Sunday, 12 March 2017

My Intersectional Feminist response to Jenni Murray on Trans Women.

This year seems to be the year of "being controversial" with a desire for free speech to be used to the max as if it's going out of fashion like the gold glitter jelly platform sandal that was all the rage with me in summer 2015  that now only sadly gets an airing once in a blue moon. There's nothing particularly wrong with that, as living in a Western democracy with freedom of expression enshrined in our Human Rights legislation (in the UK it's thanks to Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998) means we should not be afraid of being as authentic in our speech as we are with fashion or music. Freedom of expression is perfectly acceptable to me as long as it falls within the confines of the law. When I talk about the law, I'm referring in part to the Equality Act 2010, which is designed to protect people from being openly discriminated against, whether in the workplace or accessing a public service such as visiting the local GP on the basis of as an aspect of their identity. The Equality Act covers gender as a protected characteristic but also covers those going through transition under the separate protected characteristic of "gender reassignment surgery (GRS)." Now I believe the protected characteristic should be changed to "gender identity" so that it explicitly covers non-binary, gender-fluid and queer individuals as well as those perceived to be, thinking of, or having gone through GRS. Isn't it weird that in super vitriolic debates surrounding gender identity that trans people's identities are recognised or questioned  but non-binary, gender-fluid and queer people's identities are not? More than a slight erasure of their identity and voice which as a self-confessed intersectional feminist I'm not all that happy about!

Notwithstanding having their status protected by law, trans people's identities have been questioned with people using the same old stereotypes to reject the validity of trans women as being seen as real women : "Oh look at that trans women, she raped a woman and therefore must be representative of all other trans women...they're all aggressively assertive so keep them away from us"...that kind of fearmongering I will not sanction or engage in as someone who was actually orally raped. Do you think that I think that the one man that raped me whilst I was walking home on my own should make me fearful of every man in the world? No. It makes me weary of walking home alone but I don't blame the whole of mankind for that one incident. So why do some gender critical rad feminists use a handful of case studies where a trans person has broken the law to categorically state that trans women (and non-binary people) cannot use women's bathrooms (what about trans men choosing to use male bathrooms btw...#SideEye)? Why whip up prejudice and slander gender affirming psychologists and sexologists by suggesting that trans activists want teenagers to go through GRS when they know full well that they can't undergo GRS until they reach the age of consent which is 16 in the UK? It's all unnecessary profiling which as an intersectional feminist I have to call out.

Against this background of trans profiling, I wasn't surprised when  Dame Jenni Murray came out with her Sunday Times article talking about how trans women cannot be "real women" because she believes that those who self-define as real women have no real understanding of being in a less privileged position or haven't fully understood the background of sexual politics informed by feminist thought. The article certainly appears well researched but I do find it to be a bit biased. For starters, Murray constantly refers to all trans people in the article as "transsexual" a term that is now extremely outdated. The preferred term is transgender and I'm sorry if I'm being PC over the use of terminology but even the BBC doesn't use transsexual as their standard term when referring  to trans people in their HR or Equality and Diversity policies. I recognise that some trans women are more than happy to be referred to as "transsexual" but others are not. Perhaps Murray specifically uses the term "transsexual" because she only talks about trans women who have actually undergone GRS in her article. That's limiting in itself as some trans women may not be able to have GRS because they have medical conditions that preclude them from having surgery. Are non GRS trans women "lesser women" because of not being able to physically change their body ? You be the judge.

I'm glad that Murray talked about it being alright for men to express their "femininity" so they can be crossdressers and transvestites. I accept their right to express themselves in their own way. Grayson Perry is an amazing artist and he is perfectly happy with his body being the way it is but trans people on the whole cannot see beyond their body and feel they were born as the wrong sex. I have worn a vest since I was 12 because I cannot bear to look at my body when I can possibly help it, even though I am confident about my fashion sense and wear what I like. The fact that that Murray had to mention transvestites and crossdressers  at the start of her article naturally provokes discussion; for example, is Murray inferring that trans women should not go ahead with transition because they can help feminists by "staying as they are" to challenge "the unpleasant rules required of conventional masculinity?" Or was she simply trying to come across as a compassionate person by showing she allows freedom of gender expression? I'm not sure.

