Feminist Conversations is a regular series here at Feminists For Choice. We spotlight feminists from across the interwebs to find out what feminism means to them. Today we are talking with blogger and activist Helen. Helen writes and blogs for sites such as Bird of Paradox and the leading British feminist site The F-Word, where she is the Events Editor.
1. When did you first consider yourself a feminist, and what about the feminist movement appealed to you?
I’d been aware of the inequalities faced by women for a long time, probably since the 1970s, but didn’t really call myself a feminist until I began my transition. At that point, beginning to experience at first-hand the discrimination and prejudice and sexism that women face every day, it was more a question of, ‘how can women *not* call themselves feminists?’
It’s often been said that we only become politicised when we are directly affected by something happening to us, and so it was for me and feminism.
2. You have mentioned that discrimination against the trans community can be common within the feminist movement. What are some common forms of discrimination?
I’ve noticed many improvements, even in the 5/6 years since I began my transition, and many feminists now are well-informed about trans politics and are very good allies to trans people. The most obvious exceptions are those who call themselves ‘radical feminists’ but who cling to an ideology with its roots in the last century. These women seem to have the most hatred for trans women, even going so far as to demand that we be ‘morally mandated out of existence.’ Others will demand that we be refused access to essential medical care; that we be refused access to ‘their’ spaces, and so on. They will misgender us, publish our personal details on the internet, run blogs and forums that are nothing but transphobic hate speech, and so on. That branch of the women’s movement has no place in any contemporary feminism, I think. Thankfully, it seems to have little influence on a majority of feminists these days and I hope it will soon become no more than a footnote in academic textbooks.
3. You often discuss the violence that the trans community and especially transwomen face. How common is violence and how do you think we can minimize it?
Even though I blog very little any more, I do maintain a page called “A selection of published statistics of violence against trans people”, which lists links to various reports and websites where information about anti-trans violence is documented. I would especially recommend spending a little time at the TvT Project website; they have an update from March 2012 here.
These statistics are only the tip of the iceberg, for various reasons; this page talks about why.
Of course, we must not overlook the effects of the intersectionality of oppressions – I may suffer certain problems as a woman who is also transsexual, but I also benefit from such things as white privilege, class privilege, and so on. A trans woman of color who lives in poverty suffers many more oppressions and, statistically, is much more likely to be a victim of transphobic violence than me.
It has been said many times that ‘women are second-class citizens but trans women are second-class women’ and I think that is quite true. Really, only a change in attitudes amongst mainstream cis society is going to lead to full acceptance and equality. And although things are slowly improving, there is still a very long way to go – and I don’t honestly think I will see that day during my lifetime.
4. The language used to refer to LGBTQ concerns and different identities seems ever changing. What language/words are most important to know and be aware of?
I’m always concerned about the way trans people are pushed under the umbrella of ‘LGBTQ.’ I understand that it is important for oppressed minorities to form coalitions and alliances, to work together towards our common causes, but it seems that trans voices are often lost in the noise made by other larger and more powerful groups. So, although we may be preoccupied with equal marriage (and it is important to many trans people), other trans-specific issues (access to healthcare and employment, for example) are often sidelined.
The language is definitely in a state of flux; part of the problem is, I think, that trans people are (historically) defined by cis society’s perceptions of us, particularly by the medical profession. We are pathologised, stigmatised and demonised; objectified, fetishised, and generally treated as figures of fun. Moving away from the language of our oppressors is a good step forward towards being able to identify ourselves on our own terms. But it isn’t easy; there is much debate about what is and what isn’t acceptable language even withing trans communities (see the debates that go on around the use of the word ‘tranny,’ for example). And, of course, the power base held by our oppressors resents and fights our attempts at defining ourselves in our own right (see the hatred that some feminists have for being called ‘cis’, for example – even as they continue to call us ‘trans’ – are we not all ‘women’, when everything’s said and done?).
5. When discussing reproductive issues and rights, what rights do you wish to see for the trans community in the future?
The freedom to make informed choices, bodily autonomy, the removal of medical pathologisation without affecting our rights to access relevant healthcare… But all these things are, I think, preconditions of our being fully accepted by mainstream society for who we are (not who people think we are, or would like us to be).