Intersectional Feminism & The Fight for Transgender Women’s Rights

Giulia Castagnaro

Transgender women should have the right to access safe public restrooms the same way cisgender women do. However, there is still an ongoing debate on what bathroom they are supposed to use, with there being cases of staff members asking trans women to leave the women’s toilets.

In 2017, the UK government announced an inquiry into a reform that would allow trans people to legally declare that they want to live their lives as the gender they identify as. Opponents argued that if people legally have the right to self-identify, it will presumably increase the risk of men pretending to be women in order to access women’s spaces, such as women’s bathrooms.

Although violence against cisgender women at the hands of men is a very real problem, this transphobic claim which equates trans women to men in female disguises has been proven to be incorrect through several studies finding no link between trans-inclusive policies and the safety of women in public restrooms. It is actually quite the opposite; trans women are the ones who are at risk of violence. Several trans women have reported being sexually assaulted by cisgender women in women’s bathrooms. It is also even more dangerous for them to be forced to use men’s bathrooms where they could face additional violence.

Violence against trans women

Trans people are four times more likely to suffer violent attacks and assaults compared to cisgender people. A recent study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law found that one in four trans women were victims of a violent hate crime which they believed to be in relation to their gender, compared to one in ten cisgender women.

In 2021, a total of 375 trans people in the US were killed (that we know of), with reports referring to 2021 as the ‘deadliest year’ of violence against trans and gender-nonconforming people since records began. The majority of these victims were trans women of colour. With the added intersection of race, the life expectancy of trans women of colour lies at 35 years, less than half of that of cisgender women which is 74 years. Trans women have come forward with their experiences of violence, ranging from being verbally abused and called a variety of transphobic slurs to being victims of physical violence every time they try to use public toilets.

Besides the physical violence trans women experience, influential celebrities such as J.K. Rowling contribute to the misinformation and transphobia against all trans people. Rowling is a British author, known and beloved by many for her infamous Harry Potter book series. In September of 2020, the author published her latest book titled Troubled Blood, which is about a serial killer who lures his female victims ‘into a false sense of security by dressing up as a woman’.

While the novel could be regarded as simply a fictional crime story, taking into account Rowling’s transphobic tweets and statements made about trans women, many media outlets found the novel to be extremely transphobic and harmful towards trans people.

Although it is not a celebrity’s responsibility to act as a political activist, they have a certain privilege and power which can have serious effects on real-life matters. Rowling’s statements on trans people were quoted by a senator from Oklahoma while blocking the Equality Act, an LGBTQ+ civil rights bill. The Equality Act would ‘amend civil rights bills pertaining to employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, education, federal programs and credit’, by including gender identity and sexual orientation to their protected classes. Thus, demonstrating how a celebrity’s transphobia can influence laws regarding trans people, harming them in the process.

Transphobia within feminism

Whether or not trans women should be able to access the women’s bathroom is also often talked about within feminist discourses. While more feminist issues are being foregrounded in mainstream discussions around human rights, trans rights are often left out. There is still a lot of transphobia within the feminist movement, exemplified by TERFs, trans-exclusionary radical feminists. They promote a feminist ideology focused on biological sex, reducing womanhood to such, and using it as a way to exclude trans people, in particular trans women.

The experience of womanhood is not solely based on physical aspects such as body parts and trans women being women does not take away from cis women’s womanhood either. Therefore, this irrational notion that trans women are infiltrating a community they do not belong in only further divides feminist movements which were founded to serve all women, including trans people.

With there being substantial proof that trans women do not pose any sort of threat to cis women in public restrooms, it is high time to completely dismiss this transphobic belief and shift the focus on the safety of trans women in bathrooms instead, ensuring that their experience will be free of violence.

About the author: Giulia Castagnaro is a contributing Features writer with a Master’s degree in ‘Gender, Society and Representation’ and an interest in social and cultural politics, and healthcare.