Single-Sex Spaces: A Convenient Myth

Content warning for discussions of extensive transphobia, sexual assault, harassment and invasion of privacy, and domestic violence.

Two months ago, I wrote a long article documenting how the UK press perpetuates the myth of the trans bully and the righteous anti-trans warrior, mostly through uncritically centring anti-trans speakers while ignoring trans voices and trans experiences. In this article, I’m going to go more into depth about the practical aims and harms of anti-trans activism, through discussing a pivotal topic in anti-trans activism: the defence of ‘single-sex spaces’. While single-sex spaces, and the legislation that pertains to them, are usually discussed in the terms of (cis) women’s activism and protecting (cis) women’s welfare, I’m hoping to show that ‘protecting’ single-sex spaces has no practical benefit for cis women and actively harms trans women – and that trans-exclusivity directly contradicts the philosophy behind having women’s spaces at all.

What are single-sex spaces?

‘Single-sex spaces’ is a term that’s usually used to mean ‘women’s spaces’. Women’s spaces can include:

  • women’s bathrooms and changing rooms
  • women’s refuges, shelters, domestic violence shelters
  • women-only subway cars
  • women’s hour at the gym
  • women’s societies and clubs
  • events designed to only be attended by women
  • girls’ schools

and so on. Women’s spaces are designed to provide safety and privacy for women, to act as equivalents to spaces that exclude (or have historically excluded) women, and/or to focus energy on women and further women’s interests – their education and career development, for example. I will state for clarity that I fully support the existence of women’s spaces. They are often useful, constructive and can help to bridge various gendered inequalities. It is the status of trans women in relation to these spaces that is my main concern.

Trans women may seek to enter women’s spaces because they are women, and are treated as women. Trans women are blocked from accessing various resources reserved for cis men, they are likely to find that women’s spaces fit them better than men’s spaces, and they experience misogyny and gendered violence, so things like women’s refuges and women’s support groups may be necessary for them. (I’ll go further into trans women’s uses of women’s refuges later.)

However, the term ‘single-sex spaces’ has come into usage in anti-trans activism as part of a movement to lock down the boundaries of ‘women’s spaces’ in a way that defines them by assigned sex at birth, not by gender – therefore excluding trans women. A ‘single-sex’ space is not quite the same thing as a women’s space, because in practice, the vast majority of women’s spaces are gendered, not sexed. An exhaustive bodily examination and/or chromosomal scan will not be performed on attendees to a ‘Women in Engineering’ event, for example. Those who attend do so because they have self-selected as belonging to the category ‘woman’, they’ve been positively identified as women by others, they present as women, et cetera.[1]

Some anti-trans activists claim that these events are sexed in practice, because the only people who are allowed in are those who ‘look like women’, by which they presume a kind of by-sight examination that would eliminate those who were assigned male at birth. Not only is this approach worryingly evocative of the racist and sexist history of physiognomic ‘science’, it’s also inaccurate: the idea of ‘looking like a woman’ cannot be separated from sociocultural perceptions of womanhood, which are firmly in the realm of gender. Some anti-trans activists claim that cis people can 100% positively identify both trans women and trans men, without falsely identifying any trans people as cis or any cis people as trans, but this is very quickly proven false in practice. Androgynous people, masculine-looking cis women and feminine-looking cis men exist, and hormone replacement therapy can drastically change how a person looks. Plenty of trans and gender-non-conforming people cannot have their assigned birth gender easily discerned by looking at them; those who claim otherwise are often wilfully biased. For instance, some will claim they can ‘always tell’ whether a person is trans while only using examples of people who are publicly out as trans (which is somewhat like claiming you knew the lottery numbers only after they’ve been released).

Domestic violence shelters and trans women

The proliferation of ‘single-sex spaces’ rhetoric is part of an argument that trans women are equivalent to cis men, that women’s spaces were built to keep out cis men, and that there is, therefore, an urgent need that a trans-exclusive policy be enshrined in law.

