OMNI Resignation Letter

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Here is Jeanne’s resignation letter to the Board of Directors of the OMNI Center for Peace, Justice & Ecology, Fayetteville Arkansas. The letter is printed in its entirety, except for the removal of the first paragraph which included names of several individuals and a request from Jeanne that the letter be kept private. At the time, Jeanne was concerned with her safety. Jeanne had been a member of the OMNI Board for a year when OMNI and the Goddess Festival cancelled the Disappearing L – Lesbians Rise Up workshop.

March 27, 2017

I am offering the OMNI Board one last gift in my position as an OMNI Board member. I have spent considerable effort preparing this letter, my gift to you. I request that every member of the OMNI Board take me and what I have to say very seriously. Do not dismiss me as “transphobic” because I am not. I believe every transgender person should be protected from discrimination and should have the right to freely act in as “masculine” or “feminine” a way as they please. I am often mistaken by others as a man myself. I’ve had women call in the manager when I’ve gone into a women’s restroom. I do have a different political understanding than many transgender persons. My political understanding is of as great importance as that of any transgender person. I am an OMNI Board member talking to you. Please listen carefully.

The Women’s Liberation Movement, Lesbian-Feminism, and Lesbians together are the love of my life. These movements provided me with the consciousness to deeply understand the workings of oppression and privilege in patriarchal society and to understand how my own life experiences and even my inner being had been shaped by this patriarchal society. This knowledge of the social forces working against me, in time, allowed me to come to feel considerable love for myself, including for my own body. This is why I don’t wear make up, dress in restricting women’s clothing, or otherwise try and fit into the mold this society has created for women, a cage that restricts and controls women’s behavior, holds back their power and keeps them subservient to men and seeking male approval. I have freed myself, not entirely, but considerably. I am able to be, to a large extent, true to myself and true to other women and lesbians. I would never have been able to come to this place of self-love and personal and political power without experiencing the safety, knowledge, joy, and inspiration of being in women only space, space without men and males of any variety, including males transitioning to female. This is the women’s space that OMNI has just denied to women and lesbians, the women’s space that is essential to the liberation of women (See the well respected historian, Gerda Lerner’s, book The Creation of Feminist Consciousness).

Please note, in this letter when I say “women” I am referring to biological female who were raised as girls. When I say “women only space” I am referring to spaces restricted to women who are biological females raised as girls.

“Free to Be, You and Me”

While feminism and women only space lead women and lesbians to greater and greater acceptance and love of ourselves and our bodies and make us powerful, the transgender movement is currently based in a number of principles that are harmful to its own members and to women and the Women’s Liberation movement. From the early days of its second wave, feminism put forward the idea, as Marlo Thomas put it, that every boy and girl, woman and man, should be “free to be, you and me.” In other words, that we should be able to act using the full range of any “masculine” or “feminine” behaviors (so long as they are life-enhancing). In still other words, we need to abolish gender altogether; there should be no masculinity or femininity, no restrictions of behavior based on sex at all.

But, many in the transgender movement take a very conservative stance on gender, claiming that each person has a “gender identity” that is so fixed that the only option is to do whatever it takes to alter their bodies so that their body matches their “gender identity.” This can involve taking potentially dangerous hormones and undergoing surgeries to remove fully functioning body parts. The existence of a “gender identity” is on very shaky grounds scientifically and is primarily a concept promoted by the transgender movement (though the American Psychiatric Association once used the term “gender identity disorder” and in DSM-5 does diagnose “gender dysphoria” as “a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender.”). The “gender identity” concept is used to create and promote a political position.

This concept of “gender identity” has harmful consequences for everyone because it makes it seem like each of us is stuck with being some version of “feminine” or “masculine.” This is, in many ways, the same position that conservative groups and others opposed to women’s liberation have taken about gender. As a result, instead of boys and girls having a world of choices open to them, they are now constricted as much as they ever were, boys in blue with their toy guns learning to be violent and good future soldiers for a world filled with war, girls in pink with their dolls, learning to be subservient to men.

But, this is just one form of damage being done to children. Terribly problematic is what happens to the children who don’t easily adopt the gender behavior considered appropriate for their sex. It is one thing for an adult to choose to begin taking hormones or undergo mastectomies or other surgeries, but hormone blockers, hormones and even surgeries are being done on children and young people under the age of consent. The number of clinics devoted to “gender dysphoria” and the number of children subjected to these “treatments” are making this a highly profitable field of medicine. (Ask yourself, why is the transgender movement so powerful now? Who is making money off this movement?) Do you think that eleven year old children should be given hormone blockers of questionable safety? Why shouldn’t boys just be able to wear whatever clothes they want, play with whatever toys they want, be as “girly” as they want? And the same for girls!

