Feminist organising across difference

I previously wrote about the need to be together in our differences from a personal perspective, but what I hinted at in that blog piece, I want to make more explicit here, in a call to feminism to stop centreing sameness and commonality in our organising.

I cannot possibly write more eloquently on this subject than Mia McKenzie did in this Black Girl Dangerous article, or punch up more effectively than the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag.

But the purpose of this blog is to build relationship and understanding between cis and trans feminists, and with regard to our particular differences I may have things that need saying.

Organising around “sameness”

In feminist organising, the need to emphasise “sameness” can be destructive, for all the notion of half the world united is deeply appealing. This idea of commonality prevents white women reaching out to their sisters of colour on issues such as FGM on a basis of anything other than shared biology. Differences can be erased in a rather appropriative way – FGM becomes a “shared female experience”. But FGM is not a biological inevitability and it is not something most white women are at risk from.

At worst, white feminists can appropriate the FGM experiences of women of colour to drive forward their own personal transantagonistic agendas, citing biology as some fundamental and unifying standpoint for women in a way that is erasing of their own relative advantages and freedom from such practices.

When commonality and sameness are a focus, instead of being united in our differences as feminists, trans women are witch-hunted into proving their similarities and shared experiences in order to be included. Or worse, their differences are used as reasons to exclude them.

It’s okay to be different

Let’s get it out there – of course trans women are different from cis women.

And trans women are different from each other. And you know what? cis women are all different from other cis women too. And yet at the same time there are many experiences of oppression that are shared, and they fall under the categories misogyny and sexism; the things feminism is specifically fighting.

Organising across difference rather than sameness changes the way we look at inclusion – people can fit some ways and not others, and that’s okay. We can unite to work together for something collectively beneficial, and still have spaces and conversations we don’t need to be a part of.

In a place where difference is celebrated and accepted, trans women are free to say “I have no need to be in a discussion about menstruation or abortion, but some of my trans AFAB siblings might want in on this” and it would not be a device to exclude them from women’s organising altogether, but simply a conversation they could step out of without feeling that it in any way compromised their position as women.

In a world where it’s okay to have differences, cis women would not use reproductive biology to exclude trans women from such things as discussion and services around sexual and domestic violence, which disproportionately affect trans women.

They would not, for instance, pull that old trick of citing pregnancy risk as the thing that sets apart a cis woman’s experience of rape – a notion that is not only demeaning to trans women’s experiences of rape, but also erasing of the experiences of infertile, post-menopausal or pre-pubescent cis female victims.

Is our movement mature enough for nuance?

There are aspects of sexism and misogyny that affect trans women, some that affect non-binary folks and sometimes trans men too. Because binaries and either/ors are generally an illusion, it is possible to build a stronger movement when we do away with arbitrary and simplistic sorting processes in feminist organising. We are fully able to have intelligent, here and now discussions – just who is affected by this issue in front of us right now? Who needs in on the conversation? How can we make sure they’re considered and included? How can we ensure our non-erasure of their differences?

Feminism has an important choice, and it is at the heart of the movement towards pro-intersectional feminism – do we homogenise, and then attempt to draw clear and arbitrary lines as to where that homogenity ends, or do we do the hard work of recognising that every different conversation we have in feminism will hold a different balance of power – who is most vulnerable in this regard, who needs to be held and centred, who can be overlooked, who holds the aces – this is a constantly shifting and nuanced story.

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