GUEST POST: Excluding Transgender People Doesn’t Make Anything Safer For Anybody

Content note: this piece contains descriptions of transmisogyny, homophobic bullying and sexual assault.

Recently I read an article in the New Statesman in which the writer recounted her experience of rape, and the subsequent lack of empathy and care she experienced from the men around her. My heart sank as I read this all too familiar story. I felt a surge of empathy with the woman, as well as anger on her behalf.

And then my heart sank even further, and the anger I had felt in solidarity with this woman turned towards her, as she made the argument that, having felt safer and more able to recover from her ordeal in “female only” spaces (implication: spaces that do not admit transgender women on the basis of their gender assigned at birth), there was a reasonable debate to be had about the exclusion of transgender women from such spaces. While I respect the right of anyone who has been assaulted to a space in which they feel secure, I find myself once again faced with this implication that the exclusion of transgender women from a space somehow makes it safer for cisgender women.

Let me be clear: the majority of sexual assaults are carried out by cisgender men, but there are sexually abusive people of all genders. That includes cisgender women.

I’d like to tell you a story from my past. It is not a story of rape; it wasn’t even something I always thought of as sexual assault. I believed, you see, that only men could be sexually abusive. I also believed it could only be sexual assault if the assaulter was attracted to the victim.

At 14, I was an awkward misfit who was bullied constantly. My tormentors were almost always female. I didn’t know, then, that words used to humiliate me (“Lezzer!” “Queer!” “Dyke!”) would one day be labels I’d wear proudly. I just knew that I didn’t fit in, that I was reviled by most of my classmates. The most dangerous time for kids like me was P.E. The changing rooms were always unsupervised: (Why not? We were all girls together: there could be no danger of hassle from boys.) As such, it was common knowledge that one of us unpopular girls would be kicked, punched and mocked by the bullies while trying to change into her gym kit. We never knew who was next. On this occasion, it was me. I got into the gym already bruised, aching and with the knowledge that worse was to come. The changing room torture was always the warm-up act.

As our teacher had us warm up, several girls leaned over to kick or slap me as I stretched, letting me know I was no safer here than in the changing room. I don’t know what that teacher saw, whether she assumed it was nothing more than a mild tiff, just something minor between girls. I don’t know if she heard the stage whispers (“Lezzer!” “Dyke!” “Queer!”) as they echoed around the hall. Perhaps fear of reprisals under Section 28 stopped her. Perhaps her own sexual orientation was on her mind and she feared that taking a stand might lead to trouble. I do know that she watched as a group of five girls dragged me onto the mats in the corner and began simulating sex with me. I was straddled and groped, my face was licked. The ringleader groaned in mock pleasure to whoops and laughter from her gang. I do know it was loud.

I don’t know how I managed to push her off me. I think panic mixed with incredulity and fury that no help was coming gave me an adrenaline boost. I don’t remember what happened next but I am informed I scaled the climbing bars with a speed nobody had ever seen from my timid, uncoordinated self. I remember becoming aware that I was now around 15 feet off the ground and that the whole class was staring at me. And that I was screaming.

Later, in her office, the head of year told me she was really sorry the “teasing” had been allowed to go too far, but these “spats” between girls really had to stop. I remember the phrase “It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other” being used. I didn’t know how to say I had been assaulted, and the assault was of a homophobic and sexual nature. I didn’t know. The girls in question never faced any reprisals for what they did to me, but they left me alone after that.

I’ve told this story before, as a funny anecdote. The day I defeated the bullies by acting “crazy” so they never bothered me again. The day I scared my poor teacher to death because what she thought was a suicide threat was me, the adrenaline rush gone, trying to work out how the hell I was supposed to get down. I minimised and repressed the reason I got up there in the first place for years.

Because “cisgender women don’t sexually assault other women.”

Because “cisgender women don’t stand by and watch another woman be assaulted”

What happened to me could not really have happened because it happened in a space everyone in authority presumed to be safe.

