Blog of Feminist Activism

The feminist activism of charliegrrl and co

Feminism, Trans and Women-Only Spaces

Posted by charliegrrl on January 1, 2007

I know this blog usually focuses on antiporn activism, but I ‘m feeling the need to share my views…

There has been lots of talk on blogs lately about transgenderism and how this fits into feminism.

But I find myself caught between two sides: it seems if you aren’t pro-trans liberation to the point where you fully accept a Male to Female in a women-only space, then you are being transphobic. Increasingly, women-born-only spaces are being assimliated as we are accepting MTF people into our space. We are told that we should accept a person who is born male but identifies as a woman, as the same as us. I don’t share this view. I do however want to support trans rights.

This is my position.

I am female, and often wish to do feminist activism with other females- people who are born female. This is because we share a common oppression and I feel safe and supported with fellow women.

In a woman-only feminist space, I would not wish for a male to female transgendered person to attend, as they do not share the standpoint of being raised female. I consider myself different to a MTF. I do not share the same bond with a MTF that I feel with women.
A MTF will never menstruate, will never get pregnant, will never have to take contraception to avoid pregnancy, will never have to have an abortion, and can not share the standpoint of a Lesbian.
And this difference is enough for me to warrent excluding them from a women-only space.

In a space dedicated for women surviving sexual abuse and violence, it is not suitable for a MTF to enter, as they were born male. The presence of a MTF in such an environment could cause survivors unease. An example of the problem of including MTFs into a woman-only space can be found here.

After reading Twisty’s post that has caused so much controversy, I’d like to pull out a comment that I agree with:

The Definition of “Woman”
(A small group of transwomen) are trying to stretch the definition of a word that incorporates thousands of years of shared cultural, social, and biological experience. I refuse to believe that there is not a (so-called) “bond of womanhood.” That bond may be just what you experience in your own family, between mother and daughter, or it may be what you have experienced and learned, through personal and intellectual growth. This bond exists as a given thing, and there are countless bonds – the bond of nationality, of race, of religion, of knitting, etc. I cannot imagine that any of you would deny the existence of bonds – of a shared experience and history, and a feeling of affinity for anyone who participates in it.

A man or boy who decides at some point in their lives that they will change their sex and become a woman, cannot possibly expect to instantly understand the cultural, social, and biological implications of being female. For instance, he might have experienced some discrimination in his male life, but he has come, ultimately, from a group of privilege. Can he fully comprehend the thousands of years of oppression and the million ways of discrimination that women live under, and (many, unfortunately) accept as their fate?

The answer is no.

A common argument against women-only spaces is that feminists and trans-activists are both fighting against gender oppression, so we should work together. In a post-patriarchal world, in which gender as prescribed behaviour no longer exists, I would still identify myself as female, not male. I don’t want to lose my identity as female, and my bond with my Sisters. This is another reason why I wish to nurture women-only feminist spaces.

Although I feel trans rights are important and it is important to respect the suffering such individuals go through to be recognized as the gender they identify with, I feel there should still be a space for women-born-only spaces in the feminist movement. Afterall, I thought that was what feminism is all about- fighting against oppression of those born woman?

I’d like to find a way to work together, without hurting trans people’s feelings.

16 Responses to “Feminism, Trans and Women-Only Spaces”

  1. tcupnewt said

    I see exactly what you mean. The opression faced by a MTF person is completely different from that of a born woman. It’s not an opression olympic but it’s a different issue though they are linked. Ignoring and excluding transgendered people’s struggles does no one any good but neither is limiting women-only spaces (god knows I need them!)

    Growing up female is something that a MTF person will not be able to fully understand and therefore women’s only spaces for those born female is important. It’s mainly a question of the apropriate time and place though, at least in my humble opinion. So yeah- different forums for different folks. I think we can make these work side by side.

  2. stormcloud said

    I’d like to find a way to work together, without hurting trans people’s feelings.

    Yes, absolutely.
    I think the problem may be when the trans community ‘demand’ to be included, in every bit of activism, and the feminists are ‘obliged’ to take on their cause (esp FTM) as well.

    As women, or women-born women, we have had a lifetime of demands and obligations, and because equality is still eons off, we still need a room of our own. That is why it is, or can be, offensive when the trans community ‘demand’ we take on their issues, or ‘demand’ to be included. Possibly it does boil down to their issues actually being very different to ours, regardless of wearing a dress.

    The analogy in that article was brilliant (and there were many brilliant analogies there). Particularly the one of, to put it bluntly, ‘black face’ (which is essentially what it is), we (whitey) can in no way know the full experience of the oppression from age 0, because the experiences of childhood are extremely formative of the adult.

    Regardless of whether or not MTF are included sometimes, they should NOT ‘demand’ to be included – it is at feminist descretion surely? Demands are very much male behaviour!

    Feminists have been used/utilised in the past for other agendas, gay men would be one example (both groups being oppressed by the P). However, when gay men got better status, and blended in with the others (the oppressors, white het males, so they all ended up wearing the boyz suits), then the feminists were pretty much fucked off (by gay men).

