Transfeminism as a noun is a category of feminism, most often known for the application of
transgenderdiscourses to feminist discourses, and of feminist beliefs to transgender discourse (Hill 2002). This, like many brief definitions of complex topics, is a simplification. In this case, the brief definition elides the intentional and wide-ranging overlap with anti-racist feminism and Third Wave feminism (For one example of the crossover unmentioned in the brief definition, see: http://www.washingtonpeacecenter.net/civic/gender_340). It also concerns the establishment of transfeminism within mainstream feminism, having specific content that applies to transgenderand transsexualpeople, but the thinking and theory of which is also applicable to all women (Hill 2002). Despite the relatively late introduction of transfeminism as a term, transfeminist work has been around since the early second wave in various forms, most prominently embodied by persons such as Sandy Stone, considered the founder of academic transgender studies, and Sylvia Rivera,(see their wiki pages for more info and sources) a Stonewall rioter and founder of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. The first book-length treatment of transfeminism appeared with "Trans/Forming Feminisms: Transfeminist Voices Speak Out",2006, edited by Krista Scott-Dixon.
Transfeminism as a term first received wide exposure with the creation of Transfeminism.org to promote the Transfeminism Anthology Project by Diana Courvant and Emi Koyama in the year 2000. The site primarily devoted itself, however, to introducing the concept of transfeminism to academe and to finding and connecting communities of people working on projects and themes that fit naturally into the category of Transfeminism through an anthology of the same name.(See: http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.transfeminism.org) By finding transfeminists and becoming familiar with their work, it was thought the anthology would be able to introduce a movement already extant but not yet recognized. Because of Courvant's earlier use of the word (as early as 1992) and her involvement in Transfeminism.org, she has been credited in some fora, including a Yale event on Third Wave feminisms [http://www.yale.edu/opa/arc-ybc/v29.n22/story19.html] , with being the primary coiner of Transfeminism, though the work to popularize it was heavily dependent on Koyama's internet savvy. (See: http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.transfeminism.org) However, as more and more trans persons sought to describe their own work, it is also true that this term was independently coined numerous times before the year 2000 (or even before Courvant's first use in 1992), apparently (according to comments on Transfeminism.org) without gaining popular traction. Indeed, just to name two, Patrick Califia uses the word transfeminism in "Sex Changes" in 1997 (Cleis Press) and Jessica Xavier, an acquaintance of Courvant, may have independently coined the term when she used it in "Passing as Privilege" in the late 1990s (see: http://www.annelawrence.com/twr/xavier.html). Emi Koyama wrote a widely read "Transfeminist Manifesto" around the time of the launch of the original Transfeminism website (see: http://eminism.org/readings/pdf-rdg/tfmanifesto.pdf) that, with her active participation in academic discussions on the internet, helped spread the term.
In the past few decades the idea that all
womenshare a common experience has come under scrutiny by women of color, lesbianwomen, and working classwomen, just to name a few. Many Transgenderand transsexual(together: "trans," see http://www.survivorproject.org/basic.html) people are also questioning what it means to be a woman, and are again challenging genderas a biological fact. Transfeminists insist that their unique experiences be recognized as part of the feminist sphere. (Gluckman & Trudeau 2002)
Transfeminism envelop all major themes of
third wave feminism, including diversity, body image, and women's agency. Transfeminism is not about merely merging trans concerns with feminism's concerns, it also includes critical analysis of second wave feminismfrom the perspective of the third wave. [ [http://www.edst.educ.ubc.ca/aerc/2000/hillr1-final.PDF] ] Like all feminisms, transfeminism critique mainstream notions of masculinity and argue that women deserve equal rights. Lastly, transfeminism share the unifying principle with other feminisms in that they see gender as a patriarchalsocial construct used to oppress women. Although the "trans" in transgender and transsexual has been used to imply transgressiveness, (the subtitle of the trans community periodical "Chrysalis" is "The Journal of Transgressive Gender Identities," http://www.gender.org/aegis/) transfeminism should not be seen as an anti-feminist movement.
Transfeminism, anti-racist and/or third world feminisms, and third wave feminisms echo each other's perspectives and thoughts as well as each other's challenges to second wave thinking and tactics. Transfeminism is therefore seen by someWho|date=July 2008 as merely reiterating points already made by others. To understand how, for instance, the signature thinking of important feminists like
Audre Lordeand Barbara Smithmight parallel the later thinking of the new transfeminists, one must understand third wave feminism in the way that Rebecca Walkerand others have described it: the collections of feminist insights that challenge the idea that all women, and thus all women's needs, are the same.
The road to legitimacy for Transfeminisms has been quite different than the road other feminisms have been forced to take. Marginalized women have often been forced to prove that their needs are different and that mainstream feminism does not speak for them (see: Bernice Johnson Reagon, "Coalition Politics: Turning the Century," http://shewhostumbles.wordpress.com/2008/01/12/bernice-johnson-reagon-coalition-politics-turning-the-century/). Trans women are forced to prove they are the same as other women, and that feminism can speak for them without ceasing to be feminism. (Examples are too numerous to list, however a book length dismissal of transsexual women qua women is Janice Raymond's "The Transsexual Empire," 1994, Teachers College Press but originally published by Beacon Press in 1979. Koyama's website has an example of the other side, a transfeminist argument for the inclusion of trans women, at http://eminism.org/interchange/2005/20050803-wmstl.html.)
