Sometimes we can get bogged down in fighting and forget the positive goals we had when we set out to do a piece of activism.
My desire in the work I do to build bridges between feminism and the trans community is not to silence anyone, but to empower feminists to understand that their instinctive sense of wanting to offer empathy and fairness to trans people does not undermine some fundamental feminist cornerstone. I want to make it clear that a radical feminism is happening just as much within the trans community as it is outside of it – not all trans people are feminists, but not all women are feminists so that’s to be expected.
Just because back in the 1970’s radical feminism got pulled down a particular line of thinking does not mean it is still at the cutting edge of feminist thought forty years later. And not all radical feminists followed the crowd – here’s what Andrea Dworkin said in 1974:
“work with transsexuals, and studies of formation of gender identity in children provide basic information which challenges the notion that there are two discrete biological sexes. That information threatens to transform the traditional biology of sex difference into the radical biology of sex similarity. That is not to say there is one sex, but that there are many. The evidence which is germane here is simple. The words “male” and “female,” “man” and “woman,” are used only because as yet there are no others. . .”
Dworkin goes on to speak for the rights of trans* folk:
“One, every transsexual has the right to survival on his/her own terms. That means every transsexual is entitled to a sex-change operation, and it should be provided by the community as one of its functions. This is an emergency measure for an emergency condition. Two, by changing our premises about men and women, role-playing and polarity, the social situation of transsexuals will be transformed, and transsexuals will be integrated into community, no longer persecuted and despised.” Andrea Dworkin, Woman Hating, 1974 (Source)
If they did follow the transphobic crowd, some feminists are now attempting to make amends:
“I believe that transgender people, including those who have transitioned, are living out real, authentic lives. Those lives should be celebrated, not questioned.” Gloria Steinhem, 2013 (source)
I am not trying to rehabilitate the hurt either Dworkin or Steinhem have caused to transgender folks, but to remind us that transphobia is not part of the deal of being either radical or feminist. Any feminist who reads widely will discover for themself all the questions the “transcriticism” debate has asked have been answered eloquently by the trans community, and that, better still, the trans community are asking themselves and each other newer and even more exciting questions. If you want to find vibrant, mind-expanding radical feminist and gender revolutionary ideas, look no further than the radical, feminist trans community.
Let’s not see a new generation of radicals who are unable to critique that past period and carefully filter out some of the faulty and “of its time” thinking within otherwise important and substantial contributions to the movement.