Feminism Beyond Transphobia

I no longer feel that continued education about trans issues within women's communities would change their oppressive behaviors in any significant degree, unless they are actually willing to change. It is not the lack of knowledge or information that keeps oppression going; it is the lack of feminist compassion, conscience and principle that is. -Emi Koyama, "Whose Feminism is it Anyway? The Unspoken Racism of the Trans Inclusion Debate"

When it comes to asking, "What are we going to do about transphobia among feminist-vegetarians/ecofeminists?" Emi Koyama just about sums it up. These are people who currently dominate the feminist discourse on nonhuman animals; as authors, speakers (in some cases very well paid speakers), and academic they have a vested interest in continuing the status quo.

Their transphobia can be traced to a fundamental problem with radical cultural feminist theory that privileges White middle-class women while erasing differences of race and class, not to mention age, citizenship, ability, and other oppressions. They believe in what Emi Koyama calls "the fallacy of women's universal experiences and oppressions." That is, in claiming that all (cissexual) women share universal experiences and oppressions, which in the case of ecofeminists is claimed to be "interconnected" with nonhuman nature, they privilege Whiteness and middle-class women's experiences by erasing that of women of color and poor/working-class women.

Using an intersectional analysis, Koyama shows "how anti-trans sentiments and oppressions compound and complicate oppressions other than sexism, including and especially racism and classism." Those White middle-class "feminists" who justify their transphobia/trans-misogyny by stating that trans women have benefited from male privilege at some point in their lives, and that their presence will be a "trigger" for some cissexual women. However, at the same time these White middle-class "feminists" refuse to acknowledge that they have benefited from White and middle-class privilege, and that they themselves are triggers for some women of color and poor/working-class women.

Ironically, a commitment to plurality and diversity, one of the things that ecofeminists prided themselves on, actually works more to conceal this racism and classism than challenge it. As bell hooks notes in her essay "Representations of Whiteness in the Black Imagination," in Black Looks: Race and Representation (South End Press, 2000):

This erasure, however mythic, diffuses the representation of whiteness as terror in the black imagination. It allows for assimilation and forgetfulness. The eagerness with which contemporary society does away with racism, replacing this recognition with evocations of pluralism and diversity that further mask reality, is a response to the terror. It has also become a way of perpetuating terror by providing a cover, a hiding place. Black people still feel the terror, still associate it with whiteness, but are rarely able to articulate the varied ways we are terrorized because it is easy to silence by accusations of reverse racism or by suggesting that black folks who talk about the ways we are terrorized by whites are merely evoking victimization to demand special treatment.

Also in Black Looks, hooks discusses how Whiteness is represented as "innocence." The transphobic/trans-misogynist White middle-class "feminists" who portray trans women as a threat seem to have internalized the myth that they are innocents. They then attempt to portray all cissexual women as sharing a single oppression. In "Loving Blackness as Political Resistance," also in Black Looks, hooks writes:

While in someways true, a construction of political solidarity that is rooted in a narrative of shared victimization not only acts to recenter whites, it risks obscuring the particular ways racist domination impacts on the lives of marginalized groups. Implicit in the assumption that even those who are privileged via racist hierarchy suffer is the notion that it is only when those in power get in touch with how they too are victimized will they rebel against structures of domination. The truth is that many folks benefit from dominating others and are not suffering a wound that is in any way similar to the condition of the exploited and oppressed.

A young working-class trans-woman of color is all the more likely to be traumatized by the presence of White middle-class trans-misogynist feminist-vegetarians/ecofeminists than they are to be by her presence.

Back to the question, "What are we going to do about transphobia among feminist-vegetarians/ecofeminists?" On April 26th, 2002, in an interview on the ANIMAL VOICES radio program, Mirha-Soleil Ross said:

I have to say that the biggest problem politically right now in terms of the feminist representation in the animal rights movement is that there's only really one group of feminists that is represented. And they come from a brand of feminism we call "Radical Feminism." So traditionally, that brand of feminism has been theoretically and politically anti-prostitution as well as anti-pornography as well as anti-transsexual. There's a whole whack of shit that comes with that brand of feminism. And of course there are many more feminisms than radical feminism in the feminist world but in the animal rights movement, the only feminism that seems visible and vocal in discussing issues of sexual representation and sex work is radical feminism. There are many, many more feminists in the animal rights movement besides those who dictate the analysis and campaigns of Feminists for Animal Rights. But they are just doing work that's animal rights oriented or they are silent and don't challenge Feminists for Animal Rights and writers like Carol Adams on their anti-sex, anti-porn, anti-prostitution, and anti-transsexual biases and prejudice. I know tons of feminists who are involved in the animal rights movement who do not share these views but they are not starting a new feminist wave of feminist animal rights theory and politics. So that's one of the biggest political problems right now.

The radical cultural feminists dominating nonhuman animal issues have a vested interest in controlling and managing the feminist perspective regarding other animals. As long as this hegemony exists there will be little room for the voices of feminists of color, working-class feminists, transfeminists, disabled feminists, and so many others. It's time to hear from feminists outside of the existing feminist-vegetarian/ecofeminist status quo.

Re: Feminism Beyond Transphobia

I don't have anything insightful to say, but I agree that transphobia is a serious problem in feminist/AR communities, & I appreciate your laying it all out re: Carol Adams & all the others. So depressing & wrong.

Re: Feminism Beyond Transphobia

A friend of mine just sent me a link to your post. I'm so glad to hear another person talking about this! I am working on my dissertation right now, and I just handed in my first chapter to my supervisor (literally, about two weeks ago!). The chapter deals with an in-depth analysis of the incident between Ross and Adams, the underlying assumptions of Adams' work, the limitations of this type of essentialist feminism, and the arguments within Ross' subsequent speech.

I'm the Lauren mentioned within Ross' speech, and after our local chapter was dissolved following FAR's refusal to allow us to do a forum with sex workers (under the banner of FAR), Nadja and I took on the Animal Voices radio show.

Continuing the legacy of Ross, over the past seven years, I've tried to enact a feminism that is actually layered, multi-vocal, and "non-innocent." (http://www.animalvoices.ca)

I look forward to reading through more of your blog!


Re: Feminism Beyond Transphobia

And, I should say,

Thank you!

- Lauren

Re: Feminism Beyond Transphobia

followed a facebook link and read your article. while it's sad that transphobia still persists in certain areas of femminism, i am so glad to read the article and especially the link to emi koyama's essay

Re: Feminism Beyond Transphobia

I don't belong to a feminist community - in fact I find it hard to find women amongst my friends and colleagues who identify as "feminist" let alone women (or pro-feminist men) who give a shit about anything besides themselves including animals and the environment. As I write this I wonder who the hell I'm hanging out with and where are the women who care???? I don't know any trans individuals in depth although I've met a few. I think I would be accepting - I don't understand or care for the rhetoric about transwomen not being women (what the hell is a real woman anyway?). I don't know what it's like to feel I'm the wrong gender but I do know what it's like to feel obligated to love men when I actually love women. F*ck, surely we've all got some level of oppression in common? Why fight over whose oppression is "better" than others? Sometimes I hate this world.