Legalities of excluding trans women from women only spaces

// 22 May 2012

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After Laura’s piece on the F-Word blog, commenters suggested that excluding trans women from women-only space is illegal. Unfortunately, the laws surrounding exclusion of trans* people from women only spaces are far from clear. The Equalities Act 2010 was not a particularly progressive piece of legislation (it carefully excludes some immigrants from disability rights, for example). Hidden away in Section 28* of Schedule 3 to the Act is a provision that gender reassignment discrimination is acceptable in the provision of single-sex services, “if the conduct in question is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.”

In non-legal terms, that means that it is permissible to have cis-only space if there’s a good reason for justification. The example given in the accompanying notes is

“A group counselling session is provided for female victims of sexual assault. The organisers do not allow transsexual people to attend as they judge that the clients who attend the group session are unlikely to do so if a male-to-female transsexual person was also there. This would be lawful.”

However, and thanks to Sarah Brown for pointing me at this weighty tome, the Code of Practice also says that

“Service providers should be aware that where a transsexual person is visually and for all practical purposes indistinguishable from a non-transsexual person of that gender, they should normally be treated according to their acquired gender, unless there are strong reasons to the contrary.

As stated at the beginning of this chapter, any exception to the prohibition of discrimination must be applied as restrictively as possible and the denial of a service to a transsexual person should only occur in exceptional circumstances.”

What are these exceptional circumstances? Who knows; we’re not told, other than that it would include a group counselling session for cis female victims of sexual assault.

Would it cover the Rad Fem 2012 conference? It might do. Cis-women-only space is not inherently unlawful if there is a “legitimate aim,” and the notes suggest that catering to a target audience who would be made uncomfortable by the presence of trans women would, astonishingly, be a legitimate aim. Generally, safe spaces are based on institutionalised oppression. Yes, I said at the beginning it wasn’t progressive.

It might not, of course. On a more robust reading, it could be argued that there is no legitimate aim and that a blanket policy would run counter to the ‘exceptional circumstances’ requirement. But the trouble with law is that these wrinkles aren’t ironed out until it is tested in court, and so far this hasn’t been tested.

So that’s the law; make of it what we will. There are some who would say it makes sufficient provision. I’m rather in favour of a new Scrap Section 28 campaign, myself.

But leaving the law aside, let’s look at the incredibly anti-feminist practicalities. The Code of Practice essentially confirms that if you can’t tell someone is trans or not, then they shouldn’t be the subject of discrimination – which means that trans women who “pass,” or who give no visual clues to their medical history, are entitled to more favourable treatment than those who don’t.

This in turn means that anybody who is running a cis-only event, whether legally or not, gets to play Gender Gatekeepers. Given that chromosomal lab analysis on arrival is impractical, how do they do that? Well, by look, of course, which means that Jenna Talackova would walk straight on in to the tea and biscuits while a gender-non-conforming cis woman might be subjected to a humiliating interrogation on her gender – by other feminists!” In the context of an event, it would be unpleasant. In the context of a sexual assault survivors’ group it could be devastating.

Gender policing one another on femininity is the antithesis of what feminism is about. If I want to be sized up for daintiness and probability of possessing ovaries, the patriarchy will oblige any day of the week. In feminist space, I want to be taken for who I am on my own terms, thanks.

Feminists more than anybody else should know that being a woman is not about socially constructed gender roles. And it’s not about a uterus or menstruation or even the absence of a Y chromosome, because plenty of women don’t have a uterus, don’t menstruate, and some women do have a Y chromosome (XXY is just one of the many configurations possible.) If ‘woman’ can (or should) be defined, it is by subconscious gender, that part of your id which knows who you are and would still know if you were a brain in a jar. That can’t be policed. Whether or not it would be desirable, reasonable or legal to try to exclude trans women, it’s not possible. Or at least, not without looking very much like the same patriarchy that I thought we were overthrowing.

*Yes, the irony struck me too.

Comments From You

Feminist Avatar // Posted 23 May 2012 at 5:10 am

I agree that until this goes to court, it will remain rather vague what ‘exceptional circumstances’ are, and that the law as it stands is hugely problematic because it does appear to enforce the importance of ‘passing’ to gender identity! But, I would say a blanket ban is illegal, because in the services code (tome) above it says:

p.198 13.60

As stated at the beginning of this chapter, any exception to the prohibition of discrimination must be applied as restrictively as possible and the denial of a service to a transsexual person should only occur in exceptional circumstances. A service provider can have a policy on provision of the service to transsexual users but should apply this policy on a case-by-case basis in order to determine whether the exclusion of a transsexual person is

proportionate in the individual circumstances. Service providers will need to balance the need of the transsexual person for the service and the detriment to them if they are denied access, against the needs of other service users and any detriment that may affect them if the transsexual person has access to the service. To do this will often require discussion with service users (maintaining confidentiality for the transsexual service user). Care should betaken in each case to avoid a decision based on ignorance or prejudice. Also,the provider will need to show that a less discriminatory way to achieve the objective was not available.

In addition, the case of A.D & G v Lancashire Health Authority (Court of Appeal; July 1999), on the provision of gender reassignment surgery, ruled that any practice that amounted to a blanket ban was unlawful and irrational.

So, having a blanket ban is unlawful and shows absolutely no good will towards providing this service to transexual persons and they have not shown that a less discriminatory way to achieve the objective was not available.

It is also unclear whether people with a gender recognition certificate can be legally be excluded against under same-sex provisions of this nature, given that p.32 says:


The Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA) provides that where a person

holds a gender recognition certificate they must be treated according to their acquired gender.

In the advice to the public (which is the more user friendly version of this service guide), it repeats this saying: “Where someone has a gender recognition certificate they should be treated in their acquired gender for all purposes and therefore should not be excluded from single sex services.” And it says this in the section which discusses the law around single-sex events. Now the user friendly version is not the law, but it is the guide to how the law should be interpreted and judges would be expected to take this into account when making rulings.

