In response to a tweet in which I stated that I believe trans women are women, and that Plaid Cymru is committed to equality for all trans people, many people have asked me to elaborate on my statement, which I want to do here.
Respectful debate is a crucial part of feminist politics. However, some responses to my tweet showed that transphobic views are being voiced by a small but vocal minority. Stonewall research shows that 41% of trans young people in Wales have attempted suicide – the climate of fear, misinformation and hatred that has come with this debate will directly harm trans people who already face much higher rates of bullying and mental health issues.
Trans women in Wales experience particular challenges, including increased vulnerability to domestic abuse, violence, harassment, hate crime and homelessness. The bureaucratic and demeaning process of gender recognition under the current Gender Recognition Act is an additional barrier to equality. I believe that a system of gender recognition where people would be trusted to be the authority on their own identities – like they already have in Ireland and Malta – would be much more progressive.
I used to work as a support worker for Women’s Aid, and so I know how important domestic violence services are. I don’t agree with those who say that allowing trans women to access these services endangers other women. The proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act don’t affect the exemptions under the Equality Act for single sex services. However most women-only services wouldn’t consider a blanket ban on all trans women and many services have been providing trans-inclusive support for years. The staff who run support services and shelters make informed decisions in the best interests of survivors all the time, including assessing whether an individual is likely to pose a risk to other people.
If services were to refuse access to all trans women and non-binary people, where are they supposed to go when they face abuse, violence or homelessness? The appalling experiences of trans women housed in male prisons shows why it’s so important that people are given appropriate accommodation and support.
Violence against women is a huge problem – but denying trans people equal respect and recognition under the law is not going to solve that problem, neither will turning vulnerable people away from support services. The example from Scotland of women’s organisations there coming together to support reform of the Gender Recognition Act and affirm their commitment to trans inclusion is one we should follow in Wales.
Trans women are not the enemy. The enemy is cuts to funding which has seen domestic violence shelters and support services close across the UK. The enemy is a backlash to women’s progress which has seen misogyny promoted by some of the most powerful men in the world. The enemy is narrow gender norms which limit our children’s expectations and lead to bullying and abuse of anyone who’s seen as different.
I want to see an inclusive feminism which brings women together rather than dividing us. A feminism that recognises our shared challenges while valuing our differences. A feminism that understands that gender is a complex and deeply personal thing, and is about so much more than outdated ideas of biology. As a working class woman, it’s important to me too that feminism recognises that some women face multiple oppressions due to their class, race, disability or gender identity and that all of these need to be tackled.
I’m proud that Plaid Cymru has championed trans equality, including securing improvements to trans healthcare in Wales and challenging hateful comments from other parties. We will continue to do this. Plaid Cymru’s vision is of a Wales where everyone is respected, free from abuse and discrimination. I want everyone who shares that vision to be part of building that nation, together.