approach to feminism influenced by transgender movement

Transfeminism, or trans feminism, is a branch of feminism focused on transgender women and informed by transgender studies. Transfeminism focuses on the effects of transmisogyny and patriarchy on trans women. It is related to the broader field of queer theory. The term was popularized by Emi Koyama (involved in the ISNA) in The Transfeminist Manifesto.

A symbol used to represent transfeminism.

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  • Transfeminism is a term used to describe a collection of perspectives on feminism that centre the experiences of trans people. This perspective recognizes trans people as a group who, like cis women, suffer greatly at the hands of patriarchy, which punishes us for transgressing the roles laid out for us from birth. It is not a rival movement to other forms of feminism, nor is it a subdivision. It is a specific approach to feminist thought and organizing that begins with trans experience, rather than seeking to slot trans people into a cis feminist theory that is often articulated without us in mind.
  • Naturally, cisgender women’s feminism starts with the general principle that patriarchy is a system that benefits men to the detriment of women, and empowers men specifically by disempowering women. In some form or other, most cis feminist thought argues for a crucial distinction to be made between sex – one’s biology – and gender, a social structure that dictates appropriate male and female behaviour. Trans feminists also believe that, while the difference between bodies and the cultural narratives we use to interpret those bodies does exist, such difference is not always easily recognized or mapped. Our sexed bodies never exist outside social meanings: consequently, how we understand gender shapes how we understand sex. The gender critical feminist idea – that there exists an objective biological reality which is real and observable to everyone in the same way and, distinct from that, a constructed set of subjective gender stereotypes that can be easily abolished – is an oversimplification. The way we perceive and understand sex differences and emphasize their significance is so deeply gendered that it can be impossible to completely divorce the two.
  • Trans feminists seek to interrogate society’s ingrained assumptions about the social and cultural meanings we ascribe to biology. They also generally incorporate an analysis of intersex people, who do not fit this reductive model, and who have suffered historical and ongoing mistreatment at the hands of a medical establishment obsessed with imposing binary biological sex on to bodies that don’t ‘fit’. The experiences of trans and intersex people show us that not all humans fit perfectly into two clear-cut categories of biological sex; indeed, the belief there are two separate sex categories is itself an erasure of sex variations that occur either naturally or through medical modification. The global dominance of men over women can never be dismantled while simultaneously maintaining, preserving and reinforcing the binary model of sex and gender.
  • I believe it is important to debunk the myth that transfeminism is a new departure from the feminist theory of the past. As we have seen, ambivalence about the categories of man and woman, challenging biological essentialism, and championing a multifaceted analysis of the harm that misogyny does to every human being (including men) have always been central to feminist thought.
  • Like women more generally, many trans women are feminists. Feminism and transgender activism are not in any way incompatible or mutually exclusive. As feminists who acknowledge intersectionality, we believe that we should be fighting to end all forms of sexism and marginalization — this includes both traditional sexism and transphobia. Forcing trans women into a separate group that is distinct from cis women does not in any way help achieve feminism’s central goal of ending sexism.

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