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The Eighth Annual Women’s History Month Symposium

Friday, March 25
9:30 am – 4:45 pm ET
Check in begins at 8:30 am ET

John D. O’Bryant African American Institute
Cabral Center, Northeastern University
40 Leon Street, Boston

Presented by the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program
Sponsored by the Northeastern Humanities Center and the Northeastern University School of Law

In recent years, the conflicts between trans and (some) lesbian activists have become increasingly polarized and tense.  While this has been less pronounced in the US than in Britain, where a version of trans-exclusive radical feminism is quite visible and vocal, tensions can still run high here in the US.  Too often this debate is both historically ill-informed and reduced to ad hominin Twitter attacks and name-calling.  This Symposium seeks to provoke meaningful dialogue on the relationship among feminism, trans scholarship and activism, and lesbian politics and theory. Starting from the position that trans inclusion and liberation is non-negotiable, this symposium aims to unpack and analyze the fears and falsehoods that motivate lesbian attacks on trans activists. We want to initiate a dialogue that is respectful, deeply informed by evidence, historically accurate, and aligned with building a multi-racial, gender-inclusive, intersectional feminism that erases neither “lesbian” nor “trans.” Key questions that will animate our discussion include: 

  • What is the origin of current fears of so-called “lesbian erasure” and is that a red (lavender?) herring? 
  • What theoretical frameworks undergird transphobic ideologies? 
  • Is gender imagined differently by trans scholars than by lesbian scholars? 
  • Is there a relationship between the decline of a specifically lesbian culture (e.g., the closure of most lesbian bars and bookstores) and the rise of trans activism? 
  • How have lesbian and trans identities shifted across history and geography? 
  • What is the complex psychic relationship between identity and desire? 
  • What will it take to create a more productive dialogue? 
  • How can we create feminist communities that are inclusive and open to debate and contestation? 

Check-in begins at 8:30 am ET. Guests must show proof of vaccination against covid-19 and their registration ticket. A welcome into the space will start at 9:30 am with our first panel “Desiring Identity: The Politics of Gender and the Gender of Politics” starting at 9:45 am. After a break, our next panel, “Identifying Desire: Feeling Lesbian, Feeling Trans, Feeling Feminist”, will begin at 11:45 am. We will break for lunch and return at 3:00 for our final panel of the day, “Identity, Desire, and Feminist Community.” A full schedule of events, including panel descriptions and talk titles can be found here.

Panelists include: Brenda Cossman (University of Toronto), V Varun Chaudhry (Brandeis University), Mairead Sullivan (Loyola Marymount University), Tey Meadow (Columbia University), Cameron Awkward-Rich (UMass Boston), Emily Owens (Brown University), Susan Stryker (Mills College), and Finn Mackay (University of the West of England). Learn more about panelists here.

This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Guests must show proof of full vaccination against covid-19 (including a booster shot). Guests must remain masked at all times while in the Cabral Center and surrounding areas. There will be a dedicated space for eating and drinking and take-away lunches will be provided to keep our community as safe as possible.