Feminism & transgender liberation: a reply

Our thanks go to Evie Embrechts, a socialist feminist in Belgium, who has allowed us to republish her reply to a controversial criticism of “trans politics”.

Sometimes we are blessed with being able to choose
the time, and the arena, and the manner of our revolution,
but more usually we must do battle where we are standing.
— Audre Lorde

I’m a feminist. And a socialist. And a trans woman. I’m writing this because I’m angry and I want to do something productive with that anger.

Two days ago, a British socialist organisation published an article about transgender people. Not only do I disagree, I also disagree that this is just an opinion. Trans hatred would be a better term. The piece is supposed to be part one of two, one written by a feminist, one written by a trans activist. To get the debate going. Well, let’s have us some debate then.

Disclaimer: the socialist organisation in question belongs to the Fourth International. For those that don’t know what that means, think of it as a specific way of practicing socialism (like someone would be a radical feminist or a liberal feminist). While I am not a member of the Fourth International, I generally like what they do and support them.

I never spare criticism however. I will attack sexism and woman hating anywhere I see it, like in the article they published. That said, I’ve worked with many socialist organisations and never found more room for feminism than in the fourth international. They have repeatedly, explicitly, made room for feminism. They’ve refused violent men access, they’ve debated about inclusion and exclusion, they’ve made room for feminism on many occasions in many places.  Which is why they deserve, precisely, this critique. So we can have a better debate and evolve.  Openness to criticism is fundamentally important for an organisation that wants to change the world.

English is not my first language, I welcome suggestions on how to improve my writing.

Support and agreement

First of all, there are several views on transgender politics, transgender liberation, gender identity and so on. We don’t have to agree, obviously right now there are many different viewpoints. That’s fine. We also don’t have to agree with anyone in order to support their struggle. Another example: we support the struggle of the Palestines. Not all of them are socialists, so what? Do we then stop supporting them? No. The Egyptian revolution didn’t turn out as well as we had hoped. Do we stop supporting the Egyptian people? Never. I disagree with many trans people on their views of gender. So what?

This doesn’t mean we don’t need a debate. We really, really do. We need to be better. But if you don’t like the viewpoints of some group or individual, that’s no reason to attack them for who they are or stop supporting them. That’s what feminism means: this is a movement for all women. Not just the women we like. All women.


As socialists, I expect us all to take some time to think about what it means to be a materialist with regards to trans liberation. If you’re not familiar with trans people’s struggles, what are you doing sitting in your chair writing up an opinion? Just listen for a while.

It’s not hard at all to find information about the material conditions of most trans people’s lives They are horrible. We are poor, abused, we suffer from violence on a regular basis, ranging from verbal attacks to murder. Statistics about work, housing, depression, suicide, they’re right up there with other heavily oppressed groups. This is no laughing matter.

Our stories matter

What unites us is not a common sexuality or experiences or identities or self-expression. It’s that we’re up against a common enemy.
—Leslie Feinberg

Trans women typically get socialized as women – are taught their “proper patriarchal place” – later than women who are not trans. Most of this forced socialization takes places when we are already conscious thinking individuals. These stories could be enormously interesting for the feminist movement. We could learn so much about this because trans women experience that shift consciously. Suddenly we are talked down to, ignored or objectified. This gives us a unique position from which to help consciousness raising for feminism. I’m not saying a better position, just a different one. One more thread into the thick tapestry of feminism.

Difference shouldn’t scare us so much. Women share a common condition, our oppression in a system of sexism. Though our lives and experiences differ wildly. We’ve had these debates before: the inclusion of not just the experiences of white, straight women has always been a problem in feminism, inclusion is still – in the age of intersectionality – a problem for everyone. The official state-sponsored feminist organisations in Belgium, e.g., are as white and straight as you could imagine. Every once in a while this “other” pops up and it’s always a problem for the mainstream.

But we can do better, and we should do better.

Fighting the wrong enemy

Feminism is hard. It’s a tough battle, we lose many good people along the way, the violence alone is enough to try to forget about it all or wish there was an easy solution. How I wish there was an easy solution. No more tough fights, we could just listen to Miley Cyrus cause that’s feminist and support Femen cause that’s feminist and take in a Burlesque show or something cause that’s also feminist these days. Every once in a while, we look for an easy way out. Fake rebellion is not real resistance, however.

