Personal Reflections from New Narratives 2014 (or why it has taken me so long to write this)

**This is my personal, informal take on New Narratives and the impact it had on me. For a more objective wrap-up, please look at Snowflake Especial’s excellent post.**

The month leading up to NN2k14 and the event that inspired it, Radfems Respond, felt like something big happening. First of all, RR was a groundbreaking concept itself. It was a formal invitation from radical feminists to those outside their community to come learn some basics of their analysis and outreach. Similarly, we wanted to put on an event that would be just as innovative, except geared toward trans women. We wanted to be part of a bridge between these two groups, based on mutual respect, empathy, and recognition of certain boundaries.

It was all new, and I think we were all fairly nervous/excited about the weekend. The three of us organizers were looking forward to finally connecting with each other (and hoping to meet some other Tumblr pals) in real life. On the other hand, we were also well aware of the possibility that protesters would try to disrupt these events, and this possibility was made more credible by the successful no-platforming of RR at their first location. Much to our relief, no protesters actually showed at either event. In any case, NN didn’t garner much publicity, and most of the attention we did get was negative and dismissive. We expected that, but it was still disappointing.

I was, however, pleasantly surprised that we got some very supportive feedback from others in our community. I happened to find out that some close trans women friends of mine were much more in agreement with our criticisms of trans outreach than I had suspected. It even started to feel like we were about to see a small but significant groundswell of rationality and compassion coming from a community we were feeling more and more distanced from. We were tired of feeling pessimistic about working with others in our community to find a better way forward.

The event itself was a small discussion group of about 8 people in total. The other organizers and I put together a structure of topics for the day, hoping to guide the conversation. We started in the morning with more of a workshop type of format, but soon let discussion threads play out longer. Although we occasionally would pull everyone back to a particular topic, or change directions to get to important issues we still wanted to touch upon, the conversation flowed organically and was mostly fantastic. Our pre-screening process seemed to pay off, as everyone was respectful of others, even when disagreements arose. I felt very comfortable with the environment, and based on the fact that everyone spoke up and contributed to the conversation, I would guess that the other attendees felt comfortable enough as well. That was the main thing we were hoping to create; a safe space conducive to open and frank discussions about very sensitive and difficult topics within the trans women community. In that respect, NN2k14 was a success.

When it came time to think about working on a write-up, I consistently came up blank. I’m still not sure I’ll really capture what I got out of this day. I am so glad this event happened and I’d love to be involved in putting together others in the future. There were points of view and insights raised at NN that honestly challenged me (in a good way, I think), and I definitely feel that spaces like this can only help trans women as a community. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t seriously throw a wrench into my thinking on certain trans issues.

Specifically, I want to grow beyond simply calling out specific trends or members of the trans women community (although I still feel this is important) and actually figure out how to help my community balance its needs with the needs and rights of others; notably, women born female. First of all, though, how do we define those needs? They change based on the perspective, goals, background, and motivations of any given trans woman. Which leads to another topic of lengthy discussion that day: Is it appropriate to set boundaries around our community? How do we go about doing so? Is it even possible? What criteria do we use? What about the people we decide our community does not include? And what about medical access? Do we medicalize trans and approach it like a disorder to treat, or do we approach it from a social angle as a manifestation of internalized (and bunk) gender norms? What are the benefits and drawbacks to each approach? What are the implications of each framework? If physical dysphoria is not an acceptable diagnostic criterion due to the impossibility of objectively testing for it, how do we possibly establish a responsible medical gatekeeping system?

For me personally, I’ve wondered if I really need to go along with other people I interact with who assume I’m female, or would it actually be better to correct them? What, if anything, would correcting them accomplish? What’s the balance I need to strike between living in a way that allows me to build a somewhat normal life (from a social standpoint at least) and fully owning my entire reality in a way that challenges harmful social structures? Should I just come out and be done with it? (There’s at least one major, very personal post I’ve purposely sat on because I’ve been seriously considering this possibility.)

