
This is a blessing.
This has also helped me sort out when I am safe in other environments where I am not in danger but where there are triggers. What's more, it has helped me assess the situation more accurately when I truly am in danger.
This is helpful and useful.
I have also learned that it's possible for me to be in mixed-gender, woman-centered space, or mixed-gender, mixed-orientation, queer-focused space, and feel quite safe, because even if it's not women-only or queer-only, it's woman-centered or queer-centered.
All of these things also allow me to be in space where my transgender sisters feel safe and have refuge -- and in mixed-gender queer-centered space, where my transgender brothers and genderqueer siblings feel safe and have refuge.
This is very important to me.
Some women-only groups refuse to engage actively with this discomfort and struggle around the issue, or question, of whether their women-only space should be cisgender-only space or transgender-inclusive.
Instead, they either sweep it under the rug, or outright declare that "women-only" absolutely and obviously means "cisgender women-only."
In short, that transgender women aren't women. That only cisgender women are women.
This really makes me uncomfortable. This is women, often feminists, collaborating with the oppression of another minority. This is women, often feminists, collaborating with the oppression of other women. This is participating in cissexism and transphobia. This is not challenging our discomfort, not dealing honestly with our cissexism, our transphobia, and our discomfort.
Cisgender women don't get to decide who all women are.
Cisgender women don't get to decide who all women are, not any more than straight women get to decide who all women are. When straight women have tried to do this in the past, lesbians and bi women and our straight allies have been very clear: this is homophobia, biphobia, and heterosexism, and it has no place in the women's movement and in feminism.
When cisgender women act as if we get to decide who all women are, we are being transphobic and cissexist, and this behavior has no place in the women's movement, in feminism, or in the lesbian rights movement. Transgender women have been very clear about this.
As cisgender allies, we need to speak up loud and clear as well.
Let me be plain: I don't have a problem with people who come to this issue with discomfort, own it, and deal with it. I have my own learned transphobia and cissexism to confront; I try not to be too much of a hypocrite.
What I do have a problem with is when people are dishonest about their discomfort, and refuse to challenge it.
And I have a really big problem when people take their discomfort and turn it into hate speech and into physical action.
Transphobia and cissexism have no place in the women's movement, in feminism, and in radical feminism.
Hate speech absolutely has no place here.
Back to radical feminism and the conference I'd been invited to
I know not all women-only space is open to transgender women or genderqueer women, and I couldn't tell from the information posted on the event's page if this conference is open to transgender women.
I thought it was better not to assume, in either direction.
So I asked.
And I got back a torrent of cissexist and transphobic hate speech from the organizers.
And that's when I had a problem.
(There were personal attacks on me as well. Did you all know I'm in league with pornographers? Me, either. I've been learning so many things I never knew about myself from other people lately!)
What's more, when other women asked whether or not the conference is open to transgender women, they were met with cissexism, transphobia, and hate speech, their posts were deleted, and they were blocked from the event page as well. For simply asking the question.
So: I hope none of my friends or colleagues goes to this particular radical feminist conference in Portland, OR (USA) at the end of July. Because regardless of whether you think women-only space should be cisgender-only or transgender-inclusive, I really don't want you to support cissexism or transphobia, and most of all, I don't want you to support hate speech.
(No, I'm not linking to their web page or anything else -- they don't need more traffic from me. You can absolutely search for them, and find them, from the information I've given already.)
To see screenshots of the language the organizers (and I) used, see below. Content warnings.
Postscript 1: The sister conference in London has to find a new venue
It turns out a sister conference in London has been disallowed from the hall they had originally booked, for two main / three stated reasons:
- At least one of the conference speakers is known for hate speech (as defined, and illegal, under UK laws)
- The conference is in violation of the UK's Equality Act (http://homeoffice.gov.uk/equalities/equality-act/)
- The conference could not assure the hall that they conformed to Conway Hall's Terms and Conditions of rental
Conway Hall had posted a statement regarding the conference; it's no longer available on their website, but I did read it while it was still posted. This excerpt is available at TransGriot (http://transgriot.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/transphobic-radfem-2012-hatemongers.html):
In consultation with the organisers of [Conference] and our legal advisors, Conway Hall has decided not to allow the booking in July 2012 to proceed. This is because it does not conform to our Terms and Conditions for hiring rooms at Conway Hall. In addition, we are not satisfied it conforms with the Equality Act (2010), or reflects our ethos regarding issues of discrimination.
