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The feminist activism of charliegrrl and co

Queer anti-feminist protest against Reclaim the Night North

Posted by charliegrrl on March 7, 2008

At Reclaim the Night North March 1st, a queer and trans activist group demonstrated against feminist seperatism. Despite the protest going unnoticed cos of the amount of men that were there, I feel it is still worth highlighting.

Below are quotes from their call for action…

The QUEER TRANS BLOCK will share the same start and end points on
Sackville Street as the “women” only and “men” only demos, but will be actively queering gender, space and separatism as an entirely unique protest accountable to itself

The QUEER TRANS BLOCK is a transfeminist response to the separatism, erasure and censorship of transwomen, transmen, sex workers, gendervariant, genderqueer, non-gender-normative and intersex folk within the populist feminist movement.

I’m still trying to get my head around their motiviations. Reclaim the Night North was organised by NUS Women and was open to transpeople. They could not argue that RTN North was transphobic cos it wasn’t. Below is a video of RTN North of the queer activists. It incudes some good clips of the demo, but notice towards the end how the chant ‘2-4-6-8, No excuse for violent men’ is drowned out by ‘2-4-6-8 Queer and Trans against the State’

The reasons why they came to protest RTN North was for the following reasons:

  • They consider RTN a seperatist and transphobic space, with all the debate over RTN London being women only and the criticism that Ipswich RTN received for being open gender and organised by queer activists.
  • They reject the man/woman dichotomy that RTN North highlights in terms of male violence against women
  • They wanted to protest against me and my radical feminist mates who advocate women born women spaces.

Now the last point may sound like an exaggeration but it is true. We personally know the guy behind this and fell out over his and his cronies’ reluctance to support violence against women actions and women only spaces- cos doing this is reinforcing a gender dichotomy did you know..? Zzzzzzzzz. In the above video at the beginning, the video focuses in on me and Rad Fem Sisters, then goes back to the queer crew, then back to the Rad Fems again as if they are indicating the evil feminists that the queers are up against. I noticed a guy filming us at the time and it was very uncomfortable. One of my mates, who is a radical feminist who has always advocated and supported women only spaces, is despised by the queer crew. When she posts an action on Indymedia, even when it doesn’t relate to feminism, she gets bombarded with ‘your a transphobic fascist seperatist’! When she organised a women only craft fair, the queer crew deemed this to be oppressive. Oh yes, laugh cos I do all the time at their logic. Cos you see, when a woman with radical feminist politics draws a line in the sand and says NO, I refuse to accept your definition of a woman, your definition of women only spaces and your definition of feminism, they detest it. They feel’ oppressed’ cos they know there are activist spaces they cannot go into and that represent a politics they feel uncomfortable with. But this is the women’s liberation movement- it’s a radical politics for radical change…for women. It’s bound to piss some people off.

We must not allow ourselves to be bullied by a movement that we are not a part of. We are not obliged to accept the trans and queer definition of a woman. They are not entitled to force us to change our women only spaces just so that they can join and change the focus of our actions and the focus of our oppression. There is nothing wrong with a women’s movement campaigning against violence against women and a queer/trans movement campaigning against violence against trans and queer people. We do not need to merge together. The very reason why they force themselves into our women only spaces is indicative of their political aims, not for the liberation of trans and queer people under patriarchy, but for the colonisation of women only spaces and the destruction of the gender binaries upon which feminism is based, in their endeavour to prove a point- that anyone who identifies as a woman…is a woman.

Over 50% of the world’s population are female. Fact. The other half are male. (There is a grey area of intersex but most live as either women or men.) Feminism is based on the liberation of those 50% of the worlds population, that being women, from the other half, that being men. It’s quite simple. It’s not reinforcing gender binaries- females, males and intersex people should be free to behave without the constraints of gender. The fact is that if you are born with a female body, you are born a 2nd class citizen. You are born into a world in which men wish to control that body for their own use and abuse, be it to do their housework, cook their tea, suck their cock or just to make them feel superior. They have a variety of ways in which to control the female population for their benefit: rape, violence, sexual abuse, fear, sexual morals, poverty, capitalism…the list goes on. If a male identifies as being part of this population of women, their bodies will not have been put through the same oppression that women experience from birth, therefore they cannot be part of the women’s liberation movement. The women’s liberation movement cannot include male bodies, no matter how they identify in terms of gender. Their experience of violence and oppression will ultimately be different. They can however be allies, although not many of them have realised this yet.

My and my mates discuss our need for women only spaces. What has come out of this is that for women to be able to feel safe from male violence and to be able to talk about sexual abuse as girls, there cannot be a male bodied person in the room, as this will not make them feel comfortable. Some of us who are Lesbians need Lesbian only spaces to find comfort from the het- dominated and the queer dominated scenes. We want to be with other females.


We are now in a position that if feminists try to organise a women only protest or space, they will immediately come under attack from the queer lobby. Genuine women only spaces are being picked off one by one. We know that the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, a womyn born womyn event, has come under attack by transpeople trying to enter. They have set up Camp Trans opposite Michigan Women’s Festival in protest. My mate who has just returned from travelling around America reports that the We’Moon calender now includes art of transwomen and they now live on Women’s Land. York University Women’s Committee is no longer women only, neither in the Manchester University Women’s group. The Lesbian Community Project in Manchester is not women only, nor is the Women’s Space at Manchester Pride. The Lesbian bars on Canal Street are now ‘people’ bars. There is also a silence around the definition of a women only space- for example with Reclaim the Night London and Million Women Rise, most women I know would prefer these events to be born women only and go because they percieve them as such. Hardly any transwomen will go to these events anyway. But instead these events advertise themselves as transinclusive. Maybe to passify cos they know hardly any transwomen will turn up..? There’s something very wrong in appeasing people who attack our politics.

Another point I would like to make in now what is becoming probably the longest post I have written…is that it is people from within the feminist movement who are destroying women only spaces. Men may shout abuse at us when we march against violence against women, but Men’s Rights Activist groups don’t turn up to our protests and our spaces and demand entry so that we take violence against men seriously. It’s the people who call themselves feminists who are destroying women’s attempts to organise autonomously. Like the NUS Women’s Officers who insist a women’s committee must include men, like the queer feminists who insist on trans-inclusion and like the feminists who won’t say to their male friends, sorry you are not invited.

And to conclude this piece with something very trivial but very telling at the same time- when my girlfriend has a go at me for not being nice, for not accepting transwomen as women, I say to her- ‘Look, would you ever go down on a transwoman..? She stops, ponders, stalls to speak, then says, ‘Well no I wouldn’t…’ To which I say, ‘Why not..?’ The answer is cos they’re not female… Now go and ask your boyfriends the same question. The moral is, we can be as nice as pie in accepting transpeople into our women only spaces, but at the end of the day they aren’t the ones we are supposed to be working towards liberating, it’s not our job to make them feel comfortable in their identity as women and we aint gonna get anywhere if we continue to be nice all the time.

Hate mail can be posted to The Women’s Commune, That Field in the Middle of Nowhere PI55 0FF

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63 Responses to “Queer anti-feminist protest against Reclaim the Night North”

  1. Debs said

    Wow. Great stuff Charlie and very timely – it really needed to be said.

    “The very reason why they force themselves into our women only spaces is indicative of their political aims, not for the liberation of trans and queer people under patriarchy, but for the colonisation of women only spaces and the destruction of the gender binaries upon which feminism is based, in their endeavour to prove a point- that anyone who identifies as a woman…is a woman.”

