Mari Brighe: Statement on Windycon 2017 and the “Tutti Frutti” controversy

[Reblogged from the author’s site by permission.]

By Mari Brighe: As someone who writes about LGBTQ issues and feminism professionally, I’m fairly used to finding myself embroiled in controversy, whether in digital spaces or otherwise. Something I never expected, however, was to find myself in the center of a imbroglio as bizarre as the happenings at Windycon this past weekend. A whole lot of unclear wording has lead to a whole lot of over-the-top drama, and it would honestly have been my preference to not engage with any of this at all. However, the pitch of the conversation within certain circles of the fannish community has more or less forced my hand, and this is my accounting of my part in this whole hullabaloo.

Here’s the story, from my side.

Before the panel

I’m someone who has been in and around science-fiction conventions for almost a decade, primarily in the Detroit and Chicago areas. I’ve been doing panels at conventions for about four years now, and I’ve probably done 50+ panels at this point, primarily on diversity issues. I’ve been a panelist at Windycon in particular on a several prior occasions, and I submitted to be a panelist once again for Windycon 44 (held this past weekend).

When I was provided with the programming list to indicate what I might be interested in talking about, I noted a fair number of programming items that were of interest to me, including one called “Tutti Frutti Literature” that contained a short description about discussing the effects of shifting social norms and “lifestyles” on SFF literature. “Shifting social norms” quite often refers to the increasing visibility of queer and trans folk in my experience, and so I submitted for that panel since there were few other panels connected to gender and sexual minority experiences. When I received my panel schedule later on, I noted that I was assigned to this panel and would be moderating it. Not having any objections to either item, I gave the situation little further consideration, other than to do my usual prep for moderating such a panel.

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Shortly after I arrived at Windycon, a friend contacted me to let me know that there was some buzz objecting to the language of the panel title and description. I read through the threads on Twitter of people who were upset by the “Tutti Frutti” terminology, given the history of “fruity” being a colloquial slur against gay men. These folks, like me, interpreted the panel description as at least somewhat applying to queer and trans issues. They repeated tweeted at the convention, and did not receive a response. I initially decided not to wade into the social media conversation, but once I started to get tagged by people in the conversation, and receiving pretty hard (and quite undeserved, IMO) criticisms for being involved in the panel, I clarified as much as I could at that moment.

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My general assumption with this panel is that it had been proposed by a queer and/or trans person who was couching their language to make the panel sound more widely applicable, and that the panel title was something of an attempt to reclaim some previously hurtful language. Reclaiming language is a frequent occurrence among marginalized people, and I’ve sat on panels with titles using reclaimed slurs (including terms like Queer, Tranny, Dyke, Crip, etc). I also generally give cons the benefit of the doubt in such situations because I’ve had mostly positive experiences with programming staff. But, I also didn’t write the panel title or description, and I shared all of these facts with those commenting on social media. I planned to make similar commentary at the opening of the panel, and then continue on to moderate what I had hoped would still be an interesting and valuable discussion.

At the panel

When I arrived at the panel, I was initially struck by the number of folks who seemed interested in what we (as panelists) had to say about the social media controversy, as well as the fact that I was the only woman sitting on the panel (something fairly unusual for sexual and gender diversity panels). One of my fellow panelists, Mr Chris Barkley, indicated that he had a statement he wanted to read about the social media response that would later be posted to the digital fanzine File 770. The Head of Programming Ops, Louisa Feimster, also arrived and indicated she would also be addressing the social media criticisms.

When we started the panel, I indicated that I would let Louisa and Mr Barkley speak their minds before I said what I needed to say, and moved onto the actual discussion. Louisa went first, and explained that when she envisioned the panel and wrote the description and title, she had intended it to refer to kink. This caught me completely off guard. I had imagined that kink, poly, sex work, and other forms of sexuality outside the charmed circle could be part of our discussion, but I had not for a second imagined that the primary focus of the panel was intended to be kink in SFF literature. Louisa went on to explain that she used the term “tutti frutti” in contrast to the term “vanilla”, which is common in-community slang for non-kinky folks.

For what it’s worth, I absolutely believe that Louisa had exactly that intention in mind when she wrote the panel, and simply wasn’t aware that it could be a loaded term for queer folk. That said, given the ways in which queer and trans people have been kept at the margins and frequently experienced harassment and erasure within the fannish community, I also absolutely understand why people were upset and concerned about the panel title. One only need look at the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies movement to know how real and current backlash on diversity topics in SFF culture is. The fact that Louisa offered no concession or even slight apology that the title had upset people was concerning.

