CLPP 2011: Transfeminisms

explores trans and gender justice activism, reproductive rights, feminism, and the connections between our movements. How does transmysogyny affect all of our communities? How can we build strong connections among trans communities? Panelists will discuss their experiences with community building, movement building, representation, connecting with allies, and infusing gender justice into our understanding of feminisms.

“I fucking love gender.” -Jos Truitt

This panel featured Jules Rosskam, teacher and filmmaker, Jos Truitt, our very own blogger and activist, and Toni Olin-Mignosa, beautician and activist.

It sought to address, among other things, the ways trans people are policed around norms, and how the struggle against this policing is closely tied to the larger reproductive justice movement.

Jos gave a fantastic presentation on the panel that I tried my best to record. The audio on the video is a bit low, but I’ll work on getting a transcript when I get a moment, and hopefully you can make out her major points if you turn the volume way up! Video is below.

Jules Rosskam presented an excerpt from his new film, working title “Transfeminism”. In discussing his motivations for creating this film, he called attention to the problematic media representation of transpeople, which often presents them as tragic victims, if it depicts them at all.

“There are a lot of ways that violence intersects on bodies, and the bodies of transwomen in particular, and the media continues to represent trans women in the same way. It’s not that those things aren’t true and aren’t happening, but there are a lot of amazing things that transwomen are doing in our various movements. How can you actually envision a life that’s different than that, if you only see yourself being portrayed as a victim, as meeting some horrible death or being oppressed day in an day out?”

Later, the panelists each defined transfeminism for themselves.

For Jos, transfeminism simple means feminism, with a caveat: it has a gender analysis, which she acknowledged feminism is sometimes missing. “When you accept the terms of the debate that we’ve been given, that we live in a gender binary, then you’re not addressing gender, you’re accepting a part of the problem as fundamental. Trans work can bring so much to feminism because it can’t help but address the work that feminism is fundamentally about.”

Tony agreed. “Transfeminism is literally feminism, because the literal definition of feminism is equality for all.”

Jules made what I believe is a really good point about dealing with the more problematic aspects of feminist history. “There are certain feminists who talk about ‘women’s rights’ instead of ‘the right to self determine’, which is a central tenant to the kind of feminism that is important to me. Its important to acknowledge the history of feminism and all of the problems that come with it. When we make those breaks [between first, second, third, and fourth waves], we act like we dont have any of those problems [from the previous group], but actually we all have all of these things in us, and I think there’s something important about acknowledging that and keeping that historical thread. Because then the group of people who are feminist can be much larger. And I can continue to interface with people who have problems with me, or who I don’t agree with. I don’t think it’s productive to sit in a room with a hundred people who think exactly what I think.”

On how to be a trans ally, and how to make sure that the reproductive justice movement is putting forth a comprehensive agenda that includes trans issues, Jos had a simple yet profound point:
“Stop saying and stop thinking that abortion is a women’s issue. That makes such a difference. Because it’s not just women that have abortions….Trans men have abortions. Gender queer people have abortions. Two spirit people have abortions. People who do not fit into the box of ‘woman’ have abortions. That’s the reality we live in, and the more we pretend otherwise, the more dangerous it is for other people, and the more they are excluded by the movement. Gender is this thing that we make out of so much shit. The way we hold our hands, the lenght of our hair, the shape of our face, what we wear, our voices, etc. But then, for some reason, when we got to the question of what is it really, we go to what lives between your legs. Even though that’s not how we make gender and that’s not how gender works. It’s in that assumption that gender lives in our crotches, that we end up erasing the reality that men can have abortions, men can get pregnant and give birth.”

Jules later added that “It’s important to think about what you’re working towards. Why are we here? Are we here because we need to have the same idea about what trans means, and what gender queer means? That’s not to say that language isn’t important, but that can’t be where the conversation ends. Being able to see beyond that, and saying that we are here actually because we are organizing around something, is really important. We need to be able to see beyond where we are dissimilar, what we call ourselves, and see the larger picture. What is the movement or movements we are involved in, and why are we here in this room together? It’s easy to get caught up in details, and then meetings- and movements- get derailed. Let’s move beyond that language debate.”

Jos wrapped up the panel with one of my favorite quotes of the entire conference. When asked about the relatively common assertion that if the gender binary didn’t exist, trans people would no longer identify as trans or feel a need to present in the same way, she replied:

“I fucking love gender. It’s my favorite toy. I like to stretch it and play with it and push it and pull it and move it to places it’s never been before. My problem is the fact that people are born and a doctor takes one look at them and puts them in a box and says they have to live there for the rest of their lives. That’s my problem. Not gender. I love gender!”

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman started blogging with Feministing in 2008, and now runs partnerships and strategy as a co-Executive Director. She is also the Director of Youth Engagement at Women Deliver, where she promotes meaningful youth engagement in international development efforts, including through running the award-winning Women Deliver Young Leaders Program. Lori was formerly the Director of Global Communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and has also worked at the United Nations Foundation on the Secretary-General's flagship Every Woman Every Child initiative, and at the International Women’s Health Coalition and Human Rights Watch. As a leading voice on women’s rights issues, Lori frequently consults, speaks and publishes on feminism, activism and movement-building. A graduate of Harvard University, Lori has been named to The Root 100 list of the most influential African Americans in the United States, and to Forbes Magazine‘s list of the “30 Under 30” successful mediamakers. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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