The earliest usage of the term, “TS Separatist” I can find comes from a 1994 newsletter article. The context in which it is used references only those MTF transsexuals who have had vaginoplasty and wish to separate themselves from pre-/non-op trans folk. The next usage comes from a 2002 article in which it is used in the modern sense wherein transsexuals (as a whole) should work to separate themselves from other types of trans folk.
Transexual Separatism? or Is Anyone Out There Listening?
This piece was originally published in TransSisters in 1994 and is edited for space reasons.
by Riki Anne Wilchins
Introduction It seems that every movement is destined or doomed to recreate the struggles of its predecessors and oppressors: ours is no exception. One of our most important battles has been around transexual separatism. Nowhere did this become more apparent than in the national community discussion around the New Woman’s Conference (NWC). Organized in 1991, NWC is an annual retreat which for women who have had surgery, “culminating in a ritual in which the attendees celebrate that which they all share- their blood sacrifice”(I am not making this up). NWC declared a policy of post-operative women only, refusing to register anyone who had not had surgery and wished to attend. In addition, anyone who was in attendence and was found to be pre-operative would be asked to leave. The time attendees spent the first day getting to know each other by relaxing naked in the communal hot tub became known, only partly in tongue-in-cheek, as the “credentials check”. Interestingly, many of the women involved in NWC were the same I worked with in organizing “Camp Trans”, the educational outreach event across the road from the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (MWMF). Camp Trans was formed to protest the lesbian separatist policies of MWMF, which had been kicking out transexual women for years. In 1991 I began telling those involved in NWC that, just as I show up each year outside MWMF at Camp Trans to protest their policy of exclusion transexual women, so I would begin to show up each year outside NWC to protest their exclusion of pre-operative transexual women. The following was written in response to the great stir which ensued:
May 8, 1994 Dear sister: In response to Wendi Kaiser’s letter, outlining my supposedly intemperate response to NWC’s policy of exclusion, let me first assure you that I am much, much worse, and far more irrational, than anything I hope Wendi can imagine, much less put into print. Be that as it may, for purposes of NWC I do intend to show solidarity with my pre-op transexual sisters. Logistics permitting, my plans regarding NWC are to show up with a small number of pre-op sisters and attempt to register. If we are turned away, as I expect, we will stay on to leaflet attendees, educate them, and confront them with our exclusion and their separatism. As a member of The Transexual Menace, I take seriously our motto of “Confront with Love”, and NWC is no exception. While we do intend to show up for ourselves, we intend to do so in as gentle a manner as possible. We have no intent or desire to “sneak in” and out ourselves, to be disruptive in any way, nor to harass or otherwise embarrass attendees. Nor would I support anyone who contemplates such actions. But for purposes of NWC, or any other event, if pre-ops are excluded, then I am pre-op. If non-ops are excluded then I am non-op. For that matter, if post-ops are excluded, then I am post-op. Exclusion, division and discrimination are diseases our community can live without. And live without them we must, if we are to survive, and conquer the transphobia which threatens all of us, every living day.
Wendi has asked me what I think NWC’s position ought to be. Although I only speak for myself, here is a rough draft of something I think might be appropriate…
WHY POST-OP TRANSEXUAL WOMEN SHOULDN’T BE ALLOWED AT MICHIGAN… Post-op transexual women should not be allowed to attend the Michigan Womyns’ Music Festival. It’s that simple. Let me state my reasons for saying this:
- Nontransexual women need a place to get together, where they can be with only their own kind.
- The simple presence of post-op women at MWMF (regardless of their behavior) would make many nontransexual women feel unsafe, women who need and deserve a secure haven to heal from the wounds of sexism.
- Post-op genitals, reminiscent as they are to nontransexual women of penises, would make many nontransexual women feel uncomfortable, and therefore even more unsafe about their bodies.
- Nontransexual women have a right to get together without being confronted with male energy or male genitalia.
- If post-op women are allowed to attend MWMF, nontransexual women will not be able to speak or act freely,and will feel self-conscious about going topless or naked.
- If post-ops were allowed to attend, many nontransexual women, who would greatly benefit from the MWMF experience, would stay away.
- Michigan is unique, and it’s important to preserve the special “feel” that is MWMF: the simple presence of post-op transexual women would change it into something else, and, if enough of them attended, they might try to change its focus.
- MWMF for its 20-some years has been run by and populated by nontransexual women: post-op transexual women wouldn’t even want to attend MWMF, or, since they haven’t shared the same life experiences, if they did attend they’d be bored or unincluded by much of what goes on.
