Some time ago I wrote a post that proved rather more controversial than I was ready or able to deal with. This one.
When I wrote it I was feeling pretty disillusioned, frankly. Here was I, attempting in good faith to examine my own privileges, race, class, hetero(ish) and more… hoping to encourage other women to examine theirs, hoping to find useful insights and move forward to useful actions… and yet everywhere I turned there seemed to be blank looks, active discouragement. Why did these women, professing to be radical advocates for female liberty, fail to see any oppression but their own? I was fed up of seeing people around me, including people who I felt should know better, being so damned heartless.
Caveat: I am not talking about everyone or even anyone in particular, other than myself. Dear reader, it’s almost certainly not about you. I’m just saying that this feeling was there, for me, this disillusionment, exasperation. I’m just trying to explain. Explain myself. My naivety. My sudden disappearance, my disengagement from radical feminist circles. Where it all went.
The “trans” issue, the fear – yes, fear - that some women seem to have, the fear that transwomen will damage or even shatter the peace of a woman-only space, this issue just happened to be the one that went nuclear: people I knew, people I considered friends, people who’d commented here before, people who’d never even heard of me or this blog until they saw a link somewhere, they all turned up to have a slice of the action. I’ve been sort of puzzled about how that issue happened to be the one that broke the camel’s back, the one that made me question whether I can even call myself a radical feminist any more. It’s an issue in which I have no personal involvement, no axe to grind, just one in which I had become sort of engaged. But, after all, perhaps it’s not surprising: trans-exclusion seems to have become one of the radical feminist touchpapers, the way abortion rights are a touchpaper in US politics. So I wrote some posts about it, and that was the one that happened to go nuclear.
I have learned a lot since then – from writing that post – from the frankly overwhelming trainwreck that ensued, spinning out of control quick as quick – and also from the rather more thoughtful responses I have read, some in comments but mostly by e-mail and on the blogs of women of many shades of opinion. I have read responses to and critiques of my post from all sides. (Hard to believe, but people are still writing about that post. And I’m still learning.)
Some things that I’ve learned.
I understand far more now about where women are coming from who wish to exclude transwomen from “women-only” spaces and services. And I recognise that the privilege of not being afraid is one that not all women have, whether or not they are trans. And I can understand some women born female not wanting anything to do with women born “male”. And from my place of privilege I am not going to blame them* or say that they are bad people, that would be unfair and untrue.
* I blame the patriarchy. Obviously.
Having a deeper understanding of the honest and heartfelt reasons some women have for wanting to keep transwomen out of women-only spaces hasn’t changed my mind about the issue. If anything, I am now even clearer in my mind, that the exclusion of transwomen is – just – wrong.
Feminists have, in general, come to realise that more privileged women must end their erasure and exclusion of less privileged women: of lesbians, of black women, of women with disabilities, of poor women, of young women, of old women, of pretty and plain and fat and thin women. If in practice we haven’t actually ended all erasure and exclusion, we do at least recognise that in principle it is wrong.
Some feminists who are not trans haven’t yet got to the same realisation when it comes to transwomen: some of us still try to justify a lack of concern for them (excluding them from women-only rape crisis and domestic violence shelters) by claiming that they are not women, by turning a blind eye to the rape and violence that they suffer precisely because they are women. On this issue, many women who are not trans still know too little, engage too little, listen too little.
When all is said and done, if I were writing that post again, I wouldn’t change a lot. I would amend some points of detail, and I would watch my language more closely. I would be a bit less tactless, less patronising and sanctimonious actually. I would also be less tentative about identifying transwomen as women. I would think more carefully about whether and why I still cast transwomen as “other” than women, rather than as simply a particularly category within class Woman. I would be less fearful about upsetting my radfem friends, too; with notable exceptions on both sides of the divide, some of my radfem friends turned out not to be so friendly after all.
And, finally, if I were doing this again, I would put comments on moderation, or at least waded the hell in once it became clear that the thing was getting out of control. If i can figure out how, I’ll be putting comments in moderation for this post too – just in case.
Where does that leave me?
Older, wiser, and still here – now and then.
Still trying to work it all out.