That being said, I applaud Murray's attempt to discuss the dangers of extreme discourse. She points out that the language of proudly self-proclaiming radical feminists such as Germaine Greer has been "unacceptably crude" whilst also calling out trans activists who used misogynistic tropes to ridicule anti Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Muslim Somali activist Nimko Ali (someone I mentioned on my blogpost as a great role model for critiquing Alt-Right Islamophobic comments that suggest Muslims do not care about topics such as FGM). Yes there are issues surrounding the proliferation of white middle class women's voices in the feminist movement but to declare that Nimko is perpetuating "white feminism" without fully understanding Ali's own experiences? There's no point declaring yourself to be an intersectional feminist if you're not prepared to allow fellow feminists a platform provided they do not attempt to use any privilege they have gained to silence your voice or deny you your platform. Mutual respect has to be a given but make sure that your rhetoric doesn't fall foul of the Equality Act and comes across as discriminatory.

Such nuanced discussion is one reason why Murray has been someone I've listened to in the past. I've read her books (A History of Britain in 21 women was very interesting)and listened to her on BBCR4 Woman's Hour. She has a similar educational background to me and have awareness of both French and Drama (and possibly French Drama). I respect Murray's right to say that trans women should not call themselves real women but as you have probably gathered I do fundamentally disagree with her on this premise. I think that may because I am gender-affirming and respect the right of people to self-define without believing their self-definition erodes my or any other person's sense of gender identity. I respect the right for people to be non-binary, gender-fluid and believe they should enjoy equal protection under the law because as long as they are living within the confines of the law, does it really intrinsically matter what their gender marker actually is? Murray herself contends that trans women should be proud of their identities so surely she doesn't believe her own identity as a woman is being eroded away just because a minority of people were born feeling they were born with the wrong sexual organs and want to change them to align with their gender identity?

Exploring the article further: 

How do you define what's "real" in terms of womanhood?

The concept of "reality" has always been incredibly hard to define in an absolute way, none more so than grappling with the nature of personal identity. Tara Hewitt, a trans feminist and co-founder of the UK Trans Equality Legal Initiative (TELI)  believes that the premise of Murray's article, that there is a way of defining "real womanhood" that excludes women who have transitioned is based on a subjective definition of "reality" that brings gender identity down to that of sex. There is heated argument raging between gender affirming and gender critical radical feminists over what constitutes “authenticity of self”(another name for personal identity). In terms of gender identity, is it innate (are we born with predetermined characteristics) or is gender identity purely a construct that is solely influenced by societal factors? When a trans man decides to have GRS, for example, is he doing so to try and conform to a socialised ideal of what a man should look like or is he doing so because he feels innately that he is a man and has his own idea of masculine appearance that may not necessarily adhere to gender stereotypes? Does a trans man only "learn" masculinity from the people he associates with, the books and magazines he reads, the films and TV shows he watches or does he feel he is meant to be a man irrespective of these influences? How does that differ when we talk about trans women or non-binary/gender-fluid people?

Personally speaking, I've been conflicted and have come to the conclusion that "authenticity of self" is a very complicated mix of innate feelings that are shaped by socialisation. The uneasy feeling that a trans person is "born in the wrong body/gender" is most definitely there but it would be difficult not to argue that there are social factors that will influence how they want to "perform" masculinity or femininity or anyninty...after all we all have been socialised whether we identify as trans or cis or anything else gender identity wise. Feminists have traditionally contended that a patriarchal society has taught men from an early age that wearing dresses is inappropriate because crossdressing has been traditionally associated with not being heterosexual and would stop men from getting a partner to procreate with. However, there are happily married fathers who do wear dresses or "typically female" garments, even if they only do so in the bedroom. As an intersectional feminist I recognise the difference between crossdressing husbands and trans women. Cross-dressing husbands are mostly happy with their bodies as a whole (although they may want to lose weight or get a nose job to improve their appearance) whereas trans women are unhappy with certain aspects of their bodies (such as the penis and testes) because they genuinely feel they were born as the wrong sex. It may seem "illogical" to some that trans people feel this way but nonetheless they do and that's why they have the option under law to undergo GRS after they have completed the necessary steps as set out by current guidelines (such as living in their acquired/real gender role for 2 years prior to GRS).

