Questioning Lierre Keith's Transphobia

This is a reply to an anonymous comment, which is replying to a comment I made to Breeze Harper's post on Vegans of Color blog regarding Lierre Keith's new anti-vegetarian book. I'm posting my reply here because it is not directly related to Keith's anti-vegetarian views, which are the subject of the VoC post. In reply to a comment I made about Lierre Keith's affiliation with anti-trans politics and opposition to pornography by, for, and of lesbians, "Anonymous" wrote:

Founders of organizations don’t always agree with the policies those organizations come to have.

Can you site anything written by Keith where she expresses views about Trans people?

Do you have any citations of Keith stating that she is opposed to lesbians taking part in consentual BDSM or pornography?

If any of this is true it would quite ironic. Keith was banned from an extended stay meditation retreat in the 1990s because she is a Lesbian.

This is a good question. Where are Keith's politics when it comes to trans people, or lesbians taking part in consensual BDSM or pornography?

Keith lists her founding and present affiliation with RadLesFes on her CV. It's no secret that RadLesFes listed only two specific things under the heading of "Lines That Can't Be Crossed" in stating that it is "unalterably opposed" to 1) anyone, but specifically lesbians in the context of RadLesFes, who in the slightest endorse BDSM or pornography, and 2) trans people, specifically referring to all trans-related health interventions pejoratively as "mutilations."

Now, in my opinion, Keith doesn't have to outright say that she is personally opposed to the existence of trans people. [ETA: Keith clearly does, stating, "I've personally been fighting about this (the existence of trans people) since 1982." You can read Keith's hateful condemnation of trans people in the post "Lierre Keith: A Case Study in Anti-Trans Hatred."] If Keith is a founding and present member of any traditionally misogynistic organization I doubt anyone would think that such an affiliation is irrelevant. Her membership and support of RadLesFes is an implicit endorsement of those cissexist policies that maligns trans people. This is not something I'm willing to ignore, especially considering the level of outright malicious of RadLesFes's policy regarding trans people.

RadLesFes doesn't just say trans women aren't welcome. In addition to explicitly opposing access to trans-related health care, RadLesFes also promotes hateful propaganda about trans people. This includes endorsing the anti-trans works of Janice Raymond and Sheila Jeffreys, and promoting the now defunct anti-trans website "Questioning Transgender," these are all works promoted under "Transsexuality/Transgender/Queer Politics" in the RadLesFem reading list that was co-compiled by Keith.

Furthermore, RadLesFes is not Keith's only affiliation with an organization that promotes policies opposed to trans people as well as lesbians taking part in consensual BDSM or pornography. Other affiliations include the radical-feminist magazines off our backs and Rain and Thunder, of which Keith is founding editor. Both magazines have a history of publishing articles attacking trans people and lesbians who take part in BDSM and pornography, or even, heaven forbid, use dildos. Under Keith, Rain and Thunder has even published articles endorsing violence against trans women for simply using women's restrooms.

So I believe that these are suggestive of Keith's positions as well, and this is supported by her persistent level of collaboration with these positions and those who promote them. In my opinion, there is absolutely no justification for Keith's lack of condemnation of such horribly anti-trans policies and propaganda.

And, yes, there's no shortage of irony when it comes to Keith, who having been banned for being a lesbian, is still supportive of a policy that would ban any lesbians for simply being open about reading On Our Backs or watching Crash Pad. The more poignant irony is that the transphobia used to ban a woman because she is a trans woman is no better than the homophobia used to ban a woman because she is a lesbian woman. In supporting the banning of trans women, Keith is acting in the same basic manner as the meditation retreat that banned her for being a lesbian woman.

* * *

It's important to understand that being a lesbian doesn't exempt anyone from being anti-trans. Unfortunately, a small but vocal faction of lesbians have systematically attacked trans people since the start of the modern queer movement. As Questioning Transphobia points out:

This anti-trans bigotry goes back decades. It goes back to the early 70s, when trans people were forced out of the gay rights movement. It goes back to the late 70s when trans women were forced out of feminist spaces – Sandy Stone at Olivia Records, for example. It goes back to Janice Raymond's hate screed, The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male. It goes back to the early 1990s, when Nancy Burkholder was ejected from the Michigan Women's Music Festival for the crime of having been born male. The Human Rights Campaign spent years trying to keep us out of GLB politics. Feminists such as Sheila Jeffreys, Germaine Greer, Mary Daly, and Andrea Dworkin all took time to lambast us for simply trying to live our lives.

