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Trans Activists: MRAs?

June 5, 2012

A personal response from Unquiet on some of the articles that have emerged in the last week

Conway Hall has issued a statement revealing Radfem 2012 will not go ahead at their venue.

Conway Hall describes itself as negotiating with the event organisers, and being unable to reach an agreement – evidently, Radfem 2012 saw its trans-exclusionary policy as more important than holding the event at that venue.

I think this is, in a sense, a shame. My issue was with their trans-exclusionary policy and headlining of Sheila Jeffreys – for me, an ideal outcome would for the event to go ahead, but with all women welcomed. By sticking by their door policy, the event organisers have highlighted transphobia as a crucial element of their radical feminism – one suspects that even if they ultimately capitulate and begrudingly allow trans folk in, the atmosphere will still be toxic and filled with hate. This is a disappointment to all non-transphobes who might want to discuss other elements of radical feminist thought.

I should be happy. I am, instead, depressed at the turn of events online. Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist blogs are claiming this is the work of Men’s Rights Activists, and in turn genuine MRAs are gleefully claiming the credit.

Having two groups of people who hate me, trans people and each other in equal measure, both using our protest to advance their hateful little worldview is profoundly depressing. It’s perhaps the only time Radical Feminists and Men’s Rights Activists will ever see eye to eye on anything, though it’s hard to be much amused by the unholy alliance.

As someone who has worked, and watched my friends work harder, writing about the event, debating our issues, contacting Conway Hall and other friends to make our criticisms heard, all in the name of Trans Liberation – I’d like to set the record straighter.

Dear Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists…

For TERFS, the claim that Men’s Rights Activists shut down their conference makes a warped sort of sense. TERFs deliberately misgender Trans people as a matter of course; therefore, when “Trans Activist” is translated into Radfem it often sounds identical to “Men’s Activist”.

Very well then. But even TERFs must recognise there are “Men”‘s Activists and then there are Mens Activists? Men’s Rights Activists is a name used to denote a quasi-group of thinkers, bloggers, writers and activists who agree on a number of key points, such as:

  • They are concerned by women nicking everything in the divorce
  • They fight for custody of their children
  • They are concerned about paternity fraud, conscription, men’s health, false rape allegations
  • In general, MRAs exist on a spectrum starting with “we don’t need feminism any more”, and travelling via a mild-to-moderate “feminism has gone too far” towards outright misogyny of the most vile kind.

Even if you hate – or “oppose the practices of” – transgendered people, you must surely recognise their concerns are not the concerns of MRAs. Even if you see both Trans Activists and Men’s Rights Activists as malign things, or tools of the patriarchy, you must be able to grasp that they are two fundamentally different tools of the patriarchy? As far as I’ve researched, proper Men’s Rights Activists seem to dislike us trans activists almost as much as you do.

Dear Men’s Rights Activists…

You’re wrong. You’re also hilarious. Let’s read the claims:

So you can see what is happening. The Agent Orange effect has been a wedge effect. Not only is it splitting off the radical feminists from the so-called liberal or moderate feminists, but it is introducing even smaller fractures between the transwoman faction and the rest of feminism.

I think that regardless of our feminism, we can see the flaw in this self-aggrandising statement. Though it’s nice to imagine all the problems of feminism have been created by a generational-conspiracy, passing secret files from one to another, and that there is a deep, dark lair somewhere with vaguely satanic overtones, and if only we can find the vorpal blade – hidden in legend as the one weapon known to slay the evil force of MRAs – we can put together a crack team of heroes to descend into darkness – ONLY BY BEHEADING THEIR LEADER CAN THE TIDE OF EVIL BE STOPPED.

But this seems logically dodgy to me. Those are all fractures which already exist, have always existed, and continue to exist. With or without men, women can do this ourselves, because we are not a monolithic bloc but a hugely diverse group of life experiences and opinions. Roz has written about attacks by radical feminist groups on kinky lesbians in the 80s – I’m sure Agent Orange was not responsible for that. Nor do I think he had a hand in Radfem 2012’s exclusionary door policy – I think they created that all on their own.

And far from “creating” a crack, Radfem 2012 has shown just how un-cracked modern feminism is. Trans Women have argued, fought, persuaded, debated and written about their right to be respected as women for decades. In the 70s, at the height of radfemininity, doubtless these exclusionary policies were everywhere and trans women has no legal recourse.

This year, in response to the conference, statements of solidarity have been produced by the NUS Women’s campaign, Brighton Feminist Collective, Royal Holloway Feminists, Oxford University Feminists and so on. Of the friends I have worked with to petition Conway Hall, many have been non-trans feminists. Twitter’s Radfem 2012 hashtag has been overwhelmingly trans-positive.

So yeah, there are divisions in feminism. But don’t you go claiming you created them – we’re more than capable of arguing amongst ourselves. Nor do I think this is the death knell you had in mind – I have experienced a stronger, more united feminism than I have ever felt before. So I have to ask – what “transwoman faction”? What I am seeing is feminism, and then an enclave of people who’re still in the 70s so far as understandings of gender is concerned.

