In recent months I’ve seen more and more arguments on line, in papers, in comments on news sites* about the place of trans women in feminism. Or not, as TERFs (trans exclusionary radical feminists) would argue. With several friends, family and students identifying as trans, gender fluid and non-binary, I can put names, faces and lives to the people who are hurt by these opinions. Trying to make feminism about one one, narrow definition of the female is hurtful and incomplete. I hope that people are now well informed enough to understand that there are layers of privilege and prejudice that combine and intersect (hence intersectionalism) to mean that experiences are lived differently even in relation to the same thing. Black women have a different experience of feminism to white women. Disabled women too have a different experience, another layer that colours their lives. And trans women do too. Trans women are women. After decades of being told that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, we can’t just turn around and deny that. A woman is not defined by having a womb or breasts. A woman who has had a hysterectomy is still a woman. Womanhood is not defined by the physical ability to bear children. A person born intersex who identifies as female is female. A person assigned male at birth who knows, deep down, that their gender identity is in conflict with that faces a hard, often isolating and damaging road to being their true self. Her experience may be different to those of a woman who was assigned female at birth and identifies as such but it is still the experience of a woman.
One of the chief arguments that TERFs raise is that if a trans woman is assigned male at birth, then they grew up with male privilege, and did not experience the same misogyny as they did. This defensive desire to isolate experience helps no one. There is no badge for being the most oppressed. Asserting isolated identities in this way means that other layers of experience must be also be viewed in isolation, but that’s simply not the way things work. We must acknowledge, as feminists, that the experiences of women are different, complex, multi-layered. Gender identity, race, class, wealth, culture, all of these things intersect within a human being and it is not possible to fully unravel those strands. To attempt to do so diminishes everyone. And in terms of prejudice and exclusion, the rights of women are the rights of all women. We mustn’t forget that feminism benefits everyone, men and boys included. The rights of women are human rights, and trans rights are human rights.
I may well have not expressed this entirely clearly, and I stand very open to being told that I have missed important elements, or got things wrong, so please consider reading and watching people who have expressed it better.
So, intersectional feminism or GTFO.