Fourth Wave: Part One

“If feminism is the radical idea that women are people, then trans-feminism is the radical idea that women come in different containers”

I mentioned in my links yesterday a somewhat disposable exchange that occurred on the Ms. Magazine blog regarding the “conundrum” of how trans-feminism is to fit into the future of feminism. While in and of itself, this exchange isn’t particularly interesting, and is rather just yet another iteration of the increasingly tired (in a “oh come on are we really still asking this? This should not be any kind of deal” kind of way) validation of feminism’s cis-supremacist fringe, I find that there’s one little beautiful and highly radical question hiding in there beneath the vapidity. One that is likely just an accident on the original author’s part but that nonetheless coalesces several threads of thought that have been tangled up in my brain these past couple months. Coalesces into something rather important to ask:

Perhaps the future of feminism is trans-feminism?

Since its inception, one of the principle driving concepts underlying feminism has been that biology is not destiny, that the gender roles associated with women (and men) are not indispensable, “natural” or inherent, and that we cannot (must not) create prescriptive social structures on the basis of those arbitrarily defined roles and their association with certain biologies. That we must not prescribe what a life is to entail on the basis of the gender that life happens to inhabit. It’s the inevitable, and necessary, progression of these concepts that the genders themselves must not be prescribed. If biology really isn’t destiny, we mustn’t limit that question of destiny to roles and social positions, but extend it to biology itself. Biology isn’t social destiny, but biology isn’t biological destiny either. If we’re to truly confront and destabilize gender’s capacity to operate as a determinant, prescriptive force, we need to embrace those who refuse to allow gender to determine or prescribe gender. We need to embrace the possibilities of gender fluidity, transience, transgression, variance and rejection, else we’ve mired ourselves in hypocritical half-measures. Else we’re posing the image of claiming our gender-assignment does not define us, but still unwilling to take the plunge into full self-determination.

Insofar as feminism is to be able to progress forward at all, it must be able to address things like differing morphologies, differing narratives, differing paths to womanhood (or from it), differing socializations, differing axes of gender-based oppression, etc. Third-Wave Feminism has generally been doing a good job of moving forward with this, through confronting intersectionality along lines of race, poverty, sexual orientation, disability, body type, neurotypicality, and other qualifying aspects of experience and identity (as defined by existing hierarchies), obvious or otherwise. But despite the pressingly obvious manner in which transgenderism intersects with gender-based oppression, and embodies many desperately important questions (and goals!) of feminism, there is repeated reluctance, controversy, push-back, anger, exclusion, erasure, pathologization, ridicule and all other means of forcing silence when it’s posed as a similar qualifier. It remains a “conundrum” even after decades of trans people fighting side by side with feminists and queer rights activists. As much as we’ve fought for them, and our own demands and actions have so often prefigured their victories, we continue to sit in the waiting room, perpetually hoping for them to “get around” to trans rights, to “figure out” what we mean to them (never, of course, being asked what we mean to us). We’re still an unsettled, and unsettling, question.

I have my own conundrum:


It seems to me that the reason this particular issue of intersection, of corresponding and mitigating oppression, remains something feminism is reluctant to address is because it ends up challenging some of the ideological foundations on which much of feminism has been built. While acknowledging other intersectionalities demands that one not continue framing feminism through the needs and perspectives of middle-class, white, heterosexual women, it does not threaten the fundamental cis-privileged perspective that drove so much of the movement: that we live in a world defined by a binary male/female Hegelian dialectic, with a “master” oppressor (men) and a ‘slave” victim (women). A conflict that, like that supposed between the proletariat and the bourgeois, must someday be resolved.

Just as the Marxist tendency to frame all social dynamics and “ills” as stemming from a singular binary conflict was, in retrospect, a blatant oversimplification that of course led to disaster when used as the theoretical basis for a utopian social engineering project, this boys vs. girls idea of how the social dynamics of gender, sex and sexuality operate is similarly myopic, and similarly (to inevitable disaster) seeks to ignore all the variables that complicate and threaten the assumption on which it is based. Just like Stalin began projects of “Marxist science”, science based on good Marxist principles, unlike the nasty actual science being conducted under his government that suggested ways the world operates in ways more complicated than the black/white ideology he was certain would lead to a wondrous future, many branches of feminism have arrived at the point where they’d rather reject those facts and new ideas that threaten their ideological principles even if it comes at the expense of being a movement that has any claim to the term “progressive”, or any claim of speaking to the realities of gender and gender-based oppression. Transgender and intersex human beings are a fact that cannot (and will not) be theorized away. In walling us and our implications out of your movement, you’re really only walling yourselves into irrelevance. Your Marxist genetics won’t yield better crops.