An easy way out could also mean looking for an enemy. An enemy who can’t fight back, maybe. That would be great, just letting go, taking out the big old feminist hammer and bashing away without fear. So, so good. However, that doesn’t help us – it makes the problem worse.

Are we allowed to attack women who aren’t feminist? Or if we don’t agree with their feminist politics, or they just don’t identify as feminist, maybe they’re even against feminism? Internalised oppression, it’s a thing. It’s one of the many ways the system of sexism is maintained. Are we going to blame the oppressed group for their oppression? Let me know, I’d love to have an easy day once in a while. Really get it on, you know. Love me some victim blaming.

No? Ok then, I get it. Maybe those women are not the real enemy. Maybe we should try to create the conditions for an honest dialogue instead. Not as easy as blindly attacking, but it might actually help.

Are we allowed to attack trans women who are not feminist? Why do some people expect this oppressed group to be better than another oppressed group? Trans women should all be shining examples of feminism but other women shouldn’t? Smells like a double standard.

There’s another way of seeing things. We know the behavior of all of us is encouraged towards certain forms by the world around us. I know many women who don’t want to wear a certain uniform or make-up but who will simply lose their income if they fail to do so. To name just one of many problems.

In a system of oppression you get punished if you don’t behave according to its laws. That’s true for workers under capitalism and for women under sexism/patriarchy. Just something to consider.

We are not liberals. We know these systems constrain us. Trans women are violently punished if they fail to meet expectations. And we fail. We rebel. Or at least we try. And we get killed for it, excluded and ridiculed. Take this seriously.

Trans people are not part of some secretly powerful group that has a lot of privilege. Usually, decisions about trans people are made without us. By politicians and men in doctor’s offices and film makers and psychiatric “experts” or whatever. Those are not our narratives, not our laws. They are forced upon us.


Feminism and trans liberation, those really are two struggles that could easily be done side by side. We could support each other, learn from each other, ultimately learn that this is exactly the same struggle. So there’s this system of oppression. We’re all against that. We disagree on some of the particulars yes. We need a lot of debate, true. But we should be allies.

The system that divides us, prescribes us how we should behave, who we should be, that keeps us from realising our full humanity, that needs to go. No matter how we call it. We have many ideas on how to reach that goal too. That’s fine. If someone tells you they know right now exactly how that better world will look like and how to get there, they are lying. We don’t know and we hope what we do brings us some steps in the right direction.

However, people who hate trans people, who want to exclude groups of women, stand in the way. They do divide us. Maybe they’re not the real enemy. Maybe they have learned to divide and conquer and impose their world view because that’s what we are all taught in this horrible world. We fight, we try to win, to dominate, and we fail because there are no winning moves in a struggle against our allies.

There’re people out there that will always be of the opinion that trans women are “men in dresses”.  We can ignore these people. They probably won’t change their minds and they are not our allies. We don’t have to attack them, but we also don’t have to take their point of view seriously or give them much of our time. They are human, but that’s it. That’s all the respect they deserve.


A lack of radical politics

It sucks to be a radical feminist these days because there aren’t many of us and the systems we fight against aren’t going away yet. Prostitution is a horrible crime against humanity and it still exists. The ideology of woman hating as encoded in pornography is worse than ever. Radical feminists have an analysis that is simply true about these things. They got almost everything right. So what went wrong? First, not all radical feminists hate trans people. But a significant amount do.


This is just a hypothesis but sometimes it feels like radical feminism was so marginalised after being replaced by crappy feel-good liberal feminism that it has taken on some of the properties of a cult. Group-think excludes anything that diverges from the party line. Anything that threatens that cult is the enemy. Postmodernism – I agree. Sexists. Down with those. Men who pretend to be feminists, sure. And apparently, trans women. Who could be seen as an oppressed minority but apparently no, they are big bullies.

