Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My radical feminism has no room for hate speech

woman power
public domain, via Wikimedia
A while back, a feminist acquaintance on Facebook invited me to a radical feminist conference at the end of July in Portland, OR (USA).

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

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.  

Whyever not?

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 (

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 ( -- 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, 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 (

Hate speech within the purview of the law: 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.

no hate (black text hate in a red circle with slash through it)
public domain, via Wikimedia

Language that dehumanizes other human beings, that allows us to think of them as Other, as not-us, as not fully human, is what allows us -- even when we start out committed to non-violence -- to commit violence against those very same people.

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, 

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 

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:

  1. At least one of the conference speakers is known for hate speech (as defined, and illegal, under UK laws)
  2. The conference is in violation of the UK's Equality Act (
  3. 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 (

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

Content warnings.

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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.)  (  (...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:

Red herrings.

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.


bunchberry said...

Thank you for being a strong ally for transgender people. I'm cisgender and also try to be an ally, and your work is a good example for me!

Hystery said...

Wow. The bigotry you expose and confront here makes me profoundly sad. It is curious that persons claiming the term "radical" hold such antiquated and reactionary beliefs. There's nothing radical about hatred. It is such an old-fashioned thing. It is dangerous, to be sure, but also pedestrian and unimaginative. I think "radical" is certainly a misnomer for anyone who espouses beliefs rooted in inequality and prejudice. Doesn't sound very radical to me. My radical feminism also has no room for hate speech.

Mary Ellen said...

Wow! A painful interchange, on so many levels. I think that many folks are at a very beginner level of understanding transgender issues, and certainly full of unexamined prejudices and misinformation. I've been experiencing a crash course of learning about transgender issues myself in having a recently-identified trans-woman young adult daughter (who also moved home early in transition, so in many ways we're transitioning as a family). One of the best concentrated evenings of true in-depth learning came from attending a performance of "The Naked I: Wide Open" - a play performance weaving together many voices and perspectives of gender identity (Minneapolis / 20% Theater). If they take this on tour, it's well worth seeing. They also published the script. The theater company Web site:

Natalya said...

Wow indeed. For me, reading this conversation sheds a lot of light on my own experiences in the early 1980s, first struggling with being a Very Shy Person trying to navigate feminist/lesbian "society". We didn't have FaceBook back then, so the all-too-many conversations like this were generally carried out in person where the hatred, anger and fear were real and in-my-face. The alternative was having them behind people's backs, over a span of time, one-on-one & by phone, where gossip twisted things even further.

I applaud your standing up for the oppressed, AND for standing up for your right to have discomfort around an issue even while you are serving as an advocate for that issue.

I thank you for naming what I was victim of so many times, for helping me understand the extreme pain of receiving so much hate speech, and for having a new compassion why I eventually ended up back in the closet: to escape the barrage of hate vented at me by some feminists.


Sorcha said...

"women fought too hard to not have our identities revolve around our crotches"

Isn't this exactly what this radfem was doing? Defining people based on their crotches? Trans women are not women for her because of biological sex, she is making their identities about that but only complains when she is asked to use the term Cis, which I think is what she is saying she is against doing but hating trans women is more important than logic here.
Can those people see the irony of this? I sometimes see a lot of hate speech and cisexism that doesnt even make sense by the feminist logic of the person being a bigot.

Thank you for being a decent person and an ally.

Su said...

It makes me sad to see this kind of boundary-policing about who is really a woman, who is really a feminist, still happening. The weird derail about how you would react to pornography is so very typical bad-faith argumentation. And then, to uninvite you...


Love to you.

Karen said...

Oh my word. That's appalling. I've heard of the intense transphobia at the Michigan Womeyn's Festival, and this looks just as nasty. And baffling. Really, really baffling.

I assume that people identifying as radical feminists who hold these views have had their genomes thoroughly sequenced and a full chromosonal check made to ensure that they really, really are 100% "biologically" female? Oh, there I go, making an ass out of u and me.

If this kind of attitude wasn't so harmful to the trans members of our human family, it would be hilarious. Don't suppose it's possible that this is astonishingly sharp performance art, pointing up the dangers and absurdities of living a life entirely free of self-awareness? Oh, well,truth remains stranger than fiction.

Morgan said...

Thank you all for your comments. I've waited to comment back, b/c I've wanted to do so from a centered place.

bunchberry, you're welcome, and thank you for being such a wonderful companion and partner on so much of my journey so far. (I'm still on my journey.)

Hystery, my F/friend, you speak my mind.

Mary Ellen, lots of love to you and your family on your journey.

I don't think that for any of us, being "at a very beginner level of understanding" (of anything) gives us an excuse to spout hatred, or an excuse not to listen, or an excuse to spread lies, or an excuse to trash an entire group of people.

Thanks for the link! They are doing it again, I see.

Natalya, thank you. Yes: both/and. Thank you for seeing, and naming, that.

Sorcha, yeah on the complete illogic. Have you ever noticed that a lot of attacks by haters on other groups of people double back on themselves in just this way -- ? And thanks for the compliment.

