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  • Rowan Prescott Hedley

Trans Rights Are No Threat To Female Liberation

Trans rights are being overtly attacked again. The UK government are sticking with their dangerous ideals and JK Rowling is putting her oar in. Trans Rights Are Human Rights.

Photo by Hayne Palmour

Before you carry on with this piece, you must read this article:

I have previously written about the intersectionality of oppression and the necessity of a multi-axis framework of revolution to succeed. Oppression relies on the dominance of one marginalised group over another to maintain the regime. By uplifting each other and being sensitive to the unique barriers of intersecting oppressed categories we ensure the true eradication of systemic oppression.

Credit to black trans women for your survival, your labour and activism, Stonewall, and Pride. Pride is a protest and a celebration. We celebrate our value and we protest our rights infringements. Capitalism and patriarchy have no place here.

In this piece I am going to hold your hand through a *tiny* trans history lesson, drag you through the falsehood of trans existence threatening cis female liberation and…

TW: abuse

…expose how the abuse of cis women is being weaponised to hold trans people responsible for the continuing pain and suffering of this trauma caused by the patriarchy.

The way forward is intersectional transfeminism. Come with me. You’ll love it.

-------------- TRANSGENDER IDENTITIES ARE NOT NEW --------------

So, some history. I love these bits.

There are still plenty of voices about saying trans identities are this new fandangled millennial thing we have cooked up because we have too much time and money on our hands. Obviously, because the only reason we could possibly not be buying property is that we can’t be bothered.

This is incorrect. Both bits are incorrect. The trans erasure bit is also a little bit fascist.

Significant reasons that trans identities seem new to the dominant voices of the day include a lot of racism, a whole chunk of queerphobia, and a nice little dash of sexism.

Hopefully you’ll have heard or even researched yourself by now, the sheer breadth of gender identity in communities not totally smushed about by the highly problematic British Empire.

Communities such as the Native Americans, First Nations, Inuits, and Māori demonstrate a breadth of recognised gender identity which in their countries and so many others was crushed by the blunt force of a corrupt and capitalist colonising force.

Over the course of the British Empire homophobia was seeded across the world. In India most of the colonial laws of direct discrimination have been repealed, legalisation of homosexuality was in 2018. However, a culture of queerphobia remains, making life more difficult and less accessible for LGBTQIA+ people.

This culture did not exist before colonisation by the British Empire, amongst so many other atrocities committed to the region. Lasting discrimination is the direct responsibility of sexist, racist, and queerphobic policies and ideals perpetrated by white supremacists abroad. Not least by Churchill.

The dominant we hear in surprise of trans identities are predominantly white and subscribe to this whitewashed narrative of historic gender identity.

Further to this, what developments there were in trans and non-binary gender studies, healthcare, and culture in Western Europe were decimated by the Nazis. There’s a reason you haven’t heard much history about trans identities from white Europeans - the Nazis killed queer people and burned their research and writings.

Image licensed by CC for Wikimedia

The Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, roughly translated to Institute for the Science of Sexuality, was one of the first private sexology research institutes encompassing all facets of queer life. The institute was set in the backdrop of a then thriving queer community in Berlin and would host conferences where trans activists were given a platform to represent themselves.

In 1933 the Nazis raided the Institute and burned over 20,000 books from its libraries in a campaign against LGBTQIA+ people. Amongst these were medical records containing notes on complex procedures being undertaken at the time and countless stories and studies from across the queer community.

The most visible victim of this anti-queer rampage were the gay cis men put in concentration camps and ordered to wear pink triangles denoting them as the lowest of the low. Imagery which is now being reclaimed.

This campaign against queer lives was extensive and fuelled a repressed culture of sexuality silence and disgust of non-conformers which echos in the voices of transphobes now.

So no, being transgender is not new. Neither is your transphobia. I hope you know who your closest relative-in-hate is.

-------------- JK, U OK HUN? --------------

JK Rowling has written stories of our generation but just like many visual and musical artists before her, we cannot simply separate the art form the artist and must confront her antics.

