[Update 15 September 2014] Since writing this, I’ve come to see it as a deeply unfair blast of sarcasm against a group which I did not pay the courtesy of engaging in good faith. Having done so since, I now appreciate that my understanding of sex and gender as concepts was deeply flawed when I wrote this. My assumption that the transgender movement is one that will automatically further the aims of the feminist movement is no longer one I consider supportable. Furthermore, I regard the impulse to attack women for “trans exclusion” when they wish to organise on the basis of sex as a political class to be a form of antifeminism and misogyny. I continue to support civil rights and freedom from abuse and harassment for trans people: however, I no longer tolerate the proposition that trans rights entail the destruction of female as a category and the pretense that male supremacy does not exist. In summary, I’m painfully embarrassed whenever this post resurfaces. However, I’m leaving it up because I think it’s important that I take responsibility for the things I’ve said, including (especially) the stupid things. More than that, though, I think it’s a demonstration of the generosity and intellectual rigour of radical feminists that they responded to this with persuasive discussion and ultimately by welcoming me to the movement I once dismissed so unkindly. tl;dr I was a dick once and probably will be again, evidence of dickery below.
Hey, it looks like radical feminism has got this sexism thing licked! All we have to do is effect a total social transformation in which gender as we know it will completely cease to exist, and then we can get on with our egalitarian business.
Now, I’m not against ambitious projects, but it may seem to some of you that this is an almost impracticably gargantuan aim, which is why I’m pleased to report that the Radfem 2012 conference has already got the fundamentals of gender smashing in place. Here’s how it goes:
- Establish a woman only space to discuss the dismantling of patriarchal culture
- Ensure the women in that space are restricted to “women born women living as women“
- Watch patriarchy tumble in the face of rigorously policed gender identity!
- Er, really?
OK, here’s the bit where I confess myself baffled. If the Radfem conference’s ultimate aim is the dissolution of gender, why is it starting by instituting a definition of gender that explicitly excludes women with a non-standard experience of gender? According to Radfem 2012, you’re only fit to participate in feminist discussion and activism if you were identified female at birth, and have subsequently experienced female self-identity.
Identified as male at birth (that is “born a man”, although given that radical feminism is supposed to be about dismantling the socialised aspects of gender, the idea that anyone could be born with an adult gender identity seems a teeny-tiny bit problematic) but recognise your own gender as female? Skip the sign-up process, because transwomen are not welcome at Radfem 2012.
Identified as female at birth, but recognise your own gender as male? I think you’ll find you’ve failed to put the lifetime investment in “being a woman” required to qualify for patriarchy smashing. Doors are barred, you’re not coming in.
Identified female at birth, recognise your own gender as female, yet find that other people interpret your appearance and behaviour as male? Again, I have to ask – are you really living as a woman? And if you’re not living according to the social demands of the sex assigned to you at birth, how are you going to smash the gender binary?
Because apparently Radfem 2012 is some sort of social homeopathy. It’s a teeny-tiny drop of gender essentialist thinking that will (by a mechanism to be confirmed at a later date) ultimately destroy gender essentialism in culture at large. And if you think that sounds absurd, it’s probably because you’re some sort of fun-feminist dilettante pandering to patriarchy.
There are three really good reasons to object to Radfem 2012’s exclusion of transgender people. The first is a simple matter of justice: trans people experience violence and objectification based on their gender. Any feminism worth supporting recognises that, and embraces trans rights as part of its own mission.
The second is an issue of logical consistency: you can’t claim to be destroying gender, while bitterly enforcing it in its most limited sense through your attendance criteria.
And the third is pure self-interest: as a cis woman (that is, born female, identified by others as female and experiencing my own gender as female), the testament of trans women is one of the best guides I have to the social and biological vagaries of gender.
Anyone who’s interested in how gender is formed and functions (as the radfems claim to be) should be paying sympathetic attention to trans voices. (For starters, I’d strongly recommend reading Whipping Girl by Julia Serano.) That feels to me like the truly radical side of gender politics. Insisting that your doctrinaire view of other people’s identities is the right one, and strictly policing it? I think the guys who did that used to be called the patriarchy.