I recently read TransActivist’s “My message to those who would attend Radfem 2012” post (AND its comments—it all took me almost an hour) and learned more than I have from a blog post in a long time. I highly recommend reading the entire thing and then doing some pondering.
I’m happy to have gotten the hang of most of the Oppression 101 basics—you know, how to “unpack your knapsack,” that there’s no such thing as “reverse racism,” and what “derailing” means— but it’s still inspiring when I find something new to chew on. That “something new,” for me, is that there are real, live feminists who feel that it’s important for non-trans women to have a feminist space separate from trans women.
Two More Important Lessons from Oppression 101:
A separate space
The lessons I learned while learning the basics tell me that it’s good and necessary for oppressed folks to have space separate from their oppressors. I remember, when I was learning this for the first time, feeling a little conflicted—“if a white person isn’t allowed to go to a racism conference for people of color, isn’t that unfair and racist, too?” “Why can people of color exclude whites but whites can’t exclude people of color?” But I am a white person, and thus didn’t (don’t) fully understand the silencing effect a white person, an oppressor, in the room can have on the voices of others. The need for a separate space is real and important.
Don’t talk about me without me
I’ve also learned the importance of including people’s voices if those people are the topic of conversation. A group of men shouldn’t have a discussion about what it’s like to be a woman; a group of white people shouldn’t assume they know what racism feels like; a church shouldn’t undertake to characterize homosexuality without acknowledging the voices of homosexuals in their congregation. This is another reason why oppressors shouldn’t ever be allowed to exclude oppressed folks.
Radical Feminists hold that women born women deserve a separate space from women who were born men. Trans activist(s) maintain that a conversation about trans people shouldn’t be held if trans people are excluded. From there, we get into the specifics of each groups’ oppression. Women born women are more oppressed, because they had female childhoods and never tasted male privilege. Trans women are more oppressed, because they were marginalized for their trans-ness.
Really, it makes sense that the argument would come down to a “who is more oppressed” debate, because whoever is more oppressed would certainly have the right to exclude the other at times, or would have the right to demand the inclusion.
… but all of this is oversimplifying, isn’t it? Enmeshed in all of this are tons of otherwise respectable feminist voices claiming that trans women aren’t “real” women, that the mere existence of trans people undermines the mission of radical feminism. It appears I’ve graduated to Oppression 201 now, and I definitely have a lot more learning about both transphobia and radical feminism before I truly understand enough to comment further.
But I will end with a piece of my own comment on the post:
Because I don’t think any of us have ever been both, none of us can answer the “who is more oppressed?” question with anything more than our own experience. But when in doubt, it’s best to favor inclusion of voices over exclusion, diversity of opinion over sameness.
And I would tentatively posit that trans women, especially feminist trans women, are not the oppressors that any kind of feminism should work to exclude.