After Louisa’s comments, I immediately began reformulating my approach to moderating the panel in my head, but I still fully intended to remain and participate. I then turned things over to Mr Barkley to give his statement. I was not prepared for the angry, vitriolic response that Mr Barkley gave. It caught me even more off-guard than Louisa’s clarification. There was NOTHING but absolute denigration and belittlement for those who objected to the panel title, including language like “Someone was offended…TOO BAD!” and “save your outrage” that has LONG existed as the discourse of the so-called anti-PC movement that routinely attacks and harasses people like me for our work towards shifting language and culture towards inclusivity and multiculturalism. He accused the critics of unwarranted attacks on “fandom as a whole”, and definitely seemed to imply that fandom/fannish culture (and Windycon by extension) were saintly entities beyond reproach, the proverbial good guys.

Mr Barkley’s egregious tone-policing of queer concerns made me feel quite unwelcome. As a young queer trans woman on panel of unfamiliar older men who clearly had some anger at my community and were predisposed to thinking we were overly-sensitive, I did not feel especially safe. I’ve been in similar panel situations before (including one at Windycon several years ago), and the usual result is me being shouted down by men until I’m nearly in tears. Given that I already had one clearly angry, hostile panelist harboring very negative beliefs about someone like me, I made the decision that I would recuse myself from the panel for my own safety and emotional well-being, and in protest of the kinds of over-the-top tone-policing and complete dismissal (and denigration) of the concerns of queer folks that Mr Barkley had engaged in.

I introduced myself. I gave my name, my credentials as a writer, critic, educator, activist and fan. I identified myself as a queer trans woman (that’s TRANSGENDER, not TRANGENDERED), and offered my deep concerns about the kinds of tone-policing and categorical dismissal that Mr Barkley was engaging in. I explained that my own experiences at Windycon and in fandom in general, as well as the well-documented experiences of other queer and trans folks, showed that SFF convention culture is far from saintly and stainless with regards to its treatment of LGBTQ people. I then stated that I was not interested in engaging further with a situation that was so dismissive of the concerns of people like me, and I did not believe that the panel was a place for me, and walked out of the room.

Further Considerations

I’ve endured men on panels shouting me down and cutting me off until I was in tears. I’ve endured audience members engaging in such egregious disruption and offensive commentary that I’ve had to ask them to leave and report them to Con Ops. I’ve endured levels of mansplaining, ableism, and acephobia so severe that they left another panelist shaking and traumatized. I’ve endured an author derailing an entire panel to deride me as “what was wrong with media” and accuse me of “destroying her livelihood” because I’m a professional critic. But this is the first time I have ever walked out of a panel that I was sitting on, and I do not regret that decision. Mr Barkley’s behavior was downright hostile to the point of hyperbole. He made it clear that criticism of fandom were not welcome to his mind. Given my own experiences with the ways in which men will defends each other’s toxic hostility, I did not feel safe as a highly marginalized woman in that space, and I did what I felt was necessary for my own well-being.

For those who are still insisting that the original critics of the panel title and description were being overly sensitive, I charge that perhaps it is you who are hypersensitive to even modest amounts of criticisms of either yourself or fannish culture. Fandom is not perfect, stainless, or utopian. The same biases and marginalization that exist in the mundane world exist at conventions and in other corners of fannish life, and marginalized people have absolutely every right to make their criticisms. Marginalized people do not owe you benefit of the doubt.  If you don’t want people to be looking so critically at such things, then do better and make fandom not just a tolerant place, but a place were differences and diverse experiences are embraced, valued, and supported. When mistakes are made (and mistakes DO HAPPEN) then consider following the three simple steps to addressing a fuck-up in a restorative manner:

  1. Offer an genuine, contrite apology.
  2. Make amends, and promise to do better in the future.
  3. Actually do better.

Whether you intended the slight or not is only somewhat relevant. Intent is not magic, and it does not completely absolve your mistake automatically. It only provides a basis for why you actually deserve forgiveness. To respond by claiming the parties objecting to your actions have no right to object only makes things worse, and quite quickly marks you as someone with little concern for them. It is not the behavior of any ally.

Finals Thoughts

I regret that this minor misunderstanding has now exploded into days long ordeal of fannish drama. I am concerned that Windycon was clearly aware of the social media uproar at least a day before, but took no action to address it until the actual panel, either on social media or with the panelists.

