After you were elected you said “You have to have the courage of your convictions and the courage to be able to get out there and debate and discuss and listen” and I was inspired.
As we both know, the Labour Party is riddled with brogressives who will occasionally make tick-box statements about equality with no real understanding. The reason I’ve stayed a member is because I have faith that feminists in positions of influence like you will make sure the needs of women are recognised and our rights protected.
As with you now, until three years ago I didn’t see a contradiction between the rights of transgender people and those of women. I trotted out the phrase ‘transwomen are women’ and was confident I was on the ‘right side of history.’ I remember being proud of myself when I made the leaflet below comparing Christabel Pankhurst with Caitlyn Jenner- I was so ‘woke’ I would never have knowingly associated with someone smeared as transphobic.
Nonetheless, deep down I think I knew that there was a contradiction between my aim as a feminist to dismantle harmful gender stereotypes, and my belief that somehow transgender people had an understanding of their gender that existed independently of a sexist society. I pondered on what transwomen did differently when they made the decision to come out and ‘live as authentic women.’ The question of how one could be ‘trapped in the wrong body’ was like a persistent mind itch – surely people should be free not to conform without that being cited as evidence for being transgender? A mismatch between the sex of a brain and body presupposes the brains of women and men differ, but this has been largely disproven. I was scared to acknowledge it, not least because as a woman I am expected to be ‘nice’ and also because the media landscape is saturated with stories of courageous transgender people at the frontier of a civil rights’ crusade. I understand why you reacted as you did at the weekend, transgender people are consistently presented as a vulnerable group and for those of us with a sense of social justice our instinctive reaction when challenged on this is to want to defend a minority. I will attempt to share with you some of what I have learnt since, and some of what changed my mind about the transgender community.
Male Pattern Violence & Identity
I wasn’t particularly surprised when the news broke that Soham murderer Ian Huntley now identifies as ‘Lian.’ Patterns of offending do not change when identities do and as with men- rates of criminality amongst transwomen are are far higher than those of natal women. It is estimated that at present up to half of trans women in prison are sex offenders. It is often argued that these are not ‘genuine’ transgender people and that they are simply opportunist men who want to be transferred to the women’s prison estate. This could be the case, though it poses the question, how can we tell? The leading LGBT organisations make no distinction between ‘transsexual’ and ‘cross-dressing’ people – both now shelter under the ‘transgender umbrella.’ I note you joined the outcry about Worboys, if tomorrow he identified as a woman would it be transphobic not to believe him?
How can we even record male violence accurately, when the crimes of paedophiles like Nicola Florida and Jasmine Hill are now frequently recorded as being committed by women? Categorising by a subjective sense of ‘gender identity’ rather than material reality renders the statistics that underpin policy meaningless and male pattern violence invisible.
Our foremothers fought for sex-segregated space so that we could take our rightful place in public life. We prefer not to acknowledge why this is necessary, it makes us feel vulnerable and sparks the familiar and defensive #notallmen outrage, outrage that is belied by the everyday #metoo experience of women. In many parts of the world women are still raped because they don’t have access to safe, single sex facilities. Men in the UK are no different, no more ‘civilized’ and being able to challenge their presence in single-sex changing rooms, counselling sessions and hospital wards should be a fundamental and uncontroversial safeguard. Regardless of how an individual identifies, we should feel confident to say ‘no’ to male-bodied or male-socialised people in women-only spaces. To do otherwise is to put an individual’s feelings above the safety of all women.
The standard response, when concerns about women’s rights are raised in relation to gender identity, is that transwomen are disproportionately likely to be victims of violence. It should be noted that the oft quoted “one in twelve trans women are murdered” refers to prostituted transwomen of colour in South America, not white computer programmers in the home counties. In fact thankfully here in the UK transwomen are less likely to be murdered.
Young women & the pressure to transition
Often it is transwomen who bask in the glare of the media spotlight. The version of ‘womanhood’ as performed by transwomen like Lees and Faye doesn’t resonate with me. Unlike ‘new suffragette’ Lees, I don’t find street harassment a validation of my sexuality. Those who exist in the shadow of every Jenner, Cox and Willoughby are young transmen, the overwhelming majority of whom would otherwise grow up to be lesbian or bisexual. This is a matter close to my heart, as I fear that if I were growing to accept my sexuality in today’s climate I would bear the scars of a double mastectomy, an atrophied vagina and the side-affects of testosterone. A new wave of detransitioned women in their early twenties add credence to this. In a porn-soaked society with rigid sex stereotypes and so few young lesbian role models, I fully understand why so many want to identify out of girlhood. Moreover, young lesbians are routinely advised by sites such as the somewhat ironically named ‘Everyday Feminism’ they are transphobic if they do not consider male bodied transwomen as sexual partners. Gender non-conforming girls are collateral in the battle to affirm the identities of adult and often late-transitioning transwomen.
The #metoo campaign of late 2017 sent shockwaves that were felt from the Houses of Parliament to the houses on every street. The backlash was brutal – shouts of ‘witch hunt’ drowned out the voices of victims and the year closed with calls to protect the anonymity of men accused of rape. As feminists we know that Hollywood stars wearing black will not stop two women in the UK each week being killed by the men they should be able to trust. That is why we look to women like you, women with the power to affect change.
I know you to be a woman of principle and I trust you to be open-minded enough to consider the points raised. I sincerely hope you will make the time to meet with us and other feminist groups who campaign to ensure that women’s rights are not forgotten in the rush to seem supportive of transgender people. We look forward to your response.
In sisterhood and solidarity,