Off Our Backs in imminent danger of folding

// 11 July 2008

offourbackscover.jpg[Update: Please read comments below – there are serious criticisms of this journal which I wasn’t aware of when writing this entry.]

US feminist journal Off Our Backs is so short of funds it may be forced to cease publication, WIMN’s Voices reports.

Lucinda Marshall says:

They are in the process of producing what may be the last issue of OOB unless funding comes through. I am guest-editing that issue which will focus on women and peace. It is an amazing issue with essays from more than 20 women from around the world and I feel very privileged to have been able to work with Off Our Backs to produce this collection of urgently needed woman wisdom. To be blunt, I had approached several other feminist publishers about working with this material and they were not able to do it and let’s face it, women talking about peace tends not to be a financial winner in the publishing biz. If it were not for OOB, I don’t know if publishing this work would have been possible.

An honour, or a shame, to be the editor of the last issue of a 38-year-old feminist publication?

OOB is appealling for donations. If you’re in the position to do so, I should imagine that buying advertising space would be just as welcome, though.

Comments From You

Alyssa // Posted 12 July 2008 at 7:40 pm

Perhaps its just as well that this magazine is dying.

OOB, for all the empowering work it has accomplished for non trans women, has routinely been a one sided battleground for trans women’s (non) legitimacy. It has als been a platform for hate speech, and some very nasty things said about us:

Among others, it has been host to some very trans misogynistic articles such as:

“Men in Ewes’ Clothting:

The Stealth Politics of the Transgender Movement”

http://www.rapereliefshelter.bc.ca/issues/menewes.html

Personally, I think the magazine is a relic of more hateful, myopic times…at least if you are a woman of trans experience.

I am not sorry to see it go.

Lisa Harney // Posted 14 July 2008 at 7:06 am

It’s true, and people directly involved with Off Our Backs are also directly involved with the Questioning Transgender website.

That said, I’m not happy with the loss of what is otherwise (outside of trans issues) an outlet for women’s voices. Off Our Backs was in many ways my introduction to feminism (before I saw any of the anti-trans stuff).

So, I won’t celebrate this. I would like to see those like Karla Mantilla to acknowledge trans women’s humanity, though, and if the magazine survives, I’d like to see the regressive transphobic stuff get put behind it.

Not likely to happen, though, not with Amy Winter, Heart, and Karla Mantilla (among others) involved with it.

polly styrene // Posted 15 July 2008 at 8:01 am

The questioning transgender website states:

This website is not about discrimination against people. It is about understanding the political ramifications of the politics that accompany the transgender movement–politics that go beyond human rights and civil rights and have the potential to destroy much of the social change and institutions that feminists have worked for.

We do not advocate against people who feel that they are transgendered. We believe they, like all people, at a minimum have a right to decent housing, jobs that pay a living wage, comprehensive health care, and a life free from violence and abuse.

We do not, however, share the political vision of those who espouse transgender politics. To the extent to which the transgender politics include the insistence that transgender individuals be served by human services designed by and for women, to the exclusion of women themselves, and the extent to which transgender politics question our ability to say that there are two socially created classes of human, male and female, and that there are social, economic, and power differentials between these two classes that amount to the oppression and domination of one over the other, we must stand opposed to trans politics.

Additionally, we do not believe that the philosophical basis for transgender politics addresses the problem of male power or the significant problem of male violence across the world which includes violence against women as well as violence against transgender people”

I don’t see how any of this is ‘denying transwomen humanity’

Some feminists (including myself) have problems with the politics of those who claim that gender identity is real and inherent, rather than a matter of socialisation. Not all trans people believe this, but many prominent activists do, including prominent groups in the UK such as Press for Change.

Additionally we have an issue with the idea that those assigned female at birth and raised as female (this includes so called ‘intersex’ women) are not allowed to organise separately, or to have space to ourselves because this is apparently ‘transphobic’.

This reductionist ‘argument’ ignores two significant issues – firstly that the huge number of transwomen will have lived significant portions of their life as males, with male privilege, and secondly that a very large number of those who claim entry to women’s safe space in this way have not even had any gender reassignment surgery and are biological males – ie they still have penises and other male genitalia.

In the UK, the current legal position is that anyone who is diagnosed with gender dysphoria can apply for gender reassignment after which they legally must be treated in their new gender. Again this does not require any sex reassignment surgery – a woman under this legislation could still have a penis.

