Ms. Blog: I have a final question that hopefully builds off of what we’ve started here: Since we don’t have all the time/words in the world right now, if you could just give one piece of advice to cis feminists who want to be more supportive of trans people, what would it be?
Stephen: My big piece of advice for cis feminists is to remember that most feminist theory and thought, while developed and useful when examined critically, is cisnormative. Because the trans feminist movement is, as we’ve discussed, a relatively young movement, our body of theory is less complete at this time, and that means that trans women often refer to lived experience in their critiques of cis domination. I advise cis feminists to remember that while theory is important, in the context of an activist project theory must have some basis in and/or application to lived experience. When feminist theory is erasive or symbolically violent towards trans identities, it does not mean that the trans identities need to change–it means that the theory is insufficient and needs to be reexamined. The privileging of lived experience over theory needs to begin.
This shift in paradigm has larger reverberations. I think it will help us remember the importance of on-the-ground organizing–getting out there to help trans women in practical ways, dealing with employment, housing and health. Ideally, a privileging of experience over theory will help people to check their educational privilege, ultimately making trans-feminism a radically accessible movement. Don’t get me wrong, I love theory! I’m a liberal arts kid and I can go on about performativity for ages. So this is a very long way of asking–no, demanding–that cis feminists listen with open ears when trans women explain what they face and what they need from the feminism, even if at first glance it conflicts with the dogma.
Thank you for inviting me into a feminist space and trusting that I can handle myself as a man in such a space–I hope I’ve been able to do that in a way that’s been comfortable for you. And thank you to Avital for inviting me even though I’m just some kid with a WordPress; this has been a real pleasure!
Emily: [My advice is] talk to us, get to know us, invite us, hire us, pay us. Many great cis feminists (shout out to Sarah Jaffe at Alternet and Sady Doyle) have given me the chance to work, just as I try to seek out new writers at Global Comment. Give us a couch to sleep on, a meal if we’re poor, go with us to the doctor (amazing how doctors suddenly get more professional when there’s a cis person in the room), lend us birth control bills, whatever. Most of us are struggling, so any material support is priceless.
But I want to finish by talking to other trans feminists, and trans women in particular. The thing that I want people to remember is to not be limited by the cis imagination. It’s so easy to accept the terms of the dominant, even as you kick against them. We have to not merely re-value trans lives, but to re-figure the relations between cis and trans. So I don’t see trans feminism as an offshoot or separate thing to feminism but as equally legitimate, one out of a plurality of foci, a part of the whole. Trans women have been in women’s communities for decades, and yes we have often been pushed out of things, but still we have been here and we are here and we will continue to be here. We have as much right to be at the table as anyone else. Go claim it.
Monica: I was reading someone, maybe Violet Blue, on how at tech conferences everyone notices when there is an all-woman panel– even more so if it’s not a panel on “women’s issues”–but no one notices when it’s a panel of all men. Trans people, and especially trans women, at feminist conferences are only rarely given a space to talk, and if we are it’s always singularly on trans issues. And everyone notices that there wasn’t an “objective” cis person on the panel, but no one seems to notice that all the other panels tend not to have trans people on them. And I think that’s a problem, because the only way we can get at “truth” is by recognizing that we are all biased and bring in a diversity of lenses.
With regard to feminism, my biggest desire would be to be heard and listened [to], and perhaps given slightly more authority on trans issues than cis women theorizing about my experience from the local Starbucks. It hurts when I’m confronted with, “well Butler said …” or “well Raymond said …,” confronted with cis “authorities” and given no opportunity to speak on my own behalf. As if my own lived experience has nothing to say.
When we readily reject subjective human experience in favor of authoritarian dogma, I think feminism loses—hell, I think all women lose.
I’d like to thank Avital and the Ms. Blog for having me here. It kind of feels surreal to have my voice included in this conversation. I’m a 20-something woman with no university education, and sometimes feminism can seem remarkably inaccessible in every way, and I’m proud to be given a chance to be a part of this discourse. I’d like to thank Avory, Emily, and Stephen for their remarkable intelligence, insight and kindness. I’m truly honored to be included here with you three and have been thrilled to add my voice to the chorus.
I hope that other trans people, and trans women specifically, will take this to heart: What you have to say is important and we want to hear it. Don’t let the kyrarchy tell you to stay quiet. And don’t be afraid to be wrong. Only when we have a diversity of voices can we find the truth in the static. Also, as an aside, thanks so much for including a TWoC voice, and a Latina one at that. Latinas often get lost in the middle. So…thanks, seriously.
Further reading: more trans feminist bloggers of note:
- Erica at inchoaterica
- Julia Serano at Whipping Girl
- Lisa at A Radical TransFeminist
- Natalie at Sincerely, Natalie Reed
- Quinnae at The Nuclear Unicorn
- Rebecca at The Thang Blog
- Tim at Tim’s Journal
Please add links to any other blogs you feel should be included!