Feminism in London workshop.

// 9 October 2009

I’m posting this on behalf of all the members of The F Word blog collective.

UPDATE: The Feminism in London organisers have now contacted us to clarify that the workshop is open to trans women, contrary to what we were initially told. This decision was only confirmed on Monday and it appears there has been some miscommunication as to what the policy was. Feminism in London have amended their website to confirm this, and apologised for not making it clearer earlier.

We are pleased to hear this, but do stand by our assertions that the organisers of all feminist events and groups need to ensure – from the outset – that trans women are explicitly welcome in spaces designed for women only, and that simply stating that a space is ‘women only’ is inadequate.

We recently advertised this Saturday’s Feminism in London conference on the blog. Noting that some of the workshops were advertised as ‘women only’ we contacted the organisers to ask whether this included trans women, and were informed that the workshop on rape and sexual violence would be for ‘female born women only’.

We are extremely disappointed by this decision, and felt it was important to raise our concerns publicly, both to warn trans women that Saturday’s conference is not a safe space for them given the transphobic attitudes on which this decision is based, and to challenge this kind of transphobic thinking within feminism.

There are two issues to be raised here. Firstly, excluding trans women from women-only space is no more than transphobic discrimination. The arguments against including trans women in these spaces are rooted in the belief that trans women are “really men”, and should therefore be excluded on the same grounds as cis men in order to create a “safe” space for cis women. This denies trans women’s lived experience as women. Faced with both sexism and transphobia, trans women are particularly vulnerable to violence, and excluding them from a support group denies them access to potentially valuable help in dealing with abuse. There are currently few firm statistics on violence against trans women, but at least one study found as many as 50% of trans people in the survey had been raped/sexually assaulted by a romantic partner. Yet by excluding trans women from what is meant to be a “safe” space for women, the ‘female born women only’ policy implies that trans women are the perpetrators – not the victims – of misogynist sexual violence.

The exclusion of trans women from women-only spaces creates a hierarchy amongst women, where trans women’s safety and needs are viewed as less important that cis women’s. This perpetuates the discrimination trans women suffer in all areas of our transphobic society. We strongly believe that feminists should be working to end all forms of discrimination, certainly not encouraging it in our own spaces.

The second issue to be highlighted here is that the term ‘women-only’ is in itself exclusionary. In a society where most people deny that trans women are really women, the term ‘women’ essentially defaults to ‘cis women’. Unless it is made explicit that trans women are included in feminist spaces for women – either by stating that trans women are welcome or expanding the ‘women only’ definition – trans women will have no clear idea as to whether the space in question will have an inclusive or hostile atmosphere. After all, ‘women only’ has been used by cis feminists in the past to exclude trans women while maintaining an external image of inclusiveness

This isn’t to say that having a ‘women-only’ policy is necessarily indicative of conscious anti-trans women discrimination – I can put my hand up right now and say that I’ve organised ‘women-only’ spaces in the past without considering this issue – but unconscious discrimination based on ignorance can be just as harmful as conscious discrimination, and it would take very little effort on the part of cis feminists to change our practices and ensure trans women are explicitly included in groups and events designed for all women. Trans women shouldn’t have to take a gamble with their comfort and safety every time they attend a feminist event.

We hope that the organisers of Feminism in London will rethink both their ‘female born women’ policy and their attitudes towards trans women. Changing the labels on feminist events is just the first step: as long as the attitudes that lead to the implementation of ‘female born women’ (or ‘women born women’) policies exist, trans women are not going to feel welcome in feminist spaces.

This is really sad for us as F-Word bloggers, given that members of the blogging team attended and enjoyed last year’s conference, are planning to go to this event, and support the idea and organisation of a feminist conference like this in London. Members of this collective are also longstanding members of the London Feminist Network which has organised the event. This isn’t a case of talking from outside in, or trying to undermine anyone else’s hard work organising such a big event, but urging members of our own feminist community in London to make sure that the landmark feminist activist conference in the capital is an inclusive and safer space for everyone.

This is the kind of thing which has held back the success of women’s liberation movements and feminist movements for years; we don’t want that to happen again, we want to be able to move forward and have forums like Feminism in London to talk and address the crucial issues which will be raised at the event.

Comments From You

Feminist Avatar // Posted 9 October 2009 at 11:17 am

If this event is ‘publicly’ advertised and not a private members event (which it appears to be), this is probably also illegal.

saranga // Posted 9 October 2009 at 11:44 am

Well said Laura. Trans women live as women and suffer the same discrimination as female born women, (in addition to discrimination specifically regarding their trans status), so should not be excluded from women only spaces.

Laura // Posted 9 October 2009 at 11:59 am

Thanks, saranga. Just a note that the term ‘female born women’ is problematic in that it implies trans women were not female at birth (so centring the gender they were assigned according to their sexed body rather than the gender they self identify as). The term ‘female assigned at birth’ (FAAB) is therefore generally preferable to ‘female born woman’.

gadgetgal // Posted 9 October 2009 at 12:02 pm

I gotta say I’m not a big fan of just not including certain people anyway because of gender – I can understand why some women might feel more hesitant in telling their stories if, for whatever reason, they don’t feel safe enough to do so, but if the entire conference is geared towards hearing them sympathetically then I would have thought that making it open to everyone would be better – you might even be able to enlighten some cis men in the process rather than banning them!

