It’s raining dykes! Situating unabashed queer feminist voices as a persistent force of resistance, not just at the peak of queer rights in the early 1970s but throughout the last fifty years, the 'Queer/Trans' section of Burn It Down!: Feminist Manifestos for the Revolution showcases queer and trans rage.
No one is off the hook here; no subject is off limits.
We work both within and outside the notions of borders, with lesbians at the fore—as with the manifesto excerpted below by Zoe Leonard, president of the US; with lesbianism as both idealized and wholly natural; with men who insist on feminist politics; and with a shameless voice of trans rights–as with the excerpt from Emi Koyama's 'The Transfeminist Manifesto', also below.
I Want a President – 1992, Zoe Leonard
I want a dyke for president. I want a person with aids for president and I want a fag for vice president and I want someone with no health insurance and I want someone who grew up in a place where the earth is so saturated with toxic waste that they didn't have a choice about getting leukemia. I want a president that had an abortion at sixteen and I want a candidate who isn't the lesser of two evils and I want a president who lost their eyes every time they lay down to rest, who held their lover in their arms and knew they were dying. I want a president with no airconditioning, a president who has stood on line at the clinic, at the dmv, at the welfare office and has been unemployed and layed off and sexually harrassed and gaybashed and deported. I want someone who has spent the night in the tombs and had a cross burned on their lawn and survived rape. I want someone who has been in love and been hurt, who respects sex, who has made mistakes and learned from them. I want a Black woman for president. I want someone with bad teeth
and an attitude, someone who has eaten that nasty hospital food, someone who crossdresses and has done drugs and been in therapy. I want someone who has committed civil disobedience. And I want to know why this isn't possible. I want to know why we started learning somewhere down the line that a president is always a clown: always a john and never a hooker. Always a boss and never a worker, always a liar, always a thief and never caught.
The Transfeminist Manifesto (excerpt) – 2001, Emi Koyama
Primary principles of transfeminism are simple. First, it is our belief that each individual has the right to define her or his own identities and to expect society to respect them. This also includes the right to express our gender without fear of discrimination or violence. Second, we hold that we have the sole right to make decisions regarding our own bodies, and that no political, medical or religious authority shall violate the integrity of our bodies against our will or impede our decisions regarding what we do with them.
However, no one is completely free from the existing social and cultural dynamics of the institutionalized gender system. When we make any decisions regarding our gender identity or expression, we cannot escape the fact that we do so in the context of the patriarchal binary gender system. Trans women in particular are encouraged and sometimes required to adopt the traditional definition of femininity in order to be accepted and legitimatized by the medical community, which has appointed itself as the arbiter of who is genuinely woman enough and who is not. Trans women often find themselves having to “prove” their womanhood by internalizing gender stereotypes in order to be acknowledged as women or to receive hormonal and sur- gical interventions. This practice is oppressive to trans and non-trans women alike, as it denies uniqueness of each woman.
Transfeminism holds that nobody shall be coerced into or out of personal decisions regarding her or his gender identity or expression in order to be a “real” woman or a “real” man. We also believe that nobody should be coerced into or out of these personal decisions in order to qualify as a “real” feminist.
As trans women, we have learned that our safety is often dependent on how well we can “pass” as “normal” women; as transfeminists, we find ourselves constantly having to negotiate our need for safety and comfort against our feminist principles. Transfeminism challenges all women, including trans women, to examine how we all internalize heterosexist and patriarchal mandates of genders and what global implications our actions entail; at the same time, we make it clear that it is not the responsibility of a feminist to rid herself of every resemblance to the patriarchal definition of femininity. Women should not be accused of reinforcing gender stereotypes for making personal decisions, even if these decisions appear to comply with certain gender roles; such a purity test is disempowering to women because it denies our agency, and it will only alienate a majority of women, trans or not, from taking part in the feminist movement.
Transfeminism believes in the notion that there are as many ways of being a woman as there are women, that we should be free to make our own decisions without guilt. To this end, transfeminism confronts social and political institutions that inhibit or narrow our individual choices, while refusing to blame individual women for making whatever personal decisions. It is unnecessary—in fact oppressive—to require women to abandon their freedom to make personal choices to be considered a true feminist, for it will only replace the rigid patriarchal construct of ideal femininity with a slightly modified feminist version that is just as rigid. Transfeminism believes in fostering an environment where women’s individual choices are honored, while scrutinizing and challenging institutions that limit the range of choices available to them.
