The world is filled with transphobia. This is a fact. However, when it comes from your own side, left-wingers, progressives, that can hurt even more than when it comes from known bigots. This, unfortunately, is on the rise, both within the Labor Party, and the left in general.
To begin with, what is transphobia? Transphobia, in as little words as possible, is bigotry towards trans people - people that are not the gender they were assigned at birth. This comes in many different forms - from misgendering people (i.e. using the wrong pronouns), to acts of violence and murder. Globally, trans people have the life expectancy of 35 years of age, they are significantly more likely to have mental health disorders (outside of dysphoria - which is recognised as distress connected to one’s body and gender), and more likely to commit suicide, than their cis gender counterparts because of the effects of this.
While we see a lot of transphobia from more right wing members of Australia - the likes of Mark Latham, and the “binary” organisation, it is still very prevalent in the left as well. Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist, also known as TERFs, are people that don’t believe in the concept of trans people. Stemming from second wave feminists, they believe that trans women are “men trying to take up women's spaces”, trans men are “women trying to distance themselves from their womanhood”, and that non-binary people just don’t exist. Germaine Greer and JK Rowling are good examples of this.
We only see TERFs pop up in any discussion about trans issues, particularly in regards to access to spaces they belong in. We see it in conversations surrounding bathrooms, abortion, and most recently in regards to the McIver's Baths - more colloquially known as the Coogee Ladies Baths. What the people that advocate for the exclusion don’t understand is that, one's genitals do not define their gender. This is something that not only trans people understand, but many scientists and academics agree with as well. Trans identities have existed for longer than colonisation, we see them still resisting against colonisation in many Indigenous communities globally, and we know that gender itself is a social construct based on behaviours within a society. In 1949 it was even recognised that one is not born a woman, they become one, yet transphobes continue to believe that you are only what’s in your pants.
Fundamentally, if you do not include trans people in your feminism, you are not a feminist, you are a transphobe. TERF-ism is a belief that comes down to people's genitals, and defines them as such - something that feminists have been pushing against for generations.
Not only do we see the affects of transphobia, transmisogyny and TERF-ism affecting trans people, we also see it affecting cis people, namely women of colour. This is because it all comes down to one’s belief of what it means to be a “woman”. Countless times we see white middle-upper class feminists (the ones most likely to be TERFs), get it wrong, however it’s important to recognise that by strictly defining what is and isn’t womanhood, means that we’re excluding people, and oftentimes the people excluded are women of colour. Judith Butler, in her 1990 book “Gender Trouble” identifies this, and states “Identity categories are never merely descriptive, but always normative, and as such, exclusionary.” By feminists imposing what is and isn’t womanhood, this enforces the idea that there is a correct way to be a woman, regardless of one’s assigned gender at birth.
This leads us to the question of what are the core experiences that make someone a “real woman”? Is it menstruation or childbirth? I would hope not considering that buys into the belief that all women are baby making machines, and excludes those who cannot experience those things due to medical issues, or by choice. Is it being subjected to sexual violence and harassment? Trans women face the same amount, if not more of that, and are statistically more likely to be murdered by a sexual partner. Is it the unwanted male gaze? Many trans women experience that, and many cis women do not meet the superficial standard to experience that. Is it by their hormones and chromosomes? Only if we’re living in the 1950s and want to exclude the 1.7% of women who are intersex.
The argument that trans men are not men, rather lesbians trying to escape the patriarchy is just as false. It completely takes away the bodily autonomy of these people, which is inherently anti-feminist. It’s an idea that trans men are just foolish women who’s words and beliefs have no value, regardless of how old or accomplished they actually are, mimicking the right wing anti-feminist viewpoints.
TERF-ism is rife within politics. Last year we saw an article from the Secretary of the Marrickville Greens stating that trans women are taking up spaces of women in positions in the party. We see the liberal fight against pushes to change the birth certificate laws in Victoria and Tasmania. And the Labor Party is not exempt from this either. From our ignorance of non-binary people in the party, to the lack of trans people in positions internally, to even the lack of trans people in general, there is so much more the Labor party, and the left could, and should be doing.
Under the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act, only some trans people are protected. There are no mentions of non-binary people, and the definition of transgender is specifically vague, meaning that while those protections are there, there are still many work arounds so that trans people can be fired because of their gender - if they can get work in the first place. And this is if Latham’s bill doesn’t pass. Trans people are significantly more likely to live in poverty than non-trans people because of lack of secure work. Trans people have higher rates of suicide, and lower rates of support services than cis gender people. None of this is new news. TERF-ism and transphobia all feed into this.
Labor Left, and the Labor Party needs to take a stance that is progressive, and not regressive. We must accept that trans women are women, trans men are men and that non-binary people exist. We must call out transphobia when we see it. Call people by their correct pronouns, and advise others when they’re not using them. Support trans people into political positions, and offer support when transphobia is in the public sphere. Do your own research and write policy supporting trans people. Advocate for trans rights, even if there aren’t any trans people in the room. Get them in the room if you can. We must support our trans comrades, we must commit to fight for our trans comrades. Not just because they are our comrades, but because it is fundamentally the right thing to do in our fight for a just society.
Kiz Jackson is a Labor and union activist. Twitter