The British Empire had, for all intents and purposes, already been dead and gone for forty years by the time that I was born, but the older generations of white, English-speaking Canadians with whom I interacted as a child still had pretty good things to say about it. This was less true of my parents’ generation than it was of either those of my grandparents or of my great grandparents*, but enough of it managed to diffuse through to me that I came away with the impression that the British Empire, while it did do “a few bad things” had basically been a force for good in the world, spreading science, trade, and culture, while treating their subjects a great deal better than any of the other conquerors. I reflexively could not understand how anyone could be opposed to the British Empire, as to me it seemed being opposed to Civilization itself.
Of course, then I actually read some history and came to the conclusion that, in fact, most of Britain’s “civilizing” influence took the form of genocides, slavery, oppression, pillaging resources, and the violent suppression of cultures for arbitrary reasons; that most of their high-sounding rhetoric was used to excuse crimes committed exclusively in the name of greed; and that the very idea of “empire” was essentially theft and murder on an international scale**.
The point that I’m trying to make here is that things can look very different from the outside than they do from the inside. Particularly when that the thing in question is a system of oppression, and you are not one of the groups being oppressed by it.
Take, for example, a recent incident at the University where I completed my Master’s Degree. This University has a Women’s Centre on campus and, like most such centres at Canadian universities, it is open to all self-identified women. In practice, however**, almost no trans women ever come inside. This, reportedly, has mystified the director of the space: “why aren’t we getting more trans women?”
I, of course, can only speak from my own experience, but the reason that I never set foot inside while I was a student there was the big honking sign out front advertising it as a “Radical Feminist” space.
Now don’t get me wrong here: I’m a feminist; I have my radical moments; I even agree with some of the points made by radical feminism, as a branch of feminism, about patriarchy and gender roles. I can readily appreciate that intelligent, well-meaning, moral cissexual women can support radical feminism and look on it favourably as a liberatory ideology. But as a transsexual woman, I will never be able to see those words written proudly on a board without immediately thinking of Janice Raymond’s call to “morally mandate” people like me “out of existence;” of the “feminists” who collaborated with conservative Republicans in congress to deny people like me healthcare coverage in the US; of all of the transgender rape victims who have been bounced out of shelters and onto the streets in the name of ideological purity; and of all of the transgender women (and girls, for pity’s sake!) who, even to this day, get doxxed and harassed to the point of suicide.
Now, of course, I’m sure that most of the members of this Centre don’t endorse those things. I’m sure that most of them are the type of people who are inclined to post pictures of Mary Daly swinging a labrys on their websites without ever knowing what she said about trans people, and then sheepishly apologize when someone points it out, only to follow it up by saying “…but she still did some very good things for women.” I’m sure most of the members hold no ill will or evil intentions against me for what I am. But I think that it is perfectly reasonable of me not to want to spend time in such an environment.
*Both of which went through World Wars
**And, just to clarify, Canadians don’t get to magically wash their hands of all of this just because our government is now mostly independent of the crown.
**And in spite of the extent to which RadScum like to say that we’re beating down doors in order to get into women’s spaces