I’ve been a little reluctant to post this as it’s an argument I can actually see both sides of, and both sides seem quite vehemently opposed.
On the one side you have the trans activists who, quite rightly and deservedly, are fighting for equality in a world that still treats them like something out of a circus freakshow. I can’t even begin to imagine what life must be like for them, and wouldn’t even begin to try, that would be patronising and unnecessary.
On the other you have the feminists who, quite rightly and deservedly, are fighting for equality in a world where women are still disproportionately at risk of violence. Here I can imagine, because I’ve lived that life for my whole life. Like every woman I know that I have to take all kinds of precautions that men will never have to take in order to try and protect myself, and I also know that those precautions will never remove risk entirely.
I hope I don’t need to say this, but anyway, in the blog post that follows please be aware that when I say “feminists” or “trans activists” I am not referring to absolutely all people within these categories, I am speaking about some of them.
Here’s the argument as I understand it, the feminists want there to be women only spaces. So do the trans activists, the problem arises when the two groups differ on their definition of “woman”.
The reason they want women only spaces also appears to be the same, because both groups are aware that some women feel safer when they are away from men. Whether it’s because they have experienced male perpetrated violence or just are aware how prevalent it is. Either is valid.
So why the fighting? Simply because the feminist perception of gender is that it is a social construct created by the patriarchy, there are no inherent female personality traits, female interests, female skills etc. For them the only criteria for being a woman is possession of female sexual organs. Beyond that sex is irrelevant and gender is unnecessary. Personally that is how I feel, but I also do see the other point of view.
The trans point of view is that gender is inherent and it is possible to be a woman without female genitals. I will confess I struggle with this, however as I have never experienced the feeling of being trapped in the wrong body I do not dismiss it or judge it, I am trying to understand it.
From a feminist point of view one of the biggest risks to women is sexual assault/rape, which is primarily perpetrated by those with a penis. It is the penis which is used to forcibly penetrate women, it is used as a weapon. A vagina on the other hand would make a pretty poor weapon, it is more vulnerable. Some women are nervous around those with a penis due to fear of how it can be used, and certain situations make that more of a concern. Eg. changing rooms, bathrooms, hostels. I know that for me personally I would not like to be in those kinds of places with men I did not know due to the increased risk. Something that I’m sure trans activists would sympathise with, possibly even agree on and feel the same. Obviously trans people are also at a greater risk of violence, including sexual assault, so this is a fear of theirs too.
Understandably a trans woman identifies completely as a woman and so feels like they’d be safest around other women, they (I assume) feel less at risk of sexual assault from other women. So it must be truly upsetting to hear that other women fear sexual assault from them, and it also leaves them less safe spaces to go. Which are obviously very much needed.
When trans women talk of male violence they are referring to men as in the collection of male traits. When feminists talk about men they are talking about all those with a penis. So by definition if a woman is afraid of male violence and wants a space free of the risk of it then there needs to be some consensus on whether the risk is from the former or the latter. Personally I don’t know, I lean towards the latter in as much as I’d be much less worried about a trans man (w/out penis) sexually assaulting me, mostly as he’d lack the, erm, tools.
I do however understand that for a trans woman they think of themselves as no different from a non-trans woman in any important way, and the thought of doing something “male” like rape (before any men jump in here, rape by legal definition is with a penis, argue with the law, not me) is not possible for them. I’m sure the vast majority would not rape either. But it gets awkward because there have been cases of trans women using their penis to rape women who are without a penis, even if it’s a small risk, it still exists. If a woman only space is to be free of the risk of rape entirely there needs to be zero penises (penii?). Saying those cases weren’t true trans women is a bit of a cop out, because how is anyone to know which are the true trans women and which are the men masquerading in order to take advantage? Knowing after the fact isn’t much use to the victims.
There needs to be a middle ground, but I’ve no idea what it is, greater minds than mine still don’t have the answers.
I do think that some women only spaces do not need to be free of trans women, but I do believe that some really do. I also do believe that some discussions on women’s rights do need to be only about non-trans women because some of the issues faced are not going to be experienced by trans women, in the same way that some of the issues trans women face will never be experienced by non-trans women. There is definitely a large overlap between the two, and in some cases I think the experience of trans women can add a lot to feminist discussion as they will have first hand experience of the different treatment of the two genders, possibly feminists could also add to trans discussions too. I think if both groups work together we can make great things happen, and that would be wonderful, but we do need some give and take and to be sensitive to the different fears/experiences both groups face.
I hope I’ve managed to use wording that doesn’t offend, I’m not entirely sure the best way to refer to everyone without offence. I do know that “cis” causes offence which is why I’ve chosen not to use it, I’m sorry if “trans woman” does, if someone could give me a better term I would be happy to use it – please don’t say just “woman” though, for the purpose of this blog I need to differentiate or it’ll make no sense, no offense is meant.
For openness, my ideal world would be one where there was no gender. Our genitals would only be relevant for medical/biological stuff like sex and childbirth. There’d be no “feminine men” or “masculine women” just people being themselves without needing to conform to any gender expectations. If a biological man wanted to wear dresses, raise children and other supposedly “female” things he could without needing to be labelled as something “other”, without needing to feel like he was born in the wrong body to do these things. And vice versa. I’d like for gender to be so fluid as to be obsolete, no need for male/female/trans at all. It’d be lovely.