Anyways, Murray believes that the only thing that is "innate" about gender are the sexual organs..i.e. gonads, testicles, ovaries etc. She references Simone De Beauvoir's famous quote from The Second Sex: "one is not born, but rather becomes a woman." As an existentialist, De Beauvoir believed that existence precedes essence. Womanhood, beyond the sexual organs consists of a series of socially constructed roles that have been determined by men; e.g. when a husband tells his wife that her place is "washing up at the kitchen sink", it plays into a socially constructed idea that women should be subservient to the male by washing up after him. Trans women can never understand the expectations placed on them by society from the moment of their birth because they have never been expected to perform such subservient roles until they transition. However, are women in all households still expected to clean/wash-up? No; there are households such as the one that I grew up in which has adopted equal responsibility for household chores. I always wash up and vacuum when asked to do so. That indicates some level of progress in the fight against traditional gender roles.

Are trans women necessarily more privileged than cis women?

Is every trans woman "socialised into the expectation of the masculine gender"...i.e. does every trans woman naturally expect to be able to progress at work in the same way as their male colleagues do because it's recognised by employers that they won't need to have access to paid maternity leave? Remember that employees may need to allow time off for Gender Reassignment Surgery for trans women and some employers may try and get trans employees to leave their position if their recovery time isn't going to be covered through them taking their annual leave even though such discrimination is against the Equality Act. Does every trans woman expect to avoid being catcalled in the street because those men realise they aren't real women? Non-binary people get catcalled, harassed in the streets for wearing non-gender conforming clothing or because they happen to look a certain way which plays into or against a stereotype of "naturally beautiful".  Trans people do get catcalled too, even when we're wearing what is socially defined "gender normal" or even "gender neutral" clothing. There have been times when I've walked down the street and been called a "faggot", a "tart", a "whore", a "bitch", "butch", "c**t" and I've even been spat at whilst attending a dinner party with my parents. Do all these experiences happen because people are seeing me as female? No. The majority of insults and slurs may be related to everyday sexist socialised behaviours but not every insult or slur is based on my gender identity. I've had men touch my bum when I was dressed in just jeans and a long tee for no other reason than because they thought they had the right to touch me. I've had lesbian and gay friends that have been touched up inappropriately in nightclubs too. Sexual harassment shouldn't happen on our streets or in our nightclubs whatever the reason the perpetrator gives for doing it happens to be. And yes, I've seen women groping my female and gay male friends too for no other reason than "they wanted to" when they should have known they should have respected personal space boundaries. The key to combating sexual harassment and misogyny on the streets is to educate everyone to respect differences, regardless of gender. Yes I realise that sexual harassment disproportionately affects women but I believe it's wrong full stop. Same with sexual assault, same with domestic abuse and domestic violence (DVA) and the same with rape. Anyone can be a survivor of rape and oral rape (when a guy penetrates your mouth without consent) can be as rough and emotionally distressing as anal or vaginal rape, even if you can't get pregnant. Trans activists like myself are members of organisations that aim to reduce instances of DVA, rape and sexual assault in the UK and around the world. I've written about being part of GenderFreeDV which aims to improve DVA service access for all victims, regardless of gender identity. We recognise women are disproportionately survivors of DVA but we believe that male survivors, trans survivors and non-binary/gender-fluid survivors deserve to express their views RE the current level of service provision and legislation so as to ensure parity in how survivors are looked after in the UK. Being an intersectional feminist means understanding that we have to challenge orthodox thinking to make life better for everyone. This means being tough on women who perpetrate DVA towards male, female, trans and non-binary survivors and empathising with men who have been sexually assaulted by women. Nobody should be proud of a teacher who uses her position to lure a young boy into a sexual relationship. So you see, socialisation can work in a multitude of ways. Yes, hormones and surgery alone do not make a person a woman but sometimes our own perceptions can colour our judgement. If a trans woman calls herself a "real woman", are cis women denying their womanhood based on biological considerations or because they weren't "brought up to be a woman" as a result of their sex. Can trans women really help that? As I mentioned regularly in my blogposts on Trans issues, the key really is to show compassion and sympathy towards trans people and not treat them as if they do not know their own mind. If you're confident in your own identity that shouldn't be a problem.