I find it DEEPLY hypocritical that Mr Barkley finds the space to justify his own “outrage and anger” (his words) over a criticism that wasn’t even directed at him personally, while denigrating the fairly tame and measured concerns raised by people on Twitter about the panel’s title and description as a “witch hunt”  and “angry, unwarranted attack”.

Criticism is not malice. At no point did any person attempt to demean the entirety of Windycon or fandom as anti-LGBTQ, and Mr Barkley would have you believe. Someone pointed out a concerning panel item that could be interpreted as problematic, and stated their concern, which was echoed by others. Those concerns were reasonable, given the historic context of the general air of dismissiveness much of fandom has had towards the concerns and interests of LGBTQ fans.  An unwillingness to accept criticism speaks to worrying degree fragility, especially when it also leads to lashing out angrily rather than engaging with the criticism. If Mr Barkley responds to impersonal criticisms this way, then I can only imagine how extreme his response to a criticism of his own actions or words might be. Given that information, I will think twice before agreeing to appear on a panel with him, and perhaps other women and LGBTQ folks should do the same.

53 thoughts on “Mari Brighe: Statement on Windycon 2017 and the “Tutti Frutti” controversy

  1. Thank you for re-posting this, as I had some difficulty reading it at the original blog (for some reason, I find it easier to read darker lettering on a lighter background than I do reading the reverse at this point and time in life).

    Probably the most thoughtful and considered commentary I’ve read on the subject thus far. Very well done.

  2. I would hardly call it thoughtful and considered. It seems like one more beat on the drum of who can be offended the fastest and the loudest.

    Also it kind of undercuts your claiming of the moral high ground when you throw in the personal attacks against someone you do not even know.

  3. Magewolf: Also it kind of undercuts your claiming of the moral high ground when you throw in the personal attacks against someone you do not even know.

    Given the way that Brighe was treated by Barkley, I think that her comments fall under the category of “fair response”. These aren’t ad hominem attacks. They’re legitimate responses to the way he behaved (which was essentially a somewhat less nasty version of Truesdale’s “pearl-clutching” performance at Sasquan).

  4. The Truesdale thing was at Mac2, wasn’t it? Otherwise, yeah, agreed on all counts.

  5. Lenore Jones / jonesnori: The Truesdale thing was at Mac2, wasn’t it?

    Ah, yes, thanks for that correction.

  6. I find it hard to be sympathetic to someone who freely uses the word “queer” without a thought for the people it hurts but who then complains that someone was offended by a far milder word. The hypocrisy is astonishing.

  7. Some people within the LBGTQI+ community use the term “queer” in a proud and reclaiming way. Others find it hurtful. A queer trans person using it, as is the case here, is not the same as a cis-het person using it.

    It would be a shame if the overall issues got drowned out by an ongoing and apparently irresolvable intra-community discussion about the acceptability of “queer” as a term, whether younger people see it differently than older people, and all the associated aspects.

  8. It was a good response, apart from the ending if the last line.

    With regards to the word “Queer”… I think it perfectly acceptable to use as its own word and category when not including LGBT people. As in LGBTQ. Greg can hardly complain about other people wanting to call themselves Queer when he is not included.

    I am less happy with using the word Queer as a short for LGBTQ in a way thay LGBT people are included. And that is not how we use it in Sweden.

  9. I find it hard to be sympathetic to someone who freely uses the word “queer” without a thought for the people it hurts but who then complains that someone was offended by a far milder word. The hypocrisy is astonishing.
    This is one of the times I wish there were ‘like’ buttons here.
    I do find it amusing that some of those who insist on using ‘queer’ because their personal identity wasn’t being referenced are oblivious and/or uncaring as to the feelings of those who feel like it’s a slur or erasing their identity.
    I find myself liking it (queer) sometimes and hating it sometimes; it apparently depends on context/situation/my personal mood/ and whether I think the person using it is a pretentious asshole. I contain multitudes apparently.
    All in all, this was basically a minor dust-up that the internet grew into a major one.
    If I had to chose, still Team Barkley.

  10. Thank you for posting this, Mari, and for reposting it here, Mike.

    I’ve also seen panels centering on women and/or LGBTQ2S issues derailed by shouty men, and I can totally get walking out of that one. It doesn’t feel as though the dust up would have become major without his grandstanding. (Though of course I wasn’t there, but it was an impression given by his own words as much as by the descriptions provided by others.) Pearl clutching, indeed.

    In terms of the word queer, I find it a useful catchall for People Like Me, but I understand that gay men and lesbians of a certain age find it offensive and so I try not to use it as a reference that includes them. It’s just that the Canadian version of the alphabet soup is now at LGBTQ2S, and it’s a bit unwieldy, and “all sexual orientations and gender identities” is worse.

