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An Open Letter to Roseanne Barr, From a Feminist Sister

Dear Roseanne,

My name is Ariel Silvera, I’m a latina from Buenos Aires, Argentina who has lived around the UK and Ireland for the past 11 years. I am also a feminist trans woman. Now that the election is over, I hope you’ll have time to take a look at this letter.

I’m going to admit I’m not as familiar with your work as I should be. I never watched your famous show, although a good number of my friends of mine swear by it. I’ve occasionally seen you say some quite brilliant things in terms of politics, and my perception of you until now has been one of a rather kickass woman. So, I’m writing this out of disappointment regarding your recent comments about trans women. From a feminist to another feminist.

I want to start with a reality check. I like talking about material reality, about things that actually happen, rather than conjectures and assumptions. This reality check is about toilets. In a heated twitter outburst, you wrote ‘if she has a penis, she’s not allowed in’, continuing with ‘women do not want your penises forced in their faces or in our private bathrooms’.

Roseanne, I honestly wonder, just what do you think I do when I go to the bathroom? I’m going to tell you exactly what I do when I go to a public bathroom. Don’t worry! I won’t be sharing any scatological details or talk about any gross poo stuff. Ick! Okay, so. My public bathroom routine is, more or less, as follows:

1. Enter bathroom, head to nearest cubicle (I’m lazy, what can I say), or, if there is a queue, join it and wait for my turn.
2. Once in the cubicle, I lock the door behind me. If there is no lock, or it’s broken, I try to find a way to hold the door either with one arm, or a leg, or a bag if I have any.
3. I do my business, and I get out of the cubicle. I head towards the sinks.
4. I wash my hands carefully. At this point, maybe eye contact is made with another woman. Maybe we’ll say hi or comment on the weather. You know, small talk.
5. Leave the bathroom in the knowledge of a job well done.

So, there you have it. This is what I do when I, a trans woman, a woman who was assigned male at birth and has transitioned to female, do when I go to the bathroom. I can imagine that you, a cis woman, assigned female at birth, have a similar routine. Maybe you make witty remarks if someone strikes up a conversation, after all you’re a very intelligent person who can come up with a better topic than the goddamn weather.

What I’m trying to point out here is that at no point did I:

1. Talk to other women or girls in the bathroom about my genitals and the status thereof, or
2. Show my genitals to other women or girls in the bathroom or generally expose myself.

I imagine you don’t do this either. Congratulations. You go to the bathroom in exactly the same manner I do, as a trans woman. And before you ask? No, I have not had sexual reassignment surgery.

In your tweets, you say that people like me should not be able to access women’s bathrooms. I imagine you expect me to go into the men’s toilets. Roseanne, are you aware of the violence statistics for trans people in America alone? The fact that a majority of young trans people report verbal and physical harassment, and a third of trans youth have considered suicide? Given the violent misogyny prevalent in American society today, that if someone perceived as ‘a man dressed as a woman’, or someone simply perceived as female or feminine, entered a male-dominated space, do you honestly believe they would not face violence? Did you know that there were 17 recorded murders of trans people in America alone in 2011?

We are just going to the toilet, Roseanne. We’re not there to molest kids. You’ve brought up NAMBLA, and how you fought against their inclusion under the Gay/Lesbian banner back in the day. Good. I despise NAMBLA. I’m glad you did that work and I’m thankful for it! But, I ask, why do you bring it up? Are you implying allowing trans women into women’s restrooms is the same as opening the door to child molesters, rapists and paedophiles?

Now, I want to ask you to do something. Look up all reported cases of trans women raping minors in restrooms. Or of ‘men dressed as women’ doing this. Now, look up statistics of the violence faced by trans people in our society, and the way it maims and murders us for who we are (or, occasionally, when a black trans woman kills a white man, by accident, in self defense, she is sentenced as a mere murderer).

Ask any trans person, trans men, trans women, genderqueer & non-binary folk, and we will all tell you that bathrooms, for us, are TERRIFYING. Almost every trans person I’ve ever met (and being a long-time activist in the community, I’ve met a few from at least a dozen countries), has a horror story. That time they got beaten up for being in the ‘wrong’ toilet, whether it corresponded to their birth-assigned gender or not. The time they got shouted at. The time someone stabbed them. And this violence is mostly faced by those whom patriarchy, heteronormativity and a racist capitalism makes the most vulnerable: trans women of colour. 

You are asking us to face real violence because of the fact that a small percentage of us (just like a small percentage of ANY GROUP IN SOCIETY) may be rapists or paedophiles. There’s probably paedophiles or rapists in your own party, Roseanne, statistically speaking. By your own logic, we shouldn’t let members of the Peace and Freedom party into women’s bathrooms either.

You’ve brought the misogyny present in much of the LGBTQ movement into this conversation. I couldn’t agree more that this is a hugely important thing to address, and we need to continue to make LGBTQ groups understand that misogyny exists, that women are particularly oppressed in this patriarchal society. I think we can agree on this quite easily. I’m a long-time feminist activist, and have seen how misogyny tears movements apart, and how we must bring a feminist consciousness to bear on these problems.

Near the end of this blog post, you talk about vitriol aimed your way by members of the trans community. Threats and misogynist insults are unacceptable! But when you imply that an entire community is made up of rapists and paedophiles, many people are going to be angry and upset. And they may have very base reactions based on the fact that a massive percentage of us deal with massive self-hatred, and are made to feel alienated and suicidal by a society which, largely, promotes hatred towards us. A hatred we have to confront in the streets, every day, when we leave our front door.

Your reaction to the anger of members of a persecuted and marginalised community, which you ignorantly insulted, was this:

“The level of their misogyny is akin to racist fascism from the nazi’s in 1930′s pre war berlin-The GLBTQ community needs to confront this and challenge it.”

As a trans woman who is also jewish; as a trans woman who is also the daughter of parents who survived two military dictatorships (in Uruguay and Argentina, supported by America, might I add); as a queer feminist activist fighting for liberation, as a person who has seen her friends bleeding after being beaten up at protests, evicted from their homes, as someone who fights the good fight against oppression, just as you do… This is disgusting and offensive.

The anger and vitriol from a bunch of pissed off people with very, very little power is not comparable to the campaigns of terror perpetuated by the Nazis in the build-up to their ascension to power. And that’s just the key here: power. Do you think that trans people really have the institutional and societal power to oppress you? In the United States, trans people keep being murdered, keep surviving horrible violence and discrimination, particularly trans women of colour, as I said above. Do you really think that their communication of anger through twitter is the same as a bunch of german dudes beating up an elderly jewish shopkeeper? Is this it?  I eagerly await your compilation of tweets, which the blog post promises.

I don’t know how to end this, Roseanne. I was shocked to hear you treat trans people as if we are your enemies, as if we are part of the powers that be, which continue to keep people fighting against one another, in poverty and misery, fighting wars for profit and propagating patriarchal attitudes. I hope you read this letter, and that you consider my words in it.

I leave you with a link to a video of me giving a speech encouraging Irish LGBTQ people to become allies of the pro-choice movement, at the March For Choice, Ireland’s largest pro-choice demonstration in 20 years, only a few months ago. One of my main involvements in feminism for the past five years has been campaigning for free, safe and legal abortion in Ireland, something which I imagine you strongly support. We have a lot in common Roseanne. I hope you consider what I’ve written here today.

Regards,

Ariel Silvera