“Don’t assume someone’s gender by the sound of their voice”. This is one of the things we were taught in our initial training to become sexual abuse helpline volunteers. It reminded me of the first time I heard Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car on the radio. As a child, I assumed the singer was male, because we are taught to think about voices as sitting on either side of a binary – deep for men and high for women. This seemingly innocent assumption, on a helpline, can be fatal.
I can’t imagine the added nerves women, cis and trans, with deep voices must feel when they are about to call a women’s only service like ours. As a volunteer, when you pick up the phone, every interaction counts – if you jump to incorrect conclusions about someone, you risk alienating them from the only support service in their area. A support service that could have instead been a life raft out of an abusive situation, to help someone access food stamps, housing, get immigration advocacy, access a young person’s worker for their children, get trauma specialist therapy to support them in healing from abuse. It could be the difference between whether somebody lives or dies.
Contrary to some of the heightened narrative at the moment, cis and trans women survivors, and trans survivors of all genders, have much more in common than that which separates us. We are both groups who experience high levels of abuse, often because of our gender. This has been proven over and over statistically – as a frontline worker, I see it anecdotally also.
I struggle to name women, non binary or trans male friends who haven’t experienced multiple counts of domestic or sexual abuse. As more and more celebrities come out in support of JK Rowling, I become increasingly scared for trans people. I want cis women who experience abuse to have access to all the support listed above, and whatever else they might need. I have never understood why some cis women don’t want the same for trans people too.
I would like to share the real time effect that “debates” about trans people are having on women’s only services. I’ve been really happy to see some come out in support of trans women, because unfortunately being trans-inclusive is not the norm in our sector. But across the country, many charities are holding lengthy “debates” about trans women being included. Despite our services being chronically underfunded and struggling as it is, so-called “women’s rights activists” would rather budget be wasted on meeting after meeting after meeting about this same topic, than give support to the small percentage of trans people who are also in great need of services.
Trans women are well aware that their access to services is being debated – and I’d just like to reiterate here that we are not talking about access to something trivial, we are talking about access to safety, access to what could potentially be life-saving support. When cis women fight to exclude trans women from our services, they are essentially saying that trans women’s lives aren’t as important as their own.
I know what the backlash to this piece will be – that trans women should just use separate services. This is not the solution. Firstly, it suggests that trans women are not women, which they are. Secondly, it assumes that trans women need some kind of different service to cis women – they don’t. Safe housing, support with childcare, immigration advice, support to reduce dependency on harmful substances, a life free from abuse – these are just some examples of things both cis and trans women need. The only area trans women might need additional support is with challenging discrimination because of their trans identity. You cannot turn a woman away from a women’s service because of this. It would be as ludicrous as turning a lesbian woman away from a women’s service because straight women in a trauma support group might feel “alienated” by her gayness.
Lastly, there is no funding. There are a critically low number of services in this country that are designed to specifically support LGBTQ+ survivors. To suggest that trans people have other services that can just “deal with us” is ignoring the fact that this abundance of services simply does not exist. It is pushing us aside when we have nothing else, even if our lives are at risk.
This is what the current “debate” about trans people is causing – trans survivors of all genders are sitting alone with experiences of abuse, terrified to approach services for fear of being turned away and discriminated against. This is the backdrop against which cis women, many of whom have had access to support themselves, try to bar others from that same support. It’s the backdrop against which Rowling has written a book depicting a cis man pretending to be a Muslim woman in order to murder cis women. And it’s the backdrop against which a host of people, famous and otherwise, have come out in support of her decision to do this. (I’d just like to add that this decision, which, to me, reeks of Islamophobia, is deserving of a whole other article).
I understand why cis women who have experienced abuse are scared of cisgender men, but it’s not trans people’s fault. It’s important we condone violent men, toxic masculinity – all of the things that lead to gender based abuse. But we as trans people are scared of those same men – they attack us just as frequently as they attack cis women. So, I’m making a plea to cis women – please stop attacking us for things that cis men are doing. Please stop blocking us from support services for the same reasons you want to access them. Please stop further oppressing and marginalising us, trying to turn public opinion against us, pretending that we are not “genuine” or deserving of care too. What ever happened to solidarity?
Rowling and others who stand with her, the domestic and sexual abuse sector is being torn apart because of cis women not being on our side – we need your support back. I’m trying my best every day to support cis women who have experienced domestic and sexual abuse. Please support us too.
*Name has been changed to protect the writer’s identity