The Boundaries of Womanhood: Lesbian and Non-lesbian Feminist Opinions about Transsexuals




Kendel, Monica Phillipina Rose Marie

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Feminists of the past two and a half decades have been influential in the debates about the meaning of womanhood. Transsexualism as a state of being, and transsexuals themselves, have periodically presented challenging issues to the discussion. As a result, the boundaries of womanhood are being questioned and membership in sex and gender categories are being contested by transsexuals and non-transsexuals within feminist debates. Conflicts arise when questions of transsexuals' womanhood come to the forefront, and one controversy centres on whether sex and gender statuses change for transsexuals. Do male-to-female transsexuals become women (if ever)? Do male-to-female transsexuals become female (if ever)? Should transsexual women be included in women-only events? The last question stirs the debate that has been brewing in feminist communities since the 1970s. And because women-only events are largely organized and attended by lesbians, lesbians have often been at the forefront of feminist debates about the womanhood of transsexual women. There has been much lively debate in the 1970s and again in the 1990s on the topic of transsexualism, however there has been little research specifically looking at feminist attitudes about transsexuals. To expand our knowledge in these areas, the concepts of womanhood is explored from a feminist perspective. A context is provided with a review of radical feminist, radical lesbian feminist and lesbian separatist theories. Feminist literature on the issue of transsexualism is presented to show the many sides of the debate. Praxis of radical feminism is illustrated using the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival as an example of women-only space, a model of feminist-separatist utopia and a site where transsexual women have not been welcome. With this foundation, analysis of survey question results are presented to determine whether feminist attitudes, as presented in the literature, aptly reflect non-lesbian and lesbian feminist perspectives on transsexuals' womanhood. This thesis concludes with a discussion of the findings and suggestions for further study.



transsexualism, transsexuals, women-only events