Further thoughts on the pink pussycaps

My feed has been inundated with a conversation that splits along the usual fault lines between a feminism that hasn’t aged particularly well, and the flawed-but-sincere attempts to investigate the finer points of intersectionality and inclusive 3rd wave feminism. The flash point for this flame war was the Women’s March on Washington and specifically the pink pussycaps.

Consider much of the “you” to be a “Royal You.” I’m not necessarily accusing you, the reader, unless you identify the habits I describe in yourself.

Par for the course, trans women and black women are being blamed for being “divisive.”

“Will the Women’s March on Washington be a space filled primarily with participants who believe that black lives matter?” wondered Lemieux. “I’m not sure.”

“When women of color speak out of the anger that laces so many of our contacts with white women, we are often told that we are ‘creating a mood of hopelessness,’ ‘preventing white women from getting past guilt,’ or ‘standing in the way of trusting communication and action,'” Lorde said.

In order to make any true progress, Lorde maintained that women must agree in some measure to abandon these illusions of unity. Acknowledging women’s differences, accepting criticism and embracing each other’s anger will only make the feminist movement stronger.

“The angers between women will not kill us if we can articulate them with precision, if we listen to the content of what is said with at least as much intensity as we defend ourselves against the manner of saying,” Lorde said.

My Googlefu has failed me, but I’ve sought for a sign that says “I’ll see you nice ladies at the next Black Lives Matter protest, right?” to illustrate the complaint.

[Edit Jan 25, 2017: Found it.]


And the typical viciousness greeted by any trans woman who ponders on the capacity of genital icons in a movement that is supposed to be expanding womanhood is nothing new, either. At this point, most trans feminists expect, and are told to expect, to hold our tongue at cis feminist rallies (incidentally, we also get this treatment at “LGBT” rallies, the common theme being that we are told to wait our turn by so-called progressives).

Katelyn Burns, a trans woman writing for The Establishment, told of her initial reservations about the pussycaps but later iterated that her relationship to them was more complex. Sophie Labelle, author of the above comic, likewise pointed out that her character was wearing a pussycap, but still felt conflicted about the imagery. And merely for expressing reservations about yet another chapter in feminism’s long history of bungling intersectionality, most of the people dissenting have been positively bombarded with little evidence of good faith from TERFs, gendercrits, cis feminists and white feminists. The criticism linked here is the conflation between one’s reproductive reality and one’s gender identity, not about organizing around reproductive oppression itself.

Let’s consider that none of these thoughts are mutually exclusive and are simultaneously believed by me:

The pussycaps are an effective, iconic, and clever response to Trump’s remarks on sexual assault. “The Tape,” you know the one, that disclosed Trump views women as little more than property for him to use, directly referenced his actions with the word “pussy,” the visual pun translating into cat ears for a bright pink toque (hat, for you yanks). As a direct response to Trump, it has all the ingredients of an excellent meme: An implied pun, visually memorable and distinct, and comes with the additional advantage that the protests couldn’t be propped up by Trump’s propaganda team to falsely claim they were attending his inauguration–the hot pink gives it away.

Trump wasn’t thinking about trans women when he admitted his proclivities for serial sexual assault. Thus, to then make this the rallying cry of your protest is to continue “not thinking” about trans women. I think this is indisputable. The pussyhat painted itself into a corner on the concern of trans-inclusion. However, that the pussyhat imagery did not consider trans women is separate from whether or not the protest should have. On this point I am describing what occurred with the invocation of the pussyhats, not prescribing what I think would be a better way to protest. That comes later.

No, there is nothing transphobic about organizing at least some of your feminism around reproductive oppression. I haven’t actually seen any trans women saying this, but I’ve TERFs on a Reddit thread saying trans women say this, without a citation for me to follow along (CN for that link, it’s a “gendercrit” forum).

When trans women express reservations about genital imagery at a general protest, that is not the same thing as expressing reservations about pro-choice advocacy. No one in my estimate can claim to have an internally consistent ethos that supports pro-choice but not the right of trans folk to transition on our terms or vice versa. Both are rooted in the fundamental belief of bodily autonomy, both are antagonized by a patriarchal Father Knows Best medical and legal system, and both are typically antagonized by the same forces in legislatures around the world. “Pro-choice” and “trans” are extremely compatible feminisms.

Consider this: If any trans person lives in a jurisdiction that requires bottom surgery to have their ID updated, that is a legal system that mandates their sterilization to acknowledge their existence. There is absolutely no reason to conceptualize reproductive rights as not being a trans person’s conversation–and that is a specific criticism I am willing to claim, not the strawmen propped up by the aforementioned gendercrits on that Reddit. If the conversation is about legislation running unnecessary interference with our bodily autonomy, trans people absolutely need to be at the table, because any assigned-female individual is affected by restrictions to abortion even if they’re transmasculine, and many trans folk are often expected to be sterilized to get accurate ID.

I hold what many see as an extreme pro-choice position* and have argued to religious pro-lifers with a straight face that even if we accepted the personhood premise, a pregnant person nonetheless reserves the right to self defence and may apply force to preserve their health and wellbeing. I feel like I’ve earned my pro-choice spurs, here, being screamed at and spit at by religious fanatics calling me a baby murderer. I don’t much appreciate being told that the pro-choice lobby will take my money, my safety, and my volunteer hours only to characterize me as dramatic for expecting the same momentum to support my autonomy when it’s threatened by, say, a bathroom bill.

