Embodiment Beyond the Binary


The Combahee River Collective

From Boston Review:

Intersectionality remains a very important tool within any attempt to understand the historical arc of relations between trans* people and feminist and queer communities precisely because, while white women were often exclusively focused on issues of womanhood, people of color could not afford a singular focus. The Combahee River Collective is exemplary in this respect, and many scholars have recently turned back to their manifesto for the model it provides of intersectional and politically labile organizing.

While activists in the United States, the UK, and Europe have generally been content to call for “gender recognition,” keeping themselves narrowly within the politics of recognition that has fueled neoliberalism, as we see in the case of Ecuador, trans* feminism elsewhere articulates much more extensive goals that do not single out trans* people but rather extend from the experience of trans* people to everyone else. Here we can glimpse a trans* feminism that joins the experience of contrary gendering to other bodily forms that have been subject to discrimination.

In the new landscapes of power and domination that are emerging at the beginning of the shift from the neoliberal mechanics of inclusion to the post-democratic policies of violent exclusion and the enforcement of homogeneity, we need to situate sexual and gender minorities carefully rather than claiming any predetermined status of precarity or power. The goal of a global trans* feminism, after all, will not be simply the enhancement of opportunities for trans*women but the creation of a trans* feminism that works for all women. Accordingly, as trans* activists try to expand categories of embodiment beyond the binary, we should be reaching not for better and more accurate descriptions of who we are, but better and more diverse approaches to thinking about gender and poverty, gender and child-rearing, gender and labor, gender and pleasure, gender and punishment. Various models of feminism in the past have stopped well short of global solidarity and have tended to focus upon the most favorable reforms for white women and middle-class women. This is partly because of the myopia of liberal feminism and corporate feminism (lean in, for example) and partly because “women” make up such a huge category that finding common ground is nigh on impossible. Trans* feminism cannot necessarily overcome these obstacles either, but it can exert sufficient pressure on the category of “woman” to challenge and refuse its universalist tendencies. As we enter a new era of untrammeled patriarchy and racism embodied by the U.S. president, trans* feminism has a lot of work to do. It is not my intent to offer here (or anywhere) a clear program for a trans* feminist world, but I do believe that, like the feminists in Ecuador, we should operate on the assumption that the changes that would be good for trans* women will ultimately be beneficial for everyone.

“Toward a Trans* Feminism”, Jack Halberstam, Boston Review