Don’t call yourself feminist if you are transphobic and can’t see past your cisgender privilege!

3 05 2009

I linked to this story earlier today, but I think it needs to be addressed more thoroughly. The Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter recently won a court case which granted them the right to refuse to hire a counselor, Kimberly Nixon, because she is a trans woman. Their reasoning? Because she is a trans woman she is not truly a woman and therefore not woman enough to be a counselor at a battered women’s shelter.

Rape Relief spokesperson Suzanne Jay denies that this case is, or ever was, about discrimination and transphobia. Instead she says, “For us, the struggle was about allowing a women’s group to organize as we saw fit.” She claims that Rape Relief needs counselors with similar shared life experiences in which they’ve been oppressed by men “since the day they were born female”. So according to her logic, since trans women are not born with female genitals they simply cannot have these “shared life experiences” of patriarchal male oppression.

This obscures the fact that trans people often are victims of violence, including sexual violence, and it is unfortunate that violence against trans people is too often overlooked. The Gender, Violence and Resource Access Survey preliminarily reports that 50% of individuals in the intersex and trans community have been raped or sexually assaulted by an intimate partner. Rape Relief cannot operate as a feminist organization if it fails to include trans women, if it fails to provide employment and counseling/relief services to trans women. Rape Relief is not truly an all-women space if it operates under such a narrow definition of woman.

And then, to add more insult to injury, Jay speaks of how happy and relieved Rape Relief is that the case is finally closed after eleven and a half years. No, it’s not a matter of human rights violations, discrimination, and transphobia. It’s not about how Kimberly Nixon, and the trans community as a whole, has no legal protection from discrimination or human rights violations, lack job security, and cannot feel safe navigating around in public spaces. Instead, it’s about how poor Rape Relief had to spend more than $100,000 on this court case and how they’ve “endured almost 12 years of attack on Rape Relief’s reputation and resources.” Boo Hoo. Way to displace accountability and paint yourself as the victim.

Jay also said:

“I do think it’s really important to remember that Rape Relief never wanted this to go through any kind of court process. We offered $500 for hurt feelings to Kimberly Nixon. We tried to apologize in person and in writing and we also asked for mediation, and we really tried to settle this in a way that would indicate that we were sorry for hurting her feelings.”

“$500 for hurt feelings”? That’s absolutely ridiculous! Apologizing for hurting Nixon’s feelings is completely condescending and belittling. It makes it seem like this case was just a petty playground fight where someone accidentally hurt someone else’s feelings. And offering $500? What for?! This also detracts away from the fact that Rape Relief is transphobic and can now discriminate legally, masking behind the name of feminism. You cannot further marginalize an already oppressed and marginalized group under the name of feminism. Feminism is about tackling and eradicating all forms of oppression because they are all interlocking structures that function together to oppress and maintain the status quo.

All of this boils down to being blinded by cisgender privilege. Until trans women are truly accepted as women and are not denied entry into public spaces, “feminist” organizations and all other organizations; until the lives, experiences and bodies of transwomen are truly legitimized and accepted, we need to be aware of our cisgender privilege. Differentiating between “women” and “trans women” (or “men” and “trans men”) insinuates that trans women are not women (or trans men are not men) and instead belong to some sort of weird, separate gender category. It is offensive and unacceptable for Rape Relief to stand as a feminist organization yet be so ignorant and transphobic.


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