From informal circles to structured organizations, women’s groups have been around for a very long time. But the concept of ‘women-only space’ was a much more highly - politicized idea proposed during the Women¹s Movement in the 1970s. Radical feminists argued that because we live in a patriarchal society, public and private places were inherently male-dominated, unequal and, in some cases, unsafe for women. Feminists set out to create their own spaces for meetings, support groups, rallies and marches; some went further and built lesbian separatist households and communities.
These separatist spaces were both culturally significant and crucial to the development of feminist consciousness and empowerment; they were also an important way that lesbian women connected and supported one another in the days before Curve magazine, Melissa Etheridge and Ellen. Two decades later, separatism may no longer be in fashion, but single-sex gatherings are still an important element of lesbian lives. Yet, with the emergence of a visible and vocal transgendered community, the whole notion of ‘same- sex space’ has become increasingly problematic.
As the dyke-identified partner of a trans person, I find that I am faced with this issue on a regular basis. When I am invited to speak to a lesbian organization or participate in a women's event, I always ask, “What's your policy for trans people?” Indeed, throughout the country, various organizations are struggling with membership and event admission policies. The critical question is this: if an event is designated as “women only” how do we define our terms? Who qualifies as a woman, and where are the lines drawn?
Let me first say that I believe all people who identify as women should be welcomed (which is markedly different than allowed) in women's space, regardless of their gender assigned at birth, legal gender identity, or genital configuration; thus pre-op, post-op, and no-op MtFs are women, as far as I am concerned.
Currently, I think there is a thornier issue on the table for many groups: the inclusion of FtMs, tranny boys and female-bodied people who don't identify as women. Our community has gone through significant changes in the last decade. The options of people born female have increased, and folks who once identified as lesbians may now call themselves genderqueer, boydyke, boi, tranny, transman, or FtM. In fact, there is a movement of young, genderqueer people who refuse