Trans rights? Yes. Toxic, in-your-face activism? No

Conflicts between transgender and women's rights do exist, but that doesn’t mean we should censor discussion and debate, writes Jessica Triff.

I believe this new form of activism creates more, not less, animosity toward the trans community

Protesters gathered at the Palmerston branch of the Toronto Public Library as Meghan Murphy spoke in October 2019. Jessica Triff says she believes this new, in-your-face activism is overly confrontational. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

This column is an opinion from Jessica Triff, a technical service representative in Regina. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

I am a transgender woman who began my transition in 2011 and completed it in 2014, with my gender reassignment surgeries. I believe in trans rights and protections against discrimination in employment, housing, health care and education based on gender identity, as was the intent of Bill C16.

What I don't believe in is some of the new, more radical, and in my view more toxic forms of activism that have sprung up over the last decade. 

This type of activism advocates for the censorship and de-platforming of any woman who voices concern about the effect the expanding of trans rights has or may have on the right to maintain single-sex spaces where vulnerable women can find safety, support and healing. 

I don't necessarily agree with all of these positions or arguments against trans inclusion. However, I disagree with the tactics that amount to slander and defamation by some trans activists, who immediately label and vilify anyone raising those concerns or arguments, as we saw with the Canadian feminist writer Meghan Murphy when she spoke at the Toronto Public Library two years ago.

Overly confrontational

Personally I've found this toxic, in-your-face activism overly confrontational. I believe it creates more, not less, animosity toward the trans community. 

Any trans person, like myself, who doesn't agree with this type of activism and doesn't jump to the defamatory labelling of anyone who disagrees as a bigot or TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist) is usually called a "bootlicker." That's because, of course, women or feminists who campaign for women's rights are "fascists," from the point of view of these trans activists. 

I've definitely felt excluded by my own community for not going along. I have been regularly appalled by the attacks on even well known celebrities, such as J.K. Rowling, Martina Navratilova and, most recently, Margaret Atwood, who have run afoul of the views held by that type of trans activism by expressing an opinion on the topic!

We live in a pluralistic, democratic society and everyone has the right to express their views or opinions on laws or policies that impact their lives, rights and security. Suggesting that all criticisms are rooted in transphobia or are "hate speech" is mostly inaccurate. Women have fought for decades for their rights and equality in society and deserve to be heard and given real answers regarding their concerns.

Jessica Triff, a transgender woman, says she has felt excluded by her own community for disagreeing with the tactics used by some trans activists. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

It's important to note that making legal sex change more accessible over the past 10 years has caused undeniable issues related to trans inclusion. A decade ago, you required therapy, approval letters from psych and medical professionals, hormonal therapy and gender reassignment surgeries. Today, in some jurisdictions, all that's required is a simple self declaration. 

This gives legal access to women's intimate spaces, shelters and prisons to trans women who haven't necessarily gone through any medical transition or therapy. 

There are instances where this has proven problematic. From certain self-declared women insisting female estheticians perform Brazilian waxes on male genitalia and threatening them with lawsuits or human rights complaints if they refuse. Or a criminal offender with a history of sexually predatory or violent behaviour demanding a transfer to a women's prison after self declaring as a woman. Women have been kicked out of domestic violence shelters for speaking to the media about sharing spaces with non-transitioned males who identify as women.

I find most women who have concerns about how trans rights impact women's rights, services and spaces just want the inclusion to be reasonable and with criteria that protects women's safety in vulnerable settings, such as shelters, prisons and changing rooms. I feel my rights threatened more by every example of abuse that occurs that makes its way to the media. 

Always assuming the women who protest these abuses are bigots or TERFs, and always insisting the motives of these individuals are innocent is naive and irresponsible. 

"Trans woman" no longer means what it did. It no longer refers exclusively to an individual who has gone through therapy, hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgeries. This presents a greater risk to women in certain areas and it is reasonable to discuss these issues and come up with solutions and safeguards to prevent abuses and minimize risks to women's safety and infringements on their rights.

Inclusion in women's spaces must be reasonable, rational and arrived at through good faith discussions and debate. Acceptance of limitations and exceptions to that inclusion is just being respectful of the differences in our lived experiences, physiological needs and the historical and ongoing oppression and inequality women face today.

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