A letter to Judy Rebick, from Lee Lakeman, on changing one’s mind

Last week, longtime Canadian feminist and leftist, Judy Rebick, published a piece at rabble.ca, the site she founded, entitled “My feminism is Trans inclusive.” It in, Rebick explains that she has never written on trans issues before, but having been accused of being a “TERF” (trans-exclusionary radical feminist), she wished to reject the label, and offered an apology of sorts for having testified in support of Vancouver Rape Relief (VRR), who were forced into a human rights case brought against the transition house and rape crisis line by Kimberly Nixon in 1995. Nixon had been rejected from a training group with the collective on account of having been born a man, and on account of the fact the transition house and collective was women-only. Under apparent pressure from her leftist comrades, Rebick explained, in her recent piece, that she “didn’t really understand the issues involved,” that she had “believed that gender was socially constructed,” but was “ignorant,” and has since learned and changed her position. Rebick does not explicitly say she disagrees with the ruling in favour of VRR, and no longer believes VRR should have the right to define their own membership and maintain a women-only space, though she does criticize the organization for “excluding trans women.”

In the following letter, Lee Lakeman, a founding member of the Vancouver Rape Relief collective, responds.


Dear Jude,

Over the last couple of days, three friends have sent me your statement published at Rabble. Like many, I have not read Rabble in years. The suppression there of any debate about ideas not supported by the party put me off. As it happens, I was reading the work of a young feminist in New Zealand writing about the barriers and difficulties of responding with integrity to the events in our lives. So, with her example, I think it best that I try.

You published your piece, “My Feminist is Trans Inclusive,” at Rabble, so I am submitting to Feminista, Feminist Current, Vancouver Women’s Space and Fairer Disputations, which may not be perfect media, but that’s what I have, just as you have Rabble. Perhaps a friend will forward it to you. If not, then maybe we have no remaining connections. I haven’t yet responded to my other friends who contacted me about your statement, but as you and I have been friends and comrades, my first response is to you:

I’m sorry that you have been pressured to apologize for doing what you thought was your ethical obligation when you provided testimony in the BC Human Rights Court to protect the legislated rights of Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter from a wrongful accusation. I was grateful at the time and I remain grateful that you gave of your commitment to women’s liberation. If it is of any consolation to you or if it can satisfy those pressuring you, I don’t think it was your testimony, but rather the BC NDP government’s provision in Human Rights Law, ensuring equality-seeking groups have the right to define their own membership, that convinced the judges. And I’m sure you can argue that you have avoided the many situations since (including those before the various courts now) in which women have asserted this legal right that we confirmed in 2005. I’m sure that this excellent legislation is the real target. They want you to mislead what remains of second wave feminist support for the NDP.

Your explanation that you were ignorant at the time and have been educated since (presumably about whether women get to organize on our own terms) seems unlikely to satisfy those who press you for apology and contrition. It’s obvious that some want to display your contrition, to expose an image of you bowing down in contrite humiliation (perhaps as a cautionary tale before those in debate or confusion) while you still have a Canadian level of fame and importance as the legacy media’s chosen face of second wave feminism.

I must say that such a change of mind and your right to express it is completely understandable given the current state of things and your choice to express a change of mind is something I defend even as I find this change wrongheaded. I hope they are satisfied with this halfway measure and you won’t need further defending.

Those of us who believe the evidence of bodies — especially of our eyes and ears — that sex differences are real and matter, who think and recognize important patterns of oppression based in part on those differences, who still struggle for women’s equality and liberty (and particularly among those of us who struggle against rape, some of whom have chosen to support women’s rights by organizing separately), beg to differ.

Who knows how all this division and disagreement will end, but forcing women or any people to say what they do not perceive, believe, or think; disallowing groups of like-minded women to organize against sexist violence and in our own egalitarian and humanist interests; forcing individuals or groups of the oppressed to stand silent while witnessing the oppression of others; and forcing pathetic examples of insincere contrition or renunciation of women’s genuine efforts does not bode well.

Lee Lakeman

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.