Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism and the Matter of Gender by Angela Last & Anja Kanngieser


Image: Sign at Vinyl Deptford by Friction Shifter, photographed at Electronik Netwerk.

I frequently get asked how, as someone whose theoretical interests originally emerged from physics, I came to write about race and gender. The answer is that, for me, race and gender are also material issues that not only manifest in material practices (e.g. gender performance, racism), but permeate all levels of matter from the molecular (e.g. what illnesses are being treated, how they get made sense of and come to matter as pathology, what chemicals different genders put out into the environment) to the global (geopolitical divisions, contribution to/ exposure to climate change). As variants of environmental determinism continue to appear in discussions around race and gender, it is more than ever important to look critically at the material claims that are being made. In this blog post, I am looking at this issue with Australian trans political geographer Anja Kanngieser.

This particular post is prompted by recent trans-phobic events at the London Anarchist Bookfair, which we did not personally attend, but which have been widely exposed and debated on social media. It is written while in Australia, LGBTQ people are having their right to marriage and the legal access it affords decided through national vote. It is also prompted by recent and very public verbal and physical attacks on transgender friends, whether this was by unknown people in the street or by their former partners. Such attacks are particularly infuriating when they come from people who claim to act against gendered oppression: radical feminists. So what problems could a feminist possibly have with transwomen and men, and with other non-heteronormative gender constructions? Here is an example of leaflets that were distributed and apparently put up in the toilets at the London Anarchist Bookfair:




Image sources: Luftmensch and Joff

What we have here is a perceived threat to both social/legal status and biology (which despite conservative arguments to the contrary, is itself a mutable and historical category). This is about the ‘protection’ of biological sex and homonormative sexuality. Such claims base themselves on the uniqueness of biological female experience and related literature (e.g. Luce Irigaray) and the exclusive role of women at the receiving end of male violence. As, according to this logic, biology determines and fixes oppression, there is no way out of oppression other than segregation. Men are essential perpetrators, women are essential victims, and the advocates of this position find ample support in gendered crime statistics. Following this argument, transwomen will by default import their oppressive tendencies, and transmen are simply traitors who have ‘gone over to the other side’ instead of fighting the patriarchy from the position of the oppressed. Thus it was suggested that the prevention of the distribution of these leaflets would in fact benefit men.

What is especially dangerous about the events that took place at the London Anarchist Bookfair is precisely the way in which such essentialist segregations stop the recognition of the violence faced by transwomen through hetero and homonormative practices. Transwomen, especially transwomen of colour (an intersection utterly ignored by the pamphlets and the later defence thereof), are especially vulnerable to gender based violence. The arguments used to ignite fear of transwomen miss the fact that transwomen are in no way exempt from the violence that ciswomen face (‘cis’ means when gender identity matches that assigned at birth), often compounded by the fact that they experience it in both mixed gender and womens spaces. Arguments made by trans exclusionary feminists that ‘pre-op’ transwomen have the biological capacity to rape or enact physical violence neglect that rape is not conditional on fleshy appendages. Transwomen do not inhabit the world as men, they are not afforded the safety of men any more than ciswomen are.

The arguments being made by trans exclusionary feminists are, as stated, ones of biological determinism. They are founded on claims that if we include transwomen into the category of woman then there is nothing left to distinguish women as a ‘class’ from men. Cis women, as the claim goes, due to their unique reproductive capacities, their unique physical matter (made up of hormones, sex organs and biological processes) have been interpellated by capital in specific ways, to perform very specific social, emotional, and physical functions, which enable a collective subjectivity (a subjectivity that is both critiqued and upheld). While some of these functions may have changed over time, this is still the fundamental work of woman. Where this leaves women who choose not to procreate, who choose to deviate from the domestic path, intersex peoples, transwomen, and women whose reproductive capacities have been curtailed or removed due to biology and illness, is unclear. It is also unclear how such positions take into account traditions and existences of sex and gender beyond the narrow, white, western lens, which recognises only male and female subjects in binary. The argument for woman as a child bearing biological subject forgets that the male/ female distinction is an imposed scientific one, one that is not in any way fixed or innate (outside of scientific rationalism) but rather lies on a spectrum.