JK’s behaviour feeds into a larger policy attack on trans rights happening currently, in the middle of a pandemic and in Pride month. We keep telling you these people have no shame, maybe now you will believe us?

What JK and others seem intent on, and they are blindly incorrect here, is that the reality of trans people is a threat to the reality of cisgender women and the fight to end sexism.

Ffs. Being a woman does not mean any one thing. Isn’t this what the second wave was fighting for?

Side note here - JK also spends a considerable word count voicing her fear that impressionable young girls will be convinced to transition to boys. This is foundationally sexist and is deconstructed masterfully by Evan Urquhart, here.

Being a woman doesn’t mean any one thing because it shouldn’t. This is the point of feminism; the freedom for every woman and girl to have bodily autonomy, freedom of thought, work and role in the home, and the opportunity to self actualise.

Of course, for this to be achieved it must be in parallel with class revolt and anti-racism - intersectionality, back at it again.

If the point of feminism is to deconstruct singular, limiting definitions of girls and women why are self-proclaimed feminists building a new one?

As far as I can see it the reason is fear. Veiled as fear of trans people - which is ironic because all trans people are at much higher risk of violence than cis people - but in reality is fear of the patriarchy.

The fear that grips these scared TERFs is that trans inclusion will lead to a breakdown of the gender binary and mean that the fight for equality between men and women is totally chucked out and women and girls continue to have terrible oppressed lives ad infinitum.

Now, this is not reality for 4 reasons.

1. Trans people are not all calling for the end of a gender binary. The fact that trans people exist does not negate the fact that cis people exist. The same way bramley apples existing doesn't mean braeburns don't.

If sex and gender are separate then varying identities of each can match up in a variety of ways. One way they match up makes for trans people and another makes for cis people. Another is non-binary people - which I appreciate is the term for 'not the binary' but in reality is just a different matching up of varying sex and gender identities.

Cis people still exist. Chill.

This is a juicy looking gala apple because I am a tasty non-binary writer

2. Trans people, particularly those who pass, are subject to the same sexist conditioning that cis people are at that age and in those settings. Including trans people and their similar and varied experiences of sexist treatment and conditioning will only benefit the fight to end sexist oppression.

This is how a multi-axis framework of revolution benefits everyone involved.

3. Trans people could not totally chuck out the fight for gender equality, that requires enormous power. Only the patriarchy could do that - this is the real threatener.

4. It is my understanding, from all of history, that nothing lasts forever. Gender equality will exist one day.

Admittedly sexism is as old as people have existed and been aware that only people with vulvas can carry children so I can see how it has been forever so far. But sexism has changed and wained and returned as our world changes. It is this fluctuation which gives me hope that no matter what happens sexism will not last forever.

So let’s get more specific.

To my ears, this issue overwhelmingly rages about trans and cis women. Therefore, I suspect that another concern is about having trans women, who were oppressed as male through their formative years, in spaces perceived to be cis-female only.

The real fear is that cis women will be met in these supposedly ‘safer spaces’ with the same behaviours as they are met with in the male dominated world. Everyday these behaviours compound a continuing experience of PTSD established in childhood.

When girls are oppressed into sexist submission in their youth neurological damage takes place, thanks to the plasticity of the brain, which forms similarly across these oppressed brains. This results in shared behaviours and experiences which form a backdrop to cis female relationships. A lifelong friend or an interaction in a bar toilet.

The issue with the concern that trans women threaten these ‘safer spaces’ is three-fold.

1. Trans women have been passing as cis in spaces TERFs thought were exclusively cisgender for years. Hundreds of years. This negates the premise that trans women can’t relate to cis-women’s struggle or will always respond in the same way that cis-men do.

That is a transphobic presumption based in misgendering and dismissing the unique lived experience of trans women.

2. Life continues to evolve and some trans women have been passing as cisgender since such a young age that they too have been conditioned as female in their youth and have similar neurological damage.