The Question of Male Privilege
Some feminists, particularly radical lesbian feminists, have accused trans women and men of benefiting from male privilege. Male-to-female transsexuals, they argue, are socialized as boys and thus given male privilege; female-to-male transsexuals on the other hand are characterized as traitors who have abandoned their sisters in a pathetic attempt to acquire male privilege. Transfeminism must respond to this criticism, because it has been used to justify discrimination against trans women and men within some feminist circles.
When confronted with such an argument, a natural initial response of trans women is to deny ever having any male privilege whatsoever in their lives. It is easy to see how they would come to believe that being born male was more of a burden than a privilege: many of them despised having male bodies and being treated as boys as they grew up. They recall how uncomfortable it felt to be pressured to act tough and manly. Many have experienced bullying and ridicule by other boys because they did not act appropriately as boys. They were made to feel ashamed, and frequently suffered from depression. Even as adults, they live with the constant fear of exposure, which would jeopardize their employment, family relationships, friendships and safety.
However, as transfeminists, we must resist such a simplistic reac- tion. While it is true that male privilege affects some men far more than others, it is hard to imagine that trans women born as males never benefited from it. Most trans women have “passed” as men (albeit as “sissy” ones) at least some point in their lives, and were thus given preferable treatments in education and employment, for example, whether or not they enjoyed being perceived as men. They have been trained to be assertive and confident, and some trans women manage to maintain these “masculine” traits, often to their advantage, after transitioning.
What is happening here is that we often confuse the oppression we have experienced for being gender-deviant with the absence of the male privilege. Instead of claiming that we have never benefited from male supremacy, we need to assert that our experiences represent a dynamic interaction between male privilege and the disadvantage of being trans.
Any person who has a gender identity and/or an inclination toward a gender expression that match the sex attributed to her or him has a privilege of being non-trans. This privilege, like other privileges, is invisible to those who possess it. And like all other privileges, those who lack the privilege intuitively know how severely they suffer due to its absence. A trans woman may have limited access to male privilege depending on how early she transitioned and how fully she lives as a woman, but at the same time she experiences vast emotional, social, and financial disadvantages for being trans. The suggestion that trans women are inherently more privileged than other women is as ignorant as claiming that gay male couples are more privileged than heterosexual couples because both partners have male privilege.
Tensions often arise when trans women attempt to access “women’s spaces” that are supposedly designed to be safe havens from the patriarchy. The origin of these “women’s spaces” can be traced back to the early lesbian feminism of the 1970s, which consisted mostly of white middle-class women who prioritized sexism as the most fundamental social inequality while largely disregarding their own role in per- petuating other oppressions such as racism and classism. Under the assumption that sexism marked women’s lives far more significantly than any other social elements, they assumed that their experience of sexism is universal to all women regardless of ethnicity, class, etc.— meaning, all non-trans women. Recent critiques of the 1970s radical feminism point out how their convenient negligence of racism and classism in effect privileged themselves as white middle-class women.
Based on this understanding, transfeminists should not respond to the accusation of male privilege with denial. We should have the courage to acknowledge ways in which trans women may have ben- efited from male privilege—some more than others, obviously—just like those of us who are white should address white privilege. Transfeminism believes in the importance of honoring our differences as well as similarities because women come from a variety of backgrounds. Transfeminists confront our own privileges, and expect non-trans women to acknowledge their privilege of being non-trans as well.
By acknowledging and addressing our privileges, trans women can hope to build alliances with other groups of women who have traditionally been neglected and deemed “unladylike” by white middle-class standard of womanhood. When we are called deviant and attacked just for being ourselves, there is nothing to gain from avoiding the question of privilege.
- these manifestos are excerpted from Burn It Down! Feminist Manifestos for the Revolution edited by Breanne Fahs, currently 40% off (print book) and 80% off (ebook) as part of our Reading in a time of self-isolation.[book-strip index="1" style="buy"]
In this landmark collection spanning three centuries and four waves of feminist activism and writing, Burn It Down! is a testament to what is possible when women are driven to the edge. The manifesto—raging and wanting, quarreling and provoking—has always played a central role in feminism, and it’s the angry, brash feminism we need now.