Talking About Transphobia and Ecofeminism With Ida Hammer

The following interview was originally published on the Bitch magazine blog.

Ida Hammer has been writing The Vegan Ideal for several years as a way to examine and deconstruct overlapping oppressions. Her work centers on undoing transphobia in vegetarian and ecofeminist communities. Ida was kind of enough to speak with me recently about how cissexual privilege undermines a lot of ecofeminist writing and how she has carved safe space for herself in a sometimes very anti-trans movement.

A number of ecofeminist writers have written in deeply offensive, often terribly misguided, ways about trans people and have done a lot of damage to the movement’s credibility as open, accepting, and working for the liberation of all people. Why do you think transphobia persists and continues to come up again and again in ecofeminist rhetoric and activism?

In order to understand why transphobia and cissexism persist and are continually perpetuated throughout feminist communities, particularly the vegetarian-ecofeminist community, it is important to consider the origins of anti-trans advocacy as a conscious project of prominent, elite White feminists in the 1970s. In the late sixties and early seventies, trans people were very active in the women's and queer liberation movements. The Compton's Cafeteria and Stonewall rebellions of the sixties are evidence of that, as are women like Beth Elliott of the Daughters of Bilitis, Sandy Stone of Olivia Records, and Stonewall veteran Silvia Rivera who was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activist Alliance.

So it's important to keep in mind that trans women, and trans people more generally, were an integral part of the early women's liberation movement. But in the mid- to late-seventies, there was a transphobic backlash within feminism to systematically remove and exclude trans people, explicitly transsexual women, from the women's and queer movements. For example, Rivera was targeted and physically attacked by cissexist women separatists at a gay rights rally. Elliott was targeted by Robin Morgan and separatists at a lesbian women's conference. Stone was targeted by Janice Raymond and forced out of Olivia Records with threats of a boycott. And Gloria Steinem of Ms. magazine openly attacked trans women.

Over the last couple decades, there has been an increase in organizing and activism by trans people, yet we continue to be the targets of a systematic backlash from elite feminists. So-called "women-born women" policies are still used to exclude transsexual women from participating in our own movement. And while trans women are disproportionately targeted by homelessness, prisons, and sexual and physical violence, an alliance between anti-trans feminists and the state has been used to circumvent human rights laws in order to bar us from many vital women's facilities and services. Trans women have even been forced out of women's services organizations they helped create.

I should also note that while The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol J. Adams is in many ways considered the book for a feminist approach to nonhuman animal advocacy, it can't be separated out from the anti-trans hatred and purge that started in the seventies. The roots of The Sexual Politics of Meat come out of Adams' relationship with Mary Daly, who was her teacher and mentor in the mid-seventies. This relationship, which Adams credits with the genesis of her book and activism, took place at the same time Daly was writing her hateful, anti-trans book Gyn/Ecology. It was also the same time Daly was advising Raymond, another student of hers, on the dissertation that became the book The Transsexual Empire.

So the origins of what currently stands as the primary source for a feminist approach to nonhuman animal advocacy has its origins in a milieu that was the epicenter of anti-trans sentiment in the seventies. In the preface to The Sexual Politics of Meat, Adams begins her book with what she calls a "quiet homage to Mary Daly's early support of my work as well as her ongoing biophilic vision." What is unacknowledged is that Daly's "biophilic vision" called for the elimination of transsexuals, people whom Daly described as "necrophilic" and therefore outside of and counter to the vegetarian-ecofeminist worldview.

Basically, trans people were never meant to be included in ecofeminism. While a new generation of cissexual ecofeminists may simply not think about trans people due to our forced absence, the erasure and invisibility of trans people within ecofeminism cannot be seen as a mere oversight. Most of the prominent figures in vegetarian-ecofeminism have at some point consciously thought about trans people and actively supported our exclusion — this includes those pseudo-allies who might say they're supportive of trans people in private, yet actively support our erasure when they ignore our oppression while publicly praising the work of their more unapologetically transphobic colleagues.