That wouldn’t be a problem in most situations but it is possible for instance – though it hasn’t happened yet – that a refuge for women fleeing domestic violence could be forced to admit a biological male who has not even had sex reassignment surgery. Can I repeat here that means someone with male gentials. It’s not uncommon for those who change gender to not undergo full SRS. I know women who work in this field who are very anxious about this possibilty, as they feel it would be enormously destructive for other women using these services.

Things like this are the reason that feminists like myself are concerned about these issues. There is never going to be any constructive dialogue if activists such as Christine Burns of press for change – who don’t even necessarily represent the views of all transwomen, continue with their current stance.

And to simply label these views ‘transphobic’ and ‘hate speech’ without addressing the real issues just looks like an attempt to silence a valid viewpoint to stop it getting heard to me.

Jess McCabe // Posted 15 July 2008 at 9:29 am

@polly styrene

The questioning transgender website states: This website is not about discrimination against people

The thing is, the website is called ‘questioning transgender’. However the website may define itself, the chosen name is inflammatory in the extreme, to the point where I don’t even want to visit or engage with it on any level. Because despite the description you’ve quoted, transgender does not = specific transgender activists in this specific debate about women-only spaces, it’s how many, many people choose to identify. If the website creators did not want to be read as antagonistic to anyone who identifies as transgender, whatever their stance on the (narrow!) issue of how women-only spaces are defined, then they would not have chosen a name which implies – to me – questioning the right to exist of transgender people. Substitute any other minority in that title, and I think it’s clear what I’m getting at. Therefore while those individuals may have valid points, I have no idea, I’m not going to even visit a website with that name.

This weekend I went to a workshop put on by the Feminist Activists Forum on feminism + transgender. There was a panel of second wave feminists who engaged with these difficult and divisive issues without resorting to the kind of aggressive stance implied by the name of this website. Meanwhile, trans women and trans men spoke about issues such as the expectations of the healthcare system, etc, where (I think) everyone could agree with there being plenty of room for working side by side. And are actually of much more importance, in my view, in terms of changing things on the ground for people – trans or not – than endless agressive debates about women-only spaces.

Anyway, all of this is a bit of a distraction from the issue of OOB being about to close – , I didn’t know about the articles they’ve published, but it’s not a total surprise. However, it is a journal, and I’m sure ran lots of controversial pieces over the decades it’s been up and running – I think it’s important to, yes, criticise particularities and editorial decisions, but generally I don’t think we should celebrate it closing down.

Alyssa // Posted 16 July 2008 at 10:09 pm

@ Jess,

I more or less agree with your views. On the issue of calling out transmisogyny being a “distraction,” I must part company.

However, it is a journal, and I’m sure ran lots of controversial pieces over the decades it’s been up and running

My identity is no controversy, thank you very much.

I seriously doubt that you would be defending a magazine which harmed a significant number of non trans women.

And no, all the good that they do does not “cancel” the harm they have done trans women. Taking such an attitude bolsters the idea that trans women should accept that our concerns are less important than nontrans concerns. And that is an attiude that seriously needs to leave feminism.

Your tone is bordering on dismissive and cissexist. Calling out a magazine with a highly transmisogyistic history is the feminist thing to do, unless you are prepared to defend marginalization and hate speech as “feminist.”

Aside from that, has anyone thought of the value of letting the mag die, and replacing it with something that is good (or at least not harmful) for all women?

Lisa Harney // Posted 17 July 2008 at 4:11 am

“And to simply label these views ‘transphobic’ and ‘hate speech’ without addressing the real issues just looks like an attempt to silence a valid viewpoint to stop it getting heard to me.”

Polly, it’s clear you haven’t read much of my blog – I’ve addressed the articles at Questioning Transgender at length and in detail, pointed out how, why, and where they are transphobic and transmisogynistic. Many of the posts from November 2007 address all those points. They’ve been covered.

Also, silencing would be attempts to actually shut down the Questioning Transgender website – which, by the way, would be a reasonable action due to the fact that QTG is a hate speech site, and due to the fact that hate speech is a violation of the hosting provider’s TOS – not posting extended criticisms of the articles on that site.

Alyssa, good point – I should’ve also noted I’m not particularly grieving over the potential end of Off Our Backs. Also, everything else you said. Trans people aren’t a controversy, we’re people. We’re not anyone else’s rhetorical points, metaphors, or targets for their unresolved gender issues – we’re human beings living our lives.