Women’s Place UK (WPU), an anti-trans organisation I talked about in my previous article, begins their article ‘Why do we keep banging on about the importance of single sex spaces for women who have been subjected to men’s violence*?’ by listing various statistics about violence perpetrated by men (78% of violent crimes, 88% of intimate partner homicides, 98% of recorded sexual offences), and discusses whether ‘a male who says he is trans poses a risk to women’.[2] The dynamic they’re setting up here is obvious: untrustworthy man, who is part of the same ontological category as the men who hurt women in droves, wants to be let into the chicken coop and put amongst the vulnerable chickens, so to speak.

The obvious problem here lies in conflating cis men and trans women. There are two parts to this assumption: the idea that cis men and trans women are spiritually equivalent (that there is a core essence they share), and that they are practically equivalent (they cause the same amount of harm as groups; they are treated the same way; they possess the same privileges and power; they should be approached the same way). I don’t believe trans women possess any essence that makes them equivalent to cis men, but once we’re talking about ‘essences’ we’re not really in the realm of proof or consequence; we’re in the realm where transphobes taunt trans women about how when their bones are dug up in 2000 years they’ll be gendered as male – which is simultaneously so pathetic, and so irrelevant to trans women’s lives, that I’m not going to grant it the dignity of discussing it. The greater issue is whether trans women and cis men are equivalent in practice: do trans women pose the same danger to cis women as cis men do?

WPU’s article claims that ‘there is no credible evidence suggesting that males who identify as trans commit violence against women at lower rates than those who do not’ (ignoring that if this is true, there is also no credible evidence that trans women commit violence against cis women at equivalent rates to cis men).[3] However, a 2018 Stonewall report into trans women and domestic violence services reported that trans women are ‘at heightened risk’ of domestic violence: almost 8% of cis women were victims of domestic violence in the past year (perpetrated mostly by cis men), but that number doubles to 16% for trans women.[4] Trans women also face specific forms of domestic abuse for being trans, such as having their medication withdrawn by an abusive partner, or being told that the police won’t believe a trans person who says they’ve been abused.[5] These statistics make sense, given the dual burdens of misogyny and transphobia that characterise trans women’s experience: trans women are often fetishized by cis men, who may view them as desirable sexual objects while simultaneously dehumanising them and internalising the intense stigma against dating them (and the fallacious transphobic assumption that doing so is ‘gay’). This combination of objectification and dehumanisation can create fertile conditions for abuse and violence.

Yet Karen Ingala-Smith, the author of the WPU article and the head of an East London sexual and domestic violence charity, details how she would employ a trans-exclusive policy because even though trans women ‘may have experienced legitimate violence’, they may also ‘be dripping in male privilege and advantage and […] hate or resent [cis] women’, or may simply be ‘narcissistic predators […] fetishists and autogynephiles’.[6] Ignoring the fact that ‘male privilege and advantage’ is clearly a bad descriptor of a population whose heightened risks of assault, poverty, unemployment and discrimination all fly in the face of what ‘male privilege and advantage’ actually refer to, the article doesn’t even mention that trans women are at greater risk of domestic violence than cis women – or even imply that they’re at equivalent risk. For Ingala-Smith, the ‘genuine’ trans woman is essentially a myth, a figuration to justify an abusive man at the door trying to get in to reach his victim. In fact, it’s the other way around: anti-trans activists are unable to produce any concrete examples of an abusive man posing as trans to access a refuge, despite the fact that some refuges have been trans-inclusive for decades, and despite the fact that anti-trans activists would likely jump to cite any examples.

Here are a few statements from the Stonewall report, which interviewed various professionals who coordinate domestic violence support:

‘Domestic and sexual violence services in England and Wales have been supporting trans women in their single-sex women-only services for some time.’

