Cis and Trans rights: two sides of the same coin
Theresa May recently announced a delay in the parliamentary discussions of Gender Recognition Act reform due to the severity of transphobic backlash from both right and (purportedly) left media platforms. Transphobic feminism is on the exponential rise while trans women and non-binary people assigned male at birth (AMAB) are denied adequate or timely healthcare, are incarcerated in male prisons, and face disproportionately rising rates of homelessness.
But, we are also in the run up to an international Women’s strike which, certainly in this country, is set to place trans feminist demands in its foreground. Perhaps now is as good a time as any to reiterate the shared nature of trans feminist struggles and the struggles of cis women (those whose gender identity matches the one they were assigned at birth). Practical and demonstrative solidarities between cis and trans women, in their lives and organizing, continues to attest to the intermeshing of their demands, desires and struggles. While transphobes continue to pit trans and cis feminisms against one another, in a myth of mutually exclusive, competing rights, they are rather two sides of the same feminist coin, fighting for the same liberation.
Women are striking on 8th march, to demand full and final say on the meaning of our bodies, what they do, and what is done to them. At the heart of that fight for bodily autonomy is reproductive justice: the right to reproduce when and how we want. For women to flourish, we require full and free access to pregnancy termination and contraception. But also, on the other side of the coin, we need full and free access to sperm freezing before trans women undergo hormone replacement therapy which results in infertility. We call for autonomy over our biological reproductive processes, whether they constitute a tendency to reproduce or, a tendency not to.
An end to patriarchal violence
All women face varying levels of vulnerability to patriarchal violence: sexual, domestic, and otherwise. The demand for greater protection from such violence, and adequate provision for escape and recovery after the case is a universal demand of feminism. As the British austerity project radically defunds support infrastructure for survivors, we agitate for adequate, ringfenced funding programmes for rape crisis centres and women’s sanctuaries to enable women to flee domestic abuse. In this context, a common transphobic platitude for “women only spaces” (read: cis women), is frequently mobilized against trans women, positioning them as innately predatory and as liable towards abusive behaviour as men. Of course, this assumption is utterly false and disingenuous. By virtue of being women in the world, trans women are vulnerable to patriarchal violence and require support and protection just as much as their cis counterparts. Moreover, contrary to the transphobic imaginary of trans women as abusers, it is trans women who face a much higher rate of violence at the hands of cis women than vice versa. Our solidarity should be built on a shared experience of patriarchal violence, so we can collaborate to keep each other safe and work towards a world where we can be confident in our safety.
Biology is not destiny
Wave after wave of feminism has sought to debunk the notion that biological embodiment plays a determining role in our social position. Feminism has long demanded that women not be reduced to their bodies’ - far from universal - capacity for gestation and birth. The liberation of women is at once liberation from the restrictive social expectations applied to anatomical composition, and yet when this fact is articulated by women of trans experience, huge backlash from largely second-wave cis feminist circles is a given. If we are prepared to acknowledge the coercive assignment of gendered roles, positions and divisions of labour in patriarchal society, then we must also commit to the notion that a woman’s anatomy (genital, hormonal or otherwise), should not determine the recognition of her gender or her social position.
The struggle for adequate healthcare spans cis and trans feminisms. We are all subject to a healthcare system that de-prioritises the particularities of women's health, cis or trans, compared to men’s healthcare provision. Our healthcare is framed as an inessential expense to be cut where possible. Cis feminist demands for free access to contraception, tampons, cervical cancer tests prevention, and adequate maternity care, etc. are mirrored by trans feminist demands for Hormone Replacement Therapy and Gender Confirmation Surgeries and therapies. Both cis and trans feminists demand free access to specific mental and sexual health provision, including Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment for the prevention of HIV contraction. All of these aspects of healthcare are underfunded because they are for women. We therefore need to struggle, together, against the structural misogyny embedded in the NHS that leaves us without adequate healthcare.
Women, both cis and trans, face specifically gendered struggles in migration. Women earn less than men and face higher job insecurity. This makes it far more difficult for women to secure visas in Britain than men. Misogynist violence, against cis and trans women, often plays a large role in the motivations for migration, but also the capacity to successfully migrate. Women are often dependent on male spouses for economic support and visa sponsorship, which therefore limits women’s abilities to leave relationships, often trapping them in abusive ones. It is, therefore, a shared demand of cis and trans feminism to struggle for migration rights which reflect the gendered struggles we face.
An end to housing precarity
Vicious cuts to social housing support and the inexorable rise in rent and house prices across the country have had an uneven punitive effect across the country, particularly penalising women. Women suffer disproportionate rates of homelessness and housing precarity. This precarity has further detrimental effects since women so often have responsibilities of care and other dependents, such as children or relatives, are therefore enveloped in this precarity. Further, housing precarity often leaves women more vulnerable to domestic abuse as we often rely on partners or parents for housing and therefore face difficulty escaping abusive situations.
The criminal justice system is not simply racist, it is also misogynist. The vast majority of women in prison in Britain are incarcerated for non-violent crimes, most often those that directly result from the poverty, such as theft. Women, cis and trans, face a higher risk of sexual violence at the hands of police, court stewards, prison and parole officers. Trans women are more often than not denied official recognition of their gender identity when on trial or incarcerated; leading to their incarceration in male prisons and consequent subjection to sexual and physical violence from prison officers and prisoners alike. Many trans women incarcerated in male prisons are found dead in their cells. More than 1500 women are detained in immigration detention centres each year, where they are subject to sexual assault and other forms of torture; many of whom fled their country of origin to escape similar violences. These carceral systems punish women for being women, cis or trans, for struggling to survive in a misogynist world system.
Wages for care and housework
Domestic and care work, despite women’s access to the waged workplace, is still largely performed by women in addition to their waged employment. We demand a wage or allowance to compensate for domestic work, childcare and care of others. Though some care work is remunerated, it is nowhere near all of it, and that which is, is massively undervalued. The gendered division of labour has long been understood upon cisgendered lines, but it holds true for women of trans experience too. Outside of the traditional, cis-heteronormative household structure, trans women are embroiled in a constant struggle to keep themselves and other members of their community alive and well in a world which is hostile to them. The caring labour that trans women do, although it less often fits into the neat categories that the cis-centred feminist movement have set out, urgently requires recognition from the rest of the feminist movement and fair remuneration. Women will always be relatively impoverished unless the work that we still disproportionately do is recognised as essential to the production of value and remunerated accordingly.
Gendered workers’ rights
For cis women, the right to adequate paid leave for new parents is a central demand. This, of course, is just as applicable to trans women. Furthermore, trans feminists are demanding the recognition of transition healthcare and the medical leave that it often requires. For example, paid leave to attend medical appointments, and paid recovery periods after Gender Confirmation Surgeries – this requires the official recognition of these treatments as necessary (not elective) under employment law.
Sex Work decriminalisation
We are all demanding the full decriminalisation of all forms of sex work. Most sex workers are women and the majority of trans women work in the sex industry at some point in their lives. The safety and security that would be afforded to sex workers under a policy of full decriminalisation would substantially benefit trans and cis women alike.
Cis and trans women will strike together as sisters on the 8th March. When they do, it will be for demands that do not compete, but complement each other: demands that are two sides of the same coin.
An injury to one woman, is an injury to all.
Joni Alizah Cohen is a freelance writer and activist based in London. Her writing focuses primarily on Marxist [trans]feminist analyses of social reproduction, work, sexuality, healthcare, and disability. She is an active member of Action for Trans Health and Plan C, and a part-time organiser for the UK Women's Strike.