Yeadon-Lee, Tracey (2012) ‘Feminism Hurts’: A Feminist Analysis of the Anti-trans Politics of (Some) Radical Feminists. In: Forthcoming Feminisms: Gender Activism, Politics and Theories, 26th October 2012, Leeds, UK. (Unpublished)

Since the late 1970s, some radical feminists have seen the existence of trans people, together with the medico-legal systems which enable people to ‘change sex’, as both undermining and threatening the political goals of feminism. Within this discourse, trans people are invariably cast as ‘victims’ of sex-role conformity produced through patriarchal social structures and as complicit with, and reinforcing of, the oppression of women. Employing a ‘weak’ constructionist framework, trans women are seen as a ‘breed’ of artificial ‘constructed women’ who, through gender-reassignment, violate women’s bodies, infiltrate women’s culture and space, and mutilate women’s realities, self-definitions, sexuality and politics. Trans men, on the other hand, are seen as ‘women’ who have been duped and ‘assimilated’ into a male defined world, as ‘tokens’ who serve to give the (false) impression that trans-ness is a universal ‘human problem’ rather than a ‘man-made’ patriarchal construct, and as ‘disappearing lesbians’ who, in being controlled through the patriarchal attribution of masculinity, are rejecting lesbian lifestyles in favour of hyper-masculine forms of manhood. While ‘strong’ constructionist approaches to gender such as post-structuralist feminism and also queer theory present a challenge to such understandings, some radical feminists are continuing to champion these ideas. Recent examples include the new book ‘Gender Hurts’ by Sheila Jeffreys and, in the summer of this year, the RadFem2012 conference which, in promoting ‘a new era of radical feminist activism’, selected Jeffreys as a main keynote speaker and also adopted a ‘women-born women, living as women’ door policy for the event. Anti-trans discourse also appears to be continuing to circulate in a number of radical feminist Internet blogs and also in the newspaper columns of a few radical feminist journalists. While a number of trans activists and trans academics have accused these feminists of engaging in hate speech and promoting transphobia, non-trans feminist supporters of trans people, particularly academics, have yet to fully respond. In this paper I aim to contribute to such a response, and stimulate engagement with the issues being raised, by examining radical feminist anti-trans discourse from the perspective of a non-trans feminist. The paper will critically reflect on the nature and construction of the anti-trans arguments being put forward by radical feminists and will address the negative impact these have on women and feminism more broadly, as well as on trans people themselves.

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