‘While respondents were aware of a view that gender recognition reform could allow violent men to pose as women to access their services, with one participant expressing a concern about this, there was otherwise a clear consensus that services’ thorough risk assessment procedures would safeguard against this. These participants said that gender recognition reform would not compromise their ability to protect their service against, or turn away, any abusive or disruptive individual.’

‘Several participants expressed concern that there are trans survivors who are being let down when seeking support, with some likening their experiences to the struggles faced by many black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) women, lesbians, bi women and disabled women seeking support.’

‘Participants said that funding cuts are the main threat facing their services and called for increased funding for all services, including women-only services, specialist services for LGBT survivors and services for BAME women.’[7]

The actual experts in this field who are speaking from experience, rather than a pre-existing transphobic view of trans women as ‘fetishists’ and ‘narcissists’, say that trans-inclusive policies would not affect them identifying and turning away abusive individuals. The abusive man who cannot be challenged due to GRA reforms is a myth. The at-risk trans woman who needs a refuge, by contrast, is an everyday reality – and those who see at-risk trans women’s safety as far less important than chasing a bogeyman should not be given any influence over our country’s domestic violence services.[8]

The single-sex myth

So, I’ve looked at how anti-trans activism to ‘defend single-sex spaces’ in relation to domestic violence services, under the guise of protecting women from violent men, is essentially a PR-friendly way to try to deny help to a highly at-risk population and to indulge transphobic beliefs, rather than genuinely furthering women’s liberation. However, I’m going to push the criticism of ‘protecting single-sex spaces’ further, into its complete invalidity as a project. I wish to argue that single-sex spaces don’t exist, and, more than that, can’t exist as an enforced category – and to do this, I’m going to imagine a theoretical single-sex women’s society.

‘Single-sex’ implies that sex is binary, which it isn’t, and I don’t wish to capitulate to that assumption. However, let’s assume that people who wish to protect single-sex legislation are going from ‘assigned sex at birth’, so that we can at least get somewhere – even though that presumption is erasing the widespread use of non-consensual genital surgery on intersex infants, the commonality of chromosomes that aren’t XY or XX, and a lot of other stuff that makes a clean binary around sex impossible.

So, you’ve got this women’s society where you only want people who are assigned female at birth to come. How do you prove whether prospective members fit that description? If you’ve got someone who you think is a trans woman at the door, how do you keep her out? Well, you body-examine her, presumably to prove she has a penis. Or, at least, if you don’t actually body-examine her, you hold the possible threat of body-examination over her. Or you refuse to let her in and don’t give a reason. Either way, you have adopted a new approach to running and enclosing your society: a policing approach. Any member who might be suspected of being trans must be observed and evaluated for the ways she doesn’t fit what is expected of a woman, and the termination of that process is some form of confrontation and expulsion, violent in promise and in practice.

While I wish to criticise ‘policing’ here, I don’t mean that an organisation can’t regulate its members, expel members for their behaviour, or for their entering the organisation in bad faith. I’m talking about a system of profiling your members via a dangled threat of violating their bodies if they violate certain norms. Those who face the prospect of the body-examination are those who do not fit certain visual or behavioural norms, who look like they could be interlopers – and that is never restricted to trans women, either.

I know that anti-trans activists probably don’t think of it that way. They think of trans women as a threat, they think of policing trans women as an extension of the women-only ethos, and they believe that you can purely police trans women without that policing approach harming anyone else. But it will, precisely because trans women are a marginalised group rather than rogue predatory agents, and I genuinely think that most transphobic women are, to some degree, aware of that (particularly the ones who participate in mocking and bullying trans women over their appearance, because the only way that has any ‘satisfying’ effect is if the person at the other end is marginalised in some way).

