Transphobia in Women’s Spaces

trans symbol on gradient background

Many years ago, when I was living as female, I was exposed to transphobia in women’s spaces. I heard comments about ‘men trying to be women’ and how they would prey on women in restrooms, sexual assault groups, and women’s clubs.

Being a part of many women’s spaces at the time, I had the opportunity to sit down with myself and confront these alleged fears.

Were these fears rational? Were men actually trying to ‘break into’ women’s spaces?

When I determined that I had not actually, in all my thirty-plus years of presenting as female, seen men wanting to be a part of women’s spaces in order to trick them, it became readily apparent that there was something else going on.

So I asked myself, were there women in women’s spaces who didn’t look like me?

Yes, of course there were.

And just like that, it dawned on me what the fear-mongering campaign was actually about.

The next parts of dismantling those alleged fears were easy.

It seemed readily apparent to me at the time, that if we used only a select group’s idea of what it means to be/look like a woman, we would be excluding a large group of cis women by those stereotypes alone. What would start as a gathering of people with similar shared experiences, under prejudice would become twisted into a high school clique. 

If high school is something a grown woman needs, then they have more problems than irrational fears.

It also seemed obvious to me that my opinions and power in those groups never gave me the right to question anyone’s place or exclude them. It wasn’t anyone’s responsibility to make me feel comfortable; it was my responsibility to work on myself, confront my own prejudices, and be as welcoming as possible. In those groups I desired community and friends, and those goals seemed like good first steps and solid rules to follow in general.

Even without my current understanding of the dangers of being transgender in society, at a younger age I was quickly able to discount the fears over men in women’s spaces as rubbish. 

A thought experiment.

Perhaps because I’m neuroatypical, I sat down with the idea of cis men in women’s spaces, as a fact by itself. What if some men did desire to be in women’s spaces? What probable reasons would they have for wanting to be there?

And the funny thing was, I could think of so many reasons why a cis man may feel more comfortable in women-dominated spaces, and NONE of them were to prey on women. Instead, I felt an outpouring of love and empathy from deep within my heart and soul for those men. They were only hypothetical, but immediately—instinctively—I wanted to help, shelter, and protect them. 

Love and caring seemed like a more logical reaction to the idea of men in women’s spaces than what had been presented to me. 

I concluded that if there were people—no matter their gender—who wanted to be in women’s spaces, be it restrooms, locker rooms, or women’s groups, then they probably knew better than we did that they belonged there, and it wasn’t our job to make those decisions for them. It was our job to hold the space and be as welcoming and nurturing as possible.  

Which is why, given my current struggles with discussing trans women in women’s spaces, I’ve been appalled and shocked at the responses I’m getting from colleagues and those I love. 

The danger is real.

Twenty-six transgender women have been murdered in the US in 2020, mainly TBIPOC women. These women were murdered for simply being themselves. There have been many more acts of violence on top of that.

Last summer in Oregon, where I live, a cis woman told her husband that there was a ‘man’ in the women’s restroom. That man then assaulted and battered a trans woman, shattering her jaw in several places and fracturing her skull. This innocent woman was just using the bathroom.

Also, many cis women were harassed by other cis women in restrooms, because of the way they looked. 

This is why signal-boosting people’s fears about men breaking into women’s spaces isn’t okay and is making violence worse. People shouldn’t be policing these spaces to begin with, but it’s also striking to me how remarkably incapable these people are of identifying real danger.

Trans women are women

There’s a reason I’m not going to address any specific concerns about the differences between trans and cis women in this blog post, because it’s not up for debate.

Forget what you think you learned from Silence of the Lambs, Some Like It Hot, and TootsieTrans women are women, not ‘men trying to be women’, and the creation of these narratives is contributing to violence against and the murder of women.

Our current reality sucks, but maybe there’s hope for the future.

Yes, there is a problem with male-dominated violence in this world. Yes, women are being murdered and violated at mind-boggling and super-depressing rates, worldwide. And yes, we need to solve this problem now

However, shutting out trans women and policing our restrooms, support groups, and women’s clubs isn’t the answer. Only protecting people who look like us isn’t going to solve our problems. Bigotry and hate isn’t the answer to violence. 

I suppose in my ideal world, cis men would want to become a part of women’s spaces. As boys in these spaces, they would grow into men and choose to stay. They’d have access to women mentors, they’d learn things they would have never learned otherwise, and these groups would swell in numbers–women leaders would rise up and teach everyone the change they wanted to see in the world. These groups could define a new way of life. Violence in the United States could fall. 

As a parting statement, I would like to say that being in women’s spaces as a trans boy was crucial to my development. In women’s spaces, I learned about the births of my ancestors, what my father was like as a baby, how to make recipes hundreds of years old, and how to stand up for myself and my sisters.

My mother, grandmothers, and the women mentors in my life taught me that when someone lashes out against you, they are fighting against their own demons. Be brave. Stand your ground. Don’t feed into their craving for power. Don’t let their fears control you. Rise above the hate and understand

Work to do better than those before you.

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