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.

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~ by timberwraith on March 10, 2009.

5 Responses to “Beyond Feminism, Part II”

  1. Hello timberwraith

    I have decided not to participate any more on the thread at little light’s, for reasons which I think are obvious. I would however, like to thank you for your latest comment there about the “intersection between [trans feminine spectrum] experiences… and the experiences of other feminine/effeminate male children.” That’s a point that I wanted to make, but was fearful of the backlash.

    I’d like to discuss with you further, both that comment, and your previous one directed at me specifically. If you are willing to do this, then perhaps you could suggest an appropriate place to do so. If you are not willing, then I will be gone. Please pardon this intrusion.

  2. Hi Daran,

    How about chatting via e-mail? You can reach me at:
    timberwraith (-at-) yahoo (-dot-) com

  3. Timberwraith, I find it fascinating that so many trans women DO identify as feminist. This is a message that we need to understand. Obviously, something in the trans experience lends itself to a deconstruction of gender roles and an intuitive understanding of what gender conformity means. Radical feminists need to have respect for people who have undergone this experience and what they have to tell us about it. As it is, many radical feminists are too busy disapproving to listen and learn new things. (The very idea that they could LEARN from a trans woman is simply too much for them to even comprehend, hence, they stay stupid.) I am intrigued by the fact that so many trans women become feminists and find feminism the language that speaks to them. Even though trans persons are a very low percentage of the population, it is telling that so many show up in feminist spaces. What might we figure out/deduce from that? (If we keep driving yall away, we’ll never learn, now will we?)

    For this reason (and many others!)–I heartily encourage your continued participation! 🙂

  4. As with cissexual women, I imagine that each trans woman has her own unique reasons for being drawn to feminism. As I’m sitting here thinking about why I was/am so drawn to feminism, the list is growing longer and longer.

    1. For the first 17 year of my life, I identified as a boy, but in some ways, I behaved in ways that society associates with girls. I was sent a very clear message from my father and my peers: I was inferior and broken because of my behaviors. To behave like a girl is to embrace weakness and corruption. Feminism holds that there’s nothing wrong with being a girl or a woman. It’s just as good as being a boy or a man.

    2. I spent a number of years (from 17 to 24) internally identifying as a woman, but passing as a guy. Since I passed as a guy, men didn’t censor their attitudes in front of me. I heard them say things about women that were absolutely infuriating. I also had very clear memories of what teenage boys say about girls and women. I knew from personal experience that sexism and misogyny were drilled into boys from the earliest ages.

    3. Feminism is about loosening and dissolving restrictive gender roles. Goodness knows my childhood would have been far more bearable were gender roles not so deeply enforced.

    4. Feminism critiques gender roles. It ferrets out the negative aspects of gender roles and holds them up to the light of day for all to see. I have tons of critical things to say about the ways in which masculinity is constructed. Far too many non-feminists are completely oblivious to the negative ways in which masculinity is constructed. Ironically, men are especially oblivious. Feminism was a breath of sanity. It confirmed that there is indeed a problem and that I wasn’t crazy for thinking that masculinity is an unstable, unhealthy house of cards, waiting to come tumbling down.

    5. Feminism provided a crucial understanding of gender that helped my transition go more smoothly. It helped me avoid some of the more negative aspects of the way femininity is constructed.

    6. After transitioning, it became obvious that I was treated entirely differently once people identified me as a woman. The differences were so numerous it was mind boggling. Much of what I learned from feminism was confirmed by my experience with transitioning. For the first several years after transition, sexism stuck out like a sore thumb. It was blatantly obvious to me that women were treated like second class citizens. (Ironically, 15 years later, I’m so used to this crap that I don’t notice nearly so much.)

    7. As a trans woman and a lesbian, I feel a deep sense of connection with women. I care about women… deeply so. Feminism is designed to make women’s lives better. That means a lot to me.

    8. I care about the fact that gender roles are constructed in ways that hurt everyone. I want to see that change.

    That’s what attracts me to feminism. If it weren’t for the cissexism and transphobia, I’d still be calling myself a feminist. I’m still deeply loyal to feminism’s ideas, but seeing trans women treated like shit has turned me off to the label and many who ID as feminists. Because of my own experiences with feminism, I now empathize with the fact that poor women and women of color feel deeply marginalized by feminism. So many things need to change within feminism. I wish things were different. I really do.

    Thank you for the encouragement, Daisy. It’s heartening to know there are people like you who are a part of feminism. It gives me hope.

  5. As an addition to #5, I’d say that feminism sent a clear message that both femininity and masculinity have positive and negative traits. Feminism contained the notion that one should be able to adopt and reject those traits on the basis of choosing the healthiest ones. This notion was a godsend during transition.

    As a corollary to this, we have another reason for me, as a trans woman, to be a feminist:

    9) Fifteen years after transition, I can attest to the fact that even with feminism’s help, I still retained and/or picked up qualities associated with femininity that are unhealthy. I also lost some positive qualities associated with masculinity. I don’t see this as a failure of feminism—either feminism in general or my own personal version of feminism—but rather, it is a testament to the fact that it’s damned difficult to live as a woman in this world and not internalize at least some of it’s sexist cultural baggage.

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