I fervently believe that trans women deserve entry to women’s spaces, because they are women, their lives and lived experiences are those of women, and they need and deserve the resources and community that women’s spaces can provide (especially since they are, like cis women, shut out of male power). But the policing mentality is toxic in its own right: it’s a form of violence that always affects the marginalised more than the powerful. Here, the policing approach disproportionately harms all women who are unable to meet the standards of normative cis, white, straight womanhood. For instance, Hannah Eko sums up the burden of excess masculinity placed on black women by white society: ‘Black women are constantly perceived as having attributes often assigned to masculinity; we are read as “strong,” “indestructible,” “invulnerable to pain.”’[9] I also mentioned the racist and sexist treatment of Caster Semenya in my previous article, who is a cis woman, but is still constantly referred to by transphobes as a ‘man’ and/or as trans. Queer and gender-non-conforming women are also victims of gender policing: butch lesbians and other masculine women have been harassed and assaulted for being in the ‘wrong bathroom’. A strictly trans-exclusive mentality, in my experience, will also exclude those who support trans women and those who find policing itself to be distasteful. Those who try to legislate what authentic womanhood is are always doing so via their own norms and biases, and in a white-centric, cis-centric, hetero-centric society, those who do not meet those descriptors will slowly be pushed out.

The final part of the single-sex project, which takes it from ‘complex and violent’ to ‘impossible’, is that you can’t determine sex from the threatened body-examination. Hormone replacement therapy exists. Facial feminisation surgery exists. Gender confirmation surgery exists. Plenty of natural variation exists beyond any assumptions of clear sex categories. You have to invade the body of the other further and further to sufficiently secure your space so that nobody who is not ‘female’ can enter, and the thing is, you will never go far enough to eliminate everyone. As Semenya demonstrates, there are even people who have female sexual characteristics and who are raised as women but who are still too much ‘men’ to transphobes, because they have too much testosterone, too much athletic ability, too much this, too much that. Single-sex spaces don’t exist because even if you literally bring out a scalpel and dissect all of your members as they walk through the door, you cannot safeguard a women’s space from anyone who violates the objective nature of womanhood – simply because there is no objective nature of womanhood. That’s not how gender works and it’s not how people work, either.

And yes, some anti-trans activists may say they don’t really care that single-sex legislation can’t literally eliminate every non-female person, because it will go most of the way, and so it will keep cis women ‘safer.’ But that betrays their knowledge of the real facts of their project: womanhood does not have a singular stable definition, and any attempt to protect such a definition will always have ulterior motives. Either single-sex legislation really is committed to the idea that there is an existential barrier that needs to be enforced against people who aren’t ‘objectively’ female, which means you’re in scalpel territory; or it’s just there to justify the making-vulnerable of the trans woman’s body in women’s spaces, which sounds far more like violence of the powerful towards the powerless than it does protection of the powerless from the powerful. Keeping a vulnerable group out of women’s spaces through the covert threat of exposure and violence is not feminist, and the relative power of cis women over trans women is espoused at every turn in single-sex legislation arguments, even as it is repeatedly denied in all coverage.

True women’s liberation aims to free all women, but feminism that focuses on respectability and on enforcing norms – particularly through a carceral system – will never do that. Even within the category of just trans women, white, pretty, passing, thin trans women are far more likely to be completely fine, because they better approximate the norms of a racist, sexist, fatphobic society; anyone who claims that anti-trans activists have an equal and indiscriminate problem with all trans women haven’t noticed how even transphobes find it hard not to call passing trans women ‘she’, or how much extra virulence is dealt towards trans women who don’t meet various beauty standards. The most marginalised women’s womanhood is seen as inauthentic, as either pathetic or malicious, and as tainting the good name of other, more ‘respectable’ women: this is true of trans women and it’s also true of sex workers, a demographic that has much in common with trans women politically.[10]

