Recognising Trans Women as Women is a Start, But it Isn’t Enough

combat transphobia

In a recent report on trans equality published by Stonewall, many cis people had their attention drawn to statistics that painted a picture of the ugly reality of trans life in the UK. As the report did the media rounds, many voiced their disgust in response to statistics that quantified the lived experience of myself and my community. A quarter of us experiencing homelessness, half of us not coming out for fear of discrimination in the workplace — none of these surprised me or any trans person I know, yet the response from cis people was overwhelmingly one of shock. The same media that provided platforms to people who wrote about our identities as if trans existence is an ideological anomaly that just needs the right thinkpiece to be solved was now publishing the report’s findings with no sense of irony or remorse. It’s starting to feel as if the mainstream is finally ready to have the conversation about trans inequality, but not the one about what causes it.

Following the launch (and success) of a transmisogynistic fundraiser to purge trans women from Labour Party shortlists, there was a scattered ripple of responses on the left. Although some prominent figures chose to stay silent, fuelling the TERF rhetoric that thrives on uncertainty, others — to adopt Stonewall’s new motto — came out for trans equality. “Trans women are women!” was the tweet of the day, and there was at least an element of accountability as explanations were demanded from politicians who made donations to the fundraiser.

But honestly, it isn’t enough. Trans people don’t get real justice — there’s never proper apologies or reparations for the harm done when we’re publically misgendered, lied about in national media, kicked out by our parents, or humiliated by the healthcare system. The transmisogyny that built that fundraiser didn’t come from nowhere, and those statistics on transphobia weren’t drawn from thin air, but there’s little to no critical thought spared for where this violence is coming from — not within the Labour Party and not within wider society. Cis people’s actions (or lack of) are having material implications on our lives, and we need more from you than recognising us as our actual gender. In a world that at best wants us to struggle, and at worst wants us dead, we need solidarity.

“Cis solidarity alone will not win us this battle, but it sure as hell can’t hurt.”

We need you to listen to us when our experiences aren’t presented in a neat PDF, even when we aren’t soft-spoken and pretty, when our oppression isn’t quite so easy to digest. We need you to pay attention to us when we’re angry and tired of the punches being thrown at us by cis society. Pay attention to which trans voices get the most attention (spoiler, it’s those that are white, thin, abled, “cis passing” and middle class) and do what you can to ensure intersectionality stops being a buzzword and starts being a means of organising for liberation. Listen to trans women and transfeminine people in particular, whose experiences of transmisogyny are erased, despite the way in which it permeates the fabric of both the trans and wider LGBT+ community. Identifying transmisogyny specifically as opposed to generalizing experiences that many trans people simply don’t have is vital if we’re to actually work on preventing this violence. This means acknowledging the unique threat TERFs pose to trans women, as well as who is really affected by the policing of gendered spaces like women’s crisis centres.

Listen to our politics, even when they stop providing you with the opportunity to position yourself as “not like other cis people”. Stop trying to position yourself as “not like other cis people” altogether, because although the truth might be hard to swallow, identifying yourself as an ally is meaningless without action. Materially support our movement by raising funds for trans-led organisations like Action For Trans Health. Link up with your local chapters of such groups and see how you can support our organising, because if you can’t commit money, you should try to commit time or energy if you have it spare.

There’s two common justifications for not supporting trans activism. The firstly is ideological, based upon the misunderstanding that there is a necessary element of “debate” to our equality. The second comes from concern that if cis people start engaging with trans organising, they’ll somehow get in the way. While the first perception of this struggle can get in the bin, I can sympathise with the second — respecting autonomous organising and letting trans folk lead our own activism is important, but it is undeniably useful for cis people to utilise their privilege and engage with the work we are doing. Fear of stepping on our toes does more to hurt us than it does to you, and at the end of the day I’d much rather have an awkward and slightly offensive conversation with someone who wants to help than no conversation at all.

Maybe this seems like a lot of demands and maybe I sound like I’m calling for revolution — both of these are completely valid and accurate observations. But the last few months have been regularly referred to as a “tipping point” for trans equality, and the well-hidden optimist inside me genuinely believes that maybe if just a few more cis people stepped up to support us (and I mean really support us, not just posture themselves as in favour of our rights through a tweet or two) we might actually get somewhere.

Cis solidarity alone will not win us this battle, but it sure as hell can’t hurt.

Image by Ted Eytan

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