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Feminism: The debate on the place of trans women is uncalled-for

This op-ed was originally published in the French newspaper Libération on 26th February 2020.

Un collage féministe dans les rues de Paris, le 29 décembre.

For a month now, attacks against trans women under the guise of feminism have been multiplying and have found an unprecedented media coverage and sympathy in France. We have known for a long time that there is a slight minority among feminists who are hostile to trans people and trans women in particular. Their numbers have not increased in recent years, but they have been able to regroup behind common ideas.

In the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, small feminist groups and reactionary movements, both far-right and fundamentalist Christians, are working together to oppose the rights of trans people. Their activity increased tenfold from 2016 onwards. In the United States, bills are proliferating in conservative states to prohibit trans children from making any kind of transition, even requiring teachers to report students they think are transgender to their parents. Trans children are used as instruments against mothers in divorce cases.

These small groups stand together with Donald Trump against the rights of trans people (and beyond that, LGBTI people). In Canada, Bill C-16 protecting trans people has been fought by Meghan Murphy, founder of an anti-trans blog, and Jordan Peterson, a conservative masculinist polemicist. In the UK, these attacks have crystallized around the proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act, which aims to simplify the modification of legal sex on birth certificates. It was there that the so-called « gender critical » movement was most successful, with transphobic panic being fueled by the Daily Mail tabloïd before spreading to the mainstream media.

French anti-trans activists draw inspiration from these foreign examples in the hope of reproducing here this climate that is harmful to both trans and feminist struggles. The « transgender ideology » decried by these anti-trans activists is allegedly promoted by a nebulous but influential group, invented from scratch, which they call « transactivists ». It is similar to the « gender theory » or the « LGBT lobby » brandished as a bogeyman by the far-right.

When one observes the evolution of these movements, the initial interrogations disguised as « legitimate concerns » quickly evolve into much more violent accusations, recycling homophobic clichés from the past: trans women would be « mentally ill » or even sexual perverts; like lesbians they would be predators; children and young adults would be affected by a transgender contagion, reminiscent of the idea of homosexual contagion. Under the guise of feminism, it is a muddled and conspiracist ideology that spreads division within actual feminist struggles.

Anti-trans activists define women as females, defined above all by their reproductive capacities. Yet the oppression of women is not a logical consequence of the ability to give birth: neither prepubescent girls, nor menopausal women, nor infertile women escape it. The biological justification for the difference between men and women is a consequence of the exploitation patterns specific to the gendered division of society, not the other way around.

Trans women have long been objects of fantasy, but, above all, of violence, discrimination and exclusion, rape and murder because they are trans, but also because they are women. Jessyca Sarmiento was one of them, whose feminicide, on 21 February in Paris, once again has left too many indifferent. The speeches representing them as threats encourage this violence. But this transphobic activism harms all women. Women are attacked because they are trans or suspected of being trans. This climate of suspicion towards trans women, which encourages trying to detect them, results in increased control over women’s bodies. We do not want any woman having to prove her womanhood.

In spite of all the media attention they’ve attracted for a month, anti-trans activists constantly complain they are being silenced. Journalists too often make the mistake of representing as a significant division, going across feminist movements, the polemics created by a few individuals. This is giving them an importance they do not have. Contrary to what we’ve read, there is no debate opposing « materialist and universalist » feminists on one side and « inclusive and intersectional » feminists on the other.

We, women, transgender or cisgender, feminists, refuse to import these transphobic debates into France. We refuse this opposition between women, we refuse this division which only serves patriarchy and we reaffirm feminist solidarity. The struggles of trans women join feminist struggles, such as the fight against medical paternalism, access to assisted reproductive treatments and gamete conservation.

We are all women, all feminists.

All of us suffer from patriarchal oppression, sexism, domestic exploitation, sexual, medical and domestic violence, harassment and discrimination. 

We all reaffirm the importance of sisterhood. 

We will all fight together, united and determined.

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📰 Read the original text on Libération.fr