At the end of it, an inclusive women’s space always comes down to letting people self-identify as women, and this isn’t a postmodernist nightmare. It’s how things have always worked, as we can see in the case of women’s refuges and their decades of trans inclusion. Of course, you can always exclude people for being abusive or disruptive, or for being there in bad faith. But the more people try to banish the ghost of the edge case, the imagined possibility of the malicious intruder, the more they actively corrupt their space as it exists and its ability to help and support those who actually need help and support. You can see this in how many anti-trans activists have just stopped talking about anything that isn’t anti-trans stuff; indulging a fantasy born of hatred and fear is a cancer to getting anything productive done. A women’s space that is exclusive of trans women, because they don’t see trans womanhood as legitimate womanhood, will never, in practice, be an entirely functional and good and supportive place that just doesn’t allow trans women. Once you start policing what legitimate womanhood is from a position of pre-existing laws, rather than discourse and understanding, trans womanhood will never be the only womanhood you see as invalid.[11]

Bathrooms: an effective scare tactic

Since we’re talking about single-sex spaces and trans women, we unfortunately have to mention bathrooms, since the proliferation of ‘bathroom bills’ have brought single-sex-spaces legislation further into public discussion. However, I am very weary of endless bathroom discourse, so I’m not going to explain at length how the ‘predatory man attacking vulnerable women in the women’s bathrooms’ is a caricatured fantasy nightmare rather than an actual threat. Indeed, most rebuttals to the bathroom myth, such as the sheer lack of evidence for the ‘trans bathroom attack’ being a plausible threat, the plentiful instances of trans and gender-non-conforming people being harassed in bathrooms by cis people (sometimes even by cis men who have come into the women’s bathroom to…stop ‘men’…coming into the women’s bathroom), and the fact that policing bathrooms causes far more harm across all populations than not doing so, bear out the same points I made about domestic violence shelters.

One thing I will say about bathrooms is that they’re a particularly powerful weapon for scaremongering. They’re associated with, well, going to the bathroom: being in a primitive, vulnerable and humiliating state while urinating or defecating. It’s probably an evolutionary throwback that we’re so wary of being attacked with our trousers down. But just because we feel vulnerable in a particular place doesn’t mean any suggested danger associated with that place is automatically true.

The fake trans assaulter functionally doesn’t exist, and real trans people are disproportionately the victims of sexual assault, rather than the perpetrators. However, trans women are often accused of transitioning for sexual reasons, mainly because femininity is both so subordinated to masculinity in society, and so forcibly sexualised, that psychiatrics and academics have often ‘made sense’ of trans women by theorising that they transition in order to sexualise themselves / for fetishistic reasons. (I’d recommend Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl for a forensic takedown of this transphobic construct, but needless to say, this idea rests on the premise that women are sex objects.)

Bathrooms are objectively far less dangerous places than they are presented in scare coverage; trans women are not a threat; and cis men who wish to commit crimes in women’s bathrooms are highly unlikely to be deterred or abetted by trans legislation – they’re far more likely to be deterred or abetted by the possibility of being caught, which is quite likely in the women’s bathroom (there’s a reason most sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, where that degree of trust can be leveraged to get the victim to a private location). Plus, this ignores the fact that dressing/presenting as a woman is highly stigmatised within maleness and masculinity, which deeply undercuts the fear of its being used as an abuse tactic by toxic men. Anecdotally, there’s a reason I grew up far more afraid of men who participated in hypermasculine activities with lots of other men, and was generally far more comfortable with men who participated in mostly-female groups; participating in mostly-female activities as a man was associated with being less (toxically) masculine, being queer, and/or with being able to interact with women as people, rather than as objects of desire. The idea that hordes of rapists are going to start dressing as women ignores the fact that almost all rapists and assaulters would see this as a fundamental self-debasement, because they are wedded to a deeply sexist and objectifying view of women. Even if pretending to be a woman was somehow a super-effective assault tactic (of which I have seen no evidence), actual rapists would likely never touch it; it would violate the core of their worldview.

