Self-declaration is the way to make gender recognition fair. I do not need a psychiatrist to tell me who I am. No-one who is AMAB will declare herself to be a woman lightly, and a few safeguards will make that risk minimal: requiring a change of name, requiring an oath or affirmation, making it slightly more difficult to change back, will prevent people doing it for laughs.
When cis women say self-declaration is a threat, or that women should be consulted, it is hard to find what they feel the threat comes from. From all trans women? We generally transition because we are soft and gentle and not conventionally masculine. Whether or not you think that is “feminine” or womanly or women would be like that but for Patriarchy, it means we are not likely to hurt other women. We don’t like to be noticed, because when we are we may suffer violence from others. If you call us a threat that is threatening to us: others may feel justified in attacking us to “defend” themselves or others.
Or is it from a small minority of trans women? Some of us are violent; but then so are some cis women. There is a greater risk in a changing room from cis women, because there are more of them. Most people are peaceable.
Or from men pretending to be trans women, to get access to women’s space? There should be no minimum standards of visible femininity to be an acceptable trans woman, because a lot of us don’t pass, and “women’s clothes” is a problematic category. But people can see where something is off, and generally a trans woman will want to appear to be making an effort. We don’t want to be noticed, because that is a threat to us. Men are a threat to women, but do not need to dress as women to attack women.
Possibly particular groups could be treated differently. Perhaps self-declaration should not be enough to transfer a prisoner from a men’s to a women’s prison. But there could be easy safeguards in such cases, requiring psychiatric assessment and a period of adjustment before transfer. Having to express themselves as women in a male prison, or go into segregation, would deter all but the most determined prisoners, and the trans women are the most determined.
Where a woman has been attacked or violated recently, she may feel particularly vulnerable. She may feel a woman’s changing room should be a safe space, and be disturbed to see someone she reads as a man there. I sympathise with that. I try to be sensitive. I am not demonstrative in women’s space, but make myself small so as not to be noticed. That seems to be the source of the objection, though: the problem is all trans women, and cis women may be offended or disturbed to see us in women’s space. That is, it is a phobic reaction, a disproportionate sense of threat, or attaching the sense of threat to something unthreatening, as a spider is unthreatening, really, to an arachnophobe.
They do not see themselves as phobic, but as reasonable. There is the cause of the anger. It is extreme anger, especially when they congregate together, exemplified by Linda Bellos on a platform saying “If anyone of those bastards [transwomen] comes near me, I will take my glasses off and thump them. [crowd laugh] Yes I will take my glasses off… But I do, I am quite prepared to threaten violence, because it seems to me that what they are seeking to do is piss on all women.” For her, I am part of an undifferentiated “Them”, a threat to her wanting to damage all [cis] women.
Fortunately, women who are not transphobic do see that we are unthreatening, and support us.