Basically, I learned that day that these issues are much more complex and messy than I could hope to sum up in one blog post. This will need to be an ongoing discussion. Which means there will need to be more spaces where these things can be examined realistically. This movement is still in its infancy, and the level of analysis in the trans mainstream certainly reflects that with embarrassing clarity. I talk a lot about planting seeds or opening doors for others rather than yelling at them until they change. I really feel that New Narratives can be that open door if trans women as a community are willing to walk through it.

.minder

New Narratives 2014 recap: Yes, we solved all the problems of trans activism at our one-day workshop!

Since New Narratives 2014 happened in Portland Oregon back in May, a number of people have been asking when we were going to post a wrapup. As organizers we kept discussing it among ourselves, and setting target dates for when we would finish writing it, and then not having anything we felt like we could post. Now it’s the end of July, and we still haven’t posted anything! The task has felt overwhelming to all three of us. But, something is certainly better than nothing, so here is a brief summary. I imagine some additional accounts will be forthcoming, and I will repost them on my blog. (Remind me if I missed one already please!)

Eight people attended New Narratives. Seven of us were white, and one of us was Latina. One person had transitioned in college, and lived as a trans woman for over 15 years before deciding to detransition in his late thirties. One of us had started transition but was currently questioning their path, and taking a break from medical intervention while they figured things out. They were not alone in this path – several of us had stopped and then re-started transition at different points in our lives. The other six of us were currently taking hormones and living as women. One had begun transition three months before, one of us had been living as a girl/woman for twenty years, and the remaining four had timelines somewhere in-between. Four of us had had SRS, and two of us were planning to get SRS in the future, and two of us weren’t sure.

Everyone was a little nervous leading up to New Narratives – would the same trans activists who threatened to disrupt the Radfems Respond meeting show up and disrupt our event as well? Would we (the organizers and the attendees) get outed by a malicious trans activist? Likewise, would we get no-platformed and lose our venue, the way Radfems Respond had? We had booked the Q Center in Portland for the event, but we kept things pretty vague with them in advance of the meeting, in case their vision of trans politics conflicted with ours. We were careful with our screening of potential attendees, and kept the location secret until a few days before the event. Some radical feminist women we are friends with nervously texted us over the weekend, to make sure everything was going ok.

And in the end, everything did go fine. In fact, everyone who attended seemed to have a great time talking about these issues, and came away feeling excited and energized. The one thing which we didn’t do, of course, was to solve all of trans activism’s problems in eight hours. Sorry, I lied in the title! Though clearly, turning the battle ship of trans activism around in one day would be a fantastic task – after all, it took twenty years of queer theory pomo nonsense, anti-feminist backlash, porn culture, and men’s rights activism to get trans politics into the sorry state it’s in today, where every day on tumblr I read young queer activists write gibberish like “a trans woman with a full beard and a giant dick is just as much of a woman as my mom, if she says so” with a straight face. Like, really??? Let me repeat: lay off the weed, drop out of your fantasy-land queer theory class, and ask yourself, with a straight face, looking in the mirror: really? REALLY?

Anyway, I digress. Which to be honest, was also a lot of what happened at New Narratives. We talked incessantly! We talked all morning, through our coffee breaks, all through lunch, through the afternoon session, through the afternoon break, and then we all went to a bar down the street and talked for another 90 minutes! It was an amazing feeling, to be honest! I felt so happy and grounded, to be around other trans women who were able to name reality. We could discuss in peace the ways in which male privilege had helped us, and the specific hurts that our struggles in the male pecking order had caused us, without any delusional trans activist insisting that she was “biologically female” or had been “socialized female” despite her participation in all-male activities like Boy Scouts or the Army Special Forces. We got to talk openly about how passing had helped us and hurt us, as well as how not passing had helped us and hurt us. We got to talk about our relationships to our bodies, to each other, to our families and loved ones, to trauma, and to healing. I’ve been to a lot of support groups in my day, as well as a lot of political meetings around gender and sexuality – but this was something different and special: there was a terrific atmosphere of mutual respect, an enduring baseline of safety, and a rare spark of excitement and relief.