Had I been given the opportunity to recover in a “safe space”, who should have been excluded to preserve that safety? Cisgender men? They hadn’t done anything to me. Cisgender women? That would have kept me out. Should my attackers and their enablers been allowed access to me on the grounds that their sex organs were like my sex organs? Should transgensder men (and non-binary gender people assigned female at birth) have been excluded on the grounds that their sex organs were like those of my attackers?  If I had consciously known any transgender people then, I suspect we’d have had plenty in common. They’d certainly have been more likely to empathise with the constant threat of abuse I lived under than anyone around me at the time: transgender people, especially trans women, live with constant risk of assault. Perhaps we would have been able to support each other by finding our common ground.

It’s not the presence of people assigned male at birth that makes a space unsafe, it’s imbalance and abuse of power, and tolerance, or lack of recognition, of that abuse. Transgender people do not wield that kind of power over cisgender people. In fact, the reverse is true. This is not a “six of one, half a dozen of the other” argument. The power imbalance here is immense, and it’s weighted in favour of the group doing the excluding. The exclusion of transgender people by cisgender people from refuges, hostels and other “safe spaces”, from our communities, our support networks and our families is an abuse of our privilege and power. It perpetuates the abuse those places should help protect us all from.

Sarah Thomasin is a poet and sex educator from Sheffield.

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63 Responses to GUEST POST: Excluding Transgender People Doesn’t Make Anything Safer For Anybody

  1. I loved your article ive only recently been posting and commenting about articles that effect my com unity, good to see others have the interest too.

  2. Micki Allen says:

    This article has me spinning for myriad reasons. As a survivor of sexual assault, I take great offense at the suggestion that you might actually chastise me for my need to withdraw to a “safe space” — whatever form that may take — and turn it into a political argument based on your own assumptions of why a victim chooses the conditions under which they recover from their traumatic event. There is no room for debate when violence against another human takes place. There is zero privilege for any victim in cases of sexual assault or abuse, regardless of one’s gender identification; there should be 100% support for the victim to recover in whatever mode they decide is best for them. Otherwise, we only end up victimizing the victim all over again.

    That said, I wholeheartedly agree that excluding transgender persons from traditional spaces of recovery (refuges, safe houses, etc.) is abhorrent. It just so happens that after my assault, I took refuge in the company of my friends in the LGBTI community (although we hadn’t yet acquired that label because I’m from the old school of GLT). Without their love and support, I’d be an even hotter mess than I am today. My recovery required spacial withdrawal from “straight men.” My own healing process began with association of only cisgender female and lesbian friends for a time. I had been assaulted with a penis, so spending time with anyone with said appendage was off limits as far as I was concerned. And a hearty “piss off” to anyone who disagreed. Had I been assaulted with a flashlight, surely no one would have been ludicrous enough to suggest I carry one around, regardless of how useful or innocuous it might have been.

    I agree with you on another point — in hindsight, I believe it was precisely the communities’ personal experience (of constant threat of abuse) that allowed them to be so compassionate and supportive of my situation. It took a bit of time, but eventually I warmed again to my gay friends (the ones with penises, yup) and could finally enjoy the company of people in general, regardless of gender identity.

    TLTR: From one survivor to another, please, back off the victim. Your anger at the victim is grossly misplaced. Continue to educate and influence those who are willfully hateful and ignorant.

  3. KamiKanten says:

    This is what porn does to people.We start seeing others as objects that can be used for pleasure.And we “take” those objects and we use those people because we miss to see the humanity in them.

  4. tabbyrenelle says:

    Hi, I am writing to you about one of your commentators…
    Curiosetta is a known troll on sites regarding abuse towards women. This person looks for female victims of abuse and rape to purposefully counter and attack. They justify why women get abused and defend men and boys. Curiosetta has made bigoted statements against women of color, feminists, single mothers, and the LGBTQ people. I don’t view transgender women as any less of a female and so regard your personal safety as important to my own. Men and women should not be abused by Curiosetta and I felt obligated to let you know. For all those who stand up to bullies and abuse on this site in your comment section, RED FLAG: Curiosetta is part of rape culture and is not sincere in support or compassion.