Trans-activist Jake Graf speaking at “Invisible Outlaws: Lesbian, Bi and Trans Voices” at The Bedford, Balham. Left to right: Jake Graf, Stella Duffy, Sophia Blackwell, Joelle Taylor, Olumide Popoola. Image source: Laura Macdougall

This biological basis for subjectivity was picked up at a recent event called “Invisible Outlaws: Lesbian, Bi and Trans Voices”, organised by poet Sophia Blackwell to highlight the absence of LBT+ in discussions of LGBT+ issues (one could also have added intersex and other non-hetero/homo-normative identities). Trans-activist Jake Graf spoke about the difficulties that trans people face not just in heterosexual environments, but also in homosexual ones. Having started off in the lesbian scene, his transition to male prompted hostility and eventual exclusion. Although he also gave some positive examples of gays and lesbians ‘adopting’ trans people into their community, there was a strong sense that this was not a given. This comes as a particular shock, as one expects fellow non-heteronomative people to bond over mutual exclusion and not to further perpetuate it.

The remaining panel proceeded to take on the question of essentialism, both in gender and sexual identity. What was fantastic about the discussion was the sense of gender and sexuality as a continuous unlearning process of engrained heteronormativity. Lesbian ‘cultural terrorist’ Joelle Taylor, in particular, spoke of her school outreach work as a mutual learning process: the young people she encountered had a different language, different identities that she didn’t experience as alienating, but hopeful. Stella Duffy spoke about discovering other gender possibilities through Pacific Islander culture in a rural, but multi-cultural New Zealand community. Nigerian-German writer Olumide Popoola contributed further thoughts on the intersection of misogyny, homophobia and transphobia with another form of essentialism: racism.

At the moment, this policing of essential materiality painfully intersects in current right wing movements, which in the past and present haven’t been the exclusive preserve of white heterosexuals but have been co-driven by xenophobic male and female homosexuals (and even people of colour), despite the hatred they face from fellow members. The overall message seems to be: ‘we want boundaries to stay in place’, and those boundaries, whether geographical or biological, and their social consequences, are again taken as given.

What needs to be emphasised here as well is that these kinds of arguments against the inclusion of trans peoples into political spaces – regardless of direction – are not new. Trans peoples have always struggled for their legitimacy in both straight and queer spaces. While supporters of the anti-trans pamphlet and its circulation argue that anarchism must support a diversity of positions, and that it is almost impossible to ensure that an event with the magnitude of the London Anarchist Bookfair remains inclusive, at the heart of this situation is the recognition of transwomen and men as valid, of their right to be safe as valid.

The 2017 UK Gender Recognition Act, trans exclusionary feminists argue, will let dangerous men pretend to be women, to enter women’s spaces and access hard won and precarious women’s services. This is a throwback to a feminist position that is as regressive as it is damaging. The decision and the necessity to transition, medically or not, is not an easy one. It is not simply deciding to be something else for a day; it is not a man donning a dress for fun, or a woman donning a tie to work. Trans people, especially BIPOC (Black, Indigenous & People of Colour) trans women and men, are not applauded or uplifted. Rather to the contrary, as this situation evidences, transness is conflated with strangeness and threat, which is why so many trans people are too afraid to come out, and end up living their lives away from the mainstream, or as happens with sickening frequency, take their own lives or are killed by others.

By framing transness as a biological anomaly, a fake or fiction, trans exclusionary feminism commits itself to reductive paradigms that not only repeat ideologies and fears that are categorically conservative and ultimately life threatening to trans people, but also perpetuate divisions between possible political allies. Given the determinist framing of the ‘feminist’ arguments against trans rights, such positions become virtually indistinguishable from fascist and hetero-patriarchal ones. The ‘feminist’ insistence on the superiority of female biology, combined with the essential social inferiority based on this fixed biology, places women exactly where they have been imagined to be (depending on where you live) for way too long.