But as I alluded to, one thing that did not come out of New Narratives was any sense of closure. While we talked and talked, a lot of ideas were thrown around, and juxtaposed and put into different contexts. Clearly this was a conversation that had needed to happen for a long time! It felt exciting, and important, and like maybe the beginning of something a lot bigger than any of us. But there was no convergence: in fact, the conversation frankly diverged! I have been thinking a lot over the last year about feminism’s message problem, in the age of feminist individualism where “anything a woman does is feminist if she says it is”, and the way that feminism has completely lost focus of the basics of class analysis: after all, “gender-based violence” is actually a one-way street (name the problem: MALE violence), and women are still paid 75 cents (or significantly less) on the male dollar. It’s been a truism for the last twenty years that the radical right is winning the war on women because they have better messaging – so when are we going to take ownership and turn this around?

When judged against the messaging metric, New Narratives was an abject failure. We couldn’t even agree on a list of bullet points, let alone finding “sticky” ways of expressing our political goals! Well, all of us agreed that convictions for sex offenses (other than prostitution) and/or violent crimes should permanently disallow trans women from legal change of sex. We all agreed that fighting against childhood gender policing was a more pressing issue than transitioning children, which many of us were skeptical of. We all thought that further scientific research on transition was important, including evidence-based studies on who transition helps and how it helps them, in addition to who transition doesn’t help and how it hurts them. We all agreed that we wanted to hear more trans women’s voices, and we wanted there to be more narratives of the experience of gender nonconformity and transition, since none of us felt like the traditional narratives had fully explained our lives. We all supported female-only political space, and agreed that access to female-only spaces like locker rooms and bathrooms is a privilege, not a right, and that generally trans people should use the bathroom of “least distress”, in the sense of minimizing disruption to others.

But other than that, there was a lack of political consensus. We all agreed that access to trans healthcare is crucially important. But which treatments are medically necessary – are any of them? Does the disease model of transsexuality ultimately help us or hurt us in the long run? To the extent that motivations are knowable, does it matter whether a trans woman’s transition is mostly motivated by autogynephilia, as opposed to sex or gender dysphoria? How can we hold providers of trans healthcare accountable for the outcomes of the treatments they provide? Most of us supported a return to some form of gate-keeping, medicalized version of transition – meaning, trans health care should be based on professional diagnosis and prescription, not self-diagnosis and self-prescription – but there wasn’t really any agreement on who would set the gatekeeping requirements, and how to provide checks on these requirements to make sure they weren’t being abused.

In general, we all wanted to move trans theory away from the idea of a trans hierarchy where some trans women are more “legitimate” than others, and wanted to take a more holistic approach to gender non-conformity rather than the all-or-nothing mentality of many transitioners. For several of us, being able to articulate that we are still male even when we pass socially as female, or that one can be a “male woman”, is a key concept in understanding our lives. We all agreed that actions and behaviors are more important than intentions and self-identifications, and attempts by trans activists to be the world’s pronoun police are misguided and futile. It is absurd to imagine we can legislate other people’s reactions to us. We were all concerned about sexual predators in the trans woman community – but other than fostering a climate that allows the victims of physical and/or sexual abuse by trans women to name the agent (i.e.: male violence), we had no solution for how to police the boundaries of the trans woman community to reduce the amount of sexual abuse that trans women commit against other trans women, and women born female.

We ended the formal part of New Narratives with a debrief session. Several of us mentioned that our favorite aspect of New Narratives were the chance to talk freely about these issues in so much depth among other people who shared the same reality-respecting ground rules. A number of us also complained that there was not enough time overall, and specifically not enough time devoted to practical steps – both topics of pressing importance like “How do we support trans women who do not pass in a way that helps them feel validated as people and socially integrated, while also respecting the range of experience in our community?”, as well as the coveted bullet-point list for a new version of trans political activism that is safer for trans people and safer for women and girls born female. There was certainly a lot left on the to-do list.

To close, I’ll reiterate again: it took 20 years for this disaster of trans politics to happen, and it’s going to take some more time to turn trans politics around. We modeled New Narratives in part on the women’s conscious-raising groups that sprang up all across the US in the late 1960’s. Women in the US made huge gains in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, and it didn’t happen overnight – it required a number of paradigm shifts, which were facilitated in large part by the conscious-raising movement.

