by Sasha Ross / Earth First! News
Your recent article, published in Counterpunch on the summer solstice, opens up the space for much discussion. While we’ll all hopefully look back on this problem as a frustrating distraction, for the time being we must confront the issue with positivity and direct action.
Before I begin, I would like to remember the lives of the those killed on this day, forty years ago, in the largest massacre of LGBT people in US history—the arson of Metropolitan Community Church. In an event that mimicked the massacre of 1913 in Calumet, Michigan, immortalized by Woody Guthrie, some anti trans people blocked the door to the first LGBT church ever, and burned the place down. In 15 minutes, 32 people lost their lives. Their crime was loving one another, and celebrating the forth anniversary of the Stonewall Riot (coming up on the 28th, btw).
For Earth First!, the issue of gender is worth hashing out, because trans inclusive policies make EF! what it is. There are currently two Trans and Womyn’s Action Camps affiliated with Earth First!, and some of EF!’s most dedicated and long-time organizers are trans people. These are people who put their bodies on the line consistently to stop a genocidal machine that is destroying the earth.
I work with several trans people and queer folks at my job at a Cascadia biodiversity group, and I am proud to count myself among their numbers. I have been part of LGBT communities since I was in second grade. I am also a co-founding moderator of the Earth First! Newswire, where much of the debate has taken place. I want to use this space to speak out: please, stop the insanity. Stop spreading ignorance about the trans community. Let’s break bread with our trans allies and all people struggling to be free. Now is the time for fearless love.
The EF! Journal collective has formally repudiated DGR’s transphobia, but I have attempted to maintain some degree of integrity in moderating the public fora surrounding this issue, in spite of my deep, personal feelings. Rather than getting pulled into the abyss of degenerate animosity, I would rather approach issues of patriarchy and misogyny as a student of nature. In spite of this approach, I have been personally insulted by you, Derrick Jensen, when you launched an ad hominem attack on me in public forum. While I stated that calls to censor a post on the subject of Russian art group, Voina, reminded me of the case against Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” you called me a “misogynist” and a “rape apologist,” stating that I had given you evidence that queer theory is misogynistic.
In your Counterpunch article, you state, “[r]ight now the gender fundamentalists are doing their best to shut down dialogue.” It takes two to tango. If you are responsible for the rude and discourteous treatment, and even silencing, of the trans community and its allies, you should not be surprised that you receive the same treatment. You complain that “genderists are literally shouting feminists down to shut us up,” but you have institutionalized trans exclusion in your organization.
Of course tempers flair, things get out of control, and we all need to tone down the rhetoric—it’s time to come together, to end the animosity, and to get over this division in the environmental movement.
Do you receive threats? Are there some bizarre photoshopped photos of you snuggling, fully clothed, with an oversized salmon? Yes to all of those. If I could, I would apologize, but I have nothing to do with any of that, and the EF!J collective has already denounced all oppressive conduct in this debate in the strongest of terms. But here goes nothing: I personally apologize for anything I have done to deepen the rift in the environmental movement, and I am calling for reconciliation.
Do you deny and exclude trans people in your organization? Do you call trans women names like “trans boys?” Do you identify them as “deeply misogynistic” men who are trying to undermine women? Yes, those are direct quotes.
Lierre, you stated, “Well, I’ve personally been fighting about this since 1982. I think ‘transphobic’ is a ridiculous word. I have no strange fear of people who claim to be ‘trans.’ I deeply disagree with them, as do most radical feminists.” In summarizing your view on trans people, Rachel Ivy states, “men insisting they are women is insulting and absurd.” This is the blunt denial of trans people that you put forward, and Ivey goes on to declare, “there is no debate” over this issue in DGR.
Derrick, you can be even worse. That you called me a “rape apologist” for my views on censorship shows how vitriolic and volatile this discussion is—if you have a point of view, anybody who disagrees with you becomes the target. While I have nothing to do with the personal attacks against either of you (or any of DGR’s members), you have gone so far in this Ahabian quest as to label trans people the “Taliban in a skirt.” Can we get any closer to a phobia than symbolically associating it with terrorism?
Your dismissal of gender and identity suggests that trans women do not belong in feminist communities; that they ought to be ridiculed. You admitted as much in a leaked private email that bragged about telling a trans woman who “wanted to join DGR,” “You are not a woman. You are a man who believes he is a woman.”
In spite of the claims of your article, “The Emperor’s New Penis,” DGR’s treatment of trans people frequently enters the territory of abuse. You note, “[t]he most heartbreaking element of the transgender narrative is their hatred of their bodies.” How are we to reflect on this statement in light of the RadFem anti trans slogan, “Sorry about that dick!” as anything but the most destructive form of bullying? You know perfectly well that there are lots of trans people who do not hate their bodies whatsoever, and that bringing up this old canard only reminds trans people of the deep levels of chiding and jeering that they experience on a daily basis, not least of all from your ilk.