Moreover, we know from other legal contexts that having a GRC means that exclusions that may be applied to other transgender people cannot apply, so that the EHRC states on their website for employment law: “There are only very limited circumstances where a Genuine Occupational Qualification (GOQ) might lawfully apply – and even these exceptions cease to apply when an applicant has a Gender Recognition Certificate.”

However, and really problematically, this seemingly straightforward position was fucked by the examples given in the guidance accompanying the Equality Act 2010 cited above, and was rightly criticised as regressive. However, these examples have not been tested in court; moreover, all exceptions of this nature have applied to ‘intimate’ situations, where close physical contact, nudity or emotional distress in a counselling context may mean that it appears reasonable for people to ask for a single-sex service that excludes transgender individuals. I’m not sure that an event with 300+ people could reasonably claim this.

That’s why I reckon they are behaving illegally. I also think that a volunteer organisation doesn’t want to find themselves being the legal case study that clarifies this law, because unlike the B&B owners who discriminated against a same-sex couple, they might not have a wealthy benefactor to pay their bills.

Alison // Posted 23 May 2012 at 9:05 am

Thanks for this – incredibly useful, if rather depressing!

Steff // Posted 23 May 2012 at 10:41 am

I have watched this debate grow over the last couple of weeks and now here is my point. As a survivor of childhood/adulthood sexual abuse by men I find the idea of allowing transwomen into women-only safe spaces problematic. This is despite being a feminist and not every wanting to discriminate against anybody especially those who make this transition, which has got to be hard work. However, my experience of men is that they are untrustworthy, manipulative and sex-obsessed: we can argue till the cows come home about whether this is nature or nurture, but as a sexual abuse survivor I don’t trust men. And that’s it. And so for my safe space I do not want men in it – not even if they have made the transition. I know that this is an unpopular view in the feminist blogosphere, but before I get shouted down by everyone – please remember that I am a sexual abuse survivor and we all recognise that sexual abuse survivors should be heard. This is me asking to be heard and also me asking for the debate to start over how we get over this. Because until the needs of sexual abuse survivors are taken into account in this debate, then the RadFem (of which I am not a part of) decision to exclude men from women-only safe spaces is not going to go away. Another point: I am using a friends log in details, because I do not want to be identified – should I really feel like that on the fword?

sian norris // Posted 23 May 2012 at 10:45 am

exactly, i’ve been thinking about this too.

the only way to decide if a woman is a trans woman or not is to *look*

and so they’re deciding, as feminists, who they believe looks like a cis-woman.

which means that they’re conforming with and agreeing with male-constructed ideals of what women are ‘supposed’ to look like.

the people who decide what women are supposed to look like tend to be patriarchal capitalists – the very people we’re seeking liberation from.

the whole thing is just incredibly f*ckd up.

Clare // Posted 23 May 2012 at 11:44 am

My biggest problem with this (which I think has been picked up elsewhere too) is that the term ‘women born women’ does *actually* include trans-women. I do not pretend to be an expert on the subject, but of all my trans friends I’ve spoken to about the issue of gender (not all of them, sometimes we talk about whiskey & films instead of gentials) have been quite forthright in the assertion that they were definately born the gender they have transitioned to – i.e. my M2F friends were born female but assigned as male at birth, and my F2M friends were born male but told they were female.

Now, I honestly wouldn’t want to be the trans-woman at RadFem making that argument – much as I wouldn’t want to have been Rosa Parks – but this is discrimination.

What do they mean by ‘living as a women’ as well? Here I sit, wearing trousers & flat shoes, having short hair and not wearing make-up. I don’t have children, but I assume/hope that I will be able to. Am I a woman? Do I need to don my flowery skirt? Who on earth defines what is ‘living as a women’?!?! Isn’t half the point of our fight that everyone should be able to live as they choose regardless of what’s in their pants?

Steff: I’m very pleased that you posted, it’s pretty brave to stick your head above the parapet on issues like this. I’m not a survivor of sexual abuse, so I cannot possibly understand how this impacts you, and you’re absolutely right that your voice deserves to be heard. For me, from my position of priviledge I would encourage you to try to separate gender from biology – you were abused by a man and you’re issues with men are valid (I hope, on a side note, that you’re getting good support), but trans-women are not men and for that point only I think the conference is wrong for excluding them.

Julian // Posted 23 May 2012 at 12:49 pm

Feminist Avatar – I’m not sure that the case you cite is useful to you (it’s here, if anyone wants to read it: as it’s not actually about blanket bans but about an authority’s duty to treat gender dysphoria.

However, aside from that, I think that purely as a test of drafting I could write a convincing argument from either side. And whilst that would no doubt be legally fascinating (well, to me!) it doesn’t help resolve anything. It’s very vague in legal terms and likely to remain so unless it’s tested.

Julian // Posted 23 May 2012 at 1:01 pm

Steff – that’s an important point and one which I think the Equalities Act tries, clumsily, to address. The example of a sexual assault survivors’ group is specifically made in the guidance as an example of when there would be a “legitimate aim” to exclude trans women from women-only space. I imagine that similar arguments could potentially be made for domestic violence shelters or therapy sessions, and that such spaces would be legally non-inclusive.

However, not all women only space will have a “legitimate aim.” And even for those which do, that brings me back to the same point as before: it cannot be enforced sensibly without trying to make a snap decision on a woman’s femininity, which is inherently an antifeminist thing to do.

Coolio // Posted 23 May 2012 at 1:21 pm


I’m really pleased you posted. I’ve been thinking about this too.

