Wikia

LGBT Project Wiki

Differences between feminism and transfeminism

4,913pages on
this wiki
Talk0

Despite the similarities, there are also differences between traditional feminism and transfeminism. Some feminists, such as Janice Raymond, wonder whether trans issues even belong in feminism [1], though others consider Raymond to be trans oppressive or transphobic.

The primary issue that maintains tension between transfeminisms and mainstream feminisms is the issue of sisterhood. Simply put, sisterhood is a feminist idea that patriarchy and its tactics are so universal that the most important experiences of women everywhere are, if not the same, equivalent. Women of color, young women and girls, women with disabilities, and many other groups have often found themselves at odds with the idea of a universal sisterhood and its logical extensions, including the two most corrosive ideas: first, if one works for the benefit of any woman, one works for the benefit of all equally. Second, that in a sexist society all women have the same level of power. (Brendy Lyshaug, Solidarity Without "Sisterhood"? Feminism and the ethics of Coalition Building, Politics & Gender(2006), 2: 77-100 Cambridge University Press)

These issues have been confronted in many fora before transfeminism was coined. "Killing the Black Body," (Roberts, 1997) is a later, book-length example, that illustrated how white-feminist led reproductive rights movements sometimes worked to the terrible detriment of poor women, often African-American, Latina, or native American. "This Bridge Called My Back," (Anzaldua & Moraga, 1980) an anthology of third world feminists, famously challenged the idea of equal power among women head on. Despite its successes and a number of similar efforts, many women's organizations operate under the assumption that because the organization or its premises are open only to women that all women present are automatically "safe" (see again: http://eminism.org/interchange/2005/20050803-wmstl.html).

Though unacknowledged, FtM1 persons have surely been part of feminist movements throughout time (Deke Law, "Evolution" in This is What Lesbian Looks Like, Kris Kleindienst, Firebrand Books, 1999), it was the appearance of openly trans persons in feminist spaces that forced some mainstream feminisms to deal head on with the idea that all women are socially equal. This has made some transfeminists natural allies of, for example, women of color experiencing racism in a feminist environment. While some feminists dealt with the appearance of trans people by attempting to force them away and define them outside of the reach of feminist involvement or concern (Raymond, 1994), more ambivalent institutions who allowed trans people a toe in the door sometimes felt instantly justified in their misgivings when a trans person allied with someone accusing other women of racism. Those who had accepted Raymond's prediction that trans women were attempting to sabotage feminism from within could feel justified moving to end the budding openness. While it remains inevitable that any large group will show the same range of altruistic and selfish, pacificst and temperamental people, there have been a number of documented occasions when the trans people were in fact the victims of overreactions by others. (See Courvant at http://www.survivorproject.org/whyserve.html.) In particular trans women's actions tend to be seen in different light than identical actions by other women. The result is accusation and counter-accusation among more and more individuals that disrupt potential working relationships between naturally allied movements. (For one example surrounding the Michigan Women's Music Festival, see Koyama at http://www.confluere.com/store/pdf-zn/mich-handbook.pdf)

Femininity itself, including its meanings and uses, has also become a place of contention between transfeminists and other feminists. Mainstream feminists who oppose the objectification of women often find it bothersome that some transwomen seek to be viewed as objects of desire. A few transwomen also exaggerate feminine traits in themselves [2]. While there are a number of reasons for this, one important one is safety. Because hate crimes and other social punishments are rampant against trans people, nearly all feel safer when they make their gender unambiguous (though this feeling of safety does not necessarily cause any given trans person to make different choices). But when safety concerns are most important, it is logical to assume a trans person is most likely (not certain) to attempt to dress stereotypically as whichever gender it is possible to most safely portray. In quite a number of situations, this results in a trans woman dressing in a relatively femininely way. In cases where this femininity exists, it then may be interpreted through the lens of society's relentless hyper-sexualization of trans people generally and transsexual women in particular. Thus, even when the amount and nature of femininity are only marginally different from norms, they may be seen as wildly inappropriate (Courvant, "I Never Thought It Was Activism," 2002b). (For a larger discussion of this and related issues of feminism response to femininity, See: Serano, 2007)

Of course the most logical argument for feminists' notice of a disproportionate number of trans women with very feminine expression is the one almost never mentioned in these discussions: sampling bias. Transsexual people are viewed as outlandish exceptions to the norms of society. Thus when a person appears to fit within - or almost within - society's norms, one is not assumed to be transsexual or transgender. When a person sees someone that isn't easily classified as a man or a woman, the viewer still almost never assumes the subject to be trans. Take for example the SNL skits "Pat." (See also: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110169/) The comedy is based on strangers being introduced to Pat and being unsure of Pat's gender. The strangers then attempt to ask leading yet socially acceptable questions that might lead Pat to make a statement that reveals the character as a man or a woman. Invariably, Pat finds an unexpected way to answer without defining the character as either traditional gender. And yet, after round and more rounds of such questioning, neither the other characters nor the audience come to the conclusion that Pat is a transsexual or transgender person avoiding the questions on purpose. (Courvant, 2007) Such are the rules of polite society: one does not assume another is trans because being trans is such an awful thing to be that it would be rude of us to assume that of another person. As this training is so deeply automatic (and it is impossible to perceive thoughts about trans identities with the naked eye), it is not possible for anyone to notice each of the trans persons a given person meets. Thus the idea that transsexual women, or all trans women generally, are somehow more feminine more often is merely an unprovable assertion most often made by those who wish to malign trans women as uneducated, unliberated, retrograde throwbacks who threaten to serve as a useful tool helping anti-feminists drag all women back to a pre-feminist heck-on-earth (Sandy Stone at http://sandystone.com/empire-strikes-back; Raymond, 1994; & Serano, 2007).