  11. Words are not static. Words relating to identities are especially not static, and I’m a bit tired of the “young kids today ruining everything” commentary that is cropping up in the comments, especially when there are strong overtones of blaming lesbians, bisexual and asexual, women, trans* people, and probably gender-fluid and non-binary people for oppressing gay men in said comments.

    I’m 62. I am a queer woman. I also carefully teach (in Safe Spaces Ally workshops and my gender theory classes) the complicated history of “queer” (don’t make me break out my 14 page handout from the Oxford English Dictionary!) and explain why *many* people (including quite a few people of color in various Gender, Romantic, and Sexual minority (GRSM ) communities) find the term oppressive and why one of the most important rules both in ally work AND in academic work is to be aware of the need to define terms and to make sure to try to use people’s preferred terms and pronouns.

    But claiming it’s just young people today (ageist as all get out) is also historically wrong: Queer Nation began reclaiming the term as part of AIDS activism in 1990.

    Here’s my one-page handout from one of my favorite theorists on six major (different) meanings of the term:

    Doty, Alexander. Flaming Classics: Queering the Film Canon. London and New York: Routledge 2000. Pages 6-7

    Queer/queerness has been used:
    1. As a synonym for either gay, or lesbian, or bisexual.
    2. In various ways as an umbrella term
    a. to pull together lesbian, and/or gay, and/or bisexual with little or not attention to differences (similar to certain uses of “gay” to mean lesbians, gay men, and sometimes, bisexuals, transsexuals, and transgendered people).
    b. to describe a range of distinct non-straight positions being juxtaposed with each other.
    c. to suggest those overlapping areas between and among lesbian, and/or gay, and/or bisexual, and/or other non-straight positions.
    3. To describe the non-straight work ,positions, pleasures, and readings of people who don’t share the same “sexual orientation” as the text they are producing or responding to (for example, a straight scholar might be said to do queer work when she/he writes an essay on Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, or someone gay might take queer pleasure in the lesbian film Desert Hearts.)
    4. To describe any nonnormative expression of gender, including those connected with straightness.
    5. To describe non-straight things that are not clearly marked as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, or transgendered, but that seem to suggest or allude to one or more of these categories, often in a vague, confusing, or incoherent manner (for example, Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs or Katharine Hepburn’s character in Sylvia Scarlett).
    6. To describe those aspects of spectatorship, cultural readership, production, and textual coding that seem to establish spaces not described by, or contained within, straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual or transgendered understandings and categorization of gender and sexuality—this is a more radical understanding of queer, as queerness here is something apart from established gender and sexuality categories, not the result of vague or confused coding or positioning (I would contend that Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures is a queer avant-garde film by this definition).

  12. @robinareid, you probably know this better than me, but wasn’t queer also the in-community term gay men used in the 1920s and 1930s? I remember running into that in Gay New York or something, and starting to hum “History Repeating.”

  13. @robinreid: If you don’t mind answering, how do you deal with objections like those from Sheila Jeffreys that the use of “queer” effectively erases lesbianism? I’ve been thinking about this lately.

  14. @muccamukk: asn’t queer also the in-community term gay men used in the 1920s and 1930s? I remember running into that in Gay New York or something, and starting to hum “History Repeating.”

    That I’d have to check out: my OED handout may well have some representative quotes (that’s why it’s 14 pages, single-space–all the citations of usage at different times). It wouldn’t surprise me in the least, but most of my work in queer/gender studies focuses on women, including women of color, and not on gay men (and I am still pretty bitter about the sexism and bi-phobia exhibited by some gay men in the Seattle scene in the 1980s when I was trying to be an activist and semi-starving artist). One of my favorite quotes from Doty is that “queer” does not necessarily mean progressive (and neither does “gay” or “lesbian”).

  15. @John A. Arkansawyer: I’ve been reading a number of feminist/lesbian writers who discuss the extent to which the growing number of women (they seem to think it’s especially among the younger women) who are bisexual or queer erases and/or stigmatizes lesbians. I think they have a very good point……BUT!

