UK: Why Are Some Feminists In The UK Freaking Out About Trans Rights?

Morgan M Page is a trans writer and artist in London, England. She runs the trans history podcast One From the Vaults.


So why is the UK losing its mind over trans people? Anti-trans feminists, accusing trans women of invading women’s spaces, and anti-trans lesbians, angered at trans women being welcomed into the lesbian community, have been whipped up into a fury by proposed changes to trans rights legislation in Britain.

Last Tuesday, alongside releasing the results of a massive National LGBT Survey, the government opened consultations to reform the Gender Recognition Act of 2004 — the piece of legislation regulating how trans people can legally change our genders. The current legislation requires trans people to jump through numerous hoops to “prove” that we’re “trans enough.” These hoops include getting a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, living two years in our “acquired gender." The legislation also allows for a “spousal veto,” which means that disgruntled or abusive spouses can hold up the process. The law also doesn’t allow for the recognition of nonbinary identities. And finally, all of this evidence must be submitted to a secretive panel of strangers we’re never allowed to meet. The GRA as it currently stands lags behind more progressive legislation in countries like Argentina and Ireland.

Trans-exclusionary radical feminists, known as TERFs (though they consider this term a slur), believe that reforming the GRA would allow trans women, whom they characterize as men in disguise, access to women’s bathrooms, women’s refuges (shelters), and other women’s spaces — beliefs explained in the literature handed out by anti-trans protesters at Pride on Saturday.

But these rights are already protected under the Equality Act 2010, and the reform of the GRA would have no positive or negative effect on any other piece of existing legislation. Trans people in the UK already regularly use the bathrooms associated with our genders, and trans women already access women’s refuges and many women’s services without incident. What should have been a fairly innocuous update to an overly laborious legal gender-change process has instead, for some feminists, become the frontline for debate over what makes a woman, who gets to define that, and the evolving landscape of queer language and identity.

Let’s not get it twisted: This isn’t a battle between all cis feminists and trans women. It’s a battle between a small but vocal and politically connected group of anti-trans bigots and everyone else. A coalition of Welsh women’s organizations this week released a statement of solidarity and support for trans rights — making this Welsh-Canadian scream “Cymru Am Byth!” a little too loud in the office. Meanwhile, organizers of London’s Butch, Please lesbian dance party released a statement on Facebook and Instagram condemning the anti-trans protesters at Pride in London titled “Not in My Name.” Europe’s largest LGBT campaigning organization, Stonewall, has criticized Pride in London’s actions and statements, with CEO Ruth Hunt writing, “Pride in London had a duty to act and protect trans people ... They didn’t. They had a duty to condemn the hatred directed at trans people. They didn’t.” Even the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, released a strong statement condemning transphobia immediately following the event.

This small group of hateful bigots here in England finds their roots in early 1970s America. Radical lesbian activists at that time merged with the second-wave feminist movement, starting iconic organizations and events that centered the voices of lesbian feminists. But within these groups, divisions quickly broke out over a number of issues, none more controversial than the existence of lesbian trans women and their place in the women’s movement. Read more via Buzzfeed