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As a transsexual Lesbian feminist who has been seeking to help build inclusive women’s and Lesbian
communities based on radical feminist values for 42 years, I can hardly consider the meaning of Andrea
Dworkin’s writings on intersex and transsexual people in _Woman Hating_ (1974), and on “multisexuality” both
there and in _The Root Cause_ (1975), as a mere academic question. As a Second Waver myself, I will here try
to offer a bit of perspective both on the current context in which these issues arise, and on why Andrea
Dworkin might later have mixed feelings about some of what she said in _Woman Hating_.
Indeed, anyone acquainted with the achievements of Dr. Helen O’Connell, for example, would know that some of
what Dworkin presented in 1974 is now outdated science; while other portions might be strongly dependent on
the specific backdrop of 1960′s counterculture, or open to dangerous misunderstandings that Dworkin might
have preferred not to highlight when choosing the best passages for an online library of her writings. I’ll
address some of these points below, and argue that her views on intersex and trans people very likely do not
fall in these categories, a conclusion I share with her close colleague and uncompromising radical feminist
Catharine MacKinnon, as well as her partner John Stoltenberg.
This dialogue about _Woman Hating_ grows in good part out of a courageous act of John Stoltenberg in 2013:
analyzing and defending the ethics of Chelsea Manning in exposing war crimes of the colonialist patriarchy.
he correctly gendered Chelsea Manning, he attracted considerable negative attention from feminists who hold
the view that trans women either are men and should be gendered accordingly, or at least are “males” or
“nonfemales” with no place in the women’s and Lesbian communities.
In response, Stoltenberg in 2014 wrote a piece for the _Feminist Times_ theme of #GenderWeek, “Andrea was not transphobic.” http://www.feministtimes.com/
pointed to an anomaly. Given Dworkin’s position that all transsexual people are in “primary emergency” (a
condition she had earlier defined as applying, for example, to Africans and African-Americans in the Maafa,
Indigenous people in the Turtle Island Holocaust starting soon after 1492, and Jews in the Shoah), how could
a follower of Dworkin seek the general exclusion or marginalization of transsexual women as a subgroup of the
sex class female?
What I would emphasize is that accepting what Dworkin said in 1974 and 1975 about intersex and transsexual
people and “multisexuality” leaves open a vast range of questions about how feminists in 2016 should approach
real differences in experiences and vulnerabilities among women at many intersections of oppression. Thus
private groups and spaces for either women who are Assigned Female At Birth (AFAB) or women who are trans may sometimes serve valuable purposes. But I do see Dworkin’s views as incompatible not only with a general
rejection or exclusion of transsexual women from the women’s and Lesbian communities, but equally with the
attitude of some trans women who distrust or devalue all women who are AFAB, often based on a supposed
“cis/trans” binary, which I find as misleading as the sex and gender binaries that Dworkin challenged. If I
ask for inclusion and solidarity as a Lesbian woman who enjoyed some male privilege until I transitioned at
age 22, as well as a survivor of trans oppression, I surely must stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity
with women who have never enjoyed male privilege and are survivors of AFAB socialization. As Audre Lorde and
other Women of Color have especially shown, sisterhood is a multidimensional reality: but surely it must be a
two-way street on the elementary level that I acknowledge the 99% and more of my sisters in the female sex
class who have indeed survived AFAB socialization, and have experienced things I cannot imagine. They are my
older sisters, not my “cis oppressors”; rather, the patriarchy is our common oppressor.
Here I should also point to something that dyadic (nonintersex) people like Andrea Dworkin and Janice
Raymond, and also on a humbler level myself, got wrong at least by omission in the 1970′s: the vital intersex
issue of childhood medical abuse. The practice of Intersex Genital Mutilation (IGM), optional surgery
performed on nonconsenting infants and children to bring them into conformity with the patriarchal sex binary
and its heteronormative obsession with the penetrative sexual act that Andrea Dworkin would address in
_Intercourse_ (1987), should have attracted the passionate condemnation of all feminists for a number of
reasons. In reality, however, it only happened when intersex people themselves very visibly spoke out,
starting in the mid-1990′s. Yet _Woman Hating_ beautifully expresses some of the feminist values fulfilled by
the militant intersex movement starting some two decades later, with IGM still very much an issue in many
parts of the world.
As you note, Julian, Andrea Dworkin later indicated her own misgivings with some portions of _Woman Hating_.
Should we take this to include the passages on intersex and transsexual people? Here I would suggest a
reasoned approach in weighing the probabilities of what she may have intended.
First, as I mentioned, there are statements she made or cited in 1974 that we now know to be wrong in ways
very, very, important for Lesbian feminists and feminists in general, as with this: “the clitoris is a
In fact, as Dr. Helen O’Connell of Australia has shown in paradigm-changing research, the clitoris is far
larger and more complex than the external and visible portion homologous to the glans penis: that is only, as
the African-American feminist Sophia Wallace puts it, “the tip of the iceberg” of the internal clitoris,
including the shaft, the crura or legs, and the bulbs (formerly called “vestibular bulbs”). In short, the
clitoris overall is about the same size as the penis, except that it is mostly internalized — and yet more
richly innervated (supplied with nerves) and intricate! Thus the human phalloclitoris (as it is often termed
in the intersex community) or virga (a medieval Latin term that can apply to clitoris or penis, and I would
propose also the range of intermediate forms), differs along the female-male continuum not so much in size as
in the degree of internalization or externalization. Here _Woman Hating_ needs an update which I am sure that
Dworkin would support, whether or not she was aware of this issue when she chose for other portions of her
work to have priority in an online archive.
