Why cis attendees of RTN are letting trans women down

by Quinn Capes-Ivy // 9 October 2010, 18:21

Tags: London, trans, transphobia

A few years ago I attended, for two years running, London's Reclaim The Night march, organised by London Feminist Network. It was an amazing march, full of an powerful pro-woman atmosphere. We marched through London to raise awareness of violence against women. However the year after, and each year since, I have not attended.

The reason for my non-attendance is fairly simple. Then, I knew nothing about trans people other than what the newspapers had told me. Cis privilege meant I had not considered or noticed that there were few, if any, trans women in attendance. Over the year after the second march I attended, I met several amazing trans people online, did a lot of reading of blogs by trans people and though I am far from a perfect ally, I started to try to think and speak about trans people and their place in feminism.

Feminism should, by default, include trans women. I'd go so far as to say that, as trans women are many, many times more likely to be raped, killed or discriminated against on the basis of their gender than cis women are, we cis feminists should not just be including them but making them central in our activism. Unfortunately, that's not the case. We've long known that feminism as a movement is overwhelmingly white, able-bodied and middle class. It is also overwhelmingly cissexual.

While I spent that year learning, it came to my attention that the Reclaim The Night march that I had enjoyed so much, excluded trans women. If you email LFN, you will be told that of course trans women are welcome to attend. However, even after several years of repeated calls for that to be made clear and specific on the flyers and on the RTN website, no changes have been made. LFN's repeated and continuous refusal to explicitly include trans women when they say 'women-only' is extremely problematic and shows a lot of cis privilege and cissexism.

I mean, it wouldn't be hard, would it? After all these years of people talking to them about it, all they have to do is change the website so it says "cis and trans women only" or "self-identified women only". A couple of words changing on a website, that's all it needs. Clarification on the flyers that all women are welcome. But they steadfastly refuse to do so. The only conclusion that can be drawn from their reluctance, is that they don’t actually wish to state publicly that trans women are welcome, and the only conclusion to be drawn from that is that trans women are not in fact welcome by RTN's organisers.

Considering that London Feminist Network spoke out and demonstrated in favour of outspoken transphobe Julie Bindel when she was given her Stonewall award, this is hardly surprising. I wonder how much that has to do with LFN’s refusal to explicitly include trans women. I also wonder how much of it has to do with the faction of transphobic "radfems" who would kick up a stink about "women only spaces" including all women, and LFN's desire not to scare off these people.

This is where my disappointment in my fellow cis feminists comes in. Women I love, women I respect and who I consider friends, have continued to attend and will be attending this year's Reclaim The Night in London, despite being made aware of the march's transphobia and cissexism. I am disappointed, so disappointed, that they are still choosing to go. It seems to me to be a smack in the face to trans women. Many of the cis women I've spoken to who are attending, have said "But the march does so much good!" and "Well it's important, of course it's important... but I'd be missing out on so much if I didn't go."

So trans women are important to you, but not quite important enough for you to miss out on your night of female solidarity. I'm sorry, but that's just not good enough. What you're saying is that it's more important for you to take a walk, organised by a network who blatantly don't care about trans women, which implicitly excludes trans women, and that you're not willing to put your money where your mouth is, so to speak, by boycotting the march.

LFN and the other organisers of RTN are not listening. And why on earth should they, when so many cis women, by attending, are telling them "I care about trans women, but not quite enough to miss your march"? They won't listen unless we all take a stand. Every single one of us who gives a damn about the inclusion of trans women needs to boycott this march until its numbers dwindle so much that they have no choice but to listen and make the change that is so desperately needed. I'm taking that stand. Will you?

Comments From You

Jennifer // Posted 09 October 2010 at 18:48

I've said something similar to this many times. I've engaged in e-mail contact with LFN. Originally they were very helpful and responded to my enquiries, but as soon as I suggested they clarify their position on their website or in the RTN flyers, the contact stopped.

I'll to go RTN once LFN makes a clear, unequivocal and accessible (both print and internet) statement about their 'supposed' policy of trans inclusion - which I entirely doubt actually exists considering their transphobic celebrity cohorts.

sianushka // Posted 09 October 2010 at 18:56

thanks for writing this.

in bristol, we have always tried to make it clear that trans women are welcome to march in the woman only section of RTN. all self identified women are welcome. we always strive to make that explicit.

last year, the wording we used to make this clear was a bit clumsy, and helen g, who blogs here, emailed me with advice on how to amend the wording to make it clear and welcoming. i really appreciated it, because as a feminist fighting prejudice, i have cis privilege and having someone challenge this and give positive, constructive feedback allowed me to recognise my privilege. it also made me question my use of language and think carefully about what i was trying to say, and what needed to be said. i believe this made the march better by making it open and welcoming.

it only takes a sentence, and maybe some advice. why they don't include this is very sad and confusing.