    I have nothing to add, just thought it needed repeating! x

  2. Say it like it is Charlie – nothing more to add 🙂

  3. delphyne said

    Couldn’t agree more, Charlie. Not impressed them dedicating that video to a man either. It’s the erasure of women and our interests and needs.

    And what about all those men following the women marchers down the street pretending to be “supporters”? Couldn’t they have fucked off just for one night and left the streets to women? The symbolism of a group of women being followed by a group of men at night, in the city couldn’t be more striking. Are they that stupid they don’t see it?

  4. Laurelin said

    All I can say is, great post. We need to defend women-born-women only spaces as we need spaces for those of us born female, who have experienced the oppression that comes with being female all our lives. Transwomen who have lived for the majority of their lives as men do not have the same experiences. It’s a simple matter of respect: we don’t barge into transpeople’s space, and we expect the same courtesy in return.

    Disclaimer: I do not believe that being transexual is easy, or painless, nor that transsexuals do not face discrimination. What I am saying is is that women-born-women have the right to their own space.

  5. Lara said

    Trans”women” claiming that women don’t have a right to their own space just smacks to me of male privilege frankly. It’s just like how Italian men started bitching and whining when some women-only beaches were established recently in Italy because the male jerks were harassing them so much. What right do men have to not only harass us with impunity, but to demand that we have absolutely no space of our own?

  6. rmott62 said

    Thanks for writing this, it is so exhausting having to deal with the the single-minded views of the queer lobby.
    I find highly offensive and intrusive that they choose to film the radical feminists without their permission. I for one, do not want my image on the net, for I do not trust who may see it. I have in the past had photos of me as a child put up without permission.
    I find ironic that they go on and on about their rights, but abuse radical feminist’s rights all the time.
    Also, I am pissed off that they ally with “sex workers”, that is women who fit into the “happy hooker” myth. They implied that there no prostituted women, whether exited or in the life, on the march. This is nonsense. It implied that you tell who is a prostituted woman just by looking at her. She must have a scarlet letter on her forehead.
    I am sick of this minority of transgender people trying to get rid of women-only spaces. They would dare to attack other separatist groups. I feel they do not speak for the majority of transgendered people who do not attack women-only spaces.
    I think they are pathetic but have a loud voice.

  7. polly styrene said

    I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. I know a number of people who’ve had gender reassignment (mostly from male to female but also from female to male). ALL of them would respect a born women only space. Because they are people who have – surprise, surprise – experienced a rough deal in their lives and it’s made them sensitive to other people’s feelings. And they realise that their life experience is completely different to that of born females.

    Then we have the individual who organised this protest. He is a man who occasionally wears dresses and make up. However (unlike those described above) he is perfectly free to stop doing this – which he does a lot because most of the time he dresses in ‘male’ clothes – and gets back his male privilege! How extremely convenient for him….

    And what was he protesting against – the state it seems.Did the state organise this march? Or was it just that he realised if he and his friends had a march on their own they’d look a bit pathetic….

  8. polly styrene said

    But just a small point on the ‘gender binary’ thing – queer actually reinforces gender binaries, it doesn’t destroy them. This is because it says that the ‘signifiers’ of gender (such as women wearing dresses) actually ARE gender. Thus it makes the concept of gender more real, not less real. The only way to destroy the gender binary would be to destroy the concept of gender. So you wouldn’t be able to be transgendered then because there wouldn’t be any such thing.

    It is actually radical feminism which says gender is socially constructed, not queer theory. (Ok Judith Butler said it as well, but she is not, repeat not, a queer theorist – she identifies herself as a lesbian feminist) and her writings are completely misinterpreted by the queer crew). What matters is who is treated by society as a woman and on the receiving end of gender based discrimination. And this doesn’t apply to transwomen who are seen as failed men by society at large, and discriminated against on that basis.

  9. polly styrene said

    PS is there not some data protection law you could get him under for showing images of you without your consent C?

  10. polly styrene said

    Oh and PS try watching the Life of Brian

    “it’s every mans right to have babies if he wants them”

    “but you can’t have babies!”

    “Don’t you oppress me”

    “I’m not oppresssing you Stan, you haven’t got a womb, where’s the foetus going to gestate, you gonna keep it in a box?”

    “Here I’ve got an idea, suppose you agree that he can’t actually have babies, not having a womb, which is nobody’s fault not even the Romans, but that he can have the right to have babies”

    “What’s the point of fighting for his right to have babies when he can’t have babies?”

    “It is symbolic of our struggle against oppression”

    “It’s symbolic of his struggle against reality”

  11. Great post, Charliegrrl! 🙂

  12. Lotte said

    Thank you, Charlie.
    I am in the UMSU Women’s Group, and although I admire Elizabeth greatly and feel she has done a fantastic job, I am very disappointed that men are allowed in the women’s group. I was one of the women who opposed men entering, and was made to feel by some rather entitled men at UMSU, and friends of mine who should know better, like an evil misandrist bitch just because of it. I want my women’s space back. One of our male members is a militant pro-lifer. Another one opposed RTN, bringing up the tired ‘What about the men?’ argument. There are some lovely men in the group, but I feel a lot more comfortable when it’s women only. I feel a bit uncomfortable ranting about the patriarchy when there are men there. I don’t know what Jennie, the new Women’s Officer, proposes to do yet. We’ll have to wait and see.
    I am sick and tired of the person in question constantly spamming our Facebook group to complain about the evil radical feminists and their supposed hatred of transgender people. I am also appalled at his hijacking of RTN. It’s a real slap in the face to all the women who participated in the march.

  13. A militant pro-lifer in a women’s group!!!! Have they gone mad..? That is absurd. He should be told to leave. *Shaking my head in despair*

    Ps, if you’re in Manchester, give us an email at nwfeminists[at]googlemail.com if you wanna meet other like minded feminists.

  14. polly styrene said

    A few words re ‘transphobia’.

    I have 4 brothers, numerous nephews, male friends and male work colleagues.
    Now if I want to spend time in a woman only space without them does it mean I am ‘man phobic’. No of course not. Similarly if I was not allowed into a space for BME women I would not accuse them of being ‘white phobic’. I would however recognise that that space is not for me.

    If you have a penis (like a certain person) and you are not allowed into a women only space that is not because we are ‘transphobic’. It does however mean you don’t fit the definition of ‘woman’ for the purposes of that space. Get over yourself.

    People can call themselves what they want, if you want to call yourself a woman, an elf, or a giraffe, go ahead, I’m not stopping you. But if people who have the common experience of being brought up female want to have a meeting and don’t want you in their space accept it. Everyone else is capable of doing that. And if you don’t you’re RUDE. Plain and simple.

  15. Polly said.

    But if people who have the common experience of being brought up female want to have a meeting and don’t want you in their space accept it. Everyone else is capable of doing that. And if you don’t you’re RUDE. Plain and simple.

    Exactly, this is about boundaries and very often, folks who don’t have personal boundaries project this aspect onto others. They invade other people’s spaces, as they don’t recognise where their and other peoples boundaries lie. As a side note, men are very good at this and I’m sure many women will have realised this from very early on in life. As far as *phobia* goes nope nice try but this a loaded and irrational claim to generate some sort of Trans Moral Panic…speaking personally the only phobia I have is arachnophobia, and that is because they have too many legs.

  16. Michelle said

    *round of applause* Great post!

