Trans women ignored in Conservative party’s domestic violence proposals

January 3, 2009

Shortly before Christmas the Conservative party’s leader, David Cameron, interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, said that a future Conservative government would implement a cross government strategy to end violence against women. The statement appears to have been made in support of an announcement by the Shadow Minister for Women, Theresa May, of a proposal to build 15 new rape crisis centres across the UK as part of a range of proposals to tackle violence against women. Apparently, there is a complete list of proposals outlined in the Conservative Strategy Paper, Ending Violence Against Women. I say ‘apparently’ as the web page for this document doesn’t actually display in my web browser (Safari on a Mac).

Once again it seems that trans women are ignored by these proposals in favour of the usual blinkered approach to the subject, which is invariably framed in the specifically gendered context of cis men’s violence against cis women. But it’s not just a cis women’s issue, it is suffered by all, regardless of ethnicity, age, disability, sexuality, religion or belief, social class – and gender identity. It can also occur in a range of relationships – including trans relationships. It’s a part of the human condition, and the proposals as set out by the Conservative party seem only to reflect the same old misapprehension that trans women are neither women nor human.

There is a vicious circle in the situation as it stands: the obvious and long-term lack of concern by politicians for the rights and welfare of trans women, except where politically expedient, has had the practical result of the under-reporting by trans women of domestic violence and abuse incidents, which in turn means that there has been a complete lack of improvement in the provision of appropriate support resources.

What the Conservative party’s proposals fail to address is the systemic marginalisation and Othering of trans women by the dominant cissexual hegemony. Intersectionality is similarly ignored: for example, a lesbian trans woman might be anxious about reporting violence not only because of a fear of lesbophobia, but also because of a fear of transphobia. And what of the complete lack of specialised refuges for trans women who suffer violence, regardless of whether it’s common assault or domestic violence? Trans women face diverse and distinct experiences which require specific responses – and these proposals fail miserably in even acknowledging that fact, let alone addressing it.

In the interests of balance, I would also state that the Conservative party isn’t the only political party to ignore the problem of domestic violence and abuse towards trans women. I’m similarly unimpressed by the governing Labour party’s approach to the subject. The home secretary, Jacqui Smith, has been reported as saying that she is set to launch a consultation to find out what the governmment could do to improve the safety of women “in their homes, at work and in public”, and that domestic violence is a “devastating hidden crime” which the government is determined to tackle it in all its forms. I could find no specific mention of trans women’s concerns on the Labour party’s website. Nor on the LGBT Labour site. And don’t even start me on the Conservative party’s LGBTory group – their blog hasn’t been updated since August 2008.

It would almost be better if politicians just came right out and said it: they’re only interested in trans women as a potential source of votes and are otherwise completely indifferent to our very existence, let alone our civil, social and human rights. And you wonder why this trans woman is angry, faced with cynicism of that magnitude?

ETA: Content sourced variously from BBC (Woman’s Hour site), Broken Rainbow press release (direct link not found) and The Guardian (Society section).

Op-ed sourced from Helen’s head so mind you don’t get splinters.

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