Who’s on trial here?

Daša Stevović

In the past two weeks, the regional activist scene in the Balkans just couldn’t contain its obsession with the appointment of the new director of the Center for Women’s Studies in Zagreb, Dorotea Šušak. From the very moment she was appointed to that position, she has been a subject of numerous announcements, accusations, endless comments, rumors, he-said-she-saids, all ending in waves of sexist abuse and calls for resignation. Having in mind that this kind of appointment never gets this amount of attention, but also having followed the “TRA-TERF” debate (which is, in the local context, a knock-off copy of the debate on the Western feminist and leftist scene), one has to realize that all this has little to do with Dorotea Šušak herself, and with the Center for Women’s Studies only to some extent. The debate on – to address the gist of this complex issue – the definition of a woman as an adult human female has been brewing in local activist and academic circles for several years now, in an informal and unofficial way. It was bound to explode, and someone had to be on the receiving end of this blow-up. It was only a question of who that someone will be. Having that in mind, I want to emphasize that I do not intend to deal primarily with either Dorotea Šušak or the Center for Women’s Studies here, but mainly to respond to the criticism directed at them by the self-proclaimed representatives of the “LGBT community”. In order to do that, let’s go through a brief chronological overview of events:

  • Dorotea Šušak has been elected the new director of the Center for Women’s Studies in Zagreb (Croatia) at the beginning of December 2020.
  • Immediately after, there is an attempt to discredit Šušak on a personal level, that begins via FB status with a few screenshots of her old posts on her own FB profile, and a couple of comments she had made. The indictment contains three counts: 
  1. The accused has shared a quote by J. K. Rowling on her private social media, in which, in essence, it is claimed that “persons who menstruate” are women.
  2. The accused has, in a comment on social network, expressed the view that materialism is the foundation of leftist thought, that biological sex exists, and that sex is a material binary category.
  3. The accused has, on her private social media, commented on the statement of Judith Butler (aka our regular charlatan of the academic quasi-feminist thought) in a negative way.

We will all certainly agree that these three points are quite enough to nail the accused on a pillar of shame and to issue an excessive number of derogatory statements, in order to protect Judith Butler from this brutal attack. But let’s cast my cynicism aside. What happens next?

  • The well-estabished feminist collective Faktiv writes a statement saying that the Center for Women’s Studies in Zagreb has declared itself a transphobic organization by electing Šušak as their new director. This then becomes the source of misinformation in numerous following reactions, echoes and reiterations of this accusation, even though, in the statement of Faktiv, it was neither explained nor substantiated. Namely, in what way is the claim that “people who menstruate” are women – transphobic? Or is the fact that materialist analysis is the basis of Marxist thought – transphobic? Because, if the answer to these two questions is “yes”, then trans activism has declared itself in opposition to both feminism and Marxism. If not, an explanation is still needed. How does the definition of a woman as an adult human female, the fact that women are oppressed based on the material reality of their sex (instead of an abstract idea of ​​”femininity”), and the scientific, proven and hitherto undisputed fact that sex is a binary, immutable category – endanger the rights of trans people? Which rights are, and in what way, endangered here? These are the questions that obviously need to be discussed, but the statements directed against the Center for Women’s Studies do not address them, nor dispute the claims and arguments presented by Dorotea Šušak on her social media, but exclusively pile up defamations, directed at her personally.
  • After Faktiv, equally unfounded and sensationalist announcements were also published by Zagreb Pride, Trans Aid, and The Lesbian Organization Rijeka LORI. On the other side, the radical feminist group Femrevolt was the first to send a message of support to the Center for Women’s Studies, drawing attention to the fact that it is, in fact, the gender critical position that isn’t welcome in the official places of feminism and that denouncing feminists as “TERFs” leads to further verbal and sexist violence – which was in this case, again proven true. Center for Women’s Studies then issued a statement calling for “building a language of mutual respect, instead of defamation and persecution.” Finally, the letter of support to the Center for Women’s Studies was signed by a number of regional and foreign organizations, groups and individuals – including LGSM. Center for Civic Courage announced their support in a status. Discussions are blowing up in the comment sections of all announcements, across social media.