    As feminists we have OUR prime directive. We should not be guilted into taking on other causes. Fine if they are parallel and can be done at the same time, but not if it is a case of ‘please fix my problem first..’ or ‘I demand you let me into the clubhouse coz I’m wearing a dress and I’m just like you’.

    The key here is the ‘demand’. I don’t want to upset a respected feminist who lives with a MTF, and most of what I have written is pertinent to what has been going on at a local activist level here in the UK.

  3. Rachel H-G said

    They aren’t women the way we are.
    Yes, they are victims of rigid gender roles, but instead of holding out and changing the roles themselves, they’ve caved in to patriarchal pressure and changed themselves to fit with the “other side” of their norms.
    Changing yourself to fit in with someone else’s ideal? Not the actions of a feminist in my book.
    Sorry if this is a touch combative, but this is the way I feel.

  4. Grace said

    I think this issue is really important Charlie and I think you’ve addressed it really well. The fact is that the oppression that feminists fight against is the oppression of women-born-women and although I don’t really know a lot about the subject I would imagine that transgendered people may be more likely to be oppressed due to the their transgender status rather than the gender that they then choose to be.

    There is some controversy in the criminal justice system over whether transgender issues should be put with LGB to become LGBT or not because it is not just about sexuality, and then it is not just about sex/gender either, so if anything a women’s group can just not identify fully or fulfill the needs of transgendered people…that’s what I think anyway.

    I’m not saying at all that I don’t think transgendered people should be allowed to join women’s groups AT ALL but I think it should be respected as space for women-born-women, as feminist men respect it (at least I hope they do!), and as the space of ethnic minority groups and spaces are respected.

    I was reading a booklet about working with women offenders and the subject of sexuality and transgendered offenders today at work and transgendered people who identify as woman are given the same treatment and rights as women for all intents and purposes – this includes referral to group programmes. This I don’t agree with. Some female offenders have been violently or sexually abused by a man at some point in their lives and to me that is definately an instance in which it is not appropriate for a MTF to be part of a group.

    As you said yourself i don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings and my opinions are based on what little I know, so if I am actually wrong i’ll gladly be told in a calm and balanced way and I apologise in advance for my ignorance.

  5. Stormy I like your comment that it should be the discretion of a women’s group if they include transwomen, rather than being made to feel like we should share the same space all the time. I have faced conflict by queer activists for creating a ‘gender heirarchy’ by supporting women-born spaces. I didn’t appreciate this criticism, especially when our intention in creating women’s spaces is to subvert heirarchy.

    Grace, it’s interesting you pick up on the amalgamation between LBGT and Gender, as often in diversity policies, they include them as the same thing, when in fact they are different (although there are overlaps)

    In fact I think the acronym has got longer to be more inclusive:
    LGBTQI which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer and Intersex.

    So Grace, in the CJS, if a person committed a crime, and they identified as female, but hadn’t undergone gender reassignment, would they be sent to a women’s prison or a men’s prison..? If they had undergone gender reassignment, would they go to a women’s/men’s prison..?

    Most women in prison have been subject to physical violence, sexual assault and abuse by men. (I think it is Carol Smart who’s done research into this, correct me if I’m wrong..?), so I wonder how such women would feel if they were to do group therapy with a MTF present..?

    Also on the subject that trans oppression is different to woman-born oppression, I think the conflict comes when trans people feel feminists are continuing their oppression, by excuding them from women-only spaces. But MTFs, where it is not obvious they have undergone gender reassignment, may be subject to sexual harrassment similar to born women, discrimination in the workplace etc… So there can be shared experiences, but also not to forget different experiences.

  6. Grace said

    According to this site: those who have not undergone gender reassignment surgery will be assigned to a prison for people of their gender at birth.

    I can’t find an online version of the booklet I was reading but I’ll look at it again on thursday when i’m back in (training tomorrow) and let you know more about it. I was called away before I could finish it earlier.

  7. Bea said

    One thing that just occured to me is that a few ‘transexuals’ presume to speak for all transexuals when they enter women only spaces. I am certain that many ‘transexuals’ do respect women-only spaces.

  8. This is true. A friend of mine who supports women-born spaces, knows many trans people who, she says, would respect such a space.
    She says that there is an argument for transwomen to have an indentity in their own right, rather than stretch the definition of woman to make out we are all the same.

  9. Grace said

    I couldn’t find much more in that booklet about imprisonment as it was a NAPO union booklet so a lot of it was about employees and multi-level discrimination but from what I could tell (not sure where it fits in with all criminal justice agencies) people who identify as whichever gender and have a gender recognition certificate should be treated as their acquired gender whether that be through surgery or lifestyle. One thing that was noted in terms of multi-level discrimination though was that groups can not cater for all aspects of their members’ diversity – eg a group for black workers will not account for the needs of its LGBT members and an LGBT group will not account for the specific needs of it’s black members. Which I think is an important point – groups can be very specific and realistically a group can unfortunately not cater for the needs of all members.

