Open Letter: Are “transwomen” women?

Here is the text of an Open Letter that 140 signatories and I published in the French edition of the HuffPost on Thursday, Feb. 13 at 12 o’clock, after it was read and approved by a journalist of their editorial staff. It was deleted from the site at 5 o’clock the same day, with the following comment:

“This text had no place on our site. It was a mistake to have published it. The transphobic comments it contains run against the values advocated by Le HuffPost since its creation. Transwomen are women. We sincerely apologize for having published this piece.”

A French anti-feminicide postering collective is splitting over “the trans issue” and warns that all women are under threat.

The anti-feminicide postering collective (“Colleuses contre les féminicides ») is split over the “trans issue ». This is more than a squabble over theory: beyond the “Colleuses” postering group, it is the future of feminism and of equality politics that is at stake.

The controversy began when some activists took advantage of the visibility of the postering tactic to impose their own slogans.

Their goal was to condemn—in this case, “to being burned at the stake”—those whom they call “TERFs”, an acronym meaning: Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists. Indeed, many feminists believe that m-tof trans folks should not be allowed access to women dedicated spaces and should not be at the centre of the feminist agenda.

Are “transwomen” women? In other words, is it enough to self-proclaim oneself a woman to be able to demand being considered as such?

How can a society defend women’s rights and work toward equality if the word “woman” loses its definition?

According to radical and materialist feminists, women are foremost female human beings. They have a double X chromosome and, barring malformation or abnormality, their genital system allows the gestation and delivery of children.

The physical characteristics related to procreation correspond to biological sex, a concept distinct from that of “gender,” which refers to a social construction, and more precisely a system of oppression that organizes humanity into two groups, one dominating and exploiting the other.

This exploitation of women is intrinsically linked to their biology. In our societies, girls are educated differently from boys, because of their female sex. Women are collectively and individually devalued and reduced to a status of sexual objects and caregivers, because of their female sex.

Transactivists, however, deeming themselves enemies of “TERFs,” have a completely different definition of these terms. For them, gender is certainly a social construct, but it is not linked to sex. A person can have one type of body or another, he or she will be male or female (or something else…) depending on how they feel. If someone claims to feel like a woman, she is a woman. If someone claims to feel like a man, the same principle applies. Gender is therefore an identity without any material basis.

There are contexts where, indeed, feelings cannot be challenged. If I feel physical or moral pain, only I can state this, and no one should deny it.

But being a woman is not a feeling. It corresponds to a very specific physiological reality and an equally specific social experience. All of this is real. In our societies, being a woman means suffering and being exhausted every month but having to work as if there was nothing amiss. It is to be considered a potential prey in the public space and a volunteer worker in the private realm. This status is based on bodily reality. If I am, among other things, discriminated against in employment and underpaid, it is not because I “feel like a woman,” nor because I have a woman’s “identity,” but because everyone can see that I have a woman’s body. No “feeling” can be equivalent to this reality.

As for “transwomen”, they are people born as boys, who have in most cases kept a male body (in 75% to 80% of cases in France, they have not undergone any surgery), but who claim to have a woman’s “gender identity,” and thus to be women in the same way as female human beings who have a uterus and who have been subjected since birth to the misogyny of our society.

If “transwomen” are deemed women, regardless of their body or appearance, then the word “woman” applies to anyone on their say-so, even to people with a male body and appearance.

Yet, in a society that remains patriarchal, the words “woman” and “man” must retain their meaning. We need to be able to measure sex inequalities in order to denounce them and, above all, to correct them. We need to be able to implement public policies and corrective measures specifically addressed to women.

What would be the meaning of gender parity lists in politics, targeted programmes for women entrepreneurs and scientists, women’s sports competitions … if men can barge in on such resources by a mere self-identity declaration?

Deeming “transwomen” to be women raises even more concrete problems. No matter how these persons feel, no matter how sincere they are, women do not have the luxury of taking the risk of accepting men in non-mixed spaces: sports changing rooms, public toilets or youth hostel dormitories, but also prisons and emergency shelters for female victims of male violence.

No feminist questions the suffering of people who feel they weren’t “born in the right body”. That said, we must ensure the preservation of our spaces and keep our strategies focused on girls and women. It is the survival of our movement that is at stake, and therefore the survival of our rights and integrity.


The 140 signatories:

Christine Delphy, researcher and gender scholar

Florence Montreynaud, historian, cofounder of Les Chiennes de garde, Encore Féministes and Zéromacho

Annie Sugier, physicist, former MLF, cofounder of the Ligue du Droit des Femmes, former President of the Ligue du Droit International des Femmes, Commander of the National Order of Merit

Marguerite Stern, ex-Femen, activist who created the Postering Against Feminicides movement.

Dora Moutot, journalist and activist

Marie-Noëlle Bas, President of the Chiennes de garde (Watchdogs)

Diane Guibault, President of Pour les droits des femmes, Québec

Fatiha Boudjalat, teacher and universalist feminist author

Ana-Luana Stoicea-Deram, Co-Chair of the International Coalition for the Abolition of Surrogacy (CIAMS)

Catherine Morin Le Sech, member of the International Coalition for the Abolition of Surrogacy (CIAMS)

Francine Sporenda, academic and journalist

Judith Tanné-Gariépy, Doctor of Neuroscience

Florence Humbert, teacher

Claire Fougerol, physiotherapist and activist

Rhea Jean, philosopher

Lise Bouvet, philosopher and translator of feminist texts

Ibtissame Betty Lachgar, clinical psychologist and feminist activist

Françoise Morvan, universalist feminist

Joana Vrillaud, Founder and Coordinator of the Collectif Abolition Porno Prostitution

