I'm glad that Murray talked about it being alright for men to express their "femininity" so they can be crossdressers and transvestites. I accept their right to express themselves in their own way. Grayson Perry is an amazing artist and he is perfectly happy with his body being the way it is but trans people on the whole cannot see beyond their body and feel they were born as the wrong sex. I have worn a vest since I was 12 because I cannot bear to look at my body when I can possibly help it, even though I am confident about my fashion sense and wear what I like. The fact that that Murray had to mention transvestites and crossdressers at the start of her article naturally provokes discussion; for example, is Murray inferring that trans women should not go ahead with transition because they can help feminists by "staying as they are" to challenge "the unpleasant rules required of conventional masculinity?" Or was she simply trying to come across as a compassionate person by showing she allows freedom of gender expression? I'm not sure.
Is every trans woman "socialised into the expectation of the masculine gender"...i.e. does every trans woman naturally expect to be able to progress at work in the same way as their male colleagues do because it's recognised by employers that they won't need to have access to paid maternity leave? Remember that employees may need to allow time off for Gender Reassignment Surgery for trans women and some employers may try and get trans employees to leave their position if their recovery time isn't going to be covered through them taking their annual leave even though such discrimination is against the Equality Act. Does every trans woman expect to avoid being catcalled in the street because those men realise they aren't real women? Non-binary people get catcalled, harassed in the streets for wearing non-gender conforming clothing or because they happen to look a certain way which plays into or against a stereotype of "naturally beautiful". Trans people do get catcalled too, even when we're wearing what is socially defined "gender normal" or even "gender neutral" clothing. There have been times when I've walked down the street and been called a "faggot", a "tart", a "whore", a "bitch", "butch", "c**t" and I've even been spat at whilst attending a dinner party with my parents. Do all these experiences happen because people are seeing me as female? No. The majority of insults and slurs may be related to everyday sexist socialised behaviours but not every insult or slur is based on my gender identity. I've had men touch my bum when I was dressed in just jeans and a long tee for no other reason than because they thought they had the right to touch me. I've had lesbian and gay friends that have been touched up inappropriately in nightclubs too. Sexual harassment shouldn't happen on our streets or in our nightclubs whatever the reason the perpetrator gives for doing it happens to be. And yes, I've seen women groping my female and gay male friends too for no other reason than "they wanted to" when they should have known they should have respected personal space boundaries. The key to combating sexual harassment and misogyny on the streets is to educate everyone to respect differences, regardless of gender. Yes I realise that sexual harassment disproportionately affects women but I believe it's wrong full stop. Same with sexual assault, same with domestic abuse and domestic violence (DVA) and the same with rape. Anyone can be a survivor of rape and oral rape (when a guy penetrates your mouth without consent) can be as rough and emotionally distressing as anal or vaginal rape, even if you can't get pregnant. Trans activists like myself are members of organisations that aim to reduce instances of DVA, rape and sexual assault in the UK and around the world. I've written about being part of GenderFreeDV which aims to improve DVA service access for all victims, regardless of gender identity. We recognise women are disproportionately survivors of DVA but we believe that male survivors, trans survivors and non-binary/gender-fluid survivors deserve to express their views RE the current level of service provision and legislation so as to ensure parity in how survivors are looked after in the UK. Being an intersectional feminist means understanding that we have to challenge orthodox thinking to make life better for everyone. This means being tough on women who perpetrate DVA towards male, female, trans and non-binary survivors and empathising with men who have been sexually assaulted by women. Nobody should be proud of a teacher who uses her position to lure a young boy into a sexual relationship. So you see, socialisation can work in a multitude of ways. Yes, hormones and surgery alone do not make a person a woman but sometimes our own perceptions can colour our judgement. If a trans woman calls herself a "real woman", are cis women denying their womanhood based on biological considerations or because they weren't "brought up to be a woman" as a result of their sex. Can trans women really help that? As I mentioned regularly in my blogposts on Trans issues, the key really is to show compassion and sympathy towards trans people and not treat them as if they do not know their own mind. If you're confident in your own identity that shouldn't be a problem.
