TRIGGER WARNING for transphobia
I write this as a cis woman. If I’ve fucked up anywhere due to cis privilege, please, please CALL ME ON IT.
Hundreds of women have been killed violently. Many more live in fear of violence, sexual assaults and are at a greater risk of suicide. It’s a fucking travesty.
Yet there are some feminists who don’t really give a shit about this particular group. There are some feminists who actively partake in systemic oppression of others. There are some who call themselves feminists yet express hate-filled transphobia which, on closer inspection, is thoroughly indistinguishable from that coming from outside our supposedly safe space.
The vast majority of feminists are perfectly accepting of trans people. As far as I can discern, the transphobia comes from a small, though noisy minority. Unfortunately, this minority seems to be influential, and still get the platform to speak: I write this post after seeing that people are still paying attention to Julie Bindel, who spouted transphobic thought in an Oxford student newspaper today.
Bindel argues that trans people reinforce ideas of gender essentialism: that by getting surgery, or by living as a women when born a man one somehow metaphorically scabs as they “fly in the face of the feminist notion that feminized behaviour or masculinized behaviour is a social contract”. The logic here is flabbergasting. Apparently gender is a social construct, but it cannot be changed. So much for malleability. In arguing that people must stick with their biologically-assigned gender, Bindel herself is the gender essentialist.
Likewise, transphobic feminist Sheila Jeffreys labels reassignment surgery as “self-mutilation” and suggests that transmen are just lesbians trying to be more manly. It’s nothing more than a nasty hateful diatribe, and by arguing this line, it removes bodily autonomy from people. Bodily autonomy is apparently a privilege that only applies to some in Jeffreys’s book.
The “theory” underlying feminist transphobia is as flimsy as an Argos flat-pack, which suggests to me that it is not theoretically-driven at all, but rather a manifestation of a lack of understanding of intersectionality, combined with a hearty dollop of spite and prejudice. Twitterer @scattermoon recently found herself responding to Julie Bindel’s tweets about Channel 4 show My Transsexual Summer, pointing out that many trans people agreed that the editing of the show presented gender essentialism. This was retweeted by Bindel, yet hours later, Bindel bemoaned the fact that there was little to no condemnation of essentialism in the show from the trans community. Either Bindel has a goldfish memory, or, more likely, she is disingenuously pushing an agenda which is harmful to trans people.
Beyond hate speech dressed up as theorising lies another worrying fashion among some feminists. A few months ago, pseudo-feminist Caitlin Moran casually used the phrase “pre-op tranny”. This is hardly the first time Moran has used oppressive language; she has a history of throwing around words like “retard” to get a cheap giggle. When called out on her use of a word which is used as a weapon, Moran decided to block her critics, so desperate was she to hold on to such a vile word.
The shit from these influential transphobic feminists rolls downhill. The thorny issue of inviting trans women into women-only spaces periodically rears its ugly head, when the patently obvious answer to this debate is “of course. It’s a women-only space. We should allow women into the women only space.” Sometimes this manifests as dangerous, aggressive bullying, such as a feminist blog outing trans women. Given the very real threats many trans people face, I cannot believe that some feminists would gladly expose fellow people to such risk.
Transphobia has no place in feminism. None whatsoever. You can dress it up in as much theory as you want, you can stick your hands over your ears and deny you’ve done anything wrong, you can wilfully twist the truth into lies, but if you’re transphobic, you have no place in feminism.
For too long, we have been giving platform to those who actively harm members of an oppressed group, people on the same team as us. Enough is enough. We don’t need our Bindels or our Morans; they are not part of the struggle, they are manifestations of the problem we are tackling.
We do not have to listen to them. We must not.