The Biotic Woman: Talking About Transphobia and Ecofeminism With Ida Hammer

Brittany Shoot
View profile »

Ida Hammer has been writing The Vegan Ideal for several years as a way to examine and deconstruct overlapping oppressions. Her work centers on undoing transphobia in vegetarian and ecofeminist communities. Ida was kind of enough to speak with me recently about how cissexual privilege undermines a lot of ecofeminist writing and how she has carved safe space for herself in a sometimes very anti-trans movement.

A number of ecofeminist writers have written in deeply offensive, often terribly misguided, ways about trans people and have done a lot of damage to the movement's credibility as open, accepting, and working for the liberation of all people. Why do you think transphobia persists and continues to come up again and again in ecofeminist rhetoric and activism?

In order to understand why transphobia and cissexism persist and are continually perpetuated throughout feminist communities, particularly the vegetarian-ecofeminist community, it is important to consider the origins of anti-trans advocacy as a conscious project of prominent, elite White feminists in the 1970s. In the late sixties and early seventies, trans people were very active in the women's and queer liberation movements. The Compton's Cafeteria and Stonewall rebellions of the sixties are evidence of that, as are women like Beth Elliot of the Daughters of Bilitis, Sandy Stone of Olivia Records, and Stonewall veteran Silvia Rivera who was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activist Alliance.

So it's important to keep in mind that trans women, and trans people more generally, were an integral part of the early women's liberation movement. But in the mid- to late-seventies, there was a transphobic backlash within feminism to systematically remove and exclude trans people, explicitly transsexual women, from the women's and queer movements. For example, Rivera was targeted and physically attacked by cissexist women separatists at a gay rights rally. Elliot was targeted by Robin Morgan and separatists at a lesbian women's conference. Stone was targeted by Janice Raymond and forced out of Olivia Records with threats of a boycott. And Gloria Steinem of Ms. magazine openly attacked trans women.

Over the last couple decades, there has been an increase in organizing and activism by trans people, yet we continue to be the targets of a systematic backlash from elite feminists. So-called "women-born women" policies are still used to exclude transsexual women from participating in our own movement. And while trans women are disproportionately targeted by homelessness, prisons, and sexual and physical violence, an alliance between anti-trans feminists and the state has been used to circumvent human rights laws in order to bar us from many vital women's facilities and services. Trans women have even been forced out of women's services organizations they helped create.

I should also note that while The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol J. Adams is in many ways considered the book for a feminist approach to nonhuman animal advocacy, it can't be separated out from the anti-trans hatred and purge that started in the seventies. The roots of The Sexual Politics of Meat come out of Adams' relationship with Mary Daly, who was her teacher and mentor in the mid-seventies. This relationship, which Adams credits with the genesis of her book and activism, took place at the same time Daly was writing her hateful, anti-trans book Gyn/Ecology. It was also the same time Daly was advising Raymond, another student of hers, on the dissertation that became the book The Transsexual Empire.

So the origins of what currently stands as the primary source for a feminist approach to nonhuman animal advocacy has its origins in a milieu that was the epicenter of anti-trans sentiment in the seventies. In the preface to The Sexual Politics of Meat, Adams begins her book with what she calls a "quiet homage to Mary Daly's early support of my work as well as her ongoing biophilic vision." What is unacknowledged is that Daly's "biophilic vision" called for the elimination of transsexuals, people whom Daly described as "necrophilic" and therefore outside of and counter to the vegetarian-ecofeminist worldview.

Basically, trans people were never meant to be included in ecofeminism. While a new generation of cissexual ecofeminists may simply not think about trans people due to our forced absence, the erasure and invisibility of trans people within ecofeminism cannot be seen as a mere oversight. Most of the prominent figures in vegetarian-ecofeminism have at some point consciously thought about trans people and actively supported our exclusion—this includes those pseudo-allies who might say they're supportive of trans people in private, yet actively support our erasure when they ignore our oppression while publicly praising the work of their more unapologetically transphobic colleagues.

When challenged on the existing cissexist state of affairs, anti-trans ecofeminists will often insist we agree to disagree and leave it at that. But since the exclusion of trans people has already been well established, agreeing not to press the issue simply keeps trans people invisible and the status quo just the way it is.

It is easy to ignore an oppressed group of people once they have been systematically shut out of and alienated from a movement they rightfully belong in. Had trans people not been forcibly exiled from the women's movement throughout the seventies and subsequently blocked from returning—at times with state supported exclusion from human right protections—things would be entirely different right now.

The cycle will only be broken when cissexual feminists take responsibility for cissexism and hold themselves and their colleagues accountable. This includes following the lead of trans people on trans issues, specifically trans women when it comes to our exclusion from feminist communities. It's also important to recognize that not all trans people have been targeted in the same way. Too often women's events or services claim to be "trans-inclusive" but are restricted to cissexual women, trans men and female-assigned genderqueers only, thus continuing the ongoing legacy of specifically excluding transsexual women.