Women are Oppressed Based on our Biology

The life experiences and interests of women and “transwomen” are clearly different or we would not be having any of this conflict. Women have always been oppressed, in large part, on the basis of our biology. Think about why men ever began controlling women in the first place. What did women have that men wanted? One big piece of the answer to that puzzle is in our ability to birth new life and then there is the possession of the children once we have birthed them. Controlling women’s reproduction, our biology, has been central to patriarchy since its inception. There are many ways that women’s biology forms the basis for our oppression, but reproduction issues such as abortion and sterilization are critical feminist issues. Because women are oppressed for our biology, women organize, in part, on issues related to our biology. “Transwomen” are certainly oppressed, but the oppression they experience is largely different than women’s oppression.

When oppressed groups organize to resist they do so based on the oppression they are experiencing. If “transwomen” had the same concerns as women they would be supporting women and lesbians in all our efforts to organize, including our wish to organize without them whenever we want to. But, “transwomen” have a unique set of experiences and concerns and that is why they have a transgender movement – to put forward their own agenda for political change, an agenda different than that of women (biological females).

Not long ago a young woman at Claremont College tried to give a program showing a video of the reactions of random students who were asked to draw a vulva, but the event was cancelled by the coffeehouse that had agreed to host the event. The young woman producing the event gave her stated purpose as “create an open dialogue educating people about the vulva in order to confront society’s stigmas and stereotypes, and make people more comfortable with the many varying images ad types of cis and non-cis vulvas.” Despite her inclusion of the vaginas of transgender male to female persons in the show and her use of the transgender movement’s language of “cis”, the transgender movement still forced the coffeehouse to close down the event (and you know the kind of pressure that was used). Similarly, in 2015 Mount Holyoke cancelled a performance of the Vagina Monologues play which features monologues about sex, menstruation, rape, birth, and more after similar pressure. It appears that “transwomen” do not want women to be able to talk about our biological realities because they have a different biological reality and this makes apparent how different they are from women.

One of the very first major issues embraced by second wave feminism was women’s Self-Help which included learning to care for, know about, and love our own bodies. Women would have workshops in the 1970s to gather together and use hand mirrors to do vaginal self-examinations. Picture that happening today with transgender male to female persons in the room, most of whom retain their penises. Even if the transgender movement allowed such a women’s workshop to take place, would women ever be comfortable enough to look at their own vaginas in the presence of anyone who wasn’t female? Women were incredibly shy and embarrassed to begin with in a workshop of this sort. How do women come to love our own bodies in a culture that hates us and our bodies? At one of the other Goddess Festival workshops where I was one of the presenters, one of the participants talked about the biggest area of growth in the plastic surgery industry right now: reshaping women’s labias to make them smaller (and more child-like). What self-hatred among women drives this surgery! Women who spend time with other women in women only spaces in feminist workshops and festivals learn how very different and amazing women’s bodies are and how beautiful we are regardless of the shape and size of our breasts, labias or other parts of our bodies.

Women need women only space to learn to love ourselves and our bodies (and to develop feminist consciousness and an organized women’s liberation movement). We need to organize based in our biological realities because biology is a major basis of our oppression. “Transwomen” want to prevent women from meeting and organizing as women. Are they trying to put an end to women’s liberation or are their self-centered actions just having an unintended, but unconscionable, effect?

What is Happening Here?

While feminism and women only space helps women to love their bodies and find their authentic selves, the transgender movement pushes its adherents into attempting to reshape their bodies and behaviors. I have read descriptions from women transitioning to men about the constant vigilance required as they “perform” masculinity, watching and attempting to change their every movement and worrying that they are not pulling it off and that the people they encounter will not see them as male. This need to do a performance instead of simply being oneself is equally true of men transitioning to women. I acknowledge that some transgender people may be far more creative than this, but most are performing in order to pass.

I have wondered for a long time why many in the transgender movement have acted so viciously against lesbian feminism and fought so hard against women only space. (I want to remind you that the Goddess Festival and OMNI just received a small dose of what my lesbian community, nationally and internationally, has experienced at the hands of the transgender movement for over 20 years now.) I now think that these vicious attacks are because “transwomen” are so dependent on the external perceptions of others that their exclusion from women only space is felt as an invalidation of a self that is resting on shaky ground. Concern for the shaky transgender self is, I think, part of why so many progressives are so quick to support transgender people and so quick to dismiss the damage being done by the transgender movement to lesbians, women who want to be in women only space, and to the women’s liberation movement.