    It’s one of those complicated and incredibly painful issues, and I have some personal painful history in that area. I didn’t even realize there was the idea of same-sex eros and relationships until I was in college and found Mary Renault’s classical Greek novels, and was OMG! REALLY! (Of course those are all men). I didn’t acknowledge my own strong attraction to women until I was nearly thirty (growing up in fucking 1950s/60s small town Idaho will do that to a person–I knew I was wrong and evil for not wanting to be married!). I identified as a bisexual for the rest of the 20th century, coming out in thet 1980s just in time to run into the extreme prejudice against bisexuals among heterosexuals AND among the gay and lesbian groups in Seattle as I noted above. A lot of the bi-phobic rhetoric was accusing bisexuals of “carrying AIDS” plus all the nasty accusations of fence-sitting and cowardice and “you’re really a lesbian you just won’t admit it” blah blah blah blah.

    I still remember a lesbian (a fellow graduate student) in a gender theory class telling me that she’d rather be in bed with a married woman than a bisexual woman. I was denied admission to a group of lesbians because of being a bisexual. A friend of mine who identified as a lesbian despite being married to a man was a member. So it was pretty nasty. I expected the prejudice from straight people, but from gay and lesbian people? It sucked. I walked away from LGB activist groups (they weren’t LBGT then).

    On another level, especially in fandom (online media fandom starting in 2003) I am friends with lesbians, bisexual, asexual (which I learned about from my friendsd!), queer, nonbinary, gender-fluid fans–it seemed so much different than the rigid binary policing of homosexual/heterosexual. These are my personal experience of course. But it leaves me sort of betwixt and between: I’m pretty sure if I was forty years younger, I’d be in the genderfluid/non-binary category (I never could be a “woman” by the cultural definitions I grew up with, but I didn’t want to be a “man” either). I have been identifying as queer for some years because I am in a queer relationship (not a marriage, and despite all the labeling, we’re not a lesbian couple because neither of us is a lesbian.) So perhaps I am complicit in that erasure–but I do not see how my existence erases other people.

    So, erm, sorry for length. I think that there are issues of erasure. I think that young people do experiment and explore. I think there are lots of incredibly painful generational issues in the GRSM (Gender, Romantic, and Sexual Minority) communities, just as there is among feminists. But I also wonder at why people seem to think that things won’t change with younger generations, especially people who in their younger years rejected so much of patriarchal/heternormative culture.

    From what I’ve seen in my students (I advised the GSA group, and the SF group) these days is much more fluid/inclusive than the groups I left in disgust decades ago. There are lesbians among my students (of all ages!). I think we’re seeing the results of all the work put in by activists and educators and creators over the decades (including the horrific backlash under Trump & CO), and I’m not about to tell a young person that they must conform to a different alternative definition of their identity.

  16. @ John A. Arkansawyer

    @robinreid: If you don’t mind answering, how do you deal with objections like those from Sheila Jeffreys that the use of “queer” effectively erases lesbianism? I’ve been thinking about this lately.

    Since Robin focused primarily on contemporary applications, I hope I’ll be forgiven for adding some additional observations. As people may be aware, I have a deep and abiding amateur-historical interest in lesbian history, and produce a blog that presents and summarizes academic work in the study of aspects of gender and sexuality history that I find useful in writing lesbian historical fiction.

    I recently read several works relevant to this discussion by historians who (often among other topics) study lesbian history (in particular, Valerie Traub’s Thinking Sex with the Early Moderns, and the collection The Lesbian Premodern) that touch on the politics of how theoretical frameworks for studying history can affect the nature of what gets studied, as well as how it is interpreted.

    One point that was made is that there is a strain of thought among those who work within a “queer history” framework that considers the concept of lesbianism in pre-20th century history to be anachronistically “identitarian” and that therefore all historical endeavors that involve trying to identify lesbian-like themes and persons in the historical record are suspect and invalid and a product of wishful thinking by historians who are themselves overly attached to identitarianism in their own lives. What some of the writings in these collections point out is that this concern seems uniquely targeted at lesbian history (with fewer charges of anachronism leveled at those studying gay male history) and inevitably carries a whiff of misogyny that only compounds the difficulties of studying any female-focused topics in a pre-modern context.

    Now, the confounding factor in this consideration of lesbian studies is the vocal presence of individuals who combine an advocacy of the importance of lesbian studies (both historical and contemporary) with anti-transgender views. The two positions are in no way logically connected, but have been artificially conjoined both by supporters and detractors, to the point where there are people who will assume that if a person identifies with the term “lesbian” or has interests in lesbian history, that they must therefore hold anti-transgender views. (I have had this assertion leveled against me by people who knew nothing about me other than that I identify as a lesbian.)

    As a result of this sort of hostile reaction (or as a result of believing that the false conjunction of the two views is inherent to lesbian identity) I have known a number of women who reject the term “lesbian” even when embracing an exclusive romantic/sexual interest in women.

