Sarah Everard’s murder is horrific. Only two days after International Women’s Day women were being told that they shouldn’t be walking home alone. A survey by UN Women UK found that 97% of women aged 18-24 had been sexually harassed. That’s a horrifying statistic. It’s understandable that cis women are scared and angry right now, but it’s not ok to use Sarah Everard’s murder as a reason to be transphobic.
Content warning for rape, murder, sexual harassment and transphobia.
People socialised as women are taught from a young age that it is their responsibility to avoid being raped. They learn to hold their keys between their fingers in case they need a weapon, and to fake phone calls when they’re walking home in the evening. Everard was walking home in bright clothing; she took the safest, most well-lit route; she called her boyfriend. She did everything ‘right’ and it wasn’t enough. Yet women in the Clapham area are being told to be careful and to “not go out alone.”
Women being asked to change their behaviour to stay safe is as infuriating as it is unsurprising. We’re still victim blaming; we’re still asking what she was wearing, as though a short skirt and heels could mean that she was “asking for it”. In the last few days, women have taken to social media to share their own tales of sexual harassment. Why is it always the women’s responsibility to avoid rape, never the man’s not to commit rape, they’re asking. They’re right: it’s fucked up.
But it’s also fucked up to use Everard’s murder to imply that trans women are not really women. It is incredibly harmful to perpetuate the idea that trans women are simply “pretending to be women” in order to assault “real” women.
Don’t exclude trans women
Trans and non-binary people are twice as likely to be victims of crime compared to cis people. Galop’s Transphobic Hate Crime Report 2020 found that 1 in 4 trans people have experienced physical assault or violence. 1 in 5 have experienced sexual violence. 2020 was the deadliest year on record for Black trans women.
In people’s anger, their feminism can take on a trans-exclusionary quality. It is painful to see womanhood linked vaginas, or women being told that their woman card is only valid if they have grown up with this fear of assault. Caitlin Moran’s (now deleted) tweet explains that “Women have an acid worry in their stomach which never quite goes away. It sits there, next to and because of, your womb.” She managed to successfully exclude both trans women and cis women who have under gone hysterectomies.
Her apology for this slip-up is underwhelming and feels somewhat half-hearted. In fact, it’s not an apology, it’s an excuse. It’s fine to make a mistake, but when you realise that you’ve made a mistake you need to acknowledge that and actually apologise. Moran is a prominent feminist figure and while no one has to be perfect, she should be aware that her words carry weight. Saying that she was “on the blob and feeling particularly womb-y” completely disregards that her original tweet was transphobic.
I’m on my period right now, but I haven’t forgotten that trans women exist.
There’s just so much transphobia
I don’t talk about Moran’s tweet to attack her personally: I’m sure she didn’t actively mean to exclude trans women. Moran is simply a prominent example of the accidental exclusion that is rampant in the discussion of the last few days. Then there’s the deliberate exclusion. There’s the people using Sarah Everard’s murder to scaremonger that trans women are men, that they’re rapists.
It is horrific. It is transphobic.
I have seen countless tweets saying that “bio women” or “natal women” (cis, the word you’re looking for is cis) are at a higher risk of assault than trans women. That is simply untrue. I have seen people saying that talking about “trans identifying males” is taking away from the discussion around women. It’s not, for a very simple reason: trans women are women. Janice Turner’s article in The Times today finishes with a warning that the Scottish National Party needs to “rethink its misogynistic hate crime bill which (I’m not joking) protects men in drag but not women.”
I’m not saying that trans and cis women have exactly the same experiences of gendered violence. They don’t. However, you should be ashamed if you’re using a woman’s murder to spew your bullshit beliefs that only “biologically born women” are “real women.” I’ve seen people say that no, it’s not all men, but we know which men it is. Apparently it’s the men who “put up pictures of their erect penises with photo captions ‘look at ME! I’m a woman in the women’s bathrooms'” – except it’s not, because that’s just transphobic bullshit.
Reducing women to their genitalia is what the patriarchy has been doing for years. It’s not feminist at all.
Do include other trans and non-binary people
I’m angry about Sarah Everard’s murder. I’m angry that people are using Sarah Everard’s murder to imply that trans women are men. But it feels like every pink infographic has completely forgotten that not only women experience misogyny. Trans men and non-binary people also live with the constant fear that they are going to be assaulted. Even though I understand why inclusivity isn’t the top of most people’s lists right now, sometimes it makes me want to scream.
I’m just as at risk of being raped as a cis woman. I’m a trans guy, but I haven’t started testosterone yet. I haven’t had top surgery and I don’t own a binder. Sometimes I wear skirts. I don’t have to do, or stop doing, any of these things to validate my gender as a man. I’m read as a woman almost all of the time but that doesn’t mean I am one. Yet stepping into my gender hasn’t stopped men shouting ‘nice tits!’ at me.
My friends tell me to text them when I get home safely. The back of my neck prickles with fear when I sense someone walking behind me at night. I’ve wondered if it was my fault, because I was wearing such short shorts, that a group of guys shouted at me across the street last summer, asking me “are you legal yet?”
I am not asking the women who are hurting right now to be more inclusive. This isn’t the time for me – a guy – to educate. It’s the time for me to shut up and let women talk. But it’s not only women who have to deal with this shit. Trans men and non-binary people – and queer people and femme-presenting folks – do too. Is asking for us to be included the same as trying to centre myself in a conversation about women? I’m not sure. Maybe it is.
But people definitely need to stop excluding trans women. Trans women are women. Yes, this is scary. No, I’m not telling women to stop being angry. But please, please stop using Sarah Everard’s murder to be transphobic.