Transgender liberation at the Left Forum

From the July-August 2015 issue of News & Letters

The Left Forum this year had two workshops allegedly about Trans liberation. Both were standing room only, showing a lively interest in the subject. But apart from that, the two workshops had virtually nothing in common and the politics of panelists at the first had a great deal to do with Non Gender Conforming superiority over the rest of us.

Left Forum Logo

In the first place, all the panelists vehemently denied that they were Trans or that they belonged to a specific gender identity. They argued that binary gender identification was sexist, colonialist, and racist and that true freedom comes from fighting all gender identity. When a participant in the meeting expressed pride in her womanhood, she was told that this was a reflection of reactionary, internalized colonial politics. All the panelists rejected Trans struggles for freedom, rejected the idea that Trans people exist, raising the question of what they were doing at a nominally Trans workshop. In addition, they rejected the struggles of working-class people, their attitude being: “F—- them. They don’t support us. Why should I support them?” This workshop provided no way forward for Trans people except a very narrow view of both gender and the Trans liberation struggle.

Graphic for the Sylvia Rivera Law Project

Graphic for the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.

The second workshop was hosted by the New York based Sylvia Rivera Law Project, an organization which unites legal representation for Trans people in the criminal injustice system with the broader struggles for revolutionary social change. Their work includes helping Trans people to change their names and gender markers to reflect who they really are. They are dedicated to abolishing solitary confinement and eventually the entire prison system.

All the panelists in this workshop identified themselves as Trans. They introduced each other and asked the audience to introduce themselves also. When one person identified herself as a revolutionary and a woman, the room exploded with approval.

The panelists made it clear that the issue of whether Trans people are oppressed or not was not open to discussion. We are. Then, they and the audience explained the different effects of Trans oppression: Trans youth suffering from crises in housing, education and medical care, including the denial of basic medical needs. The panelists were emphatic that the struggle against these social ills is inseparable from the broader struggle for human liberation.

While one workshop presented an anti-Trans and anti-collective individualistic approach to gender issues, denying that Trans people suffer real alienation, the other presented a broad and liberating vision of the struggle for Trans people in the context of a struggle for new human relationships, a new sense of humanism for all society.

—Natalia Spiegel

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