Sylvia Rivera, a veteran of the Stonewall Rebellion who is even reported to have been the first person to strike back against the police, thus sparking the rebellion in the first place, was perhaps one of the very first people to be subjected to anti-trans oppression instigated by the lesbian defenders of cissexual privilege.

From Stonewall into the early 1970's, Rivera was an outspoken leader in the new movement for queer liberation. Her political work included taking an active role in the first campaign to end job discrimination against queer people. The following is from "Sylvia and Sylvia's Children: The Battle for a Queer Public Space" by Benjamin Shepard in the book That's Revolting! (edited by Matt Bernstein Sycamore):

Women in GLF [the Gay Liberation Front, an organization Rivera co-founded] were uncomfortable referring to Rivera – who insisted on using women's bathrooms, even in City Hall – as "she." The pressure mounted. The year 1973 witnessed a clash that would take Rivera out of the movement for the next two decades. As her lifelong friend and fellow Stonewall veteran Bob Kohler recalled, "Sylvia left the movement because after the first three or four years, she was denied a right to speak."

The breaking point came during the Pride rally in Washington Square Park after the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day march. To the dismay of Lesbian Feminist Front (LFL), drag queens were scheduled to perform. As LFL passed out flyers outlining their opposition to the "female impersonators," Rivera wrestled for the microphone held by emcee Vito Russo, before getting hit with it herself. Rivera later explained, "I had to battle my way up on stage, and literally get beaten up and punched around by people I thought were my comrades, to get to that microphone. I got to the microphone and said my piece." Rivera complained that the middle-class crowd cared little to nothing about the continued harassment and arrest of street drag queens. Bleeding, Rivera screamed, "Revolution Now!" and lend the crowd in a chant of "Give me a G, Give me an A, Give me a Y . . . What does that spell?" Barely audible, her voice breaking, she groaned, "GAY POWER." Russo later recalled that only the sudden appearance of Bette Midler averted outright violence, as trans opponents and supporters battled over the mike. Midler, having listened to what was happening on the radio in her Greenwich Village apartment, rushed to the scene, wrested control of the mike, and started singing "Friends." Rivera would not return to formal queer organizing for some two decades.

Re: Questioning Lierre Keith's Transphobia

Thank you for this thorough response. I have spent the last hour reading through many different perspectives on Keith, beginning with a link to a story about her getting hit in the face with a cayenne pepper-laced pie at an anarchist book fair. Immediately, I was drawn to sympathize with her, as I believe that pie throwing was a cowardly act. And in that situation, my sympathy remains with her. But as I read more about Keith and her background and her politic, the distaste very quickly grows.
I appreciate the research you have done and the examples you have provided here. It's interesting how, in the discussions about the pie situation, no one mentions this other side of her political belief. For me, her transphobia doesn't justify the pies any more than her views on veganism, but it is good to know a little more about the person before I add my support to her.

Re: Questioning Lierre Keith's Transphobia

are you somehow trying to discredit her work via her trans policies? can you not find a better defense of your speciesist dogma than to attack someone peripherally? is this how you approach critiques of veganism? how incredibly boring.

Re: Questioning Lierre Keith's Transphobia

I have the suspicion that she's trying to discredit Lierre Keith via all the things Lierre Keith has done to discredit herself, and Lierre Keith's attack on veganism (One I might well share, I dunno, haven't read it; HAVE read her transmisogynistic screeds) simply brought the author's attention.

Pointing out that some people who believe in human supremacy do not believe in the supremacy of all humans equally is a legitimate critique. It doesn't mean that most humanists are bigots within the species they venerate, but it does mean that a subset are. (much like criticizing Lierre isn't an indictment of all feminists)

Re: Questioning Lierre Keith's Transphobia

Um. I think this article is attacking Lierre Keith's blatant transphobia, not her biocentrism. If you'll notice, the article only talks about her transphobia. If you'll notice, it doesn't talk about her biocentrism at all. I happen to appreciate Lierre Keith's biocentric politics quite a bit -- from what I know of them -- but I think her transphobic politics are a fucking load of shit. What makes you think this article is defending speciesism in any imaginable way??? This article is a defense of trans-positivity and transgender liberation, not human supremacy. (For next time, see if you can understand that critiquing fucked up politics a person has in one area doesn't mean the critiquer is trying to discredit decent politics that person has in other areas. The ability to not throw the baby out with the bathwater, and to not be cultishly loyal to a movement figurehead to the degree that any critique is seen as a personal attack, is kind of the basis for discussion, growth, and constructive conversation.)