Don’t get me wrong, TERFs have been especially harsh to trans* people…
More recently, radical feminists Cathy Brennan and Elizabeth Hungerford penned a letter to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women in 2011, addressing what they held were new US laws that endangered women’s safety — laws protecting trans people from discrimination. The letter goes on at great length about how adopting policies protecting trans women “present the potential for a human rights violation against all females.” The submission was made at the last moment of the comment period, denying trans advocates any opportunity to respond.
Beyond their work to influence policy in a manner that harms the trans community, trans-exclusionary radical feminists have engaged (and still do) in numerous campaigns of personal harassment against trans women, particularly vocal trans activists. The previously mentioned Cathy Brennan is thought to be connected to some of the ugliest of the harassment, including revealing personal information about trans women (a practice often known as doxxing), as well as contacting doctors, employers, and parents of any individual who dares challenge her or disagree with her. The blog Gender Identity Watch, which Brennan is rumored to be connected with, engages in extensive harassment of trans woman, including posting their “dead-name” (pre-transition name) and pre-transition photos. They also engage in systematic harassment of trans women and trans allies on twitter, most by repeating their same tired rhetoric: “trans women are men” and “penis is male”. … Earlier this year, Tina Vasquez penned a lengthy piece on for Bitch Magazine running down dozens of examples of harassment perpetrated by radical feminists against both trans activists and trans allies, including herself.
… but historically, the feminist movement overall has also been harsh. If you view constructs as arbitrary, you’ll feel a certain unease when you see people saying they want to switch their label rather than work against it or abolish it. Hence the need for transfeminism.
The latter half of the twentieth century witnessed an unprecedented broadening of American feminist movement as a result of the participation of diverse groups of women. When a group of women who had previously been marginalized within the mainstream of the feminist movement broke their silence, demanding their rightful place within it, they were first accused of fragmenting feminism with trivial matters, and then were eventually accepted and welcomed as a valuable part of the feminist thought. We have become increasingly aware that the diversity is our strength, not weakness. No temporary fragmentation or polarization is too severe to nullify the ultimate virtues of inclusive coalition politics.
Every time a group of women previously silenced begins to speak out, other feminists are challenged to rethink their idea of whom they represent and what they stand for. While this process sometimes leads to a painful realization of our own biases and internalized oppressions as feminists, it eventually benefits the movement by widening our perspectives and constituency. It is under this understanding that we declare that the time has come for trans women to openly take part in the feminist revolution, further expanding the scope of the movement.
Bear in mind, that Manifesto was only published in 2001. Second-wave feminists have been openly hostile to trans* people for decades.
Janice Raymond’s 1979 book The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male shaped the notion that transgender rights have no place in feminism. Max Wolf Valerio reflected on the book in his 2006 memoir The Testosterone Files: My Hormonal and Social Transformation from Female to Male, writing that “Raymond postulated that all transsexuals were dupes of the patriarchy, ‘mutilating’ their bodies in order to live out stereotyped sex roles instead of changing those roles through a rigorously applied program of radical feminism.” Other feminist writing of the 1970s also hit on the anti-transgender ideas. Mary Daly’s 1978 book Gyn/Ecology compared the drag queen “phenomenon” to blackface and included assertions such as: “The surgeons and hormone therapists of the transsexual kingdom… can be said to produce feminine persons. They cannot produce women.”
But if you really want a comprehensive look, I recommend setting aside an afternoon to read Juliet Jacques‘ take.
Attacked from all sides and dealing with the HIV crisis, trans communities spent most of the 1980s supporting each other, and the radical feminist orthodoxy remained entrenched. A crucial intervention came at the end of the decade when Sandy Stone’s essay The Empire Strikes Back: A Post-Transsexual Manifesto began to circulate on digital networks, before being published in Routledge’s Body Guards: The Cultural Politics of Gender Ambiguity anthology in 1991. Unlike Sullivan and Riddell, this did not argue on Raymond’s terms. Instead, it encouraged trans people to question the concepts of ‘male’ and ‘female’, ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ and explore space between them in their writing, simultaneously challenging the Gender Identity Clinics’ ideas of who was trans, and undermining conservative and anti-trans feminist stereotypes.
A new wave of activism followed Stone’s call for trans people to assert their histories and identities in the 1990s. Holly Boswell and Leslie Feinberg helped to popularise ‘transgender’ in a bid to unite people previously defined as ‘transvestite’ or ‘transsexual’ and create a new vocabulary that better described their lives and social conditions, reclaiming it from the medical establishment. For all the theory and art that followed, however, the core issue with exclusionary feminism stayed the same, with arguments about what constituted womanhood still bitterly contested.