Are we trying to defend the planet, or are we trying to alienate and marginalize a community that is already under attack by society? We have already taken a stance against both transphobia and the attempts of others to “get back at you.” Are you ready to stop this war, so that we can heal our hearts together and unite our souls in spiritual positivity to overcome the world’s greatest death machine?
To do this, I implore you to include trans people in thought, word, and deed, and you can begin by taking down the straw man you have made of the trans community. In your article you purposely misidentify trans people as men, and you fail to cite more than a few words from trans activists and intellectuals. When you do cite them, you misrepresent their arguments. Your presentation of trans and queer theory in “The Emperor’s New Penis” relies on a patently false premise: “(t)he disagreement is that queer/trans activists believe gender is a binary, and we believe it’s a hierarchy.” You should know better. Plenty of queer and trans activists insist that gender is multitudinous, not binary. A queer understanding of gender is, to paraphrase queer theorist Monique Wittig, that “everyone has their own gender.” So, the disagreement is not over whether gender is binary, but whether it is to be denied outright.
You deny trans people, and we look to the people of the world and ask them to tell us their stories. That’s the difference, and that’s what this debate is about.
It is not the case that “porn culture that created the whole concept of trans,” as you have written in the past. Ignorance is the first step on the path towards hatred. The bodies and souls of trans people, under different names in different cultures, times, and places, have thrived on the earth for hundreds, if not thousands of years, but today their voices are often silenced by violence. Trans people face disproportionately high rates of murder, are twice as likely to be unemployed, and are actively discriminated against in the workplace.
We are talking hate crimes here. Forced sterilization, unethical experimentation, and so on. There are extensive reports about the dire problem of institutionalized human rights violations against trans people around the world. In spite of this fact, you maintain that trans people are guilty of human rights violations against themselves, vis-à-vis their adoption of gender and particularly the pursuit of sex affirmation surgery. The Earth First! Journal was mired in a deep debate over the issue of surgery about ten years ago, but organizers today believe that their role is to empower activists, not to try to mold them into a cookie cutter image of the appropriate sex imposed from the outside. We are actively engaged in dismantling any hierarchy that places one theory or one identity above all others.
Let’s not only recognize honor trans people for who they are: the fearlessness of openly flouting oppressive gender constraints, the wildness of practicing love in uncharted waters, the absolute dedication to the nature of honesty and integrity.
You assert in “The Emperor’s New Penis,” “We believe that a social system of male domination starts with human beings who are biologically male or female and creates two social classes of people: men and women.” Using class as your watch-word, you insist that gender is a construct of capitalism. However, if gender is a construct of capitalism why does it exist or has it existed in non-capitalist societies? You could change that and state that gender is a construct of patriarchy, but what about examples of non-androcentric female gender construction? The identification, as with Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray, of gender as fluid and flexible, crossing boundaries, existing in several places at once. If there is a sound anthropological basis to hypothesize that gender is not a product of capitalism or patriarchy, gender can be considered a product of human circumstances and environments. One might even go so far as to say it is neither totally “natural” nor “hierarchical,” but perhaps something else.
Consideration of the existence of non-binary gender roles in a plenitude of societies may indicate that trans people are not a construct of capitalist society (and certainly not of 1970s porn culture, as Lierre has averred). Gender is not some white whale to be hunted down and vanquished. We know too little to begin shooting the harpoons of condemnation against those of us brave enough to experiment or challenge the norm.
We can, however, all appreciate the natural beauty of defiant difference. As Russ McSpadden has eloquently stated, “Transgendered animals thrive. Bighorn sheep, which live in sex-segregated herds for most of the year, nevertheless exhibit male-sexed individuals that adopt female-sexed behavior patterns and remain year-round in the female-sexed herds. Numerous species of fish… [transition] their sexual and reproductive system to other sexualities. Testes transition to ovaries. Ovaries transition to include testes. Gender playfulness and genderlessness teem.”
There are more than 1,500 species of queer animals. That’s not theory, it’s not misogyny, it’s just a wild and queer fact. Let’s talk about consilience, and stop clearcutting the wilderness of desire, love, and sex.
The Earth First! Journal has publically encouraged you to embrace trans people and renounce transphobia (rather than denying that trans people and transphobia exist as such). The claim staked in “The Emperor’s New Penis” that Deep Green Resistance has nothing to do with transphobia—and that such allegations are “absurd”—calls for a bit of analysis.