Murray asserts that trans women can never be real women because they don't seem to fully understand the importance of sexual politics-i.e. the fight for parity of representation, pay and the fight against sexualisation of women's bodies, fashion stereotyping and reducing instances of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence and domestic abuse against women and girls. For me, Murray is explicitly implying that all trans women have never truly faced oppression or been underprivileged by virtue of their gender (aka sex) alone. As an intersectional feminist I see privilege as existing on many levels. It's not just about the privilege we have as a result of our gender/sex or even our gender identification/expression but the privilege or lack of privilege afforded to us as a result of our sexuality/sexual orientation, class, age, race, nationality, disability, religious expression/belief and even political ideology. See you can be privileged/oppressed in many different ways. White upper class men may appear to be the least oppressed and most privileged at first glance but does a student who has Down's syndrome who comes from an upper class home have as much privilege as an able bodied upper class man like Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative MP for North East Somerset who has far more accessibility to a platform to express and defend himself and his nationalistic views than a disabled student.  Does a person with Down's syndrome from a upper class household have more privilege than a working class person with Down's? No doubt, especially if their family can pay for specialist help, private tutors etc.

Everyone has a different experience of life that will make them more or less privileged than someone else; my experience as a white trans/non-binary dyspraxic working class intersectional feminist will inevitably be different from a trans middle class egalitarian and both of us are far more privileged than a trans person of colour who lives in a Muslim majority country like Pakistan where activists have only just managed to achieve basic rights and have successfully managed to establish a mosque where trans people can openly pray without fear of persecution. Understanding the complexity behind the concept of privilege is vital in a discussion of rights such as whether trans women should consider themselves real women or rather whether feminists/radical feminists feel that they are being forced to accept trans women are women on the basis that it could be classed as direct discrimination under the Equality Act if they openly express this view when the trans person is in their workplace.

Are trans women always re-enforcing gender stereotypes through fashion choices?

One argument that is made against trans activists arguing that "trans women are women" is that trans activists are actively attempting to reinforce patriarchally constructed gender stereotypes. There are plenty of people who hold conservative views about gender identity and coming out as trans doesn't mean you yourself automatically want to reinforce antiquated stereotypes; you wouldn't have trans people identifying as non-binary a few years after their transition if that was the case. This doesn't mean that there aren't trans women who hold conservative views about gender roles because our political, social and/or religious views may not alter as a result of transitioning. That's why I may understand some of Murray's frustrations with regards to her meeting with Rev Carol Stone (the first openly transgender Church of England priest) in December 2000. Murray assumed that Rev Stone wouldn't have been so preoccupied with picking out a new dress to meet parishioners if she'd been a cis woman (a woman who's always been a woman because she was born with ovaries & breasts etc) priest getting ready to meet parishioners for the first time. But Murray is making an assumption here; she contends that Rev Stone was deliberately choosing a dress so as to reinforce the fact she had transitioned to her parishioners so they no longer associated Rev Stone with what she looked like pre GRS. What's to say that Rev Stone was only nervous about making a good impression (many of us are) or maybe she just preferred wearing a dress that day to wearing a blouse and trousers? I can't berate someone as "deliberately playing into gendered stereotypes" because they show a different interest in fashion to me. I usually spend half an hour deciding what to wear and I've known friends (male, female, trans and non-binary) who have spent 3 hours or more choosing outfits and getting ready to go out to the nightclub, especially if it's a high end one like Ministry of Sound. Should I be angry at myself and all my friends for being so indecisive? As an intersectional feminist I do believe that we need to combat stereotyping fashion wise; that we shouldn't automatically associate wearing an item of clothing with a particular sex or gender identity but we have to be careful about erasing the element of personal choice from the fashion equation. I've never cared whether what I was wearing made me be seen as a man or woman or androgynous or non-binary. My sense of identity goes beyond fashion as it does for other trans and non-binary activists. That doesn't mean I shouldn't be at all interested in vintage fashion or jewellery to stop myself falling into a "gendered trap"! Then again, maybe I'm just a socialised materialist at heart?

