At the Boston Review, Jack Halberstam writes about the fraught (but improving) relationship between trans* politics and feminism. Amidst the Women’s Movement of the 1970s and '80s, writes Halberstam, a certain strain of feminism, which held a very rigid idea of “womanhood,” was hostile towards trans* people. But in the years since, tireless activism by trans* people and vigorous debates among activists and theorists have undermined the universalist notion of “womanhood” and opened up feminism to a more complex understanding of gender. Read an excerpt from Halberstam’s piece below, or the full text here.
Though these past two decades have given us better terms for who we are, they have done less than one might hope to heal the vexed relationship between feminism and trans* activism and theory. Indeed, last year’s Women’s March on Washington was plagued by accusations of transphobia. In response to these concerns, some event organizers for this year’s anniversary marches, taking place this weekend in multiple U.S. cities, are encouraging participants to forgo the pink “Pussy Hats” that came to symbolize last year’s march, acknowledging that the emphasis on “pussy”—despite its ironic and playful inflection—excluded transwomen who may not have conventionally female genitalia. Such rifts, as last year’s march showed, present real impediments to the political alliances that are so desperately needed in our time of extended crisis.
In what follows, I review some of the lesser-told history of alliances between feminists and trans* folk. Through this I arrive at the suggestion that contemporary trans* theory needs to reset the terms of the debate: rather than remaining invested in an identitarian set of conflicts that turn on small differences and individual hurts, trans* and feminist activists should instead work together to oppose the violent imposition of economic disparity, a renewed and open investment in white supremacy, and U.S. imperial ambitions transacted through the channels of globalization.
Image of Jack Halberstam via the Chronicle of Higher Education.