There should be nothing controversial about the articles that were published in OOB and reprinted on the QTG website – they should be obviously objectionable on the basis of their prejudiced content.

Jess McCabe // Posted 17 July 2008 at 10:35 am

@Alyssa – Apologies for describing the articles as ‘controversial’ – I wasn’t meaning to imply or state in any way that transgender identities are controversial. Offensive is a much better word, and I don’t seek to defend the article they published which you linked to earlier in the thread – I think they should be strongly criticised for having published it.

To be honest, I’ve not actually read that many copies of OOB. The copies I’ve read haven’t contained articles about trans women. I just don’t know whether the article you linked to is typical, one of many published by OOB, or not. What year the article was published, whether the nature of articles relevant to trans women has changed over time, etc.

I have to admit there may well be a certain amount of defensiveness on my part as a journalist and editor of a feminist publication (as in, if I published something as offensive, I wouldn’t want to think that my decision – wrong and destructive as it might be – would lead people to say the entire site should be taken down and good riddance, erasing all the good it had done).

Maybe this is wrong, but my instinct is that it is much better to challenge and change the editorial stance of what has been a significant journal in feminist history than it is to just call for it to be shut down.

GallingGalla // Posted 17 July 2008 at 3:01 pm

Maybe this is wrong, but my instinct is that it is much better to challenge and change the editorial stance of what has been a significant journal in feminist history than it is to just call for it to be shut down.

Trans people and our allies have been challenging and attempting to change the editorial stance of OOB for 38 years. You’d think that after that amount of time, the editors would listen.

antiprincess // Posted 17 July 2008 at 4:55 pm

To the extent to which the transgender politics include the insistence that transgender individuals be served by human services designed by and for women, to the exclusion of women themselves,

but, transwomen ARE women themselves. (unless you’d like to start deciding who is and ain’t a real woman. which, good luck.)

and the extent to which transgender politics question our ability to say that there are two socially created classes of human, male and female,

what’s wrong with questioning that? will feminism collapse if that idea is interrogated?

and what if feminism is wrong on that point? is that the End Of Days?

Can I repeat here that means someone with male gentials.

and that would be just the worst possible imaginable fate, if that were to happen?

not because of the situation the person is in, but because of the genitals of the person?

as though the genitals are the root source and root cause of behavior – even though gender differences are socially constructed?

can you have it both ways without being gender-essentialist?

Alyssa // Posted 17 July 2008 at 6:10 pm

@ Jess

The point is, that oob is saturated with trans misogyny, and that this misrepresentation of trans women is typical. Not a “few bad apples.” Not a few women having a bad day. Institutionalized misogyny at its finest hour.

That said, apology accepted.

You said that you actually hadn’t read many articles in oob. So, you are defending them on the basis of incomplete information. As an excersice in enlightenment, look into the mag’s treatment of women of color, and trans women.

It will be an education. I recommend avoiding solid food for 6 hours before you do, though. Seriously.

As far as taking the site down? I take it you are defending QT? If so, then I consider you a lost cause. But I kinda doubt that this is the case.

If you are concerned about how a mildly uninformed cissexist post affects the F word, good. Thankfully, your concern and willingness to engage forgives many sins.

As far as your instinct to try to salvage rather than condemn, I usually agree. But oob is kinda special. It deserves to be overhauled, or left to die. Lisa has made the reason for this crystal clear in her post above.

That said, educate yourself on trans women in feminism. Feminism has a long history of hateraidf towards trans women, but it is improving. Slowly. Be the change we all seek.

Here are a few examples to get you started on oob’s problem stance:

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3693/is_200107/ai_n8979124

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3693/is_200106/ai_n8993619

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3693/is_200010/ai_n8918401

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3693/is_200004/ai_n8893256

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3693/is_200110/ai_n8980296

And for a real treat, look what effect oob has on the ground at the MWMF discussion boards. Be sure to check out dirtywhiteboi and her waxing eloquent about “trannyism.”

Addressing trans misogyny in feminism is like kicking dead whales down the beach.

@Lisa

Thanks! oob has published some real doozies, and was a fermenting point for hatred of trans women.

Call me old fashioned, but I distinctly remember something about feminism NOT being about hating on marginalized women.

Somebody correct me if I’m wrong.

Oh, Lisa, thanks for coming back to Bloglandia. You were sorely missed.