    Peace and love to you. You deserve a safe and supportive life.
    –TRE

  5. jennifer c mccarthy says:

    After anybody, anybody is raped, they should be entitled to the care and support of whomever the want and need and the exclusion of who.ever they want and need for any reason they want. A traumatized victim of rape should never ever be forced to put politics before his or her process of recovering from such a devastating wound. As someone who was victimized by a Trans woman myself, I argue that whomever I choose to surround myself with for whatever reasons after an act of physical brutality is much different than refusing to urinate in a stall next to the same individual.

  6. jennifer c mccarthy says:

    And after being raped a woman should consider someone else? are you out of your mind??? You all are absolutely nuts.

  7. jennifer c mccarthy says:

    How can you even use the words raped and privileged in the same sentence. What an outrage.

  8. Reblogged this on Librarian to be. . . and commented:
    Yep.
    Trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault and abuse.

  9. scrow72 says:

    Reblogged this on scrow72 and commented:
    I don’t know about anyone else, but that is the truth. I am disabled and have limited access to many things. But not limited to being labeled with well many things that are not the truth of who I am. I just wish more people could be tolerant. Family is almost always the least tolerant of difference. I am only completely trusting of one, my service dog.

  10. eileengriffin77 says:

    Reblogged this on eileengriffin.

  11. I feel ur story. On a positive note i have noticed a helluva lot more queerish ones breaking into the entertainment industry. Ur young followers have many solid role models….even if there will always b abusive retards in the world

  12. louiscnel says:

    Well done for blogging this, however painful the memory. You described it in detail this time without using a defence mechanism by ‘making it funny’ (something we all do when trying to protect our dignity and integrity) and in doing so you will no doubt empower other people who have faced similar abuse to come forward and speak up candidly and openly.
    There are numerous support groups and websites online by just searching ‘transgender support’ for advice and an opportunity to feel included.

  13. I LOVE how you approach this. Because I had to look up what label I fell under “cisgender,” it totally changed the conversation for me. It And that you exposed this common cliche BS: “Because “cisgender women don’t sexually assault other women.” I recall it didn’t take too much to get ganged up on by the “popular” cisgender women in junior high. All it took was standing up for those who were “different. And I too had that feeling that our very, wonderfully dyky gym teacher didn’t do anything because it was a precarious place for her to be in when those girls rolled around unkind and unjust rumors bc of her (assumed) orientation. Thank you for bringing all this to light and giving me an opportunity to think about this.

  14. FollowSpice says:

    Reblogged this on My Spice Dish.

  15. creamy725 says:

    Reblogged this on My Blog.

  16. Interested in following you

  17. orchest says:

    Reblogged this on orchest.

  18. pedsgalgana says:

    Reblogged this on pedsgalgana and commented:
    Equality please?

  19. Reblogged this on survivorseyez and commented:
    Bullying is absolutely wrong, no matter the age, race, or gender….. we must teach our youth and in some cases our adults that this must be stopped, people are dying everyday because someone didn’t stop to think about the impact and the use of abusive words and physical altercations

  20. 1dollardigitizingcom says:

    Nice article

  21. curiosetta says:

    It’s natural to want to be only with people of your own gender at certain times and in certain circumstances. But the implication that same gender = automatic protection and safety (and vice versa) is kind of offensive and silly.

    Lesbians have some of the highest rates of domestic violence…. but we’re not supposed to ever discuss this because it goes against the prevailing ‘domestic violence is done by men’ narrative promoted by feminism.

    And in any case how are ‘female only’ spaces protected? Who would we call if one was invaded by a man who refused to leave? Who would we call if a fire broke out or if someone had a heart attack or epileptic fit?

    Surely not ….. men?

  22. THE DAY DREAMER says:

    Reblogged this on THE THOUGHT MACHINE and commented:
    It touches the heart.

  23. Reblogged this on Rijon's Blog and commented:
    This is a powerful post. I’m sure it will give lots of cis people pause.

  24. What an amazing article. My child is trans/genderqueer/agender (born female) and I know they will appreciate and empathize with your story – you are an inspiration!

  25. oddlyupbeat says:

    I love that somebody has finally said that the abuse and imbalance of power is something abused by all people, not just men. Men can be victims just like women, men can be abusers just like women.

