The legendary Sheila Jeffreys. 2018. (photo: Venice Allan)

 

Men’s cross-dressing and feminism now and then

 by Sheila Jeffreys

My new book on the history of lesbian feminism, The Lesbian Revolution: lesbian feminism in the UK 1970-1990, is published on 22 August. It documents the breadth and scope of the lesbian feminist culture, theory, practice and community that we created and shows how this has all been disappeared from history. It demonstrates many differences between the historical context at that time and that of today in which a new generation of lesbians are striving to recreate a lesbian feminist movement. One difference is the existence today of an influential men’s cross-dressing rights movement which enforces men’s access to lesbians wherever we seek to meet or network. Back in the 1970s there were men who cross-dressed and tried to enter lesbian spaces, but these were very few in number. They were isolated individuals such as the man who attended the 1973 West Coast Lesbian Conference in Los Angeles and created hugely damaging divisions. Robin Morgan gave a speech against what she called ‘the obscenity of male transvestism’ at the conference in honour of his presence. In London too, there were just one or two of these men who sought to enter women’s spaces and they were overwhelmingly opposed. The term ‘transgender’ had not been adopted at the time. These men were called transvestites or cross-dressers if they did not have penectomies and transsexuals if they did.

They were unable to divert or prevent lesbian organising at that time not just because there were only one or two, but because they did not have a political movement or ideology to support them. It was not until the 1990s that some male cross-dressers were able to use the Internet to organise internationally and create a unified set of political demands for the right to act out their proclivities in public, under the rubric of ‘gender identity’ or ‘gender expression’. Today gay rights organisations, governments, the UN, political parties, education and medical systems support these men’s rights. The queer ideology which supports them has been taught to generations of young people in universities so that they now assemble to chant and jostle at any feminist meetings they have not been able to get cancelled. This is a very different context in which to recreate lesbian feminism.

In the 1970s cross-dressing was an entirely male and adult hobby. None of us (lesbian feminists) knew of any lesbians who were taking hormones or embarking on surgery to impersonate men. Children were not being transgendered at all. Rather than this behaviour being supported by a global ideology, as it is now, which argues that gender is essential and everybody has to have one and get medical treatment if theirs goes astray, the problem was limited to the weird antics of a few men. Knowing this history is important because it undermines the notion that transgenderism is something essential rather than a very recent political and historical construction. At that time, feminist organising was overwhelmingly and uncontroversially women only. In London, lesbians and feminists opposed the entry of cross-dressing men to women’s discos, meetings, marches and conferences on the straightforward grounds that they were clearly men.

My new book is based upon archive research into newsletters and documents from the 1970s and 1980s and from interviews with 12 lesbian feminists who were active in the movement. It covers the origins of lesbian feminism, lesbian culture, lesbian feminist theory, the critique of heterosexuality, and the forces which contributed to the demise such as sadomasochism, the revival of butch/femme roleplaying, identity politics and the Thatcher government of the 1980s which forbade the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ and transformed the political climate. The clarity with which men’s cross-dressing was understood at the time to be specifically a men’s rights issue, is startling, considering the extent to which transgender ideology has affected popular understandings today. The following extract from my chapter on separatism in The Lesbian Revolution illustrates the determination and strength of feeling that existed in the lesbian feminist movement on the incursion of cross-dressing men into women’s and lesbian spaces:

 

Cross-dressers mostly still kept their proclivities secret and they were not claiming to be women or lesbians. Also, the feminist politics of the time was strong. The very basis of the WLM was a belief in the importance and strength of womanhood, which was based on women’s biology and honed through growing up to face oppression as a girl and as a woman. There was an overwhelming sense, at least as revealed in the London Women’s Liberation newsletter in the late 1970s, that the handful of male interlopers who sought to gain entry to women’s discos could never be women and should be determinedly excluded.

The lesbian feminist, Maria Katyachild, for instance, wrote in the LWLN in 1979 that a male cross-dresser claiming to be a woman had attended a women’s disco,

On Saturday night a formerly accepted ‘womin’ confessed… to being a transsexual (male-to-constructed female) – i.e. a man who has had his prick cut off!… I personally am not a humanitarian, I am a feminist, there’s a difference! … It is a totally political issue…. which must …be worked out once and for all (LWLN 104, 1979, 24 January).