Don’t know how many of the contributors to this site are based in London (I’m not, so no help here) but maybe another event should be organised that’s open to everyone? It’s not as difficult as you might think once the space is hired and the speakers are booked, and I’m sure there would be a lot of people (even some from the Feminism in London conference) who would be happy to speak.

saranga // Posted 9 October 2009 at 12:18 pm

Good point Laura. I shall remember that in future.

Anna Fisher // Posted 9 October 2009 at 2:57 pm

I am replying on behalf of the Feminism in London organising committee to say that this is simply not true. All women, whether female born or trans, are welcome in the Rape and Sexual Violence workshop.

Laura // Posted 9 October 2009 at 3:10 pm

Thanks for that, Anna. It’s not what we have been told.

(We will follow this up with Anna and the FiL organisers.)

Olivia Bailey // Posted 9 October 2009 at 3:38 pm

Just had an email from feminism in london confirming that the workshop will be open to all self defining women.

Kirstente // Posted 9 October 2009 at 3:38 pm

Anna – It’s not just about whether all women are welcome, but about whether they *feel* welcome. And considering the history of transphobia among feminists, the burden is on feminists to make it explicitly clear that trans people are welcome. They have damn good reason to be sceptical. And it is unreasonable to expect people to turn out to an event that they may or may not get turned away from.

eleanargh // Posted 9 October 2009 at 3:52 pm

Thanks for writing this Laura, whether it turns out the workshop is trans-inclusive or not I’m glad you posted it.

I wonder if anyone knows if this year’s Reclaim The Night march is trans women-friendly? My trade union supports RtN financially and I want to know if it’s supporting an event that doesn’t have a transparently trans inclusive policy.

Laura // Posted 9 October 2009 at 4:29 pm

Update (I’ve also posted this at the top of the post):

The Feminism in London organisers have now contacted us to clarify that the workshop is open to trans women, contrary to what we were initially told. This decision was only confirmed on Monday and it appears there has been some miscommunication as to what the policy was. Feminism in London have amended their website to confirm this, and apologised for not making it clearer earlier.

We are pleased to hear this, but do stand by our assertions that the organisers of all feminist events and groups need to ensure – from the outset – that trans women are explicitly welcome in spaces designed for women only, and that simply stating that a space is ‘women only’ is inadequate.

Marika // Posted 9 October 2009 at 5:02 pm

As a woman survivor of sexual violence, i would feel neither safe nor comfortable attending a workshop on this subject with participants who had a male body / were brought up as male. Where is the safe space for me?

Andrea Rocks // Posted 9 October 2009 at 5:04 pm

I wonder if there is any safe space in the world for women who were catagorised female at birth and who identify as women? Are they not allowed a name and a movement? Why is EVERYTHING seen as an either/or? Are there not enough human rights to go round? Why this zero-sum approach to human rights? Finally, I believe that the workshop in question was actually with a focus on child sexual abuse – of girls. Do people who identify as women, and who were catagorised female at birth, with experience of being sexually abused as a female child, not have a right to get together with others who share that experience and talk about it in a safe space? Are all FTM or MTF ‘buddy’ groups open to people who don’t identify as Transexual – many of whom are also struggling to ‘be’ the gender they identify as; as indeed are most humans? If it is fair for Transexual people to form groups and create a safe space with others who share similar experiences, why can’t self-identified women who were born female do the same in some circumstances? And why is the self-organisation of oppressed groups seen as a DIVISIVE thing, when it is just one tool in the revolutionary process and is not in exclusion of other ways of organising politically? And regarding the law, perhaps any women’s protest or conference is illegal, as it hasn’t acquired exemption under the SDA, what does that say about society?

Kath // Posted 9 October 2009 at 6:01 pm

@Feminist Avatar

I don’t think anti-discrimination law covers sexual violence workshops: only education, employment, goods and services. That’s why men are able to be excluded (it’s only the one workshop that is women-only, men are welcome to the rest of the event).

Marika // Posted 9 October 2009 at 8:01 pm

gadgetgal – your post totally misses the point about women-only space, and fails to recognise the right for any disadvantaged and oppressed group to organise separately. If the women’s movement had involved men at every stage we wouldn’t have got very far! Women-only space is a vital part of feminist organising – the great achievements of our movement can be traced back to women organising collectively together, even if men were brought on board at later stages in some campaigns.

Lucy // Posted 10 October 2009 at 12:39 am

It is good that Feminism in London is now clear about being open to trans women (even if they do use the hideous “transwomen”), although considering the event is tomorrow it likely means most trans women have already decided whether to chance going or not and will not see the update and apology.

Then of course this the question of whether this means trans women are also welcome in the London Feminist Network itself. And, is the upcoming Reclaim The Night march also trans women-inclusive?

polly // Posted 10 October 2009 at 8:37 am

Gadgetgal, men are allowed to attend the event. It is only certain workshops that are women only.

Laura // Posted 10 October 2009 at 2:49 pm

Hi Marika,

Clearly you shouldn’t go somewhere you don’t feel comfortable, and your sense of safety is paramount. However, feeling fear from a trans woman because you read them as male is a result of being socialised within a society that teaches us that trans women aren’t really women and are as much a potential threat as men. In reality, they are women, they experience life as women, they suffer the same discrimination as cis women and they are not – nor have they ever been – men, despite being treated as such (in most cases) when they were children.

Excluding trans women from a women-only group on the basis of cis women’s prejudice against them is discriminatory and unfairly prioritises the needs of cis women over trans women. If a trans women were to attend a sexual violence workshop, she would be doing so to get support or to try and support others, and therefore represents no more of a threat than any other woman.

