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By Patrick Califia

Zagreb, Croatia

Transgressing Gender Conference:

Two Is Not Enough For Gender (E)quality

October 7-9, 2005


A major project of this conference is to introduce the concepts of the recent movement for transgender civil rights and cultural equality to the older and larger feminist movement. This endeavor is mounted under the assumption that because both of these movements are focused on issues of gender, there is a natural (or at least, a potential) alliance between them. A subtext of this assumption is the notion that transgendered activists can also benefit from a better understanding of feminist theory and the history of a struggle for the liberation of women.

But is this true? Feminists and transgender activists have been encountering one another since the late 1970s. And yet, Janice Raymond’s The Transsexual Empire remains the only mainstream feminist pronouncement on the topic. The inclusion of transwomen is forbidden at major lesbian feminist events like the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. And female-to-male transsexuals continue to be perceived as traitors to the feminist cause.

A similar alliance is sought between transgendered people and the movements for the equality of gay men and lesbians. This alliance has been created in part because of assertions, frequently made by Kate Bornstein and Riki Wilchins, that gay men and lesbians are disciminated against not for their sexual orientation but for the ways in which they violate masculine norms for men and feminine norms for women. While a “T’ has been added to the “LGB” in the names of many organizations and the gay community is now often referred to as the queer community, the Human Rights Campaign and other large gay/lesbian organizations refuse to lobby for trans inclusion in civil rights legislation.

Why have these older and larger movements failed to integrate the issues of trans people in their agendas for social change? Is it in fact appropriate for transgendered people to seek to better their place in society by working within organizations already established on behalf of women’s equality and full civil rights for homosexuals? It would seem that many transgendered people are eager to distance themselves from either or both of these paradigms for achieving social justice. If we are to build upon the foundation of acceptance and governmental protection that we have achieved in a handful of countries, provinces, or states, how should transgendered people understand the source of their oppression or combat it?