A False Cisterhood

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Lately I’ve been exposed to quite a bit of writing calling out on TERFs – trans-exclusionary radical feminists – who have made it their righteous crusade to reject trans people from claiming womanhood or joining the collective of feminist voices. Whuh? How does that make any sense, and why is that such a problem?

There was a good article on Bitch Magazine’s website by Tina Vasquez about this, highlighting that it’s mostly one person who’s shouting the loudest with a very small group of women behind her. Cathy Brennan has aggressively, as well outlined by the Bitch article, put anatomy back into defining a woman, as contrary to feminism as that seems.

I just can’t grasp why somebody would care so much about insignificant biological traits of other people, let alone someone who claims to be a feminist leader. The debate about safe spaces for women like gender-segregated washrooms – there is still a risk of woman-on-woman bullying and violence in those spaces; cis men are not physically restricted from entering like there’s a penis-triggered force field; and few people would ever go to lengths of dressing up like a feminine gender to use the loo. Gender-specific trans-excluding washrooms will not prevent risks of violence and confrontation in them, and furthermore, unlike in male washrooms, the toilet facilities in them are entirely stalls. Brennan is a lesbian. Heterosexist women have made the argument that they can’t feel comfortable sharing washrooms with lesbians. Has that ever made Brennan feel discriminated against and dehumanized? How can she not make the connection to that treatment of her and her treatment of trans people?

As a feminist, I like to stand up for women’s rights to talk about their bodies in blunt ways rather than with euphemisms, denial, or shame. As such I talk about vaginas and menstruation as part of feminist dialogue. Mothers should be free to share their experiences of childbirth and nursing rather than leaving their breasts and genitals as the property of their (male) partners’ sexuality instead of the more basic purpose of having them. But as we talk about our cisgendered experiences of womanhood, we should welcome – nay, invite – and LISTEN TO whatever trans or genderqueer people want to share about their bodies. We should listen with respect, because the discrimination and dehumanization that trans people feel is an extension of patriarchy and heteronormativity. It’s body shaming, which is a feminist topic, and talking about it in all its forms, within the comfort zones of the speaker, is in the interest of breaking down patriarchy barriers and blinders.

When someone I just recently met on Twitter tweeted about concerns some people have about trans-inclusive public washrooms and women’s safety, I replied that I’d feel safer in such a place with a trans person than someone so transphobic. The people who can’t get past anatomy are much like the people who don’t acknowledge what washrooms are for – they believe they’re sacred and not to be shit in, literally. I’ve been shamed in women’s washrooms for basic functions of being a living organism, and I won’t tolerate that for me or for trans people. I can shit in a public toilet if I have to, and I’d feel more secure doing so around women who have their own struggles to worry about well beyond what’s coming out of anyone else’s ass.

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