By Emma Wu Shortt ‘20
As protests and marches erupted the weekend after the inauguration you could feel the heat of the movement, whether or not you chose to attend. For some, this heat felt like empowerment, unity, and inspiration, but for others, it felt like yet another space that was exclusive and unwelcoming. The latter was the experience for many trans and non-binary students who felt that the “Women’s March on Washington” events were exclusive and erasing of their experiences and of their identities. Even the title of the march seemed to draw sharp gender boundaries that did not encompass all gender identities oppressed by the Trump administration and its sympathizers.
Mel Gilcrest, a student and activist at Scripps College who identifies as non-binary and attended thte march, felt “a level of discomfort even in attending a protest billed as a national/global up rising of women.” Mel elaborated on this, writing, “Part of me worried that the pre dominantly cis female space wasn’t really meant for me. I was especially anxious about my inability to assert my own identity in that space.”
Gwendolyn Wells, a trans non-binary student in the LA area, also attended the march and shared the same discomfort. Gwendolyn wrote, “I didn’t feel safe or welcome in the space. There was very little representation of anyone like me; I think there was one trans speaker and they only spoke to binary trans people.”
This exclusion took physical form in the popular “pussy hats” that frequented the marching crowds, as well as in the protest signs that used images of uteri and vulvas to make statements of female power. These symbolic gestures, although seemingly well-intentioned, indicated that femininity or womanhood is synonymous with having vaginas and female reproductive systems. Logan Marks, a former Claremont student who identifies as trans, wrote an article titled, “Why I didn’t attend the Women’s March”. In his article he wrote, “Phrases such as “pussy power” and “the future is female” excluding trans and nonbinary experiences grossly ignore and exclude those without vaginas who identify as women...It is possible to promote female reproductive health and women in general without these phrases, and without emphasizing female genitalia as a caveat for being a woman.” Gwendolyn spoke to this same symbolism , saying, “The pussy slogans were pretty gross because they’re perpetuating the same shit that I blame for getting me in this mess? Don’t want to speak to everyone’s experience but I blame the biological symbolic component to ‘feminism’/femininity as being responsible for a large component of my gender dysphoria.”
Additionally, this problematic biological symbolism did not end with the marches but continued onto every social media feed that weekend. March attendees wanted their audiences to know that they were present at the march to raise awareness, and perhaps to show off their “trendy feminism” or to feel good about their “contribution” to the movement. Unfortunately, many of these pictures included the aforementioned images of uteri and vulvas as well as exclusively gendered slogans (e.g. “The Future is Female”). These social media photos perpetuate the exclusion of trans and non- binary people in women’s spaces, as well as invalidate their identities.
I sincerely hope that the pushback against these images and phrases creates a dialogue that shifts the “Women’s March” movement towards a more intersectional standpoint. After all, the lack of intersectionality or even acknowledgement of the POC and queer contributions to the feminist movement is glaring. The question arises, why did it take so long to get this many people involved and on the streets protesting? And even more disturbingly, why now, “when people of color and trans people have been literally dying for years, when it has been clear for ages that Tr*mp will continue to let these people die and actually hasten their deaths...” (Mel Gilcrest).
Furthermore, in the words of Mel, “It’s nice that white cis people are finally showing up, but are they going to show up for anyone else? Or will they continue not giving a shit about marginalized people until that institutional violence directly affects them?”
Now is the part where you come in, dear reader, assuming that you fall into the white cis category. Say you did at tend the march, as Logan puts it, “...just because you did attend the Women’s March, that doesn’t make you a trans-exclusionary feminist or a white feminist. It just means that you need to think critically about how you are acting and what you really stand for.” Let those words sink in for a second. Just because you are white and cis does NOT mean that your politics are inherently flawed or that you aren’t welcome in protest spaces. Being a white cis activist simply means that you especially, need to critically address your own implicit biases and your own political actions. As Gwendolyn says, “It’s all a process, and people NEED to recognize what their brand of feminism is ignoring. They need to ask questions, find out the variety of what exists out there, and FIGHT FOR THOSE PEOPLE.” Because after all, as we’ve observed in the “Women’s March on Washington” and beyond, it is YOUR voice that will be heard and credited. So make sure that your words do not exclude or invalidate anyone else’s experience, but rather raise those queer and POC voices up so high that people have no choice but to listen.