“Trans women pose no threat to cis women”, you said.
[This was a letter to Rebecca Solnit, originally hosted on the platform Letter (soon closing). Rebecca declined the invitation to reply].
Letter 1 | Holly Lawford-Smith | 12th August 2020
I read your piece in The Guardian on Monday. Initially I didn’t think it would be relevant to me, given that you addressed it to ‘ladies who are fearful and hostile to trans women’, and I am neither. But there was so much in it that I disagreed with, that I ended up finding it relevant enough to want to write to you about it.
I thought it was interesting that you talked about transphobia exploding ‘in the American right and the British whatever’. I suppose it was too hard to say the British left, and admit for all to see that this is not, in fact, a left/right issue, but is a feminist issue, one about which there is heated, yet reasonable, disagreement.
You asserted very confidently in your piece that ‘trans women do not pose a threat to cis-gender women, and feminism is a subcategory of human rights advocacy, which means, sorry, you can’t be a feminist if you’re not for everyone’s human rights, notably other women’s rights’.
I’m not one of those feminists who thinks that feminism is for everybody; but that’s the least interesting of what there is to object to in your statement. More interesting is that you beg the question against your feminist opponents by assuming that transwomen are women, and that you make an empirical claim for which there is no evidence.
I agree that to be a feminist you must be for all women’s rights. But exactly what is at issue between yourself and many of those ‘people – many of whom are supposed to be feminists’ you are arguing with is whether ‘women’ are the class of female people, or the class of people who say they identify as women. If it’s the former, then to be for women’s rights does not require being for transwomen’s rights (although every radical feminist I know is for transwomen’s rights – their rights to be protected from harassment and discrimination as trans people).
In support of your claim that ‘trans women do not pose a threat to cis-gender women’ you offer up the statement that ‘the major threat to women, straight or not, cis- or not, always was and still is straight men and patriarchy’. This doesn’t exactly help you, though, given that a great many transwomen are straight (and I mean this in the traditional sense, relative to their actual sex, not the homophobic nonsense sense, relative to people’s ‘genders’ understood as gender identities). This means they’re still very much in the group that we know perpetrates male violence against women and girls.
You do seem to recognize the amount of male violence against women and girls that goes on all around the world, but you characterise that as the violence of ‘straight cis-gender men’. At least this actually supports your claim that transwomen pose no threat to women. (I’ll call the latter ‘women’ rather than ‘cis-gender women’, because I think most women are not comfortable with patriarchal expectations of femininity). But what’s your evidence for restricting the class of violent men to only those who are straight and ‘cis-gender’?
It seems to be a mere stipulation. I wonder what it would take for you realize it is unwarranted. Would some examples of transwomen’s violence against women help? There’s Karen White, the transwoman inmate housed in a woman’s prison who then sexually assaulted two inmates. There’s Kristoffer Johansson, the Swedish transwoman who went to jail for murdering and mutilating his girlfriend. There’s Evie Amati, the Australian transwoman who struck two people – one man and one woman – in the head with an axe. There’s Michael Williams, who raped and murdered a 13 year-old girl, and now identifies as a woman and is awaiting transfer to a women’s prison in Canada. There’s Ashley Winter, the New Zealand transwoman who tortured and murdered a 17 year-old girl. Those are just the examples that have made recent news headlines.
You mention that you’ve personally never heard of ‘an incident in which a trans woman or girl somehow caused unpleasantness in a women’s room’. Perhaps you didn’t read about Katie Dolatowski, the transwoman sex offender who sexually assaulted a ten year-old girl in a supermarket toilet in the UK. They put her into women-only accomodation after she was convicted, it will probably please you to hear. (It angers me.)
You say it’s a ‘sad waste of time to focus on imaginary maybe presumably it-could-theoretically-happen violence’. But these examples weren’t imaginary, they were real, they happened to real women and girls. Perhaps you’ll brush these examples away as rare exceptions. You did say, after all, that ‘every category is leaky and there are exceptions to every rule’. I’m just not sure why you think it’s men (whether they have gender identities or not) who deserve the benefit of the doubt here, when women’s safety is at issue.
You agree that there is male violence. You presumably agree that sex-segregated spaces are at least in some cases a good way to help reduce its prevalence. What I’d like to try to understand is why you feel justified in making an exception for any man who is willing to claim he identifies as a woman. Especially given that there is, in some cases, no difference between a man with a gender identity and a man without, except for that identity claim. (Both might present as male/masculine, both will have been socialised into masculinity since birth, both will have benefited from their maleness under patriarchy). (Here are three examples of such men).
I hope you will reply, and help me to understand where your confidence comes from. Dialogue has been difficult between our ‘sides’, maybe we can change that.