Transphobia in Feminist Spaces (Comic and commentary)
Alicia // 24 November 2011
The following is a guestpost by Oxford-based cartoonist Kay Ri who attended Fem 11 with mixed views about the content and direction of some of the sessions.
When I attended the London Feminist Network workshop at Fem 11 on 12th November, the last thing I expected to feel was alienation from the movement. The workshop was entitled “Our Strength, Our Space: The Importance of Woman-Only Organising”. My anti-essentialist views, desire not to be judged based on my downstairs plumbing, and preference to be in a space that would more readily welcome male White Ribbon Campaigners before female Tea Party members, had naturally primed me to be unsupportive of restricted organizing except in certain circumstances such as safe houses.
In fairness to the presenters, they raised a number of excellent arguments in support of their view. But when someone asked about welcoming trans* women, we got in a little bit of trouble. Gender trouble. The facilitator swept this rather important question to the side, claiming that there wasn’t time to go into that. What?
I won’t repeat here the arguments for including trans* women in women-only spaces, as I’m sure you readers are familiar with the debate. My personal reasons for supporting inclusive spaces are more ‘slacktivist’ than activist; it’s just not cool to draw those lines in the sand, and I’m not bothered. The above cartoon outlines some of the other responses I heard from my feminist peers, one of whom spent the last ten minutes of the workshop burrowing in my arms as if we could protect feminist intersectionality from transphobia with hugs alone. The highlight of the workshop was when one commenter exclaimed “Women’s only spaces are essential”. Essential indeed.
Now, if a kickass, old-school feminist wants to sit me down and talk for ninety minutes about their views, I am more than happy to listen. I genuinely love hearing from the second-wavers, hearing about their experiences with this kind of organising. But framing a workshop as a participatory discussion and then proceeding to “have time” for all the supportive comments and “not have time” for all the challenging ones, is dishonest. Frankly, if I was interested in manipulating a so-called open discussion to silence marginalised perspectives, I’d go back to my work in international development.