Bathroom bills are a transphobic scare tactic. They manipulate the public by using the spectre of highly charged, extreme situations that would never actually arise in real life, and it’s saddening that people are susceptible to it. I care far more about having safe and affirming bathrooms for everyone, including for nonbinary and gender-non-conforming people like myself, incidentally, who can be placed at risk if there are no gender-neutral bathrooms. I also care far more about assault survivors, who are continually failed by the state while simultaneously being leveraged by ‘bathroom bill’ lawmakers for transphobic ends.

Denouement: cis men and trans women

A cornerstone of ‘single-sex spaces’ arguments, and similar arguments for rolling back legislation, is that anti-trans cis women see trans women as in cahoots with cis men. This fits with the ‘criticising transphobia is criticising women’ argument that I talked about in my previous article.

The only grain of truth present here at all is that cis men are less vulnerable to the particular vein of transphobia that can originate in an extension of defensiveness against men; however, cis men are more prone to other veins of transphobia, such as seeing trans women as debased sex objects. That’s because cis men see trans women like they see cis women – the same sexualisation – but with an added weight of stigma because of their trans status, which means they are simultaneously a site of extreme desire and extreme shame. This is what gives rise to both the vast popularity of trans-women-centric pornography targeted at heterosexual men, and the ‘trans panic’ defence, which defends heterosexual men’s murders of trans women on the grounds that their trans status is so humiliating and wounding to the heterosexual man, particularly if it wasn’t disclosed before intimacy, that it justifies their murder.

The idea that cis men see trans women as comrades-in-arms is just clearly false – you won’t find any out trans women being welcomed into men’s spaces, and both straight and queer men have a long history of vicious prejudice against trans women. (Repositories of trans oral history, such as those reprinted in the recent Stonewall Reader, show trans women in the ’60s and ’70s talking about their ostracision by gay men.) Transphobic men may call trans women men, and tell transphobic jokes where the punchline is that trans women are men, but they’re not at all using ‘men’ in the same way as they do when they refer to themselves as men, and they’re certainly not identifying themselves as akin to trans women. You don’t dehumanise those who you see as akin to yourself.

Cis women may be the most dedicated voices within a certain kind of anti-trans activism, situated in various professional arenas – academia, media, politics – but that doesn’t mean that cis men are the defenders of trans women. It means that cis men’s transphobia is often active in realms that aren’t really pertinent to news articles and Oxford University talks. Transmisogyny is a particular extension of misogyny, and misogynistic cis men tend to want to keep their misogyny as a kind of unspoken, covertly propagated base state, rather than shouting from the rafters about how misogyny is good and misogynistic comments are super effective. Cis men’s transmisogyny often works the same way. The exception is where cis men work within women’s transphobic movements, positioning themselves as a ‘women’s hero’ and as ‘defending women’s rights’. Then, they can spout virulent transmisogyny and call themselves progressive feminists, despite having no feminist credentials or history of feminist activism, and despite patronising or abusing cis women who disagree with them as much as they abuse trans women.[12]

Collapsing our understanding of gendered history, of women’s liberation, and of how men think as a group, into overly simplistic tropes often substantiates very strange and ahistorical interpretations of how gender works in the world. When I see anti-trans activists and their followers talking about single-sex spaces on social media, they’ll often use phrases like ‘we fought hard for our rights to single-sex spaces and now they’re being taken away from us’, constructing a vague history of single-sex spaces as somewhat akin to feminism in general, or to suffragism.[13] And yes, there are very much instances where women had to build their own spaces up from the ground, where before they were relegated to a spaceless no-man’s-land – such as in the times of the first latrines, where women weren’t allowed into the saloons they’d have needed to access to use them.[14]

But purpose-built single-sex spaces for women have always been just as connected to patriarchal conceptions of women as owned objects, and as alien creatures to men, as they have been about women’s interests and autonomy. I went to Cambridge for my undergraduate degree, where I quickly learned that the reason Girton College was so far away from all the other colleges was that it was founded as the first college where women could attend, and situating it far from the university site, keeping the women quarantined away from the men’s territory, meant that it faced less resistance than it would have done otherwise. A cluster of patriarchal concepts can be found here: modesty; purity; segregation; the fear of women invading the ‘male’ intellectual domain.

