The erasure of women throughout history is pervasive. From Hypatia to Grace Hopper, there have been brilliant female minds working towards human progress who were relegated to the footnotes by men who minimize their contributions. This is one of the dynamics that drove the modern women’s movement.
But that movement has done its own erasure. In 1969, Betty Friedan warned about the “lavender menace” in the women’s movement, referring to the presence of lesbians in their ranks. Uncomfortable with lesbians, she rationalized her personal aversion into lesbians presenting a threat to the movement as a whole, and she was able to garner enough support in some quarters that lesbians were excluded, squelched and ignored, and the enormous contributions they had made to the cause were downplayed, straight-washed or outright ignored.
Then in 1973, part of the same lesbian feminist contingent that had been shoved out of the mainstream women’s movement by Friedan’s faction decided to emulate the same dynamic against transgender women in the lesbian community. On both the East and West coasts, there were transgender artists and organizers who had been instrumental in planning, creating and managing lesbian spaces, groups and conferences. A disgruntled minority lobbied to push them out of the spaces they had helped build, charging that they were nothing more than male infiltrators in dresses. In some cases, the exclusionists were successful, although their victories were often pyrrhic — their disruption destroyed one of the most influential organizations on the West Coast, for example, an outcome they promptly blamed on the victims of their tactics.
Now I’m hearing scattered voices in the transgender community complaining that the transgender umbrella is too broad, and the word ought to be narrowed to describe only those who used to be labeled transsexuals — in other words, binary gender people transitioning male-to-female or female-to-male. In the minds of these individuals, people who are androgynous, genderfluid, agender or just not interested in altering their bodies are somehow a threat, lesser than those who are committed to the gender binary.
All this would be a mere annoyance if it was just a matter of who belongs and who doesn’t in particular spaces. But a few powerful individuals in each group have taken it upon themselves to lobby against legislation, health care, and other services for the groups they dislike, and in some instances actually seek to eliminate the target group through steps like outlawing gender affirmation surgery, supporting the discredited pseudoscience of conversion therapy, or actually advocating the murder of transgender women. They have ceased to be activists and transformed into the classical model of a hate group.
Does it always have to roll downhill like this? Are we doomed to eternally fear and marginalize a less powerful subgroup in some misguided attempt to purge our ranks of imaginary threats?
I am a feminist. I am a lover of women. I am transgender. I am genderfluid. I will not be pushed out of the spaces in which I belong. I will not seek to exclude others because they make me uncomfortable, and I will not fabricate lies and misrepresentations, informal or academic, to justify such exclusions.
There are too many people trying to erase all of us for us to be indulging in erasing each other.