Trans women, women-only spaces, and concern trolling

sisters cistersThis post is the fourth and final penultimate piece 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 all about the concern troll argument:

Treating trans* women as if they are simply women ignores their unique life experience!

So how is this concern trolling, you ask? This argument turns the tables and suggests that trans women need to be excluded from women’s spaces for their own good, out of respect for their identities. Inherent in this suggestion that trans women’s particular trans womanhood is, y’know, not the same thing as “real” (read: cis) womanhood. This, despite the fact that many trans women will tell you themselves that they do consider themselves to be “simply” women. Real women. Seriously. This isn’t difficult, is it?

Ok, there is also a slightly more nuanced framing of this argument. It goes something like this: trans people are on the forefront of the battle (or whatever) to break down the gender binary (or whatever). Their lived experiences prove that the gender system is broken, and if we ignore the trans part of their identity by providing them with vital services earmarked for women, then we are undoing all of their great gender warrioring (or whatever).

Listen, I really have no patience with this shit whatsoever. The thing is, many (possibly even most, I can’t really say) binary identified trans folks (i.e. the kind of trans folks who identify as men or as women, and not as some form of genderqueer, like I do) don’t consider themselves as breaking down the gender binary. They may feel they fit perfectly well within it, just not in the way their parents thought they did when they were born. To tell them that be identifying as woman, they are somehow breaking down the category of “woman” is at best, really fucking rude and marginalizing. It’s nothing more than yet another manifestation of people’s unwillingness to accept that trans women are, in fact, women. We need to stop pretending that they’re secretly something different, something woman-like, but, you know, not in the way that cis women are. They’re non-binary women, or something.

It’s… just awful. And oftentimes this narrative of trans people as gender warriors feels almost appropriative. Feminist women often like the idea of breaking down the gender binary, in the sense of erasing the cultural ideas about the inherent differences between men and women, and their respective roles in society. And this is a great goal, for sure. Restrictive gender roles hurt everyone, after all.

But when someone starts insisting that they can’t treat trans women like other women, because then they’re erasing the trans part of their identity, and that part of their identity is important in the fight to break down the gender binary, please remember this: this argument is always being made in the face of real actual trans women who really actually just want to be seen as women, plain and simple. And really, the outcome of this argument is just plain nightmarish. What happens is trans women get denied vital and shelter in the name “respecting their identities”. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so truly awful and heart-breaking.

Stop putting words in trans women’s mouths. Stop pretending you know more about what being it means that they are trans, and how they relate with the gender binary. And don’t deny them things they need and pretend you are doing it for their own good. This is the definition of concern trolling. Just. Fucking. Don’t.

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