Why anti trans feminists are setting back women’s civil rights

Queerness Curator Sam Hope demonstrates why the feminist anti-trans lobby are doing Patriarchy’s work for it, and makes some radical suggestions for ways forward.


You would be forgiven for thinking from listening to the UK media that trans civil rights pose a genuine threat to women’s rights, and that feminism and trans rights are somehow in opposition. At least this is the message from some of the most highly platformed voices within feminism. But let us just step back a moment and ask ourselves: Who is platforming those specific voices from among the many that exist?

Make no mistake, the cogs that drive the system as it is now intend to sow these divisions, intend to convince cis women they cannot fight for liberation in harmony with trans people. There is a reason those particular voices get heard over other feminist voices in a patriarchal world. That reason is as old as the hills: Divide and conquer.

Why does the increasingly right wing BBC never give a platform to trans-friendly cis feminists? Why do our increasingly corporate-driven universities deny trans inclusive feminism a voice? Those of you not on the ground in feminist organising might think these trans friendly feminist voices do not exist. They are, in fact, in the majority.

But god forbid trans activism and feminism being allowed to join forces against the patriarchy when it’s better all round to have us at each other’s throats.

There is a reason those particular voices get heard over other feminist voices in a patriarchal world. That reason is as old as the hills: Divide and conquer.

Most feminists want more than just a few spaces where there are no men around. They want structural change across society to dismantle inequality, misogyny and rape culture. They recognise that systemic violence against women and other people made vulnerable in this world, such as disabled people and children, is happening in homes, on street corners, in offices and the media. More to the point, is being incited in a top-down fashion that gives power to people the higher up they are, as the Hollywood abuse of young or black or otherwise powerless men and women has evidenced. Let us not for a second forget that abuse is about power and control, that it is enabled by multiple systemic structures – gender, class, race, age, being just some examples.

As a former domestic violence worker for Women’s Aid, I have been a supporter of the need for women-only spaces for many years, but women-only spaces should not be the goal of feminism, they merely offer respite. To a heterosexual woman who is being repeatedly abused because of her vulnerability, time away from men only teaches her that men cannot be safe, it does not keep her safe out in the world of men.

Meanwhile, other people vulnerable to systemic domestic violence have no such spaces, because the one advantage women do have is numbers. I have come around to the idea that we need to find other ways of creating safe spaces, that are also safe for profoundly disabled people, queer people, people of colour, autistic people, and the other groups that find the heteronormative gender-based theory of domestic violence too narrow to offer them support. Intersectional safe space does not rest on gender being the only structural inequality that exists.

Anti-trans lobbyists have a toxic agenda

The goal of trans exclusionary feminism is separatism. There is no possibility within its tenets that the dynamic between men and women can ever change – it is essentialised around biology. Separatists insist we maintain the legal segregation of people based on assumed reproductive capacity. This segregation is, of course, what hurt women in the first place – the moment women’s legal and social status was determined by their biology, they became a second class of citizens.

For those unclear on the matter, a legal and social status is socially constructed – and therefore it is gender, not sex. Birth certificates, toilet doors, pronouns, gendered uniforms and gendered language are not biological facts. So, the anti-trans feminist’s declared goal is the abolition of gender, but what they are actually fighting for is the maintenance of its legal foundations.

Underpinning their fight is the idea that gender is the only real inequality; that Hilary Clinton is fundamentally and inexorably placed in a lower social class than a starving boy-child born into poverty. They despise intersectionality, because it proposes that people can occupy complex positions in society, being in some ways the oppressed, and in other ways the oppressor. Perhaps they despise intersectionality because it requires them to examine the ways in which they themselves contribute to and reinforce oppressive structures.

Intersectional safe space does not rest on gender being the only structural inequality that exists.

Just like other oppressive hate groups, this lobby focus on changing the world by attacking more vulnerable people. This group also have a tendency to blame other groups like sex workers, Muslim hijab wearers, and younger feminists, for the problems of society rather than focusing their fight on those in power. As such, they do the patriarchy’s work nicely by policing and dividing spaces where people could unite and foster change.

Ending segregation – the only radical option available

Radical trans and intersex aware feminism seeks a different goal. It states that we do not need to legally segregate people according to genitals, and that women, trans and intersex people are harmed by this process. It states that we can protect people under equality legislation without legally segregating them. All the other protected characteristics under the UK Equality Act 2010 are not legally segregated, and we would rightly be appalled if they were. That somehow women have been persuaded that segregation is “for their own good” is one of the biggest confidence tricks in history.

Just as there is an unclear divide between able and disabled, and yet we can still protect disabled people under an Equality Act (not that we always do), so there can be an unclear divide between men and women, and we can still protect women with equality legislation. Disabled people like myself do not have to place themselves on a legal register to gain support and protection. In fact, I would be terrified of the implications of a registry for disabled people, and even more terrified if someone told me the only way society could keep me safe would be to introduce segregation based on ability.