I think it should also be recognised that no women-only space can be guaranteed to provide a comfortable atmosphere for all involved. Some participants may have been abused by other women, some may have other prejudices or issues which make it hard -rightly or wrongly – for them to feel comfortable or “safe” with certain women. The important thing is that the support and help is equally available to all.

Laura // Posted 10 October 2009 at 3:15 pm

Hi Andrea Rocks,

I agree that the self-organisation of oppressed groups is a positive and necessary thing, and fully support spaces for all self-identified women where we can work through issues and plan actions free of the influence of men. They key point here, however, is that these spaces are designed to free the oppressed from the oppressor. Cis women-only space could only be justified if cis women were systematically oppressed by trans women. They are not. (Although trans women do suffer oppression from cis people, and a trans women only group would therefore be justifiable.) As I said in the post, any argument against including trans women in women-only space must therefore be based on the transphobic belief that trans women are really men, the oppressors who need to be excluded from space designed for the oppressed group. This is simply incorrect.

On the subject of childhood sexual abuse, a trans woman who was abused as a child would have experience that abuse as a female, regardless of the abuser or anyone else’s view of her gender. This aside, I absolutely fail to see what harm could possibly come from such a woman taking part in the workshop. Surely every woman will have a different story to tell and different issues to deal with, whether they are cis or trans? Your talk of a ‘safe space for women who were categorised female at birth’ implies that you see trans women as a threat to cis women, but (as I said in reply to Marika) there is no reason why trans women should pose any more of a threat than any of the other participants.

polly // Posted 10 October 2009 at 5:56 pm

@Kath – the definition of “facilities, goods and services”in the sex discrimination act is quite broad, and includes voluntary groups – not just commercial services. The legal position WRT excluding men would be different to the legal position of trans women who have undergone gender reassignment, who are legally women. You could say that excluding one sex (men) was in sympathy with the objects of the group – which is a legal exception – but wouldn’t apply to trans women who have undergone gender reassignment as they are legally women.

Feminist Avatar’s point is arguable, and it would be difficult to say whether she’s right or not – there’s no case law as far as I know applying to events of this type, but she was basically saying that as the event is public, rather than private, it counts as a facility or service, rather than a private event where people are invited.

polly // Posted 10 October 2009 at 6:34 pm

“”On the subject of childhood sexual abuse, a trans woman who was abused as a child would have experience that abuse as a female, regardless of the abuser or anyone else’s view of her gender.””

I find this statement quite odd, Laura. Having experienced childhood sexual abuse myself, I don’t think I experienced it as “a female”. I experienced it as a child. I can only speak for myself of course, but I think that males who are sexually abused as children probably have similar feelings/experiences to females as far as the abuse itself goes. And I, for one, think the sexual abuse of male children is every bit as serious and horrifying as the sexual abuse of female children.

The difference for females is that they are more likely to be sexually abused than males, and that females, including female children, are sexually objectified generally by society in a way males are not. So females who are abused as children will probably tie that in with their objectification as females in a way males wouldn’t.

BUT the key to this objectification by society at large is whether that person is perceived by the outside world as male or female, not their perception of themselves. A child who presents as female will have very different life experiences generally from a child who presents as male. Even if males experience repeated incidents of abuse, they are not sexualised generally in the way females are.

Daniela Vincenti // Posted 10 October 2009 at 6:56 pm

Dear gadgetgal and Marika,

I think both of you make valid points and my view on women only spaces is that we need to get the balance right. There will always be areas in which women are more comfortable when discussing issues on their own, and reminiscing experiences of sexual violence is a case in point. Similarly, the existence of a men-only self help group for erectile dysfunction would be justified as it would help men to explore there problems without unnecessary embarassment.

However, if we feminists want to make progress in other areas we need to enfranchise more men as no consensus on any change can be achieved if half the population is alienated a priori.

All in all Feminism in London seems to have got the balance right as men are welcomed in many workshops but asked to keep out of the more delicate ones where women need more “privacy” to deal with personal issues.

I agree with Laura that trans women should not be excluded. Apart from all the good arguments that she makes I would add that they are usually numerically a small minority which makes it unlikely that they would make cis-women uncomfortable.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 10 October 2009 at 8:56 pm

Recently, an English court decided that a group which provided holidays for lesbians, but excluded transsexual woman, was discriminatory and hence behaving illegally. This was not a formal organisation, rather a voluntary group that allowed lesbians to holiday together- but it did advertise publically and all lesbians who were cis-women could participate. I would argue, although as Polly says there is no direct precedent, that this would be used as precedent if such a case was to go to court, and based on this, the organisers would lose.

Kath // Posted 10 October 2009 at 9:54 pm

Laura, Marika didn’t say she fears trans women but that she wouldn’t feel comfortable discussing sexual violence with someone who was brought up male – something we can’t deny about trans women. You say trans women have never been men, but this is not the experience of all trans women. Below is a quote from Rachael Padman, an Autralian-born trans woman who is an academic physicist at Cambridge University.

“No matter how empathetic one is when one transitions, no matter what trials one has had to that point, one certainly hasn’t been born and brought up as a woman. Whatever the truth about “brain sex”, we will always have that difference, and I think that calls for a certain realism and a certain humility.

By way of analogy, I note that I have now lived in the UK in total for well over half my life. I work, vote and pay taxes here, and am politically aware, in a way that I am not about Australia these days. In fact, I am just about getting to the point that I can say “we” rather than “you” when talking to other Brits about national politics. But some things that are deeply ingrained in the British political consciousness date from before the time I lived here, and it’s simply wrong to pretend otherwise. I can, however, and do, rejoice in my own Australian experiences. In fact, those differences in upbringing are part of what makes me interesting to my friends. Something similar would seem to apply to us — often privileged, I think — “gender immigrants”.”

