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Solidarity for our sisters, not just our cisters

Why do women’s spaces need to welcome trans women? Because we all experience oppression under patriarchy. By Emily Hamann.

Today is the Transgender Day of Visibility, a day to celebrate trans and gender diverse people. I want to talk about how trans women relate to broader women’s spaces and organisations: how we find support and solidarity with other women, and how all women, trans and cis alike, benefit when trans women are included and visible in women’s movements.

Like all women, trans women are oppressed under patriarchy, and experience specific kinds of gendered violence and discrimination. This means it’s vital that women’s spaces and support networks not only include trans women, but also amplify our voices and experiences, making trans women and our needs visible within feminist movements.

Our feminism is stronger when it incorporates the diversity of women’s experiences. Solidarity between trans and cis women can only help all of us as we fight back against patriarchy.

Misogyny and transmisogyny

Our society is inescapably structured by misogyny, and all women feel its effects in their lives. Like cis women, trans women regularly face sexist discrimination, harassment, and violence — often specifically because we’re trans women.

We use the word transmisogyny to describe forms of gendered oppression that target trans women in particular. Importantly, transmisogyny is still misogyny, even though it can operate differently to the misogyny cis women face. Not all issues that affect cis women affect trans women in the same way, but it’s the same patriarchy that oppress us all.

Take reproductive rights, for example. Access to abortion is obviously an issue that directly involves cis women and not trans women. But trans women face other struggles related to reproductive autonomy: we’re often subject to what amounts to forced sterilisation as a requirement for legal recognition of our gender.

We can see here how the patriarchy seeks to control women’s reproductivity, and how this impacts both trans and cis women. The same applies to all other forms of misogyny: trans women aren’t always oppressed identically to cis women, but we are always oppressed under patriarchy.

Visible inclusion

Trying to survive and thrive as women living in a sexist society is not easy. But our strongest assets in this struggle are the support and solidarity of other women. Autonomous women’s spaces and organisations, run by women for women, provide us with the opportunity to connect, heal, and grow in an environment safe from misogynistic violence.

This can be particularly important for trans women. Most of us have had to fight and make sacrifices to live and be recognised as our true gender, so it means a lot when we’re actively accepted into women’s spaces.

Obviously, trans women are women just as much as cis women are. Like all women, we experience misogyny, and we have as much right to and need for these spaces as cis women. But the unfortunate reality is that often we’re not welcome there.

When we are welcomed into women’s spaces, though, it goes a long way. As trans women, we’re often hesitant to seek support for the misogyny and transmisogyny we face, since we’re so often excluded by transphobic misunderstandings of what it means to be women. So when we see women’s spaces, organisations, and services taking a clear stand with us, it lets us know that we can find the support we need there.

There are a few concrete steps women’s organisations can take to make this happen: having a clear, public policy on trans inclusion; listening to trans women on what our needs are; and making trans women visible within your space, as staff, spokespeople, and/or participants. When we see ourselves represented in your work, it reassures us of what we already know: that we’re all on the same side against patriarchal oppression.

Strength in solidarity

It’s not just trans women that benefit from our inclusion, though. Our presence in women’s spaces enriches them with new perspectives and new insights, strengthening us all in our struggle to end gender inequality. Cis and trans women’s best interests align; solidarity between us makes us better able to support all women and resist sexism.

The oppression of trans women and cis women are expressions of the same societal force of misogyny. So if we leave trans women out of our feminism, we can’t reckon with misogyny in all its forms, and all women, trans and cis, suffer. But when we listen to trans women’s experiences and let them inform our activism, we get the full picture of what we’re up against, and we can begin to tackle patriarchal oppression in its entirety.

It’s important to note here that getting this full picture also requires that we attend to all other marginalised women’s perspectives: women of colour and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, disabled women, sex workers, intersex women, and so on. In particular, sistergirls and other trans women of colour experience violence at disturbingly high rates. Supporting them should be a high priority for any movement committed to women’s liberation.

Women’s spaces are founded on the principle of solidarity between people living under the same form of oppression. Committing ourselves to solidarity with all women is the only way to truly live up to our ideals as feminists and give ourselves a fighting chance against patriarchy.

As trans women, we’re safer when cis women have our back. As feminists, we’re stronger when we embrace trans women in our struggle. Together, we can build movements that embrace the diversity of women’s experiences, and work towards a society where all women can live free of discrimination, violence, and harassment. United as women, trans and cis alike, we can do it.

Emily Hamann is a trans woman, student and activist, and a committee member at Ygender. She acknowledges the Wurundjeri people on whose land she lives and works. The image used for this article is from The Gender Spectrum Collection and was taken by  Zackary Drucker.

This article is part of our Lived Experience collection and the author was paid for her contribution. If you would like your story to be considered, please complete the consent form and submit your story via our online form.

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