|peace symbol image is from here|
This is a guest post, written by one of the women in "Radically Inclusive Radical Feminism" The Conversations Project facebook group: RIRFTCPFG? I need a good acronym, bad. Her name is Margo Schulter. She has been part of Lesbian Feminist community and movement for a long time. Decades.
Moving Beyond the Feminist "Turf Wars"
Julian, having read the "Turf War Zone" statement again, and assuming that this was written by one or more women who, like me, have white privilege, I'd say that we have the same problem on both or all sides: where is the visible and indeed liberating co-leadership of Women of Color, AFAB or trans and/or intersex?
What I'd ask especially my sisters on both or all sides of this "Turf War" with white privilege is this: "Hasn't this four decades of Cold War between sisters, with all of its turning of horizontal differences, tensions, and conflicts into ideologies that verticalize the oppression in the best patriarchal style, really been an exercise in ersatz white-male politics?" All while the promises and demands of the Combahee River Collective go unsupported or `benignly neglected' while we use racism, the Maafa (African/African-American Slave Holocaust), and intersectionality (a term that belongs to Kimberlé Crenshaw and Women of Color, and the rest of us need to share with great humility and respect) mostly as tokens and metaphors.
To make it clear, "verticalizing" here means turning some kind of difference or conflict between women, sisters who are targets of different forms of patriarchal oppression, into a vertical or hierarchical issue where one side represents more "real" or more "oppressed" women, and the other some kind of hierarchal "privilege" that makes them not quite women or not quite human.
Let's quickly sum up this white-male style of verticalizing horizontal differences among feminist and often Lesbian feminist women, AFAB and trans, and intersex too. The Gender Critical Feminist (GCF) school as I've seen it practiced has a woman/trans-"woman" binary in which "transwomen are not women" is a polite version, and "transwomen are men" a less nuanced version. In this approach, there's no need to sort out the often complicated questions of trans women as newcomers to the women's community who've had past male privilege and like newcomers generally need acculturation and resocialization and reeducation. Rather, trans women are by definition either nonwomen or actual men, inherent lifelong oppressors and invaders. That's one version of "us vs. them," which we'd expect in a Cold War based on an ersatz white-male style.
And another white-male approach is the "cis/trans" binary, which holds actually that trans women, here let's say specifically those of us who transition as adults, and are newcomers to the women's and Lesbian communities, actually have and deserve seniority because survivors of lifelong AFAB oppression in fact have "cis privilege." And AFAB Butch Lesbians who every day may face all kinds of risks and oppressions while I enjoy not only white privilege but Femme invisibility -- not to speak of Butch Women of Color like Sakia Gunn who was murdered in 2003 at the age of 15 -- also supposedly have "cis privilege."
What would happen if they gave a Turf War, and lots of women came instead to talk about sex class consciousness, the seniority of AFAB women who have endured female oppression their entire lives, the validity and juniority of trans women, the need for female and more specifically feminist resocialization and reeducation as a lifelong process for those of us with past male privilege as an ongoing experience -- and also the validity of autonomous affinity groups, events, and spaces within the larger women's and Lesbian communities which can draw their own boundaries however they choose?
Quickly, I'd add that just as the Cold War had its nuclear arms race, the term T**F itself has become a weapon that I'm sad to say some of my sisters feel somehow provides safety or strength or protection. The women in 2008 or so who invented the term weren't seeking to dehumanize or degrade, just to distinguish between radical feminist views, just as Lise Meitner in 1938 wasn't seeking to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki or put the world at risk for a genocidal nuclear winter or autumn when she and her colleagues discovered nuclear fission. But weaponization is what happened, and Greenham Common is the place to be for feminist women with sex-class consciousness: it's time to "Ban the Bomb!" And I'd add that the T**F missile is absolutely *not" some magical Star Wars system that will "defend" against some equally ugly rhetorical missiles, or at least missives using the delivery system of the social media, targeted against trans bodies that, through fully consensual surgery for example, don't conform to the patriarchal sex binary that "Gender Critical" theory is all too happy to wrap around itself.
And as Cary Gabriel Costello has eloquently written, intersex people are "collateral damage" (his term) in these weaponized Turf Wars. Intersex gets treated as a rhetorical token or talking point rather than a community and movement of people who have faced horrible infant and childhood medical abuse, all for being born under patriarchy with bodies that don't fit the sex binary. The unique reality of intersex oppression raises issues distinct from those of dyadic (nonintersex) people, including dyadic AFAB or trans people, but how many of us who are dyadic women, AFAB or trans, have really become the allies that we can and should be?
There are also nonbinary/genderqueer/intergender people, some also intersex like Hida Viloria, who get neglected or even derided in these "Turf Wars" as the contest as to "Who's the most oppressed binary woman?" (in the white privilege division of the Oppression Olympics) goes on. And nonbinary activists like Cerien are calling us on our binary privilege, a rant I hope that enough of us will be feminist enough to welcome.
But, indeed, where in all this is the co-leadership of Women of Color, that could help liberate us all from these crazy white-male games of horizontal aggression between sisters in the name of feminism? Where is the common sense of Flo Kennedy, Jeanne Cordova (who as a Lesbian Woman of Color in 2013 offered a sane solution to the Michfest controversy), or bell hooks? Maybe if those of us with white privilege really, really owned it and did a bit of self-impeachment of ourselves as "leaders" in the best Indigenous tradition, then we -- the "we" emphatically including Women of Color -- could come to grips with the AFAB/trans thing also and emerge as sisters and allies in women's and Lesbian communities with many autonomous niches.
Any theory or ideology that tells us that a given woman belongs either in no women's spaces or in all women's spaces is inherently suspect as ersatz white-male verticalization of one kind of another. But having Women of Color more prominently and tellingly present in lots more of those spaces just might help end not only the AFAB/trans "Turf Wars" of the last four decades and a bit more between feminist and often Lesbian women, but the larger "Turf Wars" waged by European and Euro-American racism since the mid-15th century against Indigenous Nations and People of Color around the world.