This Saturday the Million Women Rise march is scheduled to take place in London. The aim is to protest the fact that “A woman’s right to live free from violence and / or the fear of violence has not been achieved”. Unquestionably a worthy aim.
The march is for women only and the website has a page explaining why this is so.
Regrettably, nowhere on the website is it made clear whether transsexual women are welcome to take part.
Any transsexual woman who knows anything of the history of our community will be aware of the problematic connotations of the phrase “women only” originating from the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival’s “Womyn Born Womyn” policy, which:
[…] officially requests that the attendees be “womyn-born-womyn” (WBW) only. That is, those who were born and raised as girls, and currently identify as women. MWMF is one of only a few women’s festivals with a WBW policy.
In 1991 Nancy Burkholder, who had attended the festival the year before without incident, was expelled from MWMF when she disclosed her transsexual status to festival workers who, in turn, informed the festival office. Burkholder was asked to leave the festival and received a full refund of her ticket. Festival organizers continued to advocate their support of the women-born-women policy even as criticism from some segments of the queer community mounted in response to Burkholder’s departure.
Even though festival box office staff have sold tickets to transsexual women since 2006, and our attendance is supported by a number of workers and cis women attendees, the festival’s organizer maintains that the discriminatory policy is still in place.
In this context, to see the phrase “women only” used without clarification on the Million Women Rise website sends out a very clear message to this transsexual woman: your presence is neither wanted nor welcome. In other words, “woman” = “cis woman”.
Clear enough, you might think – but the waters have been greatly muddied for me following a conversation with a cis woman friend. She informs me that a second, mutual cis woman friend has emailed the organisers of the Million Women Rise march to ask directly for clarification of their stance on transsexual women, and has received a reply which states explicitly that the march is open to transsexual women to attend.
However, I can find no mention of this fact anywhere on the Million Women Rise website. To any other transsexual woman who might look at the site for clarification, it will not be found, and if it’s not made explicit, then the only safe assumption is that it’s a cis women’s space – and is therefore always potentially unsafe for trans women. And the unavoidable conclusion is that the organisers of the Million Women Rise march – and by implication, any cis woman who attends – are failing to take transphobia seriously. And I, for one, need no reminding of the fact that transphobic violence kills transsexual women: that is why my community holds an annual Day of Remembrance.
It really beggars belief that the organisers apparently find it impossible to state publicly that transsexual women are welcome to attend at the same time that they make the self-same claim in a private email.
And I’m sorry to say that, until or unless that discrepancy is satisfactorily resolved, I know where I’ll be on Saturday – and it won’t be on the Million Women Rise march.
Last edited 13 January 2010 to update links