- Michigan’s stated audience is “womyn-born womyn”, that is, women having female primary and secondary sexual characteristics when they were born; MWMF doesn’t attempt to be all things for all women.
Whoops… wait a minute. Did I say “post-op transexual women should not be allowed to attend the Michigan Womyns’ Music Festival”? I’m so sorry. I meant to say: “Pre-op transexual women should not be allowed to attend the New Womens’ Conference”. Yes. I’m sure now. That’s it. And let me state my reasons for believing this:
- Post-op women need a place to get together where they can be with only their own kind.
- The simple presence of pre-op women at NWC (regardless of their behavior) would make many post-op women feel unsafe, women who need and deserve a secure haven to heal from the wounds of surgery.
- Pre-op genitals, reminiscent as they are to post-ops of penises, would make many post-ops feel uncomfortable, and therefore feel even more unsafe about their bodies.
- Post-op women have a right to get together without being confronted with male energy or male genitalia.
- If pre-ops are allowed to attend NWC, post-op women will not be able to speak or act freely, and will feel self-conscious about going topless or naked.
- If pre-op transexual women were allowed to attend, many post-op women, who would greatly benefit from the NWC experience, would stay away.
- New Women’s conference is unique, and it’s important to preserve the special “feel” that is NWC: the simple presence of pre-op transexual women would change it into something else, and, if enough of them attended, they might try to change its focus.
- NWC for its 3-odd years has been run by and populated by post-operative transexual women: pre-op transexual women wouldn’t even want to attend NWC, or, since they haven’t shared the same life experiences, if they did attend they’d be bored or unincluded by much of what goes on.
- The New Women’s Conference’s stated audience is “post- operative transexual women”, that is, women having female primary and secondary sexual characteristics from having had sex-change surgery; NWC doesn’t attempt to be all things for all women.
There. I think I got it right this time. At any rate, I think one thing is perfectly clear now: when nontransexuals discriminate against us, That’s “transphobia”. When we discriminate against us, that’s… well that’s… well, I don’t know, “transexual unity” or something. Who cares? Anyway, it’s just different when we do it, that’s all. I mean, post-ops excluding pre-ops is absolutely nothing like Michigan excluding us, or the Gay Games discriminating against us, or Stonewall 25 discriminating against us. It’s not the same thing. Why, it’s like alligators and crocodiles: we can’t tell them apart, but they sure as hell know the difference. Same thing with camels and dromedaries, if you think about it. Just natural law, that’s all. And anyway, pre-ops have “Full Circle of Women”. What do they want from us, inclusion or something? Not! What really burns me up is that they just don’t get it. Pre-ops just won’t understand they aren’t real women (and certainly not real, dyed-in-the-wool “new women” like us) until they have surgery. Only then, with the infamous, dreaded, “live penis monster” completely removed, can they fully appreciate the sublime, new-woman type stuff we do at NWC. Being a real new-woman is an intimate, elevated, celestial thing. A pre-op couldn’t understand it all. A weenie interferes with your thinking. I know… I’ve been there. I didn’t “get it” when I was pre-op either. And right after surgery, Bingo! Not only did I “get it”, but I was overcome with a powerful, irresistible urge to discriminate against pre-ops… Besides, if we let one in, we end up letting ’em all in. Next thing you know, pre-ops from around the state, around the country, for all we know around the universe, they’ll just be descending on NWC by the carload, busload, and trainload…Now, let’s not forget to say our Secret Post-op Motto together before we leave: “Post-op transexuals: When we discriminate, it’s different.”
Riki Anne Wilchins’ book READ MY LIPS: Writings of a GenderTrash Pervert is due out this year. She is currently working on the growing “Brandon Teena and Marcia P. Johnson Memory March on Washington Against Gender Oppression”; her E-Male address is RIKI@PIPELINE.COM
This article was published in the May/June 1996 Twenty Club Newsletter
Cathryn Platine, a modern TS Separatist, wrote an 2002 article titled, “Why Transsexual Separatism? A Transsexual Separatist Manifesto” in which she advances a number of arguments found a decade later in Transsexual Separatism.
This post reviews the etiology of the label. For a good review of the TS Separatist movement, see Zagria’s post, The Backlash:
The earliest such rejection that I have found is by Margaret O’Hartigan: 1993 “Every application of the term transgender to me is an attempt to mask what I’ve done and as such co-opts my life , denies my experience, violates my very soul. (‘Changing sex is not changing gender’, Sound Out, May 1993:20.)”. O’Hartigan is also the first writer that I have found who uses the term ‘transgender borg’. However in the quotations from her paper in both Califia and Namaste ( I have not been able to obtain the original) there is no mention of Prince.