Here’s an article from The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman, on the subject of Chimamander’s comments on trans women. I’m yet to actually address what Chimamander said properly, though if you keep an eye on my twitter at all, you probably saw my brief skim of it. My general criticism is with the nebulous idea of male privilege and how and when you apply it to people. And of course, all of the negative societal aspects to being born male and whether they invalidate the idea of it or not.
I’ll get on that post eventually, I just quickly wanted to write this one. Its a sort of response to a response I suppose. Freeman argues that there are real ethical issues to be dealt with when discussing the impact of saying trans women are real women. I disagree, the complaints that people have, often women but most definitely not always, aren’t founded in any reality.
The first example she uses is sports, where you’d think – yeah you’re right, males and females ARE different biologically, so this is a problem! Though this presupposes that there are very distinctive and separate boxes of which male and female both neatly fit into. This isn’t really true though, putting aside intersex conditions and trans women for a second, the variance within cis people is huge. Anecdotally; my dad is about 5’8″ and my partner’s mum is about 6’1″ – I guarantee that my 26 year old sister could beat my 20 year old brother in an arm wrestle or fight.
Less anecdotally; this isn’t unusual, Serena Williams, a British tennis player, is often ripped on for having a “masculine” body. As are countless other female athletes. Its easy to sit here and think “yeah all women have wide hips, are 5’2″, have tits and significantly less strength because of biological reasons” if we’re speaking about the average, but objectively and absolutely? Not so much.
In fact, most every single “biological difference” is entirely controlled by hormones. Obviously, the later in life that you take hormones, the less effective they become. You can’t turn back time, you can only try to fix the damage it has done. This means that late transitioners, in their 30s for example, might have an advantage over the average biological woman. However since more and more trans people are able to gain access to treatments for dysphoria sooner, we’re not going to be seeing that happen so often. Instead we’re going to be seeing more trans women like Kim Petras:
Freeman then goes on to talk about prisons, and uses the example of Ian Huntley’s recent request to move to a women’s prison as he has come out as trans. Though this story is suspect and other inmates have said that he’s admitted he’s just faking it. So yeah, obviously this is incomparable to the other example used, Chelsea Manning. Importantly, the problem with Manning wasn’t just that she was trans, its that she was being tortured. She was reportedly thrown into isolation, a very common form of torture in the prison system that is completely unregulated and inhumane, for doing very little to deserve it. One story I remember was that she left the lid off her toothpaste or something to that effect and got put in isolation for it. You really can’t discuss these two things as if they are the same thing, that’s massively disingenuous.
As for whether or not Ian should be moved? I think not, but I massively disagree with the reasons that Freeman gives. Her reasoning is that “people with a history of harming women and girls shouldn’t be allowed in women’s prisons”. Again, up front you’re like “yeah that makes sense”. However, not really – because some of those people are women too. Not even trans women, cis women hurt women sometimes. Domestic violence statistics show that DV is highest amongst bisexual women and lesbian couples.
I guess I kinda accidentally became a trans activist, and by no means do I deny there are differences between trans women and non-trans women. There absolutely are, but there are countless differences between the women within the non-trans women category as well. Freeman’s finishing sentence of not “reducing women to manicures and menstruation” would be great if she wasn’t doing the exact same thing with that sentence. Not all women menstruate – some women are born with complications that prevent it, experience some kind of trauma which stops it or even just got old and went menopausal.
I totally understand the desire to draw a line in the sand here and call it the real woman line. I just think, from my arguments with radical feminists on Twitter, that there’s no way to draw the line to put trans women in a different box that doesn’t inherently exclude other women that they don’t want to exclude. I’m happy to hear where you think we should draw it though. Hit me up.