Why cis attendees of RTN are letting trans women down

A few years ago I attended, for two years running, London’s Reclaim The Night march, organised by London Feminist Network. It was an amazing march, full of an powerful pro-woman atmosphere. We marched through London to raise awareness of violence against women. However the year after, and each year since, I have not attended.

The reason for my non-attendance is fairly simple. Then, I knew nothing about trans people other than what the newspapers had told me. Cis privilege meant I had not considered or noticed that there were few, if any, trans women in attendance. Over the year after the second march I attended, I met several amazing trans people online, did a lot of reading of blogs by trans people and though I am far from a perfect ally, I started to try to think and speak about trans people and their place in feminism.

Feminism should, by default, include trans women. I’d go so far as to say that, as trans women are many, many times more likely to be raped, killed or discriminated against on the basis of their gender than cis women are, we cis feminists should not just be including them but making them central in our activism. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. We’ve long known that feminism as a movement is overwhelmingly white, able-bodied and middle class. It is also overwhelmingly cissexual.

While I spent that year learning, it came to my attention that the Reclaim The Night march that I had enjoyed so much, excluded trans women. If you email LFN, you will be told that of course trans women are welcome to attend. However, even after several years of repeated calls for that to be made clear and specific on the flyers and on the RTN website, no changes have been made. LFN’s repeated and continuous refusal to explicitly include trans women when they say ‘women-only’ is extremely problematic and shows a lot of cis privilege and cissexism.

I mean, it wouldn’t be hard, would it? After all these years of people talking to them about it, all they have to do is change the website so it says “cis and trans women only” or “self-identified women only”. A couple of words changing on a website, that’s all it needs. Clarification on the flyers that all women are welcome. But they steadfastly refuse to do so. The only conclusion that can be drawn from their reluctance, is that they don’t actually wish to state publicly that trans women are welcome, and the only conclusion to be drawn from that is that trans women are not in fact welcome by RTN’s organisers.

Considering that London Feminist Network spoke out and demonstrated in favour of outspoken transphobe Julie Bindel when she was given her Stonewall award, this is hardly surprising. I wonder how much that has to do with LFN’s refusal to explicitly include trans women. I also wonder how much of it has to do with the faction of transphobic “radfems” who would kick up a stink about “women only spaces” including all women, and LFN’s desire not to scare off these people.

This is where my disappointment in my fellow cis feminists comes in. Women I love, women I respect and who I consider friends, have continued to attend and will be attending this year’s Reclaim The Night in London, despite being made aware of the march’s transphobia and cissexism. I am disappointed, so disappointed, that they are still choosing to go. It seems to me to be a smack in the face to trans women. Many of the cis women I’ve spoken to who are attending, have said “But the march does so much good!” and “Well it’s important, of course it’s important… but I’d be missing out on so much if I didn’t go.”

So trans women are important to you, but not quite important enough for you to miss out on your night of female solidarity. I’m sorry, but that’s just not good enough. What you’re saying is that it’s more important for you to take a walk, organised by a network who blatantly don’t care about trans women, which implicitly excludes trans women, and that you’re not willing to put your money where your mouth is, so to speak, by boycotting the march.

LFN and the other organisers of RTN are not listening. And why on earth should they, when so many cis women, by attending, are telling them “I care about trans women, but not quite enough to miss your march”? They won’t listen unless we all take a stand. Every single one of us who gives a damn about the inclusion of trans women needs to boycott this march until its numbers dwindle so much that they have no choice but to listen and make the change that is so desperately needed. I’m taking that stand. Will you?

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