movement conflict
September 19, 2003 12:10 AM

I read something in Genderqueer that highlights for me the sorts of frustrating challenges posed by a multi-movement radicalism.

Woman will always be gender queer... woman an inherently fragile project... Feminist and lesbian communities have been deeply unreceptive to [a host of transfolk and their concerns] who seem to threaten the very foundation of woman. p. 58, Riki Wilchins

So. I'm pretty sure that Riki must know and speak to some feminists. And I wonder that this is what gets heard from feminists' mouths to the trans community. What I hear is that - apart from the female separatist environments of a variety of Womyn's festivals - feminists are either not aware of or seriously challenged to deal with trans issues.

I think we're working on not aware of on many fronts; this applies to fat politics, race politics, queer politics, class, etc. as much as to trans politics. Where feminists are white, hetero (or lesbian, honestly), middle class women in the US, we are likely as any group to assume that our personal issues are the issues everyone in our activism must also have. Eh, not true. But I think an intrinsic facet of every human being's politics.

It angers me that the trans community as represented by Wilchins could be so off base on this one. The challenge transgendered folk pose to feminists is not a challenge to the nature of woman - but rather a frequent lack of challenge to woman. If you're not a fairly radical feminist, chances are the only transfolk you know of are ones who claim to identify as a gender other than their biological sex and wish to change the biology or at least the outward appearance to match their insides.

I realize that is only one segment of the trans population, but it's the segment who show up in the mainstream and semi-mainstream media. And that segment is characterized by notions of "internal" gender that conflict dramatically with feminists on either side of the biological determinism fence.

As someone who doesn't have much truck with biological determinism, it's pretty core to my personal beliefs that gender roles aren't based on biology, and that any range of "gendered" behaviors should be acceptable. If you need to change your physical being to match some gendered behaviors you display or would like to display, that sounds a lot like stereotyping and pretty much fucks with my feminist ideology. And on the reverse side, if I were someone who thought motherhood was the biological and spiritual pinnacle of womanhood, and that men and women were inherently different, you'd still be fucking with my head. In that case, yes, maybe your gender-shifting (especially inasmuch as transpeople supercede gender) would challenge my idea of woman. But more feminists seem to fall on my side of the fence than the other.

It's not an easy question to answer. The standard definitions of "woman" and "man", "feminine" and "masculine - which are, in my opinion, 95% cultural - are at the heart of many transpeople's concepts of self (indeed, of many people's concept of self). And that does pit these two movements - both ostensibly about choice and gender - against each other.

It's akin to the question of "sexy" as considered by the fat and feminist communities disparately. Fat people fight to be allowed sexiness. Feminists fight to be allowed non-sexiness. As a fat person, sometimes I'd just like the boundaries of what is objectifiable and beautiful to be expanded; as a feminist, that's not enough for me. I need a complex world of sex and not-sex, a freedom to choose to be either.

The problem here is that the trans movement and the feminist movement seem too willing to just step away from the question of "woman", too willing to ignore the complex realm of gender that we could explore together. It's clear from the most exciting transfeminists that these two movements are more brilliant for being informed one by the other.

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