  17. Arantxa said

    I saw a man filming us at one point and it made me feel uncomfortable. Now that I’ve watched the youtube video I realise that they were also filming without most of us being aware. It was a reclaim the night march and we had men pointing cameras at us and putting the footage up on youtube. These men were not supportive of what we were doing and their filming us was a violation of our space – especially the filming they did indoors which was not part of the march, just women catching up with old friends and talking.

    There are very few voices on this topic. Thanks for being one of them, Charlie.

  18. polly styrene said

    Yes the person in question Arantxa used to bang on about ethics all the time. In fact I remember him talking about red watch – the site that puts up pictures of activists taken covertly. Yet him and his chums have now done exactly the same. Not exactly ‘ethics’ boy now is he….

  19. stormy said

    Ditto on Polly at 14.

    For the tranz movement to put so much time and effort into crashing the feminist ‘party’, rather than opposing their supposed real enemy of teh patriarchy, defies belief.

    We ask that women-only boundaries are respected. I can fully respect tranz-only spaces — why can’t they do the same in return?

  20. polly styrene said

    Wot no MRAs? Despite the pathetic attempt by ‘3genders’ to create controversy by posting this link on CiF? Dear me 3genders, seems no one cares……Splitters!

    (Gender is a social construct by the way so there are actually 0 genders, do keep up)

  21. Yeah, 3 genders is just as essentialist as 2. Any of these “gender” worshipers ever wonder why there are genders at all and why they’re so rigid. Well for one it creates and preserves hierarchy’s, exactly what we want to get away from.

  22. the MRA community said

    Heck, if the good Ms Little wants to go around twatting trannies with placards, why should we care?

  23. Ms Marple said

    Lordy, Lordy the MRA Community, you shouldn’t believe everything you read in The Observer, or indeed on Indymedia. Particularly if it is posted by a person beginning with T.

  24. the MRA community said

    Thanks for the advice.

  25. Ms Marple said

    You’re welcome – happy to help.

  26. Lisa Radlet said

    But surely, Radical Feminism and Seperatist Feminism is as much re-enforcing gender dichotomy as it seeks to question it?. I am a (female-born) Feminist and have been active for over 30 years, and I am so saddened when I read some of this. This is not what I, and others like me campaigned and fought for all those years ago – it just screams ‘hierarchy’ to me – an alternative ‘archy’. Bindel only ever re-enforces the same outdated ground that Raymond did in the 70’s.

    I read somewhere else a definition of only being regarded ‘woman-enough’ if you could menstruate, get pregnant, etc. This seems to rather narrowly defined version of womanhood to me, and for those born-females that may have a medical issue that may not allow them to become pregnant, for example, highly offensive.

    I only (knowingly) came into contact with a (trans)woman a few months ago at a women’s reading group I am involved in. She transitioned at 18, she’s now 23. I see no reason why this person should not be accepted as a female.

    I am just so dissapointed that this is where strands of Feminism has led – it tends to distract the very real issues that still exist to this day (I do, of course, applaud you for tackling those).

  27. polly styrene said

    I see no reason why this person should not be accepted as a female either, Lisa – it isn’t a club, it’s a word. But that person does not have the same experiences as a born female who will have of being brought up female and internalising oppression. Instead they will have been brought up for the first 18 years of their life with male privilege. And internalised that. As I have already said I know a number of transwomen who would be the very first to accept that their life experiences are hugely different from born women. For example,one of the most common experiences of those born female is childhood sexual abuse. 95% of the victims of CSA are girls. That’s a big difference between those treated as male from birth and those treated as female.

    If I were able to convincingly make myself look black (I’m white) would I be entitled to enter a black only space. No? Why not?

    There is also the problem that if you accept anyone who identifies as a woman into a woman only space, then anyone can come in. Because any man who wants to get into the space can say he identifies as a woman and how do you challenge him? You can’t read his mind and say he doesn’t…

    If on the other hand you say you’re only going to allow men who’ve had surgery and taking hormones in, then you’re saying that the surgery and hormones are what makes them female. So what are they before surgery and hormones. A man? Think about it….

  28. Lisa Radlet said

    I appreciate your arguments, Polly, but I remain unconvinced that a transwoman aged 18, neccessarily benefits from male privilege. Admittedly, I know very little about transpeople, but I can only guess that despite being born male, if you do not identify with your birth sex, and face difficulties, bullying, violence, oppression, etc. throughout your life because of your transsexual identity issues, then I find it questionable that those people experience male privilege either to the extent that cis men do, or at all?

    Perhaps age and time makes a difference here. If we consider say some older (trans)women who probably led reasonably successful lives as men, with marriages, families, etc. I am sure there is much embedding of gender stereotypes, male-based perpetuation of expectations of what a female/woman is. I can see that. But, I just don’t think the Greer “Pantomime Dames” concept is either helpful, or relevant/applicable to younger transitioners? The (trans)woman I have acquanted, seems to be like every other 18 year old woman I meet around campus.

    What if a boy shows obvious gender-variance from 6 or 7, and then his mother allows him to present and live full time as a girl from that sort of age (I recall reading about a mother who allowed her son to live as a girl from about 10). Surely then, the male privilege argument starts to break down? So what then… do you exclude that person later in life (if they have transitioned to female) because her chromosomes are XY? We already know that chromosomal basis isn’t at simple as XX = female, XY = male – there are many variations.

    I guess this all takes me back to the heady days of the GLC. We started writing Feminist material, except it was soon pointed out by others, it did not reflect other females experiences – we were accused of reflecting a certain London-centric white working class female set of values and experiences, only for then to be held to account by black women, middle class women, Lesbian and straight women, who told us that some of the things we asserted was not totally reflective of them. I came into Feminism through a Marxist/Socialist-based class-battle, so perhaps that affects some of the way I look at these issues?

    I totally understand your argument of ‘anyone who identifies as a woman into a woman only space’, and where lines are drawn, but again, I feel you are being a little insincere to possible motives of many (trans)women. What these people often go through to be at one with their body/sex, which the more I read of such people seems to be established so early in their lives, leaves me to feel that merely reducing many to ‘men who’ve had surgery and taking hormones’ as rather disingenuous? At least for the young (trans)women.

    It all just seems so devisive.

  29. polly styrene said

    Hi Lisa, thanks for the reply

    Well first of all the Reclaim the Night March in Manchester was clearly advertised as including transwomen, so I don’t see what the protest was about anyway. I don’t automatically support all spaces being born women only, but I do have a problem with the argument that born women only spaces are necessarily transphobic. The problem is that if you say that you are saying that born women are the only group that doesn’t have the the right to organise autonomously.

    With respect to transwomen I think it is perfectly obvious in the case of many, possibly most, transwomen that they are transwomen. There was quite a famous case in Canada where a transwoman wanted to work for Vancouver Rape Relief but lost. But this involved a very small voluntary organisation having to go through an extensive court process, and other women’s centres in Canada have been closed by similar cases, because they went bankrupt. Do these people really care about the women they are claim to be interested in helping? I’d say not.

    Personally I have the experience of asking to be referred to a female counsellor by an organisation and being referred to a transwoman. Now it was perfectly obvious from this person’s voice on my answerphone that they were trans. In fact I thought it was the voice of a camp gay man, and rang back to say (because I couldn’t hear their name properly on the answerphone message), that I had asked to be referred to a woman. Yes an embarassing and uncomfortable situation for both of us, but it was caused by the organisation that fixed up the referral taking the point of view that a transwoman was exactly the same as any other woman.

