Trans Women, The New Misogynists?

Some time ago I lay on my bed, closed my eyes and tried to imagine being pregnant. I then imagined myself giving birth, holding my newborn child, bonding with it. I fell into a deep, beautiful sleep from which I awoke with a feeling of desperate emptiness. I felt my body, its curves, its contours and felt a sudden disgust at a body that was not fertile, not fruitful, would never know certain core feminine experiences.

I got over this, not least because of my some wonderful sex with both men and women, and I now love my trans body. But bodily self disgust is, I think, something that transgender people are quite prone to.   Many speak of feeling trapped in the wrong body but most know deep down that no hormones and no surgery can ever, quite, give them the right body. All trans women know that there are differences between them and cisgendered women, know too that many key issues for women can never affect them directly. We reflect on these and our reflection colours and patterns our relations with our cisgendered sisters.

I, and many trans women, actively support the struggle for reproductive rights,  the right og women to decide for themselves what to do with their bodies. We have cis women friends, confidants, lovers. Yet, however we engage with cis women, the radical feminists continue to abuse us as “mentally ill gay men” “drag queens” “not real women” and so on.  And, in a new tack, a recent blog posts suggested that we are misogynists,  seeking to erase “real” (that is biologically female) women in order to further our own unjustified claim to be women, that we privilege our struggle over that of cis women,  and that, ultimately, trans rights are fundamentally incompatible with women’s rights. This explains the rad fem furore over Government suggestions that the current intrusive,  medicalised and bureaucratic, process for gender reassignment should be replaced by one of self certification, based possibly on the system that has operated for two years in the Irish Republic.

Much of the claims made are nonsense. For example trans people do not require a Gender Recognition Certificate to use toilets corresponding to their self identified gender and the idea that a man would go to the trouble of putting on a dress and make up just to invade women’s spaces to sexually assault them always seemed farfetched.  As we have seen recently it is far from necessary for a man to do this in order to assault women. These arguments also elide areas where the stuggles overlap. For example, bathroom bans in certain US states have led to the ejection of cisgendered women from the ladies’, allegedly for not looking feminine enough.  The control of trans bodies is actually an aspect of the control of the bodies of all women.

Am I a misogynist? I have a number of close women friends who have supported me in my transition, who have shown me love and been there for me when I needed them. These are women who can relate to me as a woman and want to be part of my life. Do they consider me a misogynist? I cannot recall meeting a woman in recent times who was not wholly comfortable with trans women. The women I know encompass a wide age range, a wide variety of backgrounds and levels of education.  I suggest that they represent a representative cross section of the female population. I suggest too that the radical feminists, as in many other questions, are simply not where the majority of women are.

Do I want to erase women? I do not. The simple fact is I could not live without them.

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THE REAL DEAL?

Two weeks have passed since Jenni Murray’s infamous piece in the Sunday Times on why trans women are not “real women” and passions have cooled. It may be that most people have forgotten it already. But it certainly polarised opinion at the time. Twitter is not a place for subtlety and nuance and two rival camps quickly established themselves, supporters of Murray thanking her for saying what all women felt but were afraid to say too publicly, whilst opponents shouted “TERF” and “transphobe.” I fall into neither camp, but want to say, what I, as a trans woman, think and how I see relations between cis and trans women.

To begin with, it is necessary to point out that the piece is written in more measured terms than some recent contributions to this debate and it is refreshingly free from the abuse that the likes of Bindel and  Greer seem to revel in. The argument is, in essence, one have heard radical feminist make. It goes like this: I have nothing against people who identify as transgender but they can never be real women. They do, of course, suffer prejudice and discrimination. This is wrong and I support them on their struggle to be treated with dignity and respect but their struggle is separate from the women’s struggle. Indeed attempts to link the two are actually harmful to women as the battles that women fight in terms of reproductive rights, etc can be erased by the wider struggle particularly as the trans community is made up of people who were brought up male, in other words with privilege and who carry over male attitudes and behaviour onto their new identity. Trans advocates tend to be vocal, they can be intimidating and, cis gendered women’s issues get drowned out.

To illustrate her point Murray refers to two trans women she once interviewed. One, a priest of the Church of England, had nothing to say about the institutional misogyny of the Church but was quite keen to talk about her frocks. The other, the TV presenter India Willoughby was, apparently, unable to see a problem with the sexist work dress codes that many women were rightly getting angry about a few months ago.   The inference we are expected to draw, it seems, is that trans women are shallow, concerned mainly with appearance and unwilling to understand, or engage with, significant issues that affect cis gendered women.

It is difficult to avoid thinking that she has effectively put up tow straw women to knock down here and I know from my own experience that they are not typical.

