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Womyn-born womyn (WBW) is a term developed during second-wave feminism to designate women who were identified as female at birth, were raised as girls, and identify as women (or womyn, a deliberately alternative spelling that challenges the centering of male as norm).
Events and organizations that have womyn-born-womyn-only policies bar access to anyone who was assigned male at birth: male children of attendees, trans women, gay men and heterosexual men. These women-only spaces have raised a number of concerns from transgender groups.
The term gained usage and popularity during the second wave feminist movement. In 1978, the Lesbian Organization of Toronto adopted a womyn-born womyn-only policy in response to a request for admittance by a transgender woman who identified as lesbian. Womyn-born womyn policies held that the nature of the feminine experience over the course of a lifetime could only be experienced by someone who experienced life presenting as a woman. The intent was to create a space for only women, defined not by identity but experience, defined in a way that excluded transgender women.
Second-wave feminism is a period in the feminist movement lasting from the 1960s until around the 1980s.[full citation needed] Some feminists of the period such as scholars Sheila Jeffreys, Janice Raymond, and theologist Mary Daly were proponents of womyn-born womyn policies. These policies created controversy and scholarly discussion.
Raymond's The Transsexual Empire (1979) is often seen as the characterizing work of this movement. It is known for its view of trans women as privileged men who did not previously live in the oppression of the patriarchy, stating, "We know who we are. We know that we are women who are born with female chromosomes and anatomy, and that whether or not we were socialised to be so-called normal women, patriarchy has treated and will treat us like women. Transsexuals have not had this same history."
The surgeons and hormone therapists of the transsexual kingdom, in their effort to give birth, can be said to produce feminine persons. They cannot produce women. – Mary Daly
Jeffreys was similarly outspoken in her criticisms of trans women, arguing that the feminine characteristics they were adopting are simply those that women must adopt to avoid punishment from the patriarchy. She believed trans women adopt stereotypical attributes that are enforced by the patriarchy and were political signifiers of the oppression of women.
Judith Butler, despite being opposed to womyn-born womyn policies, is often used as an argument for them by modern second-wave feminists. Butler's Gender Trouble (1990) contained discussion of performativity versus performance, which second-wave feminists used to exclude trans women on account of their performativity through repetition of gender norms, which is "real only to the extent that it is performed", which was used as a separator from experience.
Olivia Records, a feminist music collective, employed transgender employees, notably Sandy Stone. In response to this, Michigan Womyn's Music Festival's primary owner in 1977, Lisa Vogel, issued a letter to the music collective along with other second wave feminists:
We are writing concerning your decision to employ Sandy Stone as your recording engineer and sound technician. We feel that it was and is irresponsible of you to have presented this person as a woman to the women’s community when in fact he is a post-operative transsexual.
Given the narrow options available to us, it is also likely that many of us would have to work with Stone. Some of us have already done so without the knowledge that this person was not a woman. When we did discover the truth about Stone and tried to discuss this with you, we were told that you considered him very much a woman, a lesbian, and that you trusted him more than middle class, heterosexual women. This was very painful to hear and indicated a great lack of respect and love for women and our struggle. We do not believe that a man without a penis is a woman any more than we would accept a white woman with dyed skin as a Black woman.
Throughout the final quarter of the twentieth century, women's music festivals often enacted womyn-born womyn policies. Although transgender and intersex people had been present in "women-only spaces" for decades (usually closeted or passing), the term garnered wider attention in response to the exclusion of trans women from the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival (MichFest) after it was described as a gathering for "women born as women and living as women". In 1992, a gender survey was taken at MichFest by Nancy Burkholder that asked, "Do you think male-to-female transsexuals should be welcome at Michigan?" Out of approximately 7500 women present, 633 responded to the inquiry with 73.1% (463) responding "yes" and 22.6% (143) responding "no" (the margin of error was 3.8%). Although admitting that the sample was not "randomly selected", surveyors calculated the results as indicating that "less than 1 in 100,000" attendees would be against the exclusion of transsexual women from the festival; and while the replies about "female-to-male transsexuals" were not tabulated, it was determined that "80% of respondents were against their inclusion". However, the presence of male-to-female transsexual people at MichFest was understood to exist.
