As the Gilets Jaunes movement continues, we republish this article by Paul Cudenec of the Shoal...
Now is not the time to remain silent on conflicts about trans rights and sex workers’ rights, which have plagued our movement for decades. As an organisation for which class struggle and feminist politics are crucial, we believe it is important for us to express solidarity with comrades both within and outside of our organisation who are currently at the centre of a toxic, divisive debate around trans inclusion in feminist and women’s spaces. We hope that, by sharing our perspective and also our beliefs around conduct within the debate, we can inspire other political groups, organisations and individuals to do the same.
At Plan C’s last Congress in Birmingham, May 2018, the organisation agreed analytical propositions for a shared red feminist perspective. These are not about developing a party line on what kind of feminist politics our members must have. Rather, we intend for these propositions to contribute to the ongoing discussion in Plan C about our shared feminist praxis. They grow out of our experiences in Plan C, the struggles which we have learned from and been shaped by, and more broadly from living our lives as embodied creatures in the world. The propositions are:
1. Reducing what it means to be a woman to a set of biological characteristics and reproductive capacities is a specific form of reactionary and misogynist politics which Plan C must oppose as part of its broader struggle against patriarchy and for joy. From decades of black feminist thought we have learnt that universalist, totalising claims about what a woman is and what it means to be one serve the interests of some women at the expense of others. Universalising claims about what it is to be a woman work against the possibility of meaningful dialogue, connections and solidarity being forged between women who experience womanhood in myriad different ways.
2. In order to understand each other and build red feminism together it is vital that each of us has full and final say on the meaning of our bodies: what they do, how we labour and what is done to us. This means that Plan C must recognise that trans women are women, trans men are men, and nonbinary people are nonbinary. We want to obliterate the gender binary, and in the meantime we demand healthcare for everyone who needs it; hormones for everyone who wants them; care for everyone; the ability to self-identify our genders and not let patriarchy do it for us; access to women’s shelters for all women who need them and not just cis women; bread; and roses.
3. We must look to the wealth of knowledge forged of shared experience, common struggle and solidarity across difference produced by black feminism, trans feminism and sex worker rights movements. We acknowledge that trans women and sex workers have a crucial role to play in dismantling the capitalist patriarchal systems of power that oppress us all and we know this because we struggle as them and beside them.
Alongside these propositions for a shared analytical perspective, we also agreed a set of principles for a shared red feminist practice, both for being together in the present and for building the future. Many confrontations have taken place in spaces in which we invest hope for our collective liberation, so these suggestions for shared practice centre on how we can talk about trans politics and the other things which matter to us, our lives and the ideas through which we live them, in a way which minimises harm and maximises our understanding and capacity to produce analysis together.
1. We need to be able to be a political home for trans as well as cis comrades. That means that we need to create an atmosphere where trans experience is valued, trans identities are believed in and trans comrades are actively supported, and harmful myths about trans people are challenged. This does not mean that we can’t discuss issues arising from feminist praxis openly and critically; this is vital to the development of our shared politics. But it does mean that, when trans feminist movements or politics are discussed, this needs to be done in a respectful, comradely and supportive way, where we practice mutual care and understand that debate is never neutral; that debate is real and important and has the power to cause harm and distress; and that trans comrades will always have a bigger stake.
2. When we discuss issues related to trans feminism, we need to do it in a way which doesn’t treat trans people as strange objects to be speculated about, mused upon, and explained. People who are at the sharp end of oppression should be listened to with care, especially when they are talking about that oppression. When we want to understand different ways of being, struggling, and living, we need first to listen to comrades living those lives and engaged in those struggles.
3. When we talk about potentially intense stuff, we need to be able to trust each other.
1. We need to be truthful. In discussions that have the potential to be emotionally charged, we need to say what we mean as carefully and deliberately as possible. This means reflecting on the difference between playing devil’s advocate and critical engagement. It also means avoiding passive aggression.
2. We need to be caring. We need to think about the effect what we say will have on the people who hear it. We need not to be defensive when people tell us we’ve upset them, to say sorry, and to actively try to de-escalate the situation. Beyond all else this means avoiding personal attacks and name-calling. At times we may need to consider stepping away from the discussion for a while. It is important to acknowledge that these discussions will often and understandably involve anger, upset, and other emotions, and that we need to make space for sharp emotion in our discussions, and not insist that everyone remains calm. That said, the ‘sharper’ these conversations become the more difficult it is to engage in them, especially for those socialised to avoid confrontation. Being mindful of these tensions and learning to navigate them together is a project of care.
3. We need to be vulnerable. We need to be open to what others say, and allow each other to change our opinions and ways of acting. We need to understand that being open to being changed by each other is far from a weakness, but rather a vital strength for all revolutionaries to have.
We produced a leaflet, based on this text, red feminism is trans feminism. It was distributed at Trans Pride, Brighton, 2018 and we encourage further distribution.