In the next newsletter, Pauline Long, later known as Asphodel, wrote in support of Maria, ‘And all of us say NO. Putting on skirts and make-up, even having “the” operation doesn’t turn a man into a woman. What makes us women is the put-down since birth’ (LWLN 105, 1979, 31 January). She expressed herself with much feeling, saying, ‘I am born a woman, and I reflect the pain that millions of women as well as myself have borne. I will not be put down by this new kind of person…. He does not and cannot feel it. He invades the Women’s mysteries. He degrades us’. Like other feminists at the time who sought to protect their women-only spaces, she exhorts these men to form their own groups to further their own interests. They should not ‘muscle in on us’. She says, ‘Do not divide us…  Transsexual infiltration of our groups is just one more male ploy to get us down’ (Ibid). My interviewee, Sandra McNeill, wrote a piece in the newsletter at this time entitled ‘Transsexuals and the Women’s Liberation Movement’ in which she rejects the idea that such men should be admitted to women’s spaces in no uncertain terms. She writes,

The issue is men.…. Whether there is a place for men in the Women’s Liberation Movement.…. it is an insult, an insult greater than a white choosing to wear blackface, an insult greater than a member of the middle-class choosing to drop out and not use their money or education to call themselves working class, an insult to the suffering and oppression of all women for these ex oppressors to claim to be women. To accept male-to-constructed female transsexuals as women is to allow men to reassert their control over women (LWLN 106, 1979, 8 February).

Lesbian feminist theory on transsexualism was honed by the first feminist book on the subject, which was published later in the same year, The Transsexual Empire, by the American lesbian feminist philosopher Janice G. Raymond (Raymond, 1994 1st published 1979). The issue of the right of men who cross-dress to enter women’s spaces continued to be the subject of passionate commentary in the Newsletter. On July 25, 1979 there was a one-day workshop on “Transsexuals – Men or Women” at the London women’s centre, A Woman’s Place (AWP). The policy of AWP was not to allow transsexuals to have access. The report back said that there were 25 women present and transsexuals were excluded (LWLN 131, 1979, 8 August). The majority of those at the meeting was firmly against the idea that men could become women. Furious discussion continued in the Newsletter.

In August, Mary Stott, feminist journalist, first and longest serving editor of the Guardian Women’s Page, set up in 1956, and later a Chair of the Fawcett Society and one of its original trustees, wrote a piece arguing that transsexuals should be in the WLM (LWLN, 134, 1979, 29 August). Stott’s views were those of an older generation of feminists whose politics were very different from the radical and lesbian feminists of the WLM. The historian June Purvis describes her as a ‘liberal feminist’ (Purvis, 2002). I joined in the discussion in October, stating that whether these men thought they were ‘women, ducks or Boeing 707s’ they were actually simply men and had no place in the WLM (LWLN 141, 1979, 17 October). The vast majority of the opinions in the Newsletter rejected the idea that these men should be admitted. The issue continued to be important, such that adverts for events in succeeding years specifically stated that they excluded transsexuals. The National Lesbian Conference, for instance, in January 1981, stated that they would not admit them (LWLN 199, 1981,18 January). This degree of unanimity is hard to imagine today, when a powerful movement of transgender activists has, in the absence of a strong feminist movement, made strides towards the inclusion of male cross-dressers not just in women’s meetings, but in women’s toilets, prisons, refuges and sport (Jeffreys, 2014).

https://www.routledge.com/The-Lesbian-Revolution-Lesbian-Feminism-in-the-UK-1970-1990/Jeffreys/p/book/9781138096578

[Bolding, images, added by me- GM]

In The Economist today

 

The gender-identity movement undermines lesbians

Its attempt to rebrand lesbians as queer erases their identity, writes Pippa Fleming, a performance artist

There’s an African proverb that states: “If you don’t know where you come from, how do you know where you are going?” Some of the most powerful black people known for their political analysis, social commentary, activism and legacy during the civil-rights, gay-rights and feminist movements were black lesbians. Oops! Did I just say “lesbian”, that dirty seven-letter word that has the GBTQI community scrambling to apologise for or afraid to associate itself with? Lesbianism is as ancient as the cosmos, yet it is a threat to patriarchy because it does not centre males, nor does it seek male wisdom, power or validation. Instead of finding solace within our community against the threat of misogyny and homophobia, lesbian identity is being written out.