Kath // Posted 10 October 2009 at 10:15 pm

@polly

You could well be right about it being considered a service. And definitely right about the reason it can be women only :) Whether someone could exclude trans women on the same grounds would depend on whether or not they could argue the need for a safe space for cis women as Marika and Andrea Rocks have.

gadgeetgal // Posted 11 October 2009 at 2:00 pm

Hi again – I have to take issue with this entire posting as everyone here seems to want to have it both ways. I’m one of those people who was laughing along with everyone else that the BNP may now have to accept people other than white British because it’s discriminatory and possibly illegal, but the same has to be said for any group that excludes anyone based on race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. etc., and I’m afraid you can’t pick and choose who qualifies and who doesn’t based upon whether YOU think it’s a good idea or not.

And Laura, even though I agree with you that trans women ARE women and should be included as such, I very much take issue with your argument: “Cis women-only space could only be justified if cis women were systematically oppressed by trans women. They are not.” No, they are generally not oppressed by trans women; they are, however, systematically oppressed by cis men, which, by your own argument, then justifies them forming their own support group that includes/excludes anyone they like. As I said, you can’t have it one way for one group and another way for everyone else based upon how worthy you believe them to be – either everyone has the right to form a club with whatever restrictions they like or they aren’t, and as you seem to think it’s ok in some circumstances then you can’t really start arguing against it because someone else has formed a group you don’t like. It’s their right as much as it is yours.

Personally I think no one should be allowed to discriminate against anyone, and, uncomfortable as it may make some people, if it’s a public meeting like this everyone should have the right to join or attend. As you said yourself, no women-only space is going to be 100% comfortable for everyone anyway, so why have them? We’ve been fighting for years to be included in male-only spaces, what then gives us the right to turn around and do the same again to them or anyone else?

Laura // Posted 11 October 2009 at 2:35 pm

Kath,

Clearly all trans women have different experiences. But the nature of trans women’s gender identity and their life experiences is not the issue here and, in line with our statement on transphobia and cissexism, is not something that we at The F Word feel should be being discussed in a cis-dominated forum. Rather than going down this road, perhaps someone could actually make it clear what terrible thing they think is going to happen if a trans woman survivor of sexual abuse joins an all-women support group. Because thus far all I’m seeing are demands that cis women need ‘safe’ space, implying that trans women would make this space ‘unsafe’, the unsaid justification apparently being that trans women are really men.

Laura // Posted 11 October 2009 at 2:43 pm

gadgetgirl,

And Laura, even though I agree with you that trans women ARE women and should be included as such, I very much take issue with your argument: “Cis women-only space could only be justified if cis women were systematically oppressed by trans women. They are not.” No, they are generally not oppressed by trans women; they are, however, systematically oppressed by cis men, which, by your own argument, then justifies them forming their own support group that includes/excludes anyone they like.

My argument justifies the formation of all-women groups (including trans women) which exclude all men (including cis men). I think this is both fair and necessary for a whole range of reasons, one of the main ones being that men often dominate public space, discourse and decision-making due to their socialisation and male privilege gained from living in a male-dominated society. Removing this influence from spaces designed to support women and enable us to organise to fight for our rights has been essential to the women’s movement from day one. I think it is still necessary, and men who are sympathetic to feminism will understand that. Women-only space doesn’t prevent us engaging with men or men working to support women’s rights, it’s just another aspect of feminist organising.

Laura // Posted 11 October 2009 at 2:50 pm

Polly,

I meant the trans woman would experience it as a female child.

The points you make about the difference in abuse of female and male children may well be true, but I don’t think they justify excluding trans women from the workshop, which is the topic of the original post.

Lynne Miles // Posted 11 October 2009 at 3:07 pm

Couldn’t agree more with Laura on cis women not needing a space that is safe from trans women, whilst being justified in forming spaces that are safe from cis men. Whilst I’m pleased that FiL recognised the need to clarify their position on the women-only workshops, I agree that feminist organisers need to be aware the inadequacy of the term women-only if what they intend is to be inclusive of all-women-including-cis-women. And I continue to insist that organising a FAAB women-only event is transphobic, exclusionary, and not what I want from any feminist events that I want to be a part of. I totally understand that ‘leaving out’ trans women often happens by oversight rather than malicious intent (and I have certainly been as guilty of it in the past as anyone) but I think it’s something that, as cis feminists, we need to be conscious of. We need to recognise when we haven’t done well, we need to be humble when it’s pointed out to us, and we need to try damned hard to be aware of our own privilege and be better in the future.

Pattie // Posted 11 October 2009 at 4:42 pm

“…we need to be humble when it’s pointed out to us..”

Indeedy.

Laura and Lynne, did you actually read the quote from Rachael Padman which Kath included in her post?

The fact that so many people seem so opposed to cis-woman only spaces (when they’re not opposed to any other “only” spaces) is telling me something. And it’s not something I like to hear. Especially on a so-called feminist website. Sorry. But.

Kath // Posted 11 October 2009 at 7:46 pm

@Laura

I am not calling for cis-women-only spaces. I am simply pointing out inconsistencies in your replies to other people. I suppose their justification for such spaces is not that trans women are really men but that they were men. Something you dispute but that some trans women do not. Is it the case that you are allowed to discuss trans women’s life experiences but other readers are not?

