It was one of those nights that I couldn’t sleep. Even though I knew it was a bad idea, I kept scrolling through my phone at 3 a.m. after coming across a terrible website, and of course I kept reading and reading.
It was a horribly trans- and queerphobic website that publicly bashes trans and gender non-conforming people and our allies, all in the name of radical feminism and “preserving femininity and womanhood.” According to the curators of this site, transgender and gender non-conforming folks are the biggest threat to feminism and we hate women. They’re no doubt supportive of the North Carolina bathroom bill and other legislation designed to further oppress trans* communities.
I tossed and turned until at least 4:30 a.m., restless at the fact that these TERFs (trans exclusionary radical feminists) greatly misunderstand and hate me and the people that I care deeply about. I thought back to the staff at the women and girls’ music camp I’d been a part of, who rejected my pronouns and banned a camper who’d come out as female to male (FTM), refusing to let him return. I thought about Michigan Women’s Music Festival’s long history of excluding trans women from performing and attending; I thought about those who are so wounded by sexism and oppression that they justify hating and excluding entire groups of people.
I tossed and turned over how complicated it all is, about the trauma that trans people carry in our bodies. I kept returning to the assertion that trans and gender non-conforming people — especially FTM folks — hate their own womanhood and femininity. I can only speak to my own experience as someone who grapples daily with their gender identity and with “what to do” with my body, but my masculinity has never hated my femininity. I have deeply valued all aspects of my gender and sexuality, which cannot be minimized into being solely “masculine” and/or “feminine.” I have loved the parts of me that are soft, strong, sensitive and resilient.
Trans exclusionary radical feminism is transphobic in nature, but I also understand that it comes from a deep (and greatly misplaced) hatred of the patriarchy and misogyny that women and femmes have suffered under since the beginning of time.
But it’s also based in false notions of a strict binary that suggest “you are only a woman if you are born a woman,” and when “born” women don’t espouse whatever version of femininity I agree with, it means they hate themselves and all women. What does it mean when we reduce feminism to fighting only for “born” women’s rights? (And, most often, white women’s rights)?
These types of conversations must be much more nuanced. Regardless of what I do with my body, or how I present physically, I do not hate my femininity. I think has to be acknowledged that we all — cisgender, gender non-conforming, trans — are impacted by the gender binary and the strict rules it enforces.
Related: Why Trans Suicides are Also Murders
I know that sometimes I have to check myself and the ways I’ve internalized and acted out of toxic masculinity, and it is important for each of us to reflect on how we reinforce oppression in our own behaviors and actions. Although trans and gender non-conforming folk need to give thought to how our gender socialization shows up in our daily lives, that kind of reflection can’t happen in isolation, after being banned from spaces.
We must be in conversation with each other. If your version of feminism does not include people of all sexes, genders, sexualities, races, abilities, etc., then who is it for? Ignorance and misunderstanding breeds fear. When has trans exclusionary feminism ever attempted to understand what happens in the hearts and minds of trans people? How do these reductive and exclusionary feminisms keep us from dismantling patriarchy and other systems of oppression that impact us all?