Friday, 25 May 2012

RadFem 2012: uniting feminists against transphobia

Posted by Orlando.

[Trigger warning: transphobia. Neither this blog nor the linked posts are transphobic, but they do engage with and discuss transphobic ideas, and it is possible that linked blogs which don't share our safe space policy will have transphobia expressed in their comments section.]

We told you on Monday that our weekly post was going up early because of the urgency of the topic - but now, with another pressing topic begging to be written about it, this week you get a double-dose of Lashings bloggery! Aren't you the luckiest things? So, I'm Orlando - named after the gender-fluid Woolf character, rather than any popular actors - and I'm a newly-ascended fan of Lashings who is still somewhat breathless about joining the team here. Hello!

In mid-May, a London-based 'radical feminist' conference called RadFem2012 was announced, and parts of the internet began to rumble. A few days later, that rumble on Twitter became a roar on the blogosphere. Why all the attention? The website stated that entry was restricted to 'biological women living as women' - later edited to 'women born women living as women' - and renowned transphobe Sheila Jeffreys was billed as a speaker. A week later, and I'm - actually, kind of elated.

"But Orlando," you may say, "surely there's nothing to be elated about, when outdated transphobia seems to be rearing its hideous head in our feminist communities?" On the contrary! I am so, so fucking proud of feminists and allies right now - this transphobic door-policy has sparked off a string of declarations of support for trans inclusion and, hopefully, shown the organisers of RadFem2012 that they are just a vocal minority within a feminism that is, for the most part, far more diverse and accepting. As someone who is still a (postgraduate) student, I'm particularly pleased by the number of student groups that have released statements on RadFem2012: so far including Royal Holloway FemSoc, Oxford University WomCam, the NUS LGBT Campaign (published statement still pending but I've seen a draft) and the NUS Women's Campaign - that last one, which designates its annual conference as a women-only space, has several years of trans-positive policy, building up to its current stance that includes not only trans women, but other trans people whose identity includes (but is not entirely encompassed by) 'woman', such as AFAB* gender-fluid folk like myself.

And it's not just support in the form of words, either. Within a few days, activists - from the trans community, the feminist community, the queer community, and the community of 'awesome people who give a shit' - got mobilised. Letters were sent to the venue, Conway Hall, questioning how the exclusionary door-policy and incluson of Jeffreys' hate-speech at this event was compatible with the venue's existing policies on discrimination, and indeed, with the 2010 Equality Act. Just today, prominent trans writer and activist Roz Kaveney revealed in the Guardian that Conway Hall has expressed these very concerns to the conference organisers: it seems the final decision has yet to be announced, but I've got high hopes.  Furthermore, there are plans in the works to run events in direct response to RadFem2012 - call them teach-ins, fringes, or alternative conferences, they are being planned from London to Manchester.

Last year, something similar went on when the Royal College of Psychiatrists put together a conference called "Transgender: Time to Change" and invited not only notoriously transphobic journalist Julie Bindel, but Az Hakeem, an advocate of "reparative therapy" - that is to say, a "trans cure" equivalent to the much-reviled "gay cure". A group of trans activists, myself included, got to work: speakers from Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic pulled out after they realised how angry and upset the community was, and eventually the RCP cancelled in terror, citing 'not enough people having signed up' (despite there being a month left to the event). Rather than considering this victory to be the end, we decided to keep going and expand upon the planned teach-in: we ended up with Trans* Education and Determination, a one-day open conference with a relaxed atmosphere and a variety of excellent speakers on trans issues (links include videos with summaries and/or transcripts). That was the trans community mobilising at very short notice, and we managed something amazing.