But in as much as feminism has had a right to describe itself as progressive, that progress was always ultimately in the name of self-annihilation. The most reasonable and also the most powerfully radical ambition of feminism was to eventually bring about the circumstances that would undo its own necessity… or at least create the circumstances where a new movement, a new revolution, a new turning of the wheel, would be necessitated instead. When feminists begin to selfishly cling to and reinforce the concepts that made feminism a necessary response, they have become quintessentially anti-feminist: a force for gender’s status quo. Maintenance of old ideas, old hierarchies, old conflicts, old oppressions. And this does NOT merely harm the principle “threats” to those ideas and the status quo that necessitates them, like trans people. It harms everyone who is currently holding the short end of the gender stick …which is almost all of us.

Frankly, the trans-exclusionist, anti-sex-worker, so-called radical feminists are precisely the opposite of radical. They are stodgily clinging to a dying era …and more so one that very much needs to die.

To recap the word salad: positively addressing trans-feminism is essential to feminism continuing to move forward. If feminism ceases to move forward, it starts becoming part of the problem instead of part of the solution.

If existing branches of feminism will not move forward with us, it is time to accept we need to leave them behind. If feminism itself, as it currently exists, also continues to look backwards, continues to fail to move past the “conundrum” of trans-feminism, continues to treat it as a “controversy” rather than a natural, inevitable extension of the ideas that biology is not destiny and we can be more than the social expectations coercively placed upon us in accordance with our gender assignment, then it is time to move forward without it too.

I’m tired of waiting for the rest of feminism to catch up.

This is not the first time a fundamental break was needed within feminism. First wave addressed the basic principle of women being directly politically disenfranchised, and made the initial declaration that women are also citizens, human beings, deserving of basic rights, but it generally failed to examine what exactly being a woman meant, or what was expected of women, or the numerous and more subtle ways in which women’s access to power and social participation was limited. Second wave pushed forward, and began to ask the harder questions that first wave did not. It began to examine how basic human rights and citizenship were not sufficient, but we also needed to address the cultural understanding of gender and how women are colonized by patriarchy to such an extent that their vote may ultimately not even be their own vote, or only a vote for which man would continue to ignore the needs, desires and ambitions of women. But second wave was still hobbled by its failure to look beyond the needs, desires and ambitions of those women who were positioned with no accompanying social disadvantages, and failed to fully consider patriarchy and misogyny in relation to other forms of oppression and discrimination. Despite the best efforts of numerous women of colour and queer women active within feminism during the time (just as there are active trans-feminists now), the movement as a whole was largely limited in scope to the plight of the middle-class white housewife. It also engaged in numerous forms of gender essentialism that simply enabled new means of keeping women, and men, in “their place”… like how the “women’s intuition” concept was tacitly suggesting women lacked the full capacity for reason that men had. Third wave began to much more directly address intersectionality, and also began to expand the concept of patriarchy from direct, deliberate disenfranchisement of women but instead to an emergent system based on largely unconscious assumptions and biases about gender. Furthermore, it made the crucial step of examining gender-binarism and essentialism, and the ways that these assumptions and biases about gender cut both ways, and harm men as well as women.

In each instance, the breaks were defined by an essential and necessary step forward that previous generations of feminists had been reluctant to take. We are now again presented with exactly that kind of necessary step.

I have no illusions that the suggestion of trans-feminism stepping forward as the inevitable 4th wave of feminism is going to make a lot of people very angry, and many more very uncomfortable. I can already hear the assertions that this would be wholesale “appropriation” of feminism by “men” who are no longer content to merely “invade”; or for those less overtly transphobic feminists, “people who identify or were socialized as male”. But the idea that this would in any way be an “appropriation”, or that feminism somehow exclusively belongs to cisgender women, belies exactly the problematic, archaic assumptions about gender, gender-based oppression and feminism that most need to be questioned and challenged. This will piss a lot of people off, and raise a lot of hard questions, but those are the people who most need to be pissed off (with the hope that they’ll get around to asking themselves why they’re angry), and the hard questions that most need to be asked.

