Intimate spaces

Why not, when trans women are sent to prison, just put them together in a house somewhere with one guard and an ankle monitor? Yes, he said, and if they break any rule you send them back to the general population. His use of that term for the mass of prisoners marked him as one who knows something of prisons. I recognise it but would not use it.

The thought experiment shows that the punishment of prison is not just deprivation of liberty, but the threat of violence inside. It would not work because while trans women are intensely vulnerable they are not the only vulnerable prisoners. But segregating vulnerable people should not mean putting them with sex offenders.

At Britain Yearly Meeting, after the QLGF AGM, I wanted to talk to L, who spent time in prisons in her youth. She wants women safe in “intimate spaces”, another term revealing a group. A trans woman can go in women’s space, so they change the term. I enjoyed the conversation. We stayed in the basement after everyone else had left until the janitor had to lock up, then we went for tea. She feels that Quakers with our peacebuilding skills could work on this conflict, and I do too. She was taken aback when I asked, “What is your position?” She does not have one, absolutely; yet made her points strongly for exclusion.

Women in prison tend not to be violent, yet to come from violent backgrounds. Physically scared of people larger and stronger than they, they have learned to put the interests and desires of others before theirs. They would be particularly vulnerable to pre-op trans women.

In hostels and shelters, she is concerned for such women who might have to share a room with a trans woman. The woman might not go to the hostel, rather than do that. Particularly, she does not want the woman who objects to be the wrong one, who must be corrected. There should be more hostels and shelters, she says- well, yes, but will that happen?

In toilets, she posits the case of the male-presenting AMAB person who says “I identify as a woman” and therefore enters a woman’s toilet. I agree that is wrong: we should show concern for those about us. Then she pointed out that there is only one door in a woman’s loo, and a woman might be frightened with a trans woman between her and the door. I told her of the sign on the disabled loo in Friends House, asking able-bodied people to leave them for people who needed them (not in these words) and stating there were gender-neutral loos in the basement.

I don’t want a gender-neutral loo. I found women’s loos much pleasanter, when transitioning. L said that they smell nicer, so I told her that a trans man had said he felt men’s loos were preferable, and I could only understand that by inverting my own position.

Intimate spaces, with vulnerable women frightened of men, and frightened by us. We would just be locked out. The very thought makes me feel less safe, less willing to go out and engage.

I mentioned this to two women, who thought L’s position ridiculous. I am glad. Yet I still felt uncomfortable in the large, crowded women’s loo west of the Large Meeting House. I was staring fixedly at the wall above the hand-dryer, not looking about me, and someone waved her hand in my field of vision- just to say hi, and it perplexed and distressed me.

I met Caroline, who said I was looking very well. “This hair makes me feel beautiful for the first time” I said. She said something about “after all you have been through” which angered me, possibly unfairly: I don’t know that she meant otherwise, but I wanted to shout

There is nothing wrong with being Trans!!!

only with people’s attitudes to it.

Lucas Cranach the elder, The Last Judgment, detail

2 thoughts on “Intimate spaces

  1. As toilets in general are about our intimate body parts then intimate spaces that suit each are most important – even if there were no threats, dangers etc one often feels “what if…being watched or imagined by perverts around…” – I reckon once one is comfortable with their sexuality whether given or chosen then toilets come easier but untidiness or odours never come easy…


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