Feminist MPs throw support behind transgender women

Labour and Green MPs have waded into the fiery debate over transgender women's place in contemporary feminism.

Over the past several weeks, prominent New Zealand feminists have clashed with transgender activists over the issues of biological sex and self-identification.

It all boils down to a fundamental disagreement over what it means to be a woman.

Shifting beliefs about biology and identity mean that to many in 2018, gender is more complicated than a simple binary differentiation, defined by genitalia.

The increased awareness and acceptance of transgender identities in New Zealand and other countries means there's now greater support for people being allowed to live as the gender they feel most comfortable with, rather than what's on their birth certificate.

A recent Ministry of Health submission by lobby group The Trans Dignity Collective proposed that references to biological sex not be included in patient identification data, as the concept is "derogatory" to trans people and could put them in danger by "outing" them as trans.

"A field for 'biological sex recorded at birth' is particularly bad as it implies a fixed concept that cannot be changed," the submission reads.

In August, a Government select committee recommended simplifying the process by which Kiwis can change the gender marker on their birth certificates. 

But in recent weeks, several high-profile feminists have rejected the idea that trans women can claim womanhood and therefore be included in women's rights activism.

Renee Gerlich, who angered trans activists in August by designing suffrage commemoration posters that seemed to deliberately exclude those not of the "female sex", has accused politicians who support trans rights of "abandoning women for 'gender identity'".

She's supported a Parliamentary petition urging the Government to consult with Kiwi women before making changes such as those suggested in the Trans Dignity Collective's proposal.

"The Government is considering allowing people to self-identify as men or women without any requirement for medical treatment," the petition reads.

"This will prevent women's organisations and services excluding males."

Advocacy group the Lesbian Rights Alliance Aotearoa (LRAA) has demanded politicians "stand with women".

"We believe in women's right to female-only spaces, services and provisions - especially given how many women and girls have been raped, beaten or had women we know murdered by males," the group said in a statement.

"Will our politicians support women's rights or will they undermine them by supporting 'self-declared' sex changes?"

Other activists have also claimed that allowing trans individuals to self-identify - even if they have not had reassignment surgery or taken hormones - will lead to men invading women's spaces under the guise of 'identifying as a woman'.

This is a common belief amongst those opposed to trans rights and has led to attempted law changes like the narrowly-defeated 'bathroom bill' in Texas, which would have required people to use the toilet corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate only.

This is despite there being very little statistical evidence of attacks on women by transgender individuals.

Several female MPs have publicly condemned this view and disavowed solidarity with a movement that excludes the trans community.

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson tweeted in August that the only people who are a threat to women's spaces are men.

"Trans women who are so acutely oppressed, marginalised and dehumanised are my sisters. Not my enemies."

Fellow Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman cited the disproportionately high levels of violence reported by trans women, and said that claiming they have some sort of privilege is "callous".

"Not my feminism," she signed off.

Former Green MP and activist Catherine Delahunty has called for anti-trans feminists to stop speaking for the entire movement.

"Defining 'What is a woman' is what patriarchy does," she tweeted.

Labour MP Kiri Allan has also demanded feminists "stop being transphobic".

Several of the country's top gender-focused organisations have thrown their support behind the right to self-identify.

The National Council of Women has stated that it believes trans women to be women and therefore deserving of full inclusion in the feminist movement.

RainbowYOUTH says feminists who oppose trans women's inclusion in the movement are trying to "delegitimise" the experiences of gender-diverse people.

"Their views are based on biased pseudo-science and scare-mongering and are not helpful to any young person who might be struggling with their identity. While veiled in concern for women's rights, these views perpetuate transphobia."

Feminist Mothers Aotearoa says there's "no space for transphobia" in women's rights activism in 2018.

"Feminism is concerned with the rights of women, and trans women are women," the group said in a statement.

"This is what contemporary feminism looks like in New Zealand. It is intersectional and inclusive."