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Internet Drama: The Handmaiden of Cis Fragility

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“I have been somewhat overwhelmed with J’s dominating conversations and manipulative style. J’s comments rarely bring any positive discussion and seem to frequently derail conversation. I feel like they threaten the safety of the group for the voices of transwomen and people of color.”  –  Complaint made to me from a PoC TCP group member yesterday

Some Context:

As many of you know, I’m involved with a historical project that seeks to uncover an erased trans-inclusive radical feminist hirstory. This effort is called The Conversations Project (TCP). Here’s what TCP clearly says that its purpose is:

From TCP’s “About” page

I personally think that it’s important to reclaim the voices of those women who risked even physical violence (from TERFs) to make sure that that trans women were included in their fight for the liberation of all women. As a primer, check out the feminist courage that can be found in the trans-inclusive radical feminist hirstory TCP is interested in examining:

In upcoming interviews, you’ll hear how a Black Lesbian radical feminist MichFest ride organizer related to Camp Trans. You’ll hear how TERFs destroyed one of the early militant radical feminist groups. In fact, there’s a year’s worth of upcoming interviews still to come.

As a historian, it’s hugely problematic that these stories appear nowhere else in feminist hirstory. Instead, we (especially trans people) are taught to believe that “radical feminism” is anti-trans and that “radical feminists” are transphobic. Such narratives go a long way towards erasing the very real courage of radical feminist women who risked their groups, organizations, and even put their own bodies in harm’s way to ensure that their feminism was trans inclusive. That courage should have its place in feminist hirstory.

Some disagree. Some, in the name of “radical feminism,” think those voices need to remain lost; they say time spent examining those voices is wasted time.

The Internet Drama

Here’s the long and short of a drama that’s been unfolding around TCP for months now. The project has a FaceBook group whose purpose is quite clearly spelled out:


The pinned TCP FB group guidelines.

Part of TCP is the serialized publication of a discussion between John Stoltenberg and I that began more than a year ago. This conversation is important because it represents a trans feminist and a radical feminist (finally) coming together to have an in-depth talk about radical and trans feminist hirstory and how that hirstory has affected the lives of just about every trans person in America. Through that context, a lot of radical and trans feminist content is covered. I know of no other book-length discussion like this. In some significant ways, this is what reconciliation between radical and trans feminism looks like.

John Stoltenberg is a radical feminist author and was the life partner of Andrea Dworkin. That John would be willing to break ranks and engage in a conversation like this with me, a trans woman and editor of the TransAdvocate, has been viewed as (in certain circles) a heresy of the highest order. For John’s (perceived) betrayal, TERFs have spent the last couple of months character assassinating John. Here are the basic BS criticisms of John and, of course, TCP:

  • John didn’t really know Andrea the way that her friends knew her. A couple of people who knew Andrea (and who tends to think that Janice Raymond and Sheila Jeffreys had powerful insights into what they call “transgenderism” and “transgender ideology”), think that they, not her life partner were privy to Andrea’s true feelings towards trans folk.
  • A friend of Andrea used Andrea to submit her anti-trans screed to a publisher who rejected it and this proves that she was anti-trans. Nikki Craft asked Andrea to please submit Nikki’s anti-trans essay* to Psychology Today. Because Andrea did this for her friend, this proves that, contrary to what Andrea herself wrote, Andrea was anti-trans. Moreover, passing along an essay, means that Andrea actually co-wrote the essay. Yup, physically touching a paper to hand it off to someone else is apparently now enough to bestow full co-author status to Andrea, thus proving that Andrea didn’t support trans people accessing trans health care.
  • Talking about what Andrea wrote in Woman Hating about trans folk is wrong because Andrea actually later repudiated it. Where? Nobody seems to be able to actually point to anything specific, but I’m told that if I “read Dworkin’s other books” (which I have, more than once) I’ll see that this is true.
  • People of color won’t participate in TCP because it’s all about white people. (*cough* quote at the beginning of this post *cough*)

I’m not going to innumerate that attacks against me because they’re just the same stuff TS Separatists used to say about me when I was researching “transgender.” Except now they’re saying it about “radical feminism.” Basically, it’s all different shades of this nonsense:

“Cristan is a MAN and MUST be hiding something!!!! Also, let’s pretend that the TransAdvocate didn’t out the Woolbert story!!!”

So, Julian Real is someone who has been publicly open about being a member of TCP group. Julian is also a supporter of the cis woman who’s promulgating many of the above claims. After numerous group member complaints and innumerable moderation incidents relating to Julian’s posturing within the group, Julian was recently removed from the group by unanimous consensus of all six group moderators.  As a result, Julian (a white non-trans woman MAAB) is now running around bemoaning TCP’s purpose and talking up how much more radical and feminist their understanding of everything is and how the voices of TCP are really just neoliberal pablum.

So, for the record, here’s how things went down:

Julian attacked a commentary about a specific passage in a specific book that was written in a specific historical context… for not being commentary about something other than that specific passage of that specific book in that specific historical context. Then, after being confronted for trying to derail yet another group conversation, Julian began to again posture in the group. Here’s the response to Julian’s behavior that I posted:

Your reply is erasure from a place of privilege.

