In my early days of transition, I was always confused and confounded with the word “women-only spaces”. Of course in those early years, like a lot of folks, I was looking for validation from the cis-world in calling myself a woman. Unfortunately, I did not have anyone like Harvey Milk whom I could call to fight my internalization and he would say “There is nothing wrong with you Rashmi. Its the society”.
Though I did manage to get past those demons eventually, to date I feel it necessary to check ahead to make sure I am welcome in gendered-spaces. I think the main reason is that, I would like to work with several of these orgs but then the crippling question comes up – “What if I am rejected?”. The problem with Gender-only spaces is that they emphasize the bifurcation of gender and they alienate a lot of people who may be classified differently across several criteria:
A person may be male-bodied, female-identifying (some transwomen), Another may be female-bodied, gender-queer identifying. A third may be female-bodied, male-identifying (some transmen). Even the word “bodied” can have several meaning. You can be genetically one sex (XX or XY chromosome and add to that people with XXY chromosomes etc.), or can be gonodically-different (testes versus ovaries versus a mix of both). One can be structurally-different as in what’s between your legs. If chosen to differentiate by behavior and mannerism (think of boi-dykes, effeminate-men, gender-queers, tom-boy etc.) this could be disastrous since they can mean different things in different cultures and society.
My point is, you can never come with just one factor to differentiate the genders because there are a whole array of factors. That said, I am not against gender-only spaces as long as they let people self-identify rather than pushing their idea of someone else down the throat. Isn’t feminism all about an individual choice of determination rather than the patriarchal world telling women how to behave, dress, act, work, etc.? Then why the hypocrisy?
But the problem becomes wide open and discriminatory when groups like the Mich Fest specifically exclude trans women by having a womyn-born-womyn policy. While this was basically a result of a few rad feminists seeking to establish a space for women raised as a women, the hypocrisy is they seem to exclude few folks with the very same reason they were fighting against – “biological determinism” in a patriarchal world.
So why is it important now?
Very recently, Out!wear, a group that strives to unify the LGBT folks started selling merchandise that included the WBW tees. This infuriated a lot of people and those familiar with the Mich Fest and the WBW campaign, and they started posting comments on the company’s Facebook wall. The company sadly just erased them all. A nice debate was brewing up but rather unfortunately all was lost when Out!wear decided to nuke those comments. It raised quite an uproar in the trans community, blogs started posting this issue and in a few days PFLAG saw the merits in this campaign. Fast forward a couple days – Maria from the website issued a public apology and they have decided to pull all offending merchandise from their website.
This is a great victory for the Trans community , something that I would think will set the precedence for stopping future discrimination. Remember the time when GLAAD thought it was educative to show a Hijra as a sex-slave in Outsourced [Link] because it raises education and awareness of the Indian trans community. That was quite a slap on the face.
Bex, who was in the forefront of fighting this battle, wrote a very nice post about the Out!wear incident in LJ and she explains the discriminative exclusionary policy of the Mich Fest and about the WBW in general [Link].