No-one will be convinced by rational argument whether to treat trans women as women. First, people pick a side, then they rationalise. The arguments are less to persuade people than to provide respectability to their position.
This does not prevent a profusion of argument. Are there differences between male and female brains, and where do trans folks’ brains fit? How could this arise? Are there differences between men’s and women’s interactions, and is this conditioned? What causes transsexuality? Is it a matter of identity, or a sexual perversion, or both, or something else, and if so, so what? Do all women share particular experiences which trans women cannot imagine?
These arguments have emotional content, some more than others. Transphobes are keen to point up specific instances of trans women who are ridiculous or dangerous- some are sex offenders- to whip up fear and disgust, though those sexual assaults revolt me as much as anyone. We respond with the concept of “passing privilege”- trans folk who pass should not be treated better than those who do not.
Some positions arise from transphobia- feelings of fear or disgust at a perceived male in women’s clothes. Some people feel that, and their feelings should not be dismissed: spiders are absolutely no threat, but I take care to kill spiders when my arachnophobe friend is about. But I am not a spider. I ask people not to assume transphobia: no group of women all have these feelings, not sufferers from or survivors of chronic physical abuse or rape, people who have never heard of transgender before, not even radical feminists. If you have these feelings, own them. Do not project them onto others, and do not pretend to be protecting others who would be happy to accept us. Phobias are more curable than transsexuality, and curing a fear of another human being enables the former phobic to enter imaginatively into their experience and gain from their friendship.
The essence of radical feminism is that the only differences between men and women are physical sex characteristics, and patriarchy. In that context, I can never be a woman, and my feeling that I am is delusional or a product of patriarchy. And yet- even if there would be no physical transition without patriarchy- we dispute that, and it cannot be known- we are creative human beings seeking to live our lives as best we may. So the transition expresses something valuable about what it is to be human, and is a solution to human problems.
See what value it has. It challenges and subverts patriarchy: we decisively reject the gender roles assigned to us. It values characteristics generally thought of as “feminine”– these characteristics are valuable, in either gender. It is the tool we have to best be our authentic selves. When radical feminists are diverted from important feminist battles to fight trans women, the far right of politics rejoices and laughs. And- we are an anomaly. Not every anomaly need be ironed out.
Energy saved from picking on trans folk can be used in more productive battles.