A consistent, and exceedingly fair critique of the feminist movement is that it is grounded in a certain white, liberal privilege that offers very little social and cultural change for populations that need it most. And maybe nowhere is that critique most on-point than the issue of transgender rights.
Make no mistake about it. Transgender rights are feminist rights and transgender issues are feminist issues.
Take, for example, the landmark opinion by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in late April that said gender-identity discrimination is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This opinion was made possible thanks to legal precedents from the 1980s and 1990s were a woman was overlooked for a job opportunity because she didn’t act or look “feminine enough” and another where a man was sexually harassed and threatened by other men at work.
At the heart of these cases is the idea that forcing someone to conform to a privileged or preferred gender performance is discriminatory even if those decisions did not stem first from complaints by transgender employees but rather by professional, heterosexual women. The discrimination faced by those women is inextricably linked to the gender discrimination that other people face, including and especially transgender people.
And the reality is that protecting transgender rights in the workplace makes the workplace safer for everyone, just like protecting transgender rights everywhere makes the world safer for us all. Violent attacks against transgender people are motivated by the same dark impulses behind rape and domestic assault. These are not (usually) crimes motivated by passion but instead of power–of putting non-compliant persons in their place and by reinforcing, if by force, dominant gender norms.
So despite a rocky history embracing differences based on sexuality, race, class, disability and gender identity, women’s rights and women’s activism needs to embrace and incorporate transgender activism into our ranks if for no other reason than because it impacts women. Feminists support, or at least they should, protecting all people from sex and gender discrimination and there’s no better way to do so than to align with our transgender allies and bring about an end to transphobia and discrimination.
Photo from FightHIVinDC via flickr.