Feminism vs transfeminism
In earlier versions of this article, this section was created with only the following two sentences as content: "In many ways transfeminism is similar to more conventional types of feminism. Many feminists welcome their trans counterparts into mainstream feminism; however, transfeminism has also its opponents."
It is impossible to discuss transfeminisms and the history of non-trans feminists' relationships with trans people without noting the blaming rhetoric and other abuses of transpeople committed specifically in the name of one or another type of feminism. The original short note of this section is clearly aimed at reassuring some feminists of the common goals of transfeminists while acknowledging attacks on transfeminists and transfeminisms.
The unfortunate necessity of this section, however, is not well served by the initial, terse comments found here. For one, it minimizes some truly hurtful and hateful assaults on trans individuals and entire trans communities. (The Transsexual Empire, for instance, attacks Sandy Stone as an individual in the midst of the book length attack on transsexual people as a whole.) For another, it entirely omits the backlash by some within trans communities (not always feminists or transfeminists) directed back sometimes at the authors of such (typically only verbal/rhetorical) assaults, other times at entire feminist communities or institutions. Although, it is sadly true that reasoned calls to end anti-trans discrimination are often referred to as "assaults" or "attacks" on feminism or feminists which complicates the problem of finding and ending the anti-feminist backlash where it does exist (see again: http://eminism.org/interchange/2005/20050803-wmstl.html). But most unfortunately it minimizes almost to invisibility the fact that transfeminisms originally were and still are built entirely within and upon the powerful foundations of feminisms, going back to the bluestockings and carrying forward to the present. Transfeminisms are not in any sense refutations of second wave (or any other) feminisms, despite how often these two schools of thought are assumed to be - or are - at odds. (See http://eminism.org/michigan/documents.html for examples of this dialog and its mis/uses around the issue of the Michigan Women's Music Festival.)
At the core, feminism as a whole and transfeminism as part of it share the belief that women should be liberated from traditional
gender roles. Transgender liberation theory offers feminism a new vantage point from which to view gender as a social construct, with some saying it also offers a new meaning of gender. (Gluckman & Trudeau 2002) The idea that women should not be held down by traditional gender roles plays a major role in all feminisms. Transfeminisms expand this basic tenet of freedom to encompass all persons. Trans individuals confront a society's conventional views of sexand genderand what each means in ways similar to (or even some of the same as) other feminists. Feminists, however, have long since founded a truly institutional movement with the advantages and disadvantages thereof. One consequence is that the single foundational idea at the heart of any feminism, that biology does not and must not equal destiny, no longer receives the direct and sustained attention it once did [http://www.inthesetimes.com/print.php?id=705_0_1_0] .
Arguing that they are/were "born women," many non-trans feminists resist associating with trans people in public spaces, by sharing resources, or in other ways. That they can make the argument frequently and seriously says much not only about how these particular feminists view trans persons but also about how lost an essential idea has become. (A list primarily for Women Studies/Gender Studies Professors revealed confusion of that idea repeatedly in at least 1993, 1997 & 2006, see: http://userpages.umbc.edu/~korenman/wmst/wmsttoc.html.) That biology does not (or at least should not) equal destiny within a society became a revolutionary Aegis employed by feminists to defend themselves against hostile reactions when these trailblazers expressed the desire to be judged on their character and merit and not their gender (
Simone du Beauvoir, The Second Sex). Transfeminists wish all persons (including themselves) to be judged in the same manner, not by the sex they were born into, nor any sex or gender one might perceive them (rightly or wrongly) to be, but by the abilities of bodies and minds and "the content of their character," (Martin Luther King Jr., from http://www.usconstitution.net/dream.html)
For transfeminists in the USA and many other wealthy nations, there are frequent reminders (in the form of anti-trans violence) of the relentless sex and gender obsessions of others. (See: http://www.gender.org/remember/index.html# & http://www.tgcrossroads.org/news/archive.asp?aid=410.) While non-trans women also routinely face violence, trans people understand the violence against them to be direct policing of the boundaries of sex and gender in a way that some non-trans feminists do not. (For an example of feminist employment of biologically determinist argument, see: http://www.pfc.org.uk/node/942.) In fact, many feminists seem perfectly comfortable equating sex and gender and insisting on a given destiny for trans persons based on nothing more than biology. (Courvant, 2002)
As a quick refresher,
sexis a biological term. At its root, biologists define sex based on the production of certain sex cells called "gametes". These primarily include sperm or spermatophores and ova. A living being, plant, animal (including human) or other, is classified as male if it produces sperm/ spermatophores/ spermatozoa only, female if it produces ova only, hermaphroditic if it produces both, and asexual if it produces neither or neuter if it produces neither but is unable to reproduce asexually. Many species have members that change sex over the course of a lifetime (see: http://www.bio.davidson.edu/Courses/anphys/1999/Rice/Rice.htm) and thus when definitions are being strictly adhered, a single being might be neuter (or asexual) then female then male, for instance.
