Our mission at YWCA Lancaster is to eliminate racism and empower women. While this seems like a simple-enough statement, there are still those who seek to define for others what it means to be a woman. Transgender women are women, and when we say “empower women,” we mean everyone who identifies as a woman.
We acknowledge our own current and historical complicity in denying transgender women their humanity, and although Pride month has ended, our work to affirm the dignity and rights of all transgender women continues.
Science should not be needed to “prove” who is a woman, but it is important to note that research over the past decade has blown significant holes in the gender binary — the classification of gender in two, and only two, distinct categories. When considering the historically patriarchal, colonized and gender-normative nature of the science of sex and gender, it is no surprise that as there is more inclusion in academia, there is more research concluding what Indigenous peoples have always known: There are multitudes of identity between “woman” and “man.” (Note: Merriam-Webster defines gender-normative as “adhering to or reinforcing ideal standards of masculinity or femininity.”)
As we continue at YWCA Lancaster to work internally and externally to show up for transgender rights, we must advocate for the following, based on the words of Alessandra Bryant and Kendal Edwards in their June essay for YWCA National:
— Every woman has the right to define their own womanhood.
“Woman” cannot be defined by appearance, biology or the opinions of cisgender people (that is, people whose gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth). A woman’s gender identity must be defined by each individual woman, and we must understand that this can change over time because of how rigidly gendered we are because of the way we’ve been socialized since birth.
— We must listen to transgender women.
We must listen to understand, not to respond or debate someone’s humanity. Trans women, and especially trans women who exist at other intersections of systemic oppression, have a world of experience and understanding that privileged people do not inherently possess.
— We must uplift and center transgender women voices in these movements, especially Black, Indigenous and other trans women of color.
To quote self-described Black, lesbian, mother, warrior and poet Audre Lorde, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
We need to lift up and center transgender voices by any means necessary, and provide the appropriate economic, political and mental support for liberation. This includes cisgender people taking risks in ways that transgender/nonbinary folks would never be able to do without potential physical, mental and economic harm.
— We need to educate ourselves to work in solidarity with Black, Indigenous and other trans women of color.
We do not get to label ourselves “ally.” Working in solidarity means we must do our own work to understand what’s at stake — and not at the expense and exploitation of the women we mean to support.
— We need to realize that the liberation of Black, Indigenous and other trans women of color means the liberation of all.
Making space for trans women is not a zero-sum game. We are building a larger table, not replacing people at the table.
When we create more equitable spaces that are devoid of expectations based on gender, we all benefit. Cisgender people must evaluate and reflect on the power structures in their own spheres of influence and consider the question, “What do I actually have to lose?”
This is not an exhaustive list. Our work to dismantle systems of oppression is continuous and ever-changing. But if we as a community are able to hold true to these values, we can envision a better world not just for future generations, but for the here and now.
Adam Hosey is chief equity officer for YWCA Lancaster.