First of all: Yes. It’s my conviction that trans women are women. Now for the difficult part.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the issue over the course of the past few weeks, ever since you know who wrote her essay. I read a lot of comments, from different angles, with different viewpoints, and one thing became very clear to me. Ovaries or no ovaries isn’t the point. Neither is menstruating or not menstruating (also, trans women can experience period symptoms, trust me or Google it). I don’t feel particularly defined by either my ovaries or my periods, and I know quite a few cis girls who’d be more than happy to get rid of both. It’s not about body parts or life decisions or society’s expectations of what a woman should be. No, what it all somehow seems to boil down to is… the bathroom question, of all things.
Hear me out.
I don’t have the slightest wish to belittle or negate any woman’s traumatic experiences of sexual assault.
When I was still living in Vienna, I spent a few years working for an international NGO. We had loads of activists and volunteers at the office. One of them was a trans woman. She was a sweet, very shy person, who spoke softly and pretty much radiated insecurity. She was also quite a bit over six feet tall, with a good set of muscles and broad shoulders. The reason I’m mentioning her is that, yes, an appearance like hers in a confined space might at first glance trigger a traumatized cis woman. Imagine yourself bowed over the basin, washing your hands, and the door opens and you don’t really look up, because why would you, and suddenly, in your peripheral vision, there’s a broad, towering shape. Of course you get a shock. Because it might be a man. Because the trauma is there, and refuses to go away, and no amount of deep breathing will calm down your frantic heart.
Trans women are not the enemy. There’s a big gap between the myths and the realities of sexual assault, and one of the biggest is the gap between how many times you’ll hear the tale that men dress up as women to assault women in bathrooms, and how many times that has really happened. I don’t know why the myth persists, maybe some sort of misguided Little Red Riding Hood species memory, but we don’t “open the door to any and all men” if we allow trans women in. Men don’t habitually dress up in order to rape someone. Why not? Because they don’t need to. Repeat that, maybe more slowly, so that it gets a chance to sink in. They. Don’t. Need. To.
The real enemy are predatory men. And they are an enemy cis and trans women have in common. Because trans women are women and they, too, carry their burden of traumatic experiences of sexual assault.
What the stupid bathroom discussion really does is, it pits two vulnerable groups against each other, when what we really should do is protect one another.
EDIT: A badger pointed out to me that I really made a mess of trying to be helpful. I didn’t mean to say that a masculine shape was a general trans thing – I know there are petite trans women out there, I actually have one in the family, and as a broad-shouldered woman myself I know that a cis woman can throw a masculine shadow. Thing is, it’s the masculine shape that triggers trauma, and I was trying to address cis women’s fears with this blog post more than anything else. Sorry if I effed up.