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Wednesday Watercooler: Gloria Steinem Speaks Out on Gender Identity


Tonight’s musical selection is Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman singing, “Makin’ Whoopee.”

Gloria Steinem

Attention: Stop quoting Steinem if you’re hating on trans-folk.

Anti-transgender feminists (a minority all too frequently given airtime in publications that should know better, like Counterpunch) have sometimes turned to an old quote by pioneering feminist Gloria Steinem to justify their refusal to accept trans-women’s identities as valid. Today in the Advocate, Steinem refuted those claims:

I want to be unequivocal in my words: I believe that transgender people, including those who have transitioned, are living out real, authentic lives. Those lives should be celebrated, not questioned. Their health care decisions should be theirs and theirs alone to make. And what I wrote decades ago does not reflect what we know today as we move away from only the binary boxes of “masculine” or “feminine” and begin to live along the full human continuum of identity and expression.

Obviously, there is much similarity among the challenges of transgender people and all women — from health care to harassment to discrimination in the workplace. And there is always the basic patriarchal bias against any sexual expression that can’t end in conception, which is why kids on campus are sometimes mystified by the fact that the same groups oppose both, say, contraception and lesbians. I also think we have a lot to learn from original cultures that often didn’t even have “he” and “she” in their languages, taught girls how to control their own fertility, and routinely accepted and had special roles for the “twin-spirited.” These facts may remind us that patriarchy, racism, and nationalism have been dominant for less than 5% of human history. Maybe they are an experiment that failed.

I know we’ve all worked hard on and are celebrating the Supreme Court marriage rulings this spring, but there is so much work to do to reach full LGBT equality — and ensuring that transgender people also have equality under the law has been the most left out and therefore should become foremost on that list. A stunning 90% of transgender employees have faced discrimination or harassment at work — and no federal law explicitly protects transgender people in the workplace, though nearly 80% of voters in the U.S. support such a law. In weeks, the Senate is expected to take up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would provide basic protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity – ensuring that no one can be denied employment or a promotion, or be fired, simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. It’s time that law passed. Obviously, no LGBT person should be denied the ability to be who they are because their boss disagrees. I’m grateful for this opportunity to say that I’m sorry and sad if any words floating out there from the past seem to suggest anything other than support, past and present. As feminists know, power over our own minds and bodies comes first.

The whole Op-Ed is absolutely worth a read. Thanks to @caulkthewagon for bringing this to my attention.

What’s on your mind tonight? The watercooler is an open conversation.

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Photo by Mindy Kittay / Kaldari released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.

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Kit OConnell

Kit OConnell

Kit O’Connell is a gonzo journalist and radical troublemaker from Austin, Texas. He is the Associate Editor and Community Manager of Shadowproof. Kit's investigative journalism has appeared in Truthout, MintPress News and