Posted by: hellonhairylegs | June 16, 2009

Transphobia is not Radical Feminism

Gender is not biological. I think it’s safe to say radical feminists have that down. We accept that there is a difference between gender and sex. Why don’t we accept trans* people as a natural result of a world still swamped by the gender binary?

Trans* women go through violence and hatred to be recognised as women. Transitioning is not something undertaken on a lark. We cannot conflate those who wear drag for a few hours with those whose entire lives are affected. These women give up their ability to pass as male in culture which isn’t exactly woman-friendly. This is why they should have support from those who will not judge them for straying outside of mandated lines.

We critique the gender binary and gender essentialism. Speaking the truth to power is something that radical feminists are not afraid to do, yet we’ve allocated a disproportionate number of that criticism to trans* people, which is not so much speaking the truth to power but using our limited power to marginalise those who don’t have a lot. We cannot attack trans* women to make our viewpoint more accepted or mainstream (and I genuinely believe that no one is deliberately attempting to do that).

The reason why I’m a radical feminist is that for the most part, we’re pretty awesome, but in excluding trans* women we’ve really dropped the ball. We are excluding a group that is the living embodiment of the fact that gender roles are imposed and not biological. Not only are we being bigots, we’re being less than brilliant by alienating what could be a core constituency.



  1. Hear fucking hear. 🙂

  2. I didn’t even know this was an issue until I got to college and found out about the problems with the Michigan Womyn’s Fest and had to deal with some serious transphobic members of the campus gay/straight alliance.

    It blows me away that this is even an issue. As you said, if gender binary is a linear, patriarchal, construct then how can someone not accept that ANYONE who id’s as a woman is a fucking woman!!!

  3. I agree completely with what you said. I identify as a radfem, but don’t agree with the arguments which would exclude trans women. For the record, I am a cisgendered woman (not that that should matter).

    Gender (and even physical sex) is not always a binary. If we don’t want it to determine women’s lives, why do we insist on women living particular gender roles (ie not sterotypical conceptions of trans identities) to please us as radfems. Many women in our society repeat and reify patriarchal gender roles. Why do some radfems despise some (trans) women for this and yet say that we should support other women who fit female sterotypes. We should support all women. Trans women are as much (and often more) damaged by patriarchy than cis women.

    Also, trans women do not always fit stereotypes of “girly girls” which sometimes seems to be the assumption about trans women’s gender roles. Trans women may feel more comfortable in femme roles, but many express their gender in the whole range of female roles that other women live.

    For those that say that trans women grew up with male privilege, that may be true. However, many of us grew up with some sort of privilege, be it cisgendered, white, middle class, able-bodied, straight, western, education, whatever privilege. We all benefit from some privileges and suffer from oppressions. Why does that make the smattering of male privilege that trans women may once have had more important than their current disadvantage for being women, transgendered and whatever else oppression they suffer. Do we all have to be completely without privilege to speak against oppression? I don’t think any of us qualify, then.

    For those who assume sexual assault is on the agenda if a trans women uses your bathroom, and don’t feel safe, I am very sorry that you feel that way. However, assault from other women, including trans women, is rarer than assault from male identified people. Also, this is simply and literally transphobia (unrealistic fear of trans people). It is a bigoted notion, like saying that people of colour are more likely to assault you. Assault is possible from many quarters. Trans women do not live their lives as women just to assault other women.

    Sorry for the long ranty comment. Thanks for the great post!

  4. Following on from Jo’s comments about toilets, I also think that it’s important to note that if one assumes sexual assault is on the agenda if a trans woman uses your toilet, how do you think that trans woman feels using the men’s loos?

    This selfish transphobia is so disheartening,* and so sad to encounter on feminist blogs! And is one of the reasons I tend to avoid so many feminist blogs.

    Great post, hellon!

    *(not that I am saying there is unselfish transphobia or whatever)

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