I’ve written about these problems before and won’t repeat it all here. One thing I want to repeat is that we should be careful to distinguish between trans people and the medical industry and the media. We don’t trust the media, rightfully so. What they say about feminism is as accurate as what they say about trans people or about the banking crisis. Don’t trust the media. Don’t hate a minority group because of what you hear in the media.

If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.

Malcolm X

Feminism has a weak side

At the same time, it’s true feminism has an enormous weak side. We don’t have a theory and practice for a feminism that is radical and inclusive for trans women.

That is the challenge ahead. We need that new feminism. We need that precise combination of radical politics to attack porn culture and prostitution and racism and homophobia and trans hatred and poverty. The stakes are high – the entire of humanity needs this.

If we fail, the trans haters and postmodern feminists win and our entire struggle fails. But if we win…

If we lose, someday women’s blood will congeal upon a dead planet. But if we win, if we win, there is no telling…

— Audre Lorde

Evie Embrechts is a feminist and socialist activist, writer and researcher living in Belgium and can be contacted at evie.embrechts@gmail.com. She is currently writing a book about feminism called “Feminism: a new beginning”. 

  1. Nice article but at the same time I don’t see you pointing out any of the so called “trans haters” main points of concerns. Example the first article just state that there is a difference between trans women and biological women. I agree that in some fights we should ignore the first part and just fight as women, but I was hoping to see some acknowledgement that some other fights are specifically biological – Reproductive rights, FGM, child brides, socialisation since birth (as you mentioned but only the part where trans input would be helpful). And what happens to the word ‘women’ in those fights when gender politics asks that ‘women’ become diluted in ‘people’?

    The thing is there won’t be a bridge like you desire until some of these and other concerns are mentioned and I haven’t seen one person mentioning them without defending the gender and a fact and sex as construct.

    • We should certainly talk about all these separate points yes. This piece was already long enough though 🙂 It’s also not my main area of expertise, I usually write about porn culture and prostitution. But I might do a follow-up piece about more specific concerns.

  2. Taly, To take each of the issues your raise in turn. First, he Biological difference. This I think is possibly one of the most mis-represented issues in this argument. ‘Trans’ encompasses a huge variety of people and biological divergence, just as ‘cis’ does. There are plenty of chromosomal variations amongst people who have lived their entire lives as cis women, similarly not all trans women have XY chromosomes. Many cis women are for one reason or another not able to reproduce or menstruate. As for issues like FGM and child brides, really lets not kid ourselves that these are subjects determined my biological sex alone. With regard to these issues I fail to see how a white middle class cis woman in the West is going to be any better placed these issues than a trans woman, let alone a trans woman from one of the regions or cultures affected by these issues. You see by pursuing these types of gender essentialist positions you are at best applying double standards and at worst defending the same sort of gender essentialist which feminism exists to oppose.

    Next you mention socialisation. Again there is tremendous divergence in this regard amongst both trans and cis women. Many of the trans exclusionary articles I have read seem to assume as their target some perfect stereotype of the definitive trans woman. Much of the socialisation argument relies on the assumption that all trans women transitioned in adulthood and pre transition were the recipient of huge gender privilege. It also concerns me that much of the response to these half truths seems to be painted in the same light. For the record, an increasing number of trans women transition when children, yet my TERF arguments their childhood socialisation is ignored.

    Similarly just as with cis women, trans women from different backgrounds experience oppression in different ways. Intersectionalism, a theory to which myself and an increasing proportion of the Feminist movement subscribe helps us to identify the differences in the oppression experienced by cis women from different backgrounds, while maintaining the unity that comes from being women. Why should trans women be treated any different and excluded from this? Are we really about to except a position where an white woman from a privileged background is allowed into a space with women from an ethnic minority, while a trans women from the same ethnic minority is excluded?

    There has been a lot of half-truth and sometimes outright lies spoken about trans women. But unfortunately your last sentence sums up the problem, and that is not regarding trans women as women. No one is asking the feminist movement to be diluted into ‘people’, just that it excepts and respects all women, be they black, muslim, sex workers, poor, straight, gay or trans. If the movement stands for the liberation of women then you do not get to pick and choose which women you mean, it’s all or nothing. As the original article mentioned, we are fighting the same fight the same oppressor.