I’m another survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse by multiple males. I feel quite mixed about this. For me, a safe feminist discusssion space would not have men in it. Although I’m sympathetic to those who feel discriminated against, I’m finding it hard to work out how a safe space could be set up that doesn’t cause confusion or distress to someone…

The idea that anyone who identifies as female is welcome to attend doesn’t sit right with me – but the idea that it’s simply a ‘this space is only available to people who don’t have a penis’ is surely much more problematic practically than the current set up!

Thanks again for posting Stef – like I’ve said, I’ve been thinking about this for a week or so, but didn’t have the courage before I saw your post

Sarah Brown // Posted 23 May 2012 at 1:59 pm

Steff – Coolio. Please, let’s get one thing very clear. Trans women are women, not men. Talking about keeping men out of women’s space as a reason for excluding trans women is hugely problematic and transphobic.

Laura // Posted 23 May 2012 at 2:01 pm

Steff: I understand you not wanting to have men in spaces designed to support you as a sexual abuse survivor. However, trans women are not men and have never been men in terms of how they see themselves and relate to the world (regardless of how the world relates to them).

I think this also comes back to the issue of judging individuals by how feminine they appear. You might get a cis woman in your group who looks, sounds “like a man” and has the mannerisms “of a man”. You might get a trans woman who is very stereotypically feminine and whom no one would ever judge to be trans. How do you make the call on who should and shouldn’t be welcome? Would you feel threatened by the masculine cis woman?

Another issue here is that if trans women are excluded from sexual abuse support services, where do they go? Their rights and needs are just as important of those of cis women.

Louise // Posted 23 May 2012 at 2:14 pm

It’s also important to remember that trans women have one of the highest rates of being victims of abuse of any group in the population and many of us are survivors ourselves.

Coolio // Posted 23 May 2012 at 2:26 pm

I think for me, it comes down to where you would draw a dividing line. I’m def not comfortable accepting that someone who looks, sounds, and is biologically still a male should be in a female only space.

I’m not sure that I’d draw the dividing line where the RadFem Conference has

But the idea that setting up some definition of what constitutes ‘woman’ for the purposes of creating a woman only space doesn’t strike me as being that problematic. And my reading of these blog posts is that they’ve been concentrated not on where the line has been drawn, but that a line has been drawn at all.

Sarah Brown // Posted 23 May 2012 at 2:28 pm

Perhaps I should clarify my earlier comment. Trans women aren’t people who think we’re women, but are to all intents and purposes male. We are *women*. We share the same problems with misogyny and violence that affect other women. We need access to much the same services and support – even gynaecological for many of us.

Deciding to simply exclude trans women to make some cis women feel more comfortable is, in many ways, worse than patriarchal attacks on women because it’s one group of women deciding to “sacrifice” another group, doing the work of the patriarchy for it. I’ll give an example – at Pride London 2008, stewards took it upon themselves to exclude trans women from the female toilets in Trafalgar Square. THey did this the only way it really can be done – they decided to tell anyone they thought was a trans woman not to use those loos.

The upshot is that lots of trans women, who didn’t look like what the stewards expected trans women to look like used the loos anyway – I was one of them, and some cis women were, as I understood, turned away because they didn’t look sufficiently cis. However, the experiences of each group when challenged were different. I understand one butch dyke, when told to use the men’s, was let through after reacting angrily and even threatening physical violence. One trans woman, however, lacking the cis privilege to simply assert her gender identity and desperate for the toilet, went in the men’s toilet, where she was sexually assaulted.

When you exclude trans women from women’s spaces, be very clear that what you are doing is setting yourself up as the gender police, turning often vulnerable women away out of fear of a stereotype about who we are perpetuated by patriarchal society.

Exclusion of trans women is misogyny, and it hurts all women. Stop it.

Sarah Brown // Posted 23 May 2012 at 2:30 pm

I’ve been asked to post this account from an abuse survivor who is a trans woman. She is, understandably, not willing to be identified and so I’m posting it on her behalf.

“Trans women get assaulted too, and yes also, sexually. It happened to me, and it’s partially this attitude (as well as the more general attitude towards sexual assault present in our society) that meant I didn’t tell anyone. I won’t post specific details for trigger reasons.

It was by a group of men. I avoided being in situations with just men for a while afterwards. This did not include fellow trans women, although I will admit some initial discomfort with some trans female friends who had not yet begun transition.

Certainly didn’t feel there was any organisation I could go to for help at the time, and I still feel uncomfortable enough about it that I don’t want to comment in a way that reveals who I am.

There is a perception that trans people deserve it, or rather that our genitals (pre and post any surgical intervention) are public property. Certainly that happened in my case. I definitely was not treated as a man.

Are people here suggesting that trans women (who are most certainly not men, and it hurts to read claims that we are) should not have access to help? Or that there should be specific services just for trans women (which won’t happen given how rape crisis centres are already having their funding slashed across the country?)

To turn to someone who has this happen to them, and claim they need to be excluded because they are the same as the abusers? Certainly anyone can be an abuser, but turning away victims along these lines, when they are at their most vulnerable?

Make no mistake, this can cost lives:

Anon for this // Posted 23 May 2012 at 2:39 pm


Firstly, I’ve set up a sepperate account to comment on this, as this is very very personal, I hope no one gets offended by that.

When this issue started getting talked about on Twitter I though the RadFem attitude was disgusting, because if you say to me ‘I’m a woman’, you’re a woman, end of. Trans women and men have so much extra crap to deal with how dare I, am someone born without that, say to them ‘you can’t be in this space’.

Four years ago, my now ex-boyfriend told me she was a woman. We were still together at the time, and I knew she enjoyed dressing up in my clothes. I was new to intersectionalism at the time but, although I refused to have her dress as a woman as part of our sex life, I had no other problem with it, because I didn’t want to be a tool. We never really talked about it and I never ever told any of my friends. Then she started talking about transitioning. I didn’t know anyone else going through this, every example I could find on the Internet was either some Daily Mail esque horror or all from the woman’s point of view- I did find a LOT of stuff I could direct her to, and she got so much support and love from the Trans communities online, but I had nothing. I am not sexually attracted to women, I didn’t find her dressed in woman’s clothes sexy, I didn’t know what to do, and it seemed every time I voiced discomfort I was being the one to push her down, to limit her choices. I didn’t want to lose my boyfriend, who I loved, but the woman she now was was a totally different person-her personality completly changed. She was becoming the person she was ‘supposed’ to be, and although I was happy for her, I felt I was being gutted.

