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Transwomen are Women. Or Else.
Indigenous women know where babies come from...or do they?
Women and girls around the world are shamed, limited, restricted, punished, banished, beaten, and killed because we are women. Only women, who are female people with female reproductive systems, menstruate. While only one part of our cycles, we shed our uterus lining every month or so that we are not pregnant through our vaginas as menstrual blood. This begins when we reach puberty until we go through menopause, processes only women go through. For different reasons, some women don’t menstruate at all, some women have irregular cycles, some women menstruate and then stop, some women start puberty later or earlier, and some women start menopause later or earlier.
It’s concerning to me that I felt the need to clearly, although over-simplistically, explain what a period is for the benefit of academics, policy-makers, and leaders who don’t seem to understand their own bodies and who don’t have knowledge about the sex differences that exist between females and males. It’s also concerning to me that I felt the need to clearly state that I actually do know the answer to the widely-circulated gotcha question that will prove, without a doubt, that the arguments I’m about to make are absolutely one hundred percent wrong and completely irrelevant. This question is: What about women who don’t menstruate, are they still women? The answer is yes, women who do not menstruate are still women. It’s sad to see that this is the level of engagement we’re at.
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What complex and incredible things women’s bodies do and are capable of doing but this is not what we’re taught to believe. Patriarchy instead teaches us that our female bodies are dirty and wrong and we grow up learning to hate ourselves for every reason imaginable: too big, too hairy, too wrinkly, too smelly, too emotional, too irrational; we are wrong, no matter what brand of snake oil we’re sold to correct ourselves. Still female, still wrong.
Today, girls and women are re-educated that people menstruate and can become pregnant, not just women; people have front holes, not vaginas; biological sex is not real but gender feelings are real. We are taught that using inclusive terms, like menstruators or folx, makes sure that no one is excluded and that no one’s feelings get hurt. Anyone can menstruate if they believe in themselves.
Maybe issues that only impact women, like menstruation and pregnancy, seem unimportant and even tiring to some who are so educated and so intelligent that the issue is already resolved and they are already on to more important matters. Some may think these issues are a distraction and disconnected from the Real Issues That Actually Matter like people are dying racism and poverty and prisons and policemen are killing Black men and especially Black transwomen who are the most marginalized group ever in the history of the world. If we decide, as feminists already have, that women matter then issues of menstruation, pregnancy, and sex and gender do matter; in fact, they are integral to any struggle for liberation. It also matters how these terms are defined and by whom and how they apply in laws, policies, and practices that impact all of us, some more than others. I will briefly discuss two ways that Indigenous women in particular are disproportionately harmed by the unquestioned acceptance of gender identity as truth and biological sex as a lie and the laws, policies, and practices that follow from that belief.
Where do babies come from.
Firstly, it’s common in Canada to hear that the sex/gender binary (being female/a woman or male/a man) is an idea imposed by white settlers that was used to decimate the status, culture, and populations of Indigenous trans, non-binary, other genders, and non-men people. Pre-invasion Indigenous nations are often said to have had many different genders beyond woman and man. What the heck is this. “That’s stupid”, my grandma would say if she were beside me right now and I know she would say that because that’s what she said when I told her about !!decolonize gender!! men can have periods and give birth and some women have female penises that aren’t actually penises but ladydicks.
Women know how babies are made and where babies come from. Surprisingly, Indigenous women also know how babies are made and where babies come from. Like today, it makes sense that Indigenous women in pre-colonial times would need to have as much control over their own reproduction as possible.
Although the social and environmental contexts they lived in were different from today, Indigenous women would likely have considered many different aspects before deciding and attempting to become pregnant. For example, women might consider that pregnancy may temporarily rearrange day-to-day labour and responsibilities; that pregnancy requires the help of others before, during, and after giving birth; and that pregnancy, as today, is always accompanied by potentially serious and life-threatening complications that can cause severe injury or death.
In order to become pregnant or not, Indigenous women would actively try to conceive, abstain from sex entirely, only have sex with other women, use a method of birth control, abort a fetus, or use any number of other strategies depending on the desired outcome. This means that Indigenous women in pre-colonial times had to have knowledge rooted in the material realities of their biologically female bodies, how their reproductive cycles worked, and if and how and when a woman could become pregnant or not. They had to know about cycles of puberty, menstruation, and menopause and how these processes connect to fertility and infertility and to many other aspects of women’s health. They had to know that only women menstruate because only women are female and only women have female reproductive systems. Does anyone really think that Indigenous women in pre-colonial times believed that men were really women if they said they were, that women were really men if they said they were, and that some individuals were really neither or both sometimes or all the time?
