The Importance of Exercising Transinclusive Dialogue in Environmentalist Movements

By
Monday, August 22nd, 2016

In light of the recent tragedy of the Orlando shootings and reoccurring attacks of the LGBTQ community, this article aims to educate how the environmentalist movement can be inclusive to LGBTQ individuals, and further ensure transinclusive dialogue through academic or non formal attempts of social and environmental sustainability. It is crucial at this point of our social and political climate to be introspective and reflective on how mainstream movements have a tendency to reflect culturally dominant ideas, and therefore exclude many of the voices that fall within the gender spectrum.

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National interest upon movements changes with the seasons, and the current spotlight on trans issues, trans celebrities, and trans characters on television is no exception. It is imperative for the movement that we as a society expand our perspective to fully understand the contemporary challenges and systemic injustices that trans people face as the dialogue on trans rights explodes. It is important to acknowledge that the trans justice movement has been going on long before any celebrities made the screens, and more importantly – that trans women of color are the most victimized of hate crimes. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs concluded, “72% of hate crimes against LGBTQ people were against trans women, 90% of whom were transgender women of color”. In 2015, there were 20 documented murders of trans women of color in the United Sates, the most ever recorded. Therefore, it is devastating but accurate to assume that mass societies inability to accept or acknowledge courageous transitions within this community, reflects the lack of momentum in the overall transformation of society to environmental consciousness.

In order to comprehend the complexity of trans issues, proper use of definitions and the breakdown of pronouns must be introduced. A trans person is someone whose gender differs from the one they were assigned at birth. A cis person is someone who does not identify as a different gender than the one they have been assigned. The word cis has been popularized by the trans community, rather than using words such as “natural” ‘biological” or “normal” which illustrates a standard, in which otherwise is abnormal. Transmisogyny “is best described as the confluence of misogyny and transphobia, including negative attitudes, expressed through cultural hate, individual and state violence, and discrimination” which are targeted towards trans women and trans feminine people. Transphobia represents the intense dislike or prejudice against transsexual or transgender people. According to my research the most proper way to acknowledge transfolk is either “female-assigned” or “male-assigned”. Through this discourse one can understand that a trans women does not have a male body, her body is female regardless of medical history. As a cis gender woman, I in no way aim to silence or speak for trans women. However, I do aim to educate fellow cis environmentalists on these topics, and to continue dialogue with the trans community.

transgender-human-rightsContemporary environmentalism has long since focused on conservation, preservation, and the eradication of pollutants. Through this perspective, perceptions of “naturalness” are formed through cultural and social norms, rather than legitimate biological explanations. Unnatural or manufactured threats such as chemical pollutants then contaminate the wholesomeness of both human and ecological bodies. Although policy against pollutants and non-consensual body manipulation are reasonable, this perspective ignores and even enforces the notion that a body, human or not cannot be medically, or naturally manipulated without losing the integrity of “naturalness”. Furthermore, the hegemonic ideals of gender and sexuality are then also represented as “natural”. Environmental focused academic and research based findings then reflect this notion, and further enforce and normalize transexclusive language throughout environmentalist dialogue.

For example, in 2002 research from the United States Geological Survey investigated the effects of large fish kills, and accounts of skin lesions of smallmouth bass in the South Branch of the Potomac River in Virginia. Throughout their research they discovered that a majority of the male sample of smallmouth bass had developed microscopic female germ cells, as well as a high level of testicular oocytes (suggesting an intersex conditon). The presence of endocrine disruptions or estrogenic compounds in the water are claimed to formulate testicular oocytes in gonochoristis fish (fish that have a single distinct sex). The USGS admits, “ a low level of gonadal intersex may be a natural phenomenon in some gonochrisitc fishes”. Furthermore, there is no additional research to conclude the norm for smallmouth bass collected in areas of no pollution, and the solely gonochoristic character of the smallmouth bass is still unknown. However, as soon as this report circulated to mass media outlets, transmisogynistic language and stereotypes of the fixity of human gender and sex were popularized. Articles like “Operation Sex Change, “Gender-bender Threat to Marine Life”, “Something in the Water is Feminizing Male Fish. Are We Next?” confirmed hegemonic ideals of gender. Some articles even went as far to refer to the smallmouth bass as “transvestite fish”, as word that is considered a slur by many trans women today.

These headlines perpetuated fears against pollutants that may instigate “unnaturalness”, when in actually this phenomena may be indeed “natural”. In fact Joan Roughgarden, an evolutionary biologist at Stanford University, confirms “the most common body form among plants and in perhaps half of the animal kingdom is for an individual to be both male and female at the same time, or at different times during its life”. Instances such as the heterosexual monogamous portrayal of penguins in the March of the Penguin’s movies have faced criticism for falsifying the nature of the penguin’s relationships in accordance to human ones. Articles such as Jon Mooallem’s “Can Animal’s Be Gay?” which examined female-female paired Laysan albatross, faced insane controversy between the scientific and community at large. Therefore, despite science’s foundation as actively objective, there are many illustrations of a long history of scientists imposing human cultural values into the bank slate of animality. Observing nature through socionormativity calls for the misrepresentation of biodiversity, and the acceptance of transmisyogynistic language and interpretation.

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Our ecological problems are deeply rooted in our extremely lopsided and dangerous social, economic and political systems. Social justice and environmental movements share many common goals, and both call out systematic injustices. Furthermore, if we are to gain any sort of balance with the non-human world we must aggressively work toward understanding and correcting our human relationships. Creating solidarity with LGBTQ movements is inevitably infiltrating the system and coercing consciousness for environmentalist efforts.

February 27, 2014 EPIC sponsored an event to bring best selling ecological movement author, philosopher, and poet Derrick Jensen to HSU. The goal of this event was to provide the audience with an opportunity to hear about Derrick’s beliefs and philosophy, and ask him questions and engage in conversation about how we can become a more sustainable society. Derrick Jensen and Lierre Kieth founded Deep Green Resistance (DGR), a direct action environmentalist organization. We at EPIC admit that we did not know Jensen’s or DGR’s controversial perspective on gender. EPIC was educated and focused solely on his individual pieces of work and philosophies. DGR claims that gender is a solely cultural construct, and therefore gender is voluntary. Through this as well as an adopted radical feminist perspective they claim that the only solution to the patriarchal systematic oppressions is to “overthrow male power and thus the entire gender system”. This statement is transexclusive, transmisogyistic, and transphobic for it does not acknowledge the existence or struggle of transfolk. Additionally, DGR has outwardly excluded trans identified women into their organization based on this premise.

By bringing Jensen to HSU we at EPIC understand that there were people in our community who were hurt and angry by his presence due to his stance on gender and past transexclusive actions. We apologize for our role in nativity, and want to restate that we, openly affirm our commitment to being trans-inclusive. We welcome trans people into our organization, as all people are essential to the mission to protect the environment from the oppressive systems that are destroying our planet. We are committed to confronting the institutions that destroy communities, cultures and the Earth. Furthermore, we vow to include transinclusive dialogue within any and all of our future efforts and reports. We strive to continue further solidarity between EPIC and the LGBTQ movement, and are making steps to improve the connection between social and environmental justice movements.

If this message has resonated with you, and you would personally like to show support, feel free to attend – Humboldt Pride Parade and Festival September 10, 2016. The event will be held at Halvorsen Park, Eureka from 12pm-5pm.

Written by Briana Villalobos, EPIC intern and Humboldt State sociology graduate.