Let’s take a moment to reflect on what transphobia actually means. It does not mean you do not like transpeople or are literally afraid of them. Furthermore, if we say that the label transphobia can only be applied to physical assaults against trans people, then we have totally missed the point. Would we say homophobia is only applicable to violent attacks or fear of gay people? No, we say that homophobia is a patriarchal form of institutionalized sexual repression. We can also say the same thing about transphobia—transphobia is a power relationship that totally demeans and degrades trans people, and even denies them their right to be who they are talis qualis. It is another way of re-enforcing the false male/female dichotomy. It means that you contribute to the institutionalized repression of trans people.
The summer of 2011 saw a large part of DGR’s core organizing crew walk out based on trans exclusive policies. Coauthor of Deep Green Resistance, Aric Mcbay (parenthetically recognized at the end of your article), walked out and has since written a damning letter, stating, “I find these transphobic attitudes to be disgusting and deeply troubling, and it bothers me a lot to have any past association with people promoting transphobia… Solidarity between movements is the only hope we have.”
Aric McBay is the primary author of Deep Green Resistance—if he leaves the group, calling the other founding members’ views transphobic, that should give us pause to consider whether or not these accusations of transphobia actually have merit. Even the title of your new piece (sans Aric), “The Emperor’s New Penis,” seems to imply that trans women are men in disguise who are attempting to instate a hierarchy with themselves at the top. What is presented in “The Emperor’s New Penis” is the notion that trans people represent the new image of Empire. Really? When I see trans people mounting the tanks and bulldozers, meeting in smoke filled rooms with corporate execs, revving up the fellerbunchers, perhaps I will agree. When I see the trans community marching with the tea party and speaking the language of Empire, I will understand. Until then, your claims are as hollow as the Pied Piper’s flute.
One of the founding organizers of DGR, Premadasi Amada uses the language, “anti trans” rather than “transphobia.” Amada writes, “When I helped start DGR, as an organization, it did not have nor did it embrace the position on trans people it does now. If it had I would never have worked to start DGR. Some individuals who helped start DGR had anti trans positions, but I was clear, and as the main organizer in the beginning, made clear to anyone who asked, that DGR did not have an anti trans position… When this policy was changed to DGR taking on the anti trans position, against my and others’ objections, I left/was forced out about near the same time Aric [McBay] left.”
Another former core DGR organizer named aidan shores up these claims, again without any rhetorical grandstanding: “When it became clear that the staff of DGR was intent on making the Radical Feminist position the official position of the organization, our local chapter tried to open spaces for dialogue on this issue. We were denied. It was made clear to us that there was no room in the organization for dissenting opinions on the subject of gender, and that if we didn’t like what the organization was doing on this front, then we had to leave.”
Whether you want to call it transphobia, anti-trans, or just leave all the labels at the door, we should admit that DGR excludes and denies not only trans people but their allies as well.
In your book, Lierre quotes Frank Bryan, a radical democrat, stating, “Hierarchy requires authority, which promotes symmetry, which causes rigidity. The result is awkward, reactionary and (most important) insensitive—and thus inhumane.” Derrick defines civilization with hierarchy: “Civilization is a specific, hierarchical organization based on ‘power over.’” According to Aric, “Resistance to civilization is inherently decentralized.” Through the practice of systematic exclusion and denial, DGR has morphed into an anti trans hierarchy that does not practice what it has preached. That the organization’s authoritarian turn took place at the same time as its commitment to exclude trans people shows the intersection of oppression and anti trans attitudes.
Nevertheless, Earth First! is engaged with DGR in a deep struggle to stop ocean acidification, climate change, the destruction of wilderness, pathological rape culture, and capitalism’s urbanized march towards suicide. We do not have time to quibble over moral objections to a trans person’s identity, let alone bar people from expressing themselves in radical way. Nor should we. We must openly embrace all people struggling to be free, because decolonization, liberation, and emancipation are the three cornerstones of our movement.
One person who knew this was EF!er Judi Bari. She united loggers with environmentalists in a move that would prefigure the teamsters and turtles of Seattle. She nearly lost her life in an assassination attempt, because she was so good at unifying all people through an ecofeminist analysis of civilization. She embraced everyone who wanted to struggle for a better world, including the LGBT community. She railed against patriarchy in and outside of radical movements. She was also a Wobblie who fought against exclusionary hierarchies. Let’s remember Judi Bari, and in the spirit of conviviality move towards a future of solidarity and love.
For the Wild!
Sasha Ross is a moderator of the Earth First! Newswire, the coordinator of the Earth First! Journal—Cascadia Field Office, and an activist with Bark. His recent writings can be found in continent., The Singapore Review of Books, Life During Wartime (AK Press 2013), and Masha Tupitsyn’s Love Dog (Penny Ante 2013). He is also the editor of the forthcoming anthology, Grabbing Back: Resistance Against the Global Land Grab (AK Press 2014).