Conflicts Between Trans Activism and Feminism








Conflicts Between Trans Activism and Feminism

Peggy Carter

Institutional Affiliation


Conflicts Between Trans Activism and Feminism

The definition of a woman and establishment of what qualifies one as a feminist are issues that have often influenced the direction of events in trans activism and feminism. They have proved to be central to the relationship between trans and feminist activism. Some feminist theorists view the “woman” as a category born out of one’s biological features associated with female (Stewart, 2016). There was, however, fracturing to the understanding of who is to be considered a woman at least three decades ago as disabled feminists, working class, and feminists of color challenged the capabilities of a movement that was largely made up of white people, the middle class, and those who are able-bodied to articulate their issues and organize around their interests. The outcome was the development of models of feminist analysis that were complex.

The 1990s saw the development and embracing of multifaceted gender identities by feminist scholars whose writings depicted their opposition to the feminist theory that was biologically-determined serving to exclude trans women. Several other queer movements developed with time positively acknowledging the difference while arguing against the use of fixed categories in the attempts to understand women. There are potential conflicts between trans activism and feminism that can, however, be mitigated.

One of the sources of conflict is the pressure on feminist cis women to include into their identity individuals who embody perfectly a femininity image conceived by the male gaze. The fight against this femininity image is one that has been ongoing for many years and is a primary issue for feminists. Trans women in a sense represent to cis women a type of stereotype given their conservative feminine aesthetics. Its suppression is something that they have fought against hard. It is not hard for one to understand the anxiety that cis women experience when being compelled to embrace an image that is a source of their trauma (Hines, 2017).


Trans women’s claim that their femininity is healthy, natural and something inborn, a part of their core nature, is a further threat to feminist cis women as it is a contradiction of their claim that femininity is merely a social construct that men developed to fixate women in position with the intention of pleasing and affirming male masculinity.

Another potential source of conflict is the challenge trans women provide to the feminist “truth” already established that the female position in the society remains miserable and undesirable such that if men were offered the opportunity to switch places, they would never wish to take it up. The biggest fear of feminist women does not appear to be the inclusion of trans women. Instead, it is the potential loss of their comfortable and lucrative position of the victim. The mode of engagement of trans activists in the debate is also representative of the unproductive victimhood culture that is currently predominant in the Western culture (Evans & Chamberlain, 2015).

Trans activists appear ignorant of the challenges that others go through due to singularity as a core characteristic of their predicament. They tend to demand respect, understanding, acceptance, and empathy from their surroundings while largely failing to show interest in the challenges that the identity group they are joining faces. As they demand for solidarity from the group, they do not give a thought to the fact that they too need to express their solidarity. Due to the highly unique nature of what they undergo, they fail to acknowledge and respect the fact that cis women and men are also having traumatic experiences relating to their gender and sex (Evans & Chamberlain, 2015). Even though they identify as female, they do not express solidarity or sympathize with women. It is this kind of conduct that characterizes the prevailing individualistic culture where one joins a group to provide better protection for their rights and privileges as individuals instead of doing so for idealistic reasons.


The victimhood culture tends to promote further conflicts that serve to derail healthy debate further. According to it, there is no need for one to treat with respect or sympathy anyone who is more privileged than oneself. At the same time, it accords you the right to demand and expect unlimited sympathy, attention, and empathy from any person that ranks higher while obligating you to do the same for persons below you in the hierarchy. The victim is exempted from the expectations of advancing arguments that are logically coherent (Hines, 2017). The reason for this is that it finds it out of order to question the relevance, reality, and validity of what a less privileged person claims to fear or experience. Ultimately, there is no moderation of debates or checking of arguments. Debates are as such limited. It restricts the people and groups that it is intended to help. Progression towards greater equality and liberation is impeded since it relies on mutual respect.

Such conflicts are not inevitable. However, mitigation of the conflicts is integral to the achievement of common ground for the trans activists and feminists. One way is through pursuing of ideas that show respect for the views of either group as opposed to individual interests. When both feminists and transgender activists respect the views held by members of different groups given that they do not infringe on their rights, there is bound to be a healthier environment for a mature debate that will ensure the issues bringing about division are addressed (Hines, 2017). Progress cannot be achieved if one of the groups feels that its concerns are overlooked by the other. For instance, feminists should avoid discriminating against the cis women and the transgender persons who identify themselves as women. The support of the trans group will be crucial in achieving their feminist objectives. At the same time, the transgender group will also achieve more with the support of the feminists. Working together will as such serve to enhance the prospects for both groups while fighting each other will merely serve to obstruct them from their potential success.


Evidently, conflicts characterize the relationship between transgender activists and feminists. However, they can be mitigated to limit their occurrence. The pressure on feminist cis women to include into their identity individuals who embody perfectly a femininity image conceived by the male gaze is one of the sources of conflicts between the two groups. Others include feminists’ perception of transgender persons enjoying greater privilege due to their close association with being male and the culture of victimhood that excludes those claiming to be underprivileged from the responsibility of having to present logically coherent argument.



Evans, E., & Chamberlain, P. (2015). Critical waves: Exploring feminist identity, discourse and praxis in western feminism. Social Movement Studies, 14(4), 396-409.

Hines, S. (2017). The feminist frontier: on trans and feminism. Journal of Gender Studies, 26(6), 1-13.

Stewart, A. A. (2016). Survival. Activism. Feminism?: Exploring the Lives of Trans* Individuals in Chicago. Journal of Critical Thought and Praxis, 5(1), 3.

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