Addressing these kinds of difficult, complex, uncomfortable questions is hard. But becoming obsolete is worse.

I’m a big fan of the quote with which I began this post. But there’s a subtle, important change I’d like to make that I feel gets to one of the finer points of what trans-feminism can, and perhaps should, be:

If feminism is the radical idea that women are people, trans-feminism is the radical idea that people come in different containers.


  1. Sebor says

    Excellent post. As a transhumanist, the idea that biology is not destiny seems natural to me (I see what I did there).

    Gender, class, race and ultimately even species may represent boundaries of the technology presently available and the structure of our society, but they are not ethical boundaries.
    The only binding principle of ethics that I’m willing to accept is the idea of personhood, and historically emancipation has been linked to an expanding definition of personhood that would encompass more and more people and respect their right of ownership of their own selves.
    It looks like progress so far, but there’s still a lot of progress to be made.

    • says

      In fact I would have thought that transhumanists would be some of the most trans-friendly people out there. A combination of lacking theistic prejudices (the vast majority of transhumanists are atheists) and an unwillingness to assign moral value to a person’s “natural” state would make for a trans-friendly attitude.

      • Sebor says

        I usually read “natural” as “needs work” or “could use improvement”.
        I guess its possible to look at transition from a human enhancement perspective. After all transitioners are modifying their body’s configuration and neurochemistry to match their own expectations, if that doesn’t constitute improvement I don’t know what does.
        Sadly though, there’s no system of thought that instantly makes one immune to the cissexism and misogyny of society in general, so (trans-)feminism is still necessary within transhumanism.

      • Paul says

        I am an agender transhumanist. I obviously cannot speak for the “community” but I would like to raise my own hand as a trans-friendly transhumanist. It makes no sense whatsoever in a transhumanist frame of mind to maintain antiquated ideas of biological predestination.

  2. Anders says

    It’s a quest to find ever more subtle or obscure area of oppression. Obscure, that is, to the people of the last wave. Which makes me wonder what other marginalized groups there are out there. Is substance abuse a feminist issue? Homelessness?

    I would probably say this – feminism is maybe a method first and foremost. There are many areas where it is beneficial to view the problems through a feminist lens. Or maybe a color filter is better, because you can add several filters together – feminism, transactivism, equal rights for various ethnic groups, etc. Each filter removes part of the picture, but that might bring new things into focus.

    And of course it’s not like anyone watches the world devoid of filters.

    • genuinely curious says

      It seems very odd to me that you consider viewing though trans-activist and feminist etc lenses as ‘filters’ that ‘take away some of the picture’

      I think you’ve got a very bad metaphor at hand- surely looking at life though eyes other than your own *adds* something to the picture- as opposed to taking somethign away?

      It seems very arrogant and solophistic to say otherwise.

      Just sayin

      • Anders says

        Society has a very large, largely unconscious apparatus to make certain people invisible. It can be done with whips or words but the end results are the same. By making that apparatus temporarily new things that were concealed.

        To peek behind the curtain you must first remove it.

        • genuinely curious says

          I don’t know if it’s my post-lunch stupor kicking in or what but I’m finding it *really* *really* hard to understand what you’re saying.

          “By making that apparatus temporarily new things that were concealed.” in particular really confuses me.

          What I took exception to was you saying “Each filter removes part of the picture, but that might bring new things into focus.”

          which comes across to me like you’re saying “looking at things though different points of view (other than the majority one) removes information from the scene”

          Which I found odd- as I would have thought that looking at things through a different point of view should add information to the scene- illuminate you.

          We want to be *taking filters away* not adding any- which as I understood it, was what feminism was about?

          Did I come across wrong? honestly I’m really kinda confused

          • Anders says

            No. I left out a part. “By making part of that apparatus invisible…” Or transparent if you prefer that.

            The idea is that we shield ourselves from the less-than-pleasant parts of our society and that we need to remove that shield. But I’ll agree that it wasn’t a very good metaphor. I’ll try to think of something else.