    Not really sure if i’ve added anything to the discussion here! I hope i’m not coming across as negative because I don’t mean to be at all – just reporting what i’ve read!

  10. linda said

    Extremely well put Charlie! I feel angry when wanting to be in a born women only space leads to me being automatically labelled transphobic. My experience, like that of all born women, is of spending my life having my physical and mental space invaded, being harassed, abused and threatened by men, by which I mean born males. The few female to male trangendered males I have met I inevitably find do not share the sexist attitudes of born males – because as they themselves have said, they know what it is like to be on the receiving end of such behaviour. I cannot recall a time in my life when I did not feel threatened by men, an experience someone who is born biologically male, however they identify, can never share.

    It would be incredibly insulting if I, a white woman, was to alter my physical appearance so that I appeared black and then to claim that I knew what it was like to experience racism. Yet a number of trans women claim ‘I am a woman just like you’. Not all transwomen I would hasten to add, as most I have met are sensitive enough to realise that there are substantial differences in their experiences.

    As as a rape crisis volunteer, I strongly feel that not many women would feel safe discussing issues concerning rape and sexual assault with someone who was born biologically male. Yet with changes in the law it is feasible that a rape crisis service could be forced to accept a transwoman as a counsellor. In effect this would mean women being denied a vital service as they would not feel able to access it.

  11. Sophia said

    How would you feel if a pre-op FtM person was in a ‘born-women only’ space? Whilst they were, according to your biologically determined catergories, female at birth, they themselves have a different idea of their gender. Arguably, even a post-op FtM is ‘born-woman’ if you only consider biology. Or what about someone who is biologically female but identifies as genderqueer? Are they welcome?

  12. K.A. said

    I know this is old, but it’s a very well-put post. I opened up to a trans individual who I thought was having problems because of anti-trans sentiments in the world. Boy, was I in for some horror. He was a misogynist, a fetishist, and sexually harassed me horribly. It was more damaging to me than my sexual assault. He was my boss. I suspect he’s since gotten the surgery he (or now, she) planned. I think more people need to realize that there are also SOME trans individuals who have a fetish, and you can’t tell whose transness is caused by what.

  13. Steph Jones said

    Hi all,

    I think we are in danger here of purpetuating as many heterosexist and cissexist ideals than what Feminism attempts to break down? I am a 30yo MTF in the North, and whilst I accept that I may not have been exposed to certain prejudices based upon growing up a girl/young woman, I also accept that not every female also experiences the same. My mother, was a vocal 70s Feminist/Activist, yet she has no problems in accepting me as a female (despite I am currently pre-op). She also recognises that I have gone through my own forms of gender-based oppression on account of my very overt transsexual identity.

    We’ve also got to accept that everybody is an individual – I do not accept one ‘transperson’ as being the face of all other transpeople, any more than anyone else – man, woman, white, black, gay, lesbian, straight. Let’s not lazily perpetuate stereotypes that all of one type of people are like this or that.

    That said, I do honour and support womyn-born-womyn spaces, and I am a believer in supporting trans-rights, not demanding them.

  14. Steph Jones said

    Something else whilst its in my mind… I had this discussion with Bindel recently after her Radio 4 Hecklers debate.

    She suggests, as an MTF, I support the gender binary. In some ways I do. But, as I have argued with her and others that believe such, take away gender (I use this in the context of societal/cultural), and I, and many like me will still remain. The fact is, from about 3 or 4, I overtly could not identify with my body and my birth sex genitals – no amount of removing social gender conformity of man/woman will change this basic fact. As I entered puberty, it came became unbearable as hormones changed my body. Now, the argument might be that you just have to live with that, but I don’t believe that is acceptable, and constitutes an oppression based on my birth sex (which I have an inate sense was wrong from a young age).

  15. Kaitlynn said

    You say “I don’t want to be offensive” or “I’m trying not to be mean here but…”, however what this all boils down to is you don’t think that Male to Female transsexuals are real women. You think they don’t know what it’s like to be female because they weren’t born that way. You think that because they can’t menstruate or experience pregnancy they do not constitute as real women. That hurts.
    As a MtF one of the things that hurts me the most is the inability to menstruate and the inability to achieve pregnancy but I don’t see how that makes me any less of a woman. There are many girls who weren’t raised with strict gender roles and many women who can never get pregnant or menstruate (due to birth defects). You say no offense but what you are really doing is giving me a giant slap in the face saying “Go away, you’re a man.”
    Obviously if you don’t want me in your spaces I won’t enter. But I cannot understand how you preach “Breaking out of rigid gender roles” and then in force your rigid statement of what a woman is on all transsexuals. I really wish you would accept that MTF’s are women but alas acceptance is something that one has to come to on their own. I can’t force you to accept me, I can simply hope that one day your children or your children’s children will be less discriminatory and learn to accept, love, and welcome people for what they are now as opposed to what they were.

  16. Link-Soldier said

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