    A lot of women, in reality, would be extremely uncomfortable with having a personal service such as counselling, provided by a transwoman. In addition,in relation to the story above, I told a transwoman I know about my experience and she said that she could completely understand my point of view, that I would only feel comfortable with a born woman who shared my experience.

    The law in the UK currently is that anyone diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria who has their gender legally reassigned is entitled to work in a job which is women only (ie an exempted vacancy under the sex discrimination act). To be diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria you don’t need to have any surgery or take any hormones at all. You just need to have a psychiatrist say you have gender dysphoria. So in theory somone who is biologically male could get a job in say, a women’s refuge.

    I don’t doubt the transwoman you described has experienced a lot of distress in their life, but so would a boy who was gay. That doesn’t mean their experience is the same as someone who is brought up female.

    In the case of the person who organised this protest he is a man who cross dresses. He is obviously biologically male and doesn’t have any intention to have any biological gender reassignment as far as I know. So I doubt many people would see him as a transwoman anyway. So given that the march was advertised as including transwomen anyway, what was the point of the protest?

    Nothing ‘makes’ you female. I agree it’s ridiculous to say you are only a woman if you menstruate or have a womb. What matters is how you are treated by society. For instance people with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome have ‘male’ chromosomes but appear from their external genitals to be biologically ‘female’. So from my point of view they are female, because they are described as such on their birth certificate, and will be as much on the receiving end of anti-female discrimination as any other woman.

    The idea that there are only 2, discrete, biological sexes is as much of a false construct as gender. But it is a false construct which causes very real discrimination. If you are deemed female you will get paid less than a man doing the same job, be far more likely to experience sexual assault or rape, be far more likely to be killed by your partner etc, etc. And that stinks.

  30. polly styrene said

    I would like, inter alia, to offer women the choice to:

    Live their lives free from sexual violence.
    Be able to walk the streets at night in safety.
    Be able to walk into WH Smiths without seeing porn on sale.
    Not be abused in prostitution.

    None of this has anything to do with ‘being desired or being desirable’. Are you any relation to Dan Factor, Jane Doe?

  31. “They are however allowed abortions…”

    Says a lot.

    Emphasis mine.

  32. The choice to…

    Not to have an arranged marriage.
    Not to be used as male currency in “honour killings”
    Not to have female genital mutilation.

  33. Lisa Radlet said

    Thanks for discussing Polly, you’ll have to excuse me if I am a little rusty in some areas of Feminist/Trans thought and related issues.

    I can totally understand what you say about both womens spaces such as rape shelters, and in some respects areas of counselling. I guess the only point I would make is that perhaps in some situations, there can still be a commonality of experience that allows a (trans)woman to be more than qualified to offer such counselling. If that (trans)woman, has been raped herself by a man, as a female (and by that she has had surgery – I’ll come back to that point in a mo), then it seems to me she has absolute right and the neccessary experience to then counsel and support other females that have been through the same? I do appreciate, however, that in situations such as rape, certain types of sexual violence, and pregnancy/abortion related counselling, there may be understandable concerns from that woman over a (trans)woman as a counsellor. In some cases, clearly a (trans)woman simply cannot fully empathise and understand a particular situation.

    Picking up the surgery issue. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and I have to say it leaves me a little ambivalent about a few issues and possibly creates more questions than answers for me. Part of me says that a (trans)female should not be regarded as female unless she has had her genital surgery. But, then I started to think about it and I also couldn’t reconcile such issues being reduced to mere genitals – after all, I am quite happy to accept a (trans)woman as a woman – and their genitals should be none of my business. I’ve been going round in circles a little on that for a while tonight. I guess the recent Gender Recognition laws are exactly that… to recognise living as social gender, rather than specifically sex. And again, I’m not sure how I feel about that either. Part of me doesn’t believe that being a woman is purely about genitals, yet, at the same time it seems incorrect to regard someone fully as a woman if their sex is not congruent. I guess I’ve partly answered my own question – seperation of ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ – the former as being a biological/physical basis, and the latter as the social/cultural construct. Perhaps I’m beginning to see a little why these issues are so contentious!

    I suppose I can only look to my experiences in some of this. For example, the young (trans)woman to who I am acquanted, I have absolutely no problems in accepting her as woman, and as a female. I believe she has had her genital surgery, and hormone replacement, but no other surgery, etc. If it wasn’t for her telling me of her trans-status (because she wasn’t sure whether it would affect entry to the group), I would be frankly none-the-wiser. And, in fact, even in the knowledge of such, it still makes no difference to me, and I don’t think it should to others.

    That said, if I contrast to some (trans)women that, admittedly, I do not know, and have only read about, or watched on programmes, I do have a sense of finding it difficult to accept them – but to varying degrees – I’m not sure whethers that because I simply struggle to see them as women/females, or because it is based upon age and privilege. I think this is why I stressed that age/time might be an important issue, and that’s perhaps why having the pleasure of this young womans inclusion in my group has made me really think about all of this. Perhaps she feels the same way about other (trans)women too? I presume that this is not simply an issue that is discussed by (born)females about (trans)females, but probably by some (trans)females towards other (trans)females too?

    My apologies… I think I am in danger of wandering…

    I think we may have to agree to disagree over male privilege and experiences when we are talking about those (trans)woman who transitioned very young. I still feel that if a boy has started to present/live as a girl from a very young age, and this culminates in permanently transitioning as a woman, then I do think that her experience is as a female/girl/woman not as a male/boy/man.

    I do agree that I have certain difficulties of a crossdressing male, who does not identity as female/as a woman, and has no intention of any kind of social and/or physical transition, in being regarded/accepted in certain womens-spaces. Not that I actually have a problem per se with any male that crossdresses – but the context of the situation is clearly important. I am certainly of the opinion that you cannot still identify as a man and also expect to occupy womens space also as a (trans)woman. If you identify as a (trans)woman/(trans)female, then you surely must renounce having been male and identified a man?

    I’m a little ignorant as to how (trans)males and (trans)men all fit into this? How, for example, does Radical and Seperatist Feminism view these transpeople? I expect this is a huge debate in its own right.

    I, of course, have absolutely no argument with your final paragraph, Polly!

  34. Ms Marple said

    Can you tell me Saturday’s lottery numbers as well TMS because you obviously can see into the future….

  35. Polly styrene said

    Hi Lisa

    Well first of all my views are entirely my own and not the official rad fem line (because I don’t think there is one). My view is that gender is entirely socially constructed and that biological sex is a way of looking at the human body that stems from the concept of gender. Most people see it as the other way around, but once you look into the variations of the human body, you realise this isn’t the case (a really good book on this for anyone who hasn’t read it is sexing the body by Anne Fausto Sterling).

    With regard to rape crisis counselling I volunteer on a help line myself. I do think it’s crucial that the women who ring up feel safe and that the service is one they can trust. And I think that most women who ring would take if for granted that the person answering the phone would be a born female. Quite apart from the practical issue that a lot of trans womens voices sound ‘male’ (because of the effects of testosterone on the vocal chords, which can’t be reversed easily), I think that women using the service need to be able to have 100% trust in it. Of course men and boys get raped as well, so I don’t think personal experience is necessarily the relevant qualification, it’s about providing a safe space. Similarly I think a male rape victim should be able to talk to a male counsellor, but most rape crisis services were set up by and are still largely staffed and run by volunteers with very few paid staff, so again I think women have the right to define what the service they are providing is there for.