Clearly the types of conversations we had at New Narratives need to happen among many more trans women – current, former, and future – in many other venues and locales. If you are a trans woman – current, former, or future – and you want to organize your own New Narratives conference, please get in touch with us. We will be more than happy to share resources and results! Because realistically, if the major piece that comes out of New Narratives is a framework for conversations about gender and sexuality that respect reality and the rights of women born female, I’m more than happy to take that as a win at this point!

Originally posted at snowflakeespecial.tumblr.com.

How is gender harmful, and what does the idea of gender abolition mean to trans women?

Gender abolition is an idea that seems to make no sense to most people in the trans community. It simply doesn’t compute. Isn’t gender also sex? Isn’t sex a social construct? Isn’t gender innate? Doesn’t gender just follow from sex or vice versa? The first part of this essay will briefly disentangle some phenomena that are commonly conflated in our thinking about what it is to be trans. This is necessary in order to illustrate why gender is harmful and something we should work to end. Finally, I’ll go over some ways that trans women would benefit in a world without gender.

There are three main components to transness the way it is conceived within this community: Anatomical sex, social gender expectations, and gender identity.

Anatomical sex pertains to the observable sex traits of the physical body. Some of us, for whatever reason, feel an innate revulsion toward these sex traits in ourselves and pursue a process of bodily alteration. Certain secondary sex characteristics can be altered through hormone use and surgery, genitalia and reproductive organs can be reconfigured/removed, but birth sex is not something that can be changed. The categories ‘female’ and ‘male’ refer to the two predominant sex types in humans*. By themselves these terms are neutral and describe an objective reality.

Gender refers to the social rules and expectations assigned to each of us based on birth sex or perceived sex (a box for each sex: female->woman and male->man). These can change based upon how others perceive us. When trans people change our physical sex characteristics such that others read us as the opposite sex, we often claim to have transcended gender when in fact, we have only hopped the fence separating ‘man’ and ‘woman’. The perceptions of others still in most cases lead them to place us into one of two gender boxes and thus expect certain behaviors, personality traits, and abilities from us. The problem with gender is that these expectations are not neutral or equal between the sexes. Traits associated with males place them as the sex class in a position of being ‘naturally’ dominant; ‘natural’ exploiters. Females find the traits assigned to them positioning them as always the exploited. The system of gender is not a benign tool for simple categorization; this is both the basis and the means to enforce social, institutional, and physical domination of males as a sex class over females as a sex class. This is patriarchy.

Trans women suffer under patriarchy for reasons that differ from the reasons why females suffer. While gender nonconforming females are punished under patriarchy for attempting to reject their ‘proper’ role as subservient and exploited, trans women (gender nonconforming males) are punished for being seen to reject our ‘proper’ role as dominant exploiters. If we can reject this construct as artificial, then other males could be called to do the same, and that poses a considerable threat to males who are happy to leverage their privilege over females.

Gender identity is normally meant to refer to a person’s self-conception in relation to social gender expectations. Sometimes this is seen as distinct from biological sex, but often this internalization of social gender roles is claimed to be inborn and immutable. The claim is that everyone has an innate gender identity which is present from birth; and that for some people, their identity is different from their anatomical birth sex. It’s said that this is the root cause of a trans person’s internal anguish.

The concept of gender identity is problematic when we remember the analysis of gender outlined above. Implicit in the definition of gender identity is that nontrans females and males feel no distress about the arbitrary gender rules pushed onto them based on birth anatomy. We’re asked to accept that the stereotypes of men and women are obeyed by people outside the trans community happily and without complaint or angst. From this it would follow that feeling angst toward patriarchal social rules makes one ‘not really their birth sex'; or trans. This is a plainly ridiculous notion. The entire feminist movement has been the struggle of females against the oppression they have suffered under the gender rules enforced onto them by patriarchy. To believe the definition of gender identity is to believe that every feminist who ever lived was/is truly male, instead of recognizing that they were/are actually fighting for their autonomy as female human beings.