        • says

          huh; maybe I’m weird, but that totally made sense to me. it’s like the test-circles for red-green colorblindness: colorblind people don’t see the “obvious” solution (numbers made of red dots amid green dots), but as a result they can see the other, subtler solution (another number, but this time made of differences in value).

          so: you filter out the obvious, “old” problems so that you can see past them to the subtler, less obvious problems.

    • sisu says

      I think that you’re missing the point… as Natalie says, there are a lot of different filters in place in the way we generally see the world. Sexist, cissexist, racist, etc. The point of the different movements is to point out those filters – privileges, if you will – so we can work to see the world more clearly. Kind of how white people will sometimes say “I don’t see race,” or (as Natalie has written) cis people can say “I don’t really see gender, people are just people!” There’s a whole lot of privilege tied up in being able to make those kind of statements.

      • genuinely curious says

        “The point of the different movements is to point out those filters – privileges, if you will – so we can work to see the world more clearly.”

        That’s exactly what I mean- sorry I must not be communicating very well today- mondayitis.

        My point was (and now that I look at it. it’s more like pedantry) that feminism is a move to strip away this privelidge- and to see it described as a “filter” that “takes something away” (from what I presumed was meant ‘takes something away from the male-white-straight-cis worldview’) seemed kinda galling.

        As pointed out feminism is (ideally) about *removing* the filters NOT *adding new ones in* and I think I read too much out from what Anders said and took it a bit too strongly I think.


        • karmakin says

          I understood what Anders was trying to say, and it’s pretty much the same thing. You use filters to remove things that are oversaturated (I.E. privileged positions) so you can see the remaining things more clearly.

          It’s really a bad analogy because it IS too technical and not easily graspable.

  3. Anders says

    To what extent do you think a movement like this sets the agenda, and to what extent is it an expression of an agenda that has been set (unconsciously) by the public? To put it in large words – are we the makers of our fate or are we slaves to it?

    • says

      Answering that second question in full would be wandering down the rabbit hole of a philosophical discussion that’s been on-going for centuries. However, I have sufficient self-confidence to assert that the answer is “neither”. There is something important, even crucially so, in recognizing the gaps and interactions between personal power and environmental influence, but neither is an absolute.

  4. says

    “I’m tired of waiting for the rest of feminism to catch up.”
    This FOREVER.
    I have two guiding principles in my own feminisms and humanisms:
    1. Nobody is free from systematic oppression until everyone is free.
    2. Nothing about us without us (or about them without them).
    In practice this means that we cannot have an elite few decide that equality has been achieved on behalf of everyone else. We must have everyone involved for the benefit of all. And in some cases, that means I get my own white-colored abled tush out of the way so that others can be heard.

  5. says

    Well maybe this is a good time to ask if anyone thinks calling myself a trans feminist is misleading, given that I’m cis.

    This is an interesting post. I do think the future of feminism must involve a better understanding of gender and biology. Also because of people like you, I think we should acknowledge trans women as on the front line, in terms of who really /needs/ to fight for feminism.

    But for some reason it is sounding to me as if this suggested fourth wave would be likely to neglect the still desperately needed tools of intersectionality. Or also, I can imagine coming to a point where society says “fine, pick whatever gender you want, we’ll acknowledge it and then we’ll discriminate against you because of it.” Like an exaggerated version of the thinking that women who dress prettily are less deserving of respect than women who dress plain.

    I need to think further, because I think I am wrong about this, bit would like a better understanding of how such a fourth wave would or would not incorporate third-wave stuff.

    • karmakin says

      It’s a matter of standing on the shoulders of giants, more or less. It would be 3rd-wave plus, not something completely separate on its own.

      • karmakin says

        I should say as well, at least my feeling is that the big difference between the various waves, is the same difference that causes a lot of the problems with Feminism that Natalie talks about. I think it’s just a different flavor of overt exclusive identity politics, which I think is something that tends to result in the claiming of privilege, as opposed to a systematic based intersectional approach.

        One of the big differences I see in the evolution of feminism is moving away from that. As such, I see such a thing as 4th-wave feminism being a continuation and an amplification of these trends.

      • says

        Right. Just like 2nd wave didn’t reject the rights of women to vote, and 3rd wave didn’t reject the necessity of critiquing cultural attitudes towards women, we don’t need to reject those elements of 3rd wave that are and will continue to be useful. We only need reject those aspects that refuse to move forward.