    I probably know more trans people than most, because I live in a big city and belong to various groups that are attended by trans people. And yes, it isn’t cut and dried by any stretch of the imagination. I have heard trans women say of other trans women that they don’t believe they are ‘really’ trans because they haven’t wanted to change gender all their lives.

    You mentioned Janice Raymond, who is of course the big bad bogey of the supposedly transphobic lesbian separatists. I don’t know if you’ve read ‘The trannsexual empire’ but if you haven’t I would recommend you read it, because Raymond does explain how theorists of transsexualism such as John Money actually reinforce gender stereotypes. I don’t agree with everything she says, but I think if anyone who hasn’t read the book does so they’d be surprised.

    I don’t doubt that there are people who want a different gender role. The problem is that in a society where sex and gender role are so completely enmeshed, it’s difficult to tell whether someone who wants to change their body/biological sex only wants to do it because they want to express themselves in a way which is outside their socially defined gender role. As a woman who’s not at all traditionally feminine, I know the shit you get if you step outside your supposed gender role. But that’s very different from wanting gender reassignment.

    I’ve also only ever met one trans man – it’s generally the case that trans women far outnumber trans men. The question I would ask is if this is because it is far more socially acceptable for a woman to behave in a ‘masculine’ way than for a man to behave in a ‘feminine’ way and if so why? The answer in my view is that a man who wants to be feminine is seen as adopting an inferior social status and that therefore men who want to behave in what is seen as a feminine way feel that the only way they can do that is by physically changing themselves into a female.

    The concept of a ‘woman trapped in a man’s body’ is a popular one, but a relatively recent invention. It depends on the theory that we have a ‘core’ gender identity that is somehow separate from our body, which I don’t buy for a minute, personally. I don’t ‘identify’ as female, any more than I ‘identify’ as white. On the contrary I AM IDENTIFIED as these things by others. Big difference.

    Janice Raymond also talks about bodily integrity and this is the biggie for me. Gender reassignment is major surgery and taking hormones that don’t belong in your body naturally is actually very damaging. It can cause cancer, osteoporosis, depression etc etc etc.

    I fully support the rights of those individuals who feel they are transgender not to be discriminated against in employment, supply of goods and services etc. But I don’t think that saying there is a difference between trans and born women is discrimination. If trans women feel obliged to pretend that they are born women then they themselves are obliterating their own history. And they will always fear ‘discovery’.

    I also think we should be working towards a way of challenging gender so that people don’t feel they have to have radical surgery on and essentially endanger their body to behave a certain way. I think it would be really nice if we could all accept our bodies as they are. And we could all wear what the hell we wanted. Of course it is possible that in a society where there was no concept of gender people may still wish to change their body. But we can’t know at the moment.

  36. stormy said

    Those are excellent comments polly.

    Another point is that most women, including a lot of feminists, are socialised into not setting boundaries. So make a fairly arbitrary line such as “born female”, probably does seem harsh to those who are lifelong socialised otherwise.

    There is a time and a place for integration or separation. It is unfortunate that a vocal (probable minority) of transwomen cannot respect that, and demand entry into every woman-only space. I don’t have a problem with transwomen being in some feminist spaces, but certainly not all. And most likely, not in the counselling sector.

    Then you have the dickheads who throw on a dress and demand entry into women-only spaces. A dress does not define female, nor even woman in that circumstance.

  37. Sal said

    May I just pick up on some comments above? Some of this is straight from the heart so sorry if it comes across a bit direct…

    Firstly, I too am of the opinion that gender is a social construct… this ‘tactic’ has been used for so long to try and reduce and invalidate the very real experiences of being transsexual, and being a transsexual woman. For me, gender as a social construct does not change anything. Remove gender and I will still be there. I first looked into a mirror at 3 years old and inately knew my body and sex was all wrong – I didn’t have any idea back then about gender, about biology, about feminism, I wasn’t even bothered about dressing up or dresses or make-up. My mother caught me and I just blurted out “I’m not supposed to be like this” – something which she reminds me too this day. I’m sorry, but those that use ‘gender as a social construct’ as the single Feminist ‘line’ to try and deny my existence really annoys me… that its all about stereotypes, dressing, gender conformity, etc.. BS. Its simply not mine, or a lot of female transsexuals experiences either. I spent 4 years on a forum where none of us were remotely interested in frocks or heels or gender – that wasn’t what it was about. It was about knowing from exceptionally young that we had the wrong bodies. As Stonewall would say in their latest ad campaign of gay people… get over it.

    I would point out, however, that I totally sympathise with women, Feminists and non-Feminists alike when it comes to both transvestites and those small sub-section of ‘late-identifying’ transsexuals that do seem to think feminity, and femaleness is all about materialistic things such as dress or certain behaviours… it annoys me just as much. I have little to do with the trans scene because most of it is full of men who like to exercise their male privileges, go around in public demanding to be treated and accepted as as ‘a woman’ when they are out and about, yet, go back to their wives at the end of the evening and be the husband/father again…

    I transitioned young, and for any other ‘part-time’ transgender to think that they can be a woman when they want just irritates me… they are no ‘sister’ of mine. I, like many I have met, totally neglect any past of being male, and will never ever be one – regarldless of my chromosomes or birth sex to the contrary – ok?

    Anyone who still thinks that women that were born male, cannot be women… then please, at least retain an open mind and watch some of this… this is a documentary that followed a transwomen version of the Vagina Monologues – under the mentorship of Jane Fonda and Eve Ensler:
    http://www.logoonline.com/shows/dyn/beautiful_daughters/videos.jhtml

    Sorry everyone, hope you don’t mind my rant… as someone who just hates being ‘lumped together’ with all these other so-called ‘transgender women’, I just feel I have to say these things…

    Sal

  38. Lisa Radlet said

    Gosh! Thanks Polly and thanks Sal too. I have read the excellent Fausto-Sterling book, and well the last time I recall the Raymond book was when it was discussed in a reading group I was involved in probably early 80’s? I have to say the Marxist/Leftist circles I was aligned to in those days were a little anti the sort of sentiments that Raymond used to make, and I don’t think I ever gave it the time of day because of that. I probably should give it some time all these years later… mind you, I’ve spent most of the morning already lost in lots of reading and I really should be getting on with other things… I found this posted on the F-Word site today, just thought I’d share… http://touchinglynaive.wordpress.com/2008/03/14/transphobia-and-radical-feminism-a-challenge/

  39. Sal I sympathise with what you are saying because it makes more sense to me if a person says they felt their body to be wrong, rather than their ‘gender’- as if a person can be born with a gender… I do however think that the queer activists use the term transwomen alot more loosly than how you have defined it. Also they have an array of gender idenitites nowadays that we are supposed to be inclusive of aswell- gender queer, non-gender normative, gender variant etc…

    So although I do not deny that your condition is very real and do not wish to criticise you for changing your body to feel more comfortable, I do feel that I would not wish you to be in any women-only space that I attend. This is because I go to women ony spaces to get away from male-ness and I would still associate you with being born male and not the 2nd class citizen of being born female.

  40. GS said

    I shot the video you have embedded above. I’d just like to say that I was fully supportive of all aims of the march. I was interested to document the whole thing, just as I document all kinds of events in Manchester including Chinese New Year, the Caribbean Carnival, Pride parade. I have been doing it for ten years.

    Very few people think to make a proper record of something like this. There was no sinister intent and in fact loads of women were very friendly towards me.

    By having the video on YouTube eventually the message will reach far more people than saw it from the pavement. That’s got to be a good thing.

    I hope you will publish this comment.