When black lesbians attempt to navigate pop culture’s “gender-identity matrix”, searching for their kindred’s place in history, they often come up empty-handed. What matrix, you ask? It’s that maze that has people running around in circles, as they attempt to reconcile new language and theories forced upon them by the elites in education and the corporatocracy, like “cisgender”, which means you were cool with the sex you were born in, or that biology is irrelevant and as has no connection to one’s concept of self.

Pippa Fleming

Whether it be in feminist studies, gender studies or the history of gay pride, black lesbians often go without their names or sexual orientation being mentioned. The trend towards claiming that “all sexuality is fluid” and to brand everyone and everything queer and transgender, means black lesbians are rendered invisible. A queer identity embraces sexual and intimate relationships with males, females, and intersex people who identify as transgender, gender-queer, trans masculine or gay, just to name a few. My, we are a diverse crowd.

In this current wave of “free to me” gender politics, any man with a penis can claim to be a female and expect entrance into female-segregated spaces, such as locker rooms, sports teams or colleges, without question. But don’t twist it; the generosity does not flow in both directions. Just ask the women who crashed the party at the male lido in Hampstead Heath in London in May: they were promptly escorted out by the police. Lesbian identity is now being dubbed as exclusionary or transphobic. You’re damn right it’s exclusive: lesbians have a right to say no to the phallus, no matter how it’s concealed or revealed. Imagine if white folks ran around claiming they were black or demanded access to our affinity spaces. They would be called deluded racist fools!

Shush, I hear the snickering. Who’s this tired-ass dyke that nobody wants to hear from? And why hasn’t she dropped any names? I like luring in my audience with provocative statements and short-circuiting any thought process that may prevent critical thinking.

Do the names Stormé DeLarverie, Audre Lorde or Angela Davis, ring that black gay history bell? The more important question, especially for those claiming to be the “down”, Black Panther activist type is this. Why don’t you know the roles they played? Without their dauntless activism and allyship, none of us would have the vocabulary of resistance or a notion of what’s required to create tangible alliances and an empowered LGBTQI community.

Let me drop a few herstorical truths.


Read the rest of this post here:

https://www.economist.com/open-future/2018/07/03/the-gender-identity-movement-undermines-lesbians

NOTE: None of these reports originate from first person sources and zero reports of ‘transgender’ child suicides related to Donald Trump have been substantiated.

 

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Fascinating account of some of the history behind Charing Cross, the predominant Gender Identity Clinic in the UK, and an analysis of the factors leading to the surprise announcement this week that the West London Mental Health Trust which has governed the clinic for 60 years, was terminating its contract and cutting all ties to the service.

[ http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2016/08/25/nhs-trust-terminates-gender-identity-service-contract-amid-trans-health-turmoil/ ]

[https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/aug/26/plan-to-transform-nhs-could-led-to-downgrade-of-major-london-hospitals ]

benshalom1

The nameless members of the Milwaukee Pride Parade Board of Directors stripped legendary rights activist Miriam Ben-Shalom of her honored spot as Grand Marshall of the June 12, 2016 “Heroes of Pride” event after men monitoring her Facebook page noticed women had made posts there that were critical of the idea of heterosexual “male lesbians”.

Miriam Ben-Shalom will be a familiar name to Lesbian and Gay Rights activists and historians. She was the first openly homosexual individual to be reinstated into military service after serving as plaintiff in multiple lawsuits and refusing a cash settlement.

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After serving in the Israeli Army as an Armored Personnel Carrier driver, she enlisted as a Staff Sergeant in the United States Army from 1974-1976, when she was dismissed on the basis of homosexuality, and served again from 1987- 1990 following her reinstatement after a decade of trials. She was then discharged, yet again, on the basis of homosexuality, ending her military career.