In order to have as much control over their reproduction as possible, Indigenous women had to have been aware of the immutable biological sex differences between women and men. They had to know how babies were made and where babies came from in order to become or avoid pregnancy and to care for their own health as women. I am certain that Indigenous women knew that babies were not delivered by a stork and that human beings cannot change their sex no matter what gender a women or man feels they are internally. It is laughable (and offensive, really) to think that an Indigenous woman in pre-colonial times would truly believe that biological sex doesn’t exist so people are whatever gender they say they are and so when folx have sex one of them, maybe both of them, might become pregnant but hard to say who will and who won’t and who can and who can’t because gender identity is sacred and true and being biologically female or male is not real and actually a form of colonial violence, we already know Judith Butler is right.
Secondly, Indigenous women and girls are disproportionately harmed by the laws, policies, and practices that accept gender identity as truth and biological sex as a lie due to our over-representation in transition houses for battered women and their children, rape crisis centres, and prisons in Canada. Indigenous women and girls have long and violent histories of colonization that are ongoing in our contemporary woman-hating, racist, capitalist culture. Research shows that many women and girls in prison in Canada have survived male violence, are poor, and are often imprisoned for non-violent poverty-related offenses.
Men who identify as women believe that they should be placed in women’s prisons and leaders and others think so too. One of the reasons I think policy makers are allowing men who feel they are women to serve their sentences in women’s prisons and to be allowed access into women’s transition houses and rape crisis centres is because these places are disproportionately populated by Indigenous and other marginalized women.
Let’s see how this goes, I’ve never been in a women’s shelter or prison myself, but I’m sure those places are fine and that the menstruators in there will welcome their courageous transgender sisters with open loving arms and if they don’t we’ll forcibly educate them or we’ll punish those hateful TERFs because transwomen are women or else.
There are violent men housed in women’s prisons right now because these men feel like women. There are men who may not be violent housed in women’s prisons right now because these men feel like women. At issue here is not only women’s safety and security (that is already compromised by the prison system) but also the validity of women’s experiences, knowledge, and expertise and women’s right to reject men in their lives or spaces, personal, political, or otherwise. Placing men in women’s prisons tells women you are nothing, what you want doesn’t matter because you don’t matter. The thing is, these women do matter; they matter a lot.
The idea of sex and gender impacts everyone. Sex matters because women are oppressed, as a class, on the basis of our biological and immutable sex as female by those in the biological and immutable sex class of male. “Female” and “male” should be seen as neutral categories that don’t dictate personalities or preferences or disadvantage or advantage us in any way. But they do, because patriarchy and because gender. Gender matters to women because it controls and ruins our lives. Gender dictates what we can and can’t do, can and can’t say, what we should look like, smell like, sound like, what our interests should be, how we should be treated, everything— gender is, at the end of the day, a bunch of made-up rules, limitations, and expectations about how women should be that are used to oppress us, as a class, in a patriarchy. Gender also makes up rules and places limitations and expectations on men but these rules benefit men to the disadvantage of women, imagine that.
I am feminist because feminism is the only political movement that tells me, an Indigenous woman, that I always matter. Feminism is the only political movement that tells women we always matter. Feminism is a political movement for women’s liberation that has a context and a herstory; it’s not a lifestyle, a brand, or a thing that can be claimed and taken apart by any individual and reassembled into something entirely different that often ends up looking suspiciously like patriarchy.
Is the women’s liberation movement perfect? Absolutely not and I don’t know of anyone who has made that claim or anyone who has made that claim of any other political movement. Have I encountered racism within the women’s liberation movement? Absolutely. Consistently? Absolutely. Recently? Absolutely. There are many important issues we need to discuss as feminists. I will briefly discuss the alliance between some feminists and the conservative right and the idea of free speech as strategies that do not benefit all women.
As feminists we need to talk with each other about individual women and feminist organizations that align themselves with the woman-hating racist conservative right. Maybe sisters have that option to reach across the aisle because they are white, thin, able and willing to push aside matters of Indigenity, racism, borders, and poverty, just for now because the left has abandoned us and no one else will give us a platform. Sisters who are not white, not thin, and who cannot or refuse to push aside matters of Indigenity, racism, borders, and poverty, just for now, might have less hands waiting to hold theirs across the aisle. I understand how alone and abandoned we can feel by those we thought were our allies (they never were) but cooperating with the conservative right is not the answer, in part because they hate us just as much as the left does and their fight, like the left, imagines a very different world than we do when our struggle is won.