    I’m sorry about what you went through, I went through something similar in high school.

    You’re seriously a perfect example of a good feminist, equal rights for all!

  26. Malyaj says:

    Reblogged this on Rookie Blogger and commented:
    Reblogged

  27. Fantastic article!

  28. clancym1@msn.com says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and story. I was never bullied as a kid but was as an adult — by another woman. I don’t so much blame the bully now as I do the other folks — women — who knew about it and let it continue. That’s what I thought about when reading of your p.e. teacher.

  29. I read the same article with distaste. Rather than acknowledging that the offender was a sexual predator, the article focuses on the fact that he claimed to be transgendered, insisting that BillC-29 will put women(i.e., those born with female genitalia) at risk. My own feeling is that forcing a transgendered individual to use the bathroom of their birth gender not only denies their gender identity, but puts them at risk.

  30. When we start to treat people how we would want to be treated the world will be a much better place. Anyone of us could have found ourselves in this position or our kids and yet people can be so brutal. At the end of the day we are all human beings….Sigh

  31. This post is so inspiring, so true and makes you think. I love it! I’m sorry for what you had to go through but hopefully this brings out this issue and educates people who do not know.

  32. emmita33 says:

    thank you for sharing your experience! well written and necessary to share, talk about and have in the open!

  33. David says:

    They probably feel safer because no matter how badly they want to be there is no such thing as transgender, just body and mind mutilation.

  34. Motocross42 says:

    FOLLOW MY BLOG!!!

  35. adhi234 says:

    Reblogged this on adhi234.

  36. bianca101 says:

    Reblogged this on Bianca.

  37. First off, I’m so sorry for what you had to go through in high school. What those girls did to you is unforgivable and I hope they come to realize and regret what they’ve done. Second, I’ve been given some food for thought today. I had no idea transgender women faced that sort of discrimination, nor did I ever think that it was a continuation of abuse of power. I’ll have to think about that for awhile.

  38. itsjustlittleoldme says:

    A very thought provoking post..
    It’s a shame that still, in 2015, there are still people excluding others because of their gender, sexuality, race, etc.
    I feel for the woman who was raped, of course I do, but she has excluded someone who could have been through a similar ordeal because they were not born a female.
    Being male isn’t an instant threat, nor female, nor transgender people. Being an aggressive, intimidating individual is what makes you a threat, even if this is hidden under a blanket of niceties.

    Wonderful post.
    C.x

  39. jhorel freeborn says:

    Reblogged this on Jhorel's Blog.

  40. What a really fantastic feMENist article. You do people like Dana McCallum, Allison Woolbert, and Colleen Francis Proud.

    I wish that raped women would get it through their privileged cis-minds that simply “identifying” as a woman erases all material reality and socialization so being uncomfortable around male-bodied people after experiencing rape without considering the inner feelings of every man is actually just blind hatred. #notallmen

    We all know that feeling “safe” means being around people who share our love of societal-enforced gender norms like LadyFace and Shaving and that it has nothing to do with being away from men, who we identify with our eyeballs, who are actually responsible for the systemic violence (sometimes referred to as “male violence” for some wacky reason) that make safe space necessary in the first place.

    I do find your experience of being bullied by some girls in grammar school as a way to challenge the necessity of sex-segregated safe spaces for women as problematic though because using the logic of Women Can Be Real Cunts Too opens us up to the idea that trans women should feel just as safe in male spaces. It’s important to remember that even though trans women have every right to only feel safe in female space,away from the men who don’t share their specific experience and inner feelings, actual women are not allowed to feel the same way Because Reasons.

    We all know stuff like this:

    https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/sexual-predator-jailed-after-claiming-to-be-transgender-in-order-to-assault

    never happens but when it does it’s bigoted to talk about it.

    So shhhhh.

  41. Lyndsay says:

    Yes! Yes! Yes! This so so much. I read the same article and took to Twitter. Trans women are women, thus excluding them from women only spaces is ignoring not only them as women, but also their own needs for these important spaces. Ugh. Sharing!

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