Earlier this month, the president of the National Organization for Women, Terry O'Neill, published a blog post on The Huffington Post titled "Why Transphobia Is a Feminist Issue." It was an excellent and much-needed piece given recent debates about where transgender issues fit with feminism. It also follows the trend of feminists, some of whom were previously ambivalent about or even hostile to to transgender issues, now embracing them.
This is a logical development, as intersectional feminism recognizes that equality isn't just for women who look like me: It is equality for all. If we only work on behalf on the "right" kinds of women, it diminishes the movement and repeats mistakes of the past, where feminism was not nearly intersectional enough. Beyond a concept of simple solidarity, though, is that many of the core issues of feminists and transgender people are the same.
1. Fighting Gender Stereotypes
In 1989 the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of Ann Hopkins, who claimed that her promotion to partnership at her firm was postponed for two years in a row based on the fact that she did not conform to gender stereotypes. The head supervisor of her department, Thomas Beyer, told her that to increase chances of promotion, she needed "to walk more femininely, wear makeup, have her hair styled, and wear jewelry." Many male employees said they would not be comfortable having her as their partner because she did not act the way they believed a woman should. Upon appeal by Price Waterhouse, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court's ruling that making employment decisions based on gender stereotypes is sex discrimination and therefore a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
While Hopkins was a seminal case in establishing women's rights in the workplace, it is not a coincidence that virtually every court case that has ruled in favor of transgender protections in the workplace since has relied on the Hopkins case as a foundational argument. Arguing that transgender people should be held to some patriarchal set of gender norms, without applying those expectations to everyone else, requires that you accept that transgender people exist somewhere below both men and women in a legalized caste system. Such an argument should be anathema to anyone who considers themselves a feminist.
We recognize that gender stereotyping is harmful to everyone and resolve to work against it together. Defining ourselves, our roles in life, and how we express our gender is a universal human right.
2. Bodily Autonomy
This past summer two conservatives wrote radically anti-transgender pieces for the national media. In June Dr. Paul McHugh wrote of his opposition to following current medical standards for transgender individuals in the Wall Street Journal. Kevin Williamson similarly wrote a vitriolic and ill-informed piece attacking the identities of transgender people in the National Review the same month.
It should come as no surprise that both McHugh and Williamson also radically oppose reproductive justice efforts. Dr. McHugh is a self-described orthodox Catholic whose outlandish views and role in apologetics for church scandals are well documented. Additionally, McHugh opposes all abortion and supported forcing a pregnant 11-year-old girl who had been raped by an adult relative to carry to term, even it killed her. Kevin Williamson recently called for the hanging of any woman who has an abortion, along with the doctors or nurses who perform it.
(If you want a detailed analysis of how Dr. McHugh has misrepresented data, rigged studies, left out significant details in his research, and is nothing more than a poorly regarded fringe element in his own field, you can read about it here, here, here, here, here, and here.)
Access to medically necessary care and a right to choose what we do with our bodies are fundamental issues for both feminists and transgender people. If we allow other people's beliefs to get between a transgender person and their doctor, what excuse do we have when those same people try to come between anyone else and their doctor?
3. Opposing Patriarchy/Kyriarchy
The structures that are meant to keep women in their place are the exact same ones that attempt to ensure that transgender people self-deport to the closet. Religious institutions that prohibit women from positions of influence within the church universally regard transition as a sin. The glass ceilings that women bump up against are the same ones that transgender women (in particular) face. We're still fighting about the roles of women and transgender people in the military. Women, and transgender women, continue to fight against their sexuality being pathologized or categorized within false dichotomies (slut vs. frigid, gay man vs. fetishist).
Transgender people represent an imminent threat to many of the patriarchal power structures and arguments that support them. We blur the lines of what it supposedly "means" to be a man or a woman; we obliterate conventional definitions of sexual orientation and sexuality; we lie at the intersection of so many forms of oppression (sexism, homophobia, racism) that successfully taking on transgender issues makes inroads into many of their strongholds.
Similarly, we see defenses of the indefensible when it comes to oppression by the same entities trying to enforce gender stereotypes. Vilification and blaming of victims of violence, calls for "right to discriminate" laws against gays and lesbians, defenses of horrific child abuse in the name of discipline, and calls for an end to the concept of separation of church and state -- all of these come from power attempting to preserve itself by any means necessary.
Feminist and transgender issues are interdependent. Bodily autonomy for all or for none. Enforcement of gender stereotypes applies either to all of us or to none of us. You cannot oppose the overarching system of oppressions while giving it a free pass to perpetuate itself against one disadvantaged class.
We will only succeed together, because feminist issues are transgender issues.