Further, as illustrated in the previous post on the #metoo campaign, such attitudes prevent crucial alliances that could challenge heteronormative practices. For ciswomen to align with transwomen or men (and also gay men) is not going to further diminish their power, but increase attention to the seduction and social toxicity of normativity. We are all at the receiving end of gender-policing violence, including physical attacks, cuts to services and denial of self-determination. Regarding the events at the London Anarchist Bookfair, rather than merely giving lip service to trans inclusiveness while backhandedly supporting the isolation and exclusion of trans peoples from anarchist spaces in always evolving ways, this is something that intersectional anarchists need to address once and for all.

In other spaces, particularly those espousing well-intentioned affirmations of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity’, this kind of work is also overdue. Too often, discussions of essentialism are sidestepped due to the topic’s ideological and political baggage, and, in many cases, essentialisms and related transphobia are simply wished away through denial. A first step might be to admit that it is hard for everyone to unlearn heteronormativity and essentialist thinking – after all, everything is set up to accommodate their performance, down to the philosophies of our languages. However, once we have arrived at this recognition, we need to commit to working towards undoing this ever-present form of violence. And this includes identifying old deceptions within our supposedly progressive politics.

 

 

 

 

 

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Mutable Matter turns 10!

Apologies for the long radio silence, but a lot has been happening behind the scenes. First of all: Mutable Matter is ten years old today! I started this blog on 24 September 2007 as part of my Open University PhD research and because I wanted to communicate with OU students and people beyond academia. I also wanted to experiment with writing and communication styles, and to show how our imagination of matter manifests in different spaces. Initially, the blog focused more on the material processes at ‘invisible’ scales such as the atomic and molecular scale, and how these affect the geographical imagination. Since then, the blog has kept morphing and moving across a diversity of on- and offline spaces, and has never been short of providing me with surprising encounters. An enormous thank you is due to all my readers and subscribers. Thank you also for all the feedback over the last ten years.

What is happening at the moment?

From January 2018, I will be starting a lectureship at the University of Leicester, in the School of Geography, Geology and the Environment. The post has a focus on the geohumanities, and am looking forward to some exciting teaching, research and other creative experiments with colleagues from different disciplines. I am also working on two books, one on materialism and and another one on Mutable Matter. I am also in the process of assembling a printed zine that is based around both publications and tries to make the work that I do accessible to a wider audience. Some exciting events are also coming up: the Mutable Matter/Warwick Social Theory Centre workshop Cosmos & Crisis: Interdisciplinary Conversations (funded by a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Grant) is happening this coming Wednesday and Thursday. It focuses on challenges to the Western worldview from different viewpoints. I have also been invited to present at two other events: the second part of the Political Geology workshop at Cambridge University on 17 November 2017, and at a workshop on experimentation at Oxford on 8 January 2018. And of course, there is Curved Radio, to which I keep contributing (many thanks to Gayle Austin for having me!).

Thank you again for staying tuned – here is to future blog mutations! I am going to eat some cake now… (not the one pictured above)

New article in EPD on geography & matter


Image: ‘Crowd, Isolated on White’ (Leontura/Getty Images)

This morning, my latest article on geography and matter was published by Environment & Planning D: Society and Space. There are two kinds of discomforts that I am processing in this article: the lack of dialogue on the role of matter between followers of historical and new materialism, and my conflicted relationship with the work of Hannah Arendt. I had the feeling that the two problems were related, so I went ahead to see where it took me, starting with channelling the many animated conversation that I have had with people at workshops and conferences. I ended up somewhere different than expected, but with one thing I was right: it had to do with the way we make cuts between the material and supposedly non-material world. The result is called ‘Re-reading Worldliness: Hannah Arendt and the Question of Matter‘. If you do not have access to the journal, please send me an email. It is also available for free on the journal website until 12 September.

Abstract

Both new and historical materialisms have attracted a reputation for leading to ‘bad politics’. Historical materialisms have been accused of reducing too much to material relations and their production, whereas new materialisms have been accused of avoiding politics completely. This article reads the critique directed at materialisms against Hannah Arendt’s exceptional distrust of matter. Focusing on her concept of ‘worldliness’, it grapples with the question ‘why do we need an attention to matter in the first place?’ The attempted re-reading takes place through a feminist and postcolonial lens that draws out the contributions and failures of Arendt’s (anti)materialist framework in its banishing of matter from politics. Arendt’s focus on the prevention of dehumanisation further serves as a means to discuss materialism’s risk in negotiating the tension between deindividuation and dehumanisation.

