By WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre
In the last week, we have witnessed and experienced an increase of transphobic, transmisogynistic hate speech online and backlash in response to a recent funding decision made by the City of Vancouver. As a trans-inclusive anti-violence organization, we feel a sense of responsibility to provide a counternarrative to this trans-exclusionary radical feminism. It’s no secret that there is a long, difficult history between feminism and trans people.
This history is rooted in the right-wing ideology that queer and trans people and their issues are somehow oppositional to the issues of cisgender women and feminism as a whole. This conflict often shows up in the realm of gender-specific spaces, in shelters, and anti-violence organizations. Feminism has been used as a means of spreading hatred against trans people, particularly trans women, and has co-opted the anti-violence movement to implicitly and explicitly exclude trans women.
It’s difficult for WAVAW to grapple with this history, especially as feminists doing anti-violence work. This is especially true as trans-exclusionary radical feminism is alive and well in Vancouver; it’s no secret that we’re working among a hotbed of transmisogyny that has a global reach.
One of the things we hear most often is that by making space for trans women in our feminism we will dilute our politics. We hear rumours of trans women taking over and forcing an anti-feminist agenda on us. This is factually incorrect. We know this is incorrect because trans women have never accessed WAVAW in large numbers, despite the fact that we have been expressly open to trans women since 2000.
As a rape crisis centre committed to supporting survivors, we want them to access our services because trans women and trans feminine people experience sexualized violence at disproportionately high rates. But also we want trans women to be in our spaces because we love the way trans women have changed feminism. We need people of all marginalized genders to work together to unravel patriarchy, shift society together, and imagine a future without sexual violence.
However, the reality that we are grappling with is that, in 2019, trans inclusion practices most often centre on white, transmasculine people. This is because the feminist anti-violence sector has not attended to our legacy of harm, which has perpetuated decades of discrimination and exclusion. This has fostered distrust among trans women and trans people of colour.
Perhaps the most dangerous thing trans-exclusionary rhetoric does is to erase difference by insisting on some shared experience of womanhood. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s hugely influential theory on intersectionality informs our understanding that people embody different intersecting identities that get compounded under systems of oppression. For example, a queer, working class woman of colour experiences the world in a much different way than an upper middle class, straight, white woman would. Intersectionality shows us that women across race, class, gender, ability, et cetera, are more different than alike. To say that all women have a shared lived experience based on biological sex erases these differences and upholds white supremacy, patriarchy, and the status quo.
Therefore, as feminists, we cannot speak to a universal experience of womanhood, and we will not exclude trans women by claiming that there is one.
For those of us who aren’t trans women, we have work to do. Our responsibility as a feminist organization is to push back against transmisogyny in meeting rooms, and in the movement, and right now, we’re recommitting to doing just that. The days of complicity with transmisogyny and trans-exclusionary feminism need to come to an end, as more trans women are speaking up and more organizations are willing to listen.
All levels of society including municipal, provincial, and federal governments, need to take responsibility to make sure that they treat transmisogyny as a severe human rights violation. As allies, including transmasculine people to trans women, it is our job to show up and have the hard conversations that will move the dial toward the feminism we want. It’s not enough to disengage with transmisogyny; that is how it creeps back in. We need to be vocal and to encourage our friends, family, and colleagues to examine their transmisogyny. We need to stop excusing it under the guise of feminism.
People of marginalized genders have a long history together, and we will need each other to dismantle gendered oppression. Right now, we need to push back against trans exclusionary rhetoric, stop calling it feminism, and remember what revolution we’re working toward.