Eventually, we broke up, for unrelated reasons, though I’m not going to deny that now I don’t feel that I couldn’t have stayed with her as a woman. That probably makes me seem like a right shit, but I just didn’t want to be with this new person. I was her friend for the entire process of the beginning of her transition, I went with her to the doctors, and councelling, and helped her research her options. She then decided to move to a different city because she had met loads of Trans activists and friends from there and felt unsupported where we were living-this gutted me yet again.

Since she “came out” to the rest of our friends and her mum, I’ve had a mixed bag or responses. Most people wanted to know about our sex life, whether she wore knickers in bed, for example. Nobody quite knows what to say to me. I don’t have many ‘feminist’ friends, I do however spend a lot of time in feminist spaces online, and go to a lot of conferences and events and I have wanted to talk about how I feel about what has happened to me, but I have never felt able to. I can never really talk about how angry I felt, or how much it hurt, or how I still grieve for ‘him’ (even though she was never a him, and I have to accept that) because I don’t know if I’m going to offend anyone. I can’t even understand how shit she must have been feeling for years, or how brave it was of her to tell me and to live her life the way she wants.

I know I’ve probably said seventeen things that are offensive in this post alone. I’m crying out for somewhere I can talk about how I feel, but I would still never ever ever agree with excluding Trans women from a feminist space, or a woman only space. Because the world is safer for me than it is for them. I think it is not only rude of RadFem to do this, it is also devisive, and makes women like me think ‘yeah, actually, being able to let this shit off my chest would be nice’ and then having to feel crap about that for two weeks because, actually, it’s wrong of me to think like this because I’m the privileged one.

Sarah Brown // Posted 23 May 2012 at 2:53 pm

anon-for-this – you lost a relationship that was important to you. You absolutely should be able to talk about this.

Despite having transitioned myself (I stayed with my partner), I really wouldn’t want to be in the situation where my partner transitioned to male. Not sure how I’d handle that myself, but I am sure I’d rather not find out, all else being equal.

Coolio // Posted 23 May 2012 at 2:58 pm

This is an interesting debate, and one that I’m really trying to engage with, I am very persuaded by the argument that to think of pre-transitioned trans people as their birth assigned gender misunderstands the whole thing, and I do apologise for any upset. You’ve made me rethink that, and I thank you for it.

To the woman who asked for her post to be put up – again, thanks for your input. I’m very sorry that you had to go through that, and that you felt that services weren’t available to you – I work at a RCC, one of the few that provide services to men and women, and know how difficult it is for anyone to gain access to support. Whilst it may be useful to have support services aimed soley at transpeople (you’re expereinces are bound to be different, and a more targeted support service would be better able to help support you) I wouldn’t argue that you should be excluded from any support.

I’m interested that you do state:

although I will admit some initial discomfort with some trans female friends who had not yet begun transition.

Out of interest, how do you think this difficulty could be most easily addressed? And I’m not sure that this is really relevant to the RadFem conference – hopefully, there will be more than discussion of sexual violence – but for future projects that I’m likely to be involved in –

And what statement of women only space would you feel is both supportive of women who are triggered by male pattern behaviours, and supportive/inclusive to transwomen? (or at least not transphobic)?

Jennifer C Krase // Posted 23 May 2012 at 3:15 pm

Is there something confusing for people about the fact that having men in a feminist space is NOT even the topic up for discussion here? Trans women are not men. They are women.

Josephine Tsui // Posted 23 May 2012 at 3:20 pm

Dear commenters,

I need to apologize for my slip in moderating this thread. A commenter has pointed out that some of the comments here have been transphobic which make this an unsafe space. The comment that “trans women are men” makes it an unfriendly environment for a healthy discussion.

I am a cis privileged woman and am on a steep learning curve. I appreciate the feedback.

I need to remind people of our statement on transphobia and cissexism which can be found here. /general/the_f-word_bloggers_position_o

Gwen // Posted 23 May 2012 at 3:23 pm

Anon-for-this. Every partner of a transitioning transperson goes through exactly what you went through, whether the relationship survives or not. It’s the grieving for the person that was and is no longer. Please don’t beat yourself up for feeling as you did, it’s 100% normal. You stayed for a while to help her and for that you deserve great credit. Many don’t.


Jennifer C Krase // Posted 23 May 2012 at 3:42 pm

Excuse me, Coolio, but: male pattern behaviours?

Look. I have attended feminist conferences with trans women. I have worked to organise feminist conferences with trans women. It was a trans woman who made me feel welcomed and part of the conference at the first feminist event I ever attended, because she happened to be the committee member who was tasked with encouraging new delegates to sign up to workshops. And now I have organised feminist events of my own in addition to attending and assisting in the smooth running of huge national feminist conferences. Three, to be exact. I plan to continue doing so for as long as I have the ability to send email and attend feminist conferences.

In no instance at any of these conferences has a trans women ever exhibited what you so bizarrely term “male pattern behaviours”. What in the everloving f*ck you mean by that, I have no idea.

Jane Fae // Posted 23 May 2012 at 4:02 pm

@Steff, @Coolio,

Thanks for posting what is clearly a difficult perspective, for all sorts of reasons. I’m not going to agree…but nor am i going to take issue. I’d hope, if ever we met, i’d be able to persuade you that there is another view…but from conversation with other women, other feminists, i accept that this can be a very difficult issue.

So. Simply. Respect for posting.


