Transfeminists in the region are committed to uniting all bodies and all marginalized groups to fight patriarchy, capitalism, and, of course, racism with a Central American perspective. The struggle’s reflective nature was evident during the first virtual conversation promoted by FCAM as part of their planned activities for their twentieth anniversary.
Activists Obrayan Robinson (Honduras) and Bianka Rodríguez (El Salvador) discussed the interdependence of the transfeminist and anti-racist struggle. The conversation was moderated by Viviane Vergueiro, a Brazilian researcher wo focuses on gender, transfeminist currents, coloniality, and economics.
In this post, you will primarily find reflections from the panelists’ lived experience as well as notes on transfeminist currents—what they mean both in Central and South America—and the tensions and proposals coming from them.
Transfeminist currents: A diverse history coming from the streets
I’ve been pondering the concept of transfeminism a lot. I always come back to bell hooks’ question: Who is the subject of feminism? This reflection is key, and the answer is that feminism is for everybody, and everybody means trans, black, indigenous, and poor women, said Robinson at the beginning of the conversation.
In 2021, the Colombian organization Sentiido commissioned a report about the meaning and contexts of transfeminist currents in Latin America. The report found that transfeminism as a concept is fraught and heterogeneous, which is why we refer to transfeminist currents. Transfeminism is a movement under construction that is neither unified nor homogeneous, so there are different takes on transfeminism depending on the context.
The report states that the word transfeminism designates a series of feminist principles and practices developed primarily—although not exclusively—by transwomen and crossdressers with an intersectional perspective who are deeply critical of gender essentialism, transphobia within the feminist movement, and the precariousness of migrant, racialized, impoverished, and gender-diverse bodies.
Obrayan agrees with the report’s findings and adds: “First, we learned about the history of feminism, which, as we know, has been led by upper-class white women who don’t acknowledge bodies [different from theirs] as part of their struggle. Transfeminism emerged and acknowledged us and put on the table issues regarding the bodily autonomy of trans-bodies: what do we want to be? How do we want to live our identity and sexuality—and that is important as well. For us, these have become construction processes that allow us to get in touch with ourselves and learn to name out identities and get familiar with the bodies we inhabit.
Transfeminism centers the voices, experiences, practices, and knowledge of transwomen and crossdressers, and it acknowledges their crucial importance for the liberation of all women and the equitable distribution of rights, opportunities, and resources among all people. To that end, transfeminism takes into account other categories of oppression, such as race and class, which is where both struggles overlap, especially in regions like ours.
With that in mind, Bianka brings up the fact that violence is compounded when people are part of more than one marginalized identity, for example, those that are trans and non-white.
The Honduran activist believes racialized trans women “can’t fight two distinct battles because we’re trans, black, and women. Sometimes we do not name our struggles with those labels, but in many ways we are fighting because we have been displaced, marginalized, discriminated against, the targets of violence.”
The word transfeminism was introduced in Spain in the 1980s, and later in the United States in the 1990s. And although there are a few transfeminist manifestos, such as that of the Asian author Emi Koyama, published in 2001, not all people label themselves as transfeminists speak from the same positioning or to the same audiences.
Sentiido’s report suggests that transfeminism currents see themselves as being the grassroots, community-centered, and deeply committed to social mobilization. For decades, street militancy, protests, and local community organizing have been some of the main tools found by transwomen and crossdressers to defend their rights and address their needs. These transfeminist practices are not only an essential part of their work but also the genesis of transfeminism as such.
Sentiido found that some people believe transfeminism should be an exclusive space for transwomen and crossdressers. Others argue that transfeminism should focus on trans women and crossdressers, but it should also make space for transmen and enter alliances with cisgender people. Finally, there are those whose concept of transfeminism is broader, which allows them to break with Western subjectivities and become a movement that contains multitudes, including subjects who are “in transit” in different ways, such as migrants.
Transfeminist currents are deeply influenced by their contexts, which means there is significant overlap between them but also significant differences, as it happens for example between transfeminism in the North and transfeminism in the South. Even, and especially, in Central America, we find groups with different concerns and priorities. Despite this diversity, the report reveals a large overlap in terms of shared concerns, such as (1) the need to have their rights guaranteed, which includes the eradication of violence against crossdressers, trans, and non-binary people, and 2) the search of better living conditions for racialized and impoverished people, many of whom are also crossdressers, trans, and non-binary.
Obrayan emphasizes this point by stating: “Our journey has not been easy, since we’ve been excluded from many spaces, but our struggle has managed to contribute anyway. We have centered our identities both as trans and non-binary people and as Black people from Afro-descendant communities with history of resistance.”
Tensions and powers in movements
Transfeminist currents have been established as spaces for struggle, resistance, and challenges to the different systems of oppression and exclusion produced by cisnormativity, which can be found in other feminist currents better known as trans-exclusionary.
Bianka explains that: “We also face exclusion within the [feminist] movements, where a third party has to vouch for you and say ‘she’s a feminist and a trans woman’. For this reason, I believe that the movements also replicate the binaries and fundamentalist practices of right-wing political parties. The concept of feminism must be deconstructed, because it’s still very white. A black woman is not considered a feminist, for example. That is why we have to fight to change both feminism and society in general.”
Obrayan adds: “The fight against heteropatriarchy and against capitalism doesn’t benefit “some”; it benefits all all. We continue to fight because we continue to be excluded and marginalized, so we struggle to be taken into account as rightsholders.”
The intersection between gender and race also includes indigenous peoples. A Nicaraguan activist who contributed to the Sentiido report stated: “There can be no queer, transfeminist liberation without acknowledging indigenous peoples.”
In Latin America, transfeminism concerns itself especially with the intersection between class and race. Almost all the people interviewed by Sentiido, regardless of their geographical location, mention that the majority of trans women and crossdressers in the region live in precarious conditions related not only to their gender identity, but also to their ethno-racial identity and socioeconomic situation.
Bianka says social movements are not exempt from oppressive dynamics. “Black people are often not part of those movements. They are on the streets or in the maquilas, but they aren’t part of social movements.”
Inspired by the transfeminist/trans-border manifesto, we’d like to conclude by reminding everyone that transfeminism is a concrete political strategy with a feminist perspective against violence, repression, and the exclusion of dissident, ambiguous, mixed bodies.
We hope to continue circulating these reflections to create, from the plurality of our experiences, counter-narratives that challenge the CIStem and to contribute to the construction of more inclusive movements and societies.
Notes from the FCAM virtual conversation: “Anti-racist transfeminism, a Central American perspective.”