This has the potential to be much bigger. This is not only the trans community, this is the feminist community as well. And we're talking, we're making alliances, and we're making plans. We are showing the trans-exclusionary 'radical feminists' (TERFs!) behind RadFem2012 that they do not speak for all feminists, or even for all radical feminism. Indeed, Lashings is committed to being both radical and intersectional in its feminism, an identification that might be seen as contradictory, but which (to me) makes perfect sense:

We are Radical because we believe that we need a revolutionary change in how we think about gender, sexuality, and other issues of human diversity.
We are Feminist because we recognise that society has different expectations of men and women, and that these expectations damage people of all genders.
We are Intersectionalist because we see feminism as one of many areas in which we need to be radical, and we don’t think these issues can be disentangled from one another.
(source: Lashings's 'About' page)

The debates surrounding what (if anything) differentiates a 'radfem' from a radical feminist from a feminist who is radical are complex and fascinating. In the blogs, tweets and comments that I've ended up reading on the subject of RadFem2012 I've seen a great diversity of opinions on the subject - and at some point I'd love to see some more discussion of it here on the Lashings blog. But that's not what I'm here to do today. I'm here to express my intense joy and pride in how so many feminists have shown themselves to be trans allies, particularly the cis women who have defied RadFem2012's rhetoric of exclusion and rallied round their trans sisters. I'm here to express my teary-eyed love for everyone who is working to resist this attempt to drag feminism back by decades, despite the very real dangers of publicly doing so. And I'm here to encourage you, dear reader, to join in.

The rest of this blog entry, then, is somewhere between a links round-up and a call to action.

First, the call to action. A blog entitled Resist RadFem2012 has been set up to organise, encourage and document responses and resistance to RadFem2012. Anyone who wants to run an alternative conference in their local area, offer skills and time to one that is already being planned, or otherwise contribute, is wholeheartedly encouraged to contact resistradfem12 at gmail dot com. (Incidentally, to see an example of the kind of non-exclusionary conference RadFem2012 COULD have been, check out INTERSECT - it was a few days ago, but videos and transcripts are being made available - and to get a whiff of what attending RadFem2012 might feel like, perhaps have a gander at Alicia Izharuddin's brief account of a session at Fem11.)

And now, some recommended reading. A large number of blog entries have already been linked above - here are the best of the rest.

The F-Word has thus far covered RadFem2012 from three different angles. Laura Woodhouse's short, punchy piece outlines why 'there's nothing radical about transphobia', in a similar vein to Ray Filar's feature from earlier this year. Helen G (of Bird of Paradox) launches a detailed critique of the concept of 'women born women'. Finally, Julian Norman looks at the thorny legal issues [TW: sexual assault] surrounding the status of trans women in the context of female-only space, and assesses the likelihood of this having an impact on RadFem2012. All of these have some really valuable and interesting comments which are worth reading.

Over at Writings of a Trans Activist, Ruth Pearce (who you might recognise as the queer-feminist DJ from some Lashings gigs!) gives us a hypothetical dialogue between herself and an imagined RadFem2012 attendee. This post is so amazing I want to print it out and stick it up everywhere I (legally) can: if you only read one link from here, read this. It's lyrical and deeply personal, displays a sympathetic understanding of radfem views despite the harm done to her, and is grounded in a detailed knowledge of the interactions between queer, trans, and feminist theory (a fascinating history, which - if you have the time and interest - can be read about in detail here). Another self-identified transfeminist at Cisginger, Transgender addresses similar issues from the perspective of a trans guy in a post sparked by (but not explicitly referencing) the Radfem2012 controversy.

Transmedic and Rebecca's Dystopia also have some thoughtful, interesting posts about the attitude towards trans identity shown by RadFem2012; the former looking particularly at the specificity and variance in biology and experience, the latter at identity and subtle forms of erasure. There are more posts out there, and doubtless by the time this one goes up there will be even more - if you still want to read more, I recommend Unquiet's RadFem2012 links round-up, which is currently updating daily.
*AFAB - Assigned Female At Birth, as opposed to Assigned Male At Birth.

This post has now been reproduced here at Resist RadFem2012.


  1. Great article, and thanks for all the links, may take me a while to get through them :D

    I am seriously amazed at the level of fucked up going on here, I had no idea at the level of organised transphobia/hatred that was going on until your heads up. I'm really glad there's been a big backlash against it, hopefully good will come out of this, a lot of consciousness-raising and improvement in trans-awareness and policies.


  2. Mmm. Almost a good thing that they organised a conference. When they talk amongst themselves on their blogs, they can be transphobic as they like, and they encourage each other and mock or edit the trans folk who try to engage. We need the cis feminists to speak up against exclusion. This conference has made that happen.