Kathleen Stock published an article earlier this month on why she believes self identification isn’t sufficient to legally consider one a woman. Her primary objection is that allowing gender reassignment based on self identification without medical certification would harm those she considers to be the original occupants of the category woman.
Stock claims that it’s clear that women only spaces such as changing rooms, hostels, and prisons should be based on sex category, which she thinks is necessary for female* protection. But this is not clear. The only reasoning she provides is that most trans women don’t have bottom surgery, and that many have a sexual orientation towards females. Both of these should be rejected. The latter is straight up homophobic, and in fact has been used against lesbian cis women as well. If anything should be clear, it’s that attraction to women in itself doesn’t harm women. The former implies that male violence towards women stems at least partly from biology, or at best that we should discriminate against people based on sharing any similarities in physical features with groups more likely to commit violence, regardless if there’s any evidence that they themselves are a risk, and to date, there is little evidence to support the idea that trans women are at more risk to commit violence towards women. The only evidence given by those who do believe that trans women are more prone towards violence are anecdotes, some of which are difficult to even confirm if true or not. While there are few studies, there has been one (oddly popularized by TERFs) showing that trans women aren’t more of a risk than cis women. There has also been a study done comparing crime reports among cities that adopted trans friendly policies for public restrooms and those who hadn’t, showing that there was no difference in crime. We can also look to Ireland, which has allowed trans people to legally change their gender based on self declaration since 2015. Even if we were to agree that separation is necessary if there was a risk, we have no sufficient reason to believe there is one.
She also argues that allowing self identification would harm cis women by granting trans women access to women only resources and protections, assuming that these are in place only for females and ought to be that way. Under common objections to her position, she attempts to refute the claim that trans women are more at risk in certain spaces such as in men’s prisons and face discrimination in the workplace by linking murder rates in various countries, which says nothing about their high risk within those specific contexts. It’s comparable to saying there’s little evidence for female oppression because they have lower overall rates of being murdered compared to males. But even if she were to accept that trans women are abused and mistreated, she believes this isn’t adequate enough to allow them access to women only spaces and resources, saying that instead there should be funding for resources and spaces specifically to trans women. While I would agree that there should be resources specifically for trans people that trans women should have access to, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have access to women’s resources and spaces as well.
I could cite various statistics showing that trans women face similar or higher risks than cis women, but I would agree that this alone doesn’t necessitate allowing access to women’s spaces and resources. Gay men face increased risk of rape and sexual assault in prison as well, however I have yet to see anyone advocating that they be moved to women’s prisons. If we accept segregated spaces based on the fact that one group is oppressed (Stock writes that if females weren’t systematically disadvantaged then self identification would not be an issue), then we would have to show anyone wanting access is oppressed similarly. Statistics are not enough as they can be interpreted in multiple ways. Here, listening to trans women would be vital. Much of feminist theory began with consciousness raising, listening to women, and drawing from their experiences and insights. When one includes trans women in their analysis of women’s oppression, one can easily see that that they are oppressed as women, just like any other woman, especially when one takes into consideration that not all women face oppression as women in the exact same way all the time. Women can face other oppressions, and sometimes those can combine in a way that can’t be separated. Trans women may face transphobia, but this does not exclude them from misogyny, and the two can’t always be separated so the misogyny they face may sometimes differ from the misogyny cis women face. Ignoring differences among women is what harms women. It prevents women from fully analyzing women’s oppression and it leaves many women left behind. Trans women rightfully deserve resources and protections as women, as that is how they are socially situated. It doesn’t matter if females are the majority of women. Nor would it matter if throughout much of history it was only females who were oppressed as women (this is doubtful but most anti trans feminists seem to believe so). Looking towards the past may be helpful, but it would be absurd to ignore what the current conditions are.
*I will be trying to use the word female in this post the same as Stock does. The way she uses it can be argued against, but focusing on that in this post would distract from the main argument.