When challenged on the existing cissexist state of affairs, anti-trans ecofeminists will often insist we agree to disagree and leave it at that. But since the exclusion of trans people has already been well established, agreeing not to press the issue simply keeps trans people invisible and the status quo just the way it is.

It is easy to ignore an oppressed group of people once they have been systematically shut out of and alienated from a movement they rightfully belong in. Had trans people not been forcibly exiled from the women's movement throughout the seventies and subsequently blocked from returning — at times with state supported exclusion from human right protections — things would be entirely different right now.

The cycle will only be broken when cissexual feminists take responsibility for cissexism and hold themselves and their colleagues accountable. This includes following the lead of trans people on trans issues, specifically trans women when it comes to our exclusion from feminist communities. It's also important to recognize that not all trans people have been targeted in the same way. Too often women's events or services claim to be "trans-inclusive" but are restricted to cissexual women, trans men and female-assigned genderqueers only, thus continuing the ongoing legacy of specifically excluding transsexual women.

In light of the treatment trans people have received in ecofeminist communities, what are some of the ways you have worked to combat cissexist stereotypes and find safe space in so-called anti-oppression circles?

Acknowledging and challenging how writing and advocacy around a feminist approach to nonhuman animal advocacy has become dominated by the vegetarian-ecofeminist erasure of trans people is, for me, an important first step in creating a safe space for trans people to come out and practice feminism and nonhuman animal advocacy.

I did a lot of feminist-based nonhuman animal advocacy before coming out as trans. During that time I was aware as a closeted transsexual women that acceptance as a feminist advocate for nonhuman animals meant staying closeted and passing as a cissexual man. Stated another way, taking a feminist approach to nonhuman animal advocacy was very much a privilege of passing for cissexual, which required me to internalize the ways vegetarian-ecofeminism was perpetuating anti-trans oppression.

My work on The Vegan Ideal has really been my primary outlet for challenging anti-trans ideology and creating a safe space for myself to explore anti-oppression advocacy, particularly as it relates to nonhuman animals. My posts on how cissexism is interwoven into vegetarian-ecofeminism have been part of my own struggle to affirm myself as a woman, a feminist, and an advocate for nonhuman animals. I now refuse to accept any approach to advocacy or anti-oppression work that would have me or anyone else deny a part of who we are and internalize our oppression in order to participate.

Re: Talking About Transphobia and Ecofeminism With Ida Hammer

Thanks for making me notice this tranphobia among feminists:) It's sad for I've come to really like ecofeminism. I'm not familiar with this, but I don't have much knowledge about feminist or gender theory.

But I'm not sure if "women-born women policies" are more transphobic than separatist "women only policies" are manphobic. When they want to have an arena for only one sex/gender they have to draw the line somewere. If everyone that says they identify as women are let in, then all men might say it to, just to sneak inn.

'Women-Born Women' is Code for Cissupremacy

"Women-born women" policies are clearly used to institutionalize the supremacy of cissexual women over transsexual women. They exist as part of a larger trans-misogynist campaign that is representative of the transphobic attack on the womanhood of transsexual women.

Women-only space is not "manphobic." The function of women-only space is not the same function as "women-born women" policies. That is, women-only space doesn't exist to institutionalize the supremacy of women over men, it exists to empower women – all women. Where as "women-born women" policies exist for no other reason than to institutionalize the supremacy of cissexual women over transsexual women. That is, they exist to exclude a group of women from space meant for all women, and are therefore base an the presumption that trans women aren't actually women.

There is absolutely no basis for the false assertion that cissexual men will claim to be transsexual women in order to sneak into women-only spaces. This is simply a fear mongering tactic that is used to invalidate the womanhood of all trans women. What it says is that only cis women are real women simply for being assigned female at birth, while insinuating that all trans women should be suspected of being little more than men claiming to be women. This further institutionalizes the cissexist ideology that cissexual women (so-called "women-born women") are inherently superior, and that transsexual women are inherently inferior.

"Women-born women" policies support cissexual supremacy, and the arguments used to support them (i.e., claims that cis men will pretend to be trans women) are based on an ideology of cissexism. The outcome of these policies is to perpetuate fear, contempt and violence towards trans women, which is plain and simple trans-misogyny.