She co-founded the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Veterans of America (GLBVA) and spent another decade organizing activism against the U.S. military policy of exclusion, and later against the Clinton era “Don’t  Ask Don’t Tell” policy. She chained herself, in uniform, to the White House fence in 1993. Along with Dan Choi and other lesbian and gay service-members she was arrested after again chaining herself to the White House fence in 2010. President Barack Obama invited her to the White House in recognition of her decades of activism, she stood present when he signed the law repealing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” later that year.

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This is not the first time hetersexual male members of the “LGBT” have surveiled, attacked, and dishonored Miriam Ben-Shalom’s legacy. Last year trans activist Autumn Sandeen wrote an entire OpEd sponsored by the San Diego LGBTWeekly titled “Unknowingly protesting with a lesbian transphobe!” where he complained that he observed Miriam using the term “Woman Born Woman” on a facebook post. He said this was offensive to men because it made a distinction between individuals born male or female. He went on to state that he wished, as a heterosexual male, that he had never protested DADT, a policy which never affected straight men like himself anyway.

 

Here is the full text of the Milwaukee Pride Parade Board notification to Miriam Ben-Shalom, stripping her of Grand Marshall Honors, followed by Miriam’s response to the board:

 

Dear Ms Ben-Shalom,

I am writing you today about our offering of the 2016 Grand Marshal position to you.

The Board of Directors was excited to have an opportunity to acknowledge your many contributions to the LGBT community by offering you the Grand Marshal position for this year’s parade. However, shortly after we offered you the position, it was brought to our attention that your Facebook page contains a number of posts asserting that transwomen are a danger to young girls in public bathrooms and locker rooms. After considering these posts, it is the Board’s opinion that these posts are transphobic and as such represent an attack on an important segment of the LBGT community.

While we fully support a person’s right to express their own beliefs and political opinions, we also feel it is important that our Grand Marshals publicly declared beliefs mesh with those held by the Milwaukee Pride Parade and the Board of Directors. The Grand Marshal is the public face of the Milwauee Pride Parade and thus needs to be someone whose views are compatible with our own.

The Bylaws of the Milwaukee Pride Parade include our mission statement, “To provide an outlet to the citizens of South Eastern Wisconsin in which GLBT individuals and groups can participate in a parade to show their pride.”  We are an inclusive organization that seeks to be free of intolerance, and seeks to promote the equality of all members of the community. As such, we feel that we cannot have a Grand Marshal who has publically and repeatedly denigrated transwomen.

We wish to apologize for rescinding our offer of this honor. It is not a step that we take lightly, and it in no way should be considered a denial of the important work you have previously done for the LGBT community. Please understand this was never our intent to lead you on.

The Board of Directors would like to thank you for your understanding of this situation.

Sincerely,

The Milwaukee Pride Parade Board of Directors

Miriam Ben-Shalom’s reply:

 

To you bunch of Moral reprobates–so cowardly you can’t even post a name: Really rather a cowardly manner to deal with this. You are not correct about my FB page, although my FB page does have posts from others on it about the so-called trans issue. This issue is very sensitive for women born of women, but I would not expect men to understand. Further, no one asked me about my stance — which is very discriminatory indeed. For your information, I am indeed a PERF–penis exclusionary radical feminist who believes that women born of women have the right to safe spaces of their own and cultural events they put on for themselves and those sisters who might like to attend. After all, men have had a long history of male only spaces in the GBT community and not much ado was made of it.

I believe that gender roles ought to be abolished so that people can just be–without feeling the need to surgically change their bodies to meet binary stereotypes which are artificial and not biological. Your elimination is called sexism and is discriminatory and misogynistic.  When I consider what the trans community did to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and the threats that were made there that I personally saw and heard and when I consider the threats directed at women who stand up to speak out about women’s safety, I become firmer in my estimation of who these people are and what trans means to –it appears–a great many people.  No woman I know would threaten to kill another woman because of opinion.  No woman I know would call others who differing opinions the nastiest words in the English language.  Therefore, Pride Parade Committee: You are no better then those who threatened to hurt women born of women simply because they wished to be in a nurturing environ with others who were like minded.  One may hope you take the so-called Trans community to task for all the threats and nastiness heaped on women as you took me.

