One of the most common strategies used in the vitriolic toolbox of transphobic rhetoric is the assertion that trans women are “biologically male”, thus pose a risk to “real biological women” in women-only spaces. This argument is used on both sides of the political spectrum, from conservative columnists to trans exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) activists. Trans women are constantly met with attacks on our basic existence and sense of human dignity.
Though trans folks have been recently afforded basic human rights in federal and provincial law, we are still at the mercy of an overwhelmingly cisgender population who carry deep-seated beliefs that cisgender folks, those whose gender align with what they were assigned at birth, are inherently superior to transgender folks. This perception of superiority is at the very foundation of our cissexist society, which is largely built to accommodate exclusively cisgender people. As a result of this perception of cis supremacy, we are often characterized as strange, sick, perverted, dangerous, and pathetic.
The most recent use of this rhetoric was in a toxic hot mess of an op-ed written by Barbara Kay in the National Post. Kay conjures up a series of stereotypes and discriminatory myths to represent trans women as hysterical radical activists and dangerous sexual predators. She underscores her assertions with a liberal use of Orwellian language to make exaggerated comparisons between trans public figures and violent and oppressive totalitarian nation-states. (It’s also worth noting the story’s original headline was: ‘Transwomen deserve respect, but they aren’t women’ —which has since been changed to “Diluting the meaning of 'woman,' to appease transgender activists, is misogyny.’)
Trans women, Kay argues, are not women because of biology. She draws on the “biology is fact” argument which reduces human beings to our invisible chromosomes. Fun fact though, we most certainly are women and biological research is much more complicated than transphobes are willing to admit.
Moving beyond the basic dichotomy of sexed chromosomes found in high school textbooks, Julia Serano, writer and biologist, illustrates the “multifaceted, variable, and somewhat malleable” characteristics of human biology. Across the spectrum of male, female, and intersex sex bodies, there is a diverse and sometimes surprising variety of chromosomal combinations and sex characteristics. And because of the wonders of modern medicine, through procedures like gender confirmation surgery and hormone replacement therapy, we are able to alter our sex characteristics to better align with our gender identity, which complicates deterministic arguments of biological sex.
Science is a moving target, especially in relation to something as complicated and varied as human biology. Research is suggesting that the brain composition of trans folks are much more similar to their actual gender, not the one they were assigned at birth.
As reported by Claire Ainsworth in Nature, “Biologists may have been building a more nuanced view of sex, but society has yet to catch up”. Though science is expanding expert knowledge around biological sex, trans people are still pummeled with arguments that reduce our very personhood to the shape of our genitals.
The “biology is fact” argument is often paired with the discriminatory prediction that allowing trans women in women’s spaces, such as a restroom, will lead to a spike in sexual assaults.
Transphobes deal in moral panic, and they create elaborate mythologies to stoke fear among the cisgender population by inventing the “man in a dress” boogieman.
Despite these myths, a recent study from a research think tank based in the UCLA School of Law, suggests that there is no correlation between allowing transgender folks to use their appropriate washroom and spikes in violent crime. Though this study will likely be ignored by anti-trans bigots, it does help confirm to the cisgender population-at-large that we’re no different from anyone else using the washroom.
In fact, an earlier study published in 2013 from the same think tank, researchers confirmed that trans folks actually face increased discrimination and harassment in the restroom.
This is so real for trans women. Myself and just about every other trans person I know have at some point been afraid to use the public restroom. For many of us, a trip to the restroom is a panic-stricken rush in and out of the stall because you never know when you’re going to run into a Barbara Kay doppelganger ready to jump down your throat.
All this grief just to take a piss.
When anti-trans bigots try to spin a tall tale of the violent trans woman, they often cherry pick extreme cases in order to put forward gross exaggerations of violent crime. However, it doesn’t take an expert to realize that there are violent people in every societal category. You can’t tell me that because you can identify a story about one violent trans woman, all trans women should be considered a threat to public safety.
And honestly, I believe that most people are intelligent enough to recognize the smoke and mirrors at play in anti-trans rhetorical strategies.
Kay writes, “Radical transactivists, with the complicity of progressives earnestly attempting to support what they perceive as a vulnerable victim group, are guilty of the worst form of misogyny in their ruthless campaign to erase from our thoughts the human female body as a unique life form.”
But the reality is that trans women aren’t erasing cis women, we’re being erased as women. No trans person is publishing hot takes trying to undermine the basic human rights of cis women. All we’re doing is trying to navigate our everyday lives within a public that can be incredibly hostile to our very existence.
Trans women belong in women’s spaces like any other woman. And if you got a problem with that you can bring it up with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
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