    So, while I would disagree with the position that the use of the term “queer” erases lesbianism (which should be obvious from the fact that I use both terms, in different contexts and for different purposes), I think that there is significant evidence that certain segments of people who identify as queer, and certain segments of the field of queer studies, employ rhetoric that de facto acts to delegitimize “lesbian” as a contemporary identity and “lesbian history” as a valid and valuable field of study.

  17. @Heather Rose Jones, I can see how it would be difficult to know whether a “cross-dressing” person in the past was trans, or genderfluid, or trying to hide a same-gender relationship, or merely trying to do work not available to the gender assigned at birth (or something else I haven’t thought of). It’s interesting either way, and transgressive of societal norms either way, but insisting on one interpretation or the other says more about the speaker than the history, surely.

  18. @ Lenore

    And for the most part, the best answer is “individuals in the past operated within different conceptual framings and the available mental categories they had to understand their own lives and actions do not necessarily align with anything that exists today.” On the one hand, there is a valid position that says the very concepts of trans/genderfluid/homosexual (and heterosexual for that matter) did not exist in the premodern era for people to identify with. But on the other hand there’s a valid position that say that our modern concepts of transgender, genderfulidity, and homo/hetero-sexuality are useful lenses through which to study the past, and that the nature of the lens being used leads us to look for and recognize different sets of historic data.

    (I’d go on at more length because this is a topic I’ve thought about a lot, but the outside auditors are about to start looking at discrepancy investigation reports and I need to stand ready.)

  19. It’s all very interesting to me, though I’m aware it was likely quite painful for many of those people living in the past. Not that it isn’t painful now, but at least we have some mental frameworking.

  20. @robinreid, Heather Rose Jones: Thanks! I found that very interesting. It’s been hard for me the last year watching certain fights around me involving this. The one that put me over the edge was in spring, when a nearby women’s festival got into a huge argument over one workshop on preserving lesbian culture, which the organizers wanted to close off to only cis-female lesbians. The high point of it was a graphic of the program entry with ‘biological females’ marked out and replaced with ‘whites’. I don’t think the power relations between cis-lesbian women and transwomen can be compared to that between whites and blacks. The workshop was, of course, cancelled.

    God knows, I think the feminists who are anti-trans are wrong, but I also recognize so many of them are from the heroic generation who built women’s shelters and rape crisis centers. They represent a successful culture of resistance whose time is passing, and preserving their history seems incredibly important to me, especially right now.

    So much as I like the term ‘queer’–I especially like the very expansive way I’ve seen Warner and Berlant use it–the question of lesbian erasure is a big deal for me.

  21. I was glad to be able to read this blog, and thank everyone for their interesting comments.

  22. There is literally no reason, historical or otherwise, to exclude trans women who are lesbians from lesbian history, lesbian discussions, lesbian work on lesbian history, etc. Doing so IS bigotry, AND is uncalled for. You can’t cry that “lesbians are being unfairly painted as transphobic” in one sentence and then support the explicit exclusion of trans lesbians in the next. I mean, are you serious?

    This is even on top of the ignored criticism of Jeffreys, who, like I said, uses “queer is erasing lesbians” as a dogwhistle for “the only lesbian is a cis lesbian and here are a lot of offensive and incorrect opinions about what trans women are.”

  23. I’ve gotta come in and second Keffy here. There is no meaningful way to tell lesbian history without including trans lesbians; it is to intentionally ignore and erase that group of people who are part of lesbian history.

    As a nonbinary bisexual person I use queer as a shorthand; in doing so, whose history am I erasing?

  24. John A Arkansawyer:

    ” I don’t think the power relations between cis-lesbian women and transwomen can be compared to that between whites and blacks. “

    I think power relations between cis and trans can be compared to that between whites and blacks, but with lager hierarchical gaps. Does not matter if people are lesbians or not. Just look at the amount of abuse trans people are subject too, the number of suicides. Their status in society in general.

    “God knows, I think the feminists who are anti-trans are wrong, but I also recognize so many of them are from the heroic generation who built women’s shelters and rape crisis centers.”

    Well, if you are part of a heroic generation for fighting for your own rights, will you still be a part of a heroic generation when you fight against other peoples rights? I personally go not understand this talk about “heroic generations” or “greatest generation”. People are individuals. And they can sometimes be enlightened and some time be bigoted.

    What I really do not understand with your example is – how is it in any way an example of lesbian erasure? Do people stop being lesbians if trans persons are allowed in to a workshop?