Women’s spaces are good and useful, but thinking of all single-sex spaces as clawed from the clutches of men, and of trans women as symbolising an inevitable reclamation of those spaces by men, is not really an accurate way of thinking about women’s history and it’s certainly not an accurate way of thinking about trans women. Instead, thinking of those in the no-man’s-land, those who don’t even enter the builders’ thoughts as spaces are being built, as especially vulnerable is often a more effective conception of safety and power. Trans women are fleeing domestic violence, fighting low employment rates, and just trying to pee – and in all these situations, they are facing the prospect of not being welcomed anywhere. We need to identify where power and dehumanisation influence the geography of our gendered lives. Trying to barricade women’s spaces against anyone who may look like an intruder is a woefully inadequate and deeply white-feminist approach, and policing women’s spaces, the few places where women concentrate their communal power, means keeping out people who badly need some of that power.

Where men do want to undercut women’s spaces, they’re doing it perfectly effectively by themselves. As the quotes from the domestic abuse service workers above show, powerful men aren’t undermining domestic abuse services through some kind of trans-woman-based insurgency programme – they’re just underfunding them. It’s that simple. If anti-trans activists are looking for a conspiracy behind women’s services are often struggling, congratulations to them: they’re right, there is one. But like every fear that anti-trans activism purports to address, it’s actually got nothing to do with trans people.

A short reading list

If either of these two articles have made you interested in reading about trans people, the history of transness, and how transphobia functions in today’s society, here’s a short list of intro reading:

binoahan, b. – decolonising trans/gender, 2014 (a short, accessible yet explosive book about how discussions of transness shut out people of colour and indigenous people; brings a level of awareness you’re rarely going to get elsewhere, given that the discourse on transness is still in many ways relatively new)
Bornstein, Kate – Gender Outlaw, 1994 (I’ve not read this myself, but Kate Bornstein is excellent, and it’s meant to be a very good trans memoir from one of the few visible older non-binary people in the movement)
Feinberg, Leslie – Stone Butch Blues, 1993 (a classic novel of lesbianism, transness and the intersections where the two meet; essential for understanding how sexuality and gender go beyond clean labels)
Rajunov, Micah and Duane, Scott – Nonbinary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity, 2019 (a group of short essays by a diverse group of non-binary people about their identities)
Serano, Julia – Whipping Girl, 2007 (a transfeminine and transfeminist manifesto; very influential and excellent on how transmisogyny works, though by necessity it’s out of date on current terminology and it centres  binary transgender experience)
Stryker, Susan – Transgender History, 2008 (a good, accessible history of trans people)
I’d also recommend looking at young adult fiction, since young adult books are streets ahead of adult fiction in representation of trans characters.


[1] Obviously, this doesn’t include women’s spaces that are designed around reproductive organs – for example, for people who’ve had miscarriages – but a miscarriage support group wouldn’t demand proof from its members that they’ve experienced miscarriage, so the principle of self-ID holds there too. Some anti-trans activists have argued that delusional trans women are trying to gain access to sex-based spaces/care, such as demanding gynaecological examinations for their penises or claiming that they have periods, but in my experience this is either fabricated or a wilful misunderstanding of what a trans woman has said (a post-op trans woman talking about her gynaecological care, or a trans woman saying that her hormone replacement therapy gives her cramps). The vast majority of ‘women’s spaces’ arguments refer to gendered spaces, not sexed ones.


[3] Ibid.


[5] Ibid, p. 6.