HarpyMarx // Posted 09 October 2010 at 19:51

Many thanks for writing this post Anji, it had to be said. I agree with what you write.

I went last year, first RTN demo I have attended and the last. For various reasons (and was confronted with abusive language which was highly distressing) I won't be attending this year.

It should be about solidarity, inclusion and unity but it was far from it!

I wrote about my experiences on my blog because I've been a feminist activist for 25-odd years and was absolutely shocked by what I witnessed.

Helen G // Posted 09 October 2010 at 19:58

Excellent post, Anji, thank you for writing it.

RTN's reticence in making any public position statement about trans inclusion is something that Laura has written about here at The F-Word for the last two years (links here and here) and I know there are other bloggers, trans and cis, who have expressed their concerns too and yet RTN continue to ignore all requests for clarification of their position on trans inclusion.

As was so eloquently expressed by another trans woman after last year's RTN (which was held only a few hours after many of us had attended a Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil for our murdered trans siblings):

"The point is not that women like me would probably be OK on an RTN march, the point is that we don’t feel safe."

The irony, of course - as many trans women have pointed out, many times before - is that we have just as much right to be in these "women only spaces" as cis women. The reason we’re not there is because those spaces have been taken from us by cis women feminists, often by force and always without accountability. And that, I believe, is why so many cis women feminists are so contemptuous, so aggressively hostile, when trans women speak of our exclusion from "women only spaces" - attacking us and policing the borders of "their" feminism allows them to ignore their guilt about not accounting for their actions and those of their cis sisters for nearly half a century.

I maintain that any cis woman feminist who talks about "ending violence against women", whilst simultaneously excluding trans women from that work, is as much part of the problem as the patriarchal society which condones her abandonment of her trans sisters, whose loss to transphobic violence some of us will again be mourning on this year's Transgender Day of Remembrance in the week before RTN.

Laura // Posted 10 October 2010 at 10:45

Hear, hear Anji. The organisers of Feminism in London have this year stepped up and shown that it really isn't difficult to make it clear that trans women are included in their women only spaces. The fact that the RTN organisers choose not to do so, despite multiple people having taken the time to bring the issue up with them, shows that they simply do not care about trans women. That's not the kind of feminism I want to be a part of.

earwicga // Posted 10 October 2010 at 11:38

Absolutely! Great post Anji.

The RTN march in Bangor is open to all self-identified women.

Shame on RTN London.

Lynne Miles // Posted 10 October 2010 at 11:57

Great post, Anji, thanks for writing it. I boycotted RTN London last year for this reason and plan to do the same this year, next year, and for as long as the organisers retain their "don't mention the trans women" policy.

polly // Posted 10 October 2010 at 17:26

" I’d go so far as to say that, as trans women are many, many times more likely to be raped, killed or discriminated against on the basis of their gender than cis women are."

Can I ask what the evidence for this statement is? As in RELIABLE statistics? Since 100% of women I know are discriminated against on the basis of their gender, (I've never met one who isn't) a very large number (including me) have been raped or sexually assaulted and quite a lot are killed because they are female.

Why exactly is it considered necessary to minimise violence against women and misogyny to argue for trans inclusion?

Anji // Posted 10 October 2010 at 17:30

Thanks for the support everyone - not of me but of the decisions we are all making to boycott the march until trans women are explicitly included. :o)

Your validation especially, Helen, was important to me because I was terrified I was going to come across as somehow trying to speak for trans women. Thankfully it seems the post has been taken in the spirit it was intended - speaking to my fellow cis women who have the power to make LFN sit up and listen!

Amelia // Posted 10 October 2010 at 17:45

I'm was really glad to read this piece and see that I'm not alone in feeling this way.

Having recently moved to London I was looking forward to campaigning with London Feminist Network until I found out their attitude towards trans women and RTN. Just tolerating trans women as LFN seem to do at best (and defending Julie Bindel at worst) is not acceptable. Trans women need to be invited and welcomed to feminist events, just like cis women. LFN's attitude just promotes divisions where we should be working together for a common cause.

I will be boycotting RTN and all LFN events, until LFN explicitly show trans women that they are a respected part of the feminist community, and urge other feminists to do the same.