Notwithstanding the argument over fashion symbolism, it was rather sad to see that Rev Stone couldn't offer an answer to what strikes me as a pertinent question: "what did she owe to the women who had fought for the right to be ordained as priests in the Church of England?"
The Church of England to me is institutionally patriarchal. In fact I'd go as far as to say that Christianity as practiced by most denominations today is patriarchally centered (and I say that as devout Christian, albeit a Liberal Lutheran one). Why can't God be known as "She" or "They" rather than instinctively be a God that uses a male pronoun? We don't know what God looks like, nor whether they conform to our notions of sex and gender identity. Conservative Christians continue to use the Bible to berate women making a free choice as to whether they need to have an abortion or not, without understanding how emotionally distressing an abortion can be (it's telling that the Bible has no actual references to abortion practices or the act of birth but that might be because men wrote the Scripture down). Yet Jesus was compassionate to everyone regardless of their sex or gender identity. I spent my years at the University of York exploring the relationship between Christianity and intersectional feminism so yes, as an trans intersectional feminist I do understand and appreciate the fight that Anglican women have had to become ordained priests. I know that the General Synod of 1992 passed a vote to allow women priests to be ordained but the Synod of 1993 allowed parishes not to accept women priests (a sexist move). Despite that, the first 32 women priests were ordained on the 12th March 1994 and by 2004, 1/5 of priests in the Church of England were women. Murray raises the fact that discrimination against female priests had not been diluted after the Synod rulings as the case of Rev Vivienne Faull finding it difficult to reach out to her flock facing disrespect from canons demonstrates. The fight against discrimination in the Church of England is ongoing and never ending; something that Christian trans women experience along with cis women. The existence of a trans woman priest (who's now no longer with us) does not challenge the progress that had been made, even if she herself needed to show more awareness of her colleagues. It'd be a mark of progress to see more trans male and non-binary priests ordained openly and intersectional feminist Christians like me wouldn't mind seeing an end to the rule that requires LGB priests to be celibate and allow same sex marriages to be conducted in Anglican churches. That's why I'm supporting the Changing Attitudes campaign which aims for equality in "selection, training, ordination and appointment" of LGBT clergy. I don't support trans women clergy in spite of cis women; I support them because the overall struggle for recognition and to change attitudes resonated with me and has helped to inspire my liberal values. Feminist approaches to religion are sometimes taught on the RE curriculum but most students have to take A-Level Religious Studies to gain awareness of such views. No wonder so many people, including some trans activists, do not understand the full picture. Yes this is an argument for them to perhaps go away and research it for themselves but signposting and initiating discussion is vital to raising awareness.

Anyways, back to the overarching structure of "trans people don't understand privilege" argument offered by Murray. Another conversation with a real trans woman  Murray cites is one she had with India Willoughby on R4 Woman's Hour where Ms Willoughby made "unacceptable" comments re a dress code being brought in by the Dorchester hotel.  I know that companies are perfectly able to enforce dress codes if there is a health and safety need; if you're working as a hotel cleaner it's probably not a good idea to wear heeled shoes because of the potential of tripping over hazards...e.g. electrical cables. The Dorchester hotel's requirements do not fall under this category. Does every woman really have to make sure they wear make-up and have a manicure before they come to work? I don't wear make-up during the day and have no intention of starting, so I wouldn't be able to work at the Dorchester even though I may be wearing a smart blouse and trousers. Ms Willoughby stating that hairy legs on a woman was "dirty" but on a man "wasn't dirty" wasn't very appropriate either. She of all people must know that pre-op trans women who are yet to take hormones may not shave their legs and even if they did, shaving your legs alone doesn't make you any more of a "real woman". Some feminists choose not to shave their legs or armpits in protest against such a stereotypical view. Yet in her response to Murray's article, Willoughby categorically stated that the rule that had been discussed "applied to men and women" and that she had been portrayed as someone who believed that "all women should have perfectly shaved legs at all times" which was "fake news". She then went on to say that Murray holds  transphobic views. The problem is that Willoughby didn't clarify whether the dress code itself should be challenged and reviewed, even in terms of its language whereas I think it should have been. Gendered dress codes can be openly criticised by trans activists if they choose to enter the debate.

Finally, what about trans men or non-binary people in this fashion debate? Are men angry that trans men are adhering to "gendered stereotypes" dress wise or do they just let them wear what they want and accept fashion is a personal choice? I've not seen many tweets myself online that talk about trans men being berated for not being men because of their fashion choices but I accept that may because I'm not "walking in the shoes" of trans men. The same would hold with non-binary and gender-fluid activists who dress however they want to dress in their personal space and try to challenge stereotypes around fashion in public spaces. I'd be interested to hear about their experiences and will aim to read more trans male and non-binary/gender-fluid blogs in the future to help me understand the unique challenges they may face in our society.

