Every once in a while, as I plug away at my ongoing research on second wave feminism and anti-pornography activism, I come upon a piece of evidence that the rifts in women's liberation were far uglier than the accounts of them that have survived in many secondary accounts of the movement.
Not infrequently, some of these startling moments cause me to re-think central themes from the 1970s: racism, homophobia and what would come to be known as transphobia, among them. As one example, I realized today, while taking notes from one of the feminist memoirs I am reading, that I have underestimated the anxiety triggered by masculine women among some old-guard second wave feminists who were critical to the early years of the movement, anxiety that seems to have survived intact into the twenty-first century. In her autobiography Not One Of The Boys: Living Life As A Feminist (2000), activist attorney Brenda Feigen chews over the significance of clothing to the gender identification of lesbians, and comes to the conclusion that normal lesbians present androgynously. Noting that because they seek comfort, not the approval of others, Feigen states that it is "a well-known fact that most lesbians prefer pants to skirts" (emphasis mine). Reflecting that she never really understood her friend and comrade-in-arms Gloria Steinem's preference for "tiny skirts and non-functional heels," (Gloria is not a lesbian) Feigen goes on to observe:
at the opposite extreme, there are male-identified butch lesbians, who mimic men in the often swaggering way they carry and comport themselves. They don't seem happy being women (emphasis Feigen), and being a woman is, as far as I'm concerned, more a state of mind than a particular look. For the most part, this kind of lesbian will raise money for AIDS but not breast cancer. They are often caught up in role-playing, so that their relationships with more "femme" women (often helpless victim types) mimic the worst of extreme heterosexual behavior. I have trouble understanding the desire to be with a woman who tries -- whatever her method of doing so may be -- to look and act like a man. If I wanted someone manly in my life, I would be with the real thing.
In any case, fortunately, role-playing lesbians seem increasingly to be in the minority....Most lesbians I know are feminists who dress and act like normal/androgynous-looking women. (132-133)
The use of the word "normal" is crucial, particularly in the construction of "normal" lesbians who are positioned as the opposite of queers (like me.) These butch and trans-identified women are, in Feigen's view, just perverts as well as enemies of true feminism, as are all transsexuals (I'm willing to bet this blog that FTMs do not count as "the real thing" from Feigan's perspective.) In case you missed her feelings on this matter, on the following page, Feigen shifts into full-bore transphobia. She slams MTF transsexuals who, in her view, "reinforce sex stereotypes about women," have a "thing about wearing women's underwear," and "are no friends of feminists, who have a serious mission on this planet -- not just play-acting and dress up." (134)
Well, alright then. Feigen, who worked with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the American Civil Liberties Union Women's Rights Project back in the 1970s, is currently an attorney in Los Angeles, specializing in entertainment and anti-discrimination law.