In light of the treatment trans people have received in ecofeminist communities, what are some of the ways you have worked to combat cissexist stereotypes and find safe space in so-called anti-oppression circles?

Acknowledging and challenging how writing and advocacy around a feminist approach to nonhuman animal advocacy has become dominated by the vegetarian-ecofeminist erasure of trans people is, for me, an important first step in creating a safe space for trans people to come out and practice feminism and nonhuman animal advocacy.

I did a lot of feminist-based nonhuman animal advocacy before coming out as trans. During that time I was aware as a closeted transsexual women that acceptance as a feminist advocate for nonhuman animals meant staying closeted and passing as a cissexual man. Stated another way, taking a feminist approach to nonhuman animal advocacy was very much a privilege of passing for cissexual, which required me to internalize the ways vegetarian-ecofeminism was perpetuating anti-trans oppression.

My work on The Vegan Ideal has really been my primary outlet for challenging anti-trans ideology and creating a safe space for myself to explore anti-oppression advocacy, particularly as it relates to nonhuman animals. My posts on how cissexism is interwoven into vegetarian-ecofeminism have been part of my own struggle to affirm myself as a woman, a feminist, and an advocate for nonhuman animals. I now refuse to accept any approach to advocacy or anti-oppression work that would have me or anyone else deny a part of who we are and internalize our oppression in order to participate.

Get Bitch Media's top 9 reads of the week delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning! Sign up for the Weekly Reader:

8 Comments Have Been Posted

so much to learn

"[T]aking a feminist approach to nonhuman animal advocacy was very much a privilege of passing for cissexual, which required me to internalize the ways vegetarian-ecofeminism was perpetuating anti-trans oppression."

This is really powerful and not something I've ever encountered before. I'll be checking out The Vegan Ideal. Thanks for helping me think. :)

Olá Ida Hamer... ...fiquei

Olá Ida Hamer...

...fiquei sabendo de seu Blog através de uma amiga da Universidade de Brasília. Gostei muito de seu artigo e fico feliz por conhecer outra mulher transexual (além de mim) que também está interessada em articular uma trans-militância entre movimento sociais, no caso, entre o movimento das pessoas trans, movimento feminista/queer e o movimento ambientalista. Visite também meu Blog Natureza Torta no endereço:


Sandra Michelli - Brasília - Brasil

What must occur to legitimize

What must occur to legitimize ecofeminism? Answer:

Apparently feminism is still

yes... the penis is EVIL!

yes... the penis is EVIL! (sigh...)

Sometimes I am embarrased by my fellow sisters ;(

stop hating trans women. stop worshiping trans men.

the title says it all. in the backwards world that is "Feminism" in 2012, where Lady GAgagagaga is deified despite her worshipful nature towards men (especially gay men) and reproduction of normative femininity which positions the tall, skinny, large breasted, scantily clad female body for male enjoyment (or gay male parody and 'campish' joy), trans women are left out of the loop and treated egregiously. meanwhile, trans men, i.e. people born females who worship men so extensively to the extent that they become them, often in their worst forms (machismo, sexually objectifying women) are welcome in places like the michigan fest. Either welcoming all trans folks or welcoming only those who identify as women (ie trans AND cis women) would make sense, rather than only welcoming trans men, whose only claim as a woman is that a doctor said "it's a girl" when they popped out of their mothers' vaginas. Trans women have valuabe experiences that can better inform feminism. Trans men, on the other hand, really have rejected everything about womanhood and femininity, except for (in the case of those who identify as straight) the desire to have sex with women. Hmmm...sounds a lot like cis men, who aren't welcome in women's space either. Finally, why the hell would any trans man WANT to be in 'women's space'? I though the whole point of their transitioning was to be MEN. Probably they just want to go to "get some", just the way straight cis men go to places where a lot of women congregate.

Inductive leap goes before a fall

I read this article with the expectation of getting an insight on whether and how vegetarian eco-feminist communities are trans*phobic by virtue of their vegetarian eco-feminism. However, there is not one sentence anywhere through the length and breadth of this article which offers a single argument to explain *how*, if at all, these communities are trans*phobic. Is it by crime of association that whoever is ecofeminist becomes automatically trans*phobic because its politics originated in a milieu inhabited by members, some of whom (or even all) were trans*phobic? If that is the case, where is the sustained argument against the movement? Casting aspersions against individuals is a rather sophomoric way of trying to vent one's angst in the absence of argument. Establishing a causal link between milieu and mechanism requires far greater sophistication in reasoning. Otherwise, it is merely a part of the dangerous trend everywhere in the world wherein individual members of groups are blamed merely for their membership to a group which may have certain undesirable elements who claim to speak for the group. #Jesuisnobody

Add new comment