Reflections on transgender and feminist conflict

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months reading the thoughts of good people who are very supportive of trans rights, good people who are themselves trans, and good people who are very wary about some things around transgender politics, and people on all sides who are downright shitty. I’ve taken my time over piling in, because I’m not trans, and I don’t identify with anti-trans feminists. I find I feel significant sympathies for people on both sides, and significant unease with people on both sides. Usually not the same people.

My starting point is that everyone involved, regardless of their position and opinion, is entitled to have their basic human rights upheld. This means being free from violence and the threat of violence. I am dismayed and disorientated by the violence, and threat of violence coming from all sides. I don’t think it’s ok to punch 60 year old women, however abhorrent you find their opinion. I am also aware that the anti-trans feelings out there can only add to the considerable violence trans folk already experience.

I see online that lesbians who are not comfortable with women who have penises, are being labelled as transphobic. This troubles me greatly. The freedom to love who we love is vital. The freedom to express that as we choose is vital. The right to say no, to any person, for any reason, is vital. I can’t see how not being attracted to someone’s body is phobic. We do not label straight people phobic for not being attracted to same sex people. Every time I go outside I encounter lots of people to whom I feel no attraction. We all of us, as a basic human right, need to be allowed not to have to fake being attracted to people. Being pressured into having sex with someone you do not want to have sex with, is rape.

So, here’s a theory. There are women who have started out with bodies that do not represent them. They identify with, sympathise with, empathise with other women. They want to be recognised as women too. I don’t see any reason to have a problem with this. I know a number of transwomen who I feel very comfortable with and who I have no difficulty identifying as women. Some of them are more feminine than I am, as a cis woman with some gender fluid stuff living in my head.

However, there are also men who want to move into female spaces, bringing all their male privilege with them. Men who want to make women do things for them, and who want women to put them first, and treat them as special, and let them be in charge. Men who feel entitled to tell women who and what they should be attracted to. If a man enters a female space acting from a place of male privilege, I don’t care what he looks like or how he has, or has not modified his body, I’m going to treat him as an entitled man forcing himself into female space. I’ve encountered a bit of this in person, too. It was not a good experience. Anyone who wants to be recognised as a woman cannot at the same time expect to keep their male privilege.

Equally, feminists raising issues about how some men may use trans inclusion to enable predation and violence against women is a thing I take seriously. Female safety is something I take seriously. But, a line is crossed if in the name of feminism, you start trying to deny human rights to someone who is transgender. That’s not what feminism is for. We need to be clear about the differences between human rights, and issues of entitlement if we’re going to figure this stuff out.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

17 responses to “Reflections on transgender and feminist conflict

  • Christopher Blackwell

    Personally the situation is almost a non topic for me personally as I already teat trans people by whatever gender they are comfortable with.

    I honestly fail to to see any threat to cy-women or lesbians. Consider that both have had trans-women in the restrooms that they use and rarely even noticed them.

    Same goes for men and trans-men.
    So all we need to deal with in this group are those that act badly, just like in any other group, but there is simply no real threat to anyone.

    • Nimue Brown

      I started in the same place, but I’ve seen it on twitter, where people (and I do not know who these people are and I suspect their motives) are definitely explicitly telling lesbians they should be willing to accept women with penises, and being really aggressive about it. The incident of the feminist getting punched happened in London this year – again who did it and why I have to wonder about, but it is definitely happening.

      • Christopher Blackwell

        when I was a child,
        Christine Jorgensen
        was rather well known and dealt with a lot of harassment, including by the media. Again regard,less of what people are gender wise, it is how hey act that is important. Acting badly should never be excused and all of us need to speak out when we run into it, and that includes the men as well.

      • Ariel Michelle Bailey

        People on Twitter don’t necessarily reflect real world views. Some are just bots to artificially inflate certain topics to make them “trending”. Some are trolls trying to stir up a lot of nothing. That said, I’m trans and I’ve noticed a good deal of toxicity in the community. There are some who do think people who won’t date them (mostly cis men though) are transphobic. I have to agree with you that that’s nonsense. I get it. I have a lady penis. Not everyone likes penises. I certainly have my own physical preferences. I am still trying to figure out feminists who don’t want us in their spaces though. I’m willing to hear that side out though. My view is that we gave our privilege up. We experience the same misogyny if we “pass”. And if we don’t, then we’re just treated like effeminate men, which doesn’t go over well for our safety. I think we have more in common than either side may think.

