Amelia Abraham is a freelance journalist writing on music, film and identity politics
In sleet and rain, opposite 10 Downing Street on Sunday, I stood in a crowd cheering Britain’s most revered feminists as they took the stage one by one. There was Helen Pankhurst, activist and granddaughter of Emmeline, who spoke about how far we’ve come in 100 years since women’s partial suffrage, Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, the lesbian founder of UK Black Pride, and Stella Creasy, the MP for Walthamstow.
One of the biggest cheers however, was reserved for Paris Lees, transgender journalist and campaigner. “I’m here for the same reason a lot of you are here: because we need each other,” said Lees. “Every woman counts. Every woman deserves to be safe. Every woman deserves to live her life without limit. And we leave no one behind.”
As heartening as it was to see Lees warmly welcomed by the crowd of thousands, what was less heartening was to hear that she was nervous to take to the stage, given a recent climate of transphobia in Britain. Privately, Lees later told me she was scared of having eggs thrown at her.
Transgender Labour women’s officer Lily Madigan voiced similar concerns about attending the march on Twitter: “I should … be able to go on a women’s march without being threatened and feeling unsafe, and I absolutely should not have to defend my gender to the point of tears most days!” she wrote on Sunday.
The attacks Lees and Madigan are referring to have played out not just in tabloids, or the dark recesses of the internet, but in Britain’s biggest newspapers. In late 2017, some compared being transgender to having a mental illness (although it was declassified as such in 2012). Others peddled the myth that children in Britain are being encouraged to transition (they can’t, you have to be over 18). And then there was another debate, one that continues to leave many of my cisgender (meaning “not trans”) friends on the fence. It centres on gendered spaces such as women’s toilets and changing rooms. If we let trans women into these spaces, goes the argument – made by Labour MP Caroline Flint – doesn’t that mean we have to let men in, too, putting women’s safety at risk?
For months I’ve felt betrayed by this type of rhetoric and sick of seeing feminism used as a stick to beat trans women with. The gendered spaces debate, while confusing to some, is founded more in moral panic than evidence. In countries such as Malta, Argentina, Denmark and Ireland, where trans people can self determine their legal gender and therefore use gendered spaces of their choosing, there is no proof that there have been any problems or dangers to women. Read more via Guardian