  41. Thene said

    Interesting debate here – I’d like to respond to a couple of points from the post:

    The Lesbian bars on Canal Street are now ‘people’ bars.

    Recent anti-discrimination legislation – the same laws that made it illegal for adoption agencies to discriminate against gay people – made it illegal for a business to be lesbian-only; lesbian-focused or gay-focused bars in the UK aren’t legally allowed to refuse admission to straight gawpers any more. :/

    Hardly any transwomen will go to these events anyway. But instead these events advertise themselves as transinclusive. Maybe to passify cos they know hardly any transwomen will turn up..?

    Transpeople are rare, perhaps a quarter of a percent of the population, so there being ‘hardly any of them’ in a space is the usual state of affairs.

    But I think that making it clear that certain events are trans-inclusive is vital because so much of the world is not trans-inclusive. I’ve a close friend who is M2F and who does not easily pass for WBW (due to her height and her face shape – not things anyone should be judging anyone for), and the degree of harassment I have observed her receiving dwarfs the experiences of harassment I, as a WBW, have been subject to. I’ve never had to deal with people trying to drive me out of a street, a cafe or a railway carriage because I am a woman (and that’s just the start of the mistreatment I’ve seen). So ‘trans-inclusive’ is a very necessary label. It means that transwomen can expect to be treated like people, and not treated as pariahs and objects the way they are commonly treated in public spaces.

    From comment #35:

    I’ve also only ever met one trans man – it’s generally the case that trans women far outnumber trans men. The question I would ask is if this is because it is far more socially acceptable for a woman to behave in a ‘masculine’ way than for a man to behave in a ‘feminine’ way and if so why?

    Foetal development. All foetuses begin developing as female, with XYs only acquiring male physical characteristics later in gestation, so there’s more chance of a XY foetal brain developing in the form more commonly found in XX foetuses than vice versa. (Of course, brains don’t have genders any more than bodies/genitals have genders; there are simply sex differences, and these only become gender differences due to patriarchy).

  42. polly styrene said

    Exactly Thene, brains don’t have genders – any more than kidneys do. But brains don’t have sex differences either, apart from very broad generalised ones. This article by a leading neurologist explains more.

    http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/research/story/0,,938022,00.html

    But as Simon Baron-cohen explains in this article – A key feature of this theory is that your sex cannot tell you which type of brain you have. Not all men have the male brain, and not all women have the female brain. The central claim of this new theory is only that on average, more males than females have a brain of type S, and more females than males have a brain of type E.

    There is also no hard evidence that gender identity is located anywhere in the brain. There has been some research on the hypothalamus which shows a very tiny area it may be different in MTF transsexuals than other males, and more like females. But this doesn’t prove that this determines gender identity – the size difference could be because of factors such as taking oestrogen, or removal of the testes.

    Now I have a much longer ring finger than my index finger. This finger pattern is more commonly found in males than females, and is linked with pre natal exposure to testosterone. In my case this is likely to be because I have a large number of older brothers.

    But I am NOT either transsexual OR transgendered. Although according to tests I have done my brain is more ‘male’ than ‘female’.

    In actual fact small children (under 5) have a very fluid sense of gender identity – it only becomes fixed after this age.

    http://openlearn.open.ac.uk/mod/resource/view.php?id=176761

    Which kind of suggests it’s all a matter of social conditioning – to me at least.

    You will quite often hear somebody say “I knew I was a woman from the age of 3” (or 5, or 6). But what they mean of course is that they identified with a female gender role at this age. It is very taboo in our society for males to take on ‘female’ roles. For instance when my small nephew aged about 5, loved to dress up in ‘girl’s’ clothes, his parents were warned by many people that they ought to stop him. They ignored the doom mongers and let him get on with what he was doing, and he is neither transsexual nor gay. However if a boy displays such behaviour and it is treated as taboo, he will probably feel that the only ‘legitimate’ way he can express ‘feminine’ characteristics is to physically change his body to be ‘female’. Now I’m not saying that there aren’t other, biological, factors which may make someone ‘transsexual’. Nobody has produced any proof one way or the other. But given the importance placed on gender roles and ‘gender appropriate’ behaviour in society, I’d say ‘gender identity dysphoria’ is more likely to be nurture than nature. And if we didn’t have a society that placed such importance on gender roles, it would disappear. We will never know of course unless we get rid of gender roles.

  43. Polly Styrene said

    Hi Sal

    If I can just address some of the points you touched on specifically, although I covered some generally above because it fitted in with the rest of the topic.

    I would never tell anyone that they shouldn’t change their body, or challenge how they identify because I’m not inside their heads. I know a fair number of transwomen, probably more than most people because I live in a big city where there’s quite a large trans population. So I think you would have to be insane to suggest that somebody would go through very drastic surgery just on a whim, or to piss off radical feminists. I also would never minimise the very real discrimination that they experience in their lives.

    I also know one trans man and this is where it gets interesting. On the NHS he had double mastectomy and was prescribed testosterone – so far so good. But he had no wish to change his lower genitals with phalloplasty, because as in his opinion this was essentially just cosmetic surgery that was as he saw it mutilating – the procedure for anyone who doesn’t know, entails taking flesh and skin from elsewhere on the body, to graft on to form the ‘penis’. In essence you are left with a large scar and a ‘penis’ that doesn’t function. He still came under huge pressure to do this from the medical establishment.

    Throughout history people have transgressed gender roles and in different societies and different periods of history, gender has been viewed differently. But it is only in the 20th century with the development of transsexual surgery that the problem has come to be viewed as a medical one. The idea of a ‘woman trapped in a men’s body was invented circa 1950 by Harry Benjamin. Who had some very sexist ideas such as suggesting that being ‘shyness, compliance and emotionalism’ were ‘usual feminine mental traits’ and that ‘masculine pscyhology’ included ‘aggressiveness and self assurance’. You can read more Benjamin at

    http://www.symposion.com/ijt/benjamin/index.htm

    Now this is important because Benjamin’s ideas are STILL the foundation for transsexual ‘medicine’ as practised worldwide.

    I would never say you can’t be a woman. However I would say that although I personally am classified by society as a ‘woman’ I don’t identify with female gender roles. So I don’t seem myself as a woman, in terms of traditional gender roles. The point being that doesn’t mean I automatically see myself as a ‘man’ either. But in a society where binary gender systems are mandatory, I am pushed into that view. Particularly in the lesbian community where a lot of women who would formerly have identified as butch lesbians are now under pressure to have surgery and take hormones to become ‘male’. This is a real phenomenon and one thing that I was really glad to see you mention, which I’ve heard other transwomen mention as well, is that the subject isn’t as cut and dried as it’s made out to be – people have varied motives for transitioning.

    In the end though this is about the right of born females to organise autonmously. The purpose of having a space that is born female only, is NOT to say you are not a woman, or to exercise ‘cisgender privilege’. However it is an acknowledgement of the fact that born females (or those assigned female at birth, even if intersex) have very different life experiences from transwomen. It is also to exclude biological males, because the only sensible way to allow transwomen access to a space, is to say anyone who self defines as a woman can enter, which practically speaking means anyone at all can enter.

  44. Polly Styrene said

    GS –

    you just don’t get it, do you. A lot of women above have said they were uncomfortable with you filming them. The ‘trans queer’ block said they were defending sex workers, but one of the women you focussed on heavily – presumably to depict her as an evil radical feminist – actually IS a former sex worker. But you still filmed her without her consent. Abusing her as a lot of other men in her life have abused her, by making use of her for your own ends without her consent.