It’s worth staying with the topic of gender identity for a moment, since this is an idea used to fuel major misconceptions within the trans community with harmful consequences. Chief among these misconceptions is one that is currently a mandatory tenet of trans outreach. This meme asserts that personal identity overrides biological reality, and should be sufficient to convince other people that trans people are not our birth sex. This is clearly untrue (see the paragraph about anatomical sex). It’s also dangerous, both to women born female and to trans people.

Trans women are harmed when gender identity crashes into reality. When we hold onto the idea that identity trumps biology, it can lead us to unrealistic expectations about how others will or should interact with us during and after transition. It can cause us to put ourselves in unsafe situations where being oblivious poses a genuine threat. But overall it leaves trans women ill-equipped to deal with the psychological toll that comes with being visibly gender nonconforming in a society where this is punished. This is not something that can be changed by simply stating a tautology like ‘I am a woman because I *know* I’m a woman!’ It’s easy for trans women to lose track of the fact that gender is a social mechanism rather than a status we can demand. When we respond to instances of ‘misgendering’ by doubling down on a faulty premise, it’s counter-adaptive and fixes none of the problems we face in society. A better way forward may be to use a more accurate understanding of gender to readjust our expectations of transition.

Women born female have been most negatively affected by the phenomenon of gender identity. They have to contend with their designated safe spaces being rendered open to any male at all who identifies as a woman. They’ve been robbed of the language necessary to speak frankly about their reproductive anatomy, even within conversations about attacks on their reproductive rights; words like ‘vagina’ and ‘uterus’ being attacked as ‘cissexist’. Lesbians have found themselves being savaged as bigots for not wanting to sleep with (or even simply not being sexually attracted to) trans women, no matter their surgical status. I mention these issues not to demonize trans women, but to emphasize that our current outreach is doing harm to the group we are ostensibly endeavoring to live among. All of these problems stem directly from the widely-shared delusion among trans women that our thoughts change our bodies or the physical and social context of our bodies; that identification with the patriarchally-constructed image of woman automatically makes us female.

What gender identification does is to reify an artificial power device** (the sexualized conception of ‘womanhood’, based upon control of females by males) into a thing that can be claimed, rather than a status that is forced upon half the population. Take a minute to think about who benefits from this construct. Think about who suffers, and how, and why. Male power is the framework constricting and distorting the ways most of us can even ponder these notions. We are not born with these frameworks already in our brains, although we learn them from our surrounding culture from such a young age that it’s no wonder they come to be thought of as innate. In recognizing what gender really is, and that none of us are born with the inkling (so reinforced that we mistake it for knowledge) that males are stronger, smarter, more capable, better than females; that females are simply weaker (in every sense) and naturally submissive to males, we realize that we have the choice to stop reifying the system of gender.

So what would a world without gender mean to trans women? For one thing, it would mean much less, if any, violence and verbal abuse directed our way for expressing our natural inclinations and curiosities during childhood and adolescence. Imagine growing up not being harassed or being bombarded with shaming messages for the things we like to do, how we like to express ourselves, whether we find ourselves sexually attracted to the same or the opposite sex (oh yeah, that’s another benefit to gender abolition… homophobia would have no context within which to exist). This would go for transitioning/post-transition women as well (sex dysphoria seems to be a separate issue from gender angst, and so some would probably still feel the need to undergo physical transition).

Which leads me to another possible outcome.. Many people who would be trans women in a gendered society may not feel the need to change their bodies in a genderless society. I’m fully aware of the way this statement could be interpreted and so let me make myself absolutely clear: I do not mean to erase the existence of trans women. But if we pay attention to the ways trans women speak about how they knew they were trans and where their pain came from, we find that many trans women were uncomfortable with their social context, and because of this they felt it necessary to change their bodies to match the social category they wanted to join. We see this with the focus on wanting to play with dolls as a child, wanting to wear dresses and makeup in adolescence, not wanting the social obligations that come with manhood. If the system of gender didn’t exist, and so these structures were not there to be enforced, what would change for these trans women? Behaviorally very little – but socially, very much; all of us could present and live exactly how we please without being chastised for breaking taboos. I believe that there are some vital questions we need to ask ourselves: Do we truly need to be trans women (or even women at all), or do we need to just be us? What does it say about our identities if they’re defined and conceived in opposition to the other prevailing social category?