Personally my POV would be that if the workshop is aimed at survivors of sexual violence it should be open to all women who have experienced sexual violence *as a woman* (including trans women), although in fact I do not believe it is restricted to survivors, in which case it should be open to all women.

Kath // Posted 11 October 2009 at 7:49 pm

@Feminist Avatar

You may well be right about the legal implications (my first comment may be wrong). I wrote a reply to polly saying she may well be right in her reply to me, but it hasn’t been posted.

Holly Combe // Posted 11 October 2009 at 8:09 pm

I agree with Laura that it’s unclear what terrible thing people think is going to happen if a trans woman survivor of sexual abuse joins an all-women support group. Both trans and cis women suffer abuse and and both cis and trans women bear the brunt of misogyny. To then leave trans women at increased risk because of refused access to women’s spaces is completely unjust.

I think another problem with leaving out an explicit welcoming of trans women at a women-only event (even as an oversight) is that it means possibly only the thickest skinned, most optimistic and resilient trans women would even attempt to attend. As Lynne says, it’s easy to end up doing such a thing without any malicious intent. The trouble is that more intentional cissexism is something trans people put up with every day. This therefore surely means it can come to be expected and that a trans woman could easily read a “women-only” stipulation to basically be saying “come if you must but don’t push us” to her. It seems to me that, just like any other form of so-called “tolerance”, such a message serves to maintain the supremacy of one group over another.

Laurelin // Posted 11 October 2009 at 8:16 pm

There was absolutely nothing on the Feminism 2009 website to suggest that transwomen were not welcome. This is an assumption that has been made with zero evidence, and thus instead of concentrating on the very important discussion on sexual violence against women that went on on Saturday, instead we are sent on a wild goosechase over nothing. Instead of discussing the very real issues facing women in the world today, like the rape industry and the plight of mothers in poverty, we are stressing over the possible non-inclusion of a small minority of people. Whatever anyone’s views on transpeople and the issues surrounding trans, to have blown this- based on NO evidence and on blatant assumptions- out of all proportion is unacceptable and downright insulting to the survivors of sexual violence who spoke at the event.

I earnestly appeal to you at the F-Word to check your priorities. As has been noted, sexual violence affects all women.

And before anyone asks, London RTN is also trans-inclusive. Either that or the ‘Transwomen against violence against women’ banner was held up by an FAB woman desperate to usurp the voices of transwomen.

Lynne Miles // Posted 11 October 2009 at 9:47 pm

@Laurelin – I really want to come back at a number of your points you have made:

There was absolutely nothing on the Feminism 2009 website to suggest that transwomen were not welcome […] Instead of discussing the very real issues facing women in the world today, like the rape industry and the plight of mothers in poverty, we are stressing over the possible non-inclusion of a small minority of people.

To me, these come from a clear position of cis privilege. We have stated repeatedly that it’s well-documented that whilst cis women may be able to blithely assume that ‘women only’ means ‘all self-defined women’, trans women do not have that luxury. Not least because, when you dig a little deeper under ‘women only’ as we have in this post, plenty of people pipe up with “well, actually, this one category of woman isn’t actually welcome in our women-only space”. Why would people continue to maintain that saying ‘women only’ is good enough when all the evidence points to the contrary?

Also, you assert that rape and poverty are “real” issues facing women today, but that just exposes your own privilege in being able to assume that transphobia isn’t a “real” issue, presumably because you don’t personally come up against it, or identify with it. I’d hazard a guess that if you had to spend every day of your life walking into spaces where you’re the only person in the room who has to constantly wonder if they’re welcome, or only ever be a few seconds away from someone making cruel and snide comments, or undermining your identity (rather like the one you made that I’ve edited out of your post) then you would think it was a pretty “real” issue too.

This is an assumption that has been made with zero evidence, and thus instead of concentrating on the very important discussion on sexual violence against women that went on on Saturday, instead we are sent on a wild goosechase over nothing […] to have blown this- based on NO evidence and on blatant assumptions- out of all proportion is unacceptable and downright insulting to the survivors of sexual violence who spoke at the event.

Actually, you’re wrong. We sent an email to one of the event organisers, asking them to clarify the position. They initially said that ‘women only’ meant that trans-women were welcome, and then subsequently emailed back to say that some members of the email list had suggested that trans women would not be welcome at the sexual violence event, although they would be welcome at the rest of the conference. We wrote back as a collective to express our concerns about this, and said we felt that if that were their position we would have to post about it. We then gave them a couple of days to respond before we posted the piece, and heard nothing. It was only after we posted this piece that a different member of the collective commented here to say that we were incorrect. We then corresponded off-list to clarify what had happened and, as soon as we had confirmation, we posted a correction. Notwithstanding the last minute clarifcation, which we welcome, we believe that major feminist events such as FiL (and RTN, and Million Women Rise, and Ladyfests …) need to start being explicit about including trans women, and that means not assuming that saying ‘women only’ is sufficient to do so. As Kirstente said right near the top of this thread, given the history of transphobia amongst feminists (and, I would argue, the current transphobia) the burden is on cis feminists to build bridges and be absolutely explicit that trans women are welcome. Because a quick glance at this thread, if I were a trans woman, would be quite enough to convince me that I wasn’t.

Finally …

Whatever anyone’s views on transpeople […]

I think it’s quite important that there’s a space in ‘transpeople’. Using the term as a single word is dehumanising and othering.

Kath // Posted 11 October 2009 at 10:25 pm

“I think it’s quite important that there’s a space in ‘transpeople’. Using the term as a single word is dehumanising and othering.”

