1973: West Coast TERFs

… perhaps the most consequential incident in the rising tide of hostility toward transgender people in the summer of 1973 was directed against transsexual lesbian singer Beth Elliott by Robin Morgan at the West Coast Lesbian Feminist Conference…

The fallout began in December 1972 when Elliott was ousted from the Daughters of Bilitis, not because of any accusations against her but on the grounds that she wasn’t “really” a woman; several other members resigned in protest over that decision. Meanwhile, Elliott also served on the organizing committee of the West Coast Lesbian Feminist Conference, planned for April of 1973 in Los Angeles, and she had been asked to perform as a singer in the conference’s entertainment program.

The Gutter Dykes leafleted the conference to protest the presence there of a “man” (Elliott), and keynote speaker Robin Morgan, recently arrived from the East Coast, hastily expanded her address to incorporate elements of the brewing controversy. All of her incorporations seem to have come from separatist material, and none from Elliott and her supporters. Morgan’s speech, titled “Lesbianism and Feminism: Synonyms or Contradictions?” was subsequently published in her memoir Going Too Far: The Personal Chronicle of a Feminist, and it was also widely anthologized. More than twelve hundred Women at the conference—which turned out to be the largest lesbian gathering to date—listened to the speech firsthand. For many attendees, the controversy over Beth Elliott’s participation in the West Coast Lesbian Feminist Conference was their first encounter with the “transgender question,” and what transpired there would inform opinions nationwide.

“All hell broke loose that very first night, caused by the gatecrashing presence of a male transvestite who insisted that he was 1) an invited participant, 2) really a woman, and 3) at heart a lesbian,” Morgan Wrote in the introductory notes to Going Too Far. “It was incredible that so many strong angry women should be divided by one smug male in granny glasses and an earth-mother gown.” In the 1973 speech itself, Morgan asked her audience why some of them felt compelled to defend the “obscenity of male transvestism” and to “permit into our organizations … men who deliberately reemphasize gender roles, and who parody female oppression and suffering.” “No,” she continued, displaying her inability to distinguish between finale-to-female transsexual life contexts and episodic gay drag or heterosexual cross-dressing: “I will not call a male ‘she’; thirty-two years of suffering in this androcentric society and of surviving, have earned me the title ‘woman’; one walk down the street by a male transvestite, five minutes of his being hassled (which he may enjoy), and then he dares, he dares to think he understands our pain? No, in our mothers’ names and in our own, we must not call him sister.” Morgan then went on to identify Elliott as “the same man who four years ago tried to pressure a San Francisco lesbian into letting him rape her; the same man who single-handedly divided and almost destroyed the San Francisco Daughters of Bilitis Chapter.”

She accused Elliott of “leeching off women who have spent entire lives as women in women’s bodies” and ended her personal attack by declaiming: “I charge him as an opportunist, an infiltrator, and a destroyer—with the mentality of a rapist.” Morgan then called upon the conference attendees to vote on ejecting Elliott, saying, “You can let him into your workshops—or you can deal with him.” According to writers for the Lesbian Tide, more than two-thirds of those present voted to allow Elliott to remain, but the antitranssexual faction refused to accept the popular results and promised to disrupt the conference if their demands were not met. Eventually, after much rancorous debate, Beth Elliott went on to perform but thereafter left the remainder of the conference. Conference attendees brought news of the Elliott controversy (and of course much else) back to women’s communities across the country, and, throughout the middle years of the 1970s, the “transsexual rapist” trope began to circulate in grassroots lesbian networks as the most extreme version of an antipathy toward transgender people rooted in the concepts of “woman identification” and “women-only space.”

– Trans History by Susan Stryker, pp 103 – 105

The Riddle of Gender p 163
The Riddle of Gender, p 163

What follows are excerpts on the The Tide, 1973 (pp 36 – 37).  This reveals the split between those feminist-identified women who hate trans people and those who do not. It may be useful to pause here and recall the reason the term TERF was popularized by cisgender feminist women. The following discourse is reminiscent of the very discourse continuing today between TERFs and feminists:

RadFem:

This woman is insisting that Beth Elliott not be permitted to perform because Beth is a transsexual. Beth was on the San Francisco steering committee for the conference, a pan of the original group that gave birth to the idea…. She’s written some far-out feminist songs. That’s why she’s here. No. We do not, cannot relate to her as a man. We have not known her as a man… She is a woman because she chooses to be a woman! What right do you have to define her sexuality?!

TERF:

He has a prick ! That makes him a man.

RadFem:

That’s bullshit! Anatomy is NOT destiny!

… There is a contradiction here. Do we or do we not believe that anatomy is destiny? Just WHERE do we draw the line?

The Gutter Dykes call this “the most bizarre and dangerous cooptation of lesbian energy and emotion [they] can imagine.”

.. Now I see The Gutter Dykes’ objection to transsexuals is that they have or had been socialized as men, male identified, and therefore oppressive to women. Well what about the dykes who have been socialized as men, either by their families or that portion of the gay community which has (and had exclusively) in the past emulated straight society and its sex-role stereotyping? What about the former, and current BUTCHES?

