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W hile the lives and struggles of transgender people remain largely invisible to the mainstream, trans people have long been an active part of feminist organizing and progressive movements. Women’s groups and spaces, from rape crisis centers to music festivals, are increasingly working to create new policies and practices to include and integrate people who identify as transgender and transsexual. The politics of trans inclusion can offer opportunities to expand the meaning of feminism and broaden the scope of women’s social justice work.
The Trans Inclusion Project, part of the 519 Church Street Community Center in Toronto (“the 519”), works with women’s anti- violence organizations to help women-only services become trans- inclusive. Since its founding 6 years ago, the project has worked with over 200 women’s organizations across Ontario to train staff and board members and make specific policy recommendations.
Camp Trans outside the Michigan Womyn’s Festival in 2006— photo from camptrans.squarespace.com
“I believe that trans folks should be integrated into every service,” says Yasmeen Persad, director of the Trans Inclusion Project. In her trainings with rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters, she covers the basics of gender and transition, the role of sex work, the history of transgender organizing and violence on a systemic level. She says the hardest part of the training is helping people recognize trans women as women.
The extensive trans programs at the 519 started when three sex workers, two of them trans, were murdered in the Toronto area. One trans woman went to the city and the 519 to demand a project geared towards addressing this kind of violence. Persad explains that while there are specific issues of violence for trans women—a 1998 study in Ontario said that 50 percent of trans people reported having been raped or assaulted by an intimate partner—there is also a great deal of overlap between the experiences of trans and non-trans women.
“There are issues of self-esteem” for all women, Persad says. In her work with women’s domestic violence shelters, rape crisis organizations, and other service groups, she finds that in addition to issues of immigration, welfare, and the threat of being reported to the state because of sex work, trans women also face hate-motivated violence and high costs of gender-related surgeries.
Another trainer and activist for trans inclusion, Molly McClure, worked with Women’s Anti-Violence Education (WAVE) in Philadelphia for five years as an organizer and self-defense teacher. McClure’s activism was central to a long process of building the historically feminist organization to explicitly include trans people.
“Women and trans people all experienced gender-based issues,” McClure says, “around their bodies, how they wear them, how they move, where they go at night.” McClure has done a number of trainings on trans inclusion and says she focuses on the overlap between trans and non-trans women in experiencing gendered violence and oppression—not in an attempt to minimize the differences, but to focus on a common struggle and on “recognizing natural alliances.”
“I try to center trans oppression squarely in other oppressions,” McClure says, “so it doesn’t get isolated into ‘Who are those freaky people that want to be a part of this?’ but more ‘How is transphobia similar and different to other issues of power and discrimination?’”
McClure and Persad agree that making connections helps to bridge the gap for many non-trans women who are struggling with fears around working with trans people. Persad says that after participating in her trainings, many people see more similarities than differences in the struggles of trans and non-trans women.
Partly thanks to McClure, WAVE now defines “women” as anyone who has identified or currently identifies as a woman. Trans women can now participate in women-only self-defense classes, and there are also separate courses for trans people of all genders.
How did these changes come about within a feminist organization that was resistant to the prospect at first? McClure says that long, challenging conversations were essential. She believes that trans inclusion requires trainings, education, and reframing an organization’s priorities. She warns against doing sensitivity trainings and stopping there.
“If an organization is serious about change, it needs to be an ongoing process,” she says, adding that “If we think making an organization trans inclusive is about doing a bunch of paperwork, that’s sad.” McClure encourages organizations dedicated to trans inclusion to have an active member inside the organization working on the issue, as well as working with supportive allies from outside of the organization.
McClure also points out that working for trans inclusion can be a good opportunity for an organization to do an “anti-racist audit”; to look at who is in leadership and who has power within the organization as a whole. Trans inclusion, she says, can and should push beyond a “liberalized” approach which tends to focus on including white, middle-class trans people.
Persad, for her part, plays a leadership role as a trans person, and she works with a group of seven other trans-identified activists, including three other women. The Trans Inclusion Project also makes a habit of referring local organizations to trans women who are doctors, professors, and teachers who may be able to support their work.
