Against Socialist Resistance’s Hosting of Transphobes
‘I’ve been to prison and I’ve been raped by men — straight men!’ In these words at her speech to the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day Rally, Sylvia Rivera outlined the conditions still faced by trans women today. Trans women suffer primarily at the hands of men, yet much of the feminist movement passes over this patriarchal violence in silence. A fixated minority within the movement is uncontent even with this, and actively contributes to the villainization of their trans sisters.
To read a piece written by a feminist refusing solidarity with trans women has sadly become quite unsurprising. From its false distinction between trans women and feminists, to its insinuation that trans women are the agents of men (rather than all too often their victims), the piece ‘Trans women and feminism: why is there a debate?’ is quite typical. This kind of analysis can be found everywhere from the opinion columns of mass publication newspapers, to obscure blogs run by dedicated anti-trans hate groups.
What is unusual is firstly that this document, and its defenders, style themselves as ‘materialist feminists’, and secondly that the piece was commissioned by a leftist group: the UK’s ‘Socialist Resistance’ (an affiliate of the Fourth International). We reject the idea that this framing for debate — as “feminists” versus “trans activists” — is representative, either of reality, or of a materialist feminist approach to the topic.
We reject the idea that solidarity with trans women is a legitimate topic for “debate.” We do not see extending support to the many trans women fearing for their lives on an everyday basis as a topic for discussion. We do not accept contributions to the debate which elide the central aspect of male brutality in the name of crude bodily and decidedly ahistorical “materialism’. We do not accept excuses from leftist groups who host these efforts, in the name of ‘open discussion’.
To the specifics of the article with respect to its pseudo-materialist approach:
This piece bears no resemblance to materialist feminism, which treats women’s bodies as a historically mediated instrument of their oppression. While these supposed materialist feminists are rightly concerned with the effects of reproduction on women’s social roles in capitalist society, they ignore the material effects of non-reproduction under a situation of heteronormative social life and the material reality of violence in all women’s lives--except to imply that trans women are a significant threat to cisgendered women. A cursory examination of the attacks trans women experience from men, and their motivations, reveals that there is no contradiction between materialist feminism and solidarity among all women — cis and trans.
Trans women are unable to bear children (a condition they share with many cis women), and as such they are attacked as inadequate members of the category ‘women’. This is just one aspect of transmisogyny as defined by capitalism. Nevertheless, capitalism requires the social reproduction of labour power, those with an unclear place in this process suffer. This suffering is a bodily matter. Trans women’s bodies are made the point of ridicule, presented as undesirable (to men) or freakish. High profile ‘progressive’ satirists are free to direct jibes towards them, heterosexual men who attack trans women can avoid jail through arguing they found themselves ‘panicked’. Male violence against trans women is justified at every turn in popular culture, and as such takes place physically on public transport, in bathrooms, bedrooms...wherever trans women encounter men. The suffering of trans women is justified through reference to their physical forms and cultural presentation. The dissonance of their ‘natural’ condition and social positioning is presented as intolerably jarring, justifying the very worst offences men can inflict. They are a perceived threat to the natural (oppressive) gender order, and their suffering is a direct reactionary expression of patriarchal contempt. The suffering of trans women is an exemplary feature of all women’s shared position as “naturally” subject to violence. It is a reminder that, for many men, women who cannot reproduce have no reason to live.
Those who suffer worst are those who establishment feminism has failed to protect for other reasons: they belong to ethnic minorities, are sex workers, or are impoverished. Many trans women lose their work during transition, many more cannot find employment because of it, and many women avoid public transition in the face of this risk. For establishment feminism to disregard the conditions of those who struggle accessing the ‘respectable professions’ is predictable. Purported ‘materialist feminists’ should be held to a higher standard. Most trans women are workers, with their livelihoods at the mercy of their employers, and few can confidently expect to be treated mercifully.
Finally, Socialist Resistance’s treatment of this discussion belies their supposed concern with ‘open debate’ and the egalitarianism implied in the mantle of socialist-feminism they proclaim: the website hosts deleted several substantive critiques of the original piece from the comments, while preserving comments from a series of trans-exclusionary cheerleaders coming from a variety of perspectives, some feminist, socialist, or outright reactionary. In fact, among the comments left standing was one which referred to a trans woman as ‘sir’. It would seem that Socialist Resistance’s priority is not even an earnest ‘debate’, but offering bigots an audience through their website.
Trans women’s lives are not a matter to be deliberated. Their existence is not an ‘issue’ that it is helpful for leftist sects to publicly discuss and to take ‘positions’ on. Without support from those with more social weight, the rape and murder of trans women simply trying to walk the streets, and subsist by the limited means available to them, will continue.
We submit that the only appropriate aspect of the piece was its title “trans women and feminism: why is there a debate?” Indeed, why? Trans women who are feminists, and class warriors have a long history and are among those making the most substantive contributions now to the development of a materialist feminism that can revitalize the intellectual tradition of revolutionary communism, anarchism and socialism. Such false “debates” in the sphere of organized socialists only serve to exclude committed revolutionaries from the field of action, the development of theory and what little organization remains of the left.
Anja Weiser Flower
Meghan HinesDot Swoons