|My Partner and I at Processions 2018 - Credit: Tina Williams|
I am my grandmother’s granddaughter. She fought for my right to vote and I wanted to honour that. On June the 10th this year my partner and I (pictured above) travelled to London to participate in Processions with thousands of other women. We were paying homage to the women of suffrage but also making our voices heard about current issues. I was nervous: Both myself and my partner Tina are Trans. We marched with friends from Sparkle; the National Transgender Charity. I’m a transexual woman, my partner is bi-gender. we were aware that the debate about trans women in women only spaces is highly charged. Might some deny our right to be considered women and to participate in such an event?
In the end we had a lovely day. We were fortunate to walk alongside other women who praised our involvement and welcomed us. We felt included and accepted. I know that I did my grandmother proud yet I’m concerned that we have still so much to fight for. For trans women, equality is not just a fight to end the gender pay gap, oppression in the workplace, sexual objectification and unequal rights. As a lifelong feminist, I care deeply about those things. Trans women like myself however are now forced to defend our right to be considered women.
Both my partner and I are no strangers to the visual disapproval and comments of others women as we seek to do everyday things like using the loo, try on clothes, or hold hands in public. In North Wales, while working as a teaching assistant, female colleagues made complaints to management, forbidding me from using female toilets and changing rooms. Earlier, as a single Mum taking my 11 year old daughter to A&E, I was repeatedly questioned by a staff nurse about my right to be identified as her parent and go with her into the examination room. A later FOI request revealed she had reported concerns to Social Workers about a child accompanied by ‘a man dressed as a woman’. At work I was called ‘a freak’ and ‘an offence against nature’. My locker was defaced with sentiments suggesting I should die. Last year, on our way to a Pride event, a van was driven at my partner and I, forcing us to scatter while the driver hurled abuse from his window.
I understand that behind all of this lies fear, fear of men masquerading as women to prey on women and girls; fears about personal safety and the safety of children. I can empathise with that fear but it is nonetheless completely irrational.
There is no credible evidence to support the idea that trans women pose a threat to their cisgender counterparts. Women like my partner and I have been using women’s facilities for many years. We get changed, pee, touch up our make up and go about our business. To focus on supposed threats to safety emphasises differences rather than similarities and ignores a commonality of experience that all women, trans and cis, share together.
I’m fortunate and honoured to share that experience. Trans women worry about ‘passing’; the privilege of being accepted without question as woman. Friends tell me I pass well. ‘I wouldn’t have known’ is the response if I choose to out myself. It is a dubious privilege. I get wolf-whistled and cat called, chatted up, kissed by strangers and propositioned. I’ve been mansplained at and condescended to. I have lower pay than my male colleagues and I have to queue for the loo.
Processions 2018 was a hot day, I kept well hydrated and drank lots of water. It was a mistake. With thousands of women wanting to pee on route, both myself and others were soon frustrated to discover many premises had closed their toilets. I know that feeling too well. That day, both trans and natal women felt the same. We learned that using the loos and freshening up isn’t a threat to anyone, no matter how you identify. It is about basic need, comfort and safety. Being excluded just makes you feel desperate leaves you in pain.
My grandmother, Jenny Spencer, chained herself to railings in Dewsbury to win me the political franchise. I intend to use tha rights to win equality for all women, not just a few. So please let’s sink our differences. Let’s talk to each other rationally and fight for the things that matter; ones that affect us all.
Huggs, Jane xx