Is there any merit in trans excluders’ arguments to exclude trans women from women’s spaces? Is there any harm to cis women from allowing trans women in?
If there were, we would have seen it by now. Trans women are in women’s spaces informally tolerated since the 1960s, officially under the Equality Act 2010, and even under Theresa May’s Tory government trans inclusion was seen as a good thing. Now, the English Nationalists in power seek to make trans people a vilified hate group, but they are not succeeding yet.
Any harm is not to all cis women. Many are trans allies, and say that they are perfectly willing to accept trans women in women’s spaces. However it is suggested that women traumatised by sexual assault may be retraumatised by seeing those they consider to be men in women’s spaces, that this is a harm to those women, so trans women should be excluded. For the purposes of this argument, I will assume such cis women exist.
We then have two groups of people whose interests conflict, trans women and these traumatised cis women. How could we resolve this conflict?
One way could be to argue that trans women are entitled to less consideration than cis women, or that our needs are not real, and trans excluders devote a great deal of energy to that, saying that our transition comes from false conservative understanding of gender, or from feelings which may dissipate. However trans women are real. Transition is in no sense a “lifestyle choice”, but something we do because we can’t bear not to. Without playing oppression Olympics, we can’t decide that one group’s interests should be sacrificed to the other’s.
Because trans women exist, cis women who merely feel angry that trans women are in women’s spaces are no more entitled to consideration than white women who feel angry at the presence of Black women. Trans excluders have sought to fan the flames of this anger, arguing that the presence of trans women is a danger or an insult. This is clear transphobia. Yes there are criminal trans women, but there are criminals in every other social group (apart from the theoretical group of “non-criminals”). Sanctioning a group for the actions of individuals is wrong. Also, there are cis women who are criminals, and may pose a risk in toilets. The answer is to deal with wrongdoers, not collective punishment.
However there may be conflicting rights, between trans women, and some number of cis women, retraumatised when they see us, or placed in fear.
To resolve the dilemma, we could show that trans women in general are not a threat. Get to know some trans women. We don’t all look conventionally feminine, but the beauty myth is tyranny over all women. The Christian argument against the Shrek films was that children would see the trans character, see she was not evil, and come to accept trans people in real life rather than loathing and fearing us, as they thought people should.
In places where you do not talk to others, usually, the chance of a trans woman traumatising a cis woman is small. We use loos and changing rooms, then leave.
In rape crisis centres and women’s shelters, the two groups could be kept apart without reducing the service for either, and getting to know each other would reduce the hurt.
Then, what will reduce the suffering of female victims of male violence? Greater conviction rates might, societal disapproval, increasing women’s social status, dealing with the gender pay gap. A hate campaign against harmless trans women is the last thing to benefit cis women. All it will do is give them an out-group to despise, and direct their anger downwards rather than at the sources of their oppression. That is why the Tories support the hate campaign.
When you consider what might actually have value for some women, even at such a huge cost to so many others, in the trans-excluders’ arguments, you see how harmful their campaign is. It may arise from women’s pain and hurt, but it has no way of assuaging it.