Another issue we need to discuss as feminists is the idea of free speech. Free speech is a lie. Free speech only applies to men because men are encouraged their entire lives to speak because they are consistently taught that what they have to say is important. Women, as Andrea Dworkin articulated, are discouraged from speaking— Constantly being told you’re worthless, useless unimportant, and wrong and lifetimes of male violence and the threat of male violence can make it incredibly difficult for women to trust ourselves and our own perceptions of reality enough to speak. I advocate for “feminist speech” or “fair speech” and am still thinking this through. I will write more about it later.
More feminist problems.
White feminism has excluded me, silenced me, called the police on me, kicked me out of conferences, and had me removed from their feminist table. I hear this a lot and I’ve said similar in the past too. Now I know that we, Indigenous, Black, and other sisters of colour, cannot be shut out, kicked out, silenced, discarded, or removed from every seat (except one if we behave) at this feminist table. They can call the cops on us but I hope not.
We can’t be ignored, discarded, or silenced because we’re already here at our own feminist table! Take a seat white sisters and join us in our fight for women’s liberation! And if you don’t want to, well then we’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing all along: putting women first, fighting for all women, and saying what we need to say, no matter the cost. Lack of support, agreement, and resources has not stopped us yet and will certainly not stop us now.
Feminism doesn’t need to include us and feminism can’t exclude us because we are already here at a feminist table with plenty of seats for plenty of sisters and we’re not going anywhere.
“‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud? “
Today, lesbian women are pressured, shamed, threatened, and accused of committing transphobic violence by refusing to be penetrated by the girldicks of men who feel like lesbians. Lesbian sisters matter and they are particularly targeted and impacted by transgender ideology. The hateful, threatening, and violent responses by men to lesbian sisters who assert their boundaries as same-sex attracted women gives us a sense of how patriarchy and woman-hating is embedded in transgender ideology; that is, if we bother to listen, to believe women when they say they are being harmed, and if we bother to imagine that maybe, just maybe, women matter.
It matters that today, long-time dedicated feminist activists who have been working toward women’s liberation for decades are called bigots and written-off, ignored, and punished for organizing for women’s liberation without men and especially without men who feel they are women. The hateful, threatening and violent responses to these feminists gives us a sense of how patriarchy and woman-hating is embedded in transgender ideology; that is, if we bother to listen, to believe women when they say they are being harmed, and if we bother to imagine that maybe, just maybe, women matter.
It matters that today, a woman who says “women menstruate” is met with overwhelming public condemnation and an onslaught of threats to rape, beat, stab, murder, set that disgusting transphobic ugly hate-filled white privileged TERF on fire don’t you know transwomen are women and transmen are men and some men menstruate and die TERF but choke on my ladydick first.
Well, too bad everybody, we’ve heard it all before and we’re still here.
Issues of sex and gender and transgender ideology are important but only and always in the context of women’s liberation. They impact our ability to see each other, recognize each other, and organize with each other. To address these issues, as well as race or class, as single-issue is a mistake but only if you believe that women matter. I’m not “gender critical”. I am a feminist who is part of the women’s liberation movement and this is what I work toward with other women: our collective liberation. The abolishment (not reformation) of gender is not the end goal, this is part of the work of feminist revolution and there is a lot more very important work to do as well.
No woman owes anyone a justification as to why she dares to say, in public no less, that she and other women matter. No woman should ever be asked, expected, or feel pressured to reveal to anyone the hurt men have caused to her to justify her analysis of issues that impact her. If and when we decide to share accounts of the horrific male violence so many of us have lived through, we do it on our terms and for our purposes.
Sisters, we are accountable to each other as a community of women who organize together for women’s liberation. We don’t owe anyone an apology or an explanation or a justification for saying that we are not menstruators, we are women, and we matter. We will continue to describe our bodies and realities as we know them to be.
And as always thank you to the brave sisters who came before and stuck their necks out for all of us: for women they knew, didn’t know, women who agreed with them, women who didn’t agree with them at all, and for the women who were yet to enter into this world through the female bodies of their mothers, imagine that.
If you want to read more of my writing, order my book Not Sacred, Not Squaws: Indigenous Feminism Redefined here or preferably at your local bookstore.
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