    • Anders says

      My take: A cis person can be trans-feminist in exactly the same way a man can be a feminist. It’s not where you come from, it’s where you want to go that’s important.

      And just as men lose from the patriarchy (although not to the degree that women do) so cis people lose from the cisarchy (is that the word?). We lose wonderful, talented people who could have enriched our lives. And we lose the ability to question and move outside of our gender roles for fear of being misunderstood.

      Something like that.

      • Anders says

        There’s also something over and above what we lose… whenever someone thinks they can take away the rights of a group or a single individual that is a deadly threat to the rights of everybody else. Fighting for other peoples’ rights is a deeply egoistical thing to do (I’m one of those strange people who believe that a rational egoism is a perfectly legitimate way to behave).

      • says

        Oh definitely, Anders. Not only do I hate cisnormativity working against others, I also want “freedom of gender” for me and everyone. I’m cisgender enough, but most people don’t read my gender presentation right; also I hate norms. In most contexts where the distinction between masculine and feminine is even more marked than usual (e.g. many formal-dress occasions), I become uncomfortable and may dress or do things to exempt myself.

        Thanks Karmakin and Natalie, those are great responses.

    • Sas says

      I admit that I am so used to “trans” being an adjective for people rather than philosophies that I usually read “trans feminist” as “feminist trans person” rather than “person that supports trans feminism”.

      • says


        On the question of whether a cis person can call themselves a transfeminist, I’d be interested to hear the views of others, but my gut reaction is that it’s more important what you believe and what you do than what you label it. Labels are always imperfect, and we’ve probably all heard people label themselves as feminists before going on to express some incredibly anti-feminist views (feminism is a broad church, but there are limits…).

        That said, labels can be incredibly powerful. We’ve all heard people saying “I’m not a feminist but…” before expressing a point of view that is clearly feminist. Of course, the reason for denying the label is because it is seen as a dirty word, and that perception is very powerful and has real political consequences.

        I’m just thinking ‘aloud’ now and probably going a bit off topic, but I wonder to what extent the same kinds of issues arise with the term ‘transfeminist’.

  6. says

    Minor nitpick:

    a binary male/female Kantian dialectic, with a “master” oppressor (men) and a ‘slave” victim (women).

    I think you mean *Hegelian* dialectic — Hegel was the one who proposed the master-slave dialectic and was Marx’s mentor.

      • Sinead says

        Kant and Hegel argued from opposite sides of a dialectic. It’s been a while since I studied the “Critique of Pure Reason” but I believe Kant used thesis-antithesis-synthesis to uncover false epistemologies or that syntheses were illusory, whereas Hegel’s dialectic approached the dialectic to show that theses and antitheses were illusory and that syntheses were the only part that had a meaningful epistemological reality. So if I remember right, Hegelian dialecticalism doesn’t say that the master/slave relationship describes the world, but that that relationship is itself illusory.

        • Sinead says

          Also, I believe that Hegel’s dialectic also embraced a perpetual state where the inherent contradictions of theses and antitheses would continue, such that as every synthesis that derives from these create a new dialectic of thesis and antithesis.

          I’ve always thought about Hegel as speaking in terms of Matter and Anti-Matter with Energy as the resultant synthesis by analogy.

          Whereas, I’ve always thought of Kantian dialectic in terms of Thesis as Absolute Truth, such that all syntheses can be broken up to uncover the Absolute. Syntheses would be considered a posteriori knowledge, and theses were analytically valid theses.

        • says

          I hadn’t even known Kant *had* a dialetic … seems I will have to be more careful of the glass walls on this house when I’m tempted to go nitpicking other people.

  7. says

    My perspective of the evolution of social movements is that there are always some segment of people with more comprehensive views among them. Over time, the best informed group eventually manages to gain the key influence over the movement and shift it in a new direction. However, this is a slow moving process that typically takes decades (if not generations). The rate of change may have improved somewhat now, with far better communications technology than we used to have, but it’s still an uphill struggle to convince or at least neutralize those who stand in the way of a more perfect union.

    Perhaps the key difference between progress and stagnation is in finding the most effective spokespeople for the cause. If all the leaders in the feminist movement had the same eloquence and understanding as Natalie, I have no doubt that we’d be proceeding at a much faster pace than we are.

