A debate is currently raging in the feminist movement and I am angry. A subset of women, especially lesbian separatists, are determined to keep transgender women out of public spaces. The thinking is that these trans women are really men and, therefore, having them in “women’s places” is akin to cooperating with the enemy.
Nowhere, however, in all the hand-wringing about safety and what trans women are really doing in the women’s restroom; after the endless debate about whether all men are rapists; after the on-going talk about inclusion versus exclusion: nowhere in these circles is there a discussion of trans human rights.
Past is present. I’ve tangled with these folks before. When I moved to San Francisco in the early 1970s, I quickly encountered radical feminist lesbians and found myself attracted to separatism at first. I found their expressions of rage at individual men appealing until I saw my “sisters” in action and considered the ramifications.
I saw the way they rejected and discriminated against male toddlers and young boys, their assumption that individual men are to blame for our oppression and that all men are potential rapists. This collided with the fact that I have a socialist feminist brother that I am very fond of. Not to mention that I was once kicked out of a meeting for expressing “male thinking.”
Back in the day, I never observed the debate over the presence of trans women. But it was happening. The famous radical feminist Robin Morgan called trans women “impostors” and “destroyers.” What amazes me is that the women’s movement is still in the same place 50 years later. The 70-something lesbians that I hang out with are about evenly split on the issue.
Dancing with the right wing. These days there is a serious development that has taken the controversy in a dangerous new direction. Right-wing Republican politicians have decided to go after trans rights across the country.
This puts TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) in a position where their beliefs are in alignment with the extremists. In fact, Heritage Foundation, the right-wing think tank, put on a forum in January 2019 with panelists from WoLF, Women’s Liberation Front, a self-described radical feminist group that argues that biology is destiny.
I asked a friend, who is against inclusion, about what is to me the great contradiction of being a lesbian willing to team up with an outfit dedicated to the oppression of women and other groups. She said the TERFs have to take advantage of every opportunity to share their viewpoint and she didn’t have much of a problem with such allies.
I find this sort of complacency alarming, to say the least. What the anti-trans folks don’t see is that once the right finishes driving trans people back into the closet they will come for gays and lesbians. There is already talk of overturning gay marriage. So teaming up with the Heritage Foundation to push an anti-trans agenda just doesn’t make sense.
Feminism that does not include trans women is not feminism at all. When I was starting out as a gay movement activist, one of our demands was sexual freedom, the ability to express one’s sexuality in whatever way one chooses. I’ve always felt that since I wanted the right to be a lesbian, I needed to extend the right of self-determination to others, including transgender people.
Not only that. Trans women are human beings. As such we should support them and stand in solidarity with them. As long as a person lives as a woman and is subject to male violence (the murder rate for transgender women is much higher than in the general population) I support her as a woman. Feminism is about equality and inclusion. To oppose that is cooperating with the enemy.
Sukey Wolf is a retired psychotherapist, poet, feminist and LGBTQ+ rights activist. Write to her at FSnews@socialism.com.