On the Basis of Gender Identity
By Gianna Francesca Vescio
The debate for women’s equal rights often brings questions about the suitability of women for roles and activities traditionally filled by men based on perceived “inherent biological differences” between men and women. What this language fails to acknowledge is that womanhood is not dependent on biology, and one of the most vulnerable groups of women in the world is at-risk solely because their birth sex does not align with their gender identity. The stigma surrounding transgender women puts them at high-risk for targeted violence and discrimination, but the feminist movement may hold the key to making the world safer for their transgender sisters.
Statistics for transgender issues can be difficult to compile. Just like their cisgender counterparts, many transgender women can be wary of reporting or admitting crimes against them. A survey in 2015 found that nearly half of respondents (47%) experienced sexual assault in their lifetime with rates higher amongst Black respondents, sex workers, and those with disabilities. Additionally, more than half of respondents (54%) were victims of violence from intimate partners.1 The workplace is no easier for transgender people: one in four transgender people have lost their job due to bias while three-fourths have reported experiencing workplace discrimination or harassment due to their gender identity.2 Even in housing, transgender people are more likely to be turned down or evicted with one in five people experiencing homelessness at some point and 20-40% of homeless youth identifying as LGBTQ+.3
These are not even the entirety of the issues facing transgender people, particularly women with problems accessing critical healthcare, identity documents, and treatment by state and government officials in the military and police. So, what can the feminist movement do for a group experiencing prejudice everywhere they go? As with any other group, the key lies in two major factors: normalization and protective policies. Foremost, the feminist movement cannot tolerate discrimination from its own members. Many feminist-identifying women see transgender women as a “threat” to the cause, rather than embracing them with open arms. By calling out this behavior and making conscious steps to incorporate a transgender agenda into the framework of feminism, the presence of transgender leaders in the movement becomes commonplace. The feminist movement was able to normalize women in places where they had never been before and overcome stigma that kept women strapped into strict roles. They are equipped to do the same for transgender women with enough public education and exposure.
Pushing for specific policies will also be key to protecting transgender women. The first seven months of 2020 alone were deadlier for transgender people than the entirety of 2019. By July 2020, 28 people were killed, 23 of which were women, and the number could be higher with police misgendering victims.4 The National Center for Transgender Equality supports the implementation of non-discrimination laws, school policies, and justice system reforms as practical tools for the government to show that prejudiced treatment of transgender people will not be tolerated and is punishable by law. This includes allowing transgender people to use their appropriate bathrooms, access to vital healthcare regardless of criminal status, not allowing gender-identity-based bias in hiring or purchasing processes, and much more at both the state and local level.5
With every new generation, people are growing more comfortable expressing their authentic identities and this has come with an increasing amount of pushback. The feminist movement is perfectly poised, with their involvement in public opinion and government to aid in the protection of transgender women through solidarity, exposure, and policy.
For next month’s entry in this series, we will turn the conversation to the descendants of some of the first women to live in the United States and their plights, the Indigenous women of North America.