Eight: the number of trans women who have been murdered in the United States only 3 months into the new year. All are women of colour, seven of which are black while the eighth is Indigenous. Trans women are under attack, and as many within the trans community know, this is nothing new. 27 trans women were murdered in the United States last year, and a staggering 48 trans women were murdered in Brazil is just the first month of 2016.
While having to learn to survive the violence of their day-to-day realities, trans women are denied even the smallest of basic human rights, such as using the bathroom. It is understandable why so many within the trans community and their allies have taken issue to the recent trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) comments made by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. TERF is an acronym which refers specifically to cisgender women who identify as “feminists” but base womanhood on things like genitals, sexual orientation and whether or not a woman identifies as cisgender.
In an appearance on Channel 4 News, when asked about trans women, Adichie stated, “So, when people ask, you know, ‘are trans women women,’ my feeling is, trans women are trans women.” In her refusal to simply state that trans women are in fact women, Adichie is perpetuating the harmful belief that trans women aren’t women simply because of how they were born. That somehow, because their lived experience may differ in some ways from that of cis women, that they aren’t “real women”.
This ideology is harmful because it ultimately leads to the violence that trans women are forced to endure at the hands of cis-gendered individuals. Trans activist Raquel Willis eloquently explained the issue with Adichie’s comments. In a series of tweets Willis wrote, “[Adichie] needs to take a lesson from herself on the danger of a single story because she’s just shown how dangerous cis-gender hegemony is. When you ostracize and devalue trans women and their womanhood, you are operating as a tool of the patriarchy.”
Transmisogyny is more than just misgendering trans women; much like racism, it can manifest in subtle, nuanced ways while the effects remain the same. Adichie’s comments play into the narrative that trans women are simply men who decided to change genders—this is the same narrative used to pass bathroom laws in the United States. Male privilege is often utilized by cis-gendered people to delegitimize the struggles of trans womanhood and argue absurdly that trans women have had life easier because at some point they were able to move through the world as a man. Gender Rights Activist and Canadian Federation of Students women’s representative Jade Peek disproves this:
“In a contemporary time we realize that despite the genitalia of a person, gender is expansive, fluid, and stretches beyond the binary construct of man and woman. This is the same binary that in fact created the divisiveness that put characteristics on both genders, creating the inequality, violence and cultural issues that women continue to fight today, and is the same binary that TERFs use to attack trans people. [TERFs] fail to recognize the intersections of culture and race, as well as mental health, social and economic capital, sexual assault, fetishization, exploitation, bullying and toxic masculinity, and the same type of mentality these exclusionary women excrete.”
Transphobia can happen anywhere and the exclusion of trans voices endangers progress. Carl Baxter, a trans-masculine student, discussed Trent’s relative success in uplifting these voices.
“I feel that Trent does a good job in including and acknowledging the voices of trans students on campus by doing things like having a Gender Commissioner and Queer Commissioner on the TCSA, having gender neutral bathrooms, and allowing changes to names on Blackboard and MyTrent even if the individual has not legally changed their name.”
Over the last few years Trent has taken the steps to make its Peterborough campus more inclusive for the trans community. While Baxter feels that there is still room for improvement, such as trans-specific supports, he wants Trent students to know that “trans students are just that—students. We are here to receive an education and have a positive four years. But we as students have different needs from cisgender students. This doesn’t mean we’re trying to impose on your spaces, it just means that we want equity in our institution. We are not asking you to understand our identity. Sometimes it’s hard for even us to understand it. But you don’t need to understand something to respect it, and that’s what we need from you. Respect our existence. Respect our needs.”
In a society where violence against the trans community is often normalized and ignored, questioning the validity of the womanhood of trans women is an act of violence. In the words of black queer transgender activist Raquel Willis, “If your feminism does not respect trans women in their full womanhood, it’s not truly intersectional.
If you don’t advocate for the liberation of trans people, you aren’t truly invested in equality. And if you don’t advocate on behalf of black trans women, then you aren’t truly invested in black liberation.”