Freedom for All Genders: Why Conservatives Target Trans Women

Published Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Warning: Themes of transphobia, misogyny, sexual assault and harassment (though no explicit descriptions of violence). As part of our response to rising anti-trans actions by some Conservative politicians, we are sharing some educational resources. If you want to see a list of actions you can take, scroll down to the bottom of the post.

"Ouch, this stings". That's was my only comment when I shared this headline with the rest of the Leadnow staff team last week:

Headline reads: Poilievre backs banning trans women from women's sports, change rooms and bathrooms
People of all backgrounds and genders should have the freedom to be themselves. But Pierre Poilievre is trying to take that freedom away from trans women.

To understand why and how, there is a lot to unpack on the history and politics of the oppression of trans women and trans-feminine people, and how we are framed by the far right, to fully understand just how dangerous Poilievre's rhetoric is. If you are a trans person, you may just want to scroll to the bottom and take action.

Trans women and trans femininity
A transgender person is someone whose gender identity is different from that typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. A trans woman is a woman who is also transgender – generally speaking that means a person who was assigned male at birth (AMAB), and at some point in life came out as a girl or woman.

A trans-feminine person is generally considered to be an AMAB person who does not identify as a woman or a man. I am non-binary, am trans-feminine, and was raised as a boy. Part of coming out as non-binary for me has been changing my gender expression, pronouns, and name to be less masculine and more feminine.

A cisgender woman is a person who was assigned female at birth, was raised as a girl, and hasn't transitioned to another gender.

For more information: Transgender and Non-Binary People FAQ

Transmisogyny is the combination of transphobia and sexism. As with any intersection of oppressed identities, the sexism women experience is significantly amplified by the transphobia that trans women also experience. This has a direct impact on the safety of trans women and trans-feminine people – exposing us to some of the highest levels of violence of any group.

Trans people face significantly higher levels of sexual assault and other forms of violence than cisgender people in Canada – 37% of cisgender adults have experienced some form of violent assault compared to 59% of trans adults. Studies have found that 1 in 3 cisgender women experience sexual violence in their life and 1 in 2 trans people experience sexual violence in their life.

Trans-feminine people who experience other systems of oppression face even higher levels of violence. For instance, 1 in 5 transgender women in the US have been incarcerated, while nearly 1 in 2 Black trans women have been incarcerated - far higher than the rate of the general population.

For more information: Transmisogyny 101: What It Is and What Can We Do About It

I go to a public pool in my neighbourhood, with a single room that serves as the only family change room, only wheelchair accessible washroom, and only trans-inclusive bathroom in the building. On a busy night it can be a 20 minute wait – but I always wait to use it. As an trans-feminine person, the alternative is to risk harassment in the men's room or accusations of being a predator in the women's room.

Any public place without a trans-inclusive washroom imposes this stark choice on trans women and trans-feminine people.

Trans women as bathroom predators is an empirically baseless myth that has been whipped up by anti-trans activists. As JK Rowling, probably the most famous anti-trans activist in the world, puts it, welcoming people like me in women's bathrooms offers "cover to predators like few before it." The problem with this statement is that it is a complete fiction – there is simply no evidence that trans women pose a threat to other women in women's bathrooms or changerooms

The reverse is not true. There is ample evidence that going to the bathroom as a transgender person is a tangibly risky thing to do – it is actually cisgender people who put trans people at risk of harassment or violence in bathrooms.

For a detailed breakdown on the evidence on trans women and bathrooms: Transgender People, Bathrooms, and Sexual Predators: What the Data Says

A decades long tactic
"Stranger danger" is a favourite fear mongering tool for far right culture warriors. Before the baseless hysteria about trans women in bathrooms, gay men were portrayed as a threat to children to advance far right attacks on gay rights. This graph shows the results of a study which found that just as social conservatives reduced their portrayal of gay men as predators, they switched their focus to making the same case about trans women.
graph shows gradual decline of gay men being used in child protectionist framing from late 70s to mid 2010s, and sharp increase in trans women being used in such framing in the 2010s
And before gay men were the far right's top stranger danger threat, it was Black men who were portrayed as a threat to women and children to justify far right segregationist policies in the US. When the same harmful trope is recycled over and over to justify the far right's cause du jour, it's a clear sign that their true motivation lies elsewhere.

The harm goes beyond bathrooms
The wider impacts of this political tactic are far more severe than the simple – and very important – challenge of trans women having somewhere safe to pee.

There has been a 64% increase in hate crimes targeting queer and trans people in Canada in recent years. And Canada's spy agency expects the 2023 knife attack targeting a University of Waterloo Gender Studies class to inspire further acts violence.

And while there is an entire anti-trans social movement responsible for this regressive and violent trend, rhetoric from some politicians can help incite violence. Amnesty International called Pierre Poilievre's recent comments on trans women "dangerous".

For more information: Pierre Poilievre’s comments about trans women ‘a dangerous distraction,’ Amnesty International Canada says

"It's political expediency at the cost of people's lives"
That's what Hannah Hodson, former Conservative Party candidate and a trans women, said in response to Poilievre's latest comments regarding trans women.

Hodson argues that Poilievre is making a calculated decision to come after trans youth and trans women as part of a cynical political strategy. It’s hard to disagree with her assessment.

In September 2023, after Conservative party members voted by large majorities to officially adopt anti-trans policies, Poilievre carefully avoided commenting. In the past month, however, he has stepped off the fence. In carefully worded sound bites he has endorsed policies that would take away human rights from trans children and put trans women at risk.

Previous Conservative leaders Erin O'Toole and Andrew Scheer failed to keep their social conservative base happy – and energized at the polls – by maintaining socially centrist positions. Poilievre has clearly decided he needs to cater to the far right base to keep his electoral coalition intact.

It's a choice between human rights and votes, and Poilievre is choosing votes.

For more information: Former Conservative Party candidate says Poilievre's transgender comment 'confuses the issue'.

The Conservatives’ latest political wedge issue
From 2011 to 2015, Stephen Harper used the Conservative Party's majority power to target Muslim people – using the niqab as a political wedge issue and promising to start a "barbaric cultural practices tip line", a move that even the cabinet minister who announced the policy admitted was inappropriate and wrong. Even prominent Conservative MPs have connected the dots between Conservative Islamophobic policies and Islamophobic violence.

Just as Stephen Harper attacked Muslim people to score political points with his base, now Pierre Poilievre is doing the same to trans people. My heart goes out to trans Muslim people who are the targets of both.

Both are intentional and calculated political strategies that inflame violence against vulnerable people.

What you can do
Queer and trans people need support from our allies. Whether you are queer or trans yourself, or wanting to act in allyship, here are a few things you can do: PS I wrote a similar post last September in response to far right protests targeting trans youth. It's available on our website as another blog post.

With hope, determination, and a sassy flick of my hair,
Peter Rose, on behalf of the Leadnow team