Divided Sisterhoods

It is very obvious from the beginning of the chapter “Sappho by Surgery” that Janice Raymond does not like transsexuals. But she especially mistrusts what she calls “transsexually constructed lesbian-feminists,” or rather, those MTFs who identify as lesbian and are active in feminist organizations.  Raymond believes that “all transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves,” and “in the case of the trannsexually constructed lesbian-feminists their whole presence becomes a ‘member’ invading women’s presence and dividing us once more from each other.” (P.134) She believes that clear boundaries need to be put into place by lesbian-feminists about who can and cannot be a lesbian-feminist, and she asks, “if feminists cannot agree on the boundaries of what constitutes femaleness, then what can we hope to agree on?” (P.137) She wants all the women-born-women to be kept in, and the women-born-men to be kept out.

What may not be immediately obvious from Raymond’s writing, however, is the fact that Raymond herself may in fact be the one spreading this contention. In Carol Riddell’s critique of Raymond’s book, Riddell gives us actual numbers. Where Raymond paints us a picture of transsexual women infiltrating every aspect of lesbian-feminist society, Riddell reminds us that there is “one trans-sexual for every 25,625 people who are not seeking a sex change.” (P.145) Where Raymond basically ignores transsexual men, Riddell explains that she has to deny “the significance of trans-sexual men…for their existence refutes her axiom that trans-sexualism is a creation of man, for ‘men.’” (P. 149)

Raymond’s distrust of transsexual women because of her belief that they are truly men ‘infiltrating’ all-female, all-feminist spaces, seems to hearken back to a time before lesbians were even allowed to be in feminist groups.

It reminds me of the “Lavender Menace.”

The Lavender Menace was a term thought to be coined by writer Betty Friedan. The phrase was in reference to the fact that lesbians were seen as a threat to the growing feminist movement, and the fact that many women within the movement thought that the inclusion of lesbians would make the movement a joke.  The 1970s era lesbians were, of course, denied entry because they were not taken seriously by the world at large rather than because they were a group of infiltrators, but it was still a refusal on the part of early second wave feminists to work in conjunction with a set of people who needed feminism just as much as any other group did. Transsexual women need feminism just as much as anyone else, and to deny them their opportunity to become involved is detrimental to both them and the feminist movement at large.

Karla Jay speaking about the Lavender Menace

-Caitlyn Smallwood



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