Friday, January 05, 2007

Feminist blogosphere wars

For background, just click on any of the links in the right-hand column of my website.

Over the last few months there have been several intense discussions among feminist bloggers. They have since become known as "wars". We had the blowjob wars, which I pretty much avoided. Then we had Burqagate, which was the first time I really threw myself into the discussions. Then there was the FireDogLake racist/feminist "your betters" battle. The latest has to do with a dust-up between radical feminists and transgendered people.

First let me note that it’s been a long time since I’ve felt part of an internet community. I was involved in TV fandom when I first came on the internet and I got into some spectacular dust-ups. I became associated with a particular message board that specialized in discussions between people who disagreed with each other. We became famous for challenging the "in-group" of the fandom; the people who ran the conventions, those with connections to particular cast or crew members, etc. Friendships were formed and broken. It was a good place to be for quite a while. But then 9/11 happened and I returned to more activist politics. My activist self and my internet persona were at such odds that I finally had to break away.

So I’ve spent a few years using my blog to track local activist efforts. Blogging is a great for this. In the 80s and 90s, we were too busy to keep track of our work, so a lot of what we did is lost to history. I appreciate a place to post an on-going scrapbook of our activities.

Lately, however, I’ve begun to get more involved in the internet community by reading and commenting on blogs by women and men whose ideas challenge and intrigue me. It seems to be a bit unfair of me to do so, however. Most of these bloggers produce a tremendous amount of thoughtful and well-written commentary on their own blogs. I have not returned the favor here. There is a wonderful method of communication on the internet in which an idea begins in an essay on one blog, then is quoted and expanded on at another blog, then another. To fully track the progress of an idea or an argument becomes a dance of clicking from one blog to another and back again.

That is what happened with the transgender discussion. For background go to Bitch|Lab and follow her link to the SmackDog Chronicles roundup. A heated discussion began on Twisty’s blog that included some virulent anti-trans comments by a radical feminist name Luckynkl among others. All of a sudden the years-long discussion between radical feminists, lesbian separatists and some members of the transgender community exploded all over the place.

Now I need to explain something about myself. I’m a mixed up bastard child. I grew up in the country and in the city and in the suburbs. I grew up upper-middle class, and lower-middle class and poor. I was brutalized by one parent and adored and supported by another. I was intelligent and well schooled and na├»ve and ignorant. I crossed boundaries and was totally accepted and was totally ostracized. It was both wonderful and bewildering.

Above all, I have had the benefit of awesome friends and family. I have had the benefit of people who saw a needy, confused kid and decided to reach a hand out. Because of that, I will forever be an activist. I will do whatever small thing I can to make the world a better place. I will believe that making the effort to form a community can make a difference.

At one time I was at the very pit of despair. That helps me recognize when I am relatively safe, relatively secure and therefore capable of reaching out to someone else who is not so safe and secure.

This seems important in the current discussion. Because the political differences between radical feminists and transgendered people has immediate and profound effects on individuals who have a lot to contribute to the world but are feeling less safe and secure.

First, let me speak to the radfems. I discovered radical feminism when I became involved in local Take Back the Night marches and also when I attended the Michigan Women’s Musical Festival. It was a life-changing experience for me. I had been involved in the Central America movement, the labor movement and the abortion rights movement. But entering into women-only activist spaces taught me something precious.

It was a space in which I didn’t have to explain. It was a space where my particular experiences were neither shocking nor unbelievable. Although my childhood sucked in many ways, there were people who had it worse who had also survived and made a place in the world. And there were others who did not have to experience the horrors in order to understand and give support and believe the unbelievable.

So I have a certain soft spot in my heart for these people.

Plus, I’ve had to experience activism in sexist environments. I’ve experienced activism in racist environments. I’ve experienced activism in classist environments. And I watched my mother suffer discrimination her entire god damned life. So I understand frustration.

I came to know what does work and what doesn’t work. And when it comes to finding ways that do work, the radical feminist community has done more than most to provide creative and positive solutions to difficult problems. I owe them a lot for that.

The transgender community, on the other hand, is something new to me and they challenge my assumptions. Transgendered people understand what it’s like to be an outsider and have chosen new and interesting ways to deal with outlaw realities. I’ve been incredibly lucky in that I have spoken my ignorance and been aided toward understanding.

In all of this, I’ve accrued a bit of currency in the blogosphere. I’ve seen myself quoted and linked. I’ve seen my comments picked up and repeated. This has real value in the internet world and I am definitely digging on it. Darn it all, I like that people seem to like me.

OK. Call me Sally Field.

Next post, I promise I’ll destroy all this sweet talk and mention what drives me crazy about radical feminists and transgendered people. Meanwhile, I’ll just don my flying nun hat and float on out of here.


queer dewd formerly known as ( ) said...

you know, this is really great. i think you should enter into this "marginalia" carnival belledame and piny started. it's for people who feel like they exist in those liminal spaces, to address issues that rarely get raised in the mainstream. i'm not sure when it will be held. i was in on early discussions but have had to ignore details b/c i've been a little overwhelmed. but what i like about this essay is that you are putting your finger on something that folks talk about sometimes: the experience of having approximating experiences that help you understand the lives of others. being in this both/and place seems to have been yours.

and i know just what you mean about radical feminism/cultural feminism being this mindblowing transformative experience. i always describe it as the time i needed to come to love myself and women in a way i'd never been able to do before. i have never been especially accepted in these spaces, by the individuals, but the literature meant something to me when it was teaching me to love women.