Helen G // Posted 10 October 2010 at 18:36

Polly:

There have been numerous investigations into violence against trans women; I have posted a list of links to a selection of the more recently published statistics at my own blog - http://www.birdofparadox.net/blog/?page_id=8220 - and I'm sure you will find the answers you seek there.

With regard to your closing sentence, as far as I'm aware nobody here is minimising violence against cis women to argue for trans inclusion; the point being made - as you yourself seem to be saying - is that all self-identified women, trans and cis, are discriminated against, with a disproportionately high number of us having been subjected to violence in all its forms. I think it's fair to say that what trans women like me are seeking is confirmation that RTN London is fighting for all self-identified women, trans and cis, and that we are all welcome to join together in protesting the violence.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 10 October 2010 at 18:44

I was thinking, seeing as it's been written that RTN in Bristol ARE making a conscious effort to include transwomen, maybe those boycotting the one in London could go to Bristol instead if finance allowed it, and take their friends. That way they don't miss out on a great cause but are also making a point about transinclusion?

earwicga // Posted 10 October 2010 at 19:16

It would be good if there was an alternative RTN website or a FB group that listed all marches which are inclusive. Or perhaps a tab on The F-Word FB page?

Anji // Posted 10 October 2010 at 19:27

Polly:

The sad fact is, there are no reliable statistics insofar as you would accept them. Because part of our cis privilege is that, while the world may not care too much about cis women being raped, killed and discriminated against, it certainly cares enough to research and work out the statistics - which it does not do for trans women because trans women’s lives matter even less.

Not to mention I wonder how you would feel if some man barged into a conversation about violence against cis women and demanded “evidence [and] ... reliable statistics” about that?!

It’s not ‘minimisation of violence against women and misogyny” because “violence against women and misogyny” affect trans women just as much as they affect cis women, by virtue of them being, well, women!

Jen // Posted 10 October 2010 at 21:12

The Cambridge RTN definitely advertises itself as being for all self-defining women. But thanks, Anji, for making me consider this issue more carefully - I'm not London-based, so I probably wouldn't go to that march anyway, but I will definitely look for signs of trans inclusivity at any other feminist events I might think about attending.

A J // Posted 11 October 2010 at 02:47

Brilliant article, Anji.

It's so sad that this sort of thing should be an issue at all.

But it clearly is - and it's only by reasonable people robustly standing up for what is right that anything will ever improve.

BookElfLeeds // Posted 11 October 2010 at 09:29

Thanks for this post, I've always been iffy about LFN attitute to trans women, and am keen to avoid supporting a movement than is transphobic.
However, I've been looking forward to RTN all year, not so much for anything but as a chance to meet all the great feminists I've been chatting to online only the last nine months. I know a few of us were wanting to arrange a 'tweet up' on the night, as it is such a big event. I'm more than happy to do this somewhere else, I know Leeds RTN is very positive in its assertion that all self-identifying women are welcome, that is on 4 December. Sian, when is Bristol's RTN? Could we all have a 'boycott London' thing, but make another one twice as big?

Helen G // Posted 11 October 2010 at 11:36

Laurel:

Yes, it's entirely possible that I could go to Bristol RTN, or any of the other inclusive marches - but I'd still be excluded from the one in my home city.

To be honest, though, I'm not sure how my attending an out-of-London, trans inclusive RTN would help. I don't believe RTN London would care: the unspoken message it's been sending out for too many years now is that trans women like me have no place protesting violence against women at RTN London, and as long as it's able to continue excluding trans women unchallenged, that seems to be the ideal outcome as far as it's concerned.

Attending Bristol, or any other RTN: while I'm sure it would be an amazing experience, would feel as if I'd given up on London and was walking away from the situation here. Also, I'm concerned that it might be read by the anti-trans lobby as though RTN were being let off the hook for its enforcement of a trans exclusive policy. "Ignore them for long enough and they'll go away"...

Laurel Dearing // Posted 11 October 2010 at 12:54

I said that comment thinking more about the trans allies that didn't want to drink out of the CIS-only fountain. I think the London one needs lobbying either way. I'm suggesting continuing at the other RTNs mostly because it might be seen as feminists not being interested in the concept or that women are less interested in feminism if they don't go at all.

Helen G // Posted 11 October 2010 at 12:56

Ah, okay - my misunderstanding; apologies for that.

Rose // Posted 11 October 2010 at 14:00


I found that post strange but interesting.

I would not really think of explicitly stating that 'women includes transwomen' on a poster.

With trans friends, I have always assumed that if I talk about 'getting the girls together', or whatever, they know they're invited. (Indeed I would not be surprised if I caused offence by saying, 'the girls, and transgirl,')

Sure, I recognise that it's different with friends, (who you can assume aren't transphobic), but I would still expect that an invitation to women to make all those that consider themselves women to feel invited.