That is not a view held by all trans people.

Laurelin // Posted 12 October 2009 at 9:25 am

Yep, FAB privilege: the rape industry and motherhood in dire poverty. Oh lucky lucky us!

You tell the women on the panel of the prostitution talk that they had privilege as FAB women!

And btw- the rape industry affects transwomen as well. As a blogger said in a blog that has now been deleted: ‘sex work is transphobic’.

Laura // Posted 12 October 2009 at 9:40 am

Laurelin,

Having privilege as a cis person does not mean one lives a life full of all kinds of privilege or free from oppression, violence and discrimination. It just means that cis people don’t have to deal with some of the forms of oppression and discrimination that trans people do. And, yes, the sex industry can have a negative impact on trans women (though I don’t think that means all sex work is transphobic), but I don’t see what that has to do with the issue at hand.

Laurelin // Posted 12 October 2009 at 10:02 am

I’d like to add a clarifying note: All hot-tempered comments here are to be taken as mine and mine alone.

If people dislike me and my views, that’s fine, but please don’t let your feelings about me influence what you make of the women of whom I have spoken. I am worried that my voice may be taken for theirs- it is not. My voice is my bad-tempered own.

Please listen to them. Their stories.

Thank you.

Ellie // Posted 12 October 2009 at 11:04 am

Laurelin:

“This is an assumption that has been made with zero evidence, and thus instead of concentrating on the very important discussion on sexual violence against women that went on on Saturday, instead we are sent on a wild goosechase over nothing.”

I understand that it can be frustating to be, to put it bluntly, suspected of transphobia when you actually have no problem with including trans women. The thing is, even if it’s clear to you, it isn’t necessarily to either trans women (who, for a large part, have directly experienced or at least have heard of exclusion of trans women from such spaces) or to some cis women who might be agressive to the trans woman who happen to want to come (I think there can be discussion about trans inclusion, but when it is about a specific individual it can only be very violent for her (and actually not only for her))

So it’s pretty cool to see that the policy is clear now, and while it indeeds primarily concerns a minority of people I think it was actually important.

Concerning cis women-only spaces, personally, I am not strongly against them, as long as they don’t pretend to be for all women and that their purpose is really talking about cis women issues, and not as a way to exclude trans women.

Laura // Posted 12 October 2009 at 11:12 am

Hi Ellie,

Concerning cis women-only spaces, personally, I am not strongly against them, as long as they don’t pretend to be for all women and that their purpose is really talking about cis women issues, and not as a way to exclude trans women.

Aside from discussing cis privilege I’m not sure what ‘cis women issues’ there could be to discuss. I guess something like pregnancy, which trans women do not experience, would be discussed in a group of cis women only, but there would be no need to label that group as ‘cis women only’ when it could just be labelled as being for mothers / pregnant women etc and so avoid the exclusionary tone.

gadgetgal // Posted 12 October 2009 at 11:23 am

I was going to link to the wiki entry on trans woman terminology which gives a pretty decent explanation of the issues surrounding the terminology until I noticed the entry itself was called “transwoman”!!!!!!

For my two pennies worth it just makes sense to have the two words rather than the one because the noun in any case is “woman” while the “cis” or “trans” is a qualifying adjective, i.e. something to describe the type of woman. As Laura pointed out you’d never say lesbianwoman or blackwoman (or, in my case, shortwoman)!

I have to say I hope the conference went well – I know there was some confusion and much debate here but with the clarification that was issued it would be a shame if people didn’t go because of it, since it turns out it was just poor communication rather than anything malicious.

Lucy // Posted 12 October 2009 at 1:14 pm

Laura,

Actually, “mothers” could well include trans women who might have step-children, for instance. While “pregnant women” would not include trans women, “nursing women” could as it is possible for trans women to induce lactation. Frankly, I don’t like the drift of your comment or of Ellie’s last point. It’s cis women theorising (again) as though trans women are a problem to be solved, not women to be consulted about actual situations. How about instead of trying to think of when it’s okay to exclude us, you do that practically unheard of thing in feminism of including us in the conversation? I know TFW is still working on its cissexism and transphobia and just point out that this would be a good example.

Laura // Posted 12 October 2009 at 2:04 pm

Sorry, Lucy, I realise trans women can be mothers, I obviously wrote that response a little too quickly (I was initially just going to write ‘for pregnant women’, then realised that women who aren’t currently pregnant but have been pregnant might be included, so I wrote ‘mothers’ without thinking through the implications of that). I was trying to point out that there is no reason for excluding trans women, and that women’s groups which people could potentially point to and say ‘that could only be for cis women any way’ (to justify the existence of cis-only spaces) are that way for reasons other than a transphobic decision to exclude trans women (i.e because the group is on an issue that only affects cis women though, as I said, I can’t think of many issues other than pregnancy). My thinking was aimed at challenging potential transphobic responses to The F Word’s stated position that trans women should not be excluded from all women spaces. I apologise for not making that clear enough, I hope I have done now.

That aside, I agree it is inappropriate for cis women to be having this kind of conversation and won’t publish any further comments on this particular issue.

Thanks for bringing this up.

I also apologise if it seems like I’m trying to speak on trans women’s behalf, that’s not my intention. I feel I have a responsibility (as well as the desire) to respond to problematic comments in order to try and raise awareness and make TFW less hostile to trans people, and it can be a fine line between trying to defend trans women’s rights and The F Word’s position and unintentionally speaking in trans people’s place. I appreciate trans readers and allies bearing with me while I work on that.

kristin // Posted 12 October 2009 at 2:47 pm

Laura,

No one has the right to dictate to anyone else that it’s “inappropriate” for them (and that said as if it’s a fact rather than their personal opinion) to be having any kind of conversation with anyone. If you look back through history, that’s always proved a very dodgy road to go down.

