In late September TransGriot writer Monica Roberts took Gloria Steinem to task for her writings in the 1980s about transpeople.
You long time TransGriot readers know I’m not a feminist and I cringe when I hear Black women even say the term because of its history of marginalizing women of color to the point they left the movement.
And don’t even get me started on its outright hostility to trans women, which is why I identify as a womanist.
And yes, it’s time to unmask another one of the feminist icons, Gloria Steinem as a transphobe.
Steinem wrote at the time, “At a minimum, it was a diversion from the widespread problems of sexual inequality.” She writes that, while she supports the right of individuals to identify as they choose, she claims that, in many cases, transsexuals “surgically mutilate their own bodies” in order to conform to a gender role that is inexorably tied to physical body parts. She concludes that “feminists are right to feel uncomfortable about the need for and uses of transsexualism.”
Steinem concluded the article with the famous quote:
If the shoe doesn’t fit, must we change the foot?
In her book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions Steinem includes a five-page essay on transgender identities in which she promoted Janice Raymond’s infamous harangue, The Transsexual Empire.
In it Steinem wrote:
Was it fair for women to face someone trained physically and culturally for forty years as a man?
In other words, transsexuals are paying an extreme tribute to the power of sex roles. In order to set their real human personalities free, they surgically mutilate their own bodies…
Instead of serving more lifesaving but often less lucrative needs for their surgical and hormone-therapy skills, some physicians are aiding individuals who are desperately trying to conform to an unjust society. It’s a small group of successful physicians she [Janice Raymond] names ‘the transsexual empire’.
On October 2 Steinem did an about face with an op-ed in the Advocate: On Working Together Over Time in which she is interpreted as saying, We must put the rights of transgender community first.
The actual money quote is the following:
So now I want to be unequivocal in my words: I believe that transgender people, including those who have transitioned, are living out real, authentic lives. Those lives should be celebrated, not questioned. Their health care decisions should be theirs and theirs alone to make. And what I wrote decades ago does not reflect what we know today as we move away from only the binary boxes of “masculine” or “feminine” and begin to live along the full human continuum of identity and expression.
She follows that with:
I know we’ve all worked hard on and are celebrating the Supreme Court marriage rulings this spring, but there is so much work to do to reach full LGBT equality – and ensuring that transgender people also have equality under the law has been the most left out and therefore should become foremost on that list. A stunning 90% of transgender employees have faced discrimination or harassment at work – and no federal law explicitly protects transgender people in the workplace, though nearly 80% of voters in the U.S. support such a law. In weeks, the Senate is expected to take up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would provide basic protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity – ensuring that no one can be denied employment or a promotion, or be fired, simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. It’s time that law passed. Obviously, no LGBT person should be denied the ability to be who they are because their boss disagrees. I’m grateful for this opportunity to say that I’m sorry and sad if any words floating out there from the past seem to suggest anything other than support, past and present. As feminists know, power over our own minds and bodies comes first.
So there it is: an actual apology. Some will eject it, unable to gain release from the three decades of harm done by her words. Some of us will strive to embrace it…and hope that the ears of others among the feminists who have joined forces with our oppressors over the years will become attuned to a new reality and realized their grievous errors.
Together, we are learning the deepest lesson. Families are not about form but content. Humans are not ranked; we are linked.