At a time when political slogan tees have reached saturation point, so much so that they can feel posturing, it’s rare to be moved by someone wearing one. But this morning, when Emma Watson posted a picture of her 'Trans Rights Are Human Rights' T-shirt, it felt like a light in the darkness for many, including me and my friends. The 'debate' around trans and non binary people in the UK has reached fever pitch, and Emma Watson’s very public, explicit demonstration of solidarity felt bold and urgent.
This fever pitch has been brought on by the consultation around the Gender Recognition Act. More explicitly, it’s been brought on by a fundamental (and perhaps even deliberate) misunderstanding of what the GRA consultation means. The fight the LGBTQ+ community has waged for acceptance and rights in society has had its victories through just that – community. Yet instead of a united front that serves to help our trans, non binary and intersex siblings, the feminist and LGBTQ+ communities have been severed by anti-trans feminists and #GetTheLOut campaigners who have created an 'us vs them' narrative.
This divide rests on the idea that this consultation is somehow about 'trans rights vs women’s rights'. More explicitly, on the idea that the rights of trans people to legally identify as their perceived gender is somehow encroaching on women’s rights and safety, particularly in single-sex spaces. Not only is it a demonstration of bigotry towards trans women (who are, shocker, women too) but it is categorically untrue. The GRA has nothing to do with access to spaces – in fact, it’s already illegal to be trans-exclusionary in single-sex spaces, according to the Equality Act 2010. Whether or not you noticed, trans people have been using bathrooms all that time, unless your preoccupation with their genitalia leads you to assume they don’t have bladders. And if you think you have noticed, then you are gendering features and characteristics of people, which goes directly against the feminist idea that women should not be reduced to their bodies and their appearance. There is no way to really police this in a way that is not only anti-feminist but violatory: do you check people’s underwear? Do you make the lives of butch and masculine cis women harder by legitimising the same discrimination they’ve already fought against? Or do you accept that everyone should be able to pee in peace without fear of harassment and it has nothing to do with you.
As for men using it to abuse women – they do that anyway. Cis men have systemic power over us far more than anyone else; they don’t need a legal gender change to access spaces and perpetuate misogynistic violence. Moreover, this relies on the transmisogynistic assumption that trans women are inherently violent, perverted predators who are a danger to children. (This is the exact same rhetoric used against gay people in the '80s.) There are, unfortunately, predatory people of every orientation, gender and race, and having trans and non binary people self ID is not going to change that fact.
However, none of this has a bearing on the consultation around the Gender Recognition Act itself which, as this piece outlines, is solely to alleviate the struggle there currently is around legally changing your gender. As in Ireland, Malta and Norway, it is a human right to be legally recognised, and not demonised for who you are. But in the run-up to the deadline, more and more people have shown that they don’t agree with Emma Watson’s T-shirt.
Let me say it again for emphasis. Trans rights are human rights. Non binary rights are human rights. Intersex rights are human rights. And they do not take from cis people’s rights.
Transphobia has become increasingly normalised in the UK and in the UK media (including left-leaning publications) and with every demonstration of this in print and on social media I have become more angry and more determined to support my trans, non binary and intersex siblings. I even did some bribe baking for our office to remind them to fill in the GRA consultation (you’re welcome for the vegan brownies, gang).
As a cis lesbian, I am proud to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community but currently not proud of the rhetoric and hatred driving wedges in our community. Trans people and gender nonconforming people have been integral to our liberation for the entire fight – think only of Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and Stormé DeLarverie at Stonewall in 1969. Supporting the GRA consultation is our opportunity as trans-inclusive feminists to bridge that gap between us. The arguments on the other side of the 'debate' fall apart with scrutiny and instead rest on the kind of transphobia that I refuse to support. You shouldn’t either.