Jane Fae // Posted 23 May 2012 at 4:11 pm


Another important perspective and one i wish the rest of the world could hear. The moment someone puts their hand up to transition, the circus swings into action. Psych evaluation, therapists – gate-keepers – medics, counsellors and on and on.

Some of that is necessary – not least because for some the journey is difficult. Although many of those difficulties are created by others. If you go from ordinary everyday to someone who risks getting their head kicked in just for walking down the street, or are rejected wholesale by your family, that’s traumatic. That calls for support.

Still, there is an alternative view: which is that for many walking the transition walk, this is possiblky the happiest most joyful time of their lives: and if they can manage to steer an even keel, the amount of “support” directed their way is over-kill.

Contrariwise, the amount of support given to those left behind is pathetic. The story you tell is common. You only have to listen to those whose voices are rarely heard on this issue. The survivors: the partners left behind.

For there are two truths here. The first is that transition does change people. How could it not? Even discounting the interesting effect of new hormones, what transition allows is for someone who spent all their life hiding some essential truth about their self to bring it out into the open. And as one truth is exposed, so others follow:not all equally palatable to friends and relatives.

Second, the degree of support given to partners is shit. You are, as you say,bereaved. You are and have a right to be grieving…which means all the emotions that follow with that feeling. Some people breeze through. Others don’t.

The more i speak not just to trans men and women but also to the partners of same, the more i hear similar to what you just posted. An expectation to support, to stand by their man/woman…and in many cases, a complete lack of permission to be yourself. To grieve. To cry. To be angry. To move on.

Dunno quite what the solution is, but if you or anyone else on here wants to chat about it, i’ll happily link you up as appropriate with other partners…


GothGeek // Posted 23 May 2012 at 4:20 pm

Steff I’m really sorry to hear about the abuse you received and how it still affects you. I understand you need a safe place to talk about this. However like others have said trans-women are not men.

I admit I did not have the same childhood as you. But I didn’t have the same childhood as men either. I dealt with my dysphoria throughout childhood. I was perceived as gay and suffered bullying and attacks. I transitioned at University almost 20 years ago and have built my career since transition. I had my surgery over 15 years ago.

Apart from being taller than the average woman, as much as I dislike the phrase, I pass. So now as a woman in her forties I am no different to any other woman in her forties. I am as safe or otherwise on the street; I bounce off of the glass ceiling in my career; I am subject to misogynistic remarks. In fact I work in a very male oriented industry where sometimes the behaviour is problematic so I am an active member of women industrial groups and groups to encourage girls in to the industry.

And yet there are women in their 20s who are trying to exclude me because of my past. A past I have no control over. For some of them, to put it crudely, I was a woman before they were. How are they going to police this? My birth certificate says female. Would they give everyone a gynaecological examination to see if they can “detect” the trans woman? Or would they just base it on appearance? Does this mean Miranda Hart would be excluded? The concept of feminists basing attendance on how well someone complies with societal expectations of femininity is somewhat amusing.

Finally what about trans-women who transitioned as children? Recently there has been several media articles about girls who had transitioned in primary school or younger. They will never undergo a male puberty. Their school lives would be basically no different to any other girl. Would they be excluded? If they weren’t, where do you decide the ‘dividing line’ is?

Rather than excluding a whole class of individuals because of intolerance and prejudices why not let entry and then exclude *anyone* who behaves inappropriately regardless of history.

Jane Fae // Posted 23 May 2012 at 4:22 pm


I sort of get what is meant by “male pattern behaviours”…but the phrase is misleading. I was about to blog about this very subject, but i’ll post a spoiler (or trailer) here. If you’re a psychologist (i was trained as…) it makes sense to categorise bahaviours according to various classificatory schemes and then to look at how far individuals fit those classifications.

The real difficulty is that some classifications are so closely tied to particular groups that it becomes very tricky to use those schemes as analytical tools.

I’d say, throwing behaviour into various statistical ana.l,ytic engines, you will often throw up behaviour patterns that align closely to what we consider to be stereotypically male.

However, calling those patterns “male” or even “masculine” strikes me as very unhelpful, cause that just confuses both argument and the wider public. Cause you end up going – der! – males tend to exhibit male pattern behaviour”. Well: no shit, sherlock!

Its not helpful and on the surface it appears to be a tad gender essentialist.

Personally, i think not. There ARE behaviours that one can observe and can cluster into patterns and some of those patterns look a bit like stereotypical maleness. Still, i wouldn’t call the patterns that. I’d call them “martial” (from the Mars/Venus dichotomy) or something equally abstract.

Then, once you’ve got the pattern to hand, it makes sense to ask whether males exhibit this pattern…who does, who doesn’t,why there are exceptions.

And surprise, using various schemata to evaluate behaviour, i find a load of blokes score highly on “martial” stuff…as do a load of trans women…as do various cis women i know. In fact, in our household, it is my partner, born as a woman, mother to two, blah, who conforms most closely to these behaviours, both in her approach to debate and to sex and sexuality.

And vice-versa. I know venusian women, venusian trans men and women and venusian men.

Which sort of suggests that using the otuer wrapper as a predictor of what is on the inside is not terribly helpful.


Flavia Dzodan // Posted 23 May 2012 at 4:24 pm

@Jane Fae, sorry but, “respect for posting”? Respect for what? for perpetuating transphobia in the name of their personal suffering? We wouldn’t accept racism in the name of personal suffering, I don’t see how transphobia gets a pass. The person suffered and I do not dispute that. However, that person is also a horrible transphobe whose opinion has no place in a respectful and inclusive debate. The two are not mutually exclusive: you can be a survivor of sexual abuse and a bigot. I contend bigotry deserves absolutely no respect and consideration.

The person exercised rhetorical violence. There is no excuse for that.

Jane Fae // Posted 23 May 2012 at 4:27 pm


I certainly wouldn’tcall you on letting thru a particular comment which can be construed as transphobic.