I see that Milwaukee Pride cares more about men than it does about women’s safety. So be it. I was truthful about my beliefs and I hold with Thomas Paine: “It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. He takes up the trade of a priest for the sake of gain, and in order to qualify himself for that trade, he begins with a perjury. Can we conceive any thing more destructive to morality than this?” Thanks for fucking me over for being honest about what I think. You are no better than the Army.>>

Should you wish more from me, I will be GLAD to cooperate.

Miriam Ben-Shalom

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michfest

Lisa Vogel, the creator and visionary behind the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival announced today that the legendary multi-generational women’s encampment and music festival will end this year.

After four decades of overcoming every sort of challenge imaginable in order to create the miracle that is Michfest, Vogel posted the following announcement an hour ago on the festival’s Facebook page:

Dear Sisters, Amazon, Festival family,

It has been my honor and privilege to produce the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival for 40 years. It has been my life’s work, my deepest commitment, my constant challenge and my most profound joy. Every single thing of value I have learned in the world I have learned in the process of being part of building this beloved community. Almost every friend and family member who I cherish I have met on that hallowed ground, and every single way I have learned to put my mind/heart/shoulder into the purpose of creating something beautiful that honors womyn has come from the sweat I earned on that Land.

I am writing to tell you that the 40th Festival will be the last Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. The spirit of this community will live on forever, the friends and family we have found on the Land are eternal. Everything we have created together will feed the inspiration for what comes next. It’s possible that I will come back with something else, or that other sisters will take the inspiration of the Michigan community and create the next expression of our Amazon culture. What is true for me is that now is the time to bring this 40-year cycle to a close, stepping out on joy at our most incredible anniversary celebration.

We have known in our hearts for some years that the life cycle of the Festival was coming to a time of closure. Too often in our culture, change is met only with fear, the true cycle of life is denied to avoid the grief of loss. But change is the ultimate truth of life. Sisters – I ask you to remember that our 40 year Festival has outlived nearly all of her kin. She has served us well. I want us all to have the opportunity to experience the incredible full life cycle of our beloved Festival, consciously, with time to celebrate and yes, time to grieve.

There have been struggles; there is no doubt about that. This is part of our truth, but it is not–and never has been–our defining story. The Festival has been the crucible for nearly every critical cultural and political issue the lesbian feminist community has grappled with for four decades. Those struggles have been a beautiful part of our collective strength; they have never been a weakness.

For many of us this one week in the woods is the all too rare place and time where we experience validation for our female bodies, and where the female experience presides at the center of our community focus. A place to lay our burden down from the misogyny that pervades our lives from cradle to grave…a place to live in intergenerational community, and to live in harmony with Mother Earth. I know this is true for me. And I have a deep trust that each and every one of us can take what we have experienced on that Land and continue to create space that feeds our spirit, creates diverse community, honors our experience and supports our struggle as womyn making our way through the patriarchal world. Please take what you love about Michigan and use it to create something new and beautiful.

It is important that each and every one of us knows she is empowered to build on what we have experienced together on the Land. Everything you feel on the Land, everything you see – is something of spirit, and love, and passion for female empowerment….for womyn’s community. The Festival’s 40 years of culture and community are a powerful seed and our communal experiences have created fertile ground to plant in. I know that we will find inspiration and vision to create our next time and space.

For those of us who will be gathering for our 40th anniversary this August – let’s joyously hold up our incredible community and allow ourselves to be strong enough to consciously let go of this incarnation of her, with all the love we each hold in our beautiful hearts. Let us gather this August knowing that what we truly cherish about the Festival lives on in each of us, and more will come from this fertile ground. Let’s do this up together – Amazon proud!

I will meet you there in August – my eyes meeting yours, heart wide open.

With all of my love and respect,

Lisa

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