  25. @keffy / D Franklin

    I’m not clear who you are disagreeing with – even John seems to have accepted this point.

    More generally, I’ve not had anything meaningful to add to the discussion, but I’ve appreciated hearing in such detail from perspectives that I’m unfamiliar with, and I thank the filers who have taken the time to type them.

  26. @Mark: They’re disagreeing with me because I am think cis women have the same right to caucus and discuss their own issues by themselves that every group should have. No one would say no to trans folks wanting to caucus on their own for their specific issues. I wouldn’t. They have a right to discuss their issues among themselves. Everyone should.

    @D Franklin: Is a trans lesbian a biological female who presents as male? Or a biological male who presents as female? Or does it cover both? Do they have different concerns?

    And is it possible that either male presentation or possession of a penis is a significant marker of power versus people both presenting as female and possessing a vagina?

  27. @John

    I didn’t read your comment deeply enough then.

    I guess this is another thread that you’re planning to mount a hill on.

  28. @Mark: I’d rather not. But there are two people in the thread who’ve studied this issue more deeply than I have and inhabit a social location that I don’t. If they’re willing to discuss it, I’m beyond grateful, like an technician learning from a scientist or an engineer. And if they aren’t, you are probably right that I should shut up.

    It matters to me both personally and professionally. These are real life issues involving the real lives of people I know and, in some cases, love dearly. So I’m trying to get it right.

  29. John: A trans man is a man, period. A trans woman is a woman, period. What they are “Biologically” HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. There is no “presenting as” to being trans.

    Trans women who like women can and do identify as lesbians. A trans man who liked women would not identify as a lesbian because he is a man.

    Trans women – whether or not they possess a penis, which is none of our business – are killed and commit suicide at a disturbingly high rate – higher than for cis lesbians. Yes, there is a power differential there, and it is NOT towards the person who was assigned male at birth.

    The woman running for the Liberal party one area over from where I live (And someone my husband has known for decades, and I for at least one decade) is a trans lesbian.

    And I think there IS a difference between wanting to caucus and discuss their own ideas and wanting to actively exclude and erase an entire other group. Part of it is power, part of it is prejudice, part of it is who is traditionally left outside and out of the loop, and part of it is how often the desire to exclude comes versus the willingness to include. People who are traditionally left outside the loop and out of power carving some space for themselves where those in power cannot touch them has a vastly different result upon the world than those who already have some power continuing to shut out those with even less. And in GBLTTQA circles, the G and L (especially in academic circles) still have more power and social acceptance than T. Period.

    But even then, I would be okay with a cis female gathering to discuss cis female issues…if it were two hours somewhere in a year of gatherings where trans women were otherwise included. It isn’t. It’s this particular strain of transphobic cis women’s default mode, and inclusion is the exception not the rule.

  30. @Lenora Rose:

    But even then, I would be okay with a cis female gathering to discuss cis female issues…if it were two hours somewhere in a year of gatherings where trans women were otherwise included.

    This was just what was asked for, except that the gathering was a nine-day annual event, not a year-long event. And it’s pretty much all I think is reasonable.

    Trans women who like women can and do identify as lesbians. A trans man who liked women would not identify as a lesbian because he is a man.

    And that’s how I tried to explain it to someone with a vagina who presents as male, prefers women, and identifies as lesbian, who disagrees with both of us.

  31. John A Arkansawyer, you say “presents as a male” — are you saying that the individual is a trans man, or is genderqueer? What pronoun do they use? Because your one-sentence description does not actually sound like any trans man I know, but does sound very much to me like someone I know who is genderqueer. “Presents as a male” is (to me) different from “considers themselves male”, but perhaps vocabulary is getting in the way of communication here.

    Incidentally, I know both trans men and trans women, and I would never, ever even think about asking the configuration of their genitals. That’s between them and their lovers.

  32. @Cassy B: It’s someone who is still figuring out how his life works. I think this person is genderqueer or genderfluid, and sometimes he does, too. Other times he identifies as trans. And sometimes he identifies himself as being trans just because it’s already hard enough to explain that. I know it’s wearying.

    I envy y’all’s certainties. I wish I shared them, but life won’t let me. I’m sure trans folks deserve equitable treatment. Beyond that, I’m lost, but glad to finally live in the future.

  33. John:

    This was just what was asked for, except that the gathering was a nine-day annual event, not a year-long event. And it’s pretty much all I think is reasonable.