A path that could take transgender people away from this dependence on validation from others would be to abandon the quest to be women and be men. Transgender is an identity that transgender people could claim without having to put on a performance or be forced to adopt stereotypic “masculine” and “feminine” behaviors and appearances. They could act however they wanted to and simply be themselves. Transgender people acting in whatever “masculine”, “feminine” or other ways they felt drawn to, without the imperative to be women or be men, could become genuine allies to women, helping to free everyone from the chains of “masculinity” and “femininity” and helping to put an end to male privilege. Abandoning traditional maleness, masculinity and male privilege is a path that has been taken before by the male gay liberationist allies feminists and lesbians had in the 1970s (some of whom are still our allies today).

Lesbian feminists and other advocates for women only space are also gravely threatening to the transgender movement because we are the ones with the political philosophy most able to critique gender politics and transgender politics. The transgender movement does not even want us to be able to present our points of view and does everything it can to discredit us. This is quite possibly happening right now as the OMNI Board reads and discusses my letter.

I could go on discussing many other political issues that the transgender and women’s liberation movements disagree on. But, I will leave it to you to explore these issues yourselves, as is your deep responsibility given the harmful actions that OMNI has just taken against lesbians and women seeking women only space. I recommend the recent anthology, Female Erasure: What You Need to Know About Gender Politics’ War on Women, the Female Sex and Human Rights, edited by Ruth Barrett as a good starting point for your studies.

OMNI Center for Justice?

The OMNI Board’s continuing ignorance about sexism, misogyny and lesbian-hating, the oppression of lesbians, racism, and heterosexism as well as a lack of basic knowledge about the workings of power, privilege and oppression is hurtful and dangerous to every oppressed person in northwest Arkansas. By bowing to the pressure and bullying tactics of the transgender movement, OMNI has proven itself anything but an ally to lesbians, to all the women who depend on and value women only space, and to any but the most reformist of feminists.

It is unclear how women and lesbians in northwest Arkansas will be able to find any public space to hold women-only events, since the OMNI Board, without exploring any of these critical feminist issues, tossed lesbians and women under the bus. What organization will stand up to a transgender movement that makes unreasonable demands, uses bullying tactics, and refuses to negotiate (as was the case when the Goddess Festival attempted negotiation) once they have watched OMNI cave in?

Instead of seeking a real solution to the conflict imposed on OMNI by the transgender movement, the OMNI Board failed to meet with the lesbian community and other women who value women only space, as I suggested to the OMNI Board, and acted in ignorance to one entire side to the story. Do not think for a second that because OMNI had a so-called healing circle and allowed Jori to speak for 12 minutes out of the lengthy meeting time, that you have done anything to heal the rift between lesbian feminists and OMNI. Since when is justice achieved by listening and caring about the concerns of only one of the parties involved? Instead the OMNI Board (not the OMNI Director) has chosen to act with great cowardice and unthinkingly buy into the narrative put forward by the trendy transgender movement.

The ideas currently put forward by the transgender movement are not more correct or more important than those of lesbian feminists, but at this moment in time simply have more power behind them. Ask yourselves, “How has the greater power of the transgender movement influenced my opinions?” This power difference exists, in part, because the transgender movement has waged a war against lesbian feminism for over twenty years now, applying bullying tactics, like those employed against the Goddess Festival and OMNI, against our lesbian feminist movement and our culture. This is an historical reality that can and is being documented (See, for example, The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture by Bonnie Morris, the book that sparked the workshop that OMNI and the Goddess Festival banned.) Imagine what would be left of OMNI after 20+ years of assaults like this. OMNI didn’t even survive one quick skirmish without abandoning even the barest pretense of caring about justice!

The OMNI Center must now grow some backbone and hold the transgender movement accountable for its attacks on the Goddess Festival, OMNI, and the workshop presenters, including myself, whose workshop was banned from the Goddess Festival.

In addition, OMNI needs to begin a process of reparation to lesbians and other feminists who value women only space. OMNI needs to immediately begin to provide meeting space and assistance in promoting events for every group of lesbians and women who want to meet in women only space, space that excludes men, anyone with male privilege, and anyone born as a biological male and/or raised as a boy.

I resign from the OMNI Board of Directors. You have thrown away the opportunity to continue to work with one hard-working, deep thinking, politically experienced lesbian feminist and what have you gotten for this? You have barely survived one skirmish with a bullying transgender movement.

Come on, folks! You can do better than what you have done so far. I know you all have good hearts. But, you have got to learn about and deal with the complexities of the political situations you now face. First it was racism and OMNI badly hurting people of color. Now it is sexism and heterosexism and OMNI has badly hurt lesbian feminists and every woman who values women only space. Please educate yourselves in a major way and get it right starting now. The community of oppressed people in northwest Arkansas needs OMNI to start fulfilling its mission for justice. Right now! Fix this!

In opposition to every form of oppression,

Jeanne Neath