Here’s another account of the 1973 incident:

The Los Angeles [sic] Gay Community Services Center offered some of the earliest transsexual counseling. Yet the sexual status of male-to-female transsexuals was much contested in lesbian circles. As lesbian feminism and separatism reached their historical crest, some lesbians resented male-to-female transsexuals’ (in time, “transgender”) pressing for inclusion in lesbian and feminist organizations. In 1973, for instance, the transsexual folk singer Beth Elliott was banned (along with all transsexuals) from the San Francisco Daughters of Bilitis by a close, divisive vote. To some, Elliott was a man and therefore had no place in feminist meetings, whereas to others, judging “the sexuality of another sister,” as one lesbian put it during the Elliott imbroglio, was hypocritical and a betrayal of the “openness” of feminism.

All in the Family: The Realignment of American Democracy Since the 1960s by  Robert O. Self

TERFs Assert Elliott is a Potential Rapist

He tried to rape me four years ago! He is not a woman! He is not a lesbian!

– Charge of attempted rape made against Elliott, The Tide, 1973

… when her former college friend, by now a member of the lesbian separatist Gutter Dykes Collective, publicly accused Elliott of having sexually harassed her years earlier—a charge Elliott vigorously and vehemently denied, but which, by the very nature of things, could never be extricated from the circular round of “she said/she said” accusations, denials, and counter accusations. In retrospect, these accusations of harassment appear to be an early instance—perhaps the first—of an emerging discourse in feminism that held all male to-female transsexuals to be, by definition, violators of women, since they represented an “unwanted penetration” into women’s space… the public accusation of sexual misconduct served as a lightning rod for discharging years of gathering unease about the participation of transgender woman in lesbian space. It devastated Elliott, derailed her career in the early women’s movement and music scene, and became the basis for one of the most pernicious and persistent characterizations of transgender people to be found in all of feminism.

Trans History by Susan Stryker

dssdsd
Von Dohre,  (2011)

More on Elliott by TERF pioneer, lecturer, writer and opinion leader, Bev Von Dohre (AKA, “BevJo”):

BevJo (2011)
Von Dohre (2011)
BevJo (2011), TERF author, lecturer and opinion leader
Von Dohre (2011)

Regarding Elliot, Von Dohre goes on to say:

Mr Mattiuzzi has been stalking me for over 40 years, copying a name as close to mine as he could and even dying his hair a similar color. He has gotten himself into power positions in the Bay Area Lesbian community in an effort to destroy Lesbians to re-make us into his own fantasy. He’s lied to have his “Lesbian sex” articles printed, he’s been the only “Lesbian” columnist on a Lesbian and gay paper, and he continues to print bizarre and insulting attacks on Radical Lesbians. He has also attacked me in his god-awful “songs,” bashing on his guitar and singing out of tune. He would actually be a joke except that he gets support from Lesbian because we are repeatedly told to “respect transwomen.” A real woman doing what he has done would have no where near his support because, of course, men always get far more support. But still, his obvious maleness and right wing politics have not made him popular. It’s pretty bad when he has to make up imaginary friends to boost his popularity.

Yes, he’s a narcissist and insistent that he has worked so hard for Lesbians when we did not do what he thinks we should have done politically. Of course, men know best. His life is a lie on many levels, and he has to know that he does not appear female, no matter how dowdy he is, and he does not exhibit the heart and soul of a female, let alone Lesbian. He is obviously male to women meeting him for the first time.

He would be pathetic if it wasn’t for the harm he continues to try to do to Lesbians. But no matter how much he does not take “no” for an answer, like other men who are invasive and abusive, he still can never have what he wants: willing sexual access to Lesbians…

The sense of entitlement is glaring. They have a RIGHT to us and our community. We should be grateful for Elliott’s hard work that hurts Lesbians. It would all be funny if it wasn’t so disgusting and destructive. But it is funny they can’t get what they really want, no matter how much they complain, pout, threaten, and tantrum… he can’t dream up an identity that writes well, plays music well, or sings well. But unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to be aware of that any more than he’s aware that he oozes ugly maleness. He’s thought he appears female, but everyone I’ve talked with, including those who haven’t thought about female impersonation, says “It’s obvious. Look at him!”

… the more these men talk, the more they exude male entitlement and obliviousness about anything female and feminist. Lecturing, pontificating and insulting women as so many men do, believing they are the experts on everything. He just has to brag about his het male privilege as a father, telling Radical Lesbian Feminists that he knows about us since is daughter is one and he knows some young ones who he says “are all supportive of transgender people.” Well, not the young Radical Lesbian Feminists I know. They are as anti-trans cult as I am. (And he clearly has no idea the ages of who posts her.) But a man knows more about us and our community than we do…

Rattlesnakes are sweet little animals, really. They never try to appropriate others’ identities or be deliberately cruel. They are quite shy and beautiful. Definitely, if I was forced to be in a rattler nest or be close to a man appropriating our identity, I’d choose the snakes every time. (It’s a treat to actually see a wild one since they aren’t common.)