  8. Anders says

    What about the area between cis and trans? Who live there? Is there any special reason to believe gender identity is any more binary than sexual orientation?

    • Emily says

      Considering that the definition of cisgendered is “not transgendered” I’d say it’s a true dichotomy.

      • says

        Especially given that the term “transgender” basically encompasses ALL iterations of gender that aren’t cis and concomitant with cultural expectations. As much as cis means “not trans”, trans kind of just means “not cis” too.

    • says

      In my experience, when I hear someone saying “I’m neither trans nor cis” it’s usually a cis person trying to deny their cis privilege, tbqh.

      • says

        Yes. But I also hear it from people who don’t feel “trans enough”. It pops up in multiple settings, some of them from privilege, some of them from the woeful inadequacies of a binary system.

  9. cami says

    Hi Natalie. Yes I agree that the category trans is generally understood to include gender variant individuals of all stripes but most of the trans feminist writing that I have seen usually reinforces the binary system of gender classification. Even the most broad definitions of man and woman will still leave some people (genderqueer, bi gender, gender fluid, etc..) out of the picture. Unfortunately, there is a tendancy for binary trans folks to either overlook non-binary trans folks or, even worse, to include them using some condescending label such as ‘other’. Another tendancy I’ve been noticing a lot lately is people building conceptual models that revolve around a cis/trans binary. The later tendancy I tend to rather enjoy. Many things, for example #iftranstalkedlikecis, really resonate with me but I recognize that many of my genderqueer friends would find these same things sophomoric at best but more likely offensive. How do we create a trans feminist model that includes people who do not identify within the binary system of gender classsification?

  10. Brony says

    There is a major theme in this post that has been driving my own personal quest to figure myself out the last nine months. It’s gotten to the point that I am outlining a book that I want to write just to get to the real subject. I’m at least in the neurotypical camp and just finding out that what I have is not completely detrimental has made me obsessed with discovering the rest.

    About four years ago I was trying to get through graduate school and really struggling with it. Eventually I saw a neurologist and I found out that I still had my childhood ADHD, and I also had Tourette Syndrome. I have always been really twitchy but I just never thought that it was Tourettes because of the Hollywood stereotype. Long story short, it’s a bad economy and research science is too cutthroat for someone less efficient at the job so I had to leave.

    Fast forward to nine months ago and I finally started reading lots of papers on ADHD and TS and I was astounded. TS is also associated with cognitive enhancements! I never thought of the success that I had up until graduate school as being related to anything other than studying hard. Now I’m reading about people with TS who are athletes and more. This guy blows my mind,

    Dr. Johnson was an 18th Century English author who had TS and is credited with writing what is thought to be the greatest solo achievement in authorship, the 1755 “A Dictionary of the English Language”.

    Why is it considered such an achievement? He wrote in 9 years what took 40 contemporaries 40 years to write! The same “problem” I was born with gave this guy a powerful conceptual command of English that has had an unknowably enormous impact on our culture.

    Now I’m obsessed enough about nature and nurture that I’m actually doing the basic research necessary to try to write a comprehensive overview of the evolution and natural history of the human brain suitable for general public consumption. The only reason I want to do that is because I really want to explore the whole “Hunter vs. Farmer” hypothesis of human society and ADHD and I can’t so that without a god general understanding of the human brain.

    What else don’t we know about other human “syndromes” or “disorders”? What could we accomplish if we could all define our nature in terms of accurate possibilities so that we can finally do nurture “right” as a society?

    What I really want to do is get the research done to remove all of those fucking scarequotes!!!

  11. Erista (aka Eris) says

    I fully intend to read this fully when my eyes are less burning (oh, onions, the hurt you inflict upon me!), but for now, all I can say is, “Whaaa, I wail at # wave feminism, for I do not understand what the various waves are even after reading Wikipedia!

    *sniffle sniffle*

  12. says

    This {gay marriage / atheism / transgender} stuff is oppressive and disruptive to my {traditional marriage / religious expression / feminism} and should therefore be {banned / outlawed / silenced forever.}


  13. says

    I has a question.

    This is probably going to sound really stupid, and I apologize in advance if I offend — it’s just been bugging me for a while.

