It’s time cisgender women did more to protect the rights of transgender Australians


Because trans women are women.

I am a cis, White woman and watching the news this past month has caused me to reconsider the value I place on my identity within the female ‘sisterhood’. Of course, I am proud to be a woman, a feminist and a daughter.

But I am not proud to belong to a group that often isolates, excludes and disenfranchises vulnerable members of the community. In recent times, the treatment of transgender women by some cis women in Australia has been immoral and callous. It’s clear that we need to redefine what it means to be a woman.

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Recently, McIver’s Ladies Bath, a women’s-only ocean pool located in Sydney’s Eastern-suburbs, posted on its website that “only transgender women who’ve undergone gender reassignment surgery are allowed entry”. Although the wording has been changed on the website and the Randwick Council has issued an apology, the message from cis women to transgender Australians remains clear and simple: you are not one of us.

While discrimination towards the transgender community is not new, it has increasingly been making headlines globally. Alongside Australia’s poor display of inclusivity, the transphobic hashtag #BidenErasedWomen has been trending on Twitter due to the newly elected US President’s decision to allow trans women athletes to participate in the sporting category that aligns with their gender identity. In the UK, the courts have banned gender blockers for people under the age of 16.

The ‘us’ and ‘them’ dichotomy that arises anytime a person feels intensely connected to their social identity has been recognised as dangerous for many reasons. It often breeds racism, homophobia, and fear of the ‘other’. So, when we women so strongly gatekeep our identity, there are inevitable consequences. This has been evident in our treatment of Australian transgender women, as when we decide who is and isn’t allowed to be a woman, we breed contempt and practice exclusion.

While I struggle to understand the women who so fiercely defend such a rigid definition of our gender, I have noticed that some people voice the belief that it’s unfair for people who are born as a male to move between the gender identities, as it undermines the struggle women face living in a ‘man’s world’.

This is the basis of TERF’s (trans-exclusionary radical feminist groups) agendas. According to Vox, TERFs believe “that anyone born with a vagina is in its own oppressed sex class, while anyone born with a penis is automatically an oppressor”.

While I lament that the word feminist has been used by a group who clearly does not care for equality, I think it is a wakeup call for cis Australian women who view transgender women as less or inferior. The parallels between TERFs and the cultural phenomena of ‘boys’ clubs’, where toxic masculinity runs rife and inclusion is rigidly defined by gender norms, are obvious.

Broadly, it is a continuation of a cycle of abuse. Cis women, who identify as being oppressed by men, become the oppressor of the transgender community. Cis women’s higher rates of acceptability in society allow them to have dominion over the much smaller, vulnerable group of transgender people.

But the consequences of being socially rejected are enormous for transgender people. Feeling unsafe in public settings, violence and sexual harassment are common challenges faced by the trans community.

A study by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety found trans women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are even more vulnerable. They found that they are almost 20 per cent more likely to suffer multiple instances of sexual harassment than other women.

As women, we understand what it’s like to struggle against the patriarchy, and we should already know the systemic impact that such gender-based discrimination can have. We should be aware of how a lack of respect and social standing can set one back and inhibit a person’s life.

I’m sure we’ve all felt our eyes fill with tears when we know something is inherently unfair but that is ‘just the way things are’. Or the feeling of being objectified or belittled when you are trying to go about your everyday life. The burning in your chest when you overhear sexism being defended as ‘locker room talk’. 

So why do some cis women, when we know how gut-wrenching this feels, choose to act in a way that will make others feel this way? Perhaps it is human nature to grasp for greater power or social status, but our treatment of our fellow woman demonstrates a lack of empathy.

To me, womanhood or femininity is not a finite resource, nor is it ours to gatekeep. Entry into the ‘sisterhood’ should not be restricted by sexual organs, nor by women who want to project the hurt and pain they feel upon another. TERFs argue that transgender women are mocking or belittling cis women, but what they do not realise is that transgender women simply are women.

 If you need support related to gender identity, head here.

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