Trans women, women-only spaces, and …special needs?

sisters cistersThis post is part 3 in a series examining the various justifications that are given for the (utterly unjustifiable) exclusion of trans women from women-only spaces. The four rationales being examined are as follows:

Today, it’s:

We aren’t equipped to fulfill trans women’s needs!

The above is actually the most sanitized and faux-friendly version of this argument. Some women’s shelters defend trans exclusionary policies on the grounds that their services have been designed with cis women in mind, and they simply don’t know how to help trans women. The less friendly corollary to this is often that the shelters don’t want to divert their efforts or water down their services by actively working on being able to meet trans women’s needs.

First off, I am unconvinced that the needs of trans women escaping abusive situations will be all that different from the needs of cis women in the same situation. The promise of a safe place to stay, and help with putting one’s life back together seems adequate, and with the exception of potentially unique medical needs, cis and trans women are able to benefit equally from housing, job, and childcare services, among many other services, without any needs for special accommodation.

But secondly, I want to address this idea that taking special care to accommodate trans women might somehow take away from the resources available to cis women. Much like the previous argument, this claim is only valid if we accept the unstated premise that cis women’s needs are more important than trans women’s. If, for instance, someone said that they were going to exclude poor women from their shelter, because the unique needs caused by their poverty were too difficult to accommodate (and certainly, poor women facing abusive situations may have more complex needs and have more difficulty extricating themselves from a situation in which they are wholly dependent on their abuser for their welfare), it would be patently obvious that this is a ridiculous, discriminatory, and just plain awful thing to do.

So why do we allow the same treatment to be applied to trans women (who are in fact at extremely elevated risks of violence, abuse, poverty, and many other risk factors that we would normally consider as making someone a higher priority target for these kinds of services). Rather than being excluded, trans women should be a priority group targeted by women’s shelters offering community support.

When you get right down to it, the suggestion that trans women might somehow be too in need of help to be included in women’s shelters is yet another form of victim-blaming (we’d help them if they’d just stop needing so much help!) I mean, really. Can we please stop this shit?

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