Do you sometimes feel confused or overwhelmed by trying to keep up with evolving language and experiences regarding gender and sexuality? This article aims to provide some easy to understand information that will help ground our conversations about (and work to improve) gender-inclusive services.
Note: there is a helpful terms list here; use it when you run into a word you don’t understand!
In this article I will discuss three concepts -- gender essentialism, the gender binary, heteronormativity -- and the ways they limit our ability to provide gender-inclusive services. I will briefly reference relevant law and policy that affirm we must provide services to survivors of all genders. And I will present some practical suggestions for improving accessibility for people of all genders, particularly those who are not cisgender women. Keep an eye out for a webinar expanding on some of this material.
The foundation of our advocacy work is promoting self-determination and safety for survivors. We generally understand the need for our services stems from the use of patriarchal and misogynistic violence, and other forms of oppression (ableism, racism, homophobia, etc) exacerbate the harm caused. We are committed to upholding the dignity of each and every survivor, regardless of gender, race, language, income, disability, etc; these are the anti-oppressive values from which we strive to do our work.
However, sometimes our advocacy work is impeded by the lingering, often unstated, even unconscious, belief in what is called gender essentialism: the view that women and men are fundamentally and permanently different on a biological level. One of the places this shows up is the mistaken belief that transgender women are actually men, and should not be allowed in spaces historically or currently intended for women. This is incredibly harmful to inclusion, healing and uplifting for trans women, many of whom experience incredibly high rates of violence. As United States Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta reminded us last summer in a powerful address, “transgender women are women; they live, work and study as women.”