Twenty-five years ago, the very term ‘trans woman’ was unknown to most people. Me included, and I am one. Then the internet was born, and suddenly everyone and their pet stick-insect had an authoritative view about trans women.
Usually a negative view. From what you hear, trans women are every kind of nasty. Left-wing and Right-wing critics are equally quick to insinuate, or just come out and say, that in their eyes we’re either gross or ridiculous or both. Thereafter they hate us for opposite reasons. To both we’re sinister propagandists and fifth columnists. But to the Right, that’s because we’re a vector of anti-family, child-confusing, cultural-Marxist gender ideology. To the Left, it’s because we’re spokesmen (sic) for the gender norms of the patriarchy, walking billboards promoting gender stereotypes, reinforcing the pre-fashioned cage of femininity.
On both Left and Right, trans women are also claimed to be a sexual threat. Yet being transgender isn’t directly about sexuality at all. It’s not a sexual orientation; it’s a gender identity. But the sexualising misunderstanding is distressingly pervasive and astoundingly impervious to factual evidence. On the Left, trans women are alleged to be a sexual threat to women. (I don’t want to obsess about terminology – but please: other women.) On the Right, the supposed sexual threat that trans women present is, for crying out loud, to small children. ‘Conservative’ commentators often start with the absurd claim that telling schoolchildren about transgender identity is ‘child abuse’, then swivel into insinuations of paedophilia. Above all, we’re impostors, a cheat, a ‘travesty’ (deconstruct that), a parody of womanhood, a pretend: a pretend sister to feminists, a pretend hot date to regular guys. I expect it’s this alleged deceptiveness of trans women, along with our sexualisation, that explains why so many people in so many states of America apparently think it’s OK to chase us out of women’s toilets at gunpoint, or beat us up or rape us if they see us at the drive-in.
The basis of the so-called ‘restroom controversy’ is that trans women should be banned from the Ladies’ because they might present as female to facilitate assault, or pervy voyeurism, or both. Statistically, the ‘trans threat’ is almost completely hypothetical – unlike the very real threat of male restroom violence against all women, trans included. Anyway, how is this ban supposed to be enforced? Not all trans women are obviously trans women. So you can’t just ban people who look ‘like men dressed as women’. You won’t catch all the trans women that way; also, you will catch some women who aren’t trans. I have plenty of cis friends who sometimes get mistaken for men. (The term cis refers to people whose gender identity corresponds to the one they were identified as possessing at birth.) What then? Strip-searches outside every public toilet? But some of us have had surgery, so that wouldn’t do either. DNA tests? No, I give up, you’ll have to tell me: what is being proposed, if not a lynch-mob?
I was recently in the Ladies’ at Edinburgh Airport. There was a notice outside that said: ‘Be aware that male and female cleaners service both facilities.’ Inside, there were stickers on the walls that said: ‘Why is there a man in here?’ The stickers were not targeting the male cleaners. They were targeting me. But if it’s ‘men’ that are the problem, why not the cleaners? Call me old-fashioned, but I think public toilets should be safe spaces for anyone. Safe spaces for natal women only is a perfectly legitimate aim, too. If people want that, let them have it. But we can surely have it without harassing and humiliating people who just need a wee.