I’m a few weeks behind on this, but I really just couldn’t let it pass without comment. It deserves comment, and it needs comment.
Recently, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, a group that provides rape crisis relief, counseling and shelter to battered women and their children, won a court case declaring the right for them to not hire a counselor because she is a trans woman (ads on page may be NSFW). Not only did they gloat the decision, they also decided to traipse onto Jessica Cooper’s article about trans rights which cited the case, defending their bigotry by using more bigoted excuses. Excerpts from the two comments, left by two different representatives of the organization, are below (full comments here).
…Ms Cooper’s assertion that because of the decision made by the Canadian courts in favor of Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter that “, my brothers, sisters and I can be kicked out of any public space, we can be fired simply for the crime of being ourselves, we can be evicted without recourse and we can be reviled, harassed and physically attacked merely for daring to use a public washroom” is untrue and inaccurate in terms of existing human rights law. While I can empathize with her frustration about society’s prejudices they are not the result of the case brought against us or our actions. The decision that came down meant that women’s groups such as Vancouver Rape Relief and indeed groups of transsexual and transgendered persons have the legal right to determine their own membership. In addition we believe it is important for raped and battered women to have the choice of a women-only peer group for support. Here is a more accurate description of the decision made in this case:
“The Human Rights Tribunal had previously ruled that Rape Relief’s decision to allow into the training program only women who had been born and raised as girls and women was rationally connected to Rape Relief’s work of counseling women victims of sexual assault and fighting male violence and women’s inequality. The Tribunal also held that that Rape Relief’s decision was made in good faith.”
I was very sorry to read of the prejudices and lack of rights Ms. Cooper and all transsexuals must endure. It was a brave and candid article. I greatly appreciate Ms. Cooper sharing her experiences in this way. I am concerned, however, that Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter was referred to out of context and I would like to offer readers another point of view.
Vancouver Rape Relief is an all-female space for women who have experienced male violence. This does not mean the organization is anti-men or anti-transsexual, it just fills a need for women seeking relief who feel they would heal best and are most comfortable in a women-only environment. Vancouver Rape Relief works with many other organizations and supports the objectives of shelters and crisis centres that do not have an all-female policy.
(All emphasis mine.)
I am so fucking sick and tired of “feminist” rhetoric being used to oppress certain women. I am sick of women actively oppressing women.
I am sick of white women oppressing women of color, straight women oppressing lesbian and bisexual women, rich women oppressing poor women, able-bodied women oppressing women with disabilities, young women oppressing older women or older women oppressing young women (as the case may be in particular circumstances), non-immigrant women oppressing immigrant women — and yes, as is most relevant in this context, cis women oppressing trans women.
And then doing it under the name of feminism.
Both writers above engage in the extremely unsubtle erasure of trans women’s gender. They are treated like a “third gender.” Not women — but not men either, look how enlightened they are! — just transsexual. By saying that excluding trans women is for the purpose of creating an all woman environment (and then using the “woman born” bullshit to do it), they are of course saying that trans women are not women. They don’t count.
I personally do support the right to maintain a woman-only space within the context of a rape crisis support group or domestic violence shelter — particularly with regards to the counselors. (I don’t, however, support a space where only male violence against women can be discussed — women who have been abused by women also need support and services.) Not all services are woman-only, I know, and that’s fine, but the fact remains that I would never want to receive post-rape counseling from a man.
The difference between my position though, and the position of Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter? That I believe all women are women regardless of trans history or lack there of. Because, you know, they are.
And while the case above was specifically about a woman seeking to become a counselor at VRR, I’m a lot more interested in those women who are going to seek services there and also be denied. Because VRR does not provide those services to trans women. And quite clearly, their excuse is right above — they’ve said that “female” does not include trans women under their world view, and that their space is “all-female.”
Do you understand? When women do not receive the crisis counseling they need, when survivors do not get the treatment they often need following rape or other violence, when those who have been abused by partners do not have access to shelters, women die.
They die. We know this. We all know this. It’s why we work so hard to keep shelters open and to keep rape crisis services funded. Because we know that when these services are not available, abuse continues, suffering is extended, and women die.
But it seems like too often, we only give a shit if it’s the right women dying — if it’s cisgender (white and straight with a middle-class upbringing) women like me. If it’s our transgender sisters, significantly fewer people seem to care.
Isn’t the point of feminism supposed to be that women’s lives matter? I mean, when you get down to it? We can say things like feminism is about combating male oppression, or ensuring the social equality of women, but why do we support these things? Because we believe that women and their lives mean something and deserve to be protected.
Indeed, that’s the argument abused used here. The bullshit excuse is that they want women to feel safe. Because apparently the emotional safety of prejudiced women who have been abused deserves more credence than the actual physical safety of other women who have been abused.
Why don’t we care as much about protecting the lives of some of the most vulnerable women? Why don’t we feel responsible when our “feminist” choices are costing the lives of women? Why?
I know the answer, of course. It’s transphobia, it’s trans misogyny, it’s cis supremacy.
It’s not hard to figure out, but it’s not any less fucked. A whole big chunk of the feminist movement is still prioritizing some women over others, and those getting prioritized are still not the most vulnerable. Privilege is still being abused and oppression still being enacted. And it’s still killing women. Killing women.
And those cis women/feminists/womanists among us who don’t want any part of it, who believe that the lives of all women matter equally, need to stand up and fucking say so.