I’d also like to see some proof that Conway Hall made their decision based on these mysterious files. Otherwise, I’ll be inclined to think you’re making it up.

Ethos

It’s funny, though, how his arguments seem to dovetail into Radfemininitiy. Like the idea that sex-positive porn was a creation of patriarchy and so forth – the hand of patriarchy, controlling some groups of women to make feminism weaker…!  TERFS jumping into bed with MRAs? What will we see next! The TERFS will refuse to consumate the wedding, and the MRAs will panic that the TERFS are only in it to steal their fortunes and their sperm!

But this observation is more for my entertainment than the spirit of high-minded debate. It is depressing to see certain TERFs falling straight into MRA hands here. The MRAs take credit, because the TERFs are helping to give it to them.

For the ancients, a speech to pursuade relied on three elements. Pathos – the appeal to emotion, Logos – the appeal to logic, and finally, Ethos – using character. Roman rhetorician Cicero would present his clients as ideal Romans – soliders, patriots, family men – and identify his opponants as petty, bookish, fans of weird foreign customs, or align their interests with the interests of The Enemy. “Exile my client,” he concludes the Pro Murena, “and YOU WILL LET THE TERRORISTS WIN.” You see it nowadays too – can we really trust Jon Huntsman as American president, when he speaks Mandarin…? Cue his opponants slyly suggesting that there’s something suspicious and un-American about that, just as Cicero did 2000 years ago. The lowest form of ethos is, of course, Godwin’s Law – attempting to destabilise someone’s position by comparing them to Hitler or the Nazis.

Modern writers should know better than to play these dirty tricks. Both emotional appeals and guilt by association are logical fallacies – things used to distract from facts, evidence, logic. The TERFs are, essentially, reviving this age-old custom to paint Trans Activists as anti-feminist and aligned with anti-feminists; the MRAs are, similarly, identifying Trans Activists as their secret, hypnotised strike troops, rotting at the core of feminism. And here I am, amused at the sight of two groups with seemingly nothing in common apparently banding together in a sharing circle of triumph and martyrdom because they both hate us more. I have seen feminist authors on both side of this debate compare their opponants and their arguments to MRAs.

Ladies, gentlemen, and the rest of us. Let us have some decorum in this debate! And let us look at the facts:

THE FACTS

In consultation with the organisers of RadFem 2012 and our legal advisors, Conway Hall has decided not to allow the booking in July 2012 to proceed. This is because it does not conform to our Terms and Conditions for hiring rooms at Conway Hall. In addition, we are not satisfied it conforms with the Equality Act (2010), or reflects our ethos regarding issues of discrimination.

Makes sense so far. Conway Hall has made a decision after taking legal advice, and working with Radfem 2012 organisers, and in response to the Equality Act and their own Terms and Conditions.

We had sought assurances that the organisers would allow access to all, in order to enable the event to proceed at the venue. We also expressed concern that particular speakers would need to be made aware that whilst welcoming progressive thinking and debate, Conway Hall seeks to uphold inclusivity in respect of both legal obligations and as a principle

Conway Hall describes their two problems – the exclusionary door policy and “particular speakers” who they believed would broach inclusivity. We all know who that is.

In the absence of the assurances we sought, the event in its proposed form could not proceed at Conway Hall.

I’m still not seeing “and in response to the terrifying flood of international feminism”. Instead, it seems Conway Hall tried to keep the event but Radfem 2012 chose to stand by their transphobia and hence lost the venue.

That said, we recognise the breadth of debate to be had amongst the feminist and transgender communities and it is our sincere hope that there will be constructive and positive dialogue on these matters going forward.

In case anyone was in any doubt, Conway Hall now mentions the central issue: the exclusion of the transgender community.

If you are still in any doubt:

I was the person who arranged the meeting with Conway Hall to discuss the RadFem2012 conference. But before that meeting had taken place Conway Hall had already decided that it would be inappropriate for Jeffreys to speak there. This appeared to be result of their own decision, having carried out further research into the matter, rather than as the result of any pressure from us. All we had done, in corresponding with Conway Hall, was draw their attention to things Jeffreys has said in the past. All we did during that meeting, was to provide Conway Hall with more information about Jeffreys’ and her associates activities and statements. One of the latter was this; “Janice Raymond does not consider that legislation outlawing surgery is the right way forward. I am not so sure, and classifying transsexualism as a human rights violation would be a step towards making surgery illegal…” (Jeffreys, S. 1997. Transgender Activism: a Lesbian Feminist Perspective p71) – Natacha on the Guardian website

Summing up

Considering they are mortal enemies, I hope both TERFs and MRAs wake up feeling slightly tainted by the way they are apparently feeding off each other’s rhetoric. I’m disappointed by the way TERFs seem to be playing into MRA hands here, and granting them a victory they don’t deserve. I’m disappointed by pretty much everything the vocally misogynistic wing of MRA does, so nothing new here – but gloating is never pretty.

And TERFs? If you really do believe this situation was manufactured by MRAs to destroy feminism, then clearly saving feminism from evil must be our number one priority. Can we put aside our differences and fight the patriarchy together – and once we’re done, hammer out our differences then?

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