    Once you’ve completed the transition from male to female (or vice versa), wouldn’t it make more sense to just drop the “trans” label, and just refer to yourself as your “new” gender? I.e., instead of “I’m a trans-woman”, just “I’m a woman”?

    Again, I apologize if this offends, my curiosity got the better of me.

    • says

      Personally, I’ve always been trans, and I’ve always been male. Neither one is ever going to change. My neurological sex is never going to change to be a different sex, and the historical fact that I was assigned the wrong sex at birth due to my outward appearance won’t change either.

      That said, the most important thing is to respect whatever terminology each person uses for themself.

      • says

        OK. It just seems to me that, by keeping the “trans” label, you’re deliberately segregating yourself from other men (or women).

        I’m probably wrong, though. (Nothing new there!)

        • says

          Why would that be true? Is a Jewish man who calls himself Jewish segregating himself from other men? Is a gay man who calls himself gay segregating himself from other men? Is a Republican man who calls himself Republican segregating himself from other men? These are not rhetorical questions, I’m really curious why “trans” somehow negates what follows it if “cis” doesn’t.

          • says

            Well, what I’m getting at is this.

            Post-transition, the “trans” prefix becomes irrelevant and obsolete, as your body now matches your internal sense of gender.

            So… why, then, would you keep a prefix that has become irrelevant, if not for the explicit purpose of segregating yourself from others of your chosen gender? It just seems counterproductive.

          • says

            Response to WMDKitty:

            Because there is nothing wrong with being trans in the first place. Your question has a built in assumption that cis is the ‘normal’ or at least ‘stable’ state. We challenge that assumption by living our lives as trans people til the day we die.

          • says

            WMDKitty: No, it’s certainly not irrelevant. One reason is political: it’s not within my power as an individual to change the fact that some people don’t recognize my gender as valid and never will, no matter what I do personally. That fact can translate into concrete harmful consequences for my life. So it benefits me to form alliances with other people who share my interests. Labels are useful for that. The other, more mundane reason is that I will always be a person who was born with a neurological sex that was on a different side from what some people would call my morphological sex at birth, and for me, anyway, that will have consequences that last forever, regardless of what medical interventions I do or don’t have.

          • says

            Savannah — I didn’t say there was anything “wrong” with being trans, because, honestly, there ISN’T. I’m not “assuming” anything, other than that a person who has transitioned now has a body that matches their preferred gender. I’m just saying that, post-transition, the prefix becomes irrelevant because the “building” now matches the “blueprints”, so to speak.

            Some women get there “naturally*”, having been born with all the right parts and hormones. Some women get there with hormones and surgery. Those in the latter group are no less female than I am — and, in my (admittedly limited) experience, far more feminine!

            So, yeah, I don’t get why you can’t just say, “I’m a woman. I used to have a male body, but I had that corrected.” You know, in the same matter-of-fact way you’d say, “I had toast for breakfast.”

            Okay. Whoa. I’m doing it again. I’m over-analyzing this (damn you OCD!) I am learning here, which is always of The Good.

            *I tried to find a better word to convey my meaning, however, the English language is often… imprecise and inadequate.

    • Sas says

      Well … I don’t call myself a trans woman except when my being trans is actually relevant to the discussion. Other than on blogs, videos, or sites specifically dedicated to trans issues or social justice issues, it really doesn’t come up that much.

      For someone who’s an activist or other public figure it can be important to let people know they’re trans because other trans people need role models and relatable public figures (and cis people benefit from seeing trans people who are out, as well).

      • says

        I was going to say roughly that but you beat me to it. 🙂

        The question is based on a false assumption that trans people always explicitly identify themselves as such. That’s not the case, and often times they go to a lot of trouble strictly to avoid doing in order to blend in.

        In the sense of advocacy or identity, though, I don’t see how you can get away from being trans anymore than you can get away from being cis. It’s fumbling with semantics to try to explain the situation with different words.

  14. says

    I have to say, reading this was really exciting for me Natalie. It touches on some ideas that have also been in my head lately (and as you suggested elsewhere I guess we might have touched on that in conversations on twitter).

    Monica and I were chatting last night and I remember one of the concepts that came up was the idea that some of the roots of feminism were so deeply transmisogynistic that merely acknowledging that and trying to move forward in a different mindset may not be sufficient; in other words, feminism may have no choice but to evolve into transfeminism* in order to have any chance of challenging its own past in a meaningful way.