A quick aside: Trans women are not trying to erase sexuality because gender identity and sexuality are separate parts of our personal identity:
Gender identity and sexuality are separate parts of our existence. It's foolish in my view to suggest that trans women being recognised as real women could lead to a necessary erosion of lesbianism or when trans men are recognised as men that would erode homosexuality. Such sweeping statements would mean accepting that most sexual orientations are permanently fixed and that trans people are somehow deliberately trying to fool/trick people into loving them by playing into or against stereotypes of sexuality. Not every trans woman is an oppressed camp gay man and not every trans man is a lesbian trying to escape his sexual orientation. You have the choice who you fall in love with in a liberal society and to think that your sexuality could be erased just because someone you fancy was born differently to you....Love is Love.
If a lesbian or bisexual woman decided to date/have sex with a woman who happened to have been born differently does it really mean she's now engaging in a heterosexual relationship, even if the trans woman in question had undergone full Gender Reassignment Surgery (GRS)? As an intersectional feminist, I respect choice. That means choice in who you fall in love with. Look beyond stereotypes and display mutual respect and compassion. Besides a trans woman can be asexual, pansexual or her sexuality may have changed from before. C'est la vie.

Differing Trans Views:

I do respect Murray's decision to reflect usually silent voices of people who self-define transsexual or "non-real woman" or have de-transitioned through choice even if I believe her representation of trans activists in the article has been negative. It was interesting to hear the story of Charles Kane, a detransitioner whose gender identity had changed dramatically over the years. Charles felt like "he had a male brain" but couldn't "fit in" socially, which is why he went through GRS. However, he now regrets his decision and has reverted to seeing himself as male and has declared that "he went through GRS "too soon". Intersectional feminists understand the need to respect individual choice without prejudice; I don't feel I have a 100% male or female brain but I understand if Kane does see his brain as gendered.  Murray seems to dismiss evidence of separation between brain and biology as "pseudoscience" whereas I think a lot more studies do need to be carried out before one automatically dismisses the idea that there are any innate gender/sex characteristics that separate from sexual organs and features like enlarged Adam's Apples and breasts. It's vital to be open minded.

Jenny Roberts, a self-defining "non real" trans woman seems to have had a very different upbringing from myself. Ms Roberts believes that trans women can never be real women because they are socialised to be assertive and aggressive. My parents never brought me up to be accepting of aggressiveness and it was my Mum, a Norwegian-Swedish intersectional feminist (who was adopted by an English teacher who broke free from the constraints of middle class life when she was a teenager to follow her vocation as a missionary in South Africa in the late 1940s) who taught me about being assertive and standing up for liberal values and beliefs. My Mum taught me to be respectful of other peoples' voices, especially those of other women but she never saw assertiveness as being an inherently masculine trait. Ms Roberts goes on to talk about body differences being inherently "man" or woman" such as height or shape and  her voice being overwhelmingly recognised as male; unlike Ms Roberts, I am short and curvy and I get called Miss on the phone and have been called Miss or Ms on the phone since I was 16 years old when I first started answering calls from my bank. Yet body height, shape, voice alone doesn't determine your gender identity;  cis women can be tall and have a deep enough voice to be called "Sir" on the phone but that doesn't make them any less of a woman. Whilst I accept Roberts' decision to tell her story as a self-proclaimed radical feminist living with her civil partner and running a feminist bookshop in York, I can disagree with her assertion that other trans women can't call themselves real women based on her own socialised experience. I've never married, have no desire to have children and never had anything other than oral sex (which has been very rare since my rape experience) but Roberts had a family with an ex wife and now has a partner. So there's little commonality of experience between me and Ms Roberts other than that we felt we had to transition.

Miranda Yardley's inclusion in the article has certainly split trans activists as her views have done in the past. It seemed to me as if Yardley had been brought in as a "voice of authority"- a specialist on being a trans woman rather than as just an independent trans voice; that's probably because Yardley self-defines as a "transsexual", the same term Murray uses in her article. Murray even goes as far as to say at the end of the article that Yardley is a woman after her own heart because she's perfectly happy to exclude trans women from having access to women's only spaces even after they've undergone GRS. My intersectional feminist response is this: I understand that in certain circumstances it may not be appropriate for a pre-op trans person or non-binary person to be in a cis woman's space; for example, a cis female survivor of DVA may feel uncomfortable being around a pre-op trans woman because of her own experiences of DVA and I'd be fine with there being separate accommodation for pre-op trans women provided on that basis. The pre-op trans DVA survivor may even understand that point of view, provided they have their own access to decent counselling to help them cope with their own DVA experience. But then...what happens if the perpetrator had been female? How do you help a female survivor of DVA if she's uncomfortable being around other women in a survivor shelter? Such situations are rare. To justify banning trans women survivors from women's shelters on the basis of their past history just doesn't stack up to rationale because once again, radical feminists may be fuelling the stereotypes of masculinity and femininity whilst seeking to refute them at the same time.