Gender describes a collection of characteristics associated with social groups to which a person is assigned based on the person's presumptive sex. These characteristics include Gender Identity (gendered ways on thinks about oneself; especially the gender group to which one understands oneself to belong), Gender Attribution (the group to which a person assumes that another belongs), Gender Assignment (the group in which one is officially placed, and the act of official placement which is typically done once per lifetime, near birth, based on presumptive sex), Gender Roles/Mores (the expected behaviors associated with a particular gender), and more (Kessler & McKenna, 1985). The commonly known gender groups in English speaking societies are "man" and "woman".
Despite these relatively clear and simple definitions, a sexist society relies on the idea of biology equating to destiny. Thus with only two commonly known genders, social pressure only permits acknowledgement of two sexes (female and male). And so biologists who in the lab may be fluent in the language of biological sex, can find themselves not only unable to refer to other people (or themselves) as, for example, neuter; they typically train themselves not even to think of other persons according to their properly defined sex. (Kate Bornstein, My Gender Workbook.) Despite the existence of many combinations of sex cell production, chromosomes, primary and secondary sex characteristics, anyone, even the most highly trained biologist, will more than once each day make a judgement about a stranger's sex and gender after catching only a glimpse of that stranger - fully clothed and from behind.
Whether we are transfeminists or other feminists, it is simply beyond our physical capacities to take umbrage at every instance of these assumptions that so clearly support sexism and patriarchy. One must always pick one's battles - and leave oneself enough time to eat. This basic fact combined with the specialization feminists have achieved, leads each of us to tolerate a certain amount of equation of biology with destiny. Unfortunately the safety, employment, and other basic needs and rights of trans persons appear to be even more frequently at risk than non-trans persons in equivalent social stations and situations. And this is so precisely because of people who believe that biology is, or should be, destiny (see: http://media.www.diamondbackonline.com/media/storage/paper873/news/2006/11/21/Opinion/Gender.Identity.Not.Just.Biological.Determinism-2504716.shtml)
And so we arrive back at this: transfeminists appear to find themselves thinking more often than others about this social equation, its consequences, its relentless prevalence and many disguises, the barriers to thinking in ways that do not equate biology and destiny, and the revolutionary implications of thinking differently for so many institutions, dynamics, theories, strategies and people. Having received the gift of this wisdom from first wave feminists (e.g.
Mary Wollstonecraftand others) and the gift of its wording and delivery to our eyes and/or ears from second wave feminists (e.g. du Beauvoir and others), transfeminists are now in a position to return a gift of new and valuable thinking to other feminists and feminisms. Necessity birthed this gift, of course. It is not the result of transfeminists possessing unique or surpassing gifts. Instead transfeminists arrived at their own position having been forced there by unstable, insecure, and unsafe paths that are the only ones allowed trans persons in US society.
Despite the similarities, there are also differences between traditional feminism and transfeminism. Some feminists, such as
Janice Raymond, wonder whether trans issues even belong in feminism [http://www.inthesetimes.com/print.php?id=705_0_1_0] , though others consider Raymond to be trans oppressive or transphobic.
The primary issue that maintains tension between transfeminisms and mainstream feminisms is the issue of sisterhood. Simply put, sisterhood is a feminist idea that patriarchy and its tactics are so universal that the most important experiences of women everywhere are, if not the same, equivalent. Women of color, young women and girls, women with disabilities, and many other groups have often found themselves at odds with the idea of a universal sisterhood and its logical extensions, including the two most corrosive ideas: first, if one works for the benefit of any woman, one works for the benefit of all equally. Second, that in a sexist society all women have the same level of power. (Brendy Lyshaug, Solidarity Without "Sisterhood"? Feminism and the ethics of Coalition Building, Politics & Gender(2006), 2: 77-100 Cambridge University Press)
These issues have been confronted in many fora before transfeminism was coined. "Killing the Black Body," (Roberts, 1997) is a later, book-length example, that illustrated how white-feminist led reproductive rights movements sometimes worked to the terrible detriment of poor women, often African-American, Latina, or native American. "This Bridge Called My Back," (Anzaldua & Moraga, 1980) an anthology of third world feminists, famously challenged the idea of equal power among women head on. Despite its successes and a number of similar efforts, many women's organizations operate under the assumption that because the organization or its premises are open only to women that all women present are automatically "safe" (see again: http://eminism.org/interchange/2005/20050803-wmstl.html).
