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Radical Inclusion: Recounting the Trans Inclusive History of Radical Feminism

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Here’s an excerpt from titled Radical Inclusion: Recounting the Trans Inclusive History of Radical Feminism published in TSQ by Duke University Press:

Abstract

This article reviews the ways in which radical feminism has been and continues to be trans inclusive. Trans inclusive radical feminist opinion leaders, groups, and events are reviewed and contrasted against a popular media narrative that asserts that radical feminism takes issue with trans people. Reviewed are historical instances in which radical feminists braved violence to ensure their feminism was trans inclusive.

In this article, I will review some of the ways in which the inclusion and support of trans people by radical feminists has been hidden from trans and feminist discourse, thereby creating the perception that radical feminism isn’t supportive of trans people. John Stoltenberg, a radical feminist author and long-term partner of the pioneering radical feminist opinion leader Andrea Dworkin, wrote (pers. comm., February 13, 2015), “The notion that truly revolutionary radical feminism is trans-inclusive is a no brainer. I honestly do not understand how or why a strain of radical feminism has emerged that favors a biology-based/sex-essentialist theory of ‘sex caste’ over the theory of ‘sex class’ as set forth in the work of [Monique] Wittig, Andrea [Dworkin], and [Catharine] MacKinnon. Can radical feminism be ‘reclaimed’ so that its trans-inclusivity—which is inherent—is made apparent? I hope so.” It is to this hope that I wish to draw attention to in this article.

To this end, I will utilize the feminist term trans exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) to distinguish the “biology-based/sex-essentialist” ideology Stoltenberg identified as being different from the analysis of the radical feminist opinion leaders he explicitly noted. In 2008, an online feminist community popularized TERF as a way of making a distinction between these two types of feminism. While this lexical distinction is useful, online TERF activists sometimes assert this term to be a slur, since some Internet users have used it in derogatory ways. Internet conflicts aside, I use this term in a manner consistent with its widely known original context, as asserted by the progenitor of the term, cisgender feminist Viv Smythe (Williams 2014a): “It was not meant to be insulting. It was meant to be a deliberately technically neutral description of an activist grouping. We wanted a way to distinguish TERFs from other RadFems with whom we engaged who were trans*-positive/neutral, because we had several years of history of engaging productively/substantively with non-TERF RadFems.”

Absent this distinction, much has been written of the various ways in which “radical feminism” is critical of the trans experience. It is commonplace to find popular media outlets assert that “radical feminists” take issue with trans people. The Globe and Mail asserted (Wente 2014), “In fact, the most bitter battle in the LGBT movement today is between radical feminists and the transgender movement.” The New Yorker recounted (Goldberg 2014) how a conference calling itself “Radfems Respond” was “going to try to explain why, at a time when transgender rights are ascendant, radical feminists insist on regarding transgender women as men, who should not be allowed to use women’s facilities, such as public rest rooms, or to participate in events organized exclusively for women.” The National Post said (Kay 2014) that radical feminism and Paul McHugh are of one mind when it comes to trans people: “True sex change is simply not possible; you end up as a ‘feminized man’ or a ‘masculinized woman.’ Which is exactly what the radical feminists believe.”

Lost in these popular representations of radical feminism is its long and courageous trans inclusive history…

 

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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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