Transphobic feminism makes no sense, argues Laurie Penny
For decades, the feminist movement has been split over the status of trans people, and of trans women in particular. High-profile feminists such as Germaine Greer, Jan Raymond and Julie Bindel have spoken out against what Greer terms “people who think they are women, have women’s names, and feminine clothes and lots of eyeshadow, who seem to us to be some kind of ghastly parody”. Some prominent radical feminists have publicly declared that trans women are misogynist, “mutilated men”; trans people have responded to this harassment by vigorously defending themselves, demanding that anti-trans feminists are denied platforms to speak on other issues and, in some cases, by renouncing feminism altogether. The deep personal and ideological wounds suffered by women and men on both sides of the argument are reopened with vigour every time the mainstream press gives space to an anti-trans article by a cis feminist.
Many otherwise decent and sensible cis feminists have fallen prey to lazy transphobic thinking. In the vast majority of cases, cis feminist transphobia does not stem from deep, personal hatred of trans people, but from drastic, tragic misapprehension of the issues at stake. Recently, outspoken feminist Julie Bindel declared in an article for Standpoint magazine: “Recent legislation (the Gender Recognition Act, which allows people to change sex and be issued with a new birth certificate) will have a profoundly negative effect on the human rights of women and children.” Her views are founded on the assumption that “transsexualism, by its nature, promotes the idea that it is ‘natural’ for boys to play with guns and girls to play with Barbie dolls… the idea that gender roles are biologically determined rather than socially constructed is the antithesis of feminism.”
Bindel and others have, initially with the best of intentions, misunderstood not only the nature of transsexualism but also the radical possibilities for gender revolution that real, sisterly alliance between cis feminists and the trans movement could entail.