Transgender rights are not a threat to women’s safety, despite what anti-trans bigots are trying to claim. Battles are currently raging about the right for people to legally change gender. In recent weeks, there’ve been furious protests across the country after the Tories tried to roll back trans rights in Scotland.
Rishi Sunak’s Tories blocked the Scottish parliament’s attempts to make it easier for people to decide their own gender. These objections are rooted in a deeply reactionary way of looking at gender—considering it a biological binary. But, as profoundly as they hold these ideas, the Tories know that they are increasingly unpopular.
So, they also rely on a line of argument that claims looser laws on self-identification leave women in danger. They say if men want to harm women, they will pretend to be trans to gain access to spaces such as domestic violence refuges or women’s toilets. But no man needs to pretend to be a trans woman to carry out violent attacks.
All this does is divide people, and mask the real threats to women’s safety. Rows about public spaces ignore the harsh reality that a woman is most in danger within her own home. From April 2016 to March 2019, an average of three women were killed by a partner or ex-partner. Some 98 percent of the suspects were male. In the year ending March 2020, 92 percent of domestic violence perpetrators were male—and 77 percent of victims were women.
In short, the vast majority of attacks on women are carried out by people who present as and identify as men. And trans people face sexism and a heightened risk of violence. In 2020-21, the police recorded 2,630 hate crimes against transgender people, an increase of 16 percent from the previous year. In 2018, charity Stonewall found that 28 percent of trans people had experienced domestic violence in the last year.
Rights are not a fixed space where one group’s gains are another’s losses. When one oppressed group wins rights, it benefits other oppressed groups. This is especially clear in the relationship between trans rights and women’s rights. Many of the same people who want to push back trans rights are the same right wing reactionaries that want to see gender in the narrowest terms possible.
They want to restrict abortion access and hold down women’s wages. Trans women aren’t men dressed up as women—they are women, and trans men are men. And there isn’t a unified experience based in biology on what it means to “be a woman”. Gender identity isn’t a binary, it’s a spectrum that can change and shift throughout a person’s life. Those who want to make it harder for trans people to self-identify contribute to the multifaceted crises in trans people’s lives.
Trans people are more likely to be homeless, suicidal and unemployed than the general population. And this is compounded by living in a society that rolls back the most basic rights and encourages hatred. It’s a classic example of divide and rule. Our rulers want to set fighters for women’s rights against trans rights activists in order to defeat both. We shouldn’t let them get away with it.
It’s a hugely welcome development that there have been many angry, radical and young protesters out on the streets in recent weeks. This shows there is a battle to be had over trans rights. To give that fight as much strength as possible, it has to include both trans and non-trans women standing together.
Historian John Newsinger writes
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