    • What *is* a woman? If “woman” doesn’t mean “adult female human” what does the word mean?

      “Are we really about to except a position where an white woman from a privileged background is allowed into a space with women from an ethnic minority, while a trans women from the same ethnic minority is excluded?”

      I don’t understand. There are groups that exclude white women and feminists do not try to demand access to those groups for white women. Yet trans-women demand access to female-only spaces. Why can’t there be female-only groups for women who simply want a space away from males? There are mixed spaces and I have yet to find a feminist who demands access to trans women-only spaces.

          • 🙂 That is a wonderful story though I doubt that they would bar cis women from the space. There might not be beds for use since I think that there’s only 10 but I sincerely doubt that any woman would be denied entry unless they were a proven threat to a person being sheltered.

            Though like the Silvia Rivera shelter in NYC I fear it’s just a matter of time before this very needed place falls under attack too.

          • I find it great too.

            The thing is though: males are a threat. And females shouldn’t need a “proof” to deny access to males. I think it says a lot that trans-women do not feel the need to stay away from females but that they do not understand why females might want to stay away from them in some spaces.

            You say “too” so which shelter is already under attack?

          • Men are the threat, trans women are not men. That’s pretty basic, right up there with not equating the two.

            As I said above the NYC Silvia Rivera shelter as an example has been attacked since it’s inception.

          • Since trans has become an umbrella that seems to include everyone I don’t think it should be the responsibility of females to find out which male is a man and which a trans woman. And let’s not pretend as if trans women have never been violent towards females before.

            Sorry, my bad, I misread your comment. I haven’t read anything about those attacks and can’t find out who attacked the shelter.

    • Dude 100000 girls were killed in china just because they had vaginas.. Let’s not kid ourselves child brides are female.. Where they to say they are male they would still be child brides, on the contrary a boy wouldn’t be sold ad such even if he feels like a girl..I think you are kidding yourself

      • If you’re looking for other cultures to appropriate towards your argument you might want to first stop because that’s kind of shitty to fo and you might want to look at other cultures that do horrible things to all children and maybe, just maybe look at what happens to trans people in Asian countries period.

        Better yet just argue your own axis and dtop speaking yo other cultures you’re not part of.

  3. “Trans women typically get socialized as women – are taught their “proper patriarchal place” – later than women who are not trans. Most of this forced socialization takes places when we are already conscious thinking individuals. These stories could be enormously interesting for the feminist movement. We could learn so much about this because trans women experience that shift consciously. Suddenly we are talked down to, ignored or objectified. This gives us a unique position from which to help consciousness raising for feminism. I’m not saying a better position, just a different one. One more thread into the thick tapestry of feminism”.

    However, nobody is really expecting you to act as this selfless, nurturing conduit to the wants of others…”or else”.They only hate us when we say “No” to their demands, Demands they do not ask of men.

    In fact for transwomen it’s often it’s quite the opposite. You try to give them nurture and they go, “No.Get away from me you freak”. You are not the ones being given grief for being insufficently maternal, we are. You’re doing it to us now. Stop.

    And it’s like you haven’t even noticed.
    You are however, asking us to be interested at the way society treats you. You do understand how women have been socialised to be interested by everyone else but themselves, right? We’ve been trained to take note of the others around us since day one when mum’s left figuring out what her screaming inarticulate bundle of joy wants from her next and then finding a way to give it them.

    Do you understand yet?
    We’re trying to liberate ourselves from this enforced caretaker role that you simply do not have. Instead of giving us a break, you’re demanding yet more nurture from us, or else, oppressing us some more calling it revolutionary.

    That’s basically why radical feminists don’t like you and it has nothing to do with cults.


    • We’re at no point looking for caretakers, we looking for simple respect but there’s apparently too much to ask with thst simple thing. You seem to think we want more than what we do.

      How about we just respect each other as women.

  4. I applaud this piece for it’s look at the facts that there are other forms of privilege often vastly overlooked when a trans aggressive comparision is made. Also that there’s a vast difference of things in the theories of socialization often given way too much power when applied against the trans demographic.