    If you are SOOOOO ethical – why not ask people’s consent before you filmed them? Probably the women who were friendly towards you didn’t realise what your agenda was.

    If you are really so ethical, knowing of the objections of many you filmed, you will remove it from You Tube.

  45. polly styrene said

    Oh and nb Sal – I should point out that I was reading from the bottom up, so read and replied to Thene’s point before yours….

  46. With reference to GS who filmed us- exactly Polly. What makes you- GS a man- think you have the right to come to a stop violence against women march, in which we went specifically to march with the women only march, and film us up close without our permission..? I find it hard to believe out of all the people that were there, that there was not a hidden agenda in filming us and publishing our faces in your video.

  47. GS said

    I think you’re really paranoid for some reason. I was asked to go along and make a video of it by the people who were on the march. I’m not involved in the trans politics.

    There was no sinister intent but nor do I need permission. Anyone can film in a public place. There are no close-ups in the video, I deliberately didn’t shoot any and I don’t know which person I supposedly focused on heavily. But I’m sure the BBC etc would have no qualms about shooting close ups if they had been there. Except they weren’t there and nor was any of the media as far as I can see.

    Are you saying you don’t want a video of the event on YouTube and no publicity for it?

  48. GS said

    One of the websites that has embedded the video ‘highlights the most fabulous videos on the web’. It has been rated 5 stars twice and one comment says it is ‘Beautiful xx’. I don’t see how this fits with the evil hidden agenda that you claim I have! 😉

  49. You have totally failed to address any of the points that have been made GS, which is why you think it’s ETHICAL (not legal) to film women who don’t want you to film them without their permission, and why you focussed on women, out of all the women there, who just happened to be the people with whom the organiser of the ‘Queer trans block’ had issues with because he’d been told to piss off by some of them. An amazing coincidence if it was one, but I don’t think it was.

    And the fact that people like the video is neither here nor there. Plenty of people think the porn on you tube is great, or the videos of real life violence or sexual assualt that litter it. Is the website a trans/queer one by any chance?

    Oh and if you weren’t involved with the trans/queer group, why did we see them alone being filmed outside sackville park – quite a way from the assembly point – before the march started? Why did your video focus on them at the end? Do you think we came down in the last shower?

  50. And when you say ‘asked by the people on the march’ you mean the trans/queer group not the march organisers.

  51. Thene said

    Polly – given how much that article described gender differences that the author believes are due to underlying biology, I don’t think it proves your point. Take this paragraph:

    But we need to distinguish stereotyping from the study of sex differences. The study simply looks at males and females as two groups, and asks why on average, differences are seen. There is no harm in that, and even some important scientific advances that can come out of it. Stereotyping, on the other hand, is when a characteristic of a group is assumed to apply to an individual, and this is potentially discriminating and harmful. The E-S theory does not stereotype. Rather, it seeks to explain why individuals are typical or atypical for their sex.

    -that’s hardly dismissive of the fact of sex differences in the brain. It just says that they can’t be used to define people because they are not the same for everyone. The article is pretty clear on the fact that sex differences exist from day 1.

    In actual fact small children (under 5) have a very fluid sense of gender identity – it only becomes fixed after this age.

    I can’t help but mention David Reimer, who was assigned male at birth, but reassigned female due to a botched circumcision. He was raised as a girl from the age of 2, but never identified as female and insisted on having a male identity from the age of 13.

    There has been some research on the hypothalamus which shows a very tiny area it may be different in MTF transsexuals than other males, and more like females. But this doesn’t prove that this determines gender identity – the size difference could be because of factors such as taking oestrogen, or removal of the testes.

    I confess I’m puzzled by your argument here. If the difference exists, it exists whether it is inborn or due to physical transition; if transwomen have brains that are not like male brains, but are instead like female brains, then they are female, and should not be judged differently to other female people due to their trans status, large shoe size or anything else. Why the difference exists is secondary to the fact that it does.

    However if a boy displays such behaviour and it is treated as taboo, he will probably feel that the only ‘legitimate’ way he can express ‘feminine’ characteristics is to physically change his body to be ‘female’. Now I’m not saying that there aren’t other, biological, factors which may make someone ‘transsexual’. Nobody has produced any proof one way or the other. But given the importance placed on gender roles and ‘gender appropriate’ behaviour in society, I’d say ‘gender identity dysphoria’ is more likely to be nurture than nature. And if we didn’t have a society that placed such importance on gender roles, it would disappear. We will never know of course unless we get rid of gender roles.

    “Nobody has produced any proof one way or the other.” – but what about those hypothalami? And what about David Reimer, who was raised as a girl? It seems like you’re keen to dismiss proof that cis or trans status has a nature root, but are presenting no studies that suggest trans status has a nurture root (and surely it wouldn’t be hard to do retrospective studies of the families of trans people, and enquire as to whether they punished gender inappropriate behaviour more sternly than the families of cis people who lived in the same society as them).

    Your theory about taboos sadly reminds me of the theory that homosexuality stems from sex/gender taboos, which is nonsense; the more those taboos decline, the more people are prepared to be ‘out’. If it were as simple as someone wanting to express feminine characteristics, they’d be terrifically unlikely to opt for hormone treatment and surgery and a lifetime of harassment and discrimination – instead they’d find a home in the emo or metrosexual niches, or one of the many alt scenes (like my old one in Leeds) where exploration of gender is common and accepted behaviour. It is true that society has created a giant bullshitfest about gender, but that does not mean that in the absence of the bullshitfest, everyone would feel that their mind was congruent with their genitals. Transitioning is far more serious than that, and people wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t that serious.

    (Personally I find it bizarre that sex is viewed as a biological fact – something recorded at birth, alongside other biological facts like your DOB and your parentage – rather than a biographical fact like one’s religion, race or nationality. There is no reason why my sex should be written on my birth certificate or in my passport – or in my trans friend’s passport. But we’d both still be women, in any world).

    Particularly in the lesbian community where a lot of women who would formerly have identified as butch lesbians are now under pressure to have surgery and take hormones to become ‘male’. This is a real phenomenon and one thing that I was really glad to see you mention, which I’ve heard other transwomen mention as well, is that the subject isn’t as cut and dried as it’s made out to be – people have varied motives for transitioning.

    I’m not convinced. Not least because butches are often condemned alongside transpeople by anti-trans* writers; see this gem from Julie Bindel: “. When I were a lass, new to feminism and lesbianism, I was among the brigade who would sit in the women’s disco wearing vegetarian shoes and staring in disbelief at the butch/femme couples, mainly because they were having a better time than me. “Oh, but they’re emulating heterosexuality!” we would gasp in horror as the butch ran her Zippo up the femme’s fishnets. “What’s the point of being a lesbian if you’re going to behave like that?” I look back on them with affection and, yes, nostalgia. At least those women were women, and hadn’t gone to gender reassignment clinics to have their breasts sliced off and a penis made out of their beer bellies.” The othering and condescension towards butches – ‘at least those women!’ couldn’t be more odious. Why talk about ‘butch flight’ when there are people on the radfem side who don’t even want butches around?

    Honestly, we could argue all day about different theories, but to me it comes down to this: I will not, ever, enter a WBW space because I do not want anyone to see my femaleness as some kind of pass card to something my friend doesn’t deserve access to. I have no desire to enter a space that is blithely open to any ‘woman born woman’ – so what if she’s a member of a patriarchal religion, or if she’s had a labioplasty, if she works in the beauty industry, if she beats her children, she’d still be allowed in! – while being closed to my beloved friend and the other trans feminists I know, women who I’ve seen working in their communities, working in women’s conferences, working to support asylum seekers and their city’s homeless people.

