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.