We had sought assurances that the organisers would allow access to all, in order to enable the event to proceed at the venue. We also expressed concern that particular speakers would need to be made aware that whilst welcoming progressive thinking and debate, Conway Hall seeks to uphold inclusivity in respect of both legal obligations and as a principle.
In the absence of the assurances we sought, the event in its proposed form could not proceed at Conway Hall.
Postscript 2: Just what do I mean? Exactly what I said and exactly what they said
If you are having trouble reading the screenshots, you can click on them for larger versions. (When I made them larger, they got buried under the sidebar.)
1) My question and Samantha's answer:
"It's a conference for radical feminist women only..." Clearly implying that transgender women and radical feminist women are obviously mutually exclusive groups.
"I would consider... only that one and only because of the previously expressed interest in supporting radical feminists and radical feminism." Note the individual exception rule: specific, individual transgender women might be found acceptable if they meet Samantha's bar. This is a level of acceptability that cisgender women do not have to meet: if a cisgender woman claims she's a radical feminist, that's enough. But if a transgender woman claims she's a radical feminist, she has to meet additional qualifications: she has to prove to the organizers she feminist enough. This is cissexism and transphobia right here.
Note Samantha's lack of gender-specific pronoun use, implying that transgender women are not women to her.
2) Kat's answer and further discussion (up through "You cannot possibly presume..."):
There are so many problems with Kat's statement(s), I scarcely know where to start.
First off, human rights are human rights, regardless of what any majority thinks. Most radical feminists would agree that whether or not the majority of people in the US or the UK (or the world) think sexism is a problem or not, it's a problem; and that whether or not the majority of people in any given population think female genital mutilation is a violation of human rights, it's a violation of human rights.
Note Kat's refusal to use the term "transgender woman," and her insistence on using the term "trans identifying male born person." Kat makes it very clear that she does not consider transgender women to be women. Instead, they are "trans identifying male born person[s]." I wonder how she would react if someone insisted on calling her a "cis-identifying female-born person" rather than a "woman."
To Kat, not only can't a transgender woman be a woman, she can't be a radical feminist herself -- she has to be "pro radical feminist," relegated to a supporting role -- "support the conference in other ways, e.g. by distributing publicity." Transgender women are lower than second-class citizens. I don't know about you, but this reminds me of a lot of other experiences in our history -- women and African-Americans in the New Left, just for one.
"Most trans identifying people are not radical feminists" --
- Kat would know this how --? From extensive personal friendships with transgender women? From extensive reading from works of transgender feminists? (Most transgender women I know are feminists, and a good number are radical feminists.)
- Um, hello, most cisgender people are not radical feminists, and most women aren't radical feminists. Maybe she shouldn't let cisgender people or women into the conference, either.
- And again, why would whether or not the majority of transgender women are feminists be relevant?
- Beyond that, if most transgender women aren't radical feminists, then those who are need radical feminist space pretty desperately.
-- "because the ideology of trans is in direct conflict with the ideology of radical feminism" -- uh, what??? Right. There's an "ideology of trans." There's one "ideology of trans." This one just... blows my mind.
At the same time, I was having a conversation about all this on my own Facebook Wall. At this point, I reported the event for hate speech and mentioned that in the conversation on my own Wall.
Samantha quoting me: privileged information from the conversation on my Facebook Wall. (Yes, I have since unfriended Samantha.)
Samantha on how I lecture people about pornography: ... . Actually, I don't need to say anything about this at all.
(I take that back. I will say this, because it's over the top and I can't resist: Elspeth Potter is a personal friend and claims to still have the negatives.) (http://www.victoriajanssen.com/bookshelf/) (...Wait, you thought radical feminists have no sense of humor?)
3) From "Go figure..." up through my explanation:
Speaks for itself, I think...
4) Samantha's response; more hate speech; Kat's proposal to delete:
Here's my other big question now, besides how deleting this whole conversation (which they did) wouldn't be censorship:
If this whole conversation wasn't hate speech, why the need to delete it -- ? Why not leave it up for it to show itself, for it to demonstrate -- to Facebook, to radical feminists, to anyone who'd read it -- how exactly what they said was just fine?
Anyway, there you have it.