Missing The Point On DGR's Transphobia and Essentialist Feminism
As many involved in radical/anarchist/feminist projects in the United States are now aware, at last weekend's Law and Disorder Conference in Portland a group of transpeople and queers attacked a table staffed by Deep Green Resistance (DGR) activists. These courageous queers threw a burrito at the head of one of the tablers and defaced their literature with markers, forcing the DGR activists to abandon their table and run to the organizers, shaking, with tears in their eyes because of the “horror” of the attack. These DGR activists were confronted because of their organization's backwards, transphobic feminist theory and policy which advocates strict enforcement of gender binaries and attacks on transgendered and queer youth. The first report of this anti-DGR action was written up on GenderTrender, a radical second wave feminist blog (gendertrender.wordpress.com). Their report is full of the type of rhetoric one would expect to see from a blog that subscribes to this brand of essentialist feminism. Their repeated attempts to portray the women who were attacked as traumatized, triggered, and inherently powerless at the hands of violent men while providing an anti-contextual depiction of the “perpetrators” as large, aggressive, inherently oppressive men aims to support a feminist praxis where men are men, women are women, and the social roles of each are unchanging despite context. DGR makes no attempt to hide their transphobia and openly declares that those who identify as transwomen (who were behind the attack on the DGR table) are actually men in disguise who aim to use their status as trans to abuse women.
In the past – save a few notable examples – most of the criticism directed towards Deep Green Resistance and its ideological leaders Lierre Keith and Derrick Jensen has taken place on blogs, Facebook, and other forums on the internet. Thankfully, this appropriate action taken by a group of transwomen and queers has mobilized many groups into concrete, real-world action to combat DGR. Many are organizing to ban DGR from radical spaces and there is a mobilization to shut down the Resistance Rewritten tour, a speaking tour spearheaded by feminist author and DGR activist Rachel Ivey.
While the most recent backlash against DGR has focused on their transphobic stances, we believe that much of this criticism is missing the point of the problems inherent in DGR's ideology. It must be recognized that this transphobia is only a symptom of the essentialist strain of feminism that DGR uses as part of its ideological foundation. While DGR's transphobia is essentialist feminism taken to its extreme, this brand of feminism has found its way into radical circles, communities, and spaces throughout the United States and it must be confronted – not just because of the way DGR has twisted it into a form of transphobia, but also because of all of the other ways that it damages our organizing.
The Politics of Victimization
In 2011 Derrick Jensen, after years of calling for the use of violence against deforestation, environmental destruction, and agents of the federal government, contacted the FBI to complain about recent “death threats” he had received on an online message board. This action, which many regard as snitching, and which seriously damaged Jensen's credibility among anarchists, was widely criticized in radical circles. Jensen responded to this criticism by accusing his detractors of failing to stand in solidarity with him, which they were obligated to do because of his newly-proclaimed status as a victim. At the 2010 SF Anarchist Bookfair, DGR's Lierre Keith was pied by a group of anarchists for her anti-vegan and transphobic stance. After the disruption she quickly called the police on those who had pied her, playing up her status as a victimized woman who had been attacked by a group of men. Despite the fact that the group that pied her was not made up of cisgendered men, Keith and her supporters stuck to the line that those involved had to have been men because of the aggressive, abusive nature of the attack.
The sharp delineation of identities around the terms “victim” and “survivor” versus “perpetrator” and “abuser” has spread like wildfire in radical scenes in the United States, primarily on the West Coast. In some cities accountability processes, which were devised as a way to deal with sexual assault and serious abuse in radical communities, have been used to settle scores with ex-partners and as ways to leverage power over others by exploiting the identities of “survivor” and “perpetrator”. More recently, a self-proclaimed radical woman in an East Coast city used feminist and accountability process terminology to justify calling the police on and testifying against a group of anarchists who were involved in a physical altercation in which she was present, claiming that her identity as a woman made these situations “abuse” despite the context which clearly showed that this was not the case. During the ongoing legal battle she repeatedly affirmed that her status as a “victim” made her decision to be a snitch for the police unquestionable. Those who would criticize or confront this behavior have been quickly labeled as abusers, perpetrators, or abuse enablers.
These justifications are pulled directly out of the essentialist second wave feminism espoused by Deep Green Resistance, the tenets of which are followed to a lesser extent by radicals throughout the country in the name of liberation and community accountability.
The problematic brand of essentialist feminism that we are talking about didn't originate with Deep Green Resistance, but for many of us the recent incidents with DGR have brought to the forefront an issue that has been very difficult to delineate and criticize for what it is. The manipulation of accountability processes, the improper usage of terms associated with sexual and domestic abuse, and the disruption of radical action in the name of liberation and feminism must be brought to an end. The association of radicals with those who support essentialist feminism has allowed those who would openly cooperate with the police to infiltrate our circles of affinity and to undermine our work. It is important for radicals to recognize these behaviors for what they are and to be openly critical of them so that they cannot further harm our organizing and action by creating a climate of fear – fear of being labeled a perpetrator or abuser for taking action against this disruptive behavior. Radicals should understand and recognize that there is a divide that exists between these two theoretical and practical approaches to action and that no monolithic “community” exists between the two that should be respected. It is only then that we can be free of the power politics at play when demands are made for radicals to be made “accountable” to this community using processes which are inherently set up to play on essentialist critiques and assumptions of gender roles and behavior.