An open letter to my TERF neighbour
Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
I was minding my own business about a week ago, when my flatmate sent me a picture of a window containing two signs. Minding my own business — something the very photo reminded me is a privilege that not everyone has. The top sign read, DEFEND DR. KATHLEEN STOCK; the bottom read (in an ominous, dripping paint job), DEFEND WOMAN ONLY SPACES FROM TRANS. So, I write to my neighbour one street over, and now to anybody with a like mind.
I’m a cisgender woman, lucky to be as happy as I am with the gender I was assigned at birth. I understand the fears that women face living in a patriarchal world. Of course, I feel unsafe if I walk home alone at night, if I’m heckled or followed, if I’m stared at on public transit. But I have a trans sister. Though I can’t speak on her behalf, nor to how she feels, I can speak for myself. When I know she is simply taking the bus or walking home from a restaurant, even in the light of day, I feel sick with worry. My sister and I do not live in the same city, but when I’m with her I see it: the amount of people, perhaps people like you, who stare when we walk down the street, who want to make her feel unwelcome for just existing. It breaks my heart, the way the words in your window did.
Kathleen Stock’s popularised exclusion of trans women is based in her belief that trans women assault cis women, or will somehow take advantage, when allowed into women-only spaces (say, toilets, prisons, shelters, dormitories, changing rooms). But it was Stock, when preaching this trans-exclusionary ideology as a guest on The Unspeakable Podcast in 2020, who said herself that there are no statistics for this sort of crime to be found in Britain.
Upon hearing Stock’s failure to produce evidence for her loudly publicised arguments, I went to tell a friend sitting next to me at the time. She turned to me and said, “Well it’s still a fear, isn’t it?” — and that was exactly it: the willingness to validate and accept a false reason for the sake of exclusion. This fear is simply a hypothetical, unfounded fear. And with any unfounded fear, the issue lies in the person who has that fear, not in whomever they have instigated as the cause. Fear, alone, does not validate exclusivity and blame.
I assert this with the strong belief, dare I say knowledge, that trans women are women. I am aware that people with this ‘fear’ (or rather, excuse to bully and exclude) do not believe the same thing I do. In the same podcast mentioned above, Stock stated plainly, “calling trans women, women, is a benign fiction.” Does this, then, make my sister's life fiction?
Recent legislation implemented which involves the blatant exclusion of trans people, as part of the conversion therapy ban, proves how easy and how permissible trans exclusion is in the UK. I recently spoke to a friend about this, who observed, “It’s never a surprise that conservative MPs, or Downing Street, or state governments in America don’t believe in the rights of trans people, but what I’m disappointed in most is what I would call liberal complicity.” As a sister of a trans individual, this is what really baffles me. I witness this liberal complicity in comments from peers, whether being comments that leave out trans individuals, or comments which validate trans invalidation. Even in friendly, sporting arguments over what is ultimately the validity of my sister’s own identity, her place in women-only spaces, her place in the world. But this is the most insidious when in the smallest, slight comments, equally as detrimental, implying the same. Words and comments which may seem slight, but are still powerful and heard.
The real time impact of these hypotheticals, of these comments, and of this very window decor, is significant and severe. To perpetuate the narrative of exclusion is to perpetuate the invalidity of trans peoples' identities and very existence, thus allowing violence and harassment (effectively, further bullying) of trans individuals. 41% of trans people have experienced gender-related hate crimes - this number is undoubtedly higher for trans people of colour. Further, 99% of trans people have experienced transphobia online.
While these figures are upsetting in themselves, it is necessary to consider the actual impact of this permitted violence, of the subsequent fear it induces in trans lives. 67% of trans people don’t feel safe to be open about their identity with their families. In a 2018 Stonewall study, it was found that close to half of trans people had thought about taking their life in the preceding year alone. I need proponents of trans exclusion to understand the severity of their politics: they are essentially voicing the want for trans people to not exist. Worse, they are the voices being heard.
My sister’s life has been made a political object. She’s told me before how hard and exhausting that fact, alone, is. My sister’s life has been inadvertently called fiction. My sister’s life has been repeatedly called into question. My sister does not have the privilege to mind her own business: her business has been made the object of your bullying and harassment, in your window.
My sister is a woman. My sister has taught me more about being a woman than anyone I know: the bravery, the strength and all the value that womanhood holds. To exclude trans women, or trans people in general, to exclude women like my sister, is not only a maltreatment to her, but a loss for you, for the potential that the greater community of women could hold, together. So, dear neighbour, I beg you to reconsider. Not just your frame of mind, but your window ornamentation.