Sarah Ditum says, in an opinion piece in The Guardian (Genderquake failed. Now for a proper trans debate, 13th May 2018), “there’s so much resistance to [discussions about gender and trans issues] taking place.”
This is simply not true. Gender and trans issues are discussed often and everywhere, and have been for years. The resistance is between feminists who say gender identity is real and innate, and feminists who say trans identity is a delusion. The battle, so to speak, is over whether trans women should have access to women’s safe spaces, such as bathrooms and women’s refuges, and to all-women shortlists.
The fundamental divide between the two opposing sides in this struggle is the assertion: “Trans women are women.” If you believe this, then of course trans women should have equal access to women’s safe spaces, etc. If you don’t believe this, then it follows that trans women are men and to give any access to safe spaces is to undo decades of hard-won progress on women’s rights.
This is no minor disagreement. It is an abyss, a deep division between two passionate armies. On the one side, the vulnerable minority that is trans people and an alliance of trans-inclusive feminists are trying to educate the world about the deeply personal and intangible concept of gender identity. On the other, a vocal network of trans-exclusive feminists are willing to fight to the death to preserve the very meaning of ‘woman’.
A noble goal, surely. Women have suffered such oppression at the hands of men over the millennia. We understand what men are and what women are: the man has a penis and he inseminates the woman who gives birth. The Biblical story of Adam and Eve, backed up by the genetics of XX=woman vs XY=man.
Except it really isn’t that simple. No one is denying that women have been oppressed by men, and primarily because of sexual characteristics identified at birth. (Penis? Yes, it’s a frogs-and-snails boy. No, it’s a sugar-and-spice girl.) But this simple classification of humans into two sexes works for only about 97% of the population. Traditionally, the other 3% have been forced into roles that didn’t fit, or if that wasn’t possible they were locked away out of sight, or perhaps even killed. Even in the modern world, there are still places where it is dangerous to be born intersex.
Indeed, if you were to insist that men are romantically and sexually attracted to women (and only women), and vice versa, that 97% might be as low as 60%.
The simple truth is that any definitions of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are arbitrary. Biology is messy, and the human brain is complex. Just because someone looks like a man or a woman – or how we expect a man or a woman to look – doesn’t mean that their mind and self-identity match.
The idea that you can judge a person by whether or not they were born with a penis is quite frankly absurd. The idea that you know what is happening inside someone else’s head better than they do… is equally so. The idea that shouting “Penis!” or “You’re a man!” at a trans woman live on national television proves anything other than your own ignorance and prejudice is… ignorant and prejudiced.
The denial of transgender identity is simply that. Ignorance and prejudice. It is transphobia. If Genderquake was a failure, as Sarah Ditum and others (on all sides of the debate) claim, it is because the real discussions about gender and trans issues cannot begin until the abscess of transphobia is lanced and the poison washed away.