    That’s ignoring ALL the history of all the other places, outside this one event, that these particular women commit the same exclusion.

    As to your friend:

    Individuals certainly can reserve the right to refer to themselves in ways contrary to the rules for general living, especially while still figuring themselves out. It doesn’t mean the general rules don’t exist.

    Another area that is fraught right now is the space where a not insignificant number of people who originally identified as butch lesbians ultimately decided that they were in fact trans men, especially when the idea of trans men existing at all became more mainstream (Trans women were much more visible a thing, even when derided for it and when visibility was to their detriment) — which led to the lesbian community feeling betrayed, and the men in question feeling isolated from former friends and allies who abandoned them when they no longer fit the community. I can see someone clinging to the label even as he (At least you seem to imply he uses this pronoun) switched presentation and struggled to decide his own gender.

  34. @Lenora Rose:

    Individuals certainly can reserve the right to refer to themselves in ways contrary to the rules for general living, especially while still figuring themselves out. It doesn’t mean the general rules don’t exist.

    I agree. It’s also how the general rules are created and maintained and changed, by people figuring out how their lives work and pushing to get what they need. It’s how we got here and I don’t think we’re at a stopping point. It’s great to be alive just now, when people are gaining new freedoms, and difficult and confusing, too.

  35. John, I wish your friend well in their/his self-discovery.

    As a cis/het female I can only try to imagine how difficult the process is for those who are not cis and/or het.

    And of course the vocabulary keeps changing (which I hasten to add is a GOOD thing) as possibilities become… possible. But it does add a layer of confusion for those of us on the outside trying very hard to keep up! <wry grin>

  36. In this discussion I’ve been doing my best to stick to my own lane which, around this topic (as a cis asexual lesbian) is primarily focused on the study of motifs, themes, and persons in history that have resonance for writers and readers of lesbian historical fiction. There are some very complicated issues around the overlap of those topics with the study of motifs, themes, and persons in history that have resonance for contemporary transgender people, which I’m not going to go into at the moment because it’s way too complicated and fraught.

    But I do want to say that there are few things as difficult as participating in a community that one considers oneself a part of and finding that one’s personal understanding of self is considered up for intellectual debate. That is not my experience in this specific conversation, but it has been my experience at other times in fandom. And it is the experience of some people in this thread and in the wider context of this discussion. I would ask that people of good will keep in mind the question, “Does my need to understand this topic from an angle of intellectual curiosity outweigh my desire not to make my fellow human beings feel like their very existence is up for public debate?”

  37. Well said, Heather, and I apologize immediately (to those affected, not to Heather) for anything I have stated which could be construed that way.

  38. Yeah. The right to exist is for everyone. That’s what makes some of these things so fraught. In the situation I described, both parties felt their right to exist was threatened. I thought one side is right on the issues and one side is wrong, but since neither side is Evil, it seems like even the folks who were wrong have a right to exist.

    If I’ve made anyone here feel as though they don’t have that right–particularly anyone trans–I’m very sorry and I apologize for it.

  39. Yes, the side that is wrong has the right to exist. They even have the right to be wrong. But they do not have the right to impose their wrongs on others without protests.

  40. @Ruth, can you expand on that a bit, if you’re willing? I’m not sure I’m following.

  41. Ruth, I’m not sure what you mean by “acephobia” — is that the dislike or erasure of asexual persons? Because I know an asexual man, so I don’t see how this prejudice would be misogyny per se. (Now I’m going to find out that “acephobia” means something else and I’ll have egg on my face….)

  42. One thing to note is that some of the discussion doesn’t feel like it’s about our right to exist, it’s about whether we exist. This discussion has at times literally erased the existence of trans people, especially those of us with intersecting marginalisations within the spectrum of gender and sexuality.

    And apologies that don’t come with changed behaviour are worthless.

  43. @D Franklin: “This discussion has at times literally erased the existence of trans people, especially those of us with intersecting marginalisations within the spectrum of gender and sexuality.”


  44. @ Cassy B: a quick read concerning misogyny as linked to homophobia: I think it also applies to acephobia and biphobia as well.

    Misogyny is defined quite literally as a hatred of women, and this includes a hatred of anyone perceived to be ‘like a woman’, explaining much of the homophobic aggression towards non-straight men. Homosexual men have long suffered homophobic abuse because they do not conform to heterosexual male norms, including pursuing women. Homophobia is entirely underpinned and propped up by patriarchy, and our patriarchal society encourages the policing of the boundaries of what it means to be a ‘real man’ and behave in a truly ‘male’ way.

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