Genderquake: Why There's No Room for Transphobia in Feminism

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“[Cutting off your penis] doesn’t make you a fucking woman, it makes you a man without a cock!” - Germaine Greer

I was intrigued when I saw that Channel 4 had created Genderquake, a series about gender and trans issues. As a white, cis, abled lesbian I wholeheartedly acknowledge my privilege and strive to educate myself on how to be as good an ally as possible to all minority groups.  From the point of view of an ally, then, it was painfully disappointing to see that alongside panellists such as Caitlyn Jenner and trans activist Munroe Bergdorf, Channel 4 were also providing a platform for known TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) Germaine Greer and Sarah Ditum.

Why not have an entirely non-cis panel discussing their individual experiences and struggles, which would not only educate a wide audience, but also give support to gender-questioning viewers at home? I for one am not particularly interested in what two straight cis women have to say about gender - I certainly wouldn’t think it was my place to be on a panel discussing gender as a cis woman. I also completely acknowledge the fact that it might be completely out of line to even write about transphobia having not been through it myself, as we should always be listening to trans people (especially trans people of colour) on these issues over anybody else. This being said, I feel that allies should speak up and not let these issues go ignored.

OFCOM received over 200 complaints about the way the show was carried out. There was disgusting transphobic heckling from a number of audience members (including a Green Party member who has now been suspended), and it has now been revealed that audience members were told to make their opinions heard.  Munroe Bergdorf was ignored when she asked for an audience member to be removed for shouting aggressive, transphobic remarks at her, showing  that controversy was more important than hearing trans women’s voices.

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One of the most dangerous topics discussed (and one commonly used by transphobes)  was if allowing people to self-identify will lead to an increase in sexual assault in bathrooms and changing rooms. This argument completely ignores the fact that anybody can enter any public bathroom at any time, regardless of how they identify. Arguing that allowing people to choose which bathroom to use will increase sexual assault is equating trans people with sexual predators, and is used as an excuse to make trans people unwelcome in public spaces. A sexual predator is a sexual predator, laws around gender identity won’t change this - there are already laws against sexual predators.

Despite the fact that there is no evidence of trans people being violent in bathrooms, this is an obsession for a lot of TERFs. Why was there no real discussion on the violence and sexual assault trans people face? Why was the discussion guided towards why trans people ‘make life harder’ for cis people, and not the other way round?

The Trump administration recently instructed officials to use “biological sex” in determining house assignments for prisoners. Trans prisoners are already 13 times more likely to face sexual assault in comparison to non-trans prisoners, and this is only going to make those statistics worse. There is solid evidence  proving high levels of violence and sexual assault against trans people (and this is with a high number of trans people not reporting hate crimes against them).

Many activists, specialists, and non-cis people turned down appearing on Genderquake and it’s not hard to understand why. One of these people was Helen Webberly, trans advocate and gender specialist, and as she so rightly said in her article explaining why she didn’t go on the show:

“The time for debate around the existence and validity of trans people is over...the conversation must now move on to address how we can better serve the needs and interests of trans people as a society.”

If Channel 4 want to recover from this frankly quite awfully handled ‘debate’, they need to step up with another series. This time, instead of creating shows that  are obviously intended to be controversial for views, they need to put minority voices at the forefront - no cis people debating their existence, just a series of programmes made by and featuring trans/ non binary people and showing them as individuals..

And with regards to trans exclusion in feminism - if you don’t think trans women are really women, and you don’t think as women they deserve equal rights, then perhaps you shouldn’t be calling yourself a feminist. As Ash Sarkar said during the Genderquake debate, “the most important word we have in feminism is solidarity”.

Article by Laura Hely Hutchinson
Social Media Marketing Executive and Freelance Writer