      • Nimue Brown

        thank you for saying this. My guess on the feminist front is that it comes down to fear more than anything else – fear based either on an absence of experience of trans people, or fear based on an active experience of abusive men. or mostly likely, the two combined.

      • Ariel Michelle Bailey

        I would agree with that. I know there’s a lot of understandable concerns and that we’re really misunderstood at the same time. That’s why I think it’s important to open these kinds of dialogues. Many of us just expect others to get it. As if we didn’t have to undergo a long journey – a transition, one could say – to find all this out ourselves. Feel free to PM me if you ever have any questions or concerns.

  • maenosen

    I was a member of a women’s group that chose to let men transitioning to women into their meetings. We didn’t want to exclude people that identified as female.

    Without doubt it changed the dynamic, and I don’t think this was always in a good way. As you say, if you have been brought up with the inherent privileges that men are born with then you have a different view on the world that those that were born female.

    In hind site we should have alternated women only sessions with sessions that included trans people. Both groups needed the space and we could have shared it.

    • Nimue Brown

      That makes sense as a solution – I think helping transwomen on the cultural side of being women is a good thing and I guess the earlier a person transitions, the less time they’ve had to be cultured into being socially male, so that might be a thing too. Different spaces for different things – not all women who started as women want to do reproductive mysteries, for a start.

    • Ariel Michelle Bailey

      To be fair, there are cis women who don’t align with feminism. And there are trans women who never had privilege because maybe they were only ever seen as effeminate boys and never being able to compete with toxic masculinity. Granted there are some of us who really make us look bad. That’s unfortunate. I’m just a single mom trying to get by but I’m often thrown in with these entitled kids. Both sides have unique concerns. Both sides have similar interests too. Its a shame we can’t calm down and work things out (speaking to my people too).

  • pinksnotdead

    The feminist that got punched had actually assulted the trans women who punched her. And maybe it’s the area I’m from but I’ve never met a trans women who said that someone should have sex with them because they are women what I have seen said is that if you are attracted to a trans woman it shouldn’t be her genitalia that stop you from being with them. These are two very different naritives. And once again I’m not saying it doesn’t happen I’m just saying in my experience it doesn’t.

    • Nimue Brown

      It’s encouraging that you’ve not encountered it – my hope is that there isn’t much of it out there and that the internet is amplifying a small thing. I’ve seen stuff on twitter that’s been talking about lesbian acceptance of women with penises, and I’m afraid that was sa clear and rapey as I’ve talked about in the post – it was seeing it that left me feeling i really ought to try and write something.

  • everydayanomalyblog

    I enjoyed reading your post. I’d love to discuss a couple things, but I was also wondering if you’d be willing to check out this post of mine.
    Looking forward to hearing from you.

  • gabrielcollage

    It’s good to read an article about this topic that isn’t one-sided and fueled with anger. We need more people who are trying to see both sides on this

    • Nimue Brown

      With you on that. I think the people who are most angry are also deeply afraid – and not irrationally so, it’s going to take a lot of work to change things. But, I also think what most people who are afraid around this stuff are afraid of, is not actually each other, but violent and abusive men.

      • gabrielcollage

        Yes, I couldn’t agree more. That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking about it – that, although there are some people who still link the idea of being transgender with somehow being sexually perverted and predatory, most people are just really scared of abusive men taking advantage of transgender acceptance and using it to gain access into female spaces. It’s not at all an irrational fear and we need to find a way of hearing people who are concerned about it, and finding solutions, instead of automatically labelling them as transphobic

  • Ailanthus Altissima

    This was a very well-written and insightful article. I agree with most every point of concern you brought up here and appreciate your perspective as someone on no particular side. I am a trans woman myself and have written on many of these exact concerns from my perspective and have been exercising my voice as much as possible within trans communities to spread awareness of these issues, which I view as leading to the demonization of us, and the best steps we can take to address such concerns and end transphobia.

    If you’d be willing to read it, I would love to hear your thoughts:

    Thank you!

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