Beyond Feminism, Part II
OK, now that I’m done with my rant, I can move on to an explanation. I needed to vent a bit of anger before my next words could form.
I was a feminist for 22 years. Feminism once gave my life meaning, form and direction. It was the very first tool in a growing arsenal that I have used in finding meaning and value in my experience as a woman and as a transgender person. While I was still male bodied, it served as a bulwark against a society that said I was defective, evil, and weak because I embodied qualities that are defined as feminine, as womanly, as “less-than-masculine.” For me, feminism symbolized the act of turning against heteronormative sensibilities and forging a new path.
In spite of my previous anger-filled post, I do believe that there are many, many positive things about feminism. Unfortunately, there are a number of negative things, too, and I’ve grown tired of them.
I had always suspected that there was the latent potential in some forms of feminism for hatred and mistrust of trans people, particularly trans women. It was a gut feeling, one I didn’t really spend much time staring in the face. The feminists I knew in college accepted me and were supportive of who I am. I rarely stumbled upon an unrepentant transphobe in these circles. They existed, I’m sure, but they were quiet in my presence and kept their feelings to themselves, for I was outspoken and strident in my identity. I adopted a “take no shit” approach to my identity. People left me alone.
So, in spite of my suspicions, I remained relatively complacent. Yes, I knew about the Michigan Women’s Music Festival and it’s barring of trans women from the land, but I viewed it as an isolated case, an aberration, a fluke.
Then, along came the internet and the growing world of feminist blogs. I’ve spent countless hours reading feminist blogs. Thanks to the internet, I’ve been able to survey the beliefs and attitudes of many, many feminists. At first, it was a great joy to read the words of other feminists. Outside of the world of activism and academia, it can be hard to find many other feminists. A sense of isolation can all too easily set in. Finding the voices of other feminists on line was wonderful and helped to cut through that sense of isolation.
Sadly, what I discovered over time was disheartening. One of the unique things about the internet is the degree of anonymity that it provides and the corresponding freedom that it lends to expressing one’s ideas for all to see. It’s both a strength and a weakness. It provides a venue for people of all stripes to connect and exchange ideas. At the same time, it also provides a venue for the veil of civility to drop and for people to expose attitudes and ideas that wouldn’t normally see the light of day. The amount of honest, unadulterated hate that is expressed on the internet is boundless. It’s frightening and informative all at the same time.
What I discovered is that there is a vocal minority of feminist blogs that are openly hateful toward transgender people—particularly trans women. These blog authors tend to identify as radical feminists, feminist separatists, and/or lesbian feminists. Ironically, before encountering the sad reality of online feminism, I would have been happy to identify under at least two of those labels. I had always figured that feminist separatists would have little use for trans women, but I was surprised by the degree of vitriol I found on many radical feminist and lesbian feminist websites.
As for the larger world of feminist blogging, beyond the realm of radical feminists, feminist separatists, and lesbian feminists, I have discovered a whole lot of silence. There has been a widespread neglect of transgender issues and a dearth of transgender contributing authors. This is not surprising, given that trans women represent less than one percent of all women, but nevertheless, it leaves one feeling invisible and devalued, especially in the face of hatred expressed in other corners of feminism. This problem has been improving with time, but there are still miles and miles to go.
As the reality of feminism’s treatment of trans people began to sink in, I started to question whether I wanted to continue identifying as a feminist. This started several years ago and I have been struggling ever since. As I started to question my connection to feminism, I began to explore how deep some feminist’s animosity went and soon discovered that feminism has a long history of contentious relations with trans women. I was horrified to discover that many well known feminist authors—some of whom were staples in women’s studies course I took in college—have expressed deep prejudice toward transgender people.
Needless to say, my perceptions of feminism as a force for justice and positive change were undermined. I’m left feeling deep anger and sadness. It’s kind of like loosing one’s religion. In some ways, I’m feeling directionless, my world torn asunder by a crisis of faith. There is a process of grieving intertwined with all of these changes.
During my upcoming posts, I’m going to explore where this journey is taking me, how my philosophies are shifting and what I feel some of the shortcomings of feminism are.