Richard Poulin, publisher

Dominique Nouet, pro-feminist activist

Catherine Moreau, CSR expert

Anne-Emmanuelle Lejeune, teacher and universalist feminist activist

Marie Josèphe Devillers, Co-President of CQFD Feminist Lesbians

M.P., clinical psychologist

Elaine Grisé, sexologist

Yaël Mellul, legal coordinator of the support centre for victims of violence at the Monceau centre

Martin Dufresne, translator and pro-feminist blogger (TRADFEM)

Flo Marandet, teacher and feminist activist

Vincent Menauge, press cartoonist

Kelly Renaud, clinical psychologist

Marilou Clerc, Librarian

Frédérique Ghroum, French as a Second Language trainer and feminist activist

Isabelle Moisse, feminist activist

Martine Llanes, feminist and radical lesbian

Sofia Recham, secular feminist activist

Karine Bertrand, teacher, equality referent at the French National Education system

Françoise Mariotti, Doctor in Psychology

Corinne Leriche, teacher and feminist activist

Léna Trouvé, student in political science and member of the Les Veilleuses collective

Céline Omer, creator and feminist activist

Stéphanie Fourrier, visual artist

Christelle Raspolini, co-founder of the “Ni Putes, Ni Soumises » movement (Neither Whores Nor Submissives)

Corinne Roche-Goy, press translator

Sylviane Francesconi, feminist activist

Marie-Hélène Vaurs, feminist activist

Jérôme P, pro-feminist activist

Isabelle Moulins, Co-President of the Lilith Evolving Centre

Cathy Lavigne, business leader

Clara Desfilhes, business leader and feminist activist

Léa Champagne, social geographer and expert on gender issues

Annie-Ève Collin, philosopher

Chantal Faubert, universalist feminist activist

Valérie Pelletier—Legal Tender, radical feminist activist

Aude Exertier, lawyer

Mathilde Naud, engineer and feminist activist

Laura O., sociologist

Anne-Marie Bilodeau, jurist, feminist universalist activist

Nadia El-Mabrouk, member of Pour les droits des femmes, Québec

Malika Mansouri, union activist

Rose Sullivan, feminist activist

Hélène Lepennetier, student instructor educator

Hélène Morin, feminist activist

Agnès Setton, doctor and feminist activist

Blandine Deverlanges, teacher, feminist activist

Virginie Malthiery, feminist activist

Anissia Docaigne-Makhroff, lawyer and feminist activist

Stéphanie Charlier, director of a training centre

Malvina Kuri, feminist activist

Claire Séna, librarian

Malvina Kuri, feminist activist

Muriel Petit, teacher

Morgane Rickar, activist

Afaf Bessa, feminist activist

Mathilde Petit, feminist activist

Nathalie Mallet, psychologist

Martine Arrighi, secularism activist

Grace Slick, member of the Les Sorcières du LAC Collective

Anna Goldin, member of the Les Sorcières du LAC Collective

Solange Beaudouin, financial manager, feminist

Cécile Chaudesaigues, company manager

Emeline Offenstein, feminist

Noemie Huart, Feminist Continuing Education Facilitator

Adèle Sartre, academic

Alyson Quilichini, student, feminist activist

Carole Foret, bus driver

Yasmine El Jaï, independent consultant and trainer

Yannick Humbert-Droz, computer scientist

Deborah Rozenblum, wool dyer

Hélène Lorraine, feminist activist

Sara Martinez, feminist activist

Carolyne Gagné, teacher

Martine Vaugien, lecturer in Geography

Orianne Perie, social psychologist, sociologist of work organizations

Claire Dodé, engineer

Sandrine Rodriguez, legal assistant

Agnès Rakovec, feminist activist

Camille Girard, life coach, lesbian feminist activist

Nolwenn Sauvage, teacher

Nathalie Clavaud, independent consultant Christelle Rousseau, HR Manager

Claudine Salvaire, teacher

Fiji Phoenix, abolitionist survivor activist

Marie-Clotilde, Pirot, lecturer and teacher-researcher

Laurence Cavenne, clinical psychologist

Joyce Grall, freelancer

Anne Mariotti, student and feminist activist

Léa Colin, Art Director

Gaétane Adam, stained glass designer

Tiffany Roussel, feminist and animal-rights activist

Charline Beauvais, nurse

Diane Ledent, feminist artist

Gabrielle Blanchard, art history student

Héloïse Beillevaire, screenwriter

Aurore Van Opstal, feminist journalist (Belgium)

Camille Giron, feminist activist

Annie Navorra, actress

Lilia Staphy, lawyer

Emmeline Céron, copy editor

Janice Dodin, psychologist

Lise Roure, head of a creative assistance fund for documentary disciplines

Charline Beauvais, nurse

Emeline Pouce, business executive, feminist

Marika Bouton, radical feminist activist, domestic worker

Pablo Parrado, chef

Laurence Martin, school life assistant

Adrian S.Thiago, member of the RadicalGirlsss collective

Dorothée Jolly, photographer

Nathalie Delattre, special education teacher, radical feminist

Nadine Bretagnolle, activist

Coralie Millerioux, cashier, feminist

Martin Dandelot, sports commentator

Audrey Arnaud, environmental executive

Karine Toussaint, community worker

Lohanna Proupin, restaurant employee

Amanda Leafy, member of the Les Sorcières du LAC Collective

Alix Nicolas, law student

Lauren Da Costa, academic

Françoise Emma Roux, Chief Honorary Curator of Libraries, lesbian radical

Original French version:

English translation by TRADFEM

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