Maybe there needs to be a specific thread on this. Over the last few years, i have encountered cis feminists who have genuinely struggled with how they feel about the presence of trans women.

If there is some general call to exclude based on dogma and political analysis, i have little time for it. However, if there is a genuine difficulty that individuals wish to get to grips with then i am wary of saying they cannot express that…because i don’tthink it is intentionally transphobic and…by silencing that voice, one could sort of be giving credence to the radfem claim that the preence of trans women silences women.

Its a difficult one…but my vote would be: keep the lid on ideological rant…but give some leeway to self-expression and exploration.

(I hope THAT suggestion isn’t a breach of respect).


Anon for this // Posted 23 May 2012 at 4:57 pm

@Jane Fae, Gwen and Sarah Brown

Thanks for kind words-what I’ve come to expect (and what I personally have experienced) from the f word is consistant support when we are open about how we feel and I’m sad to see others on the thread not feeling or recieving that.

I agree, support for partners, whether you stay with the person or no, is shit and I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one thinking that-there needs to be a safe space where we can rant about this, if anyone knows of one already do post as is always good to know you’re not alone!

Josephine Tsui // Posted 23 May 2012 at 5:01 pm

Thanks Jane.

I appreciate that. I agree, another thread could be useful. If you’d like, you can submit a guest blog post idea?

I am fortunate to be surrounded by the F-word collective, they have been extremely supportive.

Rose // Posted 23 May 2012 at 6:02 pm

@ Flavia Dzodan

Really? You don’t have any respect for someone talking about the issues that abuse has left them with? And you expect self-denying respect for others out of them as well? (She doesn’t get support, get to feel safe, like her concerns matter?)

By the time that victims of abuse are put that on-edge by members of a group that they consider to be like their abusers (ie. born male – should the nature interpretation be internalised as excuse for rape), I would consider it a phobia. Recognising that the word phobia does not say hate, it says fear.

I have in the past felt very uncomfortable around guys – yep, background of abuse. Anywho, one day I was feeling uneasy – scared – it was a reaction I would get to male hormones/smells, it shut me down (intimidated, silenced, etc). Looking around I couldn’t see any guys, so was kinda confused. Turned out it was a transwoman sitting next to me, early on in transition. I recognise that she was a woman, (hadn’t questioned it), I recognise that my (chemical) reaction was irrational. My body feeling her as male doesn’t make me a terrible person.

While I feel that female-feminist conferences should be open to transwomen, I also think that some workshops/talks are for those born in female bodies – and judged for it since.

(Support groups actually being for survivors of that problem – not really a radical idea).

Coolio // Posted 23 May 2012 at 6:07 pm


Thanks for some of the thoughtful comments on this thread. I’ve read on here. I realise that my previous comments contravened your policy on transphobic posts, and I’m sorry for that – and apologise again to anyone that I’ve offended. For me, it’s been interesting to think this one through, and try to work out what’s deep seated fear of men, what’s cis-sexism (it’s good when I learn a new word!) and what’s just plain ignorance. I think that my initial comments are probably a combination of all 3…

I know that I’m left feeling like my postion on this has changed a lot, but I still have this niggling ‘but what’s to stop men from entering a women’s only space if we don’t have any definition of what we mean by women’

Please note that that doesn’t refer to transwomen, transitioned or otherwise – but to men who want to attend (why would they? like I say, I have a deep-seated, and probably irrational at times, mistrust of men..)

I apologise for the clunky phrase ‘male pattern behaviour’ – I’m new to feminism, and haven’t really thought anything through sufficiently – I guess, what I’m asking is – if someone who looks, sounds and behaves like a man is in a woman’s only space, how do you deal with that? At some point, someone is excluded – either the women that want women only space, or the person who is presenting as male…

I am just really struggling to get my head around this

Amber // Posted 23 May 2012 at 6:34 pm

“catering to a target

audience who would be made uncomfortable by the presence of trans (black)

women would, astonishingly, be a legitimate aim.”

Steff // Posted 23 May 2012 at 7:16 pm

I have just read through the posts after posting my feelings this morning and I am heartened by the responses. Obviously, I was expecting to be called out for being transphobic as indeed I have been by Flavia, whose writings I respect very much. I recognise that Flavia is incensed by my comments, just as i would be if someone excluded me for my identity as a sexual abuse survivor. I just wanted to say that this is an issue I struggle with and it is something that I wanted to put forward for discussion: as I stated originally I am a feminist and I do not wish to discriminate against anyone, and my issue here is lack of knowledge. Not just knowledge of the transition process, but also knowledge of transwomen in my world. This makes it difficult for me to understand that transwomen are, actually, women. However, I do recognise that this lack of knowledge is something I need to address and quickly. Another point that has been put forward is that is transwomen are excluded from women-only spaces then what do they have left? This is a good point, and I would not want anyone who needed help excluded from spaces that could help them. What is positive is that most feminist spaces allow these kinds of discussions to take place as we struggle to find a feminism that is wholly inclusive and this is something that I feel very passionately about.

Zoe // Posted 24 May 2012 at 3:24 am

@Coolio – I’ll try to be careful here, you don’t deserve to be hurt. If I do hurt you, I beg forgiveness, it’s due to clumsiness not malice, but still is wrong.

You claim to be a woman.

How do you know?

Have you had a gene test? You could be 46XY – and so “really a man” to some people. Even if you’ve given birth.

“A 46,XY mother who developed as a normal woman underwent spontaneous puberty, reached menarche, menstruated regularly, experienced two unassisted pregnancies, and gave birth to a 46,XY daughter with complete gonadal dysgenesis.” — J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Jan;93(1):182-9.

To some RadFems – to Germaine Greer for that matter – that would make you a “failed male”, to be excluded from “Women’s Spaces”, your narrative of abuse as a rape survivor ignored as “that’s what men do to men, not our concern”.