With the advent of third-wave feminism, objections to womyn-born womyn policies increased. Many women-only music festivals also began to close. The RadFem Collective, which describes its membership as "restricted to 'women born women and living as women'", continues to promote womyn-born womyn policies. The statement for the 2015 conference was rephrased in explanatory form to read "RadFems Resist is a women only, feminist event. Our conference is a space for women to share our experiences as women, to politically self organise for women's liberation and to celebrate womanhood in a safe environment. We welcome all women who were raised and socialized as girls to join us...We are gender abolitionists who have been raised and socialized as girls and women *because of our female bodies* in the context of patriarchy."
After 40 years, the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival held its last event in 2015. This final gathering followed the withdrawal of support by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, National LGBTQ Task Force, and The TransAdvocate nonprofit website, of a boycott petition against MichFest and its womyn-born womyn intention.
There have been other instances where transgender women have been denied access to, or been evicted from, women's spaces; for example, the Vancouver Rape Relief & Women's Shelter and Mountain Moving Coffeehouse.
The feminist sex wars signaled a divide in second-wave feminism on issues of sex expression, pornography, sexuality, and gender identity. It led to many trans-affirming feminist views, and more criticism toward the womyn-born womyn culture that thrived in radical feminism. With the rise of third-wave feminism, the radical feminism that supports womyn-born womyn policies and agendas became less prevalent.
Judith Butler was characteristic in her approach to third-wave feminist opposition of womyn-born womyn politics. The fluidity in gender, a more modern adaptation in feminist thought, is reflected in her views, "We form ourselves within the vocabularies that we did not choose, and sometimes we have to reject those vocabularies, or actively develop new ones. For instance, gender assignment is a 'construction' and yet many genderqueer and trans people refuse those assignments in part or in full. That refusal opens the way for a more radical form of self-determination, one that happens in solidarity with others who are undergoing a similar struggle." This is in response to claims by Jeffreys and others of the time who believed that those born womyn embodied true patriarchal struggle, while transgender women still benefited from the patriarchy. In a more direct reaction from Butler, she states, "The feminist police comes along to expose the construction and dispute a trans person's sense of their lived reality. I oppose this use of social construction absolutely, and consider it to be a false, misleading, and oppressive use of the theory." Some prominent figures in the second wave also readjusted views when presented with changing times, such as Gloria Steinem, who previously referred to transgender women as men with mutilated bodies in the late 1970s, and has since revised her beliefs as stated in a 2013 opinion piece: "I believe that transgender people, including those who have transitioned, are living out real, authentic lives. Those lives should be celebrated, not questioned."
The understanding of gender, gender politics, and trans politics has changed over the latter half of the twentieth century and has led to more LGBTQ-led opposition to womyn-born womyn policies and the music festivals that tend to employ them. Kelsie Brynn Jones, a transgender woman and advocate, wrote that "in [radical feminists'] words, a transgender woman is a [sic] nothing but a 'self loathing gay man' and they claim that trans women are gay men who, rather than stand up and come out as gay, would rather 'hide' by being transgender, as if it makes things more palatable for friends, family and co-workers." Activists for transgender-inclusionary policies often refer to those who promote womyn-born womyn policies as TERFs, an acronym meaning "Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists".
In 1991, Nancy Burkholder was kicked out of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival for being transgender. With support from the Lesbian Avengers, she and other activists, specifically transgender women, created Camp Trans in 1992 to stage protests outside of the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival against its womyn-born womyn policy. Transgender supporters passed out flyers and held workshops across the road from the festival. Transgender activist Julia Serano described the festival as insensitive and ignorant: "[The] idea that the femaleness of my mind, personality, lived experiences, and the rest of my body can somehow be trumped by the mere presence of a penis can only be described as phallocentric." Activist Riki Wilchins noted that Camp Trans "was the first time that significant numbers of the hard-core lesbian feminist community backed us”.  Camp Trans kept appearing as a protest event noncontinuously for the next two decades.
- Feminist views on transgender and transsexual people
- List of transgender-related topics
- List of transgender-rights organizations
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