[6] ‘Autogynephile’ is a term used in psychologist Ray Blanchard’s typology of ‘transsexualism’ to hypothesise a particular kind of trans woman, who transitions due to a contorted sexual fetishism; the autogynephile is supposedly aroused by the thought of themselves as a woman, so much so that they undergo transition. This has been extensively criticised by both sexologists and pro-trans activists as offensive, and as bad science that often confuses correlations with causations; in my personal opinion, much of Blanchard’s typology only works at all if you project sexualisation into every action and thought that a trans woman has, which takes it from science into pure transphobic speculation. I would recommend Julia Serano’s work on Blanchard and Natalie Wynn’s extensive video on autogynephilia as accessible points against this theory, if you’re interested.


[8] An addendum to this section: some may be wondering whether it is possible that trans women do experience domestic violence at high rates, but still pose a threat to cis women. Well, despite the equivalence often drawn between trans women and cis men by anti-trans activists, trans women date/are dated by cis women at far lower rates than they date/are dated by cis men or other trans people, which is an obvious non-equivalence. More importantly, domestic violence and partner abuse cannot be divorced from its social context. Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That? describes how male abuse of women comes from a sense of entitlement of men towards their female partners, and that entitlement is substantiated by various power structures that continually validate that entitlement. Trans women, however, are shut out of those power structures (or, if they’re closeted, know they are inhabiting those power structures on false pretences) and are likely to identify themselves with women rather than with men). Everyone is capable of being misogynistic, including cis women and trans women, and trans women may have been raised to take in some misogynistic ideals. However, a line cannot be cleanly extended from that to trans women abusing cis women, because when you’re trans, society places you below cis women, and from that position it’s not really possible to gain a systematic sense of ‘entitlement’ towards cis women (entitlement comes from a position of believing you’re existentially better than another group and being reinforced in that belief, covertly or overtly). In fact, in terms of entitlement, I’ve observed that cis women can display a lot of entitlement towards trans bodies, such as when some cis lesbians construe trans men as ‘betraying’ lesbians by not making their bodies available for lesbian consumption, or the extreme invasiveness of how some cis women approach/talk about trans women.


[10] Many trans women are sex workers. This is for various reasons, including the marginalisation of trans women, their increased risk of poverty, their exclusion from various forms of employment, and their fetishization by men. Trans rights activism and sex worker rights activism also share a lot of affinities, and sex-worker-exclusive feminism (SWERFism) and trans-exclusive feminism (TERFism) often go hand-in-hand. For a fantastic and comprehensive intersectional history of sex worker rights, including an in-depth discussion of how sex worker rights intersect with trans rights, see Juno Mac and Molly Smith’s Revolting Prostitutes (2019).

[11] Trans women are threats to an existential category and violators of various precious, hidden norms – so precious and so hidden in plain sight that even the revelation of those norms can feel just as painful as the violation of them. Most of the perceptions of threat I see from transphobic cis women are threat in that more numinous sense of challenging categories that make them feel safe, rather than any actual threat of violence. For instance, I’ve seen quite a few anguished posts of the ‘imagine having to call your rapist a woman!’ variety. I think most rape victims are more preoccupied with their safety and with justice being done, but here the anguish comes from the construction of a category, ‘woman’, as safe, and the possibility of unsafe and loathsome people being able to come in and ‘take’ your identity from you. Extreme, implausible situations are often used to convey anger and fear that the bounds of your category cannot hold.

[12] I’m specifically using Graham Linehan as an archetype here, but he’s not an isolated phenomenon.

[13] A few recent specimen Tweets (I don’t wish to cite the authors in case they accuse me of brigading, but they’re all searchable on Twitter):
‘we are talking about female spaces, hard fought for by women in the public square. I don’t cling to gender but I am defending my sex from incursion by male-bodied people into single-sex areas.’
‘don’t accept men who identify as women to be included within single-sex spaces that women have fought for.’
‘all the other rights we’ve fought for like single-sex spaces – those r our rights you can have urs – distinctly & separately’
‘Single-sex spaces are something women fought long and hard for, and men think they can just airily give them away.’
‘Women fought for these things. Single-sex spaces & resources. Not “gendered” spaces or resources. Hard. Build your own.’