But that history may not be as fraught as some believe. Cristan Williams is a trans historian, activist, and the managing editor of TransAdvocate. In the Transgender Studies Quarterly, Williams recently wrote that although radical feminists did enact violence and hatred against trans women, and although the damage inflicted upon the transgender community by TERFs has been significant, the tension between feminists and trans people may not have been as broadly sweeping as is commonly thought today. "Lost in these popular representations of radical feminism is its long and courageous trans inclusive history," Williams writes.One of the examples Williams uses is the work of Andrea Dworkin, one of the grandmasters of feminist theory. While Dworkin is famously billed as being anti-trans, Williams thinks that framing may be fallacious. "These narratives don't tell us that Dworkin ensured that her 1980s-era prowoman legal activism was trans inclusive," Williams writes.According to Williams, the TERFs were a minority within the feminist movement. In the paper, Williams describes a moment that symbolizes the support that radical feminism has had for transgender women: the 1973 West Coast Lesbian Conference (WCLC), "the largest lesbian gathering to date." There, anti-trans feminists tried to attack Beth Elliott, a trans woman and conference coordinator. But their plans were quickly foiled. "[T]he radical feminists of WCLC stood in the way of the violent TERF activists—physically protecting a WCLC trans woman—and TERFs turned on those brave radical feminists and physically beat them instead," Williams writes, painting a complex portrait of the intersections between feminist and trans histories.
Lost in these popular representations of radical feminism is its long and courageous trans inclusive history.
Westbrook emphasized that the obvious unity between women's reproductive and transgender rights may be hard to see because of the way we compartmentalize and are galvanized by identity today. "That's one of the dangerous things with identity politics," she said. "We try to police the borders of who gets to talk about those people's right, so now we have a group of people fighting for abortion rights and a group of people fighting for access to restrooms based on self-identity, rather than [based on] what someone sees them as."While there may not seem to be a problem with identity politics, it's possible that more could be accomplished if the distinction between various identities were dissolved. "Those two types of identity politics groups haven't been able to see that, actually, what they are both fighting for is a certain bodily autonomy, the ability to decide what happens to your own body," Westbrook said.
We all value the right to control our bodies.
"I think some of those men must believe that women are too stupid to make decisions for their own bodies," Westbrook said, "so they're protecting those women from their stupid decisions. In the same way, those same straight, cisgender white men say trans women can't use a women's restroom."But Westbrook is quick not to condemn men. "There's nothing inherent about being a man that makes you do these things," she said. "It's just that they're the people who have the power to enact these policies at this moment."The rights of both women and transgender people are under assault. As a result, the category of woman is broadening, which is liberating for both women and trans people; both groups have long had to confront a society that determines their role based on their physiology. In 2015, the feminist activist and author Catharine MacKinnon—who also wrote a civil rights legal proposal with Dworkin in 1983—gave an interview to the NYU Shanghai publication On Century Avenue (OCA). MacKinnon told OCA that she didn't believe biology should define womanhood."To me," MacKinnon said, "women is a political group."