Though unacknowledged, FtM1 persons have surely been part of feminist movements throughout time (Deke Law, "Evolution" in This is What Lesbian Looks Like, Kris Kleindienst, Firebrand Books, 1999), it was the appearance of openly trans persons in feminist spaces that forced some mainstream feminisms to deal head on with the idea that all women are socially equal. This has made some transfeminists natural allies of, for example, women of color experiencing racism in a feminist environment. While some feminists dealt with the appearance of trans people by attempting to force them away and define them outside of the reach of feminist involvement or concern (Raymond, 1994), more ambivalent institutions who allowed trans people a toe in the door sometimes felt instantly justified in their misgivings when a trans person allied with someone accusing other women of racism. Those who had accepted Raymond's prediction that trans women were attempting to sabotage feminism from within could feel justified moving to end the budding openness. It remains inevitable that trans people, like any large group, will contain the general public's range of altruistic and selfish, pacifist and temperamental people. This leads to the conclusion that there will of course be bad actors among trans people and even transfeminists. Despite the expectation that we should find examples of bad actors among trans people in feminist space, there have been a number of documented occasions when the trans people portrayed as bad actors were in fact the victims of overreactions by others. (See Courvant at http://www.survivorproject.org/whyserve.html.) In particular trans women's actions tend to be seen in different light than identical actions by other women. The result is accusation and counter-accusation among more and more individuals that disrupt potential working relationships between naturally allied movements. (For one example surrounding the Michigan Women's Music Festival, see Koyama at http://www.confluere.com/store/pdf-zn/mich-handbook.pdf)
Femininity itself, including its meanings and uses, has also become a place of contention between transfeminists and other feminists. Mainstream feminists who oppose the objectification of women often find it bothersome that some
transwomenseek to be viewed as objects of desire. A few transwomen also exaggerate feminine traits in themselves [http://www.edst.educ.ubc.ca/aerc/2000/hillr1-final.PDF] . While there are a number of reasons for this, one important one is safety. Because hate crimes and other social punishments are rampant against trans people, nearly all feel safer when they make their gender unambiguous (though this feeling of safety does not necessarily cause any given trans person to make different choices). But when safety concerns are most important, it is logical to assume a trans person is most likely (not certain) to attempt to dress stereotypically as whichever gender it is possible to most safely portray. In quite a number of situations, this results in a trans woman dressing in a relatively femininely way. In cases where this femininity exists, it then may be interpreted through the lens of society's relentless hypersexualization of trans people generally and transsexual women in particular. Thus, even when the amount and nature of femininity are only marginally different from norms, they may be seen as wildly inappropriate (Courvant, "I Never Thought It Was Activism," 2002b). (For a larger discussion of this and related issues of feminism response to femininity, See: Serano, 2007)
Of course the most logical argument for feminists' notice of a disproportionate number of trans women with very feminine expression is the one almost never mentioned in these discussions: sampling bias. Transsexual people are viewed as outlandish exceptions to the norms of society. Thus when a person appears to fit within - or almost within - society's norms, one is not assumed to be transsexual or transgender. When a person sees someone that isn't easily classified as a man or a woman, the viewer still almost never assumes the subject to be trans. Take for example the SNL skits "Pat." (See also: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110169/) The comedy is based on strangers being introduced to Pat and being unsure of Pat's gender. The strangers then attempt to ask leading yet socially acceptable questions that might lead Pat to make a statement that reveals the character as a man or a woman. Invariably, Pat finds an unexpected way to answer without defining the character as either traditional gender. And yet, after round and more rounds of such questioning, neither the other characters nor the audience come to the conclusion that Pat is a transsexual or transgender person avoiding the questions on purpose. (Courvant, 2007) Such are the rules of polite society: one does not assume another is trans because being trans is such an awful thing to be that it would be rude of us to assume that of another person. As this training is so deeply automatic (and it is impossible to perceive thoughts about trans identities with the naked eye), it is not possible for anyone to notice each of the trans persons a given person meets. Thus the idea that transsexual women, or all trans women generally, are somehow more feminine more often is merely an unprovable assertion most often made by those who wish to malign trans women as uneducated, unliberated, retrograde throwbacks who threaten to serve as a useful tool helping anti-feminists drag all women back to a pre-feminist heck-on-earth (Sandy Stone at http://sandystone.com/empire-strikes-back; Raymond, 1994; & Serano, 2007).
Finally, it is useful to notice that femininity in transsexual women is noticed and punished much more harshly than the same behaviors in non-transsexual women. This double standard reveals that the behavior itself is not as problematic to many critics as the existence of trans people (Courvant, 2002 & Valerio, 2002)
Janice Raymond, Mary Dalyand Sheila Jeffreys, among others, bypass conflicts with transfeminism to argue that the feminist movement should not concern itself in any way with the needs of transwomen. [http://www.inthesetimes.com/print.php?id=705_0_1_0] This opinion is based on the idea that only "women born women" can fully identify with the experience of being a woman. This, of course, pits such feminists against the ethical mandate that biology should not equal destiny as discussed earlier. Opponents of that view have argued that "women born women" differ greatly from each other as well, and that excluding transwomen from women's spaces denies them their right to self-identification.
