A month or so ago, I started hearing about a women’s library that was opening in Vancouver. As a feminist book lover living in Vancouver I was obviously excited and thought, wow, awesome! Unfortunately my excitement and good feelings were … totally unfounded. It turns out this Vancouver Women’s Library, which is re-opening this Saturday March 11th, is both transmisogynist and anti-sex work.
Let me give you some more details about how we know that this supposedly inclusive library is anything but. One of the library’s organizers is well known in Vancouver as a proponent of trans exclusionary radical feminism (in other words, is a “TERF,” a term some of you might be familiar with) and sex worker exclusionary radical feminism (“SWERF,” a less well-known term). This form of “feminism” is by no means unique to this person or Vancouver, and is a well-documented faction of women especially since the second wave calling themselves feminists who believe trans women are not women and who do not support the rights of sex workers. This form of “feminism” denies trans women and sex workers dignity and respect.
We can tell the library supports this rhetoric by looking at the catalogue on their website (available through the link in the first paragraph). They have three books by Sheila Jeffreys, two by Valerie Solanas, three by Janice Raymond, and two by Mary Daly. These writers’ work is vehemently transmisogynist and full of anti-sex work dogma. The fact that the library is donation based doesn’t excuse this, nor does the idea that those books might be used for historical research. Any true feminist space with a commitment to inclusivity would carefully weigh the harmful ideas in those books against what use they might have for research, and label them explicitly to state that the library does not support the hateful ideas in them.
After the first opening in February, a group of feminists—sex workers, trans women, IBPOC (Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour), queers, and people in solidarity with them—wrote a letter that was circulated online calling for transparency over the library’s organization and funding, restructuring of the organization, pulling the hateful titles from the catalogue, and the stepping down of the organizer most well-known for TERF and SWERF politics. (This letter is no longer online because of privacy and safety concerns given the backlash the activists received from the library). Following the circulation of this letter, a bunch of really shitty things have happened. One of the trans protesters has had their name published online with malicious intent. A well-known TERF has donated substantial funds to the library. Instead of responding to the legitimate concerns like a truly inclusive space would, the library’s organizers have claimed that “anti-feminists” are attacking this women’s space. They have even circulated an email calling for nominations of their library for the BCLA (British Columbia Library Association) Champion of Intellectual Freedom Award.
Let’s be clear: actively promoting transmisogynist and anti-sex work voices to the exclusion of the voices of trans women and sex workers is not in any way championing intellectual freedom. Promoting hate speech is not championing intellectual freedom. Denouncing criticism instead of taking it into careful consideration is not championing intellectual freedom. As you can see, the hateful politics of this group are especially heinous because they have couched their exclusivity in the language of inclusivity. If you clicked on the link above and browsed around their site, you may have noticed that they claim to be open to “all women regardless of creed/race/class/gender/sexuality/age/profession.” Notice that nowhere on the site does it mention anything about the concerns levelled by the community or about expressly being open to trans women or sex workers.
I’m writing this blog post to both urge anyone reading NOT to support the Vancouver Women’s Library in any way and to sign an open letter condemning their actions and rhetoric and calling for initiatives run by and centring trans women and sex workers. You can read the letter here and email firstname.lastname@example.org to add your personal name and/or an organization’s name.
All of this is to say: A women’s library that fails to actively include and in fact deliberately excludes trans women and sex workers is not a women’s library nor is it feminist. NO WOMAN IS FREE UNTIL ALL WOMEN ARE. Oh, and Happy International Women’s Day!