Watching trans issues being discussed in the media is rarely a calming experience for a trans person. The debate quickly gets heated as both sides argue for and against the dangers which we apparently pose to society at large. Whether it’s a ‘debate’ on TV, an article in print or a rant on social media, it seems that wherever the conversation may start, it always seems to end with tales of women’s safe spaces being invaded by would be rapists.
The more one side fights for more freedom and acceptance for members of the trans community, the harder the other side pushes back. It is easy, amidst the media frenzy, to forget that all a transperson really wants is to be afforded the same degree of respect and fundamental human rights as anyone else.
At the heart of these debates is the Gender Recognition Act consultation, which will soon be debated in parliament, enabling trans men and trans women to self identify as their true gender, without having to prove their gender-variance with medical procedures or psychiatric reports.
But there are certain voices being heard – loud and clear – who are adamant that this should not happen. So what is it about trans people, this marginalised group of society, which poses such a threat that people feel the need to ‘gather’ and protest about erosion of rights and fear for personal safety?
The crux of the issue relates to the right of trans women to enter women’s ‘safe places’ these include: female changing rooms, women’s public toilets in particular, and refuges for women fleeing domestic violence.
These spaces, they argue, provide a haven for women which is private, safe and predator-free. Indeed, in the case of refuges specifically, that is the fundamental point of their existence – to keep women safe. The argument then follows, that by allowing people to self identify, any man could present as a woman and enter these safe spaces to do whatever they wish. A chilling thought.
To counter this perceived threat, the somewhat illogical conclusion drawn by the (predominantly) female protestors is as follows: Men pose a threat, self identification enables men to pose as women under the guise of their being ‘trans’, therefore all trans women are a threat.
The irony is that the trans woman herself is just as likely (more likely I would argue) to suffer abuse and intimidation from an aggressive male, as a woman. In spite of this, those who are against self identification would rather trans women risk the dangers posed by using the male equivalent of these spaces.
As a trans woman myself, I can tell you, this is no mean feat. From the moment I was born, my gender-variance has made me a target. I have been forced into a role that felt alien to me, from the clothes I had to wear to the male stereotype to which I was expected to conform.
I have been subjected to sexism, and unwanted sexual advances, I have excluded myself from certain public spaces because I felt uncomfortable with my anatomy. When we go on holiday I will not go on the beach or lie around a public pool, so extreme is my self consciousness.
I do not have a safe space.
If I was raped, if I was subjected to abuse, if I was to be rushed to hospital or God forbid, sent to prison, what would by my protections? Where could I talk and feel safe? Would I be able to access a rape crisis help line? Would anyone there even begin to understand my dilemma?
Stripping this back and focussing on basic human needs: if I can’t use the ladies loo, where should I go to feel safe?
For me the debate should not be about lifting the drawbridge on trans women when we need a safe haven. The debate should be about how we educate men to be more respectful of these spaces and putting safeguards in place to stop the system from being abused. We all need to feel protected and safe from harm, as a trans woman I am no less deserving of these fundamental human rights as my cis gender sisters.