How to Transcend the Embittered Womanhood Fights
L+G+B+T: Trans and Cis Unity
The tiny group of cis lesbians that hijacked the head position in the London Pride march were fairly clear about what should happen to the LGBTQ+ movement. They do not want us to stay together. If they can’t kick the T out they want to try and drag the L off onto its own. It was an awful moment for many of us, full of sadness and frustration and anyone still affected by that hate fuelled action should look up #LwiththeT to restore some hope in your belly.
This article sprung from a minor miracle in the aftermath: I exchanged views on gender with someone on the internet who disagreed with me, but we listened to each other and learned. For me it was a fleck of hope in a sea of sour debates. Can the LGBTQ+ community keep its alliance?
That group of hijackers was just the visible harbinger of a bigger problem — within the LGBTQ+ community there is a crowd that would be happy to cut a few letters off the end. Their principle target: trans people.
It might seem fairly obvious but it’s not done often enough:
Those who want to break apart the LGBTQ+ movement should not be included in a conversation about keeping the LGBTQ+ movement together.
If all they want to do is widen the rifts, cut groups off from each other — with the implicit aim of cutting one group in particular away from the struggle for rights — then it’s a non starter. They have excluded themselves from the conversation.
If we are serious about unity then wreckers are not welcome. If you have no desire to keep the LGBTQ+ movement together then you can stop reading now — this article wasn’t written for you and it would only be sheer aggression to provoke an argument in the comments.
Now hopefully we’re left with those readers who believe that we are stronger fighting patriarchy together rather than fighting ourselves.
This article is meant principally for two groups: trans people, women in particular, who are the principle victims of this attack, and also cis women who might have heard some of the wreckers’ rhetoric and are genuinely concerned about how their own rights and needs are affected by the rise of trans activism.
Movement wreckers’ discourse feeds from the pools of generalised conservative transphobic language. They wield the word woman exclusively, purposefully cutting out trans women, appealing to cis women’s genuine and valid feeling that their cis gendered embodied experience of womanhood is important to them, is important to their understanding of themselves as a woman. Wreckers want to say, ‘these loopy trans activists want to redefine woman and take everything that you know to be true from you.’
They go on to say that trans activism threatens ‘sex-based’ feminist activism, which fights discrimination against people born with vulvas and ovaries, people they would describe as exclusively women, even though, many of those individuals would never call themselves women. See, this wrecker’s creed completely disregards the truth and validity of trans lives. Our ways of talking about our lives, our genders and our experiences is snipped right out of their reality.
In the face of this whipped up storm of fear and suspicion that the wreckers hope will divide cis women against trans women I have one response: it’s Nonsense!
Your truth as a cis woman is a fundamental and important part of the experience of womanhood. It is not at all diminished by the fact that there exists a minority of women who have had a different embodied experience of womanhood. We can listen to each other, truly, listening, learning from each other’s experiences and then standing beside each other in common struggle.
The concerns of all women are vital, valid and worth fighting for in common.
It’s a simple idea, but it needs to become the heart of the feminist movement and the broader queer community.
We trans women must make it absolutely clear that we stand shoulder to shoulder with our sisters and siblings in their fight against genitalia or sex-based oppression.
The majority of women are cis women and they, along with some trans men, some non binary and intersex people, share a by-and-large similar set of genitalia: a set of genitalia that society has had some pretty strange attitudes towards over the centuries and continues today. Reproductive rights, period poverty, and oppressions based specifically on having certain sex organs are major issues and problems for many people across the globe.
We do not speak for that collective of people on their behalf but we’ve got their backs. We will be counted in that fight. The vast majority of women fit into this category and because of that, though not all the people who do so are women, it is nonetheless of vital importance to the women’s movement. Feminism still has plenty of work to do around vulva pride, fighting the shame that a very cis masculine society has inflicted on non-phallic genitalia.
This struggle does not belong to the women’s movement alone — we should always be careful to be inclusive in our language, but it is of great importance to the women’s movement and we trans women should be absolutely clear about that.
We cannot let the true need for sex based activism be used by a handful of transphobes who wield it cynically to stir up fear and hatred. This is not a zero-sum game:
There is nothing that stops us from fighting patriarchy together.
