Wednesday, 18 April 2018

TRANS WOMEN BELONG IN WOMEN'S PLACES - a personal view on Ladies' toilets and other facilities for women. The call to exclude some women because their chromosomes are male is addressing a non existent problem.


I am deeply saddened by the rhetoric of supporters of the “Women’s Place” movement who recently met in Cardiff. Trans women may upset some people because they were born as male infants, but gender, like sexuality is something directed by your brain rather than your physique or chromosomes.

Trans people have always been with us but until the last century were restricted to dressing and acting like the gender they preferred and there are many historical accounts of those who chose to do so, sometimes so successfully that their biological,  natal gender was never revealed or only discovered after their deaths.

Trans people, like gay people, are not mentally ill and the Transgender Pioneer Dr John Randell, a Welsh man, was the first doctor in the UK to provide an NHS service to the trans community. A psychiatrist himself, he realised the "problem"was resolved by helping his patients to live in the gender they knew they really were. 

 In the 60s and 70’s his treatments were restricted and cautious not only because they were new but also as Randell feared the hostility towards providing this treatment on the NHS, which some of his medical colleagues expressed at the time, would be fed by any patient who regretted having body changing surgery or hormone treatment. John died in 1982. At that  time there was no way for trans people officially change their gender but now it could soon be a simple process.

The majority of people now agree with equality for homosexual people and favour gay marriage and are comfortable with gay people having equality. I doubt that there is any serious opposition to trans people changing their gender more easily on their official documentation. 

However, the  “feminist” group called “Women’s Place” seems to want to restrict the activities of trans women by claiming that women need their own special places – these include, according to various speakers : female public toilets, female changing rooms in shops, the girl guides and Labour Party All Women Shortlists.

Trans women feel equally female as the natal (or “cisgender”) females who wish them to restrict their movements into these special places for women. The argument is that these natal males are men, and as such they will use these places not to get changed in privacy or check their make-up as one might expect a reasonable person to, but to upset or even assault women.

Former Plaid Cymru AM Helen Mary Jones discussed her opposition to the new proposals to allow trans people to freely officially change their gender on her Facebook page on 10th March 2018. The rights of women and girls are in her opinion threatened. She said:

At first glance one might say, 'why not? Can't a person be whoever they want to be?' And this was what I at first thought.
But I have reflected. This means that a male bodied person would then have the legal right to access all women's spaces - from changing rooms in shops and swimming pools to rape crisis centers, domestic abuse refuges, and women's prisons. Simply because they say they feel they are a woman and therefore they are one. The perceptions of the women and girls in those spaces may be very different. What happens then to the right to privacy of those women and girls? What happens to their right to feel safe, away from men, if they have been hurt and abused?
These changes have already begun to happen, without a change in the law. For example, people who define as transwomen are already held in women's prisons, without the need for any medical transition to have taken place. Topshop has already changed its changing room policy so that to access the women's changing rooms one simple to state that one is a woman. These changes may enhance the rights of some trans people, but in my view they undermine the rights of women and girls.

Trans women are women. Mentally, they have never been men. They are feminine in outlook and psychology. They do not belong in male toilets and changing rooms and they are sometimes at real risk from trans phobic men, who have, on occasion, violently assaulted and even killed trans women. Can you imagine what might happen if they were forced to serve sentences in male prisons?


 The comments about domestic abuse and rape crisis centres seems particularly callous to me, as these women are at equal risk of family and partner violence and sexual abuse and yet Helen seems to believe trans women who have been assaulted are a terrible danger and should be abandoned. Does she intend to stand on the steps of a rape crisis centre demanding all women seeking refuge undergo chromosome analysis to determine if they “deserve” sanctuary?

They are no more risk to other women than natal women, and for them these female only spaces are also safe and valued; they want to pass as women, they want to live as peacefully as any other woman would. To exclude them from women’s public amenities because they have male sex chromosomes is bizarre. It is surely cruel to force them to use male “spaces” and therefore “out” themselves every time they need to use the facilities.

 It is probably much more dangerous to trans women to be excluded than the imagined horror of a possibly “male bodied person” being allowed to register as a woman. Imagined horrors are the stock and trade of these arguments. The proposition is to force these women to “out” themselves as trans every time they use a bathroom or changing room because of hypothetical stories driven by the idea that the physical traits you are born with will drive one to become a sexual criminal.

The stories of what can happen to some of these women when they are “found out” in public and alone, are not hypothetical, the risks to their mental and physical health are very real. And if they chose not to take that risk, they will be forced to live their lives in the closet, which we now know has devastating effects to mental health. How can you live as yourself in public if you cannot even use a bathroom safely?

If a man truly wanted to assault a woman he doesn’t need to go through months of therapy, hormone treatments, surgery, name and legal gender changing to do so. In fact under Helen’s proposals he could simply claim to be a trans man, a group Helen seems to have forgotten, and who, after a period of hormone therapy generally are, I assure you, completely socially indistinguishable from natal men. She's also not clear about which toilets non-binary transgender individuals should use. 
  
It seems unlikely that anybody would go through the often harrowing experience of coming out to their families, possibly being disowned by their loved ones, being disrespected in the media and on the streets, living in fear of being found out, applying for legal changes and undergoing long hormone treatments and serious surgery, just for the chance to leer at women in a bathroom.

Punishing trans women as a group for imagined crimes will not protect natal women any more than they are now, but it may throw trans women to the wolves. This proposition of segregation is hurtful even if in practice it is impossible to "police".

I am not comfortable doing this to my fellow women, trans or otherwise. Helen’s argument hinges on the idea that trans women are inherently, from birth, a threat, no matter what the personality and morals of each individual woman may be. That seems to me a very unfair and cruel judgement, and it is on this basis that in her own words she believes their rights should be curtailed. I simply disagree.

 I see other women still suffering indignities and humiliation simply for who they are. As a feminist I believe in offering solidarity to all women who need it. Surely trans women are our sisters, who equally share our marginalised position in society and deserve solidarity from feminists, not hostility? 


 Siân Caiach

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