The Future is Not Female - It is Two-Spirit, Trans and Non-Binary
Originally designed for the opening of New York City’s first women’s bookstore in 1972, the trans-exclusionary feminist slogan “The Future Is Female” has been popularized by Los Angeles-based retail shop Otherwild. In a video recorded for the 2017 Makers Conference, former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton used the slogan when reflecting on the 2017 Women’s March in Washington. At this march, pink pussy hats were worn en masse by white cisgender women who failed to recognize that not all vaginas are pink and not all people with vaginas are women.
The popularization of "The Future Is Female" as a feminist slogan contributes to violence against two-spirit, trans and non-binary people by reinforcing the gender binary and excluding us from the movement. If we cannot see ourselves in the struggle, who will? The future is not female – it is two-spirit, trans and non-binary. In our symbols and in our slogans, we need to move away from imagery and language that reinforces the cissexism of the gender binary.
Reproductive feminism can fight for the rights of those with vaginas without insinuating that vagina ownership equates to womanhood. Similarly, feminism that fights for gender equality can be inclusive of woman regardless of their genitalia. When language inflates the notion that womanhood is reducible to genitalia, it erases trans women in the process. Given that trans women, especially trans women of color, are the most disadvantaged demographic of women, removing them from the struggle for gender equality in fact contributes to violence against women.
In moving away from gender essentialist narratives, reproductive feminism can emphasize that bodily autonomy and access to healthcare are paramount for everyone regardless of gender identity. In doing so, reproductive feminism can continue to fight towards its traditional goals, such as access to abortion and birth control while simultaneously centering transgender rights. At present, there are hurdles for two-spirit, trans and non-binary people that exist not only from anti-choice proponents but also self-identified feminist organizations that are in fact cissexist. For example, there are women's shelters that allow trans men to access their services but not trans women, the most marginalized among women, on the basis of biological sex.
Reproductive feminism and transgender rights are not diametrically opposed. Instead, reproductive feminism has in many ways positively impacted the fight for transgender rights by demonstrating the importance of bodily autonomy and integrity as well as increasing access to healthcare services such as abortion and hormone treatment. While the concept of choice has been predominantly beneficial to cisgender women in previous decades, it is more frequently being applied to the fight for two-spirit, trans and non-binary people to make crucial decisions regarding their bodies.
In order to be inclusive of two-spirit, trans and non-binary people, feminist campaigns should focus on increased accessibility, visibility and awareness. When fighting for reproductive healthcare, promotional materials can include imagery of gender diverse families such as trans men and non-binary people experiencing pregnancy and parenting. Women-only shelters and abortion clinics can adopt trans inclusive policies and open their doors to two-spirit, trans and non-binary people. Using gender neutral language such as “expectant parents” or “vagina owners” can also promote inclusivity. There are innumerable ways to move away from gender essentialist narratives towards trans inclusiveness for activists and service providers.
Many people still believe that gender is between your ears and sex is between your legs. However, like gender, biological sex is in fact also a social construct. Biological sex is not something a baby is born with but rather something they are assigned. Discourse surrounding biological sex uses chromosomes, genitalia, gonads and a variety of secondary sex characteristics including body hair and breasts as determinants of assignment, all of which vary significantly and are not binary. With such biological diversity in human beings, no determinant of sex assignment is fixed.
Genitalia does not equate to gender and biological sex is also a construct. With this in mind, it becomes clearer to identify how using the word “female,” a word usually associated with biological sex, as a significant factor in future gender equality is problematic. More than “female,” the word “woman” is appropriate but not as a standalone. The fight for gender equality needs to be inclusive of women, both cis and trans as well as other trans, two-spirit and non-binary people. Genital-based catchphrases like “The Future Is Female,” “Viva la Vulva” and “Pussy Grabs Back” in activism only forward the interests of cisgender women.
“The Future Is Female” is a catchy slogan that is being used by trans-exclusionary radical feminists and celebrities currently stuck in third wave feminism. Alluding to “female biological sex” makes trans men suddenly become biologically female. Trans women are not biologically male and trans men are not biologically female. Instead, people are simply biologically diverse and it is the gender that you identify with that matters.
When we speak both of the future and now, language and symbolism matter immensely. As we work towards tomorrow and gender equality for all, it is important to be inclusive of not just cisgender women but also trans, two-spirit and non-binary people. If feminism is not intersectional and encompasses only the interests of cisgender women, the most disadvantaged of us will be left behind. When we protect our most vulnerable and center them in our activism, we can in turn break down the barriers that impact us all.
Deidre Olsen is a queer non-binary Toronto-based writer and illustrator. Her twitter and Instagram are @deidrelolsen