Women’s History Month: Why is there a rift between the feminist and trans movements?


I like to think that as I’ve grown and had more life experience I’ve also gotten smarter. Perhaps that’s debatable. I do know I’ve changed my mind on many issues, and I do sincerely believe those changes have been positive.

Growing up in the church, I was taught that homosexuality was an abomination and all homosexuals were sinners who were inherently unfit in the eyes of the Lord. I was steadfast in this belief. To the point that when I went to college and met a good friend who happened to be gay, I outright told him, “I really don’t agree with your lifestyle. I think it’s not right. I think it’s sinful. But that’s between you and your God. My disagreement with your lifestyle doesn’t mean we can’t still be friends. I can hate the sin without hating the sinner.”

Years later, I apologized to my friend for saying this ridiculous crap to him. I also thanked him for being patient enough to still engage me in friendship.  I guess he too could “hate the sin without hating the sinner.”

I remember talking to this same friend on the phone and him sharing the details of a breathless affair he’d had with a problematic lover.

Wait. Let me go back.

When I met my friend “Terry,” I believed him to be a gay man. Terry was not a gay man. Terry felt like a woman trapped in a man’s body. Terry was not attracted to homosexual men. Terry like straight men who liked women. Like every other young adult who experiences self-realization, it took Terry a while to  confidently arrive at this assessment of herself. Admittedly, it was quite confusing to speak with what I presumed to be a gay man who often referred to himself in the third person as a woman. I still had a lot of my religious-based biases but I eventually realized that Terry was simply speaking her truth and I needed to respect that.

Now going back to that fateful conversation on the affair with the problematic lover…

Terry’s love interest was a closeted bisexual seeking a down-low gay partner while Terry was a trans woman who wanted a cis-gender male partner but only found willing “relationships” with closeted men.  Obviously, it was a recipe for heartbreak. Neither was free to be who they were and the compromises they made and demanded of each other for some semblance of happiness were pretty ridiculous.

I listened attentively to Terry’s story knowing that I had no practical advice to give and feeling very badly that I couldn’t offer any aid in that way. Yes, we were both young and Black and passionate about making the world a better place, but I’d be lying if I said that I fully understood the breadth and depth of Terry’s experience—and she’d be lying if she said the same about me. The best thing I could do was listen and be empathetic. Pain, and the hurt it causes, is universal.

But then I thought about HIV/AIDS…

So I said, “Look, I’m not sure what you should do in this situation, but I just hope that as long as you’re sexually active that you’re properly protecting yourself because HIV/AIDS has not gone away.”

Terry did not appreciate my two cents. She said, “Why TF would you say something like that to me? That’s highly disrespectful. I hear that ‘gay disease’ BS all the time. I really didn’t think I would hear that stuff from you.”

Terry was right. I should have put myself in her shoes and realized the kind of preaching she’d likely heard about HIV/AIDS. I was conscious of the ignorant talk that deemed HIV/AIDS a “gay disease” as if it didn’t affect heterosexuals—as if it were punishment for “deviant” sexual behavior. I should have also had some kind of idea that writing off Terry as simply being “gay” was also problematic. Neither gender identity nor gender assignment denotes sexual preference.  But I really wasn’t thinking of that. In my mind, I was purely approaching the topic from the stance of a friend who did know the facts about risky behavior and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

I recall saying something to the effect, “Now you hold TF up, Terry. I just had this very same conversation with my friend Ashley. And guess what? She’s a hetero blond, hazel-eyed white girl. I told her just like I told you: HIV/AIDS doesn’t care what’s between your legs or who you’re screwing. If you’re not properly protecting yourself, it will hop on your ass and kill you just the same.  I love you and I care about you being healthy. So, I don’t give a damn who you are. If you want to share your sex-capade stories with me, I’m going to ask if you’re protecting yourself because I don’t want to see you needlessly infected. I’ve had both a cousin and a good friend die of HIV/AIDS. Don’t play with me.”

As I said this, I was pacing my kitchen floor with the phone cradled in the crook of my neck while mixing batter for a Texas Sheet Cake. I don’t think I ever felt more like my mother than I did at that point.

Terry was silent for a minute and then said, “Oh.”

If there is a rift between feminism and transgenderism, I believe (based on this little anecdote I just shared) it’s happening for the following reasons.

  • We’re all on guard and looking to be attacked on all sides because very often we ARE attacked on all sides—especially from those who should be the most sensitive to our causes.
  • We all tend to view people instead of dangerous ideas as the enemy and, in doing so, we write people off who have a different viewpoint instead of engaging them and learning the who, what and why of what they are really all about.
  • We believe that our own long-held notions, assumptions, thoughts or ideas are right, permanent and unassailable and to change those long-held notions makes us question the very essence of who and what we are…which is hard.

Feminism is defined as the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. Feminism, by definition is supposed to be an all-inclusive movement which is why anyone can be a feminist, and why everyone should be a feminist.  Feminism isn’t just about promoting women’s rights, it’s about promoting equality for all which is why feminists have taken a stand on war, violence, gun rights, reproductive rights, human rights, civil rights, worker’s rights and all other issues. This Mic.com article attests to that fact.

Transgenderism is socially, economically and politically supporting those whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. We should all support transgenderism because none of us fully identify with or precisely follow the identity, expression or behavior associated with our assigned sexes. It seems to me that gender roles are arbitrary and completely made up. Gender-based fashion is contrived. We don’t all fit into nice, neat little gender boxes and that’s exactly why we all need to live and let live.

I’ve been reading a lot of feminist theory books and essays over the past couple of months, and what I’ve noticed most is the lack of personal stories. While many of these writings make historical references and add quotations from well-known figures, only some of the writers share the details of their personal experiences or what they felt as a result of those experiences. Such personal narratives are important in building bridges to impact positive change which is why campaigns like #MeToo and #ShoutYourAbortion are so powerful.

I hope that both feminists and transgenderists start to make a better effort of telling their stories to the world and to each other. And I hope that all of us make a better effort to listen without judgement. For example, I’d like to hear more trans stories period and more trans men’s stories in particular. All I “know” of trans men are Chaz Bono and Boys Don’t Cry. How limited a perspective is that?

Both movements, both fights for a better life in which to be happy, healthy, acknowledged and respected, are made up of real humans with real and varying experiences. Every human life has value and I think we tend to lose sight of that because we are forgetting to recognize each other’s humanity. Instead we’re more concerned with labeling an individual to determine our behavior toward that individual then actually heeding the individual in the first place. That’s pretty lazy. Furthermore, to nitpick over definitions, vocabulary and measurements of misery is not a productive use of time and energy, especially when we’re still all collectively getting shafted.

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