Finally, it is useful to notice that feminism in transsexual women is noticed and punished much more harshly than the same behaviors in non-transsexual women. This double standard reveals that the behavior itself is not as problematic to many critics as the existence of trans people (Courvant, 2002 & Valerio, 2002)

Janice Raymond, Mary Daly and Sheila Jeffreys, among others, bypass conflicts with transfeminism to argue that the feminist movement should not concern itself in any way with the needs of transwomen. [3] This opinion is based on the idea that only "women born women" can fully identify with the experience of being a woman. This, of course, pits such feminists against the ethical mandate that biology should not equal destiny as discussed earlier. Opponents of that view have argued that "women born women" differ greatly from each other as well, and that excluding transwomen from women's spaces denies them their right to self-identification.

Transfeminists explorations of women's power and other differences that resulted from this line of attack have led many to unearth others' or create their own observations of many under-examined situations in which one woman's power hurts or has the potential to hurt another woman. This has led transfeminists to suggest client advisory boards for crisis lines and women's shelters, the end of unpaid and underpaid feminist internships, incorporating employees into board committees that evaluate non-profit executives, creating strategic health-care funds to assist employees with legitimate medical expenses traditionally uncovered by feminist employees' insurance, incorporating specific anti-racist and other anti-oppressive criteria on employee evaluation forms, and more. (See: http://eminism.org/index.html & http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.transfeminism.org) Particularly fruitful has been transfeminist investigation of feminism and disability, feminism and sex, and the combination of the three (The Queer Disability 2002 conference being and including many notable examples, http://www.disabilityhistory.org/dwa/queer/program_grid.htm#sp)

Perhaps the most visible battleground of feminists and transfeminists has been the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. The festival ejected a transsexual woman, Nancy Burkholder, from the land in the early 1990s. Since then, they have enforced a policy that the festival is for "womyn-born-womyn" only. Many trans people and their allies find this policy to be indicative of transphobia or trans oppression within the feminist movement. Out of the controversy, the activist group Camp Trans was born to protest against the "womyn-born-woymn" policy and to advocate for greater acceptance of trans people within the feminist community. A number of prominent trans activists and transfeminists were involved in Camp Trans including Riki Wilchins, Jessica Xavier, and Leslie Feinberg.

Another important site of transfeminist controversy has been the Kimberly Nixon case in Canada. Kimberly Nixon is a transsexual woman who wanted to train to be a volunteer rape crisis counselor at Vancouver Rape Relief in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1995. When Nixon's transsexual status was determined, she was forced to leave the training program. The staff felt that Nixon's status made it impossible for her to understand the experiences including sexual assault and domestic violence of women requesting services. In the arguments of VRR, the staff assumed their own clients must all be biologically female and that trans women such as Nixon would fail in understanding in large part because they would not share experience with assaults and fear of assaults. Nixon disagreed, disclosing her own history of partner abuse.

Shortly thereafter, Nixon sued for discrimination and the case was caught in litigation for many years, with Vancouver Rape Relief finally winning the case in 2007 when the Canadian Supreme Court refused to hear Nixon's appeal. (See: http://www.egale.ca/index.asp?lang=E&menu=34&item=1147) The case passed through a number of courts, with Nixon actually winning her initial case. During this initial trial, Nixon's attorneys argued that there is no reason to assume trans women incapable of working in the potentially difficult atmosphere of an all women program serving those abused primarily by men. One of the arguments used to make their case was Diana Courvant's own publicized experiences working inside a similar organization in the United States as (apparently) the first out transsexual woman to work in a women-only domestic violence shelter. Although some of Nixon's lawyers' wording appeared to wrongly assume that Diana Courvant's work pre-dated Nixon's experience with Vancouver Rape Relief, other trans people wanting to do similar work may find reason to hope in that fact that trans identity folk, both MtF and FtM, have worked successfully in those environments. It also appears the appellate decision had nothing to do with the existence of other trans workers in gender segregated environments. Thus there is no reason to assume that this is well settled law, even in Canada, and future suits like that of Ms. Nixon are probably inevitable. (See: http://www.rapereliefshelter.bc.ca/issues/nixon/jan082001_lakeman.pdf)

Around Wikia's network

Random Wiki