The Current Debate About Whether Trans Women Are Women Scares Me

To divide one group of women from another appears to strike at the very foundations of feminism. Is that what we want?
Martin Williams

Trans women and trans-historied women have been around for a long time. They have a long history of fighting oppression. Encouraged by my mother, I grew up in awe of Germaine Greer. Approaching womanhood and associating with others, I came to understand the roles played by Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera in the Stonewall Riots. An activist, I felt inspired by the example of these women. Now I’m grappling with the notion that some, Greer included, would consider Rivera and Johnson to have been men.

Of late I’ve been trying hard to reach out and understand the concerns of my exclusionary feminist sisters. I’ve done so as society bravely attempts to define what we mean by the terms ‘man’ and ‘woman’. Those terms seem to be changing forever. As a trans-historied woman it has begun to scare me a little too.

I grew up a dutiful little feminist daughter, imbibing the second wave doctrines expounded by my mother. Now I’m not so sure. A trans-historied female, I’ve fought alongside my older feminist sisters to combat oppression and to promote an agenda in which we were united by a common experience of misogyny. In sharing my experiences I genuinely believed we were allies and friends with the same cause.

As women, our experiences are parallel. Natal born women cannot know what it was like to grow up a trans girl. Trans born women cannot know how it felt growing up a natal girl. We can however appreciate and listen to each other’s experiences. Here are mine: I was the three year old who insisted that she wasn’t a boy, the one they beat up constantly at school. I was the awkward, shy, brown haired girl downtown buying new clothes and records in an attempt to fit in. I grew up experiencing my teens as a girl; men opened doors for me and I was flattered. By the time I was a young single mother returning to her career, the same men slammed doors in my face. As a child I was abused by a man who saw me as a sexual novelty. I’ve lived half my adult life free from a fake existence forced on me by others. Now I’m lucky to be a happily married woman, working alongside a husband who cares about me. I work as a trained counsellor in the LGBTQIA community. As a woman I work hard to make a difference to the lives of others.

In all this, I never expected to be excluded by my sisters or told that I was actually ‘the enemy’. To divide one group of women from another appears to strike at the very foundations of feminism. Is that what we want?

I want to understand the vitriol and anger behind radical feminists’ denunciation of trans women. I’m trying hard to empathise with how they feel. This blog is my own attempt to reach out to them. I’m asking for them to listen and empathise with how trans women feel too.

In the meantime, the stand off between radical feminists and trans feminists rages on.

There are many more burning issues that still face us all like pay inequality, oppression in the workplace, sexual objectification and unequal rights. Why are we so obsessed with talking about women’s only spaces as though it is the only current issue?

I suspect that while we take our eyes off the ball and fight each other tooth and nail, we may lose everything that we have fought together so far to achieve.