Just as the concerns and oppressions of the majority are valid, vital and worth fighting for, so are the concerns and oppressions of the minority, of trans women. For far too long we have been the objects of society: analysed, described, discussed, objects of violence, objects of considerable sexual interest and confusion which can often then lead, again, to violence.
The trans movement has been building its confidence slowly, over generations and we have arrived to the point where we are refusing to be society’s objects. We want to describe our own experiences for ourselves, write our own narratives of what it means to be trans, what it means to be us. We don’t want cis society to hold the power of discourse over us anymore: describing us and naming us.
There is no shame in the word cis — it should be a badge of pride because it is a word that seeks dignity for everyone, for every woman: trans or cis. The only reason to refuse the word cis would be to negate the truth of trans lives: that we exist, that our experience is valid, beautiful, and that we have the right to speak for ourselves, to talk about our lives and our truths.
As women we have always been there. In the past, our ancestors hid in the margins, precarious, often in sex work with the same rights as the most oppressed classes of women and even more vulnerability. When we insist now that understanding gender based purely on what genitalia the doctor saw (or didn’t see) when you popped out is crudely simplistic, out of whack with the depth of human experience and a source of oppression against trans people — we do that because we demand dignity for everyone, ourselves included.
This is what we mean when we say my gender is not up for debate: it means my dignity is not up for debate. I have the right to speak for myself and that is not up for debate. Wreckers often pretend to simply be ‘appealing for debate’ but there are some things that can never be debated. That white supremacism is rancid and should be defeated is not up for debate. Oil companies and their lobbyists try their hardest to ‘open up a debate’ about whether climate change is real and caused by human development. Their intention: to spread confusion, untruth and chaos. If someone’s intention is to wreck our movement, what’s to debate?
Discussion, on the other hand, should be had-a-plenty. How can we keep the movement together? How can we listen to each other more? Learn from each other? How can we stand up for each other? These are the discussions we need to have.
Here’s what cis women who have genuine concerns about what all this trans activism means to them need to know:
We, trans people, are being subjected to a campaign by a minority of feminists and a minority of cis lesbians who don’t take the validity of our lives and voices as a starting point at all. This minority wants to,
- hold onto the age old privilege of being able to define us for us;
- exclude trans women from all women’s spaces;
- exclude us from the LGBT alliance that we helped create;
- exclude us from lesbianism, and
- exclude us full stop.
The exclusion is dangerous to our lives and their methods are also often a threat to our very lives.
It is the wolf of pure reactionary transphobia dressed in the clothes of feminism.
This is why, when you have these discussion with trans women, or trans people in general, you may often get a defensive response.
Defensiveness is usually a sign that someone doesn’t feel safe. Trans people do want to keep the movement together. The intersectional alliance is vital to us, as one of the most vulnerable groups in it. The most important thing you can do from the start of those conversations is to emphasise that trans women are women, trans men are men, non-binary people’s experiences and genders are valid and help us understand that we are valued and will be listened to. In this hostile, bitter, dangerous environment trust does not come easily and that’s the unfortunate reality of where we are right now.
When two sides in a conversation need to build trust, the best thing anyone can do in that situation is to be the first to try and listen. The more you listen to the other — the more the other will realise it is safe to listen to you too. That goes for all of us.
Of course, it has to be repeated, it is impossible to listen to wreckers. Their rhetoric is dishonest, their intentions malicious and when they demand debate it is only to let bigotry slither into our spaces, grow, tear us apart, get us to tear each other apart. We will only be able to build relationships of discussion and trust if wreckers are kept out.
We are stronger together. Fighting amongst us is useless, self destructive and absurd. You lose nothing if I gain dignity and I have the whole world to gain by being by your side in your fights. I will learn and grow and blossom through that process and so will you. We will demonstrate together a different set of values: opposed and contrasted to the patriarchal conflict-oriented way of negotiating differences. We will demonstrate a culture of listening, of nurturing, of care. We have everything to gain by growing together.
I came out as trans while living in the wilds and am now turning my home into a free nature retreat for trans and queer people to offer a place to escape and discover a non-urban way of being in the world. Help me keep this project alive with our Patreon campaign and get yourself some cool rewards at the same time! If you like the article, clap and share!