Limits on trans campaigning

Should there be a limit to trans rights? Trans women are women, but do our rights ever conflict with other women’s? And separately is there a political limit to the trans rights we can ask for now, in fear of alienating potential allies who would at least support us in some of what we claim?

Trans rights claims are limited because feminist battles are not won. There is endemic violence and sexual harassment against women, from partners and colleagues and strangers. Women are shamed into secrecy around reproductive health, restricted by law on bodily autonomy, not treated properly for pain, and where medical treatment affects women and men differently, even to the experience of a heart attack, the treatment protocols do not recognise this and default to male.

So it is not just politic, but right, to restrict trans claims when they might be seen to conflict with feminist campaigns.

There are ten maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in the UK. Maternity is dangerous, and changes the body, often permanently. Pregnancy is a time of intense vulnerability. Women suffer pain. Writing this I fear I come across as a stodgy sort of ally, not understanding but doing her best. I have heard of the delight of bodies, in giving birth and suckling. I have heard of need for terminations. I have heard mostly tolerant, dismissive remarks about men, who will never get it, and disbelief in my own powers of empathy. The female reproductive system must be a central concern of feminism. Women are mocked and shamed into silence about their needs. I cannot expect any woman to be my ally if I do not acknowledge that. Trans men and non-binary people have the same organs, and that can be acknowledged without changing all the language- unless we can come up with particularly sensitive language which includes the trans man without alienating the cis woman.

I am wary of standing out against language like “pregnant people” rather than “pregnant women”. It is trans men’s concerns and not my own that I am minimising. And some trans men have experience of potential allies being put off by zealous policing of trans-inclusive language with accusations of transphobia. It’s not my fight. I do not want this to be an issue with opposing sides, because I need both groups as my allies.

And, delight in the Body, love of my body as me, should not blind people to the needs of trans people. Women horrified by the thought of having a mastectomy should recognise the relief and sense of at last congruence of body and self that can arise from chest masculinisation.

We are in it together. Feminist concerns are women’s concerns. Trans experience of sexism matters.

Much populist politics is about symbols. Few Brexit voters are in a position to make millions by shorting the Pound, so most will gain nothing from Brexit. But it is the symbol of their democratic desire, they are told, they are personally snubbed if it is not granted. Similarly, the woman who knows [Irony Alert!] none of those nasty trannies, with their penises, male privilege and ridiculous appearance, will be in the washroom when she goes there has gained nothing, but women are being conned into demanding this symbol that they matter, rather than actual political gains such as equal pay. When trans exclusion is offered as the symbol of women’s rights and women’s solidarity, we have to be careful. When trans rights campaigning can be made to appear like disrespect for cis women, the symbol gains power.

It’s Schrodinger’s lesbian gathering. Will they accept trans women, trans lesbians, “transbians”, me? I don’t know until I ask. Some don’t. Lots of lesbians realise that when trans rights are under attack, lesbian rights will follow. Some lesbians are enthusiastic about excluding trans women. I feel it is politic for trans women to stay out of this, to let cis lesbian allies do the work for us.

Genital preference is not transphobic. Endless harping on about it is. Lesbians should not feel the need to assert that they are not attracted to people with penises, and trans women should not give them the excuse to do so. Give it a rest. You are only going to alienate people. Trans lesbians form relationships with cis lesbians and possibly those couples could stand up for their rights without every tweet about the cotton ceiling getting dozens of angry refutations, reinforcing the sense of victimhood and conflict.

In a world where all feminist concerns were addressed, there would be full acceptance of trans people. A sense of threat, responding to actual threats from other sources, leads people to exclude us. I want not to aggravate that sense of threat. Some battles will gain us nothing. Quiet allyship might gain us acceptance. Trans women are women, but not every conclusion that flows from that may be asserted without potential allies being alienated.


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