International women’s day and trans women

March 8 is International Women’s Day, and while that sounds like such a positive woman-celebrating idea, there’s just one problem: how do trans women fit into this?

The F-word recently highlighted this problem with a particular women-only march (Million Women Rise) they’re having in London on the day:

The march has been publicized widely with flyers, and on feminist mailing lists and blogs, but conspicuously absent from the publicity has been any reference to the welcome that might be expected by trans women on this “women only” march.

After some correspondence, F-word did manage to get a nice answer affirming that anyone who self-identifies as a woman and wants to end male violence against women is welcome to march. But:

However despite our repeated requests, there has been no response about whether they intend to change the website to make this clear, and the posts about this on the facebook page have got evasive responses. For some reason, the organisers don’t seem to want to address this issue face on, and I’m not quite sure why.

Could it be that they’re worried many cisgender women won’t show up if they hear there are going to be trans women there, too? That they don’t want to scare off the transphobics, who are probably (sadly) a much bigger demographic than the trans women who’d like to come to the march? I hate to say it, but I think this is likely. F-Word points out that some smaller marches have explicitly stated that trans women are welcome:

Bristol Reclaim the Night, as just one recent example, has made trans-inclusion explicit in their publicity. But more of them need to do better, and the worst offenders seem to be the highest profile.

This is a typical pattern. The lower profile groups who have less to lose test the waters first, and all goes well. Then the higher profile groups who have more to lose finally get on board. My problem is: every damn time this pattern occurs, the results are the same. People who are prejudiced always end up going with the flow, because that’s how they ended up prejudiced in the first place: not thinking for themselves. I’m not saying all bigotry is this easy to solve – we’re talking about a few marches one day out of the year. But I do think the problem of opening your business/organization doors to That Kind is usually not as high a risk as people imagine.

In any case, we as women – whether we’re organizing marches or thinking about marching in them – need to make it clear where we stand. We may have all sorts of questions and opinions about what really makes a person a woman or man, or indeed if those assignations even mean anything. But all we’re talking about here is simply who is welcome where. If you consider and represent yourself as a woman, you should be welcome wherever women are welcome.


  1. says

    If you consider and represent yourself as a woman, you should be welcome wherever women are welcome.

    That’s a given – but do you have the right to expect an invitation? There were sizeable Iranian and Turkish groups a the march, as well as a contingent from Women In Black (an anti-war organisation). Being Israeli, I was genuinely worried about whether my presence would elicit a reaction on political grounds. But I recognised that lack of specific invitation doesn’t equal rejection, so I went anyway. As far as I’m aware everything went smoothly and there were no incidents involving trans women (if there were any there, which to the best of my knowledge nobody was policing).

    Kudos to BFN for making their Reclaim The Night event trans-inclusive, but they didn’t send any representation to the Million Women Rise march, and my question about that on their Facebook page (since I was travelling from a similar part of the country) was met with deafening silence, so I’m not sure they’re entirely free from internecine political biases themselves.

  2. JMS says

    To be honest, if I were organizing an event for women, it would not occur to me to make it explicit that women who were formerly assigned a male gender were welcome, because I would just take that so for granted.

    So thank you for bringing the issue up. Since there are women-only spaces that have discriminated against women on the basis of their former gender-identity assignment and/or phenotype, it’s certainly important for people organizing events for women to be explicit that those are for all women.

  3. says

    MarinaS, I would say that no one is questioning whether cis-gender Iranian or Turkish women are, in fact, women. The situation is completely different for someone who’s transgender, as they aren’t included in everybody’s definition of “women.” Even feminists – as JMS points out – have been known to virulently exclude transgender women from their safe spaces, so how can transgender women not feel like invaders unless they’ve gotten an explicit invitation?

  4. says

    Jennifer, you’re incorrectly conflating the rejection with the exclusion. We can’t make windows into feminists’ hearts – if they want to remain internally unconvinced that trans women are “real” women, well, there’s nothing we can do about it other than call them names, I guess. If they want to harrass, attack, exclude or in any other way take action against trans women, on the other hand, well, we can work to stop them being able to do that and to make spaces as safe and inclusive as possible for all.