But to return to the main argument. In one sense Murray is simply defining real as having, or having had, a uterus. Real is simply a synonym of cisgendered and in this sense, that argument is trivial. Nonetheless what Murray says touches on an important issue. For it is undeniable that social and legal control of women’s bodies revolve around reproduction. Menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, lactation and menopause are elemental physical experiences for cisgendered women, and are at the root of control, superstition and oppression that women, at various times inm history have suffered. Trans women, by definition, cannot experience these things directly.

It is, however, a leap of logic to suggest that trans women cannot understand these things or cannot support the struggles of their cisgendered sisters. And there is not, I think, a dichotomy between trans and cisgendered women’s issues, but rather continuity on a spectrum of discrimination, and overlap.  Consider the bathroom laws on some US states. These were justified as protecting cisgendered women against the threat of violence from sexual predators masquerading as trans women as if men intent on rape and sexual assault need to put on a dress and go to the ladies bathroom to find victims. In fact a number of those humiliated and forcibly removed from bathrooms have been cisgendeed women who were considered by security people not to look feminine enough. There is, therefore, a real sense in which the discrimination suffered by trans and cis women overlap and intersect. I think too that rights are indivisible. The achievement of, for example, racial equality, actually benefits white people too, just as gender equality can be liberating for cisgendered men. The same goers for trans rights.

And finally a word on my experience. I have a wide circle of cisgendered women friends, two of whom are very close friends. Most women I meet, socially or otherwise, have no difficulty in accepting me as a woman. Some of them have given me support, encouragement, advice,  and love that I have found truly humbling. And really all I want to do is to get on with my life and enjoy these friendships. I know that I will never be as a cisgendered woman in so many ways, I know too that I would never wish to privilege trans rights over, for example, reproductive rights, in the feminist movement. I know too that it doesn’t matter to me that whether particular people want to describe me as not a real woman although it is disappointing that someone I always had enormous respect for should jump on the bandwagon like this. Some points she makes are pertinent and trans people need to answer them. But too often she falls back on cliché and caricature.    At the end of it all I am who I am. And that’s fine by the people who matter to me.

Why Corbyn is right on Sex Work

The debate on sex work, particularly the debate in feminist circles is a minefield for te unwary, a place where ideology trumps reason and one which may be leading to the implementation of policies that are not supported by any serious evidence, and may be harmful to many vulnerable people, mainly women. Jeremy Corbyn merely said what most informed observers think, that the best way to protect sex workers from violence and exploitation is to decriminalise prostitution. This was a courageous step and one think for which he is now being pillories.

I don’t want to go into the detailed arguments again but just say that decriminalisation of sex work is advocated by such well-known pimping organisations as the World Health Organisation, by charities working to help vulnerable sex workers such as National Ugly Mugs, and by pretty much every serious academic expert on the subject (many of whom are women). I have read widely on the subject in the last three years and find the arguments against criminalisation of clients, against “End Demand” and against the so-called Nordic Model cogent and well supported by evidence. Many of these making them are either sex workers, women or feminists, frequently all three. Jeremy Corbyn is saying nothing remarkable, in fact he is taking a rational and considered position.

Yet he has stirred up a hornets nest with many senior Labour women (none of whom, to my knowledge, has any specialist knowledge of the area) rushing to condemn him and repeating the tired mantras about the pimping lobby, about the need to rescue “prostituted women” and so on. These women are remarkably intolerant of anyone daring to disagree with them. Caroline Flint, for example, has blocked on Twitter a number of sex workers who had the temerity to ask her to provide evidence to substantiate her claims. She even blocked National Ugly Mugs. This refusal of elected representatives to engage in discussion is rather depressing.

I accept that some people are trafficked into prostitution although there is no reason to believe that they are other than a small minority. I accept too that many sex workers may not particularly enjoy their work and would rather be doing something else. If they are to exit sex work , however, they will still need to earn a living and the crusaders have not provided much in the way of serious proposals for how they might do this. Criminalisation will actually make the plight of those who are trafficked worse. The Police Service of Northern Ireland opposed the bill to criminalise purchase of sex in the province precisely because it would divert resources away from the investigation of trafficking and because they know (which the likes of Harriet Harman seem not to) that sex workers and clients are often a valuable source of intelligence about trafficking victims.

Anyone who thinks that criminalisation will reduce trafficking has evidently not looked at the history of the criminalisation of drug use over the last 50 years, or indeed the story of the prohibition of alcohol in the United States between 1920 and 1934. The story of prostitution abolitionism bears certain similarities. As in the case of narcotics and alcohol, many of the advocates are genuinely high minded and idealistic people who have a genuine moral aversion to the things they are trying to ban. I do not doubt their sincerity. But if they are not stopped, they do will cause a lot of harm to a lot of vulnerable people.