A feminist case for trans inclusivity

Lorna Finlayson, Katharine Jenkins and Rosie Worsdale argue for trans women in women’s spaces as a feminist cause. Excluding us can lead to misgendering women including butch lesbians, and is intrusive. They summarise the exclusionary case: the prevalence of violence against women by men, the fact that men typically have certain biological features and have been socialised in a certain way, the fact that at least some of this seems to be true of many or even all trans women, and the fact that anyone can self-define as a woman, no matter how cynical or sinister their motivation then refute it.

Access currently depends on self-ID because of the Equality Act, and so some excluders seek to change that. Men are more violent to women than women are, but not necessarily because of qualities trans women share: rather it is because of social factors and expectations of men. Feminists argue there is no proof that biological factors make men and women different. And socialisation affects us differently, because we see ourselves as women. All sorts of factors shape us, and gender identity is an important factor. There is little clear empirical evidence on this, but trans women suffer from extraordinarily high levels of violence and need protection. We should not be excluded without evidence.

Women-only spaces are a best-fit measure for tackling gendered and sexual violence. It is a complex issue, so what is the pragmatic way to increase protection? To protect trans women too. Putting trans women in men’s spaces risks our safety. Third spaces would out us as trans, and policing women’s space might oppress masculine-appearing women.

Who counts as a woman is a political or ethical question, not a scientific or metaphysical one. It’s not that we are women because we feel we are, but in the radical feminist tradition, gender is a matter of social position, being part of a subordinated class. And our feelings, while not conclusive, carry weight. As a tiny, marginalised minority we are not oppressors.

Excluding us is similar to bigotry in that the arguments are similar to bigoted arguments against immigration. Sometimes, excluders are obsessive about the tiny number of instances of violence by trans women, rather than the much larger number of instances by men, just as the racist right obsess over rape by Muslims. Like the hard Right, the excluders foment fear that an inclusive, compassionate system will be exploited by benefits scroungers, bogus asylum seekers, or fake trans women. Including us reduces limited resources for women, just as the Right argues that immigrants “take our jobs”. Attending to the reality of trans women’s situation and our relation to patriarchy suggests that these arguments are Right wing and transphobic.

Giving energy to opposing gender recognition reform is the least effective strategy possible, if you want to oppose violence against women. In prisons, men might have the incentive to pretend to be trans women, but the policies themselves are robust even if the implementation is not. Feminists would be better to work alongside trans women for a better society. GRA reform makes it easier for trans people to live with dignity and respect.

Full argument here.


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