She might have yet more serious concerns about portions of her chapter on “multisexuality” that addressed the
incest taboo, for example, or “bestiality.” Here I agree with at least one other commentator that from a
truly radical perspective that values human empathy and respectful touch, the “erotic” may embrace many forms
of affection that the patriarchal mindset simply cannot comprehend. But such words, in the context of a
culture where physical and sexual child abuse are rife, may have later struck her as, to say the least,
inapposite. She may have realized that she had looked too far ahead of her times in a way which might
endanger those she most wanted to protect: abused women and children. And I will add my conviction that her
concern in this regard embraces not only the vast majority of women and girls who are AFAB, but also trans
women subject to rape and other crimes of violence.
In contrast, her words about intersex and transsexual people do not pose a similar risk. As long as
transsexual Lesbian feminists and other transsexual women who participate in feminist groups behave as
sisters, understand that women who have survived AFAB socialization are in this sense our seniors, and
respect the basic rule of enthusiastic consent and noncoercion that no Lesbian owes sex to any other Lesbian,
regardless of birth assignment, there should be no insoluble problems. And members of feminist communities
who do not meet these expectations, regardless of birth assignment, can and should be asked to leave.
Julian, you also raise a point where there has been a rather heated dialectic of conflict, as I might say,
but a ready synthesis is available. You are absolutely right that it is implicit in Dworkin that the vast
majority of women are AFAB, and are indeed oppressed under the brutal patriarchal hierarchy of gender because
of their actual or perceived reproductive capabilities — which, under patriarchy, become vulnerabilities.
Thus transsexual women who are good feminists recognize that in that sense, within the female sex class we
are the exception rather than the rule, which makes it all the more important for us to show sex-class
consciousness and solidarity by supporting women’s reproductive rights as a women’s issue and feminist issue.
What hurts our sisters, hurts ourselves.
Although Andrea does not address the details of how transsexual women might interact with other women in the
feminist movement, a discussion early in _Woman Hating_ about “primary emergency” indicates that women who
have special oppressions — and, for me, AFAB oppression as well as trans or intersex oppression amply
qualifies here — have a responsibility also to look to the general experience and interests of the female
sex class. That means at once recognizing, for example, that negative menstrual stereotypes and insulting
language demean all women, include those of us who never ourselves have periods, and that discussions of
menstruation and allied health concerns should be welcome in inclusive women’s groups; and also that women
who share the experience of menstruation may sometimes want to have rituals of a kind led by Z Budapest for
From this perspective of interpreting Andrea’s views from 1974 in an inclusive and flexible way, John
Stoltenberg’s arguments for the spirit of inclusion are powerfully supported by Catharine MacKinnon, whose
opposition to pornography and what she terms prostitution and I term sexage work (from the French _sexage_, a
feminist concept meaning sex-based servitude or slavery) is well known. She speaks best for herself:
As a Second Wave feminist, I would add that recognizing a continuum of physical sex (with intersex people
representing natural variations rather than pathological cases) and of what we perceive under patriarchy as
gender identities and styles of gender expression, in no way makes the gender hierarchy of patriarchy less
real or oppressive! Andrea shows that we can use common sense and hirstorical experience to recognize both
what is brutally “real” under patriarchy, and what is ultimately “true” about feminist possibilities, without
any need for “postmodernism.” Kate Millett and Andrea Dworkin had it right: while “gender identity” or “sex
identity” develops in the first years of life in a given social context as a basic reality for an individual,
transsexual or otherwise, the patriarchal system of gender is not just a “performance,” or an even playing
field with equally valid “choices.” Being raped, or facing an unwanted pregnancy, is not just a theatrical
scene; the playing field of gender roles and expressions under patriarchy is not level ground, but has a
twisted topology of threatened and too often realized violence. This violence, as it affects women who are
AFAB, transsexual, and/or intersex, is something that _Woman Hating_ calls on all women to oppose in common
The way I like to phrase an inclusive feminist approach is this: “The rule does not exclude the exceptions,
and neither do the exceptions exclude the rule.” Thus the vast majority of women are AFAB, and a large
portion of this majority face the risk of unwanted pregnancy — facts essential in understanding the origins
and nature of patriarchy as enforced reproductive labor and slavery, and the need of all women, including
intersex and transsexual women, to unite in order to liberate our sex class. The presence of a relatively few
acculturated transsexual women in the feminist and Lesbian communities need in no way decenter the concerns
of women who are AFAB, and good feminist process will maintain balance. Such process, of course, depends on
the acknowledgment of privileges and immunities, including, for those of us who are transsexual women, past
male privilege and also immunity from childhood AFAB socialization.
A Second Wave tradition which I strongly support is the principle that each affinity group within the greater
feminist and Lesbian communities can set its own boundaries. Thus a group like the Women’s Liberation Front
(WoLF) has every right to define itself as AFAB only. In fact, I admire many of the declared rules and
guidelines of this group on conduct both online and in the larger world, and would see an effort to bulld
similar groups and communities including women regardless of birth assignment as a sisterly response. Thus
WoLF is free to set its own boundaries, and other affinity groups are free to do the same. Radical feminism
is large enough to have room for both types of groups and private spaces.
In short, as I hope to have suggested by this point, living by Andrea Dworkin’s radical feminist values as
expressed in _Woman Hating_ is a high challenge for transsexual women as well as women who are AFAB,
including intersex women regardless of birth assignment. It means recognizing the material reality of women’s
reproductive slavery, and the psychological oppression of AFAB socialization, that we too need to center
early and often. In short, if we identify _as_ women, we must identify _with_ women, so that sisterhood
overcomes the illusory “cis/trans” binary. Sisterhood first and foremost! That seems to me implicit in
everything that Andrea Dworkin has written.
“An activist and writer at the blog, A Radical Profeminist”.
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