This article comes from the short-lived Berkeley feminist newsletter Dykes and Gorgons, which began in 1973, two years after It Ain’t Me, Babe collapsed. This issue, from the summer of 1973, provides Berkeley’s perspective on an event that echoed in lesbian and feminist communities across the country: Beth Elliott’s speech at the 1973 West Coast Lesbian Conference. Although the conference was not held in Berkeley, the variety of reactions to it provide a comparative context for the relationship of lesbians and feminists to trans women across the country.
This article focuses on the author’s controversy with other speakers at the conference–and notably, the focus of much of her article isn’t Beth Elliott’s speech, but her conflicts with others feminists over the disregard of racism and classism as feminist struggles. Her outrage over the Beth Elliott speech, in fact, is presented almost as an olive branch: proof she’s reasonable, that she and organizers are on the same side because they’re united in their hatred of trans women.
The author’s insistent use of scare-quotes around Beth Elliott’s name clearly shows her disdain for trans people, as does her choice to refer to Beth Elliott as “a supposed male ‘transsexual’ in a lesbian conference.” Not only does this reject Beth Elliott’s identity as a woman, and her experience as a lesbian organizer, it clearly displays that the author thought that trans identities didn’t exist at all.
Not only does this letter practically drip transphobia, it interestingly chooses to align a trans woman with mainstream media sentiment in order to both help paint her as a man, and to put the author on the more radical, and thus more virtuous, side. Also of note is the way that the author does not actually make clear whether Beth Elliott spoke, only that she was invited to speak. The article seems to suggest she did, but offers no commentary on what she said. It also positions transsexual women further as supposed enemies of the lesbian community by misgendering Beth Elliott and strongly siding with the lesbians who kicked her out of the San Francisco chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, a lesbian organization which she served as the vice president of until she was outed as transsexual