Transfeminists explorations of women's power and other differences that resulted from this line of attack have led many to unearth others' or create their own observations of many under-examined situations in which one woman's uses of power hurts or has the potential to hurt another woman. This has led transfeminists to suggest client advisory boards for crisis lines and women's shelters, the end of unpaid and underpaid feminist internships, incorporating employees into board committees that evaluate non-profit executives, creating strategic health-care funds to assist employees with legitimate medical expenses traditionally uncovered by feminist employees' insurance, incorporating specific anti-racist and other anti-oppressive criteria on employee evaluation forms, and more. (See: http://eminism.org/index.html & http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.transfeminism.org) Particularly fruitful has been transfeminist investigation of feminism and disability, feminism and sex, and the combination of the three (The Queer Disability 2002 conference being and including many notable examples, http://www.disabilityhistory.org/dwa/queer/program_grid.htm#sp)
Perhaps the most visible battleground of feminists and transfeminists has been the
Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. The festival ejected a transsexual woman, Nancy Burkholder, from the land in the early 1990s. Since then, they have enforced a policy that the festival is for " womyn-born-womyn" only. Many trans people and their allies find this policy to be indicative of transphobiaor trans oppression within the feminist movement. Out of the controversy, the activist group Camp Transwas born to protest against the "womyn-born-woymn" policy and to advocate for greater acceptance of trans people within the feminist community. A number of prominent trans activists and transfeminists were involved in Camp Trans including Riki Wilchins, Jessica Xavier, and Leslie Feinberg.
Another important site of transfeminist controversy has been the Kimberly Nixon case in Canada. Kimberly Nixon is a transsexual woman who wanted to train to be a volunteer rape crisis counselor at Vancouver Rape Relief in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1995. When Nixon's transsexual status was determined, she was forced to leave the training program. The staff felt that Nixon's status made it impossible for her to understand the experiences including sexual assault and domestic violence of women requesting services. In the arguments of VRR, the staff assumed their own clients must all be biologically female and that trans women such as Nixon would fail in understanding in large part because they would not share experience with assaults and fear of assaults. Nixon disagreed, disclosing her own history of partner abuse.
Shortly thereafter, Nixon sued for discrimination and the case was caught in litigation for many years, with Vancouver Rape Relief finally winning the case in 2007 when the Canadian Supreme Court refused to hear Nixon's appeal. (See: http://www.egale.ca/index.asp?lang=E&menu=34&item=1147) The case passed through a number of courts, with Nixon actually winning her initial case. During this initial trial, Nixon's attorneys argued that there is no reason to assume trans women incapable of working in the potentially difficult atmosphere of an all women program serving those abused primarily by men. One of the arguments used to make their case was Diana Courvant's own publicized experiences working inside a similar organization in the United States as (apparently) the first out transsexual woman to work in a women-only domestic violence shelter. Although some of Nixon's lawyers' wording appeared to wrongly assume that Diana Courvant's work pre-dated Nixon's experience with Vancouver Rape Relief, other trans people wanting to do similar work may find reason to hope in that fact that trans identity folk, both MtF and FtM, have worked successfully in those environments. It also appears the appellate decision had nothing to do with the existence of other trans workers in gender segregated environments. Thus there is no reason to assume that this is well settled law, even in Canada, and future suits like that of Ms. Nixon are probably inevitable. (See: http://www.rapereliefshelter.bc.ca/issues/nixon/jan082001_lakeman.pdf)
Issues and Work
One important consideration of transfeminism is the experience of and place within feminism of FtM transmen. Feminism has had ambivalent reactions to such men ranging from acceptance to tolerance to hostility. Unfortunately the reaction that is perhaps best on cursory examination, acceptance, often occurs only within the context of feminisms that refuse to acknowledge FtM men the right to self-identify. In other words, FtM men are welcome in some feminist spaces only because and so long as these men are seen and referred to as women. Other feminisms contain tenets which attack such men, often using harmful dichotomies such as the traditional stark contrast between feminism and patriarchy whereby feminism is considered to be the beneficial antidote to our harmful patriarchal history. Using these dichotomies under transfeminism becomes difficult. Using the model of patriarchy as a monolithic, undifferentiated evil, in which all men participate and benefit equally, is disrespectful, discriminatory and oppressive towards transmen who embrace their masculine identities as a positive expression of their true destinies. While it is true that all men benefit to some extent from men's privilege and have a responsibility to guard against sexisms, the relationships of transmen to patriarchy, manhood, and masculinity are both tremendously complex and gossamer in their tenuousness. Transfeminism also posits the existence of literally hundreds of gender expressions. This departure from the limiting binary of man and woman (not male and female which are sexes) throws the entire feminist vs. monolithic patriarchy construct into question. It does not, of course, question the existence of patriarchy or the need to dismantle same; it does, however, question the assumption that we can tell our enemies from a glance at their clothing, hair or skin. Transfeminism tends more often than not to welcome anti-sexist trans men as feminists and not as "pro-feminists," the traditional label for anti-sexist men. This issue, however, is not quite fully settled.
Unresolved Issues: GID
Gender identity disorderis currently listed as a diagnosable mental disorderby the American Psychiatric Association. Both transfeminists and traditional feminists often agree that this disorder should be removed from the list because of its past abusive use by people with power. (Crabtree 2002) Transfeminists argue that being gender different is not simply a "trans right" it is the right of all persons. [http://www.edst.educ.ubc.ca/aerc/2000/hillr1-final.PDF] This is another similarity between the two types of feminists, women are considered "gender different" simply because they are not men, while trans people are gender different because they do not see themselves as the uncomplicated gender they were assigned. However, despite this similarity, large numbers of transfeminists disagree.
