Problem and Solution? Transwomen’s Access to Private Women-Only Spaces

Women-Only2The political demand for transwomen’s access to private women-only spaces is predicated on a certain problem-and-solution logic. It can be summarized like this:

The problem is transwomen’s oppression in the form of institutional violence and social marginalization.

The solution to this problem is transwomen’s access to women-only space.

Following this reasoning, trans activists have repeatedly attacked private women-only spaces by insisting that transwomen be granted entrance to them regardless of the organizers’ wishes. Now, I spent three years studying problem solving in law school. During this time, I learned that there are many different ways to skin a cat. I mean, remedy a problem. I also learned that some solutions are better than others. I could spend hours talking about the legal mechanics of specific performance, market alternatives, restitution, injunctions, and monetary and punitive damages. But the bottom line is that the popular movement for trans activism seems to have completely lost sight of logical problem solving.

Instead of attacking institutionalized inequality and the material consequences thereof (also known as the socially constructed phenomenon of “oppression”), many trans activists have turned their focus to private women-only spaces. From Michigan Women’s Music Festival to women’s colleges, women-only spaces are considered increasingly important “problem sites” for trans activists to target.

One might find this is warranted if private women-only spaces were:

  1. the cause (direct or proximate) of trans people’s gender dysphoria; or
  2. a source of violence (individual or structural) against trans people.

But women-only spaces are not the problem. Women commune in these spaces to find solidarity with each other. They are internally, not externally, focused. When lawfully and peacefully gathered, women-only spaces are not an infringement on trans people’s individual lives or collective human rights. Women’s ability to congregate without transwomen poses no threat to transwomen’s housing, employment, safety, or bodily autonomy. They do not extract any resources from trans people. In legal terms, a plausible theory of transwomen’s damages is notably lacking.

There is also no particular benefit to be gained by granting transwomen access to women-only space. It would not give transwomen special protection from violence, discrimination, homelessness, or being laid off. It does not cure gender dysphoria or trans-form transwomen’s bodies. It is therefore wholly unnecessary to insist on the specific performance of transwomen’s admission to women-only spaces because admission does not function as a solution or remedy to any of the socio-structural problems that transwomen face because they identify as transwomen. In addition, it should be noted that there are many alternative spaces available on the market.

As such, there is no logical connection between the oppression of trans people (the problem) and transwomen’s entrance (the “solution”) to privately organized spaces reserved by and for women.

SYMBOLIC ACCEPTANCE

Transwomen’s warm welcome to women-only spaces also cannot be framed as symbolic of society’s acceptance of trans people. Neither the problem nor the solution is symbolically accurate.

Limited enclaves of separatism, such as women-only spaces, are never representative of society. They are antisocial by design. They are purposefully different from, and therefore do not reflect, mainstream dynamics. Because of this, transwomen’s acceptance within an insular subset of society—here women-only spaces—could not be considered symbolic or predictive of the desired solution: widespread and radical social change.

Moreover, women-only spaces are not analogous to institutions and ideologies of social control that exact oppression on groups of people. Women-only spaces are rarely profitable and do not exercise concentrated political influence.

wknd in the woods SLIDING SCALE

Weekend in the Woods sliding scale, extra money pays for food and toys. Not a threat to trans people.

Women-only spaces do not make laws. They do not make medical policy. They do not wield the money, resources, or social credibility that would make them symbolic of the problem: powerful social institutions that are designed to serve the public good.

For these reasons, neither transwomen’s inclusion nor exclusion from women-only spaces can be considered symbolic of trans people’s acceptance in society. Still, trans activists keep beating that drum.

EXAMPLE: PRIVATE WOMEN-ONLY EVENT: Week in the Woods

Earlier this year, a women-only party crash executed in the name of the trans movement resulted in problems for a historic 30 year lesbian tradition called Week in the Woods. Week in the Woods is hosted at Breitenbush Hot Springs in Detroit, Oregon.

In a statement issued by the venue management, women’s right to congregate on women’s own terms is disallowed by the dictates of trans activism (emphasis mine):

It appeared as a proposal to both recognize and actively support transgender people in their struggle for inclusion and acceptance in society, starting with women-only events at Breitenbush (whether sponsored by Breitenbush or not). It is noted that transgender people are perhaps the most persecuted population of all, suffering a host of abuses, from sexual violence to ridicule, ostracism, shunning, lack of public services, loss of employment and family abandonment, among other cruelties.

Let us unpack this, as they say. The first sentence cites a problem: transgender people’s lack of “inclusion and acceptance in society.” Well, a private women-only event in the woods isn’t an accurate analogue to “society.” So we’re not off to a good start. As touched on above, the women-only event is literally a retreat. A retreat from society. Week in the Woods attendees wish to escape society; not replicate it. One wouldn’t consider the apparent acceptance of her Super Hero identity at Comic-Con to be indicative of a major cultural shift towards the normalization of costumed workers in Corporate America. The purported connection between transowmen’s access to women-only space and their increased “inclusion and acceptance in society” is not well considered and very likely does not exist at all.

And yet, a campaign for acceptance and inclusion is meant to start with women-only events? These spaces may be an easy target, but they definitely are not an effective one for remedying problems that operate outside the very temporary boundaries of women-only space.

The second sentence quoted above is equally nonsensical in terms of the problems complained of.

It is noted that transgender people are perhaps the most persecuted population of all, suffering a host of abuses, from sexual violence to ridicule, ostracism, shunning, lack of public services, loss of employment and family abandonment, among other cruelties.

Assuming that the “host of abuses” against trans people are valid grievances and that trans people are “perhaps the most persecuted population of all,” how can party crashing private women-only events possibly improve trans people’s standing in larger society? Allow me to break this down:

Women are not the primary perpetrators of sex and gender-based violence. Men are.

Women are not in control of the government or public services in general. Men are.

The event is not a job fair; attending the event does not increase one’s chances of employment.

And finally, women-only events cannot prevent family abandonment nor change the interpersonal dynamics of trans people’s families.

Transwomen’s exclusion from women-only spaces simply is not a structural barrier to trans people’s housing, employment, health, or any other human right. Attacking private women-only spaces such as Week in the Woods is futile, for these spaces are not, and do not represent, any of the structural barriers that trans people struggle to overcome. Making it impossible for women to meet privately without harassment from those who purport to represent transwomen doesn’t challenge the system.

CONCLUSION

No matter how you slice it, targeting women-only events as a remedy for trans people’s individual or collective suffering is illogical. Women and women-only spaces do not cause the legal and social problems trans people face in their daily lives. We are not the problem. Transwomen’s access to women-only spaces, organizations, and retreats is not a panacea for—nor does it even blunt—structural violence and personal suffering in wider society. It is not the solution.

When this analysis easily eviscerates any connection between transwomen’s oppression and transwomen’s access to private women-only spaces, why is trans activism so intent on crashing women-only parties? Why are LGBT organizations so invested in securing transwomen’s full access to private women-only spaces?

I have a lot of theories, but I’ll spare you the speculation. What I do know is that their efforts would be better spent on targeted social and legal reform, such as lobbying for a passable GENDA bill and organizing trans-focused domestic violence shelters and employment supports.

Social structures and institutions need to change. Women-only spaces do not need to change, for they are neither the problem or the solution to improving trans people’s lives and social status.

[I may edit this later; thanks for reading.]