Murray asserts that trans women can never be real women because they don't seem to fully understand the importance of sexual politics-i.e. the fight for parity of representation, pay and the fight against sexualisation of women's bodies, fashion stereotyping and reducing instances of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence and domestic abuse against women and girls. For me, Murray is explicitly implying that all trans women have never truly faced oppression or been underprivileged by virtue of their gender (aka sex) alone. As an intersectional feminist I see privilege as existing on many levels. It's not just about the privilege we have as a result of our gender/sex or even our gender identification/expression but the privilege or lack of privilege afforded to us as a result of our sexuality/sexual orientation, class, age, race, nationality, disability, religious expression/belief and even political ideology. See you can be privileged/oppressed in many different ways. White upper class men may appear to be the least oppressed and most privileged at first glance but does a student who has Down's syndrome who comes from an upper class home have as much privilege as an able bodied upper class man like Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative MP for North East Somerset who has far more accessibility to a platform to express and defend himself and his nationalistic views than a disabled student. Does a person with Down's syndrome from a upper class household have more privilege than a working class person with Down's? No doubt, especially if their family can pay for specialist help, private tutors etc.
In her quest to proffer an opinion on the "trans identity" debate, Murray does play into some stereotypical assumptions of trans women. This was evidenced in her handling of issues that matter to trans activists and intersectional feminists alike. Murray mentions the PACE Mental Health survey from 2014 but perhaps only as a way to make trans activists look foolish. The fact is that there are pre-op trans people in the UK who are contemplating suicide and have contemplated suicide because they feel they are unable to carry on living their lives the way they are doing. I want every 1 of the 27 young people identified in the PACE survey to not contemplate committing suicide because they would feel they are being listened to. I want them to be able to talk through their feelings and understanding they have valid options they can consider (which doesn't just include GRS) and I am glad that charities such as Mermaids and Stonewall exist to allow trans and non-binary/gender-fluid young people to do this despite the barrage of criticism they face on a weekly basis.
As an intersectional feminist, I understand the complex nature of "privilege" and that every trans woman has a different experience of how they "perform" their gender because everyone "performs" gender differently. Some believe that gender is as innate as sex and others believe that gender is a social construct. I don't think the answer really is either/or. The scientific evidence is not yet conclusive for that level of certainty and I'll gender identity as a mixture of innate feelings that are then socialised until I get proven definitively wrong that is!
I hope that assumptions about trans women will continue to be challenged openly not just by trans activists and equality organisations like Stonewall but by feminists too. Being trans and seeing yourself as a woman isn't going to erode the essence of womanhood or reduce the importance of progress that has been made by women generally. Intersectional feminists like myself want to work with everyone we can to help society to progress and our focus should be on projects like SRE, fighting FGM and challenging gender stereotypes perpetuated by society such as the idea that dresses are only for women to wear in public. Yes there are trans women who will remain conservative in their views on gender. But there are others, like me, Tara Hewitt, Paris Lees and Shon Faye who do want to challenge gender stereotypes and socialisation whilst accepting that trans women are women. A trans person can say "let people wear what they want" without reinforcing gender stereotypes.
Going back to Simone De Beauvoir whose work I looked at as part of my studies at York (I did an English essay which looked at Iris Murdoch's critique of gender and sex as demonstrated in novels such as The Bell, A Severed Head and The Italian Girl ) you realise that De Beauvoir didn't approve of oppression full stop: "All oppression creates a state of war" De Beauvoir proclaimed. That's certainly true in terms of rhetoric, stereotypes and policies shaped around gender. This blogpost does not contend that Murray is a transphobe. She's not calling for violence towards trans women (or trans people in general) or for an end to GRS on the NHS. Murray's not wanting to shut down trans activists or ask them to "go back into the closet". However, I still think it's better to recognise that trans people have the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of gender identity (or gender reassignment surgery as it current stands) in the same way as there is no right to discriminate on the basis of gender. This is enshrined in our Equality Act of 2010. The best way to go forward is to acknowledge that the debate on gender identity is not a "zero sum game".
So let's take an intersectional approach to gender identity and see it in context whilst engaging with feminist theorists and finding out about the history of social politics. Remember that we have more in common and try and encourage more trans women to get involved in the intersectional feminist movement than to try and exclude them altogether. As De Beauvoir also wrote: "One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the lives of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion."