(For those of you who are unfamiliar with the terms, cisgender is an adjective to describe people whose gender corresponds to the sex they were born. Trans-women are those who presented as male at birth but who have transitioned and now live their lives as women.)
I don’t understand what it feels like to be born into a body that is ‘wrong’, to believe that the way in which the world sees you is incompatible with the way you see yourself. I would never dare to presume that I understand what it’s like to be transgender.
However, I am an avowed feminist and I have been dismayed by recent attempts, some subtle, some far more blatant, to exclude trans-women from the feminist community. The reasons for doing so are legion. Some feminists argue that trans-women encourage people to think of femininity as something that can be performed with makeup and high-heels.
Others claim that trans-women cannot truly understand what it’s like to be a woman because they have never had periods, they have never felt afraid walking home at night time in case they are raped; apparently trans-women have enjoyed male privilege in a way that cisgender women can only dream of.
These might seem like valid arguments (if we can momentarily ignore the ghastliness of debating another person’s humanity) but they fall apart upon closer inspection.
The idea of performing gender is not exclusive to the trans-community; many cisgender women also feel pressure to conform to society’s idea of femininity. How could they not, when workplaces frequently insist that their female employees wear light makeup as part of their ‘uniform’?
If we believe that it takes great courage for a cisgender woman to reject societal demands that she wear makeup and have long hair and wear clothes that are deemed feminine, how on earth can we expect trans-women to do so when such trappings are often the only way they can feel accepted as they try and live their lives?
To say only women who can menstruate are ‘real’ women is also grossly reductive, rejecting those who have undergone hysterectomies or those who have amenorrhoea (an inability to menstruate) from womanhood.
THE notion that trans-women will have enjoyed male privilege when they presented as male is a more interesting one, but it too seems rather unlikely when you consider it more carefully. Laverne Cox, an American actress and trans-activist, said that although she was born as male, she would “contend that I did not enjoy male privilege prior to my transition”.
She shared on Twitter that she was “...a very feminine child...” and that “my gender was constantly policed. I was told I acted like a girl and was bullied and shamed for that... The irony of my life is prior to transition I was called a girl and after I am often called a man.”
The tragedy is while we are sitting around discussing whether or not we should allow trans-women into our girl gang (You can’t sit with us, etc), people are dying.
The transgender homicide rate has hit an historic high in the US, most of the victims being transgender women of colour.
The trans community faces poverty, unemployment and homelessness due to job discrimination, and are six times more likely to experience physical violence when interacting with the police.
Statistics also suggest 41% of transgender and gender nonconforming people have attempted to take their own lives.
“We’ve had people burned in their homes,” an adviser for the National Centre on Transgender Equity said. “We’ve had people’s genitals mutilated after they’re dead. It’s absolutely rooted in transphobia and hatred and it’s a national crisis.”
The older I get, the more important the idea of intersectionality has become to me. If my feminism is not inclusive, then it is not true feminism.
MY experience of being a woman will be very different to a woman of colour or a working class woman or a homeless woman or an immigrant woman or a trans-woman. But we are all women and, more importantly, we are all human; deserving of empathy, support, and kindness.
But don’t take it from me. I’m cisgender and ultimately, my opinion on these matters counts for very little. Seek out trans-women and ask them about their experiences. Have the decency to listen to what they have to say.
Read Janet Mock’s autobiography. Follow Laverne Cox, Paris Lees, Shon Haye, Fox Fisher, Munrow Bergdorg, and Hari Nef on Twitter. Give them the space they need to live their lives with dignity. Surely that’s all any of us wants.
The final word is not going to come from me but shall be given to a trans-woman, as it should b. Juno Dawson is, a bestselling author and a Glamour columnist, and began her transition a couple of years ago.
She told me that, “the constant ‘debate’ around trans people is gaslighting and even I’ve started to question my existence. It’s psychologically damaging. The way I see it, no two women have ever walked identical paths: we’ve all experienced hardship to get where we are.
But if there’s one thing I know to be true is that it’ll be a hell of a lot easier if women can work together to get around the roadblocks. I know how I feel. I know who I am. You don’t. And so now, I’m opting out of this ‘debate’.
I have a family and friends that I love. I have my body and I have my soul and they are starting to match. I breathe the sea air and eat Haribo. I am real.”