The Biotic Woman: Talking About Transphobia and Ecofeminism With Ida Hammer
Ida Hammer has been writing The Vegan Ideal for several years as a way to examine and deconstruct overlapping oppressions. Her work centers on undoing transphobia in vegetarian and ecofeminist communities. Ida was kind of enough to speak with me recently about how cissexual privilege undermines a lot of ecofeminist writing and how she has carved safe space for herself in a sometimes very anti-trans movement.
A number of ecofeminist writers have written in deeply offensive, often terribly misguided, ways about trans people and have done a lot of damage to the movement's credibility as open, accepting, and working for the liberation of all people. Why do you think transphobia persists and continues to come up again and again in ecofeminist rhetoric and activism?
In order to understand why transphobia and cissexism persist and are continually perpetuated throughout feminist communities, particularly the vegetarian-ecofeminist community, it is important to consider the origins of anti-trans advocacy as a conscious project of prominent, elite White feminists in the 1970s. In the late sixties and early seventies, trans people were very active in the women's and queer liberation movements. The Compton's Cafeteria and Stonewall rebellions of the sixties are evidence of that, as are women like Beth Elliot of the Daughters of Bilitis, Sandy Stone of Olivia Records, and Stonewall veteran Silvia Rivera who was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activist Alliance.
So it's important to keep in mind that trans women, and trans people more generally, were an integral part of the early women's liberation movement. But in the mid- to late-seventies, there was a transphobic backlash within feminism to systematically remove and exclude trans people, explicitly transsexual women, from the women's and queer movements. For example, Rivera was targeted and physically attacked by cissexist women separatists at a gay rights rally. Elliot was targeted by Robin Morgan and separatists at a lesbian women's conference. Stone was targeted by Janice Raymond and forced out of Olivia Records with threats of a boycott. And Gloria Steinem of Ms. magazine openly attacked trans women.
Over the last couple decades, there has been an increase in organizing and activism by trans people, yet we continue to be the targets of a systematic backlash from elite feminists. So-called "women-born women" policies are still used to exclude transsexual women from participating in our own movement. And while trans women are disproportionately targeted by homelessness, prisons, and sexual and physical violence, an alliance between anti-trans feminists and the state has been used to circumvent human rights laws in order to bar us from many vital women's facilities and services. Trans women have even been forced out of women's services organizations they helped create.
I should also note that while The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol J. Adams is in many ways considered the book for a feminist approach to nonhuman animal advocacy, it can't be separated out from the anti-trans hatred and purge that started in the seventies. The roots of The Sexual Politics of Meat come out of Adams' relationship with Mary Daly, who was her teacher and mentor in the mid-seventies. This relationship, which Adams credits with the genesis of her book and activism, took place at the same time Daly was writing her hateful, anti-trans book Gyn/Ecology. It was also the same time Daly was advising Raymond, another student of hers, on the dissertation that became the book The Transsexual Empire.
So the origins of what currently stands as the primary source for a feminist approach to nonhuman animal advocacy has its origins in a milieu that was the epicenter of anti-trans sentiment in the seventies. In the preface to The Sexual Politics of Meat, Adams begins her book with what she calls a "quiet homage to Mary Daly's early support of my work as well as her ongoing biophilic vision." What is unacknowledged is that Daly's "biophilic vision" called for the elimination of transsexuals, people whom Daly described as "necrophilic" and therefore outside of and counter to the vegetarian-ecofeminist worldview.
Basically, trans people were never meant to be included in ecofeminism. While a new generation of cissexual ecofeminists may simply not think about trans people due to our forced absence, the erasure and invisibility of trans people within ecofeminism cannot be seen as a mere oversight. Most of the prominent figures in vegetarian-ecofeminism have at some point consciously thought about trans people and actively supported our exclusion—this includes those pseudo-allies who might say they're supportive of trans people in private, yet actively support our erasure when they ignore our oppression while publicly praising the work of their more unapologetically transphobic colleagues.
When challenged on the existing cissexist state of affairs, anti-trans ecofeminists will often insist we agree to disagree and leave it at that. But since the exclusion of trans people has already been well established, agreeing not to press the issue simply keeps trans people invisible and the status quo just the way it is.
It is easy to ignore an oppressed group of people once they have been systematically shut out of and alienated from a movement they rightfully belong in. Had trans people not been forcibly exiled from the women's movement throughout the seventies and subsequently blocked from returning—at times with state supported exclusion from human right protections—things would be entirely different right now.
The cycle will only be broken when cissexual feminists take responsibility for cissexism and hold themselves and their colleagues accountable. This includes following the lead of trans people on trans issues, specifically trans women when it comes to our exclusion from feminist communities. It's also important to recognize that not all trans people have been targeted in the same way. Too often women's events or services claim to be "trans-inclusive" but are restricted to cissexual women, trans men and female-assigned genderqueers only, thus continuing the ongoing legacy of specifically excluding transsexual women.
In light of the treatment trans people have received in ecofeminist communities, what are some of the ways you have worked to combat cissexist stereotypes and find safe space in so-called anti-oppression circles?
Acknowledging and challenging how writing and advocacy around a feminist approach to nonhuman animal advocacy has become dominated by the vegetarian-ecofeminist erasure of trans people is, for me, an important first step in creating a safe space for trans people to come out and practice feminism and nonhuman animal advocacy.
I did a lot of feminist-based nonhuman animal advocacy before coming out as trans. During that time I was aware as a closeted transsexual women that acceptance as a feminist advocate for nonhuman animals meant staying closeted and passing as a cissexual man. Stated another way, taking a feminist approach to nonhuman animal advocacy was very much a privilege of passing for cissexual, which required me to internalize the ways vegetarian-ecofeminism was perpetuating anti-trans oppression.
My work on The Vegan Ideal has really been my primary outlet for challenging anti-trans ideology and creating a safe space for myself to explore anti-oppression advocacy, particularly as it relates to nonhuman animals. My posts on how cissexism is interwoven into vegetarian-ecofeminism have been part of my own struggle to affirm myself as a woman, a feminist, and an advocate for nonhuman animals. I now refuse to accept any approach to advocacy or anti-oppression work that would have me or anyone else deny a part of who we are and internalize our oppression in order to participate.
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