I find it sad that you need to state that transwomen count as women - but I find it sadder that not everyone would be accepting. (The situation would be some much simpler if people could just be trusted to be 'nice'.... but in that world you wouldn't need the march anyway!)

Helen G // Posted 11 October 2010 at 14:43

Rose:

For an insight into the background issues, you may find these links helpful:

International Women’s Day, Million Women Rise, and trans inclusion (Lynne, 3 March 2010)

Reclaim the Night London (Laura, 16 November 2009)

Feminism in London workshop (Laura, 9 October 2009)

Jen // Posted 11 October 2010 at 15:46

Good post and timely. To respond to Rose - although Helen already did - coming from the London Feminist Network I would tend to assume they excluded trans folk by default, because of the stances they have taken in the past, because of their general politics, and all of this combine with the fact that they don't want to make it explicit that they are okay with trans people attending. Other minority groups have experienced problems on Reclaim the Night marches, so trans women wishing to attend could be forgiven for assuming someone is going to insult them or be abusive to them in some way and get away with it.

Generally, one of the things that puts me off the feminist movement is that there are groups of people who get marginalised, have an extremely nasty time of it at the hands of some of the more dominant groups, and although everyone else seems generally okay with these marginalised groups, everyone also tends to act like there's nothing wrong and we're all this rich choir of different, diverse voices and all that crap; which means that a lot of people are left on their own to struggle against the frustration and abuse.

I think this is especially true of trans women in feminism, but also working-class women and women of colour and any combination thereof. Although trans women probably have to put up with the worst abuse and exclusion, certainly the most overt.

That said, inclusion from a group that would want to include you just to tick you off a list and shut you up is a mixed blessing at best, and I think my objections to the LFN and the whole branch of feminism they are affiliated with would basically be longer than my arm. I think the decent thing to do in this case would be, as Anji said, for everyone to shun everything they organise and get together a bunch of organisations with, like, defensible goals, to organise a march instead.

Then again I have huge issues with the whole concept of 'Reclaim the Night', but this isn't really the place to air those issues.

sianushka // Posted 11 October 2010 at 15:53

hi Rose

in an ideal world, then yes, one day hopefully it would be obvious that all women includes trans women. yet, sadly, as you say, we don't live there yet.
i think (and please correct me if this is muddled) that in the past trans women have not been welcomed to women only spaces and the feminist movement has had an ugly history of trans phobia, from writers and speakers including germaine greer. hence why it is so important to be explicitly welcoming. hope that makes sense!

Butch Cassidyke // Posted 11 October 2010 at 16:44

While I think it's great when cis feminists speak out against trans feminist exclusion, I am really dubious about what really looks like a call for boycott.

I mean, it seems to me that if you want trans women to feel safer and more at ease in a "women-only" march, the solution would rather be to display signs of trans inclusion and let your trans friends know that you will support them. If all trans-friendly people boycott the event, that means if a trans woman decides to come (which I think is perfectly legitimate), she will feel all the more alone, won't she ?

I would understand a boycott if this event was actively excluding trans women, but from what I got the problem here is that they don't publicize that they are welcome, which seems different to me. And I am quite sceptical that the best answer for trans inclusion is to say "not saying it publicly means they are against it" rather than "well, they say it's cool, so let's bring our trans friends to the party and go together".

Helen G // Posted 11 October 2010 at 16:55

But RTN doesn't say "it's cool, so let's bring our trans friends to the party and go together".

Anywhere.

Anji // Posted 11 October 2010 at 17:39

Butch Cassidyke -

Our "trans friends" are telling us unequivocally that they do not and will not feel welcome, comfortable or safe until this tiny, tiny change is made and they are made explicitly welcome, not least because feminism has a long history of using "women-only" to mean "female-assigned-at-birth-only".

Butch Cassidyke // Posted 11 October 2010 at 19:27

Helen G:
"But RTN doesn't say "it's cool, so let's bring our trans friends to the party and go together".

Anywhere."

I didn't say they do. Actually my point was rather that it's not necessary to wait for RTN's organizers to do it before having some trans women inclusion and visibility in this march.

Jen // Posted 12 October 2010 at 06:40

I think that if LFN could actively exclude trans women and not spark controversy, they would. In fact they have explicitly counter-demonstrated a trans women demonstration before (the Bindel thing), so you know, I'd go as far as saying - without wishing to put words in anyone else's mouth who is agreeing with Anji - that I would not be comfortable at all with them organising any event I would be interested in attending.

