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March 25- Feminism for the Future: Constructive Conversations on Lesbian & Trans Identities & Politics

March 25th
9:30 AM- 4:45 PM
Cabral Center at the John D. O’Bryant African American Institute
Learn more and register here.

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? 

Schedule of Day

8:30 – 9:30      Registration, Breakfast

9:30-9:40        Welcome from Suzanna

9:40-9:45        Break

9:45-11:30       Panel One: “Desiring Identity: The Politics of Gender and the Gender of Politics”

Brenda Cossman, V Varun Chaudhry, Mairead Sullivan

Moderator: Libby Adler

Theories of gender and gender identity have been crucial to feminist, lesbian, and trans politics.  Yet the term “gender” has now been increasingly weaponized by both right-wing activists eager to undo decades of progress in feminist, queer, and trans rights and transphobic activists who mobilize under the banner of “gender-critical” feminism.  Gender, then, is used as a cudgel in a variety of crucial political sites – from reproductive rights to queer and trans citizenship and belonging.  What is the relationship between desire, identity, and the politics of gender in our current historical moment?

11:30-11:45                Break

11:45-1:30                  Panel Two: “Identifying Desire: Feeling Lesbian, Feeling Trans, Feeling Feminist”

Tey Meadow, Cameron Awkward-Rich, Emily Owens

Moderator: K.J. Rawson  

Desire and identity are two of the most weighted words in feminist and queer theory and politics.  Our panelists will engage with questions of affect and anxiety that underlie both identity formation and the construction of ourselves as desiring subjects.  What does it mean to “feel” lesbian, trans, and feminist and why are these feelings so often pitted in opposition to each other? How does language and terminology help or hinder the desire for more constructive conversations?

1:30 – 3:00                  Lunch

3:00-4:45                    Dialogue:  Identity, Desire, and Feminist Community

Susan Stryker and Finn MacKay

Moderator: Suzanna Walters

In this dialogue, we invite a robust discussion on the potential for building feminist community across boundaries: gender, sexual, geographical. Our two discussants bring with them long and deep histories with feminist, queer, lesbian, and trans activism and scholarship from the UK and the US. Why does this moment seem so particularly fraught around issues of gender and sexual identity? How do we push back against anti-trans, anti-lesbian, and anti-feminist politics? How can we construct feminist communities that provide a safe home for multiple identities and desiring subjects?

You are welcome to join for the whole day or to come for just one or more panels. Proof of vaccination against covid-19 will be required (including a booster). Registration for each panel you plan to attend (or for the full day) is required. Guests must remain masked at all times when in the Cabral Center and surrounding areas.

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