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Gender Wars History Series: The Woman Within Or Women Without?
Lesbian Tide Magazine Discusses Transsexuals in 1977
As I have shown in previous posts for this series (A Woman’s Love, "We Must Not Call Him Sister", and The Sandy Stone and Olivia Records Controversy), feminist and lesbian communities have been dealing with trans-identified men for decades. The Gender Wars are nothing new.
In 1977, the feminist lesbian publication Lesbian Tide also explored the problem in a feature of its May/June issue titled “Transsexuals: The Woman Within Or Women Without?” by Sharon McDonald.
“Most transsexuals are straight, but those relatively few who identify as lesbian feminist women are forcing the lesbian movement to come to a more exact definition of womanhood and lesbianism,” the article begins.
I agree that most trans-identified men are in fact straight, but not in the way that McDonald means (attracted to other men). They are heterosexuals with an autogynephilia fetish. Today, more and more autogynophiles feel empowered to identify as “trans,” but I believe they have always been the most common type of men who seek to transition. The fact that there were enough of them out of the already supposedly rare cohort of men who identify as women to cause problems for lesbian communities in the ‘70s is telling in and of itself.
Back to the article: we get a short discussion of the “innate femaleness” that I think highlights how these men gained the foothold in feminism that they did. Rooting femaleness in some sort of “innate” sense instead of firmly in the biological reality of literally being female was, as McDonald also points out, exactly the in that trans-identified men needed.
McDonald then touches on the Olivia Records controversy, which I discussed last month, where an all-woman recording company hired a trans-identified male sound technician.
In summing up the controversy, she writes:
For those women who feel that the transsexual has "paid" for her privilege in personal pain, there is no resentment. But for other women, there is no way the transsexual can repay the debt incurred by years of male status and advantage.
Unfortunately, I think both views are a problem. How much privilege a man has before and after transition should be immaterial to the question of if he should be considered a woman or a lesbian. “Male” and “female” are not differing states of oppression; they are two different and mutually exclusive sexes.
This is, of course, a radical feminist magazine and I am not surprised to see discussions of privilege in regard to the sexes. But framing the discussion of who is and isn’t a woman in this way is, I fear, a part of what led us to the predicament we are in today. And the problems were already starting then:
As more transsexuals come out of the closet and community awareness of transsexualism grows, protests over the presence and inclusion of transsexuals at all-women's events are escalating… What is distressing is that more and more transsexuals, both pre and post-operative, are are being accepted as lesbian women.
Radical feminist lesbians of the 1970s were resistant to rooting femaleness in biology out of fear that it would reify sex roles. This is understandable, but it was an attitude open to exploitation by trans-identified men, and that's exactly what happened.
Indeed, Mcdonald writes that “The conflict between lesbian separatists and lesbian transsexuals is a crucial political dilemna for the lesbian movement, demanding a definition of womanhood so concrete as to be unmistakeable, so cut and dried as to be cold-blooded.”
But there is nothing cold-blooded in knowing that a woman is an adult human female, and I am heartened by the fact that today’s gender critical movement is not afraid to speak about the biological differences between the sexes while affirming that both are equal in value.
This is the sort of message, I believe, that doesn’t allow trans-identified men to lay claim to femaleness. They are men, no matter what level of privilege they believe they have given up or what innate femininity they believe they harbor. In a sense, I am relieved that the discussion has changed, because it shows that we are not just going around in circles.
Maybe, just maybe, we won’t be stuck in this same loop for another 40 years.
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