CHAPTER FIVE: Trans Women are Women – Is This True?
No. There is a difference between sex and gender identity. Someone with a transgender identity should be respected, not just as a person with equal rights, but also their gender identity should be respected – and their courage: by their very existence, they are going up against gender stereotypes and often exposing themselves to great dangers. But to say that trans women are women in every respect, and that they should have the right – by law – to access any and all woman-only spaces, services and organisations, is wrong. To go further and make this a dividing line question for the trans liberation movement is a terrible mistake.
Because it’s not true.
Because it commits the movement to fighting against reality.
Because it demands that anyone who wants to support trans liberation must believe unbelievable things.
Because it’s turns trans liberation into a fight for men to get into women’s spaces.
Because it diverts trans liberation from fighting for its real interests and keeps turning it back to a metaphysical debate about the “validity” of trans womanhood.
What are the real interests of trans liberation? Let me quote Laurie Feinberg in his book, Trans Liberation:
“The devaluation of trans lives must end. No one should be chased down the street or beaten bloody because of what they’re wearing or how they define or present themselves. No one should be out of work, paid lower wages, or arbitrarily fired because of their identity. No one who is ill or injured should be turned away from medical care.”
Feinberg goes on to say that trans people should have the right to identification papers that reflect their lives accurately, that they – in fact everyone – should have the right to safe, sanitary, single occupancy toilets, that trans prisoners should not be put into prison situations that allow or even encourage others to gang rape them, and that each and everyone’s gender expression should be respected.
I’m not claiming that Leslie Feinberg would agree with everything I have written here, but my point is that this long list of issues – and it could be longer – would be supported, and in fact, is supported by many people who have been cast out into the darkness of transphobic TERF hell, simply because they don’t agree that “trans women are women.”
What about fascism? What about all the conservative and extreme right wing pundits and media that are jumping in to support the so-called gender critical position? This is how fascism works. It doesn’t just make up grievances; it finds real grievances, latches on to them and exploits them for its own ends. Demanding that everyone accept the unscientific and unbelievable claim that “trans women are real women” is grist to their mill.
And no, saying trans women are not women does not “amount to” saying they are not human. The reason for fighting for trans rights is not because they are “real women” and “real men”; it’s because they are real humans and they have human rights. And more than that, trans people are oppressed as a group, so it’s not just a question of individual rights. We should all be fighting on the side of trans liberation.
Like women’s liberation and gay liberation before it, trans liberation is an emancipatory mind-expanding movement, and I think a lot of that comes precisely BECAUSE trans women aren’t women and transmen aren’t men. They represent something new – not a new sex, but a new way of thinking. Maybe trans people have been a part of society since forever, but now they are a movement, one that further challenges the whole concept of gender as anything other than a rainbow of possibilities.
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