  5. As a trans person I can’t help but seriously side eye those that are trans exclusive under the guise of being “gender critical” we’re such a tiny, tiny fraction of people and yet we’re targeted by those who should know better.

    Even worse is we’re an even smaller group when you parse trans down to their primary target of trans women. You look at who their focal targets are in gender critical spaces….it’s not made up, it’s practically the them. In some cases it literally is the theme.

    And the biggest reason why I keep hearing.

    Because we uphold the system of patriarchy and apparently it upholds us…?
    And who are the primary killers of trans people?
    I could do without a whole lot of patriarchal support.

    So yes…there’s a lot of stuff to side eye.
    It why sadly trans women have to do double duty watching out backs right now.

    • Females have to do double duty since forever. And now even those spaces females have established by themselves for themselves are under attack by a “tiny” but very vocal and successful group that rarely points out the real threat – males – but rather attack females who don’t cater to them.

      • I don’t think you got what I meant by double duty. It’s not the same thing when you are part of the demographic of women but so very often because you’re trans this is not so safe a space.

        This isn’t attacking it’s screaming for help when the same things we’re fighting, should be fighting as said in the OP article. It’s killing us too and We trans don’t have the power and numbers to fight it alone.

        So yes we get angry and scream in frustration when we have the door barred because. “You’re not like us.”

        And when you look at the only ones doing this in Feminism these days it’s a certain few that have elected themselves gatekeepers.

        • Females are not responsible for male violence and it’s also not our responsibility to protect males from male violence. Mostly we do anyway and, as said before, I support project by women/trans women for trans women, though I do not accept trans women demanding access to places that are meant for females.
          If you want to fight the enemy with females, stop fighting female-only spaces, stop fighting females.

  6. Calling trans women male is transphobia, and that ultimately what this argument is about. Put simply it’s about bigotry. Trans women are not men trying to gain access to female only spaces, they are females trying to gain access to female spaces. And the arguments against it, what are they? In what way does a woman of a trans woman actually threaten a female only space? Trans women are more likely to be the victim of violent crime or rape, and, as I stated in my previous reply, if we simply apply some spurious catch all of ‘biologically’ female then you could technically eliminate loads of people who grew up female (as an increasing number of trans women do). For example what about women with AIS or Intersex women who have chosen to be female? Plenty of women don’t have periods and can’t have children, yet they would not be excluded. If a woman is disruptive of aggressive you ban them, regardless of their background, you do not however use bigotted suedo sience to exclude all women of the same background.

    Apart from what I can gather to be largely ficticious claims by some TERFs about a trans conspiracy, I have not heard of any cases where a man used the cover of being a trans woman to infiltrate a female only sapce. However at the same time that TERFs spew bile about trans women, many are perfcetly happy to have trans men at their events, people who not only identify as male but are very likely to publicly benefit from male privilege. Now I don’t say this in order to attack trans men, but I’m sorry you cannot exclude trans women who are oppressed as women and accept trans men.

    Finally, just stop for a secomd and think about what this actually means. Trans women get raped, often unfortunately, would you deny the safety of a women only shelter to sucha vulnerable person? Would you really rather they be left to fall victim of violence? Or would you have them segregated completely so you don’t have to get over your own bigotted misconceptions? As the original article said, we have the same enemy, and actually the same oppression for the same reasons, and you cannot just exclude someone from that movement because you don’t like the look of them. In it’s infancy some parts of the feminist movement attempted to exclude lesbians, so just remember you are kn the wrong side of history.

    • It’s “transphobic” to demonize talking about the biological reality of trans people. If trans women were not male they wouldn’t be *trans* women. Sorry but this is simply a fact and doesn’t make anyone a hater. Biological reality matters, especially when it comes to the oppression of females.

      If you dig a little bit, and it really doesn’t even have to be deep, you will find a lot of cross dressing men who violated females. And since anyone gets called “trans” nowadays I say this is a problem that trans people should address if they don’t want to look like apologists.

      “Now I don’t say this in order to attack trans men, but I’m sorry you cannot exclude trans women who are oppressed as women and accept trans men.”

      Females can in- or exclude whoever they want. That’s not your call. Demanding to be able to cross boundaries is exactly why females often exclude trans women.