Alyssa // Posted 17 July 2008 at 6:32 pm

@ GallingGalla

What you said. To the 100th power. Because we already know that they are hardcore haters, and think hating on transwomen is cool. And will cheerily use their rep to poison the well of feminism for everybody foolish enough to buy into their hateful tripe.

And yes, it ain’t for want of trying on our part.

No matter how much Jess believs “all the good that it has done” cancels out the hateraid. Sorry, Jess… that only works if you are non trans.

@ antiprincess

Your comment nicely shows why the haters’ arguments are totally worthless. They have no logical or predictive value, and are not even internally consistent, or consistent with the feminism of the times.

Their sole value is hate speech masquerading as feminism. They serve no other purpose.

So, the question here is, as publisher of oob, will that last issue take a stand against transmisogyny? or go quietly into the night as a shitstain on the lives of the women it has hurt?

drakyn // Posted 17 July 2008 at 7:54 pm

I have to say that I am sincerely grateful to Lisa for refuting Questioning Transgender’s articles.

I know I (and other trans*folk) attempted several times over the past few years. I couldn’t get through refuting a single article.

Not because the articles are just So True, but because it seemed like every single sentence relied almost entirely on incorrect assumptions, generalizations, and completely incorrect facts. Moreover, I had a hard time not throwing up at the shear hatred and condescending tone that seemed to come off the articles in waves.

Back when I was only 16 and still questioning, I could not only tell that QT was incorrect, but a hate-site. All QT did was make me stop reading various feminist websites and caused me to have no interest in picking up any feminist books (instead I read queer and trans* history and folks like brownfemipower, so it wasn’t all that bad). Well…it also made me confused as to how my supposed “inability to deal with being a butch lesbian” led to me being the flaming gay guy I am, but I didn’t pay it much mind. I think I just boggled and went back to my weaving.

Jess McCabe // Posted 17 July 2008 at 9:48 pm

As far as taking the site down? I take it you are defending QT? If so,

then I consider you a lost cause.

Not at all, I wasn’t referring to Questioning Transgender and see above for my views on that site. Questioning Transgender seems to be a site set up for the express purpose of hate speech.

Helen G // Posted 17 July 2008 at 10:07 pm

Alyssa: Addressing trans misogyny in feminism is like kicking dead whales down the beach.

I’m probably very stupid, but for the life of me I cannot understand what this means. Please, would you mind explaining it to me?

Alyssa // Posted 17 July 2008 at 10:29 pm

@Jess,

Thanks for clarifying that…I was worried for a second there.

Trans women and Women of Color aren’t the only ones oob has hurt. oob has managed to hurt bisexual women badly, too.

Charity over at WIMNs Voices wrote:

(cross posted…I borrowed this from the site. Hope its okay, Charity.)

Cross posted from WIMN’s Voices:

Charity

July 16th, 2008 12:38 2

Wow, oob. That takes me back. I haven’t read that since the nineties. Too many biphobic screeds turned me off.

oob sure did its part to make it unpleasant to come out as a bisexual woman. As I recall, I gather we’re a bunch of twitterheaded, lying betrayers who sell out our lesbian sisters either because we are too faddish and cowardly to recognize our true desires, or because we do not have the necessary gumption to Do The Right Thing and start identifying as lesbians despite our actual orientation. Furthermore, we should all shut up and let the Kinsey-6 ladies lead us to feminist utopia, because their purity makes them better than us. Oh, oob was charming.

I actually had a brief moment of nostalgia for oob, almost enough to kick them a few bucks, but on second thought, maybe not.

Have they gotten any better about the bi- and transphobic crap, or is their outreach limited to people they haven’t published hate screeds about?

GallingGalla // Posted 18 July 2008 at 12:06 am

‘m probably very stupid, but for the life of me I cannot understand what this means. Please, would you mind explaining it to me?

Whales weigh tons and tons. It’ll take about as long for a bunch of peeps to kick a dead whale a mile down the beach as it will to convince the editors at oob to change their policies.

Alyssa // Posted 18 July 2008 at 12:54 am

Sorry, Helen,

You said:

Alyssa: Addressing trans misogyny in feminism is like kicking dead whales down the beach.

I’m probably very stupid, but for the life of me I cannot understand what this means. Please, would you mind explaining it to me?

“kicking dead whales down the beach” is just a colorful way of describing a slow, traumatic, esthetically compromised, and labor intensive process. Taken from the Jargon file at: http://www.ccil.org/jargon/

I guess this metaphor bombed… oh well.

And from your posts, you are anything but stupid.

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