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Rape crisis sabotage is a feature, not a bug, of trans activism

Trans activism is uniquely incompatible with anti-rape activism

It’s almost three years since Mridul Wadhwa, the trans-identified male who became chief of Edinburgh Rape Crisis (ERCC), told listeners of the Guilty Feminist podcast that some rape victims — namely, female ones who wanted female-only support — were “bigoted people” who needed to “reframe [their] trauma”. It ought to have been a scandal. Somehow, it wasn’t. As is so often the case with trans activism, the story was so extreme that many onlookers assumed feminists were exaggerating, or that there was something about it they’d missed. It couldn’t have been what it looked like: a narcissistic man shaming female rape victims for failing to flatter his ego. Yet that is precisely what it was. 

Finally, earlier this month, there was a reckoning of sorts. Roz Adams, a former ERCC caseworker, won her tribunal against the organisation for unfair dismissal, having been accused of transphobia for wanting to reassure clients about the sex of a colleague. The judgement was damning in its description of the “deeply flawed” way in which Wadhwa conducted the internal investigation. Nonetheless, at the time of writing, he remains in post. This is inexcusable. 

Even now, there will be some who characterise the situation as one of balancing competing rights (so difficult!) or well-meaning activists going a little too far (so easy to do!). I would argue that it is far worse than that. While claiming to stand for the marginalised,  Wadhwa has used his position to display an extraordinary level of callousness towards female victims of sexual violence. Traumatised women have been smeared as racists; they have been told to “rethink [their] relationship with prejudice”; they have been lectured on their “privilege”. This behaviour is too consistent to be accidental. It shows little compassion for female rape victims. Wadhwa might wish to fix them, but only because they are not framing what happened to them in a manner which adequately reflects a gender identitarian view of the world. 

This is a feature, not a bug, of modern-day trans activism. Trans-identified males such as Wadhwa and Morgane Oger, who waged war on Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter, are committed to controlling sexual violence support services in ways which allow their perceptions to dominate at all times. They might use the language of inclusion, but their interest is not just in ensuring resources are available for everyone. Were that the case, they would have no issue with some women providing female-only support for those who needed it (when JK Rowling created Beira’s Place to do just that, Wadhwa smeared it as “founded on a platform of exclusion, misinformation and what I would describe as white feminist imperialism”). What Wadhwa, Oger and others — such as those opposing a current campaign for just one single-sex service in Brighton — are trying to do is control the feminist analysis of sex, power and female trauma. It would be bad enough if their sole concern was validation, but it is not. This is about shaping the political narrative of rape itself. 

Trans activism’s conflation of femaleness with femininity tends to lead to some very dubious pronouncements on sex, violence and womanhoo

Anyone can be a victim of rape (though most victims are female, and under English law all perpetrators are male). I don’t doubt that some trans-identified males have been victims themselves, and as such require support and care. Shared victimhood is not, however, the same as a shared understanding of the politics of sexual violence. Gender identity theory has very little to offer when it comes to challenging and rejecting rape culture as feminists define it. On the contrary, trans activism’s conflation of femaleness with femininity tends to lead to some very dubious pronouncements on sex, violence and womanhood. 

Texts such as Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl and Andrea Long Chu’s Females are entirely incompatible with feminist work which centres female boundaries, subjectivity and agency. To make anti-rape activism fully “trans inclusive” — that is, in line with a trans activist understanding of human relationships — would not just mean providing some services to  people of both sexes, regardless of gender identity. It would mean the wholesale replacement of one analysis of rape with another, on the basis that the original feminist approach, which takes male bodies and power into account, is out of date.

This is why, I think, even one female-only rape crisis service or session is so intolerable to Wadhwa, Oger and others. It is not that it would be taking something away from anyone else (it wouldn’t). It is that it would be ideologically offensive, an implicit admission that the trans activist version of feminism is deeply flawed. This is the only way I can make sense of the level of cruelty and vitriol directed against female rape survivors asking for female-only spaces. These women are requesting so, so little. As Marina Strinkovsky has written, “it seems such an innocuous thing to ask: just leave us these small spaces […] Who else but women would be denied a small private space to discuss their experiences of childhood sexual trauma, for example? What can even be gained from breaching those boundaries and enforcing unwelcome inclusion in those spaces?”

Rather than being permitted this one concession, rape survivors have been expected, not just to tolerate male people in nominally woman-only spaces, but to consent to having their perceptions “corrected”. There is a way in which “reframe your trauma” makes sense, if we understand it to mean that survivors can be enabled to reject any sense of shame and regain trust in others. It does not make sense if what is meant is “stop trusting yourself”. This is not about healing but manipulation. 

Trans activism is incompatible with feminism in general, but it is especially incompatible with anti-rape activism. In the aftermath of trauma, we need to be reminded who we are and that we matter. To be a woman is not to exist to be objectified, redefined, placed in question. It is simply to be a female human, whole, complete. Traumatised women need help to remember that. Anyone who finds such a thing offensive might well need help themselves, but of a different kind. What they should never be doing is presuming to offer it to others.

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