For that reason I won’t be reading or posting any more comments on TFW, or singing its praises to people the way I did. Okay, picture you giving a toss. That’s fine. I just wanted to say it.

Laura // Posted 12 October 2009 at 2:55 pm

@ Kristin,

I’m a moderator in a specific forum that has made a commitment to making this space as open to trans women as cis women, having recognised that this has not always been the case. In that context I do actually have the right to decide what is and is not inappropriate. The same obviously applies to threads on other topics as well: we do have a comments policy, after all.

What people decide to say in their own spaces is up to them.

Holly Combe // Posted 12 October 2009 at 3:15 pm

Kristin, I disagree that using the words “I agree it’s inappropriate” is saying something as if it’s a fact. As Laura says, it’s the opinion of a moderator in a specific forum.

Lynne Miles // Posted 12 October 2009 at 4:04 pm

@Laurelin: I don’t for a moment think that issues of prostitution and rape are not serious issues to be faced. I’m saying you’re just brushing transphobia off as something we can and should conveniently ignore in order that we can talk about these other (implicitly) ‘more important’ issues. And I’m saying that is wrong because, unlike rape or poverty, cis women can’t really conceive of situations in which we could be affected by it,or how it can be manifested in more subtle ways than direct exclusion.

I’m more than aware that rape (and indeed everything else discussed at FiL) can affect transwomen too. That’s why we’re saying transwomen need to be explicitly included because they have to deal with transphobic attitudes on top of all of those other issues.

Rachel // Posted 13 October 2009 at 12:29 am

Ok – indulge me while I come at this conversation from a different angle. Why are feminist conferences happening at which men are welcome? Why is it no longer fashionable for women to organise for our liberation in an autonomous way?

I find it ridiculous that after a lifetime of feminism I’m now faced with a situation where women at a women’s liberation event can just about scuttle off to discuss ‘special’ lady topics that are ‘personal’ or ‘sensitive’. [wait for it, I’ll come on to trans exclusion in a second]. Women’s liberation needs to be fierce, loyal and address the totality of women’s lives or we are going to keep sliding down our current backlash into liberal obscurity.

Ok – so the issue of trans exclusion, lets face it, there are huge, raw, gaping wounds between many groups of feminist women – about class, about race, about lack of sisterhood and trashing. We have not always been clever or wise about what divides us and we are forever taking our eyes of the prize.

I understand that trans liberation is a ‘hot’ issue because ‘trans’ women have more recently begun to build allies and move things forward in feminism than say ‘lesbians’ [the quotes are so women realise I’m not so stupid as to think these are mutually exclusive categories]. That’s our herstory and we’re stuck with it… however I strongly suspect some of my co-feminists of only being able to wave one flag at a time. I strongly suspect some of my cis co-feminists just wave the trans flag to try and stake out territory for their kind of feminism [and don’t really talk all that often to actual trans women]. We had all that kind of behaviour in the sex-wars – haven’t we learned anything?

Make the whole event women only [and be oldskool about even caring if it’s ‘illegal’] and let’s get on with the liberation of trans and cis women together.

Laura // Posted 13 October 2009 at 11:28 am

Rachel,

I’m not really sure what you mean here:

I strongly suspect some of my cis co-feminists just wave the trans flag to try and stake out territory for their kind of feminism [and don’t really talk all that often to actual trans women].

I think in some cases there is a correlation between the kinds of feminisms one identifies with and one’s attitude to trans people, but I think that’s a result of the person in question’s beliefs and way of viewing women’s liberation than any kind of cynical attempt to co-opt trans rights in order to gain support for their kind of feminism. As far as TFW is concerned, one of the members of our collective is trans and we have consulted with other trans women and read work by numerous trans women in our efforts to try and make TFW more open to trans people.

Ellie // Posted 13 October 2009 at 1:18 pm

Lucy:

“Frankly, I don’t like the drift of your comment or of Ellie’s last point. It’s cis women theorising (again) as though trans women are a problem to be solved, not women to be consulted about actual situations.”

Laura Woodhouse:

“That aside, I agree it is inappropriate for cis women to be having this kind of conversation”

Well, I’m really sorry to have put a conversation that was inappropriate in this subject, I didn’t realize it but it’s true that it’s off-topic.

This being said, I find it a bit… frustrating… to get labelled “cis” based on… what ? a disagreement ? I mean, I say I am not strongly against a cis-women space, and suddenly that’s considering trans women are a problem and turning me cis? I understand that it’s a touchy subject and that there is a long history of transphobia among those discussions, yet I think there can be some nuances..

Laura // Posted 13 October 2009 at 1:35 pm

Sorry, Ellie, I shouldn’t have just assumed you were cis.

Lucy // Posted 13 October 2009 at 8:38 pm

Ellie,

Sorry for seeming to imply you are cis. That was sloppy writing and bad comment self-editing on my part. Yes, there can be a nuanced conversation on these issues, but I find that when not dealing with any actual situations there are no nuances; all the discussions I’ve seen are both theoretical and based on when it’s okay to exclude trans women. What other group of women is discussed from the perspective of when it’s okay to exclude them and not how to better include them? (Perhaps sex workers who reject being cast as prostituted women?) Other women who are excluded are excluded by lack of actions (eg, disabled women and mothers by lack of accommodations for disabilities and children respectively) not by discussions of the circumstances upon which they can be excluded. Yet, for trans women, this is how the issue is cast. Why would this be? I answer it’s transphobia, pure and simple.