If they still feel the same way, essentially changing those few words would in effect achieve nothing. However, it's heartening to see quite a lot of people coming out in support of this post, since this would have been quite a different thread a little while ago, with pseudo-scientific analyses of whether trans women can claim to exist and what have you (another reason I think why you can't just say 'why don't trans women just bring their friends', when you can't be sure it wouldn't result in an ugly confrontation, or at the very least a tedious and ugly blog war post-march).

v // Posted 12 October 2010 at 17:18

"it's heartening to see quite a lot of people coming out in support of this post, since this would have been quite a different thread a little while ago"

maybe everyone who disagrees with it thinks they'll be moderated out and/or insulted if they say anything.

thats my bet, anyway.

Maeve // Posted 12 October 2010 at 17:27

v, I have certainly noticed that many posts here now only have comments which endorse the views of the poster. It's sad.

Helen G // Posted 12 October 2010 at 18:47

v, Maeve:

Comments submitted to The F-Word for consideration for publication are moderated by a member of the TFW collective in accordance with the guidelines (including The F-Word bloggers' position on transphobia and cissexism) which are set out at the foot of each individual post. Comments that comply with those guidelines will be released from the moderation queue; those that don't, won't.

Thank you for your query; I trust this clarifies the situation.

coldharbour // Posted 12 October 2010 at 18:53

@v

"maybe everyone who disagrees with it thinks they'll be moderated out and/or insulted if they say anything."

Saying trans woman should not be allowed to march with the other woman at RTN is implying trans woman are not woman which is transphobic, the F-Word has an official policy of banning transphobic remarks so in that case censorship would be obligatory and more than justified.

@Jen

'I think that if LFN could actively exclude trans women and not spark controversy, they would.'

I think you don't need to look very far to find LFN attitudes regarding trans women, namely this:

http://www.ldnfeministnetwork.ik.com/p_BookGroup.ikml

Do they really think a group with a bunch of cis woman sitting around and talking about the ideological merits of ultra-transphobic academics like Mary Daly and Sheila Jeffreys is being inclusive to trans women? In fact my original post included quotes from the said academics but they were so vile and offensive I was asked to remove them. I find it ironic that London is seen as the most forward-thinking progressive part of the U.K. when every other RTN in the country seems to be inclusive.

v // Posted 12 October 2010 at 20:03

it truly does.

coldharbour // Posted 12 October 2010 at 21:35

@Jennifer

"Originally they were very helpful and responded to my enquiries, but as soon as I suggested they clarify their position on their website or in the RTN flyers, the contact stopped."

I think in a way this is the most insulting aspect, it shows how unaccountable and undemocratic their organization is, if they at least were honest and tried to justify their views I would have more respect for them. I'm surprised no one from the LFN has not made a response on here yet.

Jen // Posted 13 October 2010 at 07:08

V,

I was talking about the number of people who think trans people's rights and human rights are one and the same, and in this case the fact that trans women's rights and women's rights are one and the same. Also, I think it's heartening that the F-Word themselves have taken a position because two years ago it seemed they were afraid to do so, because they were afraid of angering the diverse voices of feminism, particularly the diverse voices running a lot of the major feminist events (like LFN and Object), the ones writing about feminism in the Guardian (Bindel, Greer...). In this case, the outspoken defenders of women's rights are actually trailing behind European Human Rights legislation by eight to ten years (Goodwin vs United Kingdom was in 2002) and behind some European countries' legislation by more than that: by their definition of 'womanhood', they are trailing behind a bunch of centrist governments by ten years. That's how reactionary they are.

In terms of the queer rights, we're talking 40 years, and I'm just going by the Stonewall riots so probably more.

As far as I'm concerned, a trans woman almost has more right to be in a women-only march than I do, or more claims to being a woman, anyway. I can take or leave being a 'woman', I don't depend on being considered one, my right to legally remain one will never be challenged if I move to a different country, and should I wish to conclude a marriage with someone of the opposite sex, everyone involved will be overjoyed. A trans woman can't take or leave being a woman, she has to cling to it and fight for it, and what's more she's more marginalised for being a woman and more likely to get beaten up for it.

Coldharbour,

Yeah, that's kind of my point, that they didn't just decide to be transphobic over one thing, it's something central to their methodology and their thinking that makes them arrive at that conclusion. So I think changing a few words would be a little bit of an insult to everyone's intelligence; far better that someone else organises the march. Surely, just because they call themselves something as general as the London Feminist Network doesn't mean they're the only game in town?

Anji // Posted 19 October 2010 at 10:56

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