Trust me, when I criticize pro-choice cis feminism, it ain’t because I don’t believe in the bodily autonomy of folks who can get pregnant. I do not deny that one of the ways women can be oppressed is by legislating what they can or can’t do with their pregnancies (another strawman propped in the aforementioned Reddit thread is characterizing critics of cis feminism as “denying reproductive oppression”). Organizing around these legislative activities is vital.

It does not mean reproductive oppression only affects cis women, and no, I’m not talking about obligatory child support from cis men. It’s not like cis women have anything to lose when they acknowledge that trans men can get pregnant or that many trans folk regardless of identity are required to be sterilized before they can have their ID updated. As I said earlier, if rapists aren’t thinking about trans women and that is how you organize your response, you are simply continuing to “not think” about trans women.

Examples of pro-choice commentary that succeeds in addressing my criticism:

“Get your rosaries off my ovaries.”

“My body, my choice.”

“If I want the government/church in my body I’d fuck a Senator/Priest.”

The counter-point is that legislators aren’t thinking of trans men/people when they legislate against abortion. My response to that has already been said: The targets may be cis women, but trans people are still collateral damage. Sure, you can choose not to acknowledge that damage, but I challenge you to own up to it and at least admit you don’t care. That way you won’t be taking hours and money from pro-choice trans volunteers because we know in advance you’ll turn around and fuck off the moment we ask for help in return (another CN for TERFy abuse concerning that link).

Yes, racial justice advocates have damn well earned their right to be salty. “I’ll see you nice ladies at the next BLM?” was a powerful statement that illustrated something: Law enforcement policy started by Republicans and not-repealed by Democrats has been a repeated demonstration of anti-democratic principles. The USA has always been a police state to people of colour and it’s been worse since Nixon. If you’re only now concerned because the Trump administration is signalling that it’ll be less picky about who it brutalizes, then women of colour have a damn good point to make: Where the fuck have y’all been?

Water Protectors have had their limbs blown off by “stun” grenades and shot with water in freezing temperatures. They’ve had medics blocked from accessing their camps. They’ve been pepper sprayed and attacked by dogs. And now there’s a fucking missile launcher parked on top of a hill at Standing Rock. No big deal, apparently.

BLM orchestrated hundreds of peaceful marches and were met with rubber bullets, tear gas, police brutality, trumped up charges and kangaroo courts. Then they were constantly demonized in the media, as though expecting murderers in uniform to be accountable is an outrageous demand.

Black people have been charged with drug-related conspiracy crimes, many of which come with life sentences, for having the audacity to exist within 50 meters of a drug deal. There are literally women in prison for life, right now, convicted for existing in the proximity of drug crime.

Immigration Customs & Enforcement has been detaining immigrants in centres so crowded they violate human rights standards, deporting LGBT refugees to countries that will execute them because they haven’t dotted their i’s and crossed their t’s on labyrinthine paperwork. And don’t get me started on how a trans person is supposed to do this when their documents from their country can’t be updated because they don’t acknowledge we exist.

And y’all only waking up after it happens to white people? Now that you’ve finally clued in to the existence of a police state because it’s finally willing to do to white people what they’ve been doing to PoCs since Nixon, are you going to put your momentum behind Standing Rock and Black Lives Matter? Or can racial justice advocates expect more “I’m not racist, buts”?

We’re glad so many of you finally woke up, but we’re still pretty annoyed this is what it took, and we anticipate many of y’all will go right back to sleep. If you’re serious about this, though, you’re going to have to show some real effort in admitting past mistakes and committing to change. And part of that is figuring out the clusterfuck of wrong that is high-fiving the cops that were days prior brutalizing the shit out of black bodies.

In conclusion, the protest made more than one point, some of which were defensible and some of which were not. None of what I’ve argued here is mutually exclusive. I can support the intention of the protest to reappropriate Trump’s misogynistic violence and to make an expression that this is unacceptable. I can support the momentum of progressives putting their weight against further attempts at reproductive oppression. I can even acknowledge that trans people are mostly unintended victims as opposed to deliberate ones of abortion legislation. But I can also express concern that these fights are not new and that plenty of causes unified under the same ethos have been unfairly demonized, even by so-called progressives, simply because they demand accurate frameworks to analyze and respond to oppression.

And I can certainly resent the tendency of the citation-free, black-or-white thinking that seems to be ubiquitous in bludgeoning trans and black feminists throughout this conversation, particularly in the ones I’ve linked.

So, Washington marchers, can we expect you at Standing Rock, the next BLM, or the next bathroom bill protest, or not?


(Reiterating criticism policy here: Because this post is likely to attract the same bad faith commentators I’ve been reading everywhere, I expect knowledge claims to be supported by a citation where possible, and you must be specific as to who and what you are responding to. No “trans feminists say.” Who says it? Name them, link them.)


*My position is “at any time, for any reason, accessible in both urban and rural, free from harassment and undue hardship, private, confidential, and included as part of a State socialized medicine system.” This is, incidentally, my position on trans-related healthcare too. Go figure.



  1. says

    And y’all only waking up after it happens to white people?

    Ouch. Yep. Looks like that’s what’s going on.

    People respond when their self-interest is attacked, within a fairly limited circle of self-interest (it would seem). That’s why it’s good to build connections across communities of interest: ultimately there are forces like trumpism or other fascisms that are a threat to multiple communities simultaneously. That’s the only way of not falling into the trap Martin Niemoller describes “first they came for the…”

    I learn a lot from these postings of yours, I really appreciate them.