Survival. Activism. Feminism?: Exploring the Lives of Trans* Individuals in Chicago
Radical lesbian feminist Sheila Jeffreys (1997, 2003, 2014) argues that trans individuals are destroying feminism by succumbing to the greater forces of the patriarchy and by opting for surgery and thus conforming to normative ideas of sex and gender. Jeffreys is not alone in her views. Janice Raymond (1994, 2015) also maintains that trans individuals work either as male-to-females (MTFs) to uphold stereotypes of femininity and womanhood, or as female-to-males (FTMs) to join the ranks of the oppressors, support the patriarchy, and embrace hegemonic masculinity. Both Jeffreys and Raymond conclude that sex/gender is fixed by genitals at birth and thus deny trans individuals their right to move beyond the identities which they were assigned at birth. Ironically, a paradox is created by these feminist theorists, who deny trans individuals the right to define their own lives and control their own bodies. Such essentialist discourse, however, fails to recognize the oppression, persecution, and violence to which trans individuals are subjected because they do not conform to the sex that they were assigned at birth.
Jeffreys (1997) also claims there is an emergency and that the human rights of those who are now identifying as trans are being violated. Their critiques are not only troubling to me, as a self-identified lesbian feminist, but are also illogical and transphobic. My research, with trans identified individuals in Chicago, presents a different story and will begin to show another side of the complex relationship between trans and lesbian feminist communities. When considering the lives of my research participants, another agenda, counter to that of what is assumed by Jeffreys and Raymond, emerges and shows how trans individuals are moving forward to embrace themselves and their communities, while also establishing, or in some cases maintaining, a relationship with feminist values and politics.