For those not in the know, in July a conference entitled RadFem2012 is supposed to be happening, with headline speaker radical feminist–and noted transphobe–Sheila Jeffreys. The conference is open only to “women born women living as women”, a clunky way of saying “no trans people”.
Kickass feminist and activist, the thoroughly inspirational Roz Kaveney recently wrote a takedown of this particular branch of radical feminism, rightly likening it to a cult (although arguably there are also fascistic overtones to the radfem party line on this issue). If you haven’t read it yet, please do. It’s utterly brilliant.
Sheila Jeffreys has responded to Roz’s excellent piece with an argument with so many holes it would be better suited to function as a colander. Again, this piece is worth reading, though for the exact opposite reasons to the one above. Jeffreys’s entire argument hinges upon the idea that it is only trans people who could possibly ever object to this particular murky brand of transphobia.
This is, of course, patently untrue. I’ve written myself that transphobia has no place in feminism, and I’m hardly the only one. One does not have to be trans to care about the rights of trans people. One simply has to be free from bigotry.
Jeffreys claims persecution from the trans community in the form of utter horrors such as glitter bombing and captioned photographs. Perhaps the most stark example of the hideous persecution faced by poor Jeffreys and her transphobic ilk is that Jeffreys claims the RadFem2012 conference venue to have banned her from speaking, citing evidence of her hate speech that she believes to be entirely reasonable. Throughout, notably, Jeffreys can only blame a shadowy cabal of trans people: the idea that cis allies may have in any way been involved simply fails to occur to her.
This line of thinking is not unique to Jeffreys. In the past, coming up against a transphobic radfem who I will not name because I’m utterly terrified of her, I received a string of tweets saying “sorry you’re male”. It simply did not enter this person’s imagination that anybody but a trans person could care about transphobia.
For cis feminists, there are three major reasons to fight transphobia coming from those who are supposedly on our side. The first is a moral one: we should be against misogyny and hatred in all forms. Second, we must fight gender essentialism. And third, we must stand up for bodily autonomy.
Trans people are more likely to experience violence, sexual or otherwise. Trans people are more likely to be excluded from areas of public life. A large group of women are more vulnerable than others, and in their ignorance (at best), the transphobic radfems ignore this travesty: in the case of RadFem2012, and many other instances, they are actively partaking in exclusion.
Gender essentialism is something we have fought against for years, and I had honestly hoped that it would be at least mostly dead since the publication of Delusions of Gender. Alas, no. The radfems obsess over chromosomes and what genitals a person might have and testosterone levels as if it means anything. They view trans women with an almost McCarthyist suspicion, believing that they can never be anything but men infiltrating women’s spaces. All because of a peculiar fascination with biology in an age where such essentialism is largely discredited.
And finally, bodily autonomy. This is a fundamental aspect of feminism which is ignored by the transphobic radfems, who believe the surgical and medical interventions some trans people undergo to be inherently wrong. Jeffreys couches it in the language of concern-trolling, claiming it to be a “human rights violation”, yet, surely, having the right to do whatever the hell you want to do with your own body is the basic human right?
It is curious, then, that the men’s rights activists and the radfems do not make good bedfellows: both position themselves against these feminist struggles. In her piece, Jeffreys even uses the same argument tactic as the MRAs: all she wants, she says, is to have a debate (the irony of excluding trans people from this debate is apparently lost on her).
I am not alone in thinking that transphobia and feminism are diametrically opposed ideologies. The shift in feminist thinking is firmly on this side. Jeffreys and her ilk are anachronistic curiosities, though loud and dangerous. The trans conspiracy Jeffreys fights is non-existent: in fact, she is attacking a foe far bigger than she can possibly imagine.
We are in the majority, we who reject transphobia. We must continue to be vocal in our rejection of this dated and frightening rhetoric.