By Ada Osman
“A panel with 2 men and 2 men who identify as women is not 50/50.”
This is from a whatsapp group chat leaked by Buzzfeed.
It is the culmination of debate on how transwomen fit into feminist discussion, debates that have often been silenced due to the contentious nature of the topic. Saying that trans-women have or do benefit from male privilege is a dangerous point to make. But it’s a discussion worth having.
I once had a day walking around Birmingham with my friend. I’ve been to Birmingham before when my experience of presenting as a woman was limited to my Campus bubble. No one bats an eyelid when I wear heels to lectures. But a full face of makeup felt provocative outside my safe space.
When I walked around with my friend, she was approached by sexually aggressive men throughout the day. No one approaches me. No one feels that they have the right to enter my personal space and knowingly make me uncomfortable. Well they do, but it’s rare.
My experience of womanhood is very different from that of a cisgender woman and that much is clear. I won’t call it male privilege though. I have to wonder when the term male privilege is used to distinguish me from cisgender women, what we’re trying to achieve.
The perceived threat that trans ‘identifying’ men are going to make up half of any panel is unjustified. No one will deny that we make up a small percentage of the population and I wonder if this percentage is proportionate to any workforce.
It’s been reported that 300 members of the Labour party have resigned over the inclusion of transwomen in all women shortlists. The Labour party has not confirmed this number. It is an example of an argument I often hear. It is that anyone can wear a dress and pretend to be a woman. Now they are free to encroach on women only spaces such as bathrooms and enjoy all the male privilege their penises can provide.
Self-identifying is a word that comes up quite often. How do we really know you’re a transwoman? Is how I interpret it. I guess I’m supposed to think they’re really targeting all those men pretending to be transgender to get the special male privilege I enjoy.
Where is this legion of men dressing up to gain access to the Labour party? Where are these panels where transwomen are over-represented? I am yet to see where are transwomen over represented where cisgender women are being denied access.
I have to be careful at times. I wonder if I am intruding into women only spaces. When I was reprimanded by nightclub security in Leamington Spa for using the women’s toilet, I felt I had been mistreated. But when he said someone complained, I worried I had made another woman uncomfortable. And that was not something I had anticipated, partly because it was a student night at Smack. My friend who was present defended me, the bouncer threw his hands into the air and told me to use whichever toilet I like. I didn’t say anything because the truth is, when you look like me, a non passing black trans woman , you don’t talk to people who can assault you and get away with it. Another week I used the toilet I felt safe in and I was removed, this time the encounter was physical and unnecessary as I would have followed the security guard to a quiet place and make my point. Luckily another friend was there. He grabbed me, but spoke to her.
They had made it a policy that for a transgender person to use the toilet of their preferred gender they would have to supply documents to prove that they were legally the gender they identified as.
It’s strange for something so mundane like a toilet to be the centre of so much controversy. I wonder if I need a lawyer with me whenever I use the toilet.