    If I’m going to choose an exclusive place to be in, I want to choose it on the basis of love and of activism, not on the basis of what woman was assigned how at birth. I will hold transwomen and ciswomen to the same standards, and offer them the same care; if someone else decides to segregate those groups into two different spaces, I will stand by the transwomen. Always.

    Oh, and as for the ethics of recording women who do not want to be recorded…I don’t know about you guys, but I for one am glad that Sally Kern was recorded without her permission. Is it possible for the law to allow the exposure of secretive hate-speech while preventing the recording of a public event like RTN? I don’t think it is, and my ethics say that there was more good done by exposing Sally Kern than harm done by recording the RTN women.

  52. Liz said

    Great post Charlie. I find it hard to articulate my feelings about the trans issue. But I support women-only space, as evidenced by how my friends and I tried to stop York Uni women’s committee becoming open to men. Even though it is now open, no men have turned up which just makes me think that, well, what the hell was the point of the Women’s Officer putting her motion through if no men bother turning up anyway? I’ve had some frosty stares/reception from some men on campus, just for believing that women only space is a positive thing! Gah, it really makes me angry.

  53. GS said

    Quite right. I was asked to go along by the trans queer group. But I made a video of the whole march, to be inclusive. I am not involved in trans politics, no one told me who to shoot and I didn’t know who was who outside of the trans queer group. The footage on YouTube is pretty much all of what I shot.

    I am sensitive to people’s privacy up to a point but if it was necessary to get permission from every one of hundreds of people on a march in a public place, there would be no video of anything EVER. I didn’t shoot big close ups and the video is on YouTube where the image quality is poorish. So there is a balance to be struck.

    Have you considered how many security cameras there are on that route? Far more worrying that a middle-aged gay man with a camcorder who is being completely open about what he is doing! You’re saying that surrounded by hundreds of other women and numerous police officers, some women still felt threatened by me? I’m sad about that. But anyone who goes on a march in a public place with the expectation that they will not be recorded on a camera (security or otherwise) is misguided.

    Photographers are under constant pressure and harrassment from the Police these days. The day when there is a march and no one is allowed to photograph or film it, is the day to start worrying in my opinion!

  54. Polly Styrene said

    GS – security cameras do not do close ups on people. Security cameras do not post their footage on you tube.

    Why not just admit you’re in the wrong eh?

  55. Laurelin said

    The shorter GS: ‘Security cameras do it, so it’s okay if I do’.

    Not to mention the difference between unobtrusive surveillance cameras and a man wielding a camera at an event against violence against women.

    GS, if you want us to believe that you are ‘on our side’, fucking listen to us. It aint rocket science.

  56. Arantxa said

    The inside of the Manchester University Student Union is not a public place. A group of women who were not marching but simply having a chat amongst themselves were closed up on and filmed. The filming of these particular women was not coincidental but deliberate. This filming was an intrusion and the explanation offered above cowardly. Invading on women with a camera, putting the footage up on youtube and then not taking reponsibility for these actions, let alone admitting their wrongfulness – business as usual in the land of men.

  57. GS said

    Just about every shot in that video was done with the camcorder on wide angle. Eg. as far from ‘close-up’ as it’s possible to be. I literally was against the wall in the students union corridor if I remember. The idea of that shot was to show where the queer bloc was, using a panning shot, and anyone else who happened to be included as part of that was incidental.

    I’ve tried to reassure those few people who felt there was some evil intention, which there wasn’t, and I believe it is only a tiny minority of women who were on this march who have concerns. Sorry about that but it’s an issue they need to address (still feeling somehow threatened by one gay man on a public street, while surrounded by hundreds of other women and police). I shall continue to document events in Manchester as I have done for the last 19 years, because I think it’s important and indeed beneficial to events such as Reclaim the Night as a whole.

  58. My comment was far too long so I blogged it at: http://letterbyafeminist.blogspot.com/2008/03/post-modernist-and-womyn-only-space.html

  59. Liz said

    GS, did you think about asking permission from the organisers of the march, perhaps? From watching the video you made, I can see that it is biased in terms of the trans group ‘protesting’ AGAINST the march, or that there is some kind of animosity from the trans people against the group of feminists. You were clearly panning from one group to the other. It is clear to someone like me who wasn’t at the march. Particularly, as other women have pointed out, you filmed in a space that was well lit and not part of the march where people could be clearly identified and recognised, without their permission. It is not up to you to define permission, that right belongs to the women that you filmed, without their consent.

  60. GS said

    At the time the panning shot was taken I honestly had no idea who that group was in the university hallway. The aim was to show the location and the reason I panned both ways was so there was choice when editing. In other words a pan in either direction could be used. In the end the whole shot was left in because almost no editing was done on the video.

    The trans group was not protesting against the march. This is misinformation that has been put around by people who have their own agenda to push. They were there in support. I would not have made the video if the queer bloc was a protest against the rest of the march.

    No permission to film is needed in public places and it could be argued that the uni hallway was a public place in this context ie. there could be no reasonable right to any privacy in that space when hundreds of people were passing through it. If you are telling people who go to events like this that they have some right not to be photographed in a public place then you are misleading them. I understand that photos have appeared in the mainstream media?

    If the video is ‘biased in favour of the trans people’ then that is only because it was them who suggested I filmed the march. I could have focused entirely on them but I didn’t and tried to give a full picture of the event instead. There are lots of long shots that don’t or barely include the trans bloc. I’m obviously in a no win situation: accused of focusing on the trans bloc too much on the one hand and accused of filming other people on the other hand 🙂

    If no one photographs and films events like this then they just disappear into history. People can even distort the facts regarding what happened. For instance they could say there were fewer people than was the case. Having a video shows that a substantial number of people took part and it means the message continues to reach people for years to come. Don’t you think it’s great to think that someone may be watching this video a hundred years from now? Obviously the video isn’t perfect but honestly I think it’s better than having nothing.

  61. Arantxa said

    OBJECT LESSON IN MALE CHIVALRY
    Women. Watch and Learn.

    The bottom line is this: he filmed women without their knowledge (indoors, on private property), without their permission, put it up on youtube – again without their permission – and now refuses to remove it in the full knowledge that several women object to footage of them being posted on youtube. The fact is this: these women do not have any choice in the matter. This is what he refuses to own up to. All the justifications he has posted above are nothing but an attempt to cover up the fact that what he has done is against the expressed wishes of the women he has filmed, that he is in control of how the footage is used and that he will do with it what he wishes. This is male chivalry at its best. Men will say whatever men think will make them appear respectful towards women while actually serving only their own interests.

    Charlie, I do wish you’d moderate your blog again.

  62. GS said

    If I could, I would consider pixellating out the people concerned. Though in my opinion only one is really identifiable in that hallway scene. However on YouTube it isn’t possible to upload a replacement edited file to the same page. So it would mean losing all the comments, ratings and it would leave a broken link on any pages like this one that have embedded the video. Also I think that would just be the thin end of the wedge and people would then start complaining about people who are visible on the march itself. Has anyone complained to the mainstream media who were there taking high-res photographs?

  63. GS said

    I’ve uploaded a replacement version with the group in the uni hallway pixellated to hide their identities. Hope this will go some way to satisfy your concerns.

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