The DVA survivor shelter situation is rare but what about banning trans women from feminist meetings or women's only societies? Should non-binary/gender-fluid people be banned for that matter? Intersectional feminists believe we need everyone on board to help enact the real social change needed to combat gender inequality and break down gendered stereotypes. Ms Yardley states in the article that she wants to be "empathetic" and "compassionate" to trans women but even generally, this empathy is given through gender stereotyping. She'll happily exclude trans girls (or gender affirming boys) and trans women from joining the Girl Guides and I wouldn't think it much of a stretch to posit that she thinks trans boys and men shouldn't join the Scouts. I guess non-binary kids and adults can't join either unless they give in to membership based purely on their sex. As I said earlier, I understand potential worries about potential sexual harassment but I refuse to automatically assume that every boy affirming to be a girl is a risk to girls in general or that every girl affirming to be a boy is at risk of being sexually assaulted by joining the Scouts. Instead, I embrace a change in attitudes that policies such as sex and relationships education (SRE) will bring to UK society, something those on the right and on the far left of the feminism debate don't advocate for enough. Yes I genuinely SRE is going to help reduce instances of rape and sexual assault by teaching consent law to boys, girls and non-binary students alike. I genuinely believe that LGBT+ SRE will challenge stereotypes and allow students to be be as proud of their identity as Murray indicated at the start of the article that she wanted them to be.

What's missing from Dame Murray's critique?

In her quest to proffer an opinion on the "trans identity" debate, Murray does play into some stereotypical assumptions of trans women. This was evidenced in her handling of issues that matter to trans activists and intersectional feminists alike. Murray mentions the PACE Mental Health survey from 2014 but perhaps only as a way to make trans activists look foolish. The fact is that there are pre-op trans people in the UK who are contemplating suicide and have contemplated suicide because they feel they are unable to carry on living their lives the way they are doing. I want every 1 of the 27 young people identified in the PACE survey to not contemplate committing suicide because they would feel they are being listened to. I want them to be able to talk through their feelings and understanding they have valid options they can consider (which doesn't just include GRS) and I am glad that charities such as Mermaids and Stonewall exist to allow trans and non-binary/gender-fluid young people to do this despite the barrage of criticism they face on a weekly basis.

Trans women face oppression and discrimination yet from Murray's article, you'd be forgiven for thinking that all trans women are too privileged to face discrimination. Perhaps she should have taken the time to read the stats from the Trans Mental Health Study (2012) that found that 38% of trans respondents had experienced physical intimidation or that 81% had experienced silent harassment (being whispered/stared at). Perhaps Murray should know that according to the Engendered Penalties Report (2007) 42% of trans people aren't living in their preferred gender role because they fear it might threaten their employment status and over 10% of trans people were verbally abused and 6% physically assaulted at work. Trans women are facing oppression in the workplace and out on the streets just because they have the gall to express themselves openly. It's wrong and HR professionals, the police, politicians and even media presenters all have a responsibility to stand up to those who use their denial of womanhood as grounds for discrimination.

Trans women can be targeted by cis men who do not believe they are women and they murder them for this reason. Trans women are being murdered in the US just because they have the bravery to express their true selves in the open and most are trans women of colour (see the Human Rights Commission record here: Where are their voices in the debate? Just because we're lucky enough in the UK not to see trans women murdered on a regular basis doesn't mean that trans activists here don't care about violence perpetrated against trans women around the world.

Intersectional feminists recognise that trans women can be potential targets of violence perpetrated by women as well as by men. Trans men and non-binary/gender-fluid people can be targets and perpetrators too. All violence should be abhorred and every effort made to prevent men, women, trans and non-binary/gender-fluid people from resorting to violent actions.  Did you know a trans man was murdered last year here in the UK? His name was William Lound and he was a 30 year old mature student at the University of Salford. On the 8th February, a man murdered William at his campus because he identified as gay and he just happened to be trans with it. His Mum, Mo, was devastated. She didn't care that William had transitioned; she was proud of him and believed that "he should have been free to express himself and live his life how he chose." She was her son, not her daughter. William was a proud trans man who saw him as a real gay man. William's story touched me. It should touch anyone who has a heart. People can say William was a trans man only or a woman to the cows come home but I shall always contend that he believed he was a gay man, a real gay man who didn't deserve to be murdered just when he felt comfortable to be himself.