You’ve privileged yourself in deciding for poor trans women of color that exclusion -as full Sisters- from the women’s liberation movement should be subordinate to your ideas of how to overcome “capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy” (as if we’re talking about fundamentally different things). The irony is that you rhetorically subordinate their inclusion from women’s liberation from an asserted position of speaking *for* them. It’s sometimes a bit like hearing the rich of the USSR tell the poor -in the name of anti-capitalism/colonialism/patriarchy- that work will make them free.

Your persistent effort to, in violation of the boundaries of this group, advocate that its members should to spend their group time thinking about the rationals SET “feminists” cite when projecting, popularizing, and promoting their anti-trans fears, anxieties, and animus is an act of hostility against this group and its membership. Moreover, it’s an act of profound the group members and the erased, hidden, and silenced inclusive radical feminist hirstories we meet here to respect.

I 100% reject your premise that focusing our group on the radical feminism that bravely fought to include trans women as Sisters in women’s liberation = being pro-capitalism/colonialism/patriarchy. Additionally, I think the fact that you are not a trans women whose existence has been defined by the (as you privilege yourself in seeing it, irrelevant) actions of a “few white lesbians” (as you call it), contributes to the problematic ways you’ve engaged in this group. While I also reject this characterization as being patently false, that you state it as fact provides some insight into the place of (apparent) unexamined privilege you engage from.

As a trans woman who lived through deaths and hardships caused by the very ideology you claim must be considered, in the name of life and liberation no less, I experience your verbal gesticulations as a (possibly clueless) hubris born of privilege that is very toxic.

It’s not only me that experiences your privilege as toxic, numerous individuals of various racial/ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds have, since your arrival in this group, contacted mods to express exasperation with the position/way you approach group participation. In fact, I’ve noticed that we’ve lost members and that *many* others no longer participate.

It’s not that people are turned off by the theory you sometimes share. I very much enjoy some of the books, resources, etc. that you share. I think they enrich the experience of this group. That’s not the problem that I and others have with your participation… It’s the way you privilege yourself to define for others what their primary emergency is that’s the issue. From what I see, the fact that you’ve not shared that primary emergency seems to color much of the way you interact with this group.

It’s ridiculous

At this point, I find the sound and fury coming from the side that wants TCP to just go away ridiculous. It’s a bunch of wasted time and energy. Do these people really think that we’re going to stop interviewing the people who were on the ground in the 70s and 80s? Do they think we’re just going to stop publishing those hirstories?

If anything, as evidenced by this very post, their hyperbole just brings attention to the very thing they wish to mandate out of existence. Yes, their blogosphere chamber might well echo, but really… Why lie about Andrea co-authoring anti-trans screeds? Why spend months personally attacking and defaming John? Why use (as in, appropriate) the oppression and pain of POC as a tool to disrupt conversations about silenced feminist hirstory? How does any of these online teapot tempests advance the liberation of women as a sex class? How can they claim to do all of this in the name of feminism?

Personally, all of this feels very familiar to me. It feels a lot like the pushback I faced when researching the history of “transgender”. When I was researching the history of “transgender,” the demonstrable historical record conflicted with the history a certain identity was founded upon and they attacked. Now I’m researching the historical narrative that asserts “radical feminism” wants to mandate trans bodies out of existence. Both John and I have faced significant pushback for our efforts.

Even so, I expect that what will happen is that, regardless of these attacks, this hirstory will become part of the feminist hirstorical record. I expect that it will become harder for international news outlets to propagate the false narrative that “radical feminism” is anti-trans. I expect that those who are fighting to keep an erased feminist hirstory lost will find that people are actually interested in what these silenced voices have to say:

Presenting on The Conversations Project at Rice University

So, hopefully this will be my one and only post regarding the hyperbole spewing from a certain section of the internet.

*NOTE: The “anti-trans” essay Nikki Craft wrote was written upon the (absolutely wrong) premise that trans folk love Dr. John Money. Money was an ass who was willing to hurt people in furtherance of his bogus gender theories. He was willing to force children to live as the sex assigned them, telling them to accept their bodies. Moreover, Money promoted the ridiculous idea gender stereotypes and roles came from neurology, not culture. While it’s true that one must have a brain in order to become indoctrinated to sexism, Money was wrong; sexism isn’t innate to brains.

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Cristan

Cristan Williams is a trans historian and activist. She started one of the first trans homeless shelters and co-founded the first federally funded trans-only homeless program, pioneered affordable healthcare for trans people in the Houston area, won the right for trans people to change their gender on Texas ID prior to surgery, started numerous trans social service programs and founded the Transgender Center as well as the Transgender Archives. Cristan is the editor at the social justice site TransAdvocate.com, is a long-term member and previous chair of the City of Houston HIV Prevention Planning Group, is the jurisdictional representative to the Urban Coalition for HIV/AIDS Prevention Services (UCHAPS), serves on the national steering body for UCHAPS and is the Executive Director of the Transgender Foundation of America.

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