Feminism is for everyone
- Published: 10 June 2011
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We must recognise and respect the healthy existence of a greater number of sex and gender diverse identities. This is one of our greatest tools available to aid us in the deconstruction of the gender binary and the associated prejudices and oppression faced by everyone, writes Jez Pez.
11 June 2011
This is an edited version of Jez Pez’s speech from the Feminist Futures Conference, Melbourne, Australia, 28-29 May 2011 on the panel Visions and Strategies.
Before I go into great detail I want to qualify who I am. I am not university educated, and I personally think this is a good thing. I have had the opportunity to study, but universities are still institutions. So what I say comes from personal experience, which is equally as valuable. I also want to express my reasons for speaking at this panel.
After lobby group Still Fierce (which campaigns for the rights of sex and/or gender diverse people) were able to obtain a position on the panel, I volunteered, because for the last 10 years I have read and experienced much criticism of transgenderism from particular segments of the feminist world, which personally offends me and I felt this was a good opportunity to have my response.
I am a transgendered man. For those of you in this room who have limited knowledge on what a trans guy is, I’ll give you a brief lesson on Trans 101. I am referring to male-indentified people who were born female-bodied.
In the gender identity spectrum it may also encompass masculine-identified gender queers, female-to-male transsexuals, transmasculine folk, female-to-male transgendered people and butch masculine identities as well. The trans* community is very diverse and unfortunately even in 2011 we continue to be very marginalised.
I'd now like to provide some statistics as evidence to this fact. The Zoe Belle Gender Centre was formed a few years back in Victoria, and from an upcoming brochure I have extracted some important statistics.
The 2007 Tranznation report prepared by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS) revealed that:
• 87.4% had experienced at least one incident of stigma or discrimination on the basis of their gender identity
• 50% reported verbal abuse, social exclusion and the spread of defamatory rumours – I can attest that I have experienced this personally.
• 33.33% had been threatened with or were victims of violence.
It has also been estimated that:
• the suicide rate for sex and gender diverse individuals (particularly transgender people) is around 125 times that of the general Australian population.
These are extremely alarming figures and in need of serious attention.
Progressive gender identities or non-identities make up a beautiful and rich landscape of powerful difference and this is a diversity to be celebrated.
We must recognise and respect the healthy existence of a greater number of sex and gender diverse identities. This is one of our greatest tools available to aid us in the deconstruction of the gender binary and the associated prejudices and oppression faced by everyone.
A better understanding of diverse identities helps us to relate to each other and break down the age old aspects of gender oppression.
The trans movement in many respects compliments the principles of feminism. The trans movement seeks to break down societal pre determined roles and behaviours based on sex and gender.
We aim to rise above gender essentialism, which is the belief that there are uniquely feminine and uniquely masculine attributes which exist independently of cultural conditioning. We recognise and challenge how it assigns superiority to masculine traits and those recognised as men.
As a group of people who through our existence obtain a great level of insight into the nuances and subtleties of gender essentialism, we have the opportunity to recognise the types of behaviours we don’t want to replicate and work towards creating a world away from a restrictive male/female binary of gender.
We aim to empower individuals and communities and abolish all forms of oppression at all levels. We believe in the right to have control over your own body and to have the freedom of self-expression without being subjected to any form of judgment or discrimination.
Like any minority group, we are vulnerable to violence and discrimination and we experience this at every level of social, legal, and political life. This is what drives us to strengthen our cause and fight for civil rights.
This is also what has driven the western feminist movement since the late nineteenth century.
Our goals are not dissimilar: to define, establish, and defend equal political, economic and social rights and opportunities. From a human rights perspective, we need to support marginalised groups, such as the transgender community. After all, transgenderism is a human rights issue as well.
I am not blind to negative political discourse that criticises and undermines our identities and our own sense of agency and social and political awareness.
I am not blind to witnessing this oppression towards others and the dissension within the women’s movement.
But how is this constructive for any of us? Is this really where the future of feminism lies? In micro-political turmoil and in demoralising the choices and experiences of those who make informed decisions with regard to their own lives?
That is not a future of empowerment, nor is it a future of diversity and equal rights. Isn’t that actually a state of affairs which is contrary to the fundamental beliefs of feminism?
I personally believe that any form of political or social analysis of identities, work or culture should only originate with those who have lived that experience. Or at the very least in respectful consultation with these people, thereby ensuring the change initiated actually meets the needs of those affected and doesn’t instil further oppression.
I think the best and most positive example of this happening in my life is the acceptance I have received from my mother. Not once did she ever question my choices with regard to becoming a man, or more accurately, becoming myself.
The moment I told her what I was going to do, she sat with me, she held me and she said: “You do whatever you need to do and when you think of your parents, just think, they’ll get over it.”
My mother blessed me for my entire lifetime. Those words echo in my very existence: a cure to the illness of always worrying about what others will think of me, especially when it isn’t their place to have such a thought anyway.
If my mother can accept me, then everyone should accept me, because she gave birth to me. My mother exercised support and freedom. Now those two words come to mind when I think of the future of feminism.
However, I don’t think we can ever separate ourselves from the past when looking into the future. They are intertwined, often smoothly cohesive and sometimes furiously resistant, but always influential.
I am aware that this conference is a very valuable space. A space largely made possible because of the women of the past, who fought fiercely for liberation and who endured massive resistance to equal rights. I acknowledge and respect all these people and am forever grateful.
I wanted to speak at this conference as an informed individual. I’ve been researching and talking with people and asking questions and reading and sharing ideas. And I realise how amazingly powerful community networking is and just how much of a key role we all play in challenging current issues, together. Here we are now in 2011 and I believe there are still things that we need to fight for.
So where to from here? What is the future of feminism? I want to make a contribution and I’d like this to be a collective effort. These are some of my ideas:
The future of feminism could be about focusing on respectful conversation and constructive behaviour, leaving behind the notion that behaviours are gendered.
We can make the effort to engage with people we wouldn’t normally approach and to treat each other with respect.
To take on board their experiences, and perhaps seek this out instead of reading academic theory, which can often alienate a large section of the population who haven’t been to university and who don’t relate to that way of thinking or learning.
We could commit to in-depth discussion where everyone is entitled to an opinion AND a response.
To be brave enough to think independently, pull people up on their views and actions, as well as acknowledge that some views we have ourselves may be counterproductive and discriminatory.
To recognise when there is a dishonouring of personal experience by subversive tactics designed to be divisive and disempowering. And to make the effort to self manage these issues through self-education.
We can’t expect minority groups to teach everyone, it is exhausting!
Perhaps thinking locally about how we can impact on our direct community is also really valuable. Grass roots action and organising is a solid way to strengthen a community.
An example of this is the recent Still Fierce rally, where 200 people from all round Australia travelled to Parliament House in Canberra to fight for equal rights for intersex, sex and gender diverse (ISGD) people.
Another example is DUDE, which I created because I know very well that ignorance and misinformation is the worst offender and therefore accessible education tools can make a world of difference. They can also empower minority groups and build communities.
There will always be extremists, theorists and realists. But I am hoping that our feminist future is a future that accepts everyone and works progressively towards positive change and the recognition of equal and human rights, for all of us.
Because feminism is for everyone.
Jez Pez is the editor-in-chief and artistic director of DUDE. Trans Male Zine.