You are uncomfortable with Trans women because you see them as men. Well, some would see you as “really male” if you’re one of the 1 in 650 women who don’t have XX chromosomes, and you could well be.

You would lose your cis-privilege, and all because of an obscure laboratory test that is irrelevant to who you are. it wouldn’t change you one iota. Any protest you make at how unfair and unreasonable this is would be dismissed as “typical male behaviour” and “mansplaining”.

Because you would be perceived as Trans – even though you’re not – you too could legally be excluded from rape counselling services, as a “danger to others”, your presence would make “real” women uncomfortable, and violate their “safe space”.

It could happen. Odds are low, close to 1 in 1000, but yes, you could be XY, and be “genetically male”.

Now if I can offer my own opinion… if you were XY, or XXY, or some other combination, In my opinion, it wouldn’t matter. You say you’re a woman, and I believe you. No, that’s not quite right, it’s not belief, I *know* you’re a woman, based on your claims. Worse, you’ve been mistreated in a way only a woman can be, and that’s why I’m so afraid of hurting you, of adding insult to injury.

I give this example, of something that genuinely could happen to you, to show you what it is like for women who, unlike you, didn’t look conventionally female enough at birth. Externally, anyway. They don’t have your privilege of having a claim to be female remain untested.

A sex difference in the human brain and its relation to transsexuality.

Zhou et al

Nature (1995) 378:68–70.

Our study is the first to show a female brain structure in genetically male transsexuals and supports the hypothesis that gender identity develops as a result of an interaction between the developing brain and sex hormones.

White matter microstructure in female to male transsexuals before cross-sex hormonal treatment. A diffusion tensor imaging study.

Rametti et al,

J Psychiatr Res. 2010 Jun 8.

CONCLUSIONS: Our results show that the white matter microstructure pattern in untreated FtM transsexuals is closer to the pattern of subjects who share their gender identity (males) than those who share their biological sex (females). Our results provide evidence for an inherent difference in the brain structure of FtM transsexuals.

See the issue? You could have been Trans. If you were born Intersex, and surgically assigned to female shortly after birth, possibly without even your parents being informed, you actually could be Trans and not know it. Unlikely, but possible. One of the 2 times in 3 where the surgeons guess gender identity correctly.

This would not change your femininity one whit, would it?

Josephine Tsui // Posted 24 May 2012 at 10:25 am


I’m very sorry with your abusive past. It’s something no woman should have to go through. There’s nothing wrong with the way your body is triggered. However there needs to be a recognition that trans women are not men.

Trans women suffer a disproportionate amount of sexual abuse as well. Where are they to go?

Josephine Tsui // Posted 24 May 2012 at 10:31 am

Dear commenters,

I would like to iterate again, the goal of this thread is to be a safe space for trans women. The thread is derailing to becoming a place where trans women have to justify their existence, and that is not fair. It is not the responsibility of trans women to explain themselves to the rest of the world.

I understand this is a sensitive issue as we’re juggling between abuse survivors and trans women with their own abusive history. This is not an easy intersection.

If possible, can we please stay on topic and discuss the aspects of legality of excluding trans women from women only spaces.

Eth // Posted 24 May 2012 at 12:31 pm

> I understand this is a sensitive issue as we’re juggling between abuse survivors and trans women with their own abusive history. This is not an easy intersection.

This reminds me of the common line that pits queers vs religion.

Should read “Cis abuse survivors and trans abuse survivors”.

Don’t attempt to pitch one as worse than the other.

On topic, the framing of this exclusion as being somehow related to similar characteristics is not only a smokescreen, but also ridiculous.

I was abused by a cis woman – perhaps we should bar them from attending rape crisis centers?

Or blondes, or people who like wearing red?

Denying one vulnerable person’s needs for the sake of another’s comfort, even if that other is also in a vulnerable position, is unacceptable.

Coolio // Posted 24 May 2012 at 3:05 pm

Hi Zoe

Thanks for your comments – I’m not at all offended. I tend to learn by working through examples, rather than more theorectical stuff, so actually that really works for me.

Like Stef, I’m trying to understand this.

I do still feel like I’m unclear about what constitutes a women only space taking all this into consideration? I’m starting to feel that within the context of not privelidging cis-women, that a women’s only space is untenable – is that really the case? Am I misunderstanding?

Shell // Posted 24 May 2012 at 3:19 pm

I do believe that trans women are fully women (no matter where they are in the transitional scale) because their identity is about gender not sex. I understand the concerns of sexual abuse survivors, and I’m very sympathetic to their views but I’m also sure that trans women would also be sensitive. I’ve not looked into the statistics or done my research, but the discussion does make me wonder what the crime rate is for trans women raping cis-women? I’d put money on it being zero. Zero, because women don’t (normally!) rape women. Just a thought. In fact I believe trans women in particular are very vulnerable and need our support. RadFem12 are wrong to make the distinction in this case as there is no organisational or logical reason to use clause 28. I also think we have enough problems fighting the patriarchy without fighing other women. However, I do respect the other views.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 25 May 2012 at 5:00 am

Women are frequently not linked to rape, because, in law in the UK, you have to have a penis to rape. So, that rape by most women is never legally defined as such, which is reflected in our statistics, which often come from official sources. However, different studies suggest that between 5 and 20% of sexual assaults on children are committed by women, with the studies with higher percentages reflecting studies amongst male children (i.e. women are more likely to sexually abuse boys than girls).

@Julian- but when that legislation was made, only public authorities had a legal obligation not to discriminate against transgendered people. Now all service users do and the new legislation (GEQ 2004 and EA 2010) were both seen as extending existing legislation. Therefore, most people have taken this to mean blanket bans are illegal in all contexts.