    I doesn’t necessarily follow that action mimics thought here – whatever private reservations some cis feminists may have on the topic, I have yet to personally witness any exclusion or harrassement of trans feminists of either gender. It is unreasonable to deny any event the label of inclusive unless every participant signs and affidavit stating that they personally welcome trans women to the table. Quite apart from being Stalinist, it’d be divisive unless you made the list impractically long, including on it not only trans women but disabled women, black women, poor women, foreign women, rich women, white middle class women, old women, young women, feminine owmne, gender queer women, straight women, gay women, bi women… It’s a beurocratic parody of intersectionality, and a stupid reason to not support an event like MWR.

  5. says

    MarinaS, I don’t think we’re quite communicating, though I’m having trouble pinning down the disconnect. I am calling on my fellow cis feminist women to state where they stand on the topic of transwomen being “real” women or at least being welcome in safe spaces for women. I disagree with how the event organizers handled the question. If that reminds you of Stalin, you really need to grab a history book and read.

    You are conflating women who have been treated like they don’t count with people who have been treated like they aren’t women. These are two very different problems of equal importance rather than the same problem.

  6. says

    I think where we’re not communicating is that you think I’m mounting a wide opposition to your entire argument, where in fact what I object to is the way you called out BFN as the “good” counterpoint to MWR’s “bad” behaviour. BFN didn’t send anyone to an event that protested violence against ALL women in the nation’s capital because of what they (as well as you) perceive as MWR’s equivocal approach to making trans women feel welcome (and despite the fact that they have not made them feel UNwelcome in any overt way). That’s narrow to the point of fanaticism, which is why I called it Stalinist. I also think it sucks, because it sends the message that feminists are so precious that if all of their ideological demands are not met in every situation, they’re prepared to throw the baby out with the bath water. That pisses me off. All I’m saying is let’s be balanced here – not expressly opening the invite to trans women might have been a questionable decision, but boycotting an anti-violence march because of that, and writing blog posts about how that was the more ethical thing to have done, is one step in retaliation too far. Well, several steps, actually.

  7. says

    Who the fuck called to boycott anything? Who the fuck said BRM was good and MWR was bad? You need to read the article, this time without a whole lot of assumptions clouding your understanding of it. But I will summarize:

    I’m calling on feminists to clarify their positions regarding transwomen. I think we should; that’s all I’m saying. I know some online feminists have expressed some hostile opinions about transwomen, leaving transwomen to wonder which websites they can consider safe spaces for themselves. I chose borrowed MWR as an example from F-word because if MWR is worried that by explicitly inviting trans women they will scare off cis women, I’m afraid that strikes me as a legitimate worry. Bristol doesn’t have this concern to the same degree – they can afford to chance that inviting trans women will increase their numbers overall.

    Okay? No mention of boycotting. No judgments. But if you are determined to read this as calling for a boycott or whatever it is you imagine you’re reading, I can’t clarify any further for you because you’re not serious about understanding what’s being said.

  8. Rebecca says

    Marina, your position is absurd. . .it’s as if you think trans women are looking for everyone to love us or something (or ELSE!!!). Hardly. Actually, I would like to simply not be formally excluded and oppressed. I’d say, contrary to your claims, that the majority of women’s-only spaces, in fact, DO have a formal and explicit policy saying trans women should not attend. For example, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, the largest annual women-only gathering in the United States, officially does not allow trans women to attend. I think the fact that you are not personally targeted by this discrimination has allowed you to remain unaware of its existence, Marina. And this isn’t even getting into the fact of how anti-trans-women feminists made sure to exclude trans women when they set up domestic violence shelters and rape crisis center in the 1970s (this has only begun to change over the past twenty years or so, and many women’s social services STILL formally exclude trans women, thanks again to anti-trans feminists.) Feminists were also responsible for the fact that the United States government stopped providing transition-related medical care to low-income trans women, care that had previously been covered as part of the national low-income health insurance, Medicaid. I am using mainly US examples because I live in the US and am more familiar with the political climate here, but I have British trans friends who will tell you that similar exclusionary practices also happen in Britain. So actually, trans women’s desire to not be discriminated against has nothing to do with Stalinism and everything to do with trans women wishing feminists would stop fucking us over and allow us to be equal participants in civil society.


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