This is a weird one… I was part of the Second Wave. I was moved and shaped by some of what went on, bewildered and dumbfounded by the embrace of things like homeopathy and the Wicca.
The thing that confounds me most is how big a role people seem to think trans-folks played in the Second Wave either as participants or the trashing of us. Granted many of the books that were of major import during the Second Wave are long out of print.
One thing often ignored regarding the Second Wave is that it had a number of nasty internal wars that harmed the Movement as well as destroying women like Shulamith Firestone.
Shortly after the trashing of Sandy Stone, women’s bookstores and the feminist press were torn by the battles between the S/M/Samois /Sex Positive lesbians and the anti-sex factions.
Lately it has become popular to once again attack trans-women. Some of the attackers were around in the stone age of the Second Wave, others are millenials.
Back in the late 1980s the TERFs used trans-women as an element of movement disruption and destruction, diverting attention from the real struggle which should have been focused on Reagan and the rise of the right wing.
Once again TERFs are using trans-women as an element of disruption and distraction, diverting attention from the real struggle which should be focused on Trump and the religious/fascist right wing.
BTW note the weird shift from Bruce LaBruce to trans-women as though there is some sort of connection.
Further: Many trans-folks do not embrace “queer” as an identity.
Millennial lesbianism can sometimes feel like a balancing act between two worlds.
A few weeks ago, a copy of Judy Chicago’s 1979 book The Dinner Party: A Story of Our Heritage arrived on my doorstep. The tome explains Chicago’s iconic artwork of the same name, a sprawling, triangular tribute to hundreds of female figures throughout human history and mythology. The exhibit, which starts with a place for the “Primordial Goddess” and ends at one for Georgia O’Keeffe, revels in vaginal imagery, domestic arts, and the role of women in Earth’s creation. The book had been shipped to me by my mother, who had never seen the work before and adored it, listening with awe as I explained who Artemisia Gentileschi and Hildegard of Bingen were on a dreary Saturday at the Brooklyn Museum.
The day after we saw The Dinner Party, I took my mother to a screening of Bruce LaBruce’s The Misandrist, a scathing “satire” of second-wave feminist ideals whose subjects believe in female separatism, political lesbianism, adding “wo-” to any word containing “man” (e.g., Ger-wo-many, wo-manual), and forced gender reassignment surgery. Leaving The Misandrists, my mother and I both felt as though LaBruce, a seminal contributor to New Queer Cinema, had never spoken to a woman—lesbian, feminist, cis, trans, or otherwise—in his life. It was a jarring experience in contrast to our date with The Dinner Party, to say the least. That weekend’s journey from a seminal ’70s feminist artwork to a ruthless ribbing of all things second-wave made me realize just how alienating the disconnect between feminist history and modern queer culture can be, especially for young lesbians.
If you’re an LGBTQ millennial like me, many of the things I’ve mentioned thus far—vaginal artwork, lesbian separatism, goddess spiritualism—may have your mouse hovering over the X on this tab. In these supposedly halcyon post-gender days, it can be easy to believe that we have grown out of such pursuits as destigmatizing the vagina, reconnecting with other women, and learning from our elders. However, these practices need not be embarrassing or old-fashioned—in fact, I’d argue that they allow us to more fully understand where we’ve come from and what is at stake in queer feminist activism.
The main hindrance to that understanding right now, as I see it, is that anything that explicitly celebrates motherhood, cis female biology, or older lesbian generations is written off as a “dog whistle” indicative of trans-exclusionary radical feminist, or TERF, beliefs. TERF, as an insult, has become so far removed from its original activist intentions (rightly criticizing trans exclusion in feminism) that, at this point, it’s also a word for anything that queer millennials deem uncool. Things I’ve seen called “TERFy” on Twitter and Tumblr include tampon ads, the word “female,” the non-word “womxn,” Janelle Monae’s “Pynk,” the Venus symbol, bangs, Jill Stein, Cardi B, and … trans women.
This blanket TERF-ing, which weakens necessary criticisms of transphobia, is today disproportionately applied to anything even remotely second-wave-y. (“Womxn” likely reminded its accuser of terms like “herstory” and “womyn,” popularized in the 1970s.) This isn’t without reason, since calls for sex-segregated activism and spaces during second-wave feminism often explicitly excluded trans women—perhaps most notoriously at the Michigan Womyn’s Festival. But writing off any practices even associated with that era or those people is not only a disservice to older feminists as a whole, but also a disservice to the larger queer community. Such embarrassment keeps us from learning from our own history and growing as activists. It also means we are ashamed of anyone in our own community who might be invested in the healing aspects of that history.
It’s important to point out that many of these second-wave practices come from lesbian feminists, women who were determined to separate themselves from men romantically, historically, and politically. To many of them, that meant (and still means) defying medical and social abuse against those with vaginas, fighting against male violence, and re-centering women in all narratives. You might have an eye-rolling gut reaction to words like “herstory” and “womyn,” or to vaginal art or goddess worship. You might write off all the women who participated in the Women’s March with pussy hats as clueless. But is there anything inherently wrong with re-centering women in language and history? Is there anything wrong with certain women being proud of their bodies, when they’re constantly encouraged to remain ignorant and ashamed of them? Is there anything wrong with a woman connecting to herself and her presence on Earth on a spiritual level, especially when popular religion privileges men and subjugates women? Is there anything wrong with middle-aged women, who have lived through the evolution of sexism in ways we have not, pushing back against a president who admits to grabbing women by the pussy?