University of Melbourne Professor Sheila Jeffreys, who is a lecturer in sexual politics and international feminist politics, made the claims during a feature interview on ABC Radio’s Sunday Night Safran with hosts John Safran and Father Bob Maguire last month.
An influential figure in the second wave of feminism of the 1970s, during the interview Jeffreys suggested trans women were no better than the racist entertainers of the early to mid-20th century in the USA who engaged in blackface.
“In the States for instance they (trans people) were often compared to the black and white minstrels. The black and white minstrels were white men who dressed up with blackface to imitate what they thought were the behaviours of black singers and entertainers. That was seen as very insulting by the black community,” Jeffreys said.
“Transgenderism for men is about the right to imitate and pretend to be members of the subordinate class even though they are members of – biologically and were brought up in – the superior class. That was problematic for the black and white minstrels. It’s problematic generally when a group of people claim to be another group of subordinate people.”
Jeffreys also suggested that all trans women fell into one binary: “homosexual men who don’t feel they can be homosexual in the bodies of men”; as well as cross-dressing fetishists whom women were afraid of sharing space with such as in domestic violence refuges.
“The vast majority though are heterosexual men who have a sexual interest in wearing women’s clothes and having the appearance of women. So it’s about sexism and homophobia,” Jeffreys said.
“But we’re not allowed to talk about the politics of it really, we’re only allowed to talk about the stories of individuals and feel sorry as I genuinely do for the life experience of those men who have this form of very serious mental distress.”
Indigenous queer sistergirl, Andrew Farrell, who was brought up on the NSW South Coast and is currently undertaking postgraduate studies at the University of Wollongong told the Star Observer that Jeffreys’s understanding of gender/sex categories was in many ways an anachronism of essentialist radical feminism which has not carried well into a progressive period of race and queer politics.
“There is a fear that racist, mysoginistic, queerphobic and transphobic people will take her message as truth and enact these prejudices against trans identified Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
“By reducing transgender identities to that of histrionic mimicry is more reflective of her prejudice than it is of my understanding and practice of gender as a genderqueer Indigenous person,” Farrell said.
“I argue that Jeffreys opinion is reductive and reinforces the divisive lines of a binary that is not of valid use in various cultures worldwide including some Aboriginal cultures here in Australia. Genderqueer sistergirls, such as myself, do experience overlapping dimensions of oppression highlighted by Jeffreys hypothetical.
“I cannot change my racial configuration. I can however mould and express my gender identity as unique and valid to my culture.”
LGBTI community activist and Transgender Victoria spokesperson Sally Goldner admitted to the Star Observer that listening to Jeffries’ theories were difficult to stomach.
“Denial that a group even exists is the first and most intense form of prejudice/vilification. The next most intense form is hugely inaccurate representation re trans women being lumped into one of two categories as either homosexual men or fetishists,” Goldner said.
“This shows no awareness of the truth re the infinite possibilities for trans and gender diverse experiences and confuses gender identity, sexual orientation and other factors.
“The idea that trans women – or anyone in the trans and gender diverse kaleidoscope – are pretending in any way gets close to the deception idea portrayed by offensive fictional media such as There’s Something About Miriam and Bamboozled. All of these sort of comments are the equivalent in degree of inaccuracy to the religious supremacists saying being gay is more dangerous than smoking.”