Those arguing for the removal of GID tend to be more often transgender and not transsexual, more often academically or economically privileged in relation to the average trans person, and also more often FtM people who identified as feminists before coming out as trans. Those arguing against removal are more often transsexual, poorer than average, and MtF. When arguing for the maintenance of the current diagnostic category, pro-GID transfeminists will typically concede past abuse and misuse of the diagnosis while arguing for professional accountability and not deletion of the diagnosis (see: [http://transadvocate.com/transyouth/scaremongering.htm] and [http://dentedbluemercedes.wordpress.com/2008/04/05/destigmatization-versus-coverage-and-access-the-medical-model-of-transsexuality/] ).
In many situations or legal jurisdictions, transsexual people have been able to receive surgery covered partly or wholly by insurance only because such a diagnosis exists. The removal of the diagnosis would create even larger economic barriers for those who need or desire surgery. In other situations, laws which protect people who have or are perceived to have disabilities protect transsexual people and those who may be mistaken for transsexual people only so long as a diagnosis exists. No diagnosis, no disability. No disability, no legal protection from discrimination. In some cases other benefits are also available. (See: [http://www.transgenderlaw.org/cases/statecases.htm] .) Hypothetically, perhaps transition requires leaving a job that remains a very sexist environment. In such a case, one may be able to access vocational rehabilitation support including training and even perhaps tuition support. A person in a similar position may very well appreciate the current structure. Because of the outrageous and typically difficult-to-acquire-coverage-for expenses of surgery, transsexual and especially poor transsexual people are the greatest beneficiaries of the current scheme. This can cause the split between pro and anti GID folks to fall very close to class lines.
The debates -even arguments- around GID removal and reform can be very heated and very rarely go beyond the ideas expressed above. The reasons for such vehemence and focus is in fact quite logical, and easily perceived when the situations of the parties are closely examined.
Nearly all trans people experience stigma. How we deal with the effects of the stigma changes based on our situation. Imagine feeling yourself to be disgusting, with people close to you having called you 'sick' on many occasions. You might feel hopeless and awful long before you ever encounter the diagnosis GID. You seek out help from a therapist who tells you that they will happily help you and can guarantee that your insurance will pay for many sessions as soon as the therapist submits a form telling the company you have something as serious as GID. The pit in your stomach explodes. You wanted help because you feel like you are sick and hate that feeling. You may even have felt suicidal. Now you come for help and they don't help get rid of that sick feeling, they make it official! You read up and find out that some people have even used this diagnosis to imprison their children in mental health wards just for acting masculine or feminine or maybe queer? How would you react?
Now imagine feeling yourself to be disgusting. For years your father beat you and your mother cried at your unusual behavior. Over and over you have been told that the oppressive and omnipresent sadness and violence in your home is the fault of your own refusal to change your hair, stop/start carrying a purse, dress differently, etc. Just when you feel most suicidal, you finally arrive at the office of a therapist traumatized by your own inability to stop yourself from behaving in ways that hurt the people you love and from thinking about changing your body radically. The therapist says they will happily help you, since they've read the book on the cure for GID. Now how would you react: you no longer have to blame yourself. It's not your own fault, you just had a birth defect. You might even be in the minority of people with good union jobs that have forced their insurers to cover sex reassignment surgeries, saving you tens of thousands of dollars! You read up and find that some people are trying to take this diagnosis and your resources away. They keep saying it's all a choice and if it's your own choice, doesn't that mean they're saying all that pain was your fault? How would you react? In each of these cases, there is a normal, human reaction to the diagnosis. In each case the reaction is opposite the other. And in each case the news of the diagnosis can literally be an event of life-or-death importance. Depression and suicide are horrifically common in trans communities. People on each side genuinely feel that they are acting to spare others pain and even save lives. There is perhaps no issue more divisive in trans communities today, and there is not yet any firm indication of the ultimate fate for the diagnosis.
At the Trans Identity Conference of the University of Vermont 2006, Diana Courvant presented an analysis of this controversy discussing the above issues. A path through the logjam was proposed to help give each community what it needed. First, the single most important issue to those who propose GID removal is stigmatization. They do not wish trans people to be seen as mentally sick. Unfortunately, their arguments "appear" to concede that people who are sick in the head deserve to be stigmatized and that trans people should accept such societal views so long as trans people aren't tarred with the same brush. Second, nothing yet has shown that GID removal will in fact cause a widespread change in societal perceptions that trans people 'have something wrong with them,' and thus removal may not in fact accomplish the primary goal while certainly and immediately incurring the negative effects of removal of legal protection and insurance support (admittedly insurance is now extant only in a minority of cases). Third, those who support preserving the diagnosis often fail to see that the diagnosis can be saved without remaining precisely the same. Fourth, those proposing the maintenance of the existing system can be seen as callous to those inappropriately institutionalized (one such case is suggested, but not confirmed with diagnostic paperwork, in Daphne Scholinski's book, "The Last Time I Wore a Dress"). Thus a transfeminist way to help both communities - who both need and deserve help - might be to join all trans people together with those people who are already working to destigmatize mental illness while pushing for strong standards of professional responsibility that will bring consequences on providers that manipulate the health care system to pander to heterosexist and trans oppressive parents. It might or might not be necessary to also move the diagnosis from the psychological/psychiatric realm where it is categorized now to the catalog of other disorders that are presumed to be organic and non-behavioral, like cancer, birth defects and asthma (these are catalogued in the ICD-10, rather than the DSM-4). However transfeminists move forward on this issue, it will be vital to consider the effects on everyone concerned, though it may ultimately be important to weigh the voices of those who actually have and use the diagnosis more heavily than those for whom it is not meant, and who are not diagnosed with it, but fear the stigmatization of being associated with a mental health disorder.