 – Von Dohre (2012)

Beth Elliott around the time of the 1973 conference
Beth Elliott around the time of the 1973 conference

 

Some might recall Von Dohre infamously proclaiming the following about trans people:

They expect we’ll be shocked to see statistics about them being killed, and don’t realize, some of us wish they would ALL be dead.

Von Dohre (2010)

BJ-f

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Article written by

Cristan Williams is a trans historian and pioneer in addressing the practical needs of the transgender community. She started the first trans homeless shelter in the South and co-founded the first federally funded trans-only homeless program, pioneered affordable healthcare for trans people in the Houston area, won the right for trans people to change their gender on Texas ID prior to surgery, started numerous trans social service programs and founded the Transgender Center as well as the Transgender Archives. Cristan is the editor at TransAdvocate.com, chairs the City of Houston HIV Prevention Planning Group, is the jurisdictional representative to the Urban Coalition for HIV/AIDS Prevention Services (UCHAPS), serves on the national steering body for UCHAPS and is the Executive Director of the Transgender Foundation of America.

11 Responses

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  1. A origem do feminismo radical trans-excludente: a expulsão de Beth Elliott | feminismosemdemagogiaOriginal

    […] Robin Morgan, durante seu discurso. […]

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  2. A origem do feminismo radical trans-excludente: a expulsão de Beth Elliott – Esquerda Online

    […] “Não, eu não vou chamar um homem de ‘ela’; trinta e dois anos de sofrimento e sobrevivência nessa sociedade androcêntrica me fizeram merecer o título de ‘mulher’; um passeio na rua por um travesti masculino, cinco minutos de assédio (que ele deve gostar), e ele ousa, ousa pensar que entende nosso sofrimento? Não, pelos nomes de nossas mães e pelos nossos, não devemos chamá-lo de irmã. […] Eu o acuso de oportunista, infiltrador e destruidor – com a mentalidade de um estuprador. E vocês mulheres desta Conferência sabem quem ele é. Agora. Vocês podem deixar ele entrar em nossas oficinas – ou vocês podem lidar com ele”,  disse Robin Morgan durante seu discurso. […]

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  3. Jade Binder
    Jade Binder at |

    Wow. I remember this only too well. I was also an organizer of the West Coast Lesbian Conference and I knew Beth. She was wonderful. I knew Beth for many months before I even knew she was Trans. I didn’t care – none of the organizers did; we’d all worked with her before. Robin Morgan shocked us. We had the room Morgan was speaking in booked for workshops after her speech. Since she showed no sign of stopping, we quickly found another room where she could talk to people for as long as she wanted and the other workshops that were to follow could go on. I went up to her at the podium with a note (nicely written) requesting that she move to the other room. She took that as an affront and riled her audience up against us: how dare we ask her and her “following” to move! Who cares if other women were going to be using that room. So we had to relocate the other workshops because of Robin Morgan’s giant ego. Beth decided to leave the conference to make things easier on us. I and some others tearfully saw her off. I was furious. As women and as Lesbians we demanded the right to define ourselves. How dare others tell Beth that she couldn’t define herself.

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  4. Sex Essentialism: TERFs and smelly vaginas | The TransAdvocate

    […] was itself trans-inclusive. Moreover, the largest gathering of RadFem Lesbians ever – the West Coast Lesbian Conference – was explicitly trans-inclusive. The Radical Feminist Robin Tyler ran numerous women’s music […]

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  5. Gender Critical Feminism, the roots of Radical Feminism and Trans oppression | The TransAdvocate

    […] the women who are standing in front of them, working to destroy all women’s rights.  – Bev Von Dohre, TERF […]

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  6. Ehipassiko | “Gender Critical Feminism” = Heteronormative Sex Essentialism

    […] the women who are standing in front of them, working to destroy all women’s rights.  – Bev Von Dohre, TERF […]

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  7. “There is no one way to be a woman.” (R. Claire Snyder.) How the emergence of third wave feminism is challenging dominant feminist discourse on transgenderism. | ellyroseblog

    […] in Los Angeles in 1973. The keynote speaker, Robin Morgan, refused to call transsexual singer, Beth Elliot, a ‘she’ because […]

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  8. What Used to be The Advocate: Still a Joke | ENDABlog 2.0

    […] are still women in positions to make employment decisions who have the mentality of Janice Raymond, Bev Jo Von Dohre, Kim Mills, and a certain disreputable cis female Maryland lawyer isn’t worth What Used to be […]

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  9. Historiography Saturday: Beth Elliott | We Were There

    […] reliable information on Elliott online is a challenge because she has been a polarizing figure for over four decades; thus, she is a useful case study in the challenge of writing a piece on someone when […]

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  10. Debunking TERF Essentialism: Part III of the ‘Sexing the Body is Gender’ Series | The TransAdvocate

    […] face the women who are standing in front of them, working to destroy all women’s rights.  – Bev Von Dohre, TERF […]

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  11. Intro to the ‘Sexing the Body is Gender’ Series | The TransAdvocate

    […] supplied Sheila Jeffreys’ Gender Hurts a glowing recommendation) threatened to disrupt the 1973 West Coast Lesbian Feminist Conference unless the conference vote to eject trans women, the conference voted to instead keep trans women. […]

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