Unpacking transgender feminism

Published March 5, 2012 by transfeminists

Dear friends, colleagues, donors, loved ones, allies……..

It has been a while and we are so happy to add another post to our informative blog. So when I was approached by a trans-friendly feminist offering to write a piece for our blog, I jumped at the opportunity. Our guest writer is Busi Deyi, a feminist, writer, humanitarian, great trans support and just an amazing woman and person. These are Busi’s reflections on the rise of the transgender feminist movement in Africa

There is a mistaken belief that feminism is targeted at men, that these creatures that walk with a phallus dangling between their legs is the enemy and that our efforts, endeavours and war cries must be directed at them. When we see these male specimens we ‘cock’ –pun intended-our mouths and we are ready to fire accurately aimed words and stand up for our ideals as feminists. Patriarchy has come to be symbolised by masculinity- more accurately, the male body, and feminism by femininity. And in between this dichotomy, the transgender community has become a none neutral, neutral ground.  The male body and indeed the male penis has come to represent the patriarchal society that feminists have dedicated their entire existence to fighting but-this is where shit hits the fan- I think their wrong.

Let’s backtrack shall we? Feminism arose from the realization that our destinies were not necessarily connected to the form of our bodies. That one’s identity and indeed ones destiny as to who they were and how they externalised and expressed their identities could be based purely on their own sense of agency, their own sense of who they felt they were internally, beyond societal constraints and assumed roles based on the biological arrangement of their XY-XX chromosomes. Come  back to the rise of transfeminism, the idea of a transgender feminist is oxymoronic and unsettling to a lot of cis-gendered feminists, this is because we have come to associate the male form with patriarchy and literally have come to regard those that are in a male form as part and parcel of the system that has demarcated womyn to the margins of society and stripped them of their ‘subject-hood’ and sense of self-determination and yet we do not see this development in feminist thinking as dangerous-think about it.

To accord a certain symbolic status to the male form we are reverting back to the very status quo our feminist ancestors sought to over throw- that body determines destiny, that somehow who we are is intricately linked to ‘what’ we are biologically . We are inadvertently saying that yes, your body does determine your destiny. That womyn born in males bodies, M-T-F’s, cannot possibly be feminists and understand the feminist struggle. This is perhaps not surprising. The body is the one thing through which we interact with the world. We use the body to express ourselves, to give meaning and identity to our internal ideologies and crisis’s. The body is the one thing that we utilize in love, in protest and identification and an ambiguous body is dangerous, or viewed as dangerous because it does not lend itself to our discriminations and does not fit into our dichotomy of male and female and the assigned patriarchy v feminist to the respective forms.


So, where to from here? Cis-gender feminists cannot legitimately close the doors to transfeminism and transgender womyn cannot legitimately stay away from claiming the title of feminist, why??? Because I believe that the transfeminist movement holds the key that could empower feminists in understanding truly what we have been advocating for when we said our bodies do not determine our destiny. In my own personal view transgender individuals hold the key to a more tolerant and accepting society, if we can break the gender binary that exists currently, if we can show society that we are humans regardless of what is between our legs, who we love and how we love them than we have an opportunity to create a society in which your gender and how we express it is not determined by our biological form.

Someone really smart said something along these lines, “every battle championed by minorities is my battle” and that has been my motto, I have realized that by standing for the rights of other minorities I am in fact indirectly pursuing my own. Transgender feminists represent the polycentric nature of being human.  When the voices of minorities manage to bring about change, the collective consciousness of society is penetrated and this presents an opportunity for us as minority groups to further establish ourselves and loosen the societal constraints that have stifled individual self determination.

Here’s the deal, the feminist movement exists within a larger social movement and each sub-movement is part of a larger system of interdependent pieces defined by their relationship to all other pieces. To think of the feminist movement as independent from other social movements is a fallacy and highly misguided. We need to see feminism as a transformational movement, as feminists we seek to transform society and make it possible for all persons to exercise self determination in determining their destinies. Every victory loosens ever so slightly the societal chains that have prevented change and real reform through social conscientization.

Transgender feminists are not agents of patriarchy or a mockery to feminism, they are a celebration of the central principles that feminists have long sought to have recognized. They are a celebration of the idea that self determination is a principle worth fighting for, that we as feminists in all body forms have become a social movement that can create spaces that enable those that are differently gendered to express their true selves.

Feminists and feminism must always seek to transform not only society and the prejudices and boundaries that have been placed but they must at all times be self critical about how we relate to other minority movements. We must always seek to transform ourselves and be constantly critical of ourselves and our associations with other marginalized groups.

This is a very good piece Busi wrote for us and we thank her for this contribution. Later in the week we will publish our report and reflections of attending the Amanitare Coalition meeting which took place in Cape Town 28 and 29 February. Until then friends………….

Leigh Ann



6 comments on “Unpacking transgender feminism

  • This is great Leigh-Anne and Busi. I always imagine that making the world safe for minorities and especially the very vulnerable as transwoman are, it would by default be safe for all. Thus the lament that spending resources and time on a minority group is not warranted is contrary to what makes sense. Spending resources on a group that is easily seen, served and is small will require less resources and serve more. I face the same way as you do on the battlefield! Forward we go!

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