Unresolved Issues: Transgender vs. Transsexual
The word transgender was popularized by Virginia Prince, who independently coined it although other earlier uses apparently existed without attracting much notice. In inventing it, Prince was making an effort to distinguish herself from transsexual people. She herself felt no need for surgically altering her sexual characteristics and viciously attacked (verbally) those who did. While the action was motivated largely by mean spirited disgust with others and frustration at being confused with those upon which she looked down, the verbal distinction does have a consistent logic. Transsexual was coined to describe those who locate the problem(s) they are experiencing in their bodies and therefor with their biological sexes. Prince and others don't feel a problem with their bodies but do want to wear clothing or perform actions or simply adopt a social and/or psychological identity that is denied them on the basis of gender (which is related to, though distinct from the body's sex as described above). So Prince and many others could be as transcending/transgressing the norms of gender while people who take hormones and receive surgeries could be seen as transcending/transgressing the norms of sex. This makes a distinction between trans"gender" and trans"sexual" quite enlightening to the trained mind.
Unfortunately, even many people quite familiar with transsexual and transgender experiences and people often confuse sex and gender. (This article, for instance, was originally written with the words "male" and "female" in places where gender was being discussed and thus where "man" and "woman" would have been factually accurate.) Also, there is the tendency in American and many other English speaking societies to avoid the word "sex" as impolite, especially in middle class and professional settings. Gradually, especially in academe, the word "transgender" came to be applied to transsexual people and in other situations when the issues discussed where clearly those of the body. The words nearly merged before a significant movement for liberation of people who engaged in gender heresy, like cross dressing and other pursuits, arrived on the scene. At that point transgender broadened to encompass the description of these people and their "gender bending" activities. Transsexual was not seen as a desirable word to describe the people of this newer movement both for reasons of accuracy and the impolitic sound of the word "sex" to the middle class and professional ear. Thus transgender progressively became an "umbrella term" that is now often intended to include exactly the people it was meant to insult. Because of the difference in perspective and frequent difference in priorities and/or issues between transgender and transsexual people, many transsexual people feel that just as they began to be sufficiently acceptable to the mainstream to be allowed to speak for themselves in prominent venues, the transgender movement came along and made it possible for those venues to bring in other people that shared few issues and perspectives to speak on behalf of transsexual people, in ways and for issues that transsexual people would not choose. While it is possible to break both sexed and gendered boundaries, and while it is also becoming common for newly out transsexual people to refer to themselves as transgender because someone else told them that that word describes what they are, the overlap in issues for transsexual and transgender people is only so broad. "Smashing the gender binary," for instance, does not hurt transsexual people, but neither does it directly help them. Perspectives on GID often result in transgender people speaking on behalf of transsexual people in favor of action that might strip resources from transsexual people but carries little or no risk at all for transgender people.
Max Wolf Valerio has written prominently and eloquently on this topic, most notably in his chapter "'Now That You're A White Man': Changing Sex in a Postmodern World - Being, Becoming and Borders," from the landmark "This Bridge We Call Home," (Anzaldua & Keating, 2002). Unfortunately the public dismissal of transsexual advocacy for accurate self-representation is quite entrenched and many reviewers, professors using his material in university classes, and others refer to Valerio and this paper as transgender despite the fact that the entire thrust of the article is a cry for societal acceptance of an accurate representation of himself and similar people. A large section of the chapter is devoted exclusively to the rejection of the transgender erasure of transsexuality from bodies, theories and even conversations. Some have argued that the forces of transgender erasure of transsexuality and transsexualness resulted in misrepresentations of the article so extreme in reviews and classrooms that it is reasonable to wonder whether those reviewing Valerio's work in fact read the piece (Courvant, 2003).
Unfortunately, though exact statistics are impossible to come by, transsexual people tend to have less money than transgender people in similar social situations simply because medical and other body interventions that transsexual people are more likely to need are very expensive and rarely covered by insurance. In a culture where economic power and social power often walk hand in hand it may be many years before trans communities consistently use transgender and transsexual in accurate ways as part of a liberation movement that truly represents all of us.
Note: On the internet in the early 90s, programmers and other savvy geeks began using trans* ("*" being a wild card in many searches and programs) to sidestep the issue of needing to know whether a person was transgender or transsexual when referencing that person, or when referring to a mixed group. In speech it was pronounced simply "trans," and thus was created a new umbrella term without issues of inaccuracy or a history of vitriolic intent. In many places trans is more and more becoming the word employed to respectfully and correctly unite both communities.
