There isn’t much difference between the current transgender ideology that bullies women and ejects us from our own home ground, and ordinary sexism that has always existed in the left, in all the movements ranging from anti-war to the one I’m most familiar with, the survivors of psychiatric oppression movement. The only difference is that anti-feminist men and women have found a way to obliterate the political existence of women as a dogma of leftist politics. In order to be a bona fide, acceptable speaker, organizer, thinker in these movements, now, one has to agree that there is no such thing as sexism defined as systemic, institutionalized male supremacy over females. Sex is said to have no political meaning, to assert such a meaning is considered tantamount to the bigotry that feminists lead the fight against – the biological essentialism of patriarchal society, particularly fundamentalist Christians, who believe that females must serve males and that both must stay in pre-defined roles.
Transgender ideology takes up part of the feminist agenda, which I welcome – the part that says we can all be ourselves, look how we want, dress and speak how we want, we don’t have to fit the roles that patriarchy assigned to our sex, we can cross over or do our own thing outside the box. Marlo Thomas sang it in ‘Free to Be You and Me’ and it’s still what feminists believe.
But feminism has always been a movement that 1) fights against institutionalized male supremacy over females, and 2) pays attention to the body and particularly to women’s subjectivity as embodied female human beings. So much of male supremacy happens by men asserting not just control over or imposed access to women’s bodies, but the negation of women’s subjectivity. If she says no to sex, she can’t mean it, she really means yes. If she doesn’t respond to you, she’s a whore. Men impose their meaning on women and their meaning is a servile body. It’s not entirely an object, not the same as a plastic doll, they want the subordination of women’s reason and conscience to their own, enacted in many ways but focused on sexual, emotional, reproductive, and caregiving service. (Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract, points out that women were not excluded entirely from the realm of contract, they were required to make one contract, that of marriage, which secured their inferior status.)
Women taking back our subjectivity meant our embodied subjectivity. Not just in personal life and in heterosexual relationships, but as a matter of cultural archetype and policy claiming that our form was as much ‘in the image of God’ as that of males – or more, since it is females who birth males and females both, not the other way around – and that the world should be run from the standpoint of women, including our bodily experiences of menstruation, fertility, childbearing, menopause, our kinds of physical strength and endurance, our physical configuration and energy, our physical vulnerabilities and protections – as distinct from the socially imposed ones or the reaction to predatory male violence. We got some changes made for some of the most obvious aspects of policy, like providing for pregnancy leave and prohibiting workplace discrimination including sexual harassment – though we know these measures are insufficient and don’t change the actual power relations much; as I write this the #metoo campaign is for the first time in memory succeeding in toppling the careers of sexual predators, not because of law but because of women rising up.
Lesbians are outside much of the focal points for male supremacy, we aren’t in a position of fighting for sexual equality in our intimate relationships or generally of dealing with unwanted pregnancy. Having relations with other females, we are doubly negated in the patriarchy and our subjectivity is simply of no importance to anyone but ourselves.
Until it comes time for a male-bodied person who is heterosexual to declare himself a lesbian – then our subjectivity is derided and reviled if we cast him out, call him a man and deny him a place in our sisterhood.
The same way, all women’s subjectivity as women to define our own boundaries collectively, as well as individually, is derided and reviled and silenced when we assert that our movement is a movement of females to end male supremacy, and that males who want an identity other than that of men as it has been assigned to them need to create their own movement, with a separate identity, and not parasitize ours – not attack and feed off our political labor as men have done in every other sphere of life.
If our movements cannot fight sexism – cannot embrace as a core political principle the abolition of male supremacy over females, and the primacy of female people as the political agents of this struggle, then they are more than bullshit, they are another face of oppression.