Obviously trans women can and do disagree on this matter and it does not suddenly make a trans woman cis to disagree with other trans women. Again, I apologise for making it seem as though that was what I was doing.

Rachel // Posted 16 October 2009 at 9:28 pm

Hi Laura [and all]… My comments about ‘flag waving’ largely come from real life situations rather than online forums and my knowledge of Fword discussions is limited.

I have found that self identified cis feminists have come to forums and told other cis[?] women they were excluding trans women as, for example, they couldn’t ‘see’ any trans women to be there. Or have brought up trans-exclusion in a way that led me to believe it was the only issue of exclusion worth their notice.

I have found this to be a method of ‘generational’ oneupwomanship that was based on a lot of assumptions about what different ‘waves’ of feminist believed [often after having read a book written by someone who had read some papers about what someone else had written about…you get my drift]

My personal experiences is that humans often find comfort in easy categorisations of which ‘camp’ people are in – and that feminists are no exception. From my vantage point in Yorkshire I look down to London and see the ‘trans wars’ breaking feminists into camps and stopping dialogue and coalition.

Also, in reply to other points in this forum, I don’t think transphobia is entirely analogous to racism for example. I don’t think cis woman are simply in the oppressor role in relation to trans women. I think there must be room to explore the difference between women who were raised male and women who were raised female – and without it being implied that to be raised female and become a woman is a privilege per se.

There also needs to be room to discuss how women feel when they have been comrades in women’s liberation and then some of us became men.

I don’t think it is expressing the full truth to bluntly say women raised as boys were ‘always’ female and experienced the world as ‘female’ [“but worse”].

When I was first a feminist it was popular for dykes to speak of only ever having been queer and to have experienced the world as such – however this did not fully express our truths and became a ‘purity law’ that drove women apart.

Laura // Posted 19 October 2009 at 2:56 pm

@ Rachel:

From my vantage point in Yorkshire I look down to London and see the ‘trans wars’ breaking feminists into camps and stopping dialogue and coalition.

The implication there (whether intended or not) is that we should stop ‘arguing’ about trans exclusion and just all get on with whatever it is we are supposed to be doing. That completely marginalises a whole group of women and frames them as a hindrance to progress, which I find offensive and unhelpful. For us at The F Word, ensuring trans women are included within feminism is a form of activism and progress, and if others decided they didn’t want to dialogue or work with us because of it (which, I should point out, has not happened to our knowledge) that would be unfortunate, but a reflection of the individuals’ own prejudices rather than evidence that we are trying to make feminist progress difficult. We brought up the issue of trans exclusion with a view to improving and widening access to feminist groups and forums which we believe are important and wish to support, not as a means of ‘attacking’ or hindering these groups or events.

Rachel // Posted 20 October 2009 at 10:16 pm

@Laura – I’m not trying to speak of trans inclusion as a hinderance to progress. I am trying to point out that feminism has repeatedly fallen into ‘wars’ about specific issues that have meant more attention has been about inwardly trashing each other than in external change.

I don’t know if it is possible to do differently – I am undecided whether direct confrontation brings more change than dialogue and coalition. at different times I have supported both.

as one example… I personally have been a long time anti-porn activist… but as my main ‘war’ is with the mainstream multinational porn industry I have managed to count among my friends and comrades women who make DIY porn, have worked in co-op brothels or do SM – we have found common ground (sometimes).

I am particularly concerned that trans inclusion has been interpreted as ‘all gender space’ feminism. I think people have found it easier to stop having women only space rather than deal with trans women’s inclusion in that space.

I think a large amount of feminist organising still need the visceral experience of autonomous women’s space.

terese // Posted 14 November 2009 at 1:31 pm

Hi Laura,

Have the F-word bloggers been in contact with LFN on this issue regarding Reclaim the Night London? I emailed them a couple of weeks ago and have not had a reply, and their website again does not clarify beyond ‘women only’…. Which makes their 11th hour apology and clarification regarding the conference workshop seem insincere – if they realised they’d made a mistake, surely the common sense reaction would be to clarify what ‘women only’ meant for any future events they organise as well?

Would be good if the F-word could raise this issue again ahead of the march next week, as you seem to have some clout in getting them to respond.

Have just read Helen’s post about the murder of Destiny Lauren…. puts this exclusion of trans women into perspective doesn’t it?

Laura // Posted 16 November 2009 at 1:28 pm

Hi Terese – I should have a blog post up on that tonight.

coldharbour // Posted 1 December 2009 at 11:53 am

“There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender… identity is performatively constituted by the very ‘expressions’ that are said to be its results.’

Judith Butler

I think this debate highlights the singular most important maxim in the the true gender equality movement: everyone has the right to socio-cultural self-definition regardless of biological sex/ethnic lineage/sexual orientation/national status. To make any assumptions about an individual based on these factors is mutually exclusive to the idealogical philosophy of equality and egalitarianism that have been insoluble principles in the feminism movement worldwide. Excluding anyone on the basis of such dehumanizing generalizations synthesized by patriarchal discourse only furthers the cause of the powers that be that choose to divide the laboring masses for their own ends. One day everyone will have to cut the chains of the pigeonholes that were created by our oppressors and see themselves only as human beings free to love one another for who they are. Peace and love.

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