I’ve been reading a lot about the whole Rad-fem vs. Trans Activist debacle lately, which has once again been exacerbated – this time by the explicit exclusion transgendered individuals at Radfem 2012 through the use of the phrase “women born women living as women”. It’s an interesting phrase in itself; if you were to take it as law it would also exclude anyone who might consider themselves to live androgynously as well as – to use that classic shakespearean twist – anyone born by a caesarian section. The intent, however, remains clear – the exclusion of women who are also trans.
I should make something clear at this point, clunky though this phrasing is I am “a woman who is also trans”. I would not choose to describe myself – or to have myself described – as a trans woman, I have not ever chosen to describe myself – or to be described – as a trans woman and I don’t think it’s likely I ever will. My objection is simple; I am a woman first and transgender somewhere far further down the list. I am not ashamed to be transgender – far from it, I honestly believe I am a far stronger person as a result – but it is not a characteristic that I feel defines me any more than the terms caucasian, blonde or tall might apply to you. To me it is simply a trait and not a definition, and as such – to me – the line that has been used by Radfem 2012 might as well read “women born in the UK living as women”. As such, I’m lead to wonder whether this explicit exclusion of women who are trans at Radfem 2012 – or, for that matter, in any rad-fem spaces – is simply a manifestation of a dislike of the transgender stereotype as opposed to an actual objection to their inclusion.
The argument which seems to be made in defence of this policy is that of a shared upbringing and a common experience, but I have to admit that this baffles me. When you start to consider the almost infinitesimal combinations of inter- and intra- cultural, geographical and demographic differences even amongst a small group of people, it’s not hard to accept that early experiences are going to vary significantly between any two people. Even if you take a smaller subset – taking culture, geography and demographics out of the equation – then you still need to consider the even larger number of possible individual differences. Some people may have grown up with two parents, some with just one, others still with 3 or 4 or (in the case of one girl I know) 5; some were raised with siblings, others were not; some experienced unexpected deaths, illness or tragedies whilst others were blessed in that regard; the list goes on. When it comes down to it we’re all different – even if this is – such as might be the case may be with twins – down to something as simple as the result of the countless chance interactions we have every day. And if you don’t believe that we are the product of our experiences then genetics just makes these differences quantifiable…
So with this in mind, for this argument to be tangible this leaves one of two options; either there is something magical about the second X chromosome which overrides all other differences, or there is a small series of experiences which must be shared by all women who are not trans – regardless of any environmental factors. Considering first genetics, I end up wondering “Well, what about men who are trans or, for that matter, Kleinfelter’s males?” – clearly these people have the aforementioned magic second X chromosome and yet you would not consider these people to be women by any measure. Ergo, I struggle to accept that it is as simple as this.
So, what about this series of shared experiences which is independent of environmental difference. Well, thinking about it the only way that these experiences could be shared the world over would be if they were biologically determined, at which point we end up discussing differences between males and females. If you consider women who are trans who underwent transition prior to puberty – and thus were raised female – then you can immediately discount socialisation [remember, this is a blanket ban…]. Even if you weren’t to do so, socialisation is so varied depending on where you were brought up, who raised you and what was going on in the world immediately around you that finding this universal shared experience would be a task akin to finding a very small needle in an almost infinitesimal number of very large haystacks. So then, biology?
Due to the affects of hormone replacement, individuals who are trans effectively undergo a second puberty meaning that the only experience which natal women have which women who are trans do not would be menarche. However, again, this is not something which – unfortunately – all natal women will experience due to a number of developmental conditions which can result in primary amenorrhoea. In some cases this is medically correctable but in many cases it is not. This does not make these people any less female; it simply makes them unfortunate and deserving of whatever help we can provide to them.
So, this leads me back to my initial concern – is this simply transphobia at a community level? Worst still, is it that particularly dangerous brand of American transphobia trying to travel across the atlantic? Even if it is not, the danger is that by including this statement they set a precedent wherein it becomes normal for the Radfem community to discriminate again women who are trans and thus helps to make transgender discrimination justifiable to members of its community. I am never one to assume the worst of people, and thus would love to believe that this is just a policy which has been implemented with the best of intentions but a lack of consideration of possible consequences and ramifications. Unfortunately the fact that they have also given a platform to a speaker who is well known for being fiercely anti-trans makes this incredibly difficult to accept, and instead makes me concerned that parts of this conference have the potential to become a sermon of hatred, when they should be trying to facilitate much needed change. As such, I would urge the organisers to reconsider their exclusionary policy but I fear my cries may fall on deaf ears.