San Francisco Women Against Rape, a radical anti-violence organization, has been trans inclusive “in theory” for as long as Executive Director Janelle White remembers. The organization began articulating new trans policies in their most recent strategic plan. White defends the existence of organizations like hers, which specifically mandate the leadership of women of color, arguing that their politics work in tandem with, rather than against, trans politics.
“Identity politics have a place,” White says. “If they isolate you and make you not able to see connections with people, it’s not useful. If they give you a chance to sustain yourself, do healing, be with your people so you can go back out and do the coalition piece of the work, that’s great.” Trans inclusion, she says, “is not in contradiction to prioritizing women of color leadership.”
S an Francisco Women Against Rape partners with other local anti-oppression organizations to offer Trans 101 trainings to all of their volunteers. All of their staff are familiar with gender identity issues. White says that the biggest question they currently face is about the role of transgender people on the female-to-male (FtM) spectrum. Those on the FtM spectrum have sometimes been more easily integrated into women’s space than male-to-female folks, but complex questions remain regarding the roles of trans people who do not identify as “women.” White believes that female-assigned trans people can support the work of her organization without needing to identify them as being women, but seeing them as allies.
The Trans Inclusion Project is in the process of researching the needs of female-to-male transgender and transsexual people in the Toronto shelter system. Persad’s guess is that for some female-assigned trans people, women’s shelters are still the safest or the only place to go. Also, many people on the female-to-male spectrum access reproductive health resources primarily geared towards women and the time may come when those who do not identify as “female” begin to seek a voice within the reproductive justice movement.
Of course, not every feminist organization is opening its doors to transgender people. Those groups who continue to resist it find themselves under increasing pressure from trans activists, as in the case of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, whose long-standing policy of excluding trans people has brought on articles, artist boycotts, and a 15-year sit-in at the festival gates by Camp Trans, an ad-hoc organization that demands inclusion at the largest women-only music festival in the world.
Lorrraine is a trans woman who attended the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in 2006, causing a wave of renewed controversy over old policies. Lorrraine self-describes primarily as a feminist activist who is trans, rather than a “trans activist.” When asked why she opposes the policy of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, Lorrraine is clear on her feminist values: “Any politics that divide women into groups of good women we support and bad women we oppose, I think is misogynistic and I don’t support it. A lot of people have difficult ideas about us—how we think, how we act, how we came about,” she says. “I hear these ideas repeated over and over. They get a lot more attention than the lives of trans women I know that don’t fit the patriarchal mold.”
One of the most common fears that arises is the fear of violence—what McClure calls “the sexual assault myth, the idea that all trans women are rapists.”
In her work at WAVE and with the Philadelphia shelter system— which is in the process of becoming trans-inclusive—McClure has addressed these fears with groups of women. On how to respond to questions of safety, she explains: “It was useful to talk about physical violence. People do get assaulted in shelters, people are not in a safe space. This is not specific to trans people.”
Activists like Emi Koyama frame the exclusion of trans people as a race and class issue, explaining that while penises may trigger associations of violence for some women, white skin may trigger other women as a symbol of violence. No women’s space, whether it is a shelter or a music festival, is inherently “safe” for all women, and to claim that it is writes off the experiences of women who are targets of multiple forms of violence.
“We live in a violent time,” says McClure. “There is a war on women’s bodies, queer folks, folks of color, poor folks. The fear of violence is real. But transphobia, along with racism and classism, can keep many of us from accurately identifying the real enemy, or effectively building towards what will make us truly safe. In a loving, respectful way, we need to challenge some of those misdirected fears.”
Trans-inclusive feminism has a lot to offer to a broader social justice movement, not the least of which is a complex and practical analysis of gender and power. Women and trans people ought to be at the forefront of struggles for justice, defining the terms and building the future alongside other marginalized people committed to liberation and real change.
Lewis Wallace is a transgender activist, student, and zinester. He has worked for a number of years as a sex educator and grassroots fundraiser. His essays appear in various anthologies and magazines under the name “Sailor.” He lives in Chicago, Illinois.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.