May 31, 2012
The responses to RadFem2012 show our queer and feminist communities to be standing strong against transphobia
Earlier this month, feminists were dismayed to see that the upcoming radical feminist conference RadFem2012 had installed a policy of only allowing ‘women born women living as women’ to attend – a clumsy phrase originally reading ‘biological women only’, and specifically intended to exclude transgender women.
Further, RadFem2012 had booked Sheila Jeffreys to speak – an old-school, terrifyingly transphobic radfem activist who has before called for transition-related surgery to be banned and who has a forthcoming book in which she criticises the very existence of transgender people. I was amazed that feminists existed who still felt that the human rights of trans folks could be a matter up for debate by cisgender people, let alone that there was evidently an entire feminist conference willing to platform and support these views.
A resistance quickly mobilised in response to RadFem2012 – a few people got angry on Twitter, and the conversation grew to a huge group of trans feminists, cis allies and many people in between. The blogosphere has exploded with messages of support and solidarity.
This trans woman writes with compassion and empathy about both sides of the fence: ‘my truth and your truth are both derived from a fierce feminism, but somehow remain diametrically opposed.’ This cis woman methodically takes down the radfem argument for excluding trans women from women-only spaces. Many more posts are listed here, and support continues to grow.
Large organisations have also expressed their support. The NUS Women’s Campaign said, ‘”We are committed to ending transphobia … and as such we condemn RadFem’s policy.” The Brighton Feminist Collective said, ‘”We will not support an event which fights for equality by promoting inequality, nor will we accept this strange formation of a hierarchy of women.’” Individual university-based feminist societies, including the Royal Holloway and Oxford groups, have also issued statements of support.
The venue, Conway Hall, has now expressed concerns to the conference’s organisers over hate speech and the legality of excluding transgender women from the conference, and they are currently in discussions.
Last year, a grassroots conference on trans issues, run by and for transgender people, replaced a cancelled conference organised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists that included an advocate of reparative therapy in its line-up. Activists are optimistic that the sheer volume of support for the backlash against RadFem2012 could lead to something even bigger this year – there are already discussions abounding about running a fringe conference on trans feminism with an emphasis on intersectionality.
The message is clear: feminism must also fight for the liberation of transgender women. With around two-thirds of trans women also identifying as lesbian or bisexual, it’s also vital that LGB resources include the T.
At Lesbilicious, we have an explicitly pro-trans policy, as do many other large blogs for queer women and feminists. The US-based site Autostraddle regularly runs features from transgender writers, and the UK feminist site The F Word has a zero tolerance policy towards transphobia and cissexism.
It is remarkable that this is a battle we are still fighting in 2012, but I’m heartened to see that the solidarity within our communities puts transphobic voices very much into the minority.
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