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Womanhood is already a messy and crowded place, but feminism must always, always make room for trans women

Marie Le Conte July 17, 2020
trans rights

(Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty)

Political journalist and acclaimed author Marie Le Conte explains for PinkNews why feminism and trans rights should always, always go hand-in-hand.

It is hard to put forward persuasive arguments about something you have never really thought about. Why do I support trans rights? It just happened, I suppose.

I was around 19 when a close friend told me she was a woman. I remember repeating her pronouns in my head before going to meet her in those first few weeks, because it was all very new, and a bit bewildering.

Some parts of her transition were sweet; I would watch her experiment with clothes and make up, like a teenage sister who just happened to be older than me.

Some parts weren’t; we would go to the cinema together and I would go to the bathroom with her, because she felt scared going alone.

Little by little, our social group gained a handful of other trans people – birds of a feather, and all that – and I did not think much of it.

The next event to shape my views was learning of a trans man, a vague acquaintance, who was not able to have surgery because of some pre-existing medical issues.

Before then, I had assumed that physical changes were the ultimate purpose of transitioning, but his story stopped me in my tracks. Would I really not think of him as a man because of a bout of tragic bad luck? How cruel that would be.

Since this is now a debate, I have had to learn to articulate my views. In a way, it has been an interesting exercise: why do we believe in the things we believe in?

All of this took place in around 2012 and 2013; because it had been so gradual, I had never stopped to think about my views on trans people, or come to see them as a statement. Life happens, and you adjust.

Still, things have changed in the past few years, and since this is now a debate, I have had to learn to articulate my views. In a way, it has been an interesting exercise: why do we believe in the things we believe in?

I have tried to reflect on my stance, which is that I am a feminist woman who does not need women to have been born as such to be included in my feminism, and come out with two analogies I think may help. They are not perfect – no analogy is – and I am not pretending they answer every question anyone may have on the topic.

Still, I hope they can offer responses to some of the claims and concerns that keep popping up.

The first is the union movement, specifically at the time when women were starting to enter the workforce en masse.

There is no doubt that trade unions were a worthy endeavour; they helped working class men gain a decent living, decent hours and the right not to get trampled by uncaring bosses. Still, they resisted the employment of women, as their members were their priority, and women seeking work were seen to be taking the jobs of honest men.

As women demanded to benefit from the rights unions had given male workers, trans women can ask to be included in the group feminists have been fighting for.

This is, I think, similar to the arguments we have been having: because feminism has allowed women to gain more rights and better lives, any critiques on it now falling short can make long-time campaigners bristle.

It is, however, possible for those two statements to be true: a movement can have achieved a tremendous amount in the past, and it can also be harmful to those it excludes by deciding to focus on the subset of people it originally sought to help, and no-one else.

As women demanded to benefit from the rights unions had given male workers, trans women can ask to be included in the group feminists have been fighting for.

The second analogy is tougher, as it requires an amount of honesty I worry will be weaponised by those whose minds are already made up. It is also something I have changed my mind on, should malevolent parties seek to expose some hypocrisy on my part.

To put it bluntly: I could not, in all honesty, promise that if we were to change current gender law to make it easier for trans people to legally transition, the streamlined process would never be used by dangerous men trying to harm women.

I do not believe it would happen, as a number of countries have had self-ID for several years and it is yet to be an issue, but it is not a promise I, or anyone else, could make. It is impossible to know.

Instead, I have come to think of it as a debate similar to the one around the refugee crisis, when there were tens of thousands of people leading terrible lives abroad and who needed our help.

To anti-immigration campaigners, taking them in was too much of a risk: we knew little about these people, and what if some of them were criminals, not coming here to escape but instead to take advantage of naive old Britain? Is it a price worth paying to help out some others?

The heartwarming answer from many corners of the political spectrum was: yes.

Womanhood is already a messy and crowded place, but we can always make more room.

Yes, we are ready to take a small risk if it means that in return, we get to change the lives of many people currently in danger. We hope it will not come to this, but we are willing to face this potential sacrifice, because we do not want the hypothetical actions of a handful of bad actors to define our response to the thousands of others who need us. It was an act of deep faith and compassion.

Helping trans women live full, accomplished lives as women strikes me as a similar goal.

As with every piece of societal change, there will be details to be ironed out and compromises to be made on all sides, but if there is anything I believe in, it is women’s ability to make the world a better place, when it is something they have set out to do.

Life happens, and you adjust: womanhood is already a messy and crowded place, but we can always make more room.

More: feminism, gender recognition act, Marie Le Conte, MyPinkNews Content, trans inclusive feminism, trans rights

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