Unresolved Issues: Inclusion
Transfeminists are currently undergoing a struggle to be accepted completely into mainstream feminism. While some feminists, such as the
Lesbian Avengers, accept transfeminists with open arms, others are more skeptical of the idea. Feminist organizations that include straight and lesbian/bisexual/queer (LBQ) women are often more welcoming than LBQ specific organizations, with the largest exception being gender segregated shelters and sexual assault support centers.
Trans men are sometimes included, sometimes not. Max Wolf Valerio was famously included as an out trans man in "This Bridge We Call Home," which was the sequel to "This Bridge Called My Back," to which Valerio contributed before coming out. Acceptance of trans men with strong histories of feminist action before coming out is perhaps among the most variable of issues for feminisms inclusion of transfeminism and transfeminists. Answers on whether trans men are acceptable in a group, place, or event can vary with nuances of identity, shifts in membership, or even the personal relationship with the trans man seeking inclusion. Cases exist of a transsexual man gaining access to a group to which an FtM butch was allegedly denied access merely for being uncomfortable with the pronoun she (see: http://www.womensspace.org/PointCounterpoint/549.html & http://drakyn.blogspot.com/2008/01/when-your-heart-steals-parts-that-make.html & http://www.pinksofa.com/guest/toast/toast.asp?sub=show&action=posts&fid=98&tid=190397). It seems likely that the underlying foundation of a man's acceptance or rejection in these cases often depends more than anything on a history of feminist accomplishment and a present of positive, friendly relationships with a prominent member of the group. (see: http://www.ebar.com/news/article.php?sec=news&article=345 & Deke Law, "Evolution".) It is not yet clear if there is a trend in any direction on the inclusion of trans men except in the direction of more and more sophisticated discussions as information about trans experiences slowly disperses through society.
List of transgender-related topics
1. FtM and MtF are shorthand for 4 terms: Female to Male and Male to Female, when referring to transsexual people, and Feminine to Masculine or Masculine to Feminine to describe transgender people. The terms attempt to describe the dynamic movement of a person from the role or identity in which society attempts to keep the person toward the role or identity with which the person feels identified or more comfortable. A quick internet search will reveal related uses, such as FtF and MtFtM to describe lives with more complicated dynamics. An example of the latter might be a transsexual woman who, post transition, finds new comfort with masculinity and discovers an identity as and/or adopts the style and presentation of a butch woman. Note that this use requires the first three letters to relate to sex (male to female) and the last three letters referring to gender (feminine to masculine) with the middle letter having both meanings at once. Such complex lives - and the introspection which leads to them - appear to often be associated with people who identify as transfeminist. (Statistical proof of such frequency, however, is not possible.)
* Anzaldua, Gloria & Keating, AnaLouise (2002). This Bridge We Call Home, Routledge, NY, NY.
* Courvant, Diana (2002). "Thinking of Privilege," from This Bridge We Call Home by Gloria Anzaldua and AnaLouise Keating, pp458-463.
* Courvant, Diana (2003). Thoughts on "Now That You're a White Man," http://www.confluere.com/column/20030527-diana.html
* Crabtree, Sadie. (2004). Finding common ground between movements for reproductive freedom and transgender/transsexual liberation. "The fight for reproductive freedom. " p. 9-11.
* Feinberg, Leslie (1996). Transgender Warriors, Beacon Press, Boston, Mass.
* Gluckman R., Trudeau, M. (2002). Trans-itioning feminism: the politics of transgender in the reproductive rights movement. "The fight for reproductive freedom. " p. 6-8.
* Kessler, Suzanne & McKenna, Wendy (1985). Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach.
* Roberts, Dorothy (1996). Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, & the Meaning of Liberty, Pantheon Books, NY, NY.
* Serano, Julia (2007). Whipping Girl, A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity.
* Valerio, Max Wolf (2002). "Now That You're a White Man," from This Bridge We Call Home by Gloria Anzaldua and AnaLouise Keating, pp239-254.
* [http://www.edst.educ.ubc.ca/aerc/2000/hillr1-web.htm Menacing Feminism, Educating Sisters by Robert J. Hill ] - [http://www.edst.educ.ubc.ca/aerc/2000/hillr1-final.PDF As PDF file]
* [http://www.inthesetimes.com/print.php?id=705_0_1_0 Transfeminism: Let Her Rip by Hanne Blank ]
* [http://www.queeria.com/trans.aspx?id=3586 Transfeminism - Broadening the Range of Feminism by Jelena Postic]
* [http://www.sumachpress.com/transfem.htm Trans/forming Feminisms: Transfeminist Voices Speak Out edited by Krista Scott-Dixon]
* [http://www.isna.org/node/523 Intersex Society of North America]
* [http://www.rapereliefshelter.bc.ca/issues/#womenonly Vancouver Rape Relief]
* [http://www.survivorproject.org Survivor Project, an anti-domestic and sexual violence organization for trans survivors]
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