    As a more general comment, there is a phrase that has occupied my mind a lot lately, which is that transfeminism is simply that which allows feminism to reach its full potential. I think what you’ve written here is a great explication of a similar concept. I particularly thought that the Marxist analogy was really insightful; in fact, in our seemingly endless war with the Brennanite radfems lately I’ve often thought about what life for women would be like with such people in power in the world. I honestly think that most cis women would be miserable. There would be all this social pressure to conform to a hypothetical “genderless” state… which is absolutely meaningless. In fact, whenever I hear this phrase “gender atheist” it makes me think of someone obsessed with achieving some utopian gender ideal that doesn’t exist and never will (the fact that the gender ideal in question claims to be “genderless” is irrelevant as it is completely devoid of meaning as far as I can discern).

    Of course, that says nothing how cis men would be treated in such a world, but I think we could imagine… as for us and our trans brothers… *shivers*

    In any case, I think you’ve given us a lot to think about. <3

    Regarding the quote: "If feminism is the radical idea that women are people, trans-feminism is the radical idea that people come in different containers." I agree with you on the change to 'people'… however, I admit I am slightly uncomfortable with the word 'container' as in my mind it is something plastic (i.e. inorganic). I wonder if we could find another word for this? 'different forms' or 'different configurations'… or something?

    *Personally, I haven't yet made up my mind on my mind on 'transfeminism' or 'trans-feminism' or using the space as Serano insists upon… I admit I don't totally agree with her argument, and I'm still thinking it over.

    • says

      At first I went with “…different packages”, but Patience said that she preferred the quote to be left in its original form if it was to be used, and that I preserve her usage of “containers”. So I switched it, out of respect for her and its origins.

      • says

        Yes, I think “packages” would be a really good modification.

        I admit that I do not understand why allowing modification to a concept like this would be a big deal when that might allow us to improve on each other’s work/ideas.

      • Julian Morrison says

        FWIW, “package” has an unfortunate informal meaning and that might be why “container” is better.

  15. Dr. Margaret Robinson says

    Great article.

    I am tired of anti-trans rhetoric that acts as if we already know everything about sexism and misogyny. Focussing only on how oppression impacts cis women (and often a small group of cis women at that) hasn’t been liberating for all cis women. As a bisexual and a third-waver, I’ve been on the end of that kind of anti-woman “feminist” discourse that insisted my experience was invalid or that my very being was somehow oppressing other women.

    If Audre Lorde was right that the masters tools won’t dismantle the master’s house, it boggles my mind when women resist the inclusion of any new tools. Rejecting new or silenced insights is never going to move us toward liberation. Thanks for talking about the fourth wave.

    • clairecramer says

      “Focussing only on how oppression impacts cis women (and often a small group of cis women at that) hasn’t been liberating for all cis women.”

      YES! (From another fed-up bisexual.)

  16. says

    I could not agree more; a fourth wave is definitely not only where feminism is headed but is where I feel it should be headed. There is no room for any discriminatory behaviours or ideologies in a movement founded upon the ideal of equality. The majority of transphobic commentary I hear from feminists is from those who identify as ‘radical’ (although thankfully not all radical feminists feel this way). I wrote this blog in February of this year after being mired in many an argument on this issue, I hope you find it interesting and applicable:

  17. Jules says

    I gave a speech at the Alabama We Are Women rally this weekend that was specifically about including transgendered people in our consciousness regarding feminism, and I was directed to this post (I frequently read your blog, but I hadn’t seen this one). It was an invaluable resource. I am not a transwoman, and I was a bit hesitant to tackle a subject I’m not personally familiar with, but I wanted this message to get out and I was pretty sure no one else was going to address it. Having your amazing insight and amazing words to draw from made a huge difference.

    The talk was very well received, and I quoted from your directly, so maybe a few new readers will be coming your way soon.

    In a fun bit of serendipity, from the carpool pool I ended up driving down with a man who has a local GLBTQ advocacy group (it’s a nearly 4 hour drive one way, so we had a LOT of time to talk). It was exciting to see how intersectionality is gaining more prominence even in such a backwards place as Alabama.

    Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for raising my awareness, and I wanted you to know that many people are happy to take the message of Fourth Wave Feminism to heart. They just need to hear it.


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