"I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own."
"If you don’t define yourself for yourself you will be crushed into other's fantasies of you and eaten alive."
— Audre Lorde
Self-definition has always been a core concept in feminist discourse.
We are who we say we are. For example, I am an out, lesbian, feminist
liberation theologian-turned-attorney. According to some on the far left
and right, I would not be an appropriate example of lesbian or even a
woman since I am now - single, “femme,” menopausal and unable to give
birth. Luckily though, I get to define who I am. There is no test to
determine my member status as either woman or lesbian. But while I get
to define who I am, I am not at liberty to “crush” others with my
definitions of who they are.
Another core pillar of feminism has been the idea of inclusion.
Feminists have fought against the patriarchy’s oppression of women and
those that have been excluded from the “master’s table.” (This practice
of inclusivity is foundational, if not always consistent.) Feminism is
about making the tent bigger to accommodate more and more oppressed
groups, hence the inclusion of the LGBT community.
At present, our transgender family (the T in LGBT) is most excluded
from the table. Discrimination of and violence against our transgender
friends and loved ones is still appallingly acceptable in this country
and around the world. The trans community is a marginalized and
vulnerable sexual minority that needs legal protections, just as women,
the disabled, people of color, lesbians and gay men do. This is why a
comprehensive gender identity civil rights bill has been sponsored in
the Maryland General Assembly every year since 2007. A truncated bill
was nearly passed in the last session. Although inadequate, it would
have been a tremendous step forward. It’s unfortunate that it did not
pass, but we hope that a comprehensive bill will be enacted into law
Fears have come to light in the “radical feminist” and “radical
right” communities that gender identity civil rights laws (like the ones
in Baltimore City and Montgomery County) will harm or jeopardize
women’s sex-segregated spaces and lead to assaults on non-trans
(cisgender) women in these spaces.
To date, fifteen other states and over a hundred other major
jurisdictions in the U.S., covering 43% of the country’s population, are
covered under comprehensive laws that protect transgender individuals.
Almost all of these jurisdictions utilize the language previously
presented in the Maryland Gender Identity bill that we hope to pass in
this next session of the legislature. These protections do not put
non-trans women at risk.
The gender identity laws, of which I’ve spoken above, have been in
effect since 1975. There has not been a single incident of a trans woman
assaulting a non-trans woman in a sex-segregated space. Nor has there
been a single incident of a man assaulting a woman in such a space
claiming in court he had the right to do so because he’s transgender.
This has not happened in those jurisdictions covered by gender identity
laws, nor has it happened in localities without such laws. While fear of
being harmed or assaulted in a sex-segregated space might be real to
some non-trans women, they are generally unfounded. As recent events
have demonstrated, it is far more likely that non-trans women would
assault women of any classification in sex-segregated spaces! Those
kinds of assaults are fairly common. Just look at the police blotters
after Friday and Saturday night clubbing in Baltimore City! But to
believe that a trans woman, who has suffered tremendous discrimination
to become wholly herself, would harm a non-trans woman in a
sex-segregated space is patently absurd.
Assaults on and abuse of women is a serious matter. This is an issue
for the whole LGBT community. Men and women, lesbians and gays, straight
and trans—all of us need to stand up for the safety and dignity of
women. Likewise, all of us need to stand up for the safety and dignity
of transgender individuals, as Governor O’Malley recently did.
Irrational fears cannot and should not define our conversation about
gender identity civil rights legislation. The transgender community is
not a threat to non-trans women. Quite the contrary, the transgender
community stands arm-in-arm with the women’s community to make
inclusivity and self-definition more acceptable.
Lee Ann Hopkins, Esquire
Board Member, Gender Rights Maryland