In a recent interview, noted feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discussed trans women and how she thinks they relate to the feminist movement. Discouragingly, she made the statement that “trans-women are trans-women” and believes they can’t relate to the struggles that cis women face because they grew up with male privilege. As a cis woman, I wholeheartedly disagree with this statement. However, I am not here to critique Adichie, but rather to address the problem with not considering trans women as women.
The problem with separating trans women from women is that it further divides people who are marginalized by patriarchy. Trans women do not have male privilege. It is not a privilege to feel like you need to live a lie to navigate society free from violence. Separating trans women from cisgender women isolates them, making them even more vulnerable to violence.
If we see trans women as women, we can start to see trans women’s rights as women’s rights. One of my best friends, Luna Vasquez, is a trans woman. She brought up the benefits of including trans women’s rights under the larger umbrella of women’s rights. “Understanding trans women better and including them in the movement means less societal violence against us and greater resources for us when we do face violence,” Luna said.
This is an important point. Trans women, especially trans women of color, face violence at disproportionate rates. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 72 percent of victims of hate-violence homicides in 2013 were transgender women. Imagine if the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 included trans women and allocated services specifically for them. Luna also mentioned to me the failure of services that help victims of domestic violence and homelessness: “Trans women are excluded from domestic violence shelters on the basis of their sex assigned at birth. This takes the most vulnerable population of abuse survivors and makes them even more vulnerable.”
If trans women were seen by society as women, these services would be readily accessible and available, reducing the enormously high rates of violence trans women face. They would have more access to the resources other rape and domestic survivors (namely, cis women) have. They could access rape-crisis counselors, medical attention, and counseling, among other resources without fear of further victimization or criminalization.
Transphobia and transmisogyny (hatred toward trans women specifically) puts trans women at risk for family and partner rejection, as well as loss or lack of employment. Trans women face high rates of homelessness, which causes many to engage in sex work just to survive. The criminalization of prostitution adds to the marginalization of trans women.
Since it is law that prisoners are housed with the gender they were assigned at birth, trans women are housed in male prisons. According to a California study, 59 percent of trans women housed in men’s prisons reported sexual abuse by another prisoner, not to mention by prison employees.
If we saw trans women as women, we would fight for them as if we wanted them to be equal citizens (like we do for cis women). But imagine if people fought for the decriminalization of prostitution as they did for the decriminalization of abortion. Imagine if people fought for health services vital to trans women. According to Luna, some of these services include gender affirmation surgeries and hormone therapy without gatekeeping or having to prove “you’re trans enough” to the therapist that signs off on your treatment. It also includes reproductive services, such as sperm harvesting and preserving, or getting regular health checks without the fear of misgendering. Imagine if people fought for these rights as fiercely as they did for the preservation of Planned Parenthood (which does offer some of the aforementioned services).
“I don’t think feminism can be legit or actualized without trans women and our issues fought for,” she said. Feminism that doesn’t include trans women or centers their voices actively harms them (this is also called Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism, or TERF, and has a long, harmful history). “Ignoring us the way [feminist and women’s rights movements] have been is killing us,” Luna said.