Many people in society are vulnerable, and many minority groups don’t have the option to create their own safe spaces, therefore liberation must make all spaces safe from all oppression and violence. Male violence against women, just like other forms of systemic abuse, is a deliberate tool to exclude women from shared space and keep them separate. For this reason, the idea of sex segregation is anti feminist. We must never forget that the elite class in this country is a product of schools that exclude women. How then can we claim segregation is beneficial to women? Women get their own toilets, men get a monopoly on the board rooms and the government of this country.

That somehow women have been persuaded that segregation is “for their own good” is one of the biggest confidence tricks in history.

The Gender Recognition Act is a non-issue

Where does this leave the UK Gender Recognition Act (GRA) that is being loudly protested by this vocal feminist minority, to the delight of the right wing? Well, it turns out people’s relationship with the gender they were assigned into can be complex, and it is now clinically established that being able to change this legal/social marker is substantially beneficial to many trans people. It saves many lives, in fact. The research is well established and unequivocal. So those campaigning against this emergency adjustment in what is ultimately a bad law are quite literally campaigning against the safety and wellbeing of trans people. They are also pushing to legally segregate trans people. That is violence, pure and simple.

The claim is that being able to change their legal gender marker will give men access to women. But society is not fully segregated, and I hope nobody wants it to be. Men already have access to women. The evidence is that for fifty or so years trans people have lived in their identified gender without legal recourse and this has not affected cisgender women at all.  Changes to the GRA will be inordinately helpful to some trans people, but evidence from countries that have made the legislative changes shows there has been zero negative impact.

One of the things overlooked in the “men can disguise as women and prey on them” trope is that identifying as a woman would constitute a massive loss of social status for a man. Trans women are not treated like men in this society – they are abused, sexualised, assaulted, mocked and degraded at alarming rates. They are also assumed by default to be predatory and dangerous. Therefore, simply by changing a legal marker a man would go from someone whose predatory behaviour is invariably minimised, dismissed, disbelieved to someone whose predatory behaviour is assumed before it happens. The mere fact we don’t discuss keeping registered sex offenders out of public conveniences but we are talking about keeping trans women out of them speaks volumes.

society is not fully segregated, and I hope nobody wants it to be. Men already have access to women.

Meanwhile, it is in fact the case that trans women experience disproportionate levels of sexual violence towards them – while the world paints them as a danger, they are in fact endangered.

Changes in the GRA will make an administrative process easier. That’s it. Trans people exist, are both historically and scientifically evidenced as a consistent aspect of our diverse human nature. If a journalist or campaigner is spouting panicked nonsense to the contrary they are simply misinformed or worse, deliberately misleading. The feminist anti-trans lobby have been campaigning for forty years now, they have no excuse not to have read the many studies and testimonies that thoroughly disprove every one of their claims.

We now have the scientific evidence to demonstrate that binary sex segregation has no moral or scientific basis. It harms women. It harms intersex people. It harms trans people. Adjustment of the GRA is a temporary help for some trans people, but by no means all. Abolition of gender assignment and sex segregation is the only truly feminist recourse.

This legal change is not advocating that people cannot call themselves men or women, any more than ending racial segregation stopped people calling themselves black, fighting for black civil rights, or self-organising spaces for black people. But it is time that feminists rise up against those voices within their midst that have a symbiotic relationship with the right wing, who declare from their comfy academic’s chairs that they wish to “abolish gender” by preserving its very foundations. The legal gendering of all children is segregation. Segregation is not for women’s own good, and it never will be.

Follow Sam on Twitter (@Sam_R_Hope)

5 thoughts on “Why anti trans feminists are setting back women’s civil rights

  1. Male sex offenders against other males, particularly boys, aren’t forbidden to access men-only spaces. Three men, who raped a boy in the public lavatory of a shopping centre in Manchester, are quite free to access other public lavatories anywhere in the world. But trans women aren’t welcome in women-only spaces?
    I’m a trans woman and parent, and I’m more frightened about my young son using the gents’ than I am about using the ladies’. Yet I’m the predator, according to some people.

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      1. Please be clear about the quoted figure of 64,000 female sex offenders. The link you’ve used actually goes to a blog which in turn links to a 2009 Guardian article.
        Please note that the LFF is a government funded charity that treats sex offenders and has a focus on female sex offenders. It is in their interest to have larger numbers of sex offenders.
        From the article:
        “There are 32,000 names on the sex offenders register. But LFF researchers suggest that the real number of paedophiles is 10 times this figure. Provisional studies suggest that between 5% and 20% are women.
        The calculations put the number of female child-sex offenders in the UK at between 48,000 and 64,000, a figure Findlater describes as “highly possible”. He said: “The problem is far bigger than conviction rates and, if you look at survivor studies, you end up with a very different story about the scale of the problem of female sexual abuse.”

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      2. As a counsellor who worked in sexual abuse services I can vouch for the under-reporting of cis women sex offenders. Still vastly outweighed by cis men sex offenders, of course, but nevertheless there are a LOT of women sex offenders out there, and they are peeing next to other women all the time. We can quibble over numbers if you like, but women sex offending is a real thing and, surprise surprise, it doesn’t cause people an issue in public toilets because toilet danger is not a major issue – most sexual offences happen in people’s homes.

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