Engendered Debates

Men - however they identify - shouldn't be allowed in shelters designed for traumatised women

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Men - however they identify - shouldn't be allowed in shelters designed for traumatised women

As I discovered over many years of supporting victims of domestic violence, women trying to escape abusive relationships have often had a succession of violent, controlling partners who’ve sensed their vulnerability, their lack of self-esteem and taken full advantage. Or there may have only been one relationship which, over the course of several years, crushed their spirit and made them feel worthless.

Obviously the first thing such women need is to be somewhere away from their abusers. They need a place where they can be free of fear and where they can begin to heal in peace among people they trust. Shelters are for those women who have nowhere else to go, and, if they are to help women recover and move on, they need to be free of men – however those men “identify”.

At this point I expect some readers to stop reading because of their insistence that “transwomen are women and anyone who disagrees is a transphobe”. That insistence – born, I believe, of a deeply ingrained sense that men’s feelings matter more than women’s – tends to be the knee-jerk response of those unable to argue their corner. If they can’t physically silence dissenters, they run away.

To those who remain, I’m not suggesting that all women in shelters are inevitably going to be in fear of all men. But anyone with a modicum of human empathy should be able to understand why shelters for women escaping abusive relationships were established for those who fit the globally accepted definition of ‘woman’, which is adult, human, female. Nor should it surprise anyone that some such women are indeed going to be traumatised at having to share their living spaces with adult human males.

I realise that the prospect of being in need of safety, yet being refused admission to a women’s shelter, must be hard for those male-bodied individuals who suffer from gender dysphoria and who “wholeheartedly believe” – as Esther Betts does – that they are women. But womanhood is not based on a belief. It is not a subjective experience, it is not an “identity” one can adopt or discard based how we feel. It is not a mantle that can be donned, or a cosmetic makeover.

Those who force women to be submissive, to forgo careers for marriage and motherhood, to have their genitals mutilated at puberty, those who dictate how women are to dress and behave and those who pimp, rape, traffic and kill women, see us only as female and really don’t care how we identify. Women are oppressed because they are female, not because of how they look, dress, think or feel.

Being a woman is an objective material reality. And it is also a reality that most victims of domestic violence are women: the overwhelming majority of perpetrators are men. Women tend to have to disregard their own feelings out of deference to men – especially women who’ve suffered years of abuse. The claim made by Esther Betts that “trans-women stay in these shelters all the time and there is rarely an issue,” doesn’t surprise me. But it does raise the question, ‘How can you know?’

Remember: these are women who may have spent years trapped in a relationship where every aspect of their life has been under the control of an abuser. Once they finally get to the safety of a shelter, they have nowhere else to go. How can you possibly know what effect having to share living quarters with someone who is perceptibly male might have on such a woman?

“Apart from anecdotal hearsay, there is no firm evidence at this point that trans women pose the same threat,” writes Esther. And there is no firm evidence that they don’t. The evidence that there are men who violently assault and sexually molest women and children, while claiming to “believe wholeheartedly” that they are women themselves, is stronger than hearsay. Many such cases have been tested in court, the perpetrators found guilty.

Whenever I point this out I get accused of equating all transgender people with being violent criminals or rapists. I am not suggesting any such thing. My point is simply that being transgender is no guarantee that someone is any safer to be around and a woman who’s escaped male violence can’t be blamed if the presence of a male traumatises her, even if that male looks something like a woman and has also escaped an abusive partner.

This has nothing to do with men being on average bigger than women, as Esther seems to think. It’s not about size, it’s about being male. It’s about having grown up in a community, a culture, a society, a world in which males are the dominant sex class and are responsible for most of the violence that takes place in it.

And, no, of course “victims of trauma, with the mere potential to cause distress to others,” wouldn’t be excluded from shelters. There is unlikely to be a shared living space in existence where conflict never arises and one inhabitant’s difficult behaviour doesn’t upset others. This doesn’t amount to a reason to start admitting males, because vulnerable women have a very specific reason for feeling uncomfortable around them regardless of how they behave.

I understand that gender dysphoria can be a profoundly distressing condition. But it is, in my opinion, inhumane to expect women who have suffered so grievously at the hands of men to share accommodation with adult males just because they believe themselves to be women. In fact, I would say it is the epitome of male entitlement, all the more extraordinary for the lack of empathy for women it shows from those who claim to be women themselves. If there is to be any chance of stemming the ever-swelling tide of opposition from feminists who are fed up with the transgender lobby trying to push us around, it won’t start until trans rights activists – whether transgender or not – stop behaving like entitled men.

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