Those of us who experience bodily dysphoria would have a clearer framework to use when deciding whether or not to pursue transition. As it is now, many of us experience strong doubts or conversely, false surety about transition based upon our typically complicated relations to gender standards. Without the clutter of social gender norms taking up the same headspace as our alienation from our bodies, we could re-frame and simplify the question thus: “Would physical alterations of my body allow me to function better?” as opposed to the questions current transitioners also struggle with: “What will the people closest to me think?”  “Can I still build a life for myself if I transition but don’t look female?”

When thinking of issues concerning trans women, it’s easy to get lost in the mazes created by conflation of sex, social gender, identity, and the unclear picture many people have of the mechanisms of patriarchy and female oppression. If we can cut gender out of our conceptions of transness (this would include no longer treating gender identity as a valid force acting on reality), we would find things remarkably simplified. It will be an exceedingly difficult and lengthy process, but without the mass hypnosis of gender hierarchy reification, we can imagine a world that is truly more free and equal for everyone. The best part is that it’s totally possible if we’re willing to take the notion seriously.

 

*This is not to erase the existence of people born with intersex conditions. This is a distinct community with its own unique needs and issues.

**To be clear, the effects of this device are definitely real. It’s the constructed image that’s artificial.

Refusing to give a voice to trolls is not the same as “censorship”

Several trans women who are well-known trolls of radfem blogs have complained about being banned from commenting at the New Narratives blog. They have said (in comments that I left in the spam folder) that they were being censored, that the authors of New Narratives are hypocrites, and that we are lying when we say we want an open and honest debate.

Every woman knows that online trolling is a real problem, because women are overwhelmingly the victims of online trolling. Women are told to get raped, that they’re ugly and unfuckable, that they should kill themselves, that they should get murdered, and combinations of all of these things. Most of this trolling is (obviously) done by men, though a good bit of it is also done by trans women. When their hateful language is pointed out, the trolls say they’re “just joking”, or complain that they’re being censored or silenced.

If you think it’s funny to make jokes about raping and murdering women, you are not a friend to women. It’s that simple! And I will not support you in making those jokes by publishing them on a blog I run, unless I’m publishing them specifically to critique them. Why would I signal boost someone who hates women? My politics are informed by feminism, which means I believe in the liberation of females from male violence and oppression!

The internet has given us unprecedented access to information, which most people think is good. However, the dark side is that there is also more misinformation available than ever. Say what you want about the biases of traditional news media and publishing outlets, but at least they generally did some amount of fact checking. In the age of twitter and tumblr, an opinion written in thirty seconds by someone with no knowledge of what they’re pontificating about is considered equivalent “proof” to a book that an academic took ten years to research and write. Frankly, this kind of anti-intellectual populism is a deeply disturbing trend which does not bode well for the future of civilized society!

Curating blog comments, to eliminate ones which deliberately spread lies and misinformation, and likewise choosing not to publish comments which represent opinions as fact, is clearly a public good. If you want to keep opining that “penis is female because I say so”, go start a tumblr. But on this blog, I’m sorry but it’s going right into the spam folder.

However, there are a lot of discussions about sex and gender that we welcome on this blog, and look forward to having in Portland. By all means, talk about the problems you have with your birth sex, talk about the frustration you feel that society forces arbitrary roles onto us all based on our birth sex, talk about how slugs are your spirit animal and how human society would probably be more egalitarian if all humans could get pregnant and give birth. Talk about what it means to be born male, but be perceived as female by most people you meet. Talk about the weird things that happened to your body at puberty that made you feel like an outsider from the sex binary. But cut the crap with “sex is socially constructed” and “female penis” arguments. If you didn’t learn what sex is in first grade, you should probably ask a first grade teacher (or your mom) to go over how babies are made with you. We don’t need to waste everyone’s time with your fantasy view of the world on this blog.

