BY SOPHIE STONE
No one can deny that transgender visibility is at an all-time high. As New Zealand continues to recognise and become more inclusive of different gender identities, words like “nonbinary” and “genderqueer” have fallen into mainstream discussion.
That said, there’s still an element of resistance towards transgender rights among some New Zealanders. As individual accounts of dealing with transphobia continue to be brought to light, such as the recent news of a trans woman being denied access to a female only gym in Wellington, it’s obvious not everyone is on board with recognising trans people as the gender they identify with.
However, if you’ve kept up with the news recently you may have noticed members of one group in particular drawing friction with the transgender community. Feminists.
To some people this might seem confusing. Two groups, both with the objective of improving the rights of people who traditionally have been silenced, oppressed, and recognised as lesser for their biology. Surely they should be in some position of mutual understanding, a common goal of overcoming prejudice bringing them together?
Well, it turns out things are a little more complicated than that.
In August, a government select committee recommended changes to the process of amending gender on an individual’s birth certificate, in addition to including a third, nonbinary marker. While currently people must go through the Family Court to change their registered gender, providing medical evidence in the process, the suggestion is that this would be replaced with a simpler statutory declaration process which requires no medical evidence, similar to the process taken to change gender on a driver’s license. This would make the process far easier for trans people to achieve, and the recommendations are strongly supported by the trans community.
However, while the trans community might be in favour, in response to the news many well-known New Zealand feminists criticised the recommendations. One prominent speaker was Renee Gerlich, who described the suggestion as abandoning “women for gender identity” in a tweet. Her reason for doing so is a viewpoint which causes a fundamental split within feminists in New Zealand, and worldwide. As someone who does not recognise transgender women as real women, she is arguing that they should not be able to change the gender on their birth certificate.
While Gerlich has already drawn flak for being transphobic in the past, such as last month when her women’s suffrage poster design was accused of being discriminatory, she is not alone in her opinion. As a feminist who does not recognise transgender women as real women, she is what many feminists refer to as a TERF – trans exclusionary radical feminist. Often used as a denigrative term, it refers to feminists who believe gender is fixed from birth, and that trans people shouldn’t be allowed to self-identify their gender.
TERFs offer different reasons for rejecting the inclusion of transgender women. One common argument is that by allowing people to amend their gender on birth certificates and be regarded as female without physical change, the government is allowing anyone who claims to be female to inhabit female-only spaces. They argue that this will potentially allow predatory men to access spaces set up with female safety in mind.
However, it is worth noting not all feminists are trans exclusionary. Intersectional feminists often slam TERF’s for what they consider to be transphobic ideology. Intersectional feminists promote inclusivity and empowerment to all women, including those who are transgender, and many of them reject trans exclusionary feminism as representing the feminist movement.
This kind of feminism was demonstrated by certain Labour and Green MP’s following the backlash of the recommendations, who expressed their support behind transgender women via Twitter. Marama Davidson of the Green Party tweeted her own supportive message while Labour MP Kiri Allan described the resistance from radical feminists as “transphobic.”
Meanwhile Gill Greer, the Chief Executive and Gender Equal NZ Spokesperson, spoke on the organisation’s support of trans women, arguing that they should be allowed to access female-only spaces, as “trans women are women” and that the “view that trans rights undermine the work of the early suffragists, [is] troubling”.
Ultimately, trans women are one of the most marginalised groups in society, facing higher rates of sexual assault and suicide than cisgender people. It would be fair to say that they experience many of the same struggles the feminist movement is concerned with. However, being recognised as women and allowed access to female spaces is just another battle they continue to face in 2018.
SOPHIE STONE is a geeky 19-year-old who loves Doctor Who and has been writing for TEARAWAY for two years. Currently trying to navigate her gap year, wishing she could pursue a degree in chicken nugget tasting.
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