The time has come to make women only sessions open to all trans women. This includes women who have penises. This is not because I have heard from any women who have penises directly asking to participate, but because a venue I am negotiating with insisted on it. I wasn’t expecting this (it was not an obvious feature of the venue) and found myself blundering all over the place verbally as I hadn’t looked into the trans issue fully so didn’t know so much about it (this has been an education).
While I am open to welcoming all women regardless of their trans gender, this does present complications. Firstly rape survivors who don’t want to see a penis in a women only environment. It’s fairly straight forward. They are not transphobic, but they have been traumatised by penises. I have been contacted by these women on various occasions, and they participate, which is why I had created the no-penis policy. It is not fair to say that in the name of being politically correct these women ought to get over their issues. Yes I know trans women have also been raped, but there are differences. It is a tragedy for anyone to be raped, but when a woman is raped there is the possibility of conception which adds another level of tragedy. That’s why rape is used as a weapon of war. No, not all women are fertile, but you usually can’t tell from the outside. Trans women are not so far able to ovulate or conceive and they have not grown up in bodies that are informed by these functions. I think for the most part that is a significant difference.
Secondly security. As an organiser of events which involve female nudity and myself a nude performer, I routinely receive unwanted emails and messages from men who think I may be up for it along with the other female models. Some of them use a female profile online. This is a well known phenomenon to women who are part of naturist groups online. I may not be able to prove that they are men, but their Facebook profile will typically have one friend and very little info. They masquerade as women to gain access or trust. They try chatting with women but how quickly it transpires they just want to talk about their/your sexual fantasies. At which point I check out their profile and conclude they are a man. I am bound to be concerned that such types may try to gain access to a women’s session under the guise of a trans woman (however unlikely that may be).
Thirdly and perhaps most controversially, I think a space is needed for women who were born in women’s bodies to reconnect with each other and their female power. Not because trans women aren’t women, but because as women we have been so long oppressed that we need time to rediscover ourselves amongst each other, before we may be ready to embrace all women so easily. This is personal and others will disagree, but I just feel that there is a long way to go before women have equality, our bodies are sometimes a battle ground and our menstrual cycle is one of the last great taboos. I do not want to underplay the particularities of the female body – our connection to the Earth, to the Moon and the tides – because that has been going on for centuries. Basically I/we need to build confidence as female society before we are ready for all trans women. Or rather, let’s not wait; but let’s have a space for all women, as well as a space for women born in women’s bodies. I think that’s fair. There are I believe groups that are just for trans people (like Gendered Intelligence) and while inclusion into one’s given gender is important, many trans people are different. I mean they have a really unique perspective on life which is incredibly valuable. However much they may want to assimilate into a gender they were not born with, they have that experience of the other. While there may be obstacles to being accepted as a woman for example, there should also be a place for celebrating what makes trans women (or people) special. Their very presence is changing the way that we view gender.
This discussion has been exacerbated by some very hostile radical feminists being extremely offensive to trans women a few years ago. They said they shouldn’t exist. There was retaliation in the form of death threats. Which has naturally made it almost impossible to have a sensible discussion today about the inclusion of trans women in women only groups. But we must forge ahead against the backdrop of animosity. I understand that trans women are very sensitive about this, and for me those radical feminists sometimes make me ashamed to call myself a feminist. They give us a bad name, and some of them are influential so it’s not just talk. There are always extremists who are not representative of the majority but end up being the ones everyone knows about. I think it is important to redress the negativity created by them, but keeping in mind the sensitivities of most women. Most women are not even aware that now legally (since 2005 in fact in the UK), a trans woman can be a woman even if she keeps her penis. So it’s good to make that more known first, otherwise women may be surprised in a women only life modelling session to see a penis. Surprise alone would be ok, but if it’s a trigger for trauma then not so.
I am grateful to the woman who forced me to confront this situation and who hopefully will be helping me to put on the first openly open to trans women Spirited Bodies women only session. What a mouthful! That is to say, all my women’s events used to be so open, until recently when I realised that women with penises may clash with rape survivors, and at Southbank Centre it is not me who controls entry into the session. Anyone may buy a ticket for the festival. So to avoid a clash I stated ‘no penises’. I felt that that was an acceptable position considering, after all it does include transitioned trans women. Now I am told that this is transphobic, so I am trying to accommodate. All we can do is try. If the more open women’s session is a success that will bode well for further inclusion. If cis (non trans) women exclude themselves due to fears over security and triggers (people who are nervous do not need much reason to block their path, the slightest suggestion of a security hazard is enough) I will know that a separate group is needed for them. In the future as more people are brought up in a trans inclusive world, this will get easier (I hope). But for now many of us were formed along with our traumas in a very binary society. We can’t necessarily undo it all at once, we need to take steps. And while trans women experience all sorts of discrimination, the gender they are trying to assimilate into has also been discriminated against a great deal. So both groups need support and possibly of their own particular kind. Bringing them together though, as well may foster a whole new understanding of being a woman so that’s very cool.
No one has brought up any trans male issues so far. If any of my language in the above post is deemed transphobic I am sorry. It is a tricky matter. I may be able to change it, but I also may not be able to please everyone!