Likewise, it is not “censorship” to enforce a zero-tolerance policy for comments which say violence and threats of violence against women are ok. I refuse to support hate speech! If you hate women, go post on a men’s rights forum. There will be plenty of males who agree with you over there, whether or not you’re a trans woman. And by the way, when women say “men are awful, they rape and murder women all the time”, that’s not hate speech – it’s just accepting reality.

On the other hand, if you would like to debate the priorities that we have set out for New Narratives, or suggest alternate priorities that you feel are more important, we would love to hear your feedback. We have already heard from a number of readers, both in the comments and by email, that they would like New Narratives to focus more on some of the specific issues which are causing the current crisis in the trans community. How do we reduce violence against trans women of color, especially trans women of color who do sex work? How can we support trans women and trans teens who are homeless? How do we improve access to and the quality of trans health care? All three of the organizers agree that these are important topics, and we look forward to talking them out with you, and trying to find solutions.

But we will still insist upon the ground rule that solutions to the problems of trans women cannot come at the expense of the rights of women born female.

We look forward to further thoughtful discussion, both on this blog and in Portland.

Why is New Narratives 2014 a trans woman-only event?

We have been asked several times why New Narratives 2014 is only open to trans women, and why we have not invited women born female, trans men and other trans people born female, or nontrans males. We would like to address this explicitly.

First, we reiterate that New Narratives 2014 is open to all trans women – current, former, and future. In addition, we welcome males who seriously considered transition, but have decided against it for the time being, and we welcome intersex people who were raised as boys, and have since transitioned or are considering transition.

The concept for this workshop came out of a conversation about attending Radfems Respond, which takes place in Portland the same weekend as our event. We plan to attend the Saturday portion of Radfems Respond, which is open to everyone. The Sunday portion of Radfems Respond is for women born female only. The thought simultaneously occurred to all three of us: we’ll be in Portland anyway, so shouldn’t we use Sunday to have some tough conversations among ourselves, as trans women?

And so New Narratives is meant to send the explicit message that we respect female-only spaces. It is definitely not meant in the spirit of protest a la Camp Trans, nor as a way to co-opt and mock the reasons why female-only space is necessary. Rather, it is meant to communicate our understanding that trans women as a community are directly impacted by some issues affecting females (and that it makes sense for the two communities to work together on these), but that there are also many issues unique to each group. It’s important for us to recognize these facts in a mature way. New Narratives is our attempt to put this idea into practice in the real world: sometimes we work together, and sometimes we work separately.

The framework for New Narratives owes a heavy debt to second-wave feminism, which we happily acknowledge. Consciousness-raising – focused, small-group discussion of particular issues that are both personal and political – was essential to the spread of second-wave feminist thinking. We are hopeful that we can re-purpose this tool to help us deconstruct some of the harmful aspects of modern trans theory and activism from the inside. After all, as Audre Lorde so famously said, the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. And we want to emphasize that New Narratives is focused on using the tools of feminist thinking to do a critical analysis of trans theory and activism. This is emphatically not the appropriation of feminist language as a tool to attack women, as we see in the construction of “transmisogyny” as an excuse for corrective rape talk, or the relentless attacks on female-only space being framed as a social justice issue. Clearly, any “feminism” which is incompatible with the rights of people born female is bullshit!

Regarding trans men, we fully support them as our brothers and fellow trans folk! However, while we share with them our discomfort with our birth sex, there are many issues which impact our communities in profoundly different ways. We prefer to support trans men by letting them speak for themselves, and signal boosting when appropriate. If some trans men want to organize their own workshop to take place on the same day as New Narratives, we would be delighted to assist them however we can. We also look forward to organizing similar conversations which include both trans men and trans women in the future.

But the biggest motivation for making New Narratives trans women only, is to try and deal directly with the problems in our own community. The trans community has recently been finding itself in the spotlight more and more, and we haven’t even cleaned our own house yet – rather, the loudest trans activists are the same ones talking corrective rape and making death threats! There is much difficult, possibly painful internal work we must do, for the sake of other trans women, as well as for the sake of the other people in our lives – since we don’t transition or live in a vacuum. By restricting registration to trans women, we mean to convey that it is not the obligation of trans men, women born female, or nontrans males for that matter, to fix what’s broken in trans woman activism. This is solely the responsibility of trans women and we need to do this work ourselves.