Yet the only reference to trans men in the whole of Murray's article was through the prism of gendered language, when she mentioned recently issued guidelines from the British Medical Association's that recommended that pregnant patients should be referred to as "people" rather than mothers so as to  not "offend" trans men.  I really don't see any issue with this; a GP should call the patient whatever they wish to be called but surely if you're going to mention anything related to trans male experience in the article you'd mention William Lound? . At least I'd hope that William would be worthy of mention. See our privilege can really blind us in some ways, even when we are usually able to recognise it.


I cannot agree with Dame Murray that trans women are not real women. I do so from an intersectional feminist viewpoint. Yes I accept that biologically (sex wise), cis women share the commonality of going through the menstruation cycle and it's true that trans women do not undergo the menstruation cycle and do not have to budget for the tampons and pads that are needed whilst other women are going through the cycle. Some feminists have argued that because trans women who have national platforms have never openly advocated against the tampon tax or never seem to want to fundraise to get sanitary supplies out to women who need them in developing countries, they haven't earned the right to call themselves "real women". Now I used my blog to talk about the need to scrap the tampon tax last year when I talked about trans men who are in pre-transition stage who still use sanitary products. Should all trans activists have mentioned the fight against the tampon tax or FGM? I say yes but that's because I'm an intersectional feminist who realises that I have to try and highlight as many different facets of societal issues as I can whilst trying not to dominate the narrative. You see I know my position as a white working class trans person is more privileged than a BAME trans person who comes from the same working class background. I want to see more BAME trans writers and activists being given a platform to discuss their experiences and to hopefully help to enact social changes that help to improve the position of all trans people who happen to be in the UK, whether they happen to be straight, gay, bi, pansexual, asexual etc. or whether they happen to be a British citizen or not. It's important that the media environment is as reflective of modern British society and I'm afraid at the moment, it's far from it.

As an intersectional feminist, I understand the complex nature of "privilege" and that every trans woman has a different experience of how they "perform" their gender because everyone "performs" gender differently. Some believe that gender is as innate as sex and others believe that gender is a social construct. I don't think the answer really is either/or. The scientific evidence is not yet conclusive for that level of certainty and I'll gender identity as a mixture of innate feelings that are then socialised until I get proven definitively wrong that is!

I hope that assumptions about trans women will continue to be challenged openly not just by trans activists and equality organisations like Stonewall but by feminists too. Being trans and seeing yourself as a woman isn't going to erode the essence of womanhood or reduce the importance of progress that has been made by women generally. Intersectional feminists like myself want to work with everyone we can to help society to progress and our focus should be on projects like SRE, fighting FGM and challenging gender stereotypes perpetuated by society such as the idea that dresses are only for women to wear in public. Yes there are trans women who will remain conservative in their views on gender. But there are others, like me, Tara Hewitt, Paris Lees and Shon Faye who do want to challenge gender stereotypes and socialisation whilst accepting that trans women are women. A trans person can say "let people wear what they want" without reinforcing gender stereotypes.

Going back to Simone De Beauvoir whose work I looked at as part of my studies at York (I did an English essay which looked at Iris Murdoch's critique of gender and sex as demonstrated in novels such as The Bell, A Severed Head and The Italian Girl ) you realise that De Beauvoir didn't approve of oppression full stop: "All oppression creates a state of war" De Beauvoir proclaimed. That's certainly true in terms of rhetoric, stereotypes and policies shaped around gender. This blogpost does not contend that Murray is a transphobe. She's not calling for violence towards trans women (or trans people in general) or for an end to GRS on the NHS. Murray's not wanting to shut down trans activists or ask them to "go back into the closet".  However, I still think it's better to recognise that trans people have the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of gender identity (or gender reassignment surgery as it current stands) in the same way as there is no right to discriminate on the basis of gender. This is enshrined in our Equality Act of 2010. The best way to go forward is to acknowledge that the debate on gender identity is not a "zero sum game".

So let's take an intersectional approach to gender identity and see it in context whilst engaging with feminist theorists and finding out about the history of social politics. Remember that we have more in common and try and encourage more trans women to get involved in the intersectional feminist movement than to try and exclude them altogether. As De Beauvoir also wrote: "One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the lives of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion."