Trans visibility should not be an invisibility cloak for women

Trans visibility should not be an invisibility cloak for women

For ‘International Day of Transgender Visibility’ on 31 March, online publication Mamamia published a series of articles examining the reality of the trans experience in Australia. The articles explore first hand accounts of what it is like to come out as trans, what it’s like to live as a trans person in Australia, and lastly the changes that trans people want to see in Australia.

The areas identified as requiring change include ‘Greater respect, equity and inclusion’, ‘Better access to quality healthcare’, and ‘Improved education in schools, institutions and workplaces.’

Some of the items listed refer to behaviours that one would expect are already extended to every person; respect, elevating the tone of conversation, increased representation in areas of public life, improved mental health outcomes, as well as addressing health needs of trans people who are Indigenous and live in regional, rural or remote parts of Australia. 

Others, however, are not so straightforward. Matters such as ‘a more streamlined process towards gender-affirming surgery’, ‘ensuring queerness and gender identity are a part of the sex education syllabus at schools’ are complex; much more research and evidence-based inquiry is required about the potential impacts of such radical and experimental treatments and approaches. Calls for gender neutral bathrooms, or ‘correct’ language options on the other hand are problematic for the reason that they directly clash with the rights of women. 

This raises the broader question of how the rights of trans people co-exist with the rights of women, and specifically, whose rights should take precedence if there is a conflict. This isn’t mere conjecture; this conflict is occurring on an almost daily basis. The consequences for women are neither trivial nor inconsequential; women have been silenced, erased, had their livelihoods threatened, missed out on athletic scholarships and sporting titles, and surrendered their women-only safe spaces.

The cases are too numerous to list exhaustively. In the past year alone, we have seen the Feminist Legal Clinic evicted by the Sydney City Council for posting material on its website defending women's sex-based rights. A few weeks ago, transgender athlete Lia Thomas (a biological male) ‘won’ the Ivy League Women’s Championships and set ‘records’, beating her female competitors comfortably. We read the case of the woman in the UK who was raped in a women’s hospital and couldn’t get the police to investigate her case because the hospital’s transgender guidelines prevented them from disclosing that a patient was actually biologically male.   

The impacts go even further than forced resignations or missed sporting achievements. Women’s safety has been gravely compromised in an effort to accommodate the rights of transwomen. Women in Canadian prisons have found themselves housed with sex offenders who self-identify as women. Transwomen are insisting on the right to enter women-only spaces such as bathrooms, changerooms, rape crisis centres and women’s shelters.

And finally, women are being erased from the reality of their own biology in a bid to ensure language is inclusive of trans or non-binary individuals. Terms such as uterus owner, individuals with a cervix, menstruator, people who bleed, birthing person, chestfeeder, people who are pregnant are dehumanising and offensive. Eroding women as a sex class impairs the recognition of their needs, vulnerabilities and rights. And taking away the words that women need to speak about their bodies and lived-experience robs them of their voice.

Women who bravely speak up to defend the rights of women have been the recipients of abuse and accusations of bigotry, transphobia and hate speech. Author J.K. Rowling has been particularly targeted, as the most high profile woman to date willing to stand firm on this issue. Many others have found themselves similarly targeted: here in Australia we have seen the criticism of Senator Claire Chandler following the release of her Save Women’s Sports Bill, and the sacking of the newly appointed CEO of Girl Guides WA for asking a question about biological women. In Canada, in a famous case a few years ago, feminist Meghan Murphy was permanently banned from Twitter for a tweet that stated “men aren’t women”.

The silencing of women who speak up has necessitated the establishment of websites such as www.noconflicttheysaid.org, which encourages women to tell their stories anonymously. Numerous accounts of the way that women have been adversely affected by ‘gender inclusive’ policies are documented. The website identifies the following (non-exhaustive) list of women’s only spaces that have been impacted by the push to replace sex with gender in Australian law:  

We're worried about the impacts on women of men using women-only spaces, including but not limited to: changing rooms, fitting rooms, bathrooms, shelters, rape and domestic violence refuges, gyms, spas, sports, schools, accommodations, hospital wards, shortlists, prizes, quotas, political groups, prisons, clubs, events, festivals, dating apps, and language.”

This is not a one-sided debate. The wish list provided by transgender individuals highlights the fraught nature of the competing rights at play; rights which are increasingly resulting in the erasure of women at the expense of the rights and needs of trans and non-binary persons. It is ironic that if all the demands for change from the trans community on “International Day of Transgender Visibility” were met, women would become invisible.

Is it really the case that women need to disappear in order for trans individuals to feel validated and included?