This week, we celebrated International Women’s Day - a day to reflect on the achievements of women around the world, and the strides we have taken towards equality. But of course, it was also a day to face up the enduring strength of the patriarchy, and bring women together for the next stage of the struggle. And make no mistake, for trans women like me, the fight for equality is far from over. For us, and for so many of our sisters, it’s not enough to come together just one day a year. We need the solidarity of the sisterhood all year round.
I came out as a trans woman when I was 16. Leaving school, I thought I was going to be a quiet girl. Four years later, I’m at the front of the fight for trans rights.
Being a trans woman in public life leads to a significant amount of abuse and intimidation, and the wave of transphobia over recent months has been staggering. The moral panic of the right-wing press. The emboldening of abusers on social media. And perhaps most upsetting of all, misogynistic tropes which have repeatedly been used against women, now being used by cis women against trans women.
This transphobia goes way beyond the occasional abuse in my Twitter mentions. They want to fight progress in the law. The campaign to repeal the 8th amendment of the Irish constitution is a brave, progressive movement for giving Irish women stronger reproductive rights and better access to healthcare. It’s astonishing, then, that so-called “feminists” are opposing such an obvious leap forward, purely because Irish women are supportive of trans rights. In doing so, they are preventing women from having a choice over their own bodies.
If this regressive campaign were to succeed, womanhood would be defined a woman’s ability to give birth or have a period. These transphobic definitions of what it means to be a woman don’t just alienate trans women. They push away women with polycystic ovary syndrome. They push away women with chromosome abnormalities. They push away women, full stop.
In reality, Ireland is on the right side of history, by helping people of all genders to live with dignity. Here in England, our Gender Recognition Act is desperately out of date. Rather than letting people self-identify, trans people are subjected to a humiliating battery of intrusive tests. We have to ‘prove’ our gender to a panel of clinicians we’ve never met. We have to be formally diagnosed with gender dysphoria. We have to be diagnosed with an illness, and be glad for it. All of this, just to be recognised for who we are.
Our prime minister Theresa May has spoken about reforming the Act. At last year’s Pink Awards, she was roundly praised for her progressive views on trans issues, assuring us that “being trans is not an illness”. For a while now, she has made vague promises about changing the law so that trans people can have their gender recognised without medical tests. But it didn’t appear in her manifesto last year, and nothing has been brought forward to Parliament.
I had hoped that May might use International Women’s Day to bring forward these badly needed reforms of the Gender Recognition Act. Sadly, I was to be disappointed again.
In the Republic of Ireland, trans women have been able to declare themselves women and be legally recognised as such since 2015. The sky has not fallen. Cis women have not lost anything. In fact, they have gained: the struggle for bodily autonomy gains in strength and momentum through this victory for our trans sisters. Today, the Irish Government is going even further, by looking at allowing non-binary and trans children legal recognition. This is what we should be aiming for across all of Britain.
This week, sisters across the world are came together to celebrate womanhood. But just as we can’t consign our feminism to a single day of the year, nor should we consign it to certain groups of women. And so as we move past International Women’s Day for another year, let’s continue to celebrate all women; cis women, trans women, women of all genders and none. Transphobic attacks on trans women from cis women hurt all women, and play right into the patriarchy. Instead, let’s fight for full equality together. As a united sisterhood of women, we are powerful and we are dangerous.
Aimee Challenor is the Green Party’s LGBTQIA+ spokesperson