Well, this was a brief review of the charges, the sequence of statements and, if we have managed to untangle this mess, I would like, now, to focus on issues raised in one particular statement – a statement that I consider most insincere and most dangerous – that which comes from the Zagreb Pride collective:

“We, as gays and lesbians, have felt on our bodies in the past the effects of the politicization of biological essentialism, which has pushed us into forced heterosexuality, fueled inhuman persecution and given pseudo-scientific legitimacy to one of the most cruel mechanisms of lesbophobia and homophobia – conversion therapy.”

What we, as gays and lesbians, have felt on our bodies in the past is homophobia, which we have always fought against, not by denying material reality, not by denying biological sex, but on the contrary, by basing our struggle on the fact of same-sex attraction. By now, it should be clear to us that when the definition of sex changes, the definition of same-sex attraction, our central subject, changes as well. The basic premise of our struggle has always been the fact that we, as lesbians, gays and bisexuals, are attracted to people of the same sex. Conversion therapy, certainly one of the most brutal forms of violence against homosexuals, has historically gained strenght not from feminist thought, but as a form of male violence, on which the society is based. Homophobia, as such, is essentially inseparable from the oppression of women and the mechanisms that society creates to control reproduction. Hence the historical closeness of the two movements: movement for the liberation of women and movement for the liberation of homosexuals. Nevertheless, the moment the LGBT movement begins to argue that feminism is in any way analogous to conversion therapy, as Zagreb Pride implies in their statement, it is evident that not only has there been a rift between the two movements, but also that the LGBT movement has unequivocally positioned itself as anti-feminist and anti-women. 

However, I will emphasize the following:

  1. Not all LGB people share the views represented by the mainstream part of the movement, in which male dominance is a historical constant;
  2. Lesbians and gays will not allow for examples of historical torture and abuse to be used as a cheap argument in favor of anti-feminist policies;
  3. Fighting against homophobia is simply unimaginable without fighting the oppression of women. As long as this fact is ignored, the LGBT movement remains blind to the root of its own oppression.

“The hard-won feminist spaces, emancipatory vocabulary and theoretical apparatus that have developed in feminist gender and queer theory for decades are today being replaced by dangerous fundamentalist and cis-suprematist theses that are formulated on social media and take their toll in public harassment, humiliation and violence against trans people in the streets.”

First of all, violence against trans people is male violence. The men who commit violence against trans people do not spend their days reading feminist literature or feminists on social media, nor do they attend courses at the Center for Women’s Studies. The fact that the fight against transphobia is conducted exclusively against feminists, including lesbians, who have rightfully rebelled against redefining the notion of women, shows the dishonesty of this sentence, as well as the entire statement. Secondly, not only can the feminist theory and the LGB struggle refuse to adopt queer theory, but on the contrary, it is essential that we understand how it works against us, by relativizing the centrality of the same-sex attracton as the basis of our oppression. Queer theory is anything but a revolutionary theory of liberation, and it is time to leave it in the past. 

Finally, if the mainstream LGBT movement has “broken up” with feminism, it is fair to simply admit it. After all, it is quite clear to us that Zagreb Pride, as well as Belgrade Pride – and, let’s be honest, the whole mainstream movement on a global level – is led by men, while lesbians and bisexual women usually serve as ornaments. Hiding behind undefined terms such as “biological essentialism” or “cis-supremacy” only shows us that the movement has abandoned its own principles. Lesbians, gays and bisexuals will not sit in silence while our own history is intentionally misused for antifeminist ideologies. Nor will we idly observe how gender identity ideology and queer theory overtake our movement and render it incapable of any fight. We will stand up.

A letter of support to Center of Women’s studies and the director Dorotea Šušak can be read here and can still be signed by simply sending us a message via any social network.

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