Most people are aware of the issue of transphobia in the feminist movement by how it is dramatically exhibited through the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival's (MichFest) infamous "women-born-women" policy. The term "women-born-women" is actually a cissexist synonym for a cissexual (non-transsexual) women, and it is used primarily to exclude transsexual women from "women-only" spaces. The term is used as part of a transphobic backlash that employs biological determinism to claim the superiority of cissexual women as "natural" or "real" women while devaluing transsexual women as "unnatural" or "fake."
The now dormant organization Feminists for Animal Rights (FAR), founded by the trans-misogynistic vegetarian-ecofeminist Marti Kheel (when asked during a panel Q&A what people can do to help trans women, Kheel instead went into a misogynistic, transphobic tirade attacking trans women), also promotes a transphobic "women-born-women" policy. FAR has long been a hub for feminist-vegetarians/ecofeminists closely connected to nonhuman animal advocacy. In fact, while other feminist views exist on the intersection of feminism and anti-speciesism, the discourse is dominated by the FAR clique of feminist-vegetarians/ecofeminists who are featured prominently in books, conferences, and academic journals.
My first encounter with the transphobia of this segment of feminist-vegetarians/ecofeminists was when I helped to organize a panel discussion on the connections between domestic violence, child abuse, and animal cruelty. We got DeLora Fredrickson, then executive director of FAR and founder of FAR's Companion Animal Rescue Effort (CARE), to take part on the panel. Fredrickson seemed like the perfect person to have on the panel as the CARE program seemed to be the sort of thing we wanted to promote.
Well, as I wrote previously, the panel didn't turnout to be the radical event it was hoped to be. In addition, Fredrickson had included several copies of a transphobic essay with the FAR literature present during the panel. What is important to keep in mind is that this panel was part of a much larger anti-violence program. The inclusion of this essay at a panel held at a domestic violence shelter undermines not only the safety of trans women specifically, but of all women.
Transphobic policies like those promoted by MichFest and FAR are not limited to specific events. They work to promote cissexism beyond their borders. Furthermore, just as homophobia is a weapon of sexism, transphobia is a weapon of both sexism and heterosexism. We cannot allow exceptions for trans-misogyny that targets trans female/trans feminine people at MichFest, FAR, or other so-called feminist events and not expect it to simply further the oppression of MTF spectrum trans people. These policies work to prevent trans women from accessing resources when they need them most by justifying their exclusion from shelters, group homes, and other facilities and services for women.
I am a transsexual woman, and for sixteen years I have been struggling with my own internalized transphobia. I only partially started to come out just over a year ago. I admit that I was deeply and personally affected by the transphobia being promoted by FAR at that panel six years ago. I know this experience worked to help keep me in the closet. As a transsexual woman, I'm targeted by the promotion of transphobia, cissexism, and oppositional sexism directed at trans women because it devalues all people whose gender identity doesn't match their assigned "biological" sex.