As a transgender woman who just wants to get on with her life, I confess to being somewhat ambivalent to the stream of political trans-activism that is continuously hitting headlines. On one hand, I know I benefit, if only through the increased general acceptance of the ‘public’ who continue to ‘grow used’ to the idea that we exist and – on message – we are just normal people like everyone else.
On the other hand, I do find some of it rather over the top, and worse, sometimes derogatory or unsympathetic to non-trans women.
So what’s wrong with trans-activism?
Well, in theory, nothing. If it’s about pushing for basic rights and acceptance, then of course I am all for it. It’s just that the theory needs a bit of care on application into society.
We trans people should not be refused standard services like eating in restaurants and getting hotel rooms. We should be able to walk down a street without insults or fear of any harm. We should not be held back at work and not have to jump through any more hoops than anyone else.
But there are instances where we need a little bit more thought and patience. I don’t have the answers to what we should do in such cases, but as examples I list the following:
Access to women only sanctuaries: These are for women who have been abused by men so try putting yourself in their position. Yes. we are women too and sadly some of our group will have been abused, so there must be safe places for us. But we are generally going to be physically larger and stronger. Whether it is correct from a rights-and-legality point of view is not the relevant thing. The important point is that if other women are going to be scared merely because we are there then that is NOT THEIR FAULT, and we need to be sensitive to it before flying off on some high-horse crusade.
If we want to be accepted as women and be safe ourselves let’s try to see it from a ciswoman’s point of view. Let’s not scare them. That doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be safe places for transgenders, or that many transwomen would not be perfectly suited to protection in such places.
Participating in sport: Another tricky one. I have recently watched in horror as Martina Navratilova has been hauled over the coals for raising serious questions about this. Let me be plain in my views: I am a woman but I believe I will typically (oh, but certainly not always) be a touch faster and stronger than my equivalent born-female opponent. For those who have fully transitioned there are still issues about how much benefit has been achieved from early life development. Yes, it’s right to participate. But is it right to damage our cause when winning an event is so questionable? A ciswoman beaten by a transwoman is going to feel cheated. It really doesn’t matter if the transwoman actually did not have some kind of advantage: They will still feel cheated. So will many other ciswomen watching the sport.
If we want to be accepted as women let’s be sensitive to the fact that ciswomen are EXACTLY LIKE US. They want to be treated fairly and they want a chance to compete against peers. If someone beats me in any type of competition, I would hate to feel that the winner had an unfair advantage over me.
Putting Transwomen criminals into female-only prisons: Where to even begin? Some of these transwomen may have committed sexual violence against women and may still be capable of doing so. Others are hugely at risk from being kept in a male environment. Absolutely everyone in prison, no matter their crime, has the expectation of being kept safe. This will take money. And a lot of thought. And it is obviously so easy to get utterly wrong.
So let’s not spout out that all transgender women deserve to be in female institutions. It’s not that simple. We start here: All people have the right to be safe and treated with dignity. From that point on I will leave it to cleverer people than me.
Accessing women-only opportunities designed to increase female participation: Again, the rights and wrongs become secondary to the appearance. The interesting thing here is that it includes instances of transwomen getting shortlisted for political party positions, to help raise female participation and open up historically male-dominated politics to gender equality. Some people (not me) will argue that there should not even be such lists in the first place. Others will say the transwomen obviously have the right to be included. On the whole, I sort of agree with the last position here, but ONLY where the transwoman in question has served a decent amount of time living 100 percent as a woman and not benefiting any longer from ‘male privilege’.
So, where do I stand?
My wish if for everybody is equal and that these issues simply do not arise, but that view of the world is unrealistic at the current time. Basically, I see the need to continue to push for equality for transgender people. But not at the expense of creating inequality or harm to other groups, particularly to a significant portion ciswomen.
We need to win the argument softly. Convince yes, but listen as well. Compromise. Learn. Those wishing to be women should support women’s rights because this is still very much needed. Be sensible. Be sensitive. Ultimately fighting against women is fighting ourselves!
And supporting all women – ourselves included – makes so much more sense.