Transfeminism

A symbol used to represent transfeminism.

Transfeminism, also written trans feminism, has been defined by scholar and activist Emi Koyama as "a movement by and for trans women who view their liberation to be intrinsically linked to the liberation of all women and beyond." Koyama notes that it "is also open to other queers, intersex people, trans men, non-trans women, non-trans men and others who are sympathetic toward needs of trans women and consider their alliance with trans women to be essential for their own liberation."[1] Transfeminism has also been defined more generally as "an approach to feminism that is informed by trans politics."[2]

In 2006, the first book on transfeminism, Trans/Forming Feminisms: Transfeminist Voices Speak Out edited by Krista Scott-Dixon, was published by Sumach Press.[3][4]

According to Emi Koyama, there are two "primary principles of transfeminism" that each transfeminist lives by and wishes to follow, as well as wishes for all individuals.[5] First, Koyama states that all people should not only be allowed to live their own lives in whichever way they choose and define themselves however they feel is right, but should also be respected by society for their individuality and uniqueness. Included is the right to individualized gender expression without the fear of retaliation. Koyama's second principle states that each individual has every right, and is the only one to have the right, to possess complete control over their own bodies. There shall be no form of authority - political, medical, religious, or otherwise - that can override a person's decisions regarding their bodies and their wellbeing, and their autonomy is fully in the hands of that sole individual.[5]

History

Early voices in the movement include Kate Bornstein, author of 1994 Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us,[6] and Sandy Stone, author of essay "The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto," which included a direct response to Janice Raymond's writings on transsexuality.[7] In the 21st century, Krista Scott-Dixon[3] and Julia Serano[8][9] have published transfeminist works. Bornstein has also released new works, such as Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation in 2010 with S. Bear Bergman.[10] Susan Stryker and Talia M. Bettcher have also recently released a publication about transfeminism.[11]

Transfeminism.org was created in 2000 to promote the Transfeminism Anthology Project by Diana Courvant and Emi Koyama. The site primarily devoted itself, however, to introducing the concept of transfeminism to academia and to finding and connecting people working on transfeminism projects and themes through an anthology of the same name.[12] Koyama and Courvant sought other transfeminists and to increase their exposure. The anthology was intended to introduce the movement to a large audience. At a Yale event and in bios associated with it, Courvant's use of the word (as early as 1992) and involvement in Transfeminism.org, may have made her the term's inventor. Courvant credited Koyama's Internet savvy as the reason transfeminism.org and the word transfeminism got the recognition and attention that it did.[13] This site is no longer active at the web address transfeminism.org, as it has since been archived.[13]

Patrick Califia used the word in print in 1997, and this remains the first known use in print outside of a periodical. [14]It is possible or even likely that the term was independently coined repeatedly before the year 2000 (or even before Courvant's first claimed use in 1992). The term gained traction only after 1999. Jessica Xavier, an acquaintance of Courvant, may have independently coined the term when she used it to introduce her articles, "Passing As Stigma Management" and "Passing as Privilege" in late 1999.[15][16] Emi Koyama wrote a widely read "Transfeminist Manifesto"[1] around the time of the launch of the website that, with her active participation in academic discussions on the internet, helped spread the term.

In the past few decades, the idea that all women share a common experience has come under scrutiny by women of color, lesbians, and working class women, among others. Many transgender people are also questioning what gender means, and are challenging gender as a biological fact. Transfeminists insist that their unique experiences be recognized as part of the feminist sphere.[17]

Transfeminism incorporates all major themes of third wave feminism, including diversity, body image, self-definition, and women's agency. Transfeminism is not merely about merging trans concerns with feminism. It also includes critical analysis of second wave feminism from the perspective of the third wave.[18] Like all feminisms, transfeminism critiques mainstream notions of masculinity and argues that women deserve equal rights. Lastly, transfeminism shares the unifying principle with other feminisms that gender is a patriarchal social construct used to oppress women. Therefore, by many, the "trans" in transgender has been used to imply transgressiveness.[12][19] Nicholas Birns indeed categorizes transfeminism as "a feminism that defines the term 'trans-' in a maximally heterogeneous way."[20]

The road to legitimacy for transfeminism as a concept has been different and more vexed than for other feminisms. Marginalized women of trans background and affect have had to prove that their needs are different and that mainstream feminism does not necessarily speak for them.[21] Koyama echoes this in the beginning of "Transfeminist Manifesto",[1] saying whenever a marginalized group of women speaks out, other feminists begin to question who they represent and what their beliefs are. Contrarily, trans women must show their womanhood is equally valid as that of other women, and that feminism can speak for them without ceasing to be feminism. Radical feminist Janice Raymond's resistance to considering trans women as women and as participants in feminism is representative of this obstacle. Her career began with The Transsexual Empire (a book-length analysis of transsexual women) and she has often returned to this theme.[22]