Feminist Review CFP “Environment”

feminist-review-cfp

 

The following call might be of interest to readers:

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Themed issue on ‘Environment’ 

Feminism has a long and complex relationship to ‘nature’ and ‘the environment’. From critiques of the gendered nature/ culture binary to ecofeminism, feminists have alternatively rejected and celebrated women’s supposedly closer relationship to the natural world. Feminism has also long engaged critically with conventional definitions of humanism and ‘the human’, especially as derived from the exclusionist and violent definitions of the European Enlightenment.

These activist and critical histories have been revised and revisited in recent years as part of a growing preoccupation in the social sciences and humanities with the environment as subject, as well as object, of study. Growing consciousness of human-induced climate change, with its vastly unequal impact on different human populations as well as the planet as a whole, adds special urgency to these concerns. Whether as part of the post-humanist critique of the humanities, the ‘animal turn’, or the ‘new materialism’, feminists and other scholar-activists are increasingly reconceptualising definitions of, and boundaries between, the human and other-than-human world.

Feminist Review invites academic articles and creative interventions for a special issue on ‘Environment’. Possible topics of consideration include:

-genealogies of feminist environmentalism, within and beyond ecofeminism
-gender, race, class and ‘intersectional environmentalism’
-postcolonialism and environmental justice
-feminist contributions to debates and interventions around climate change
-gendered histories of the environment
-memory, mourning and environmental destruction
-queer ecologies
-religious and spiritual dimensions of feminist engagement with ecology
-post-humanist approaches to environmental studies
-gendering ecocriticism
-material feminisms
-kinship across species
-feminist, queer and anti-racist interventions in animal studies
-feminist perspectives on planetary futures

Issue editors: Yasmin Gunaratnam, Carrie Hamilton and Ioana Szeman

If you would like to discuss your ideas for this issue please contact the editors at y.gunaratnam@gold.ac.uk, c.hamilton@roehampton.ac.uk and i.szeman@roehampton.ac.uk.

Full articles or Open Space pieces to be submitted by 2 January 2017.

Manuscripts should be submitted through Feminist Review’s online submission system and in FR house style. See http:// http://www.palgrave-journals.com/fr/author_instructions.html.

New Article in TCS Geo-Social Formations Special Issue

mutualcore2
Image Source: Björk ‘Mutal Core’

My new article ‘We Are the World? Anthropocene Cultural Production between Geopoetics and Geopolitics‘ is now out in the ‘Geo-Social Formations and the Anthropocene’ Special Issue of Theory, Culture & Society. It was written two years ago, and should be read as the predecessor of the Geoforum article on geopoetics and geopolitics. Big thank you to Kathryn Yusoff and Nigel Clark for inviting me to participate in this issue. Other authors include Myra J Hird and Simon Dalby.

The article is also the second in a series of three on interwar ‘cosmic’ materialisms and their implications for the present. The previous one, ‘Negotiating the Inhuman: Bakhtin, Materiality & the Instrumentalisation of Climate Change’ was also published by Theory, Culture & Society. The third one is currently under review at another journal.

Abstract

The proposal of the ‘Anthropocene’ as a new geological epoch where humans represent the dominant natural force has renewed artistic interest in the ‘geopoetic’, which is mobilized by cultural producers to incite changes in personal and collective participation in planetary life and politics. This article draws attention to prior engagements with the geophysical and the political: the work of Simone Weil and of the editors of the Martinican cultural journal Tropiques, Suzanne and Aimé Césaire. Synthesizing the political and scientific shifts in human-world relationships of their time, both projects are set against oppressive or narcissistic materialisms and experiment with the image of the ‘cosmic’ to cultivate a preoccupation not (only) with a tangible materialism but with an intangible one that emphasizes process and connectivity across wide spatial and temporal scales. The writers’ movement between poetics and politics will be used to enquire what kind of socio-political work a contemporary geopoetic could potentially do.

Anthropocene Feminism Conference @ UWM 10-12 April 2014

“Slurb” (2009) by Marina Zurkow from bitforms gallery on Vimeo.

