An Open Letter to Smith College About Transwomen

Smith College has developed an Admissions Policy Study Group. If you would like to share your own thoughts about the admissions policy with the Study Group, you are encouraged to do so via this web form.

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Dear Smith

Smith College Board of Trustees
College Hall 205
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01060

December 15, 2014

Dear Smith College Board of Trustees and President McCartney,

I am writing this open letter to express my strong and continuing support for Smith College’s female-only admissions policy. As a proud Smithie (’00), an attorney, and a vocal feminist, I have thought long and hard about the issues raised by the campaign for transwomen’s inclusion at Smith on the basis of their “gender identities.”

Ultimately, a theoretical deconstruction of the social category “woman” such that anyone and everyone can identify as a “woman” does not reflect the historical purpose of Smith College or the needs of its students.

Being a woman is not a spiritual or metaphysical experience. It is not a feeling and it is not a performative utterance. Being a woman is a lived experience with material consequences. Smith’s admission policy must reflect some clear limitations on male gender identification, lest the social category “woman” become entirely meaningless.

The slogans “transwomen are women” and “transwomen belong here” sound righteous at first, but on deeper analysis, they are also frustratingly simplistic. The full implications of the proposed policy change must be considered. There is much more at stake than validating identities and proving how open-minded we are.  In this letter, I will attempt to lay out some of the considerations that I believe must be taken into account and propose elements of a reasonable compromise. Continue reading

A feminist critique of “cisgender”

[first published June 8, 2012 on the Liberation Collective blog]

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Consistent with common usage of the term “cisgender,” the graphic below explains that “…if you identify with the gender you were assigened [sic] at birth, you are cis.”

I cannot find a way to attribute the artist of this drawing. All leads are appreciated.Another Trans 101: Cisgender webpage describes cis this way: “For example, if a doctor said “it’s a boy!” when you were born, and you identify as a man, then you could be described as cisgender.” [i] Likewise, girl-born people who identify as women are also considered cisgender. WBW are cis.

Framing gender as a medically determined assignment may seem like a good start to explaining gendered oppression because it purports to make a distinction between physical sex and gender. Feminism similarly understands masculinity and femininity (e.g., gender) as strictly enforced social constructs neither of which are the “normal” or inevitable result of one’s reproductive sex organs. Feminism and trans theory agree that coercive gender assignments are a significant source of oppression.

On closer inspection of the concept of “cisgender,” however, feminism and trans theory quickly diverge. Feminism does not believe that asking whether an individual identifies with the particular social characteristics and expectations assigned to them at birth is a politically useful way of analyzing or understanding gender. Eliminating gender assignments, by allowing individuals to choose one of two pre-existing gender molds, while continuing to celebrate the existence and naturalism of “gender” itself, is not a progressive social goal that will advance women’s liberation.  Feminism claims that gender is a much more complicated (and sinister) social phenomenon than this popular cis/trans binary has any hope of capturing. Continue reading