We welcome all current, former, and future trans women

New Narratives 2014 is a space for all trans women – because there is no one type of trans woman, and certainly no such thing as a “true” transsexual. So we welcome all trans women, wherever they are at in their process – trans women who are currently transitioning, former trans women who have retransitioned to living as men, trans women who are assimilated as women, and future trans women who are considering or planning to transition.

New Narratives 2014 is just as much for trans women who don’t pass, and trans women who don’t want to pass, as it is for trans women who aim to pass, or further to assimilate. We welcome butch-identified trans women alongside femme-identified trans women. We welcome equally trans women who partner with females, with each other, with men, or with no one, and we welcome trans women who are autogynephilic.

We welcome trans women of color, and we welcome trans women from minority religious and cultural backgrounds. We welcome drag queens, fem queens, traps, baeddels, transsexuals, non-ops, part-timers, gender queers, bigenders, agenders, women of transsexual experience – you name it, you can come. If you are ready to have an open and honest conversation about where trans activism is at, and where you are at, we want you!

Contrary to the accusations of elitism and separatism frequently aimed at gender-critical trans women, New Narratives was specifically conceived as a radically inclusive conversation, for all people born male* who have taken, or have considered taking, steps to modify the sexed characteristics of their bodies. We eschew hierarchies, and instead focus on the commonalities we share – that we were all born male, but we have eschewed our male sex, and have rebelled against society’s attempts to gender us as boys and men.

The ground rules for the conversation are simple, and few:

  • accept that humans are sexually dimorphic
  • accept that we are male
  • accept that sex-based socialization begins at birth
  • accept that while our lives may overlap with those of women born female, they are also different in key ways
  • affirm that death and rape threats directed at lesbians and feminists are never acceptable under any circumstances

In addition, we will have the safe space policies of using people’s preferred pronouns during the workshop, and no cameras or recording devices. Pseudonyms and nicknames are totally acceptable – we respect your right to privacy! Please respect ours!

We will not agree with each other on everything – and that’s ok! We were all dealt different hands in the world. Our physicality, our upbringing, our social networks, and our life goals will all influence the decisions we make relating to transition. Likewise, our priorities for activism may be different. That’s also ok! This is a first step in trying to re-direct this conversation in a way where we can still find ways to live comfortably in the world, but at the same time lessen the harm that trans activism is doing to women born female, and to ourselves as trans women.

So again, we are calling all trans women – current, former, and future – to join us in Portland, and help move this conversation forward! Email us at newnarratives2014 at hotmail to register, or to send us a message.

 

*Note: we also welcome intersex individuals who were raised as boys and/or lived as men, but are considering transition or actively transitioning to living as women. However, we have a strict no-COINing policy (co-opting intersex narratives). That means, if you are a trans woman who “suspects” or wishes you were intersex, but have not been diagnosed, please either see a doctor or cut it with the appropriation.

Why we feel the need to remain anonymous

New Narratives 2014 is being organized by three transsexual women. We are putting together this workshop in order to encourage members of our community to ask tough questions and to do some internal work that may be very difficult. We realize that not all trans women are in a place where they are ready to consider these notions.

To be blunt, many of the topics we hope to explore during this event are dynamite within the trans community. As individuals, we have in the past been shouted down, called names, accused of transphobia, accused of self-hatred, accused of violence, blocked, banned, smeared, and threatened for voicing our opinions and concerns. Additionally, all of us live stealth lives. We are torn between our concern for our sisters and community and our fear not only of losing the normality we’ve built for ourselves in our personal lives, but also being personally attacked and libeled by zealous trans activists. Moving this discussion from the virtual world to the real world is risky, and we are well aware of the fire we’re playing with. Attendees will be meeting with us personally, and we’re ready for that step, but posting our identities online publicly still feels reckless at this point.

To any and all trans women who already consider themselves gender and/or trans-critical, or to any who find themselves at a crossroads in their conception of self and community: please come. We’re holding this event because we care and we seek better directions for trans discourse. We’re anonymous because we know the current state of trans activism and we recognize the necessity of caution.