3. The real enemy is, again, patriarchy. Not trans women. It is patriarchy which conditions men to dominate and interrupt all over conversations. It is patriarchy which conditions men to be so emotionally disconnected that they systemically belittle and gaslight women. It is patriarchy which hurts us all.

Uniting in specific pain and suffering is not as powerful as uniting against a common propagator of pain and suffering. You see the common factor all over this breakdown? Patriarchy is the issue.

Transfeminism is the answer

TW: Abuse - here and the next subsection.

Trans women are subject to patriarchal suffering and at higher risk of transphobic, patriarchal violence. This does not negate the high risk of abuse, violence, and femicide for cisgender women.

Trans rights matter because all queer rights matter. Trans women’s rights matter because all women’s rights matter. Trans rights matter specifically because they are at such high risk.

TERFs who attack trans people are simply colluding with and fuelling the patriarchy which they claim to fight against. Instead, uplift each other and unite against what hurts us all.

-------------- THE ABUSE COMPLICATION --------------

“But JK was abused by a man so trans women are threatening.”

Nope. Absolutely not.

Abuse is terrible and systemic and not the fault of trans people. Gendered violence and abuse is overwhelmingly enacted by cis men. Positioning trans women within this category to fit your narrative of them as a threat is again based in misgendering and dismissing the unique lived experience of trans women.

“Cis men could pretend to be trans women to cause harm to cis women.”

Again, trans women are at much higher risk of abuse and violence but even this point aside; as June Tuesday writes, if you force trans people into the spaces of their birth certificates cis men could pretend to be trans men to enter female spaces.

The real issue here is a system which does not value any femme life - cis, trans, or non-binary - enough to protect it from gendered violence and abuse.

“OK but having been abused, any remotely manly person is triggering so all trans women should be excluded.”

You have my sympathy but not my support. This is a grossly transphobic sentiment.

1. Plenty of trans women pass and you don’t notice. You can’t always tell who is trans which, frankly, renders this entire point moot but I will continue.

2. You cannot avoid triggers entirely. We use trigger warnings, particularly online, to reduce the shock and power of the trigger where possible. However, in physical life you can’t control who you pass in the street, what music you hear, what smells you smell, or what conversations you overhear.

3. Your distress does not discount an entire identity. Queer and trans people have existed far longer than you have and will continue to exist long after you’re gone. You are not the centre of the universe and the world does not revolve around you or for you.

As an oppressed woman you know this. As a privileged cisgender person you choose to utilise the privilege you experience used against you to compound the suffering of trans people.

4. Take responsibility for your safe spaces. You cannot control trans people’s identities or existence in the public sphere but you can control your own safe space. At least, this is a right of bodily autonomy and self actualisation which we fight for everyone to have.

Be specific. Nose shape, eye colour, voice tone, haircut, shoe type etc. Whatever, or however many, personal characteristics are triggers for your abuse keep out of your private, personal safe space.

There will be plenty of trans people who don’t match any of your triggers and plenty of cis people who do. Personal abuse triggers have nothing to do with trans people and focussing on blaming trans inclusion instead of the patriarchy is counterproductive and transphobic.

Patriarchy pits us against each other to preserve its control. Just as capitalism and the Tories do. We must unite instead.

“What about the front page?”

JK’s abuser was identified and given a front page platform on The Sun (who else?) where he spread his voice loud and wide and triggered women everywhere.

Yes, this was abhorrent and sexist victim blaming and gaslighting in action. Still nothing to do with trans people.

Sexism is rife. Cis-sexism is rife. Femmes - trans women, cis women, and non-binary femmes - are pitted against each other by the original exacter of our pain. It is only by uniting and protecting each other that we will endure and force change.

Cis women must stop harassing and haranguing trans women; they have their own patriarchal trauma.

Non-binary folx - we should not be silent just because we are not named in this. Our misgendered identities are weaponised and it helps us all to unite.

We must be legion.

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