It’s time that all women united around a clear position that we all suffer from the same issues of oppression and work against the forces on the political right who wish to maintain the patriarchal order through dividing us up, argues Sarah J Pattison
In 1973 Jill Johnston recorded the difficulties that lesbian feminists faced from the mainstream women’s movement in the US. The key arguments were not unlike the case that a small minority of feminists are making against trans and intersex women today.
The arguments against lesbian feminism revolved around the case that “they were deemed not to be real women.” In pre-IVF days they could not have the same experiences around childbirth. More so because they were interested in other women rather than men they were deemed to be a threat to normatively straight women in secure women places.
This set of arguments has re-emerged today in the rhetoric of a number of fundamentalist Christian groups and some in the US Republican Party. Here in Britain the argument has played out on a much smaller scale through the cases put forward by a small number of feminist writers.
The argument in part sees gender reassignment as an issue of choice rather than medical need. Taken that 84 per cent of trans people had contemplated suicide and 53 per cent self-harmed it is difficult to see gender dysphoria as anything but a life-threatening condition (Gender Identity Research and Education Society).
The same could be said about instances of recorded crime against the transsexual community. Metropolitan Police figures showed a 44 per cent rise last year. It is difficult to see why one would opt into a situation where they automatically become more prone to the risk of a whole range of crimes from murder and rape through to harassment. Likewise with domestic violence the percentage of trans victims is thought to be colossal although little reported.
The bulk of arguments that have come forward are one-sided in that they tend to focus on transsexual and intersex women while ignoring non-binary and trans men. Some of the critics cite female experience and try to tie the identity of women down to biology.
Unfortunately there is not the space on this occasion to go through the myriad of arguments against that position and the potential detriment it can run for all women. In reality there are actually very few things trans and intersex women are unable to do.
They can breastfeed with the right hormonal build up and the medical professions are on the edge of using womb transplants on transsexual women. Germaine Greer has notoriously made the statement that transsexual women never experience having a great big stinking vagina. This is of cause complete nonsense in that modern surgical methods will often get full six inches depth compatible with the maximum depth of most cis women and of course it is just as smelly.
Mythology exists around a notion of “male privilege.” The argument goes that many trans women have already experienced privilege previously as men. This is a non-starter. Many live a life of permanent discrimination from their youngest years because they are unable to identify with male peer groups and don’t quite locate in female groups.
What it does do is to produce a very critical and in many cases left-leaning outlook on the world. After all many would take as a starting point a critic of a state system that has wrongly labelled them from birth and a neoliberal market economy that forces them to present and consume in certain way that in many cases can prove fatal taken the suicide statistics.
Indeed such a extreme sense of alienation leads to a real struggle to undermine conventional gender and patriarchal practices and the ideological framework of neoliberalism that allows the market to bind the whole thing together.
Myths exist about the risk to other women of allowing trans and intersex women the right to use female facilities. When asked no evidence has ever been provided to support this claim either here in Britain or US.
The fact remains that many women subject to hormonal treatment if required have a hormonal structure and muscular frame not unlike any other woman. Post op and some intersex women already have female sexual organs. For those who do not their practical use value is often wiped out early in treatment by hormonal means.
Most trans women are too concerned with “passing” to have any interest in anyone else using facilities. The reality is that trans and intersex women have no greater capacity to threaten women in secure spaces than any other woman does.
Arguments that trans women are a drain on resources that should be spent on addressing the real issues faced by so called “women” are yet another excuse for exclusion. It’s really very simple. Resources allocated to women are exactly that. It’s not acceptable to exclude small sub groups. The issue goes back to acceptance of trans and intersex as women.
One would not wish to discriminate against black or disabled or any other group of women so it is difficult to see why one would select one minority group as too resource hungry.
The issue simply goes back to the discriminatory approach of refusing people’s identities to start with. In fact it’s all too easy to justify any level of discrimination if you completely deny the existence of any group of people and to deny that trans and intersex women are women is not to get rid of the problem of resources but rather to close down debate by blindly removing a minority group from existence.
All of the large unions have dived in to support transsexual and intersex people in the workplace. Notably GMB’s Paul Kenny addressing Trans Memorial Day in London in November 2014 opened up the ground for a productive relationship with the trans community. All of the large unions now have policies in place to support people in the workplace. In return it is clear that the trans community have an important role to play in challenging gender roles by undermining conventional notions of a patriarchal bi-gendered social system.
The world is not as clear cut as the market forces us to believe. Patriarchy is a social construct. It’s time that all women united around a clear position that we all suffer from the same issues of subjugation and oppression to greater or lesser degrees and in different contexts and work against the forces on the political right who would wish to maintain and intensify the patriarchal order through dividing us up.
The real issue for feminism and the left should be to how best to support trans and intersex women and bring trans and intersex women and others into the intersectional feminist fold and benefit from the experience and critical understanding that these women can contribute.