      I want trans women to be safe, but not at the expense of females. So there must be a compromise, for example establishing more trans women shelters. Trying to blame females for male violence and burdening them with the task to resolve it is not feminist, it’s business as usual.

      • And your qualification for calling trans women male is what? It is not a simple fact, as science is telling us all the time. Some studies have found that trans women have brains that conform to female patterns, and as I have stated before, trans encompasses many people with exceptional chromosomes. You cannot simply state biology as a fact, biology encompasses many things, including chromosomes, gonads, genitalia and secondary sex characteristics. Your argument relies on a stereotype of trans women which completely ignores the realities of category that includes huge variation, including trans women and girls who transition as children, and are socialised their entire lives as female.

        I would dearly like to see some evidence of the assertions of violence you make. Virtually no one is advocating including male cross dressers in female only spaces, only trans women, who get this straight, are women. I would love to know just who appointed you and other trans exclusionary feminists the official adjudicators of sex and gender, though thankfully your views do seem to be on the wrong side of history. BTW is my call, I am a woman and I am just entitled to my view as you are. As I stated before, a disruptive individual, cis or trans, should be removed. That however is a very different thing to banning all of a particular group of women. The argument was lost for excluding lesbians in the past, just as it will be lost for excluding trans women.

        Trans exclusive shelters are simply impractical as the number of trans women in the world is tiny, so essentially what you are advocating for is leaving trans women who are victims of male violence (as an extraordinarily high proportion are) to their fate. That is not only bigoted, it’s dangerous.

        Finally, why on earth is protecting trans women and advocating for their rights a burden on women? Trans women are more likely to die at the hands of male violence, once transitioned they are oppressed as women, they are more likely to be the victims of murder, and more likely to commit suicide. You seem very keen on using an argument that trans advocates are attacking other women and not the real enemy of male oppression, but it wasn’t us that started this argument.

        Trans exclusionary Rad Fems such as Janice Raymond started attacking trans women way back in the 1970s, long before there was anything like the organisation and awareness of trans issues there is today. The real enemy is male oppression, so why are you attacking trans women? Trust me there are already plenty of trans women in the feminist movement, many of which you simply won’t have realised were trans, so could it be that you just don’t like the idea of being forced to give up a prejudice towards masculine appearing trans women? If trans women are such supporters of patriachy, why do they keep getting murdered by men, attacked in the media and forced by the medical profession to fit within a male doctors idea of female?

        I strongly suggest you look through the names on this website, and pay special attention to the horrific manor in which most of them died. http://tdor.info/memorializing-2014-2/

        And let’s for heavens sake get back to the liberation of women, and stop picking on a group that is smaller and more vulnerable.

        • “Some studies have found that trans women have brains that conform to female patterns”
          Are you bleeping serious? “Female patterns”? Lol.

  7. NOTE: If you post the last comment I made, it reads better with the third para. moved to the end.

    This debate will run and run and get absolutely nowhere, since both sides of it aren’t even wrong.
    If people are so unhappy with their biologically determined sex identity that they seek to reassign it, surely they need to be given understanding and toleration?

    But it’s a completely pointless exercise to join a “radical” feminist movement which wants to unite all women on a cross-class basis, in order to smash “the patriarchy” – a completely abstract, and ahistorical concept if ever there was one.

    Compare this approach to Rosa Luxemburg’s, writing in 1912.

    “After the fall of Jacobin domination in the Great French Revolution, when the cart carried Robespierre in fetters to the guillotine, naked prostitutes of the victory-besotted bourgeoisie shamelessly danced with joy in the streets around the fallen revolutionary hero.
    And when in Paris in 1871 the heroic Commune of the workers was crushed by machine-guns, the wild-raving women of the bourgeoisie exceeded even their bestial men in their bloody vengeance on the stricken proletariat. The women of the possessing classes will always be rabid supporters of the exploitation and oppression of working people, from which they receive at second hand the wherewithal for their socially useless existence.”

    Things may have changed a bit in the last 100 years, but not that much.

    All people are welcome in the socialist movement, as long as they want to improve the conditions of the mass of people, which ultimately will require the overthrow of capitalism and class society.

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