Su, yeah, this shit is still happening! I've been having some interesting electronic discussions about perceptions vs reality of the First Wave of feminism in the US as well, and how it's perceived among the Second and Third Waves as being much more united and single-issue than it ever really was. So it's not like these kinds of issues are unique even to our lifetimes, though perhaps the outward clothes they wear are... Thanks for the support. You know I appreciate it.

Karen, Karen, Karen... We all know gender's a complete binary, and everyone's either XY or XX! Come on, now.

(It's a good thing you and I aren't face-to-face, or I would never have gotten that out.)

"If this kind of attitude wasn't so harmful to the trans members of our human family, it would be hilarious." Yes!! I am only grateful that some parts of it, as you and Sorcha point out, are so obviously absurd and illogical as to be funny, and as Hystery pointed out, downright unimaginative. Several Facebook commentators did ask things along the lines of, Is it horrible for me to laugh?, and my response was along the lines of, Hell, no, and thank goodness there was something to laugh at least a little during all this...!

What is so threatening in the self-awareness, I wonder. But then, I wonder that when it comes to other things, too. I am a great fan of owning one's own shit, as you probably already know...

Joy said...

Why do you identify as a radical feminist when radical feminism is trans-critical? -- Joy

Morgan said...

Joy, I've already explained that. In detail.

There is nothing inherent in radical feminism that is "trans-critical."

And as I have said, I know transgender women and genderqueer people who are radical feminists.

However, there are radical cisgender feminists who try to use the tools of feminism in general and of radical feminism in particular in fundamentally anti-feminist ways -- maintaining biology is destiny and denying the lived reality of women, just to name a few. That's not anything essential to radical feminism -- that's just transphobia and using feminism as a cover for not dealing with one's own discomfort and issues.

Morgan said...

I've received a couple of comments recently which I am not going to post in total, for reasons I will address, but parts of which I will still post, and respond to.

Ali Batts expresses concern that I have posted screen shots, and that the women involved can be identified based on these, thus compromising their safety.

A couple of things, here.

First: The screen shots are from a public on-line conversation. If these women thought their words put them in any danger, they should not have written them in public, someplace where anyone at all -- of any gender -- could see them. I have actually given them more privacy here than they themselves took in the original conversation.

Second: It is not my job to protect people from the consequences of their hate speech.

Third: I am not posting your full comment because you engaged in hate speech against transgender people yourself. I'm not sure why you thought I would post that; perhaps you didn't think of it as hate speech, even though you were accusing an entire group of people of a negative behavior, based on their membership in that group, when that behavior has nothing essential to do with membership in that group.

(Continued in next comment.)

Morgan said...

This Charming Man / Creepy Priestess writes:

"Oh my goodness. I just read this blog via a feminist Facebook group of which I am peripherally a part. [snip] I am 22 years old and don't have as solid a basis in feminist/gender/queer theory as I would like but it seems so clear to me that trans women and men deserve to be treated with respect and deserve to be wholeheartedly included in the wider movement to smash the patriarchy and kyriarchy. I am so angry right now reading the thread from Facebook about your blog and then in contrast reading your extremely thoughtful post. I did not know there was such a schism in the (rad?)feminist movement and it really makes my heart hurt to see such blatant hate speech and misunderstanding spouted by these women. :( Keep up the good fight, keep being an ally and you have truly inspired me to become one as well."

Thank you for your comment.

First, the part I have snipped out: I did not want to include that because this is a gossip-free zone, and that was, basically, gossip. Also, it just would have continued to fuel the fire, rather than contribute to honest discussion. But thanks anyway.

Actually, one thing I will say about that. You mention behavior and use of language on the part of some people which removes me from the same groups or categories to which they belong: refusing to see me as female, for example, or cisgender. This is a very classic "othering" behavior. Here is my problem with it, as stated pretty clearly already (I hope) in this post as well as others: that is the beginning of the slippery slope to justifying violence.

Moving on:

The first time I took a class in feminist political theory, it was truly an amazing experience. I highly recommend reading up on some of the wealth of written material from both the "first" and "second" waves of feminism.

If it's remotely an option, a class in feminist theory, perhaps at a community college or equivalent, or as a non-degree student at another kind of college or university, could be wonderful.

While discussion with other people is an eye-opening part of the experience, you can always read the original material yourself -- it's out there -- and it will still be eye- and mind-opening.

Yes -- these kinds of divisions in the feminist movements are really, really hard. And they are heart-breaking. A friend recently reminded me that one of the things that most props up patriarchy is when women attack each other and tear each other down. It's true. When women ourselves attack other women for not fitting gender roles the way we see fit, we are expressing our own internalized sexism.

Thanks for your supportive words. As I said to bunchberry earlier, I am definitely still in process on my own journey; it does me good to know what I write, and my own wrestling, can be helpful to someone else on their journey. Congrats on your own journey, and kudos to you for being willing to engage in the difficult, but transformative, stuff!

And thank you everyone who's commented so far for a good, chewy discussion.