I still think you couldn’t find a legitimate justification for an event of that nature that wasn’t based on prejudice (for me, that would be at the heart of the legal debate). Moreover, ultimately, the legal expectation is that you don’t discriminate. When you do, you start having to be very conscious about why, whether it’s reasonable, whether you could provide the service in a different way etc, and it would be expected that you could evidence your thinking, justification, and the steps you went through to consider alternatives and why they wouldn’t work. Now, I guess we can’t know what went on at Radfem behind the scenes, but it seems if you’re going to discriminate then you should be a lot clearer on your website about why you think it’s legal and reasonable. It’s also normal practice for service users to cite the legislation that they think gives them this right to discriminate when advertising jobs, services etc. I guess we could always ask them what they consider their legal basis to be?

Clare // Posted 25 May 2012 at 10:14 am

The undercurrent of banning non-cis women seems to hint at the fear that Bad Menz might somehow infiltrate the women-only space by ‘pretending’ to be women and claiming that they are allowed to self-identify; somehow hijacking the space. This was a professional argument that was put forward by the refuge I used to work in as a reason not to admit transwomen – as they might be male perps trying to ‘get at’ their victims.

To go off-piste a bit, I don’t actually see how the presence of feminist men takes away the feminism but hey, that’s an aside.

I agree with Eth regarding similar characteristics to abusers being a reason to bar an entire group – male or female are not the only categories that abusers can fit into. Saying that, I can understand why a survivor of rape perpetrated by a man might choose to see a female rape counsellor, or attend an all-female support group; but actually RadFem doesn’t seem to include services for survivors so how are they actually justifying this?

chironis // Posted 26 May 2012 at 11:16 am

This is what I dont understand about the RadFem position. The RadFems say that they are gender atheists and say that gender doesnt exist and thus cannot be a basis for defining a person as a woman. This takes gender to be a matter of personal identity (“I say I am a woman and that makes me a woman”), which they say is nothing but sex stereotyping. When they discuss the invalidity of trans women as women, they focus entirely on this definition of gender. But they also say that gender DOES exist ; it is patriarchy’s system of dividing people into sex classes and allocating privileges, resources, and oppression to people according to class membership. That is nothing to be an atheist about (and feminism’s central goal is ending sexism), so why isnt it a valid basis for recognizing at least transitioned trans women as women? The patriarchy regards them as women, groups them into the sex class of women, even going so far as altering birth certificates in many jurisdictions to reflect the transitioned sex class membership. So if the patriarchy is what creates the sex class system and if patriarchy classifies transitioned trans women as women, then don’t they in fact belong to that sex class? They are going to be recipients of sexism and whatever else the patriarchy dishes out to women, especially if they blend in with other members of the sex class and do not stand out as transgender as some surely do. That is not to say that they are the same as other non-trans women, or to erase their many differences (including biological, rearing and socialization, and other differences the RadFems point to), just that there must be some material reality (beyond personal identification) that at least some transitioned trans women experience as belonging to the sex class of women.

I also understand that some RadFems reject the definition of women on social criteria like gender by saying that the only valid basis is biological sex, “sex matters” (whereas gender does not). But they dont really hold to that either. They instead mostly talk about sex class using a FAAB/MAAB binary, which is not about biology but about socialization (this is to admit intersex people reared as girls as belonging to the class of women). So we are back again to gender as a social construct, something that is socially assigned and policed by patriarchy. This excludes trans women who are reared as males but I dont think even here things are black and white; the rising generation of trans teens include those raised from very young ages as girls, and there are even some parents now who are refusing to impose gender on their kids from birth (which I think is awesome). And while FAAB/MAAB is a valid and very important distinction (and there can be no doubt that it is a very different experience to be subjected to sexism and the male gaze and grooming for childbearing from youth onward), it just doesnt represent the complete picture of how patriarchy divides people into sex classes if it places (transitioned) trans women into the category of women. It also doesn’t mean that sex doesnt matter (it definitely matters when it comes to reproductive issues); but gender matters too. If a person who lives socially as a girl as a child and goes on puberty blockers and then hormones and then lives her entire adult life moving through the world as a woman, and experiences sexism and sex-based oppression on account of her being visibly and socially female, the experience of which shapes her whole life, it doesn’t seem to make much sense to classify this person as a man unless we are strictly talking about biology without taking lived experience into account.

Everything seems to be black and white in RadFem analysis whereas I think the social reality is that there is a lot of grey. It is easy to draw sharp boundaries when things are black and white. But I think real life is messy and challenging, and to be honest this whole issue is confusing to me. It just sounds like there is some equivocation in what little I have read from RadFems, and the simplicity in the analysis seems to leave out a lot of the real-life complexity.

But perhaps my understanding is not that well honed.

Tamara // Posted 8 July 2012 at 9:10 pm

I don’t know whether anyone is still reading this thread, but when Shell says that trans women’s “identity is about gender not sex”, that is NOT true. That’s why hormones and SRS are life-changing for those who need them. Most of my experience of being trans that was classified as “gender dysphoria” was more about discomfort with my physical body than about gender roles. When I was going full-time but not on hormones yet, that did NOTHING for my physical discomfort if not exacerbating it… Most of my triggers relate to my lack of the correct reproductive system, and these are very intense and deep-seeded feelings. I believe this has to do with brain chemistry, not socialization, and that I would still feel these feelings even in a genderless society. Gender roles just add to the bodily discomfort to make life even harder. Honestly, I’m afraid that in a gender-neutral society, my desire to transition sex would be even less understood because they’d think that physical sex is irrelevant…

Tamara // Posted 8 July 2012 at 9:14 pm

Also, as far as the different experiences growing up, I just always felt that I should be with the girls and being excluded caused great emotional pain… I never really paid attention to messages towards boys, and hated myself for not looking female enough… And all the biological/reproductive differences between me and cis women have always been intensely triggering and cause me deep sadness and emptiness… So I don’t know how that’s a male experience…

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