In order to address hitherto intractable social problems and in order to strive for equality, there is perhaps no component more necessary than transfeminism. Transfeminism forces intersectionality, it addresses the root of inequality, and it creates a philosophical and political roadmap by which to develop a society that ensures civil rights for everybody. Transfeminism is, by its very nature, deconstructive—the trans* existence challenges the gender binary and calls the foundation of the patriarchy into doubt. It introduces the concepts of “both” and “neither” into discussions of identity in ways that not only support transgender rights, but also validate and defend bisexual, asexual, and pansexual people. As Angela Davis points out, transfeminism draws heavily from black feminism, which has interrogated the creation and reification of women’s identity for nearly two centuries—ever since Sojourner Truth first asked “Ain’t I a Woman?” And as we move forward, transfeminism continues to interpret and augment the struggles for racial equality so deftly engaged by black feminists.
At the core of transfeminism is the tool kit provided by transgender identities, with which one can interrogate and deconstruct the identities and relationships that are declared normative by the patriarchy, and with which one can form a foundation for equality based on non-normative practices and auto-identification. Queer theorists, some feminists, and many medical professionals have long recognized that sexual attraction and identity exist on a gradual scale, consisting of differing degrees of attraction to men or attraction to women. But for the most part, people view gender as (a) biologically determined and (b) binary in definition. Both of these are patriarchal myths. In fact, gender is a social construction, completely. When compulsory allo-identification is engaged, binary identity—i.e. female or male—becomes rigidly enforced as a requirement for existence. This is perhaps most apparent in the violent and non-consentual surgical interventions performed on children with ambiguous genitalia. Intersex bodies—and any transgender bodies—are disallowed from society to the point that their existence elicits fear and violence. The acceptance of transgender and intersex bodies requires a reexamination of the definitions of male and female bodies; forces those who grant physical agency—doctors and scientists—to discard biological definitions of gender; and shatters the patriarchally-assigned binary, which is the root not only of gender inequality, but is also, indeed, the scaffold upon which all oppression is built.
Transgender auto-identification—that is, the ability of transgender people to define and embody their own identities—has the most pronounced effect on the internal struggles of Queer politics. Have we forgotten that the people rioting at Stonewall were transgender women and drag queens? The reclamation of queer lexicons and the development of a queer nonce taxonomy are intimately interwoven into the prolonged examinations of transgender identity and the way these examinations challenge normative naming conventions and complicate the push towards “normal” in contemporary queer politics. For example, transgender feminism demands that we look critically and deconstructively at the push for gay and lesbian marriage as the driving force in contemporary queer politics. By accounting for the role of transgender people in the LGBTQIA+ community, the increasingly severe distinction between “good gays” and “bad queers” emerges, and the struggle for BTQIA+ rights can begin to be outlined as a plan to demolish normative constructions—e.g. marriage—that the gay and lesbian political leadership has so deftly supported. A new agenda can be developed—with economic equality, access to healthcare, abolition of marriage as a state institution, and protection from hate violence as central issues.
The fight for transgender equality is highly intersectional, and transfeminism brings this intersectionality to the table. Frighteningly high suicide rates among transgender people is an issue that demands changes in both mental health services and in attitudes towards bullying and harassment—at home, at school, in the workplace, and in public. The prevalence of the “walking while trans” trope on social media links the hazards of transgender existence with the hazards of racial existence, and emphasizes that either one of these problems—deeply seated in the binary, patriarchal philosophy of superiority and oppression—cannot be solved on its own, and requires an all-encompassing examination of violence as a tool of oppression. Economic problems must be addressed: transgender people are regularly discriminated against in the workplace, necessitating that most transgender people hold unwanted, low-paying jobs, or participate in illegal activities to raise money for survival and steps towards physical gender reassignment. Even a highly educated white trans person with a well-paying job (myself) still encounters disrespect, discrimination, and abuse from hospital staff when seeking emergency medical care. This needs to change.
For a normative society, the transgender existence presents an imminent threat. Transfeminism utilizes the strength of this threat to challenge the constructions and assumptions of western culture. The mere fact that transgender identities exist challenges the conventional wisdom that there is a concrete gender binary, and in doing so questions other binaries in our society—be they sexual, economic, racial, or religious. Because of this, transfeminism validates the existence of other non-normative identities and spearheads a developing battle for BTQIA+ rights. Transfeminism introduces concepts of “all” or “neither” to discussions of identity, giving bisexual, pansexual, and asexual voices a platform from which to speak, an addition to—of course—the spectra of gender identities. Because of its wide inclusion of intersectional issues and highly deconstructive methodologies, transfeminism is the only ideology capable of producing meaningful and enduring change towards equality in this century. It is necessary that questions of transgender identity be addressed in women’s studies classrooms and in the ranks of advocates for social justice. Liberation, not only for transgender people but for all oppressed groups, requires the deconstructive politics of transfeminism. Other philosophies have thus far failed to dismantle the patriarchy, now the novel and powerful ideas of transfeminism must be brought to the fore in the battle for equality.