Call for submissions

“Coined by Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen at the inception of the 21st Century, the concept of the anthropocene postulates a new geological epoch defined by overwhelming human influence upon the earth beginning with the Industrial Revolution in the late eighteenth century. The concept has since been picked up and expanded by other scientists, chiefly but not exclusively geologists and planetary ecologists. More recently the anthropocene has caught the imagination of humanists, artists, and social scientists for whom it has provided a powerful framework through which to account for and depict the impact of climate change in a variety of media forms and practices.

In many ways, however, the anthropocene is a strikingly resonant iteration of the problematic forcefully articulated in Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto,” which sees the human, nonhuman, culture, and nature as inextricably entangled, and warns that the consequences of attempts to dominate human and nonhuman nature can be at once devastatingly successful and productively perverse. Indeed, the concept of the anthropocene has arguably been implicit in feminism, critical theory, and queer theory for decades, a genealogy that is largely ignored, or worse, erased, by the masculine authority of science.

By the same token, while feminists have long argued that humans are dominating and destroying the earth, turning it into standing reserve, capital, or resource to devastating ends, it is also the case that this recent articulation of the anthropocene, even as it affirms those arguments in many ways, deprives feminism of some of the normative ground upon which such indictments are based. This tension has been anticipated in ecofeminism and feminist science studies, but now, in the 21st century, the articulation of a post-natural condition in the form of a new geological age demands rigorous and sustained attention to global, ahuman forces of ecological change as well as to local spaces of vulnerability and resistance.

To this end, C21’s conference on Anthropocene Feminism will consider the ways in which feminism has long been concerned with the anthropocene, and what current interest in the anthropocene might mean for feminism, in its evolving histories, theories, and practices. More to the point, the conference seeks to highlight both why we need an anthropocene feminism and why thinking the anthropocene must come from feminism. We begin with two sets of questions.

First, how has feminism anticipated the concept of the anthropocene, and what might it yet have to offer: how can feminism help us to historicize, challenge, or refine the concept of the anthropocene? What do new materialist feminism or ecofeminism (to name just two) add to (or detract from) current humanistic understandings of the anthropocene?  What does feminism have to say to the claim that humans now act as a geological force in ways that are independent of or indifferent to social, cultural, or political will or intent?

Second, and equally important, is there (or should there be) an anthropocene feminism? Put differently, does the claim that we have entered a new epoch in which humans are a major geological force on the planet call for a reconceptualization of feminism?  Does feminism require a new formulation specific to the age of the anthropocene, a new historical or period designation?  How should feminism in an anthropogenic age take up an altered relation to—an increased attention to or concern for—the nonhuman world?

We seek proposals for critical, historical, and theoretical papers or creative presentations that address the questions posed by the concept of “anthropocene feminism.” We encourage participants to investigate and analyze the anticipation of this concept in feminism and other related theoretical paradigms and, in turn, to speculate upon its implications. We are also interested in work that pays attention to the place of the nonhuman in feminist theory and practice, in order to offer some suggestions about how the humanities, arts, and social sciences might best treat the anthropocene as we move forward in the 21st century.

Topics we imagine proposals pursuing include but are not limited to:

  • feminist genealogies of the anthropocene
  • queer nature, queer ecologies, queer anthropocene
  • new materialism
  • quantum entanglements and agential realism
  • feminism and dark ecologies
  • ecofeminism
  • environmental racism and transnational feminist approaches
  • the anthropocene and the commons
  • feminist science and science studies in the anthropocene
  • anthropocene feminism after capitalism
  • feminist reflections on environmental ethics and aesthetics in the anthropocene
  • cyborg futures, geo-engineering, speculative ecologies
  • feminism after the non-human turn
  • ecosexualities
  • feminist epistemologies
  •  feminism and climate, geo- and environmental sciences
  • anthropocene utopianism/dystopianism and their antecedents

We invite contributions from theorists and practitioners of humanities, arts, and the social and natural sciences, or any others interested in the relation between feminism and the anthropocene.

Please send your abstract (up to 250 words) and a brief (1-page) CV by Friday, December 6 to Richard Grusin, Director, Center for 21st Century Studies, c21@uwm.edu.”