For further reading, I suggest the articles and documents on transfeminism by Emi Koyama, as well as the book Whipping Girl by Julia Serano, as well as her "frustration" writings.

Re: Talking About Transphobia and Ecofeminism With Ida Hammer

Thank you for this, Ida.

Do you think there is anything inherent to vegetarian eco-feminism that makes it more likely to be transphobic than another feminism, and if so what is that? Are there any vegetarian eco-feminists you know of who are genuine transfeminists?

Re: Talking About Transphobia and Ecofeminism With Ida Hammer

Thanks for this. I find a lot of transphobia rhetoric in the Afrikan Holistic Vegan movement. I am hoping to explore this more and start reading more literature on transphobia to see (1) if I'm reproducing this and (2) to talk about it in the community I'm doing research in. It's really hard but I don't want to give up and I don't want to run away from this challenge.

I have heard both cisgender and cissexual and now need to research the difference between both! I will go on Google Scholar and see what I can find.


Re: Talking About Transphobia and Ecofeminism With Ida Hammer

Maybe you can cite some ecofeminist writing that you consider transphobic? With references etc. It's a massive exaggeration to say that because The Sexual Politics of Meat emerged from what you say was a transphobic millieu, or to read about a trans person's encounter at a conference with CJ Adams where only one version of events is inevitably given, to then say that ecofeminism as an entirety is transphobic!

Vegetarian-Ecofeminism is Structurally Transphobic

First of all, I do not talk about "ecofeminism as an entirety," I'm talking about vegetarian-ecofeminism, which is a very specific and highly homogeneous faction of ecofeminism. In the interview, I specifically talk about why the cissexist context of the emergence of a vegetarian-ecofeminist ideology is relevant and needs to be taken into consideration. This is because cis supremacy is built into the the ideological foundation of vegetarian-ecofeminism, which I believe is unfortunately illustrated in this anonymous comment.

In the interview I talk about how vegetarian-ecofeminism erases, invalidates, and makes invisible the existence and oppression experienced by trans people. This anonymous comment doesn't contradict anything I say in the interview about vegetarian-ecofeminism ignoring and being complicit with systematic cissexism. In fact, it only confirms what I have said by further ignoring and being complicit with cissexism.

Cisness, or the cissexual (non-trans) experience and perspective, is privileged and given supremacy through the dismissal of what has already been said — calling it a "massive exaggeration" and "only one version of events" — and demanding still more proof. Yet while I provide specific references and citation throughout this website for those interested, I believe this anonymous comment — as well as another comment I received last week demanding that I cite specific examples of transphobia in Carol J. Adams' Sexual Politics of Meat — perpetuates the structure of cis supremacy by defining transphobia as an individualized, overt act or statements of anti-trans bigotry without regard for how vegetarian-ecofeminism is itself structured from the ground up around the supremacy of cisness over transness.

Again, as a matter of ideology and institution, trans people were never meant to be included in vegetarian-ecofeminism. The lack of recognition by vegetarian-ecofemimism of trans people or how we are targeted by oppression needs to be seen as suspect by itself. For instance, this anonymous comment demands evidence of transphobia, but doesn't provide any positive evidence that vegetarian-ecofeminism is inclusive or attentive to the oppression experienced by trans people. If vegetarian-ecofeminism doesn't actively include trans people, recognize our oppression, and seek to support our liberation, then it is cissexist in its de facto collusion with cis supremacy.

Transphobia is more than mere acts or statements of anti-trans bigotry. I understand transphobia as the oppressive outcomes trans people experience as a result of a pervasive system of discrimination, exclusion and violence that targets people who are transgendered, transsexual, two-spirit, gender nonconforming, and others who are members of sex and gender diverse groups. As such, when trans people are ideologically and systematically marginalized and excluded there is little need for overt bigotry. In the case of vegetarian-ecofeminism, structural cis supremacy and its ideological hegemony perpetuate transphobia on a larger scale than anything that can be specifically cited or referenced as transphobic.