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Beyond the backlash: trans-exclusionary politics, gender critical feminism, and the struggle for trans feminist futures - 14 March 2022

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Recent decades have witnessed significant gains in the rights and social recognition of trans people in the UK and beyond, including increasing rights for trans people to determine their own lives and bodies. Yet, trans rights have been accompanied with intense debates and backlash, as trans-exclusionary ideas and arguments have proliferated in public and media discourses. These arguments are often advanced from so-called gender critical positions, promoted by feminists who oppose trans women’s and non-binary people’s inclusion in gender segregated women’s spaces and services. They tend to do so through the promotion of 'women’s sex-based rights,' which are framed as inconsistent with trans inclusion via recourse to ‘biological sex’ as an essential and immutable condition of femaleness. Femaleness is, in turn, positioned as the foundation of women’s sex-based rights, and as distinct from questions of gender identify.

These ideas have been co-opted by powerful organisations that have historically not supported feminist perspectives. In international sports, for example, many sports governing bodies have built on gender critical notions to restrict or ban both trans and intersex women’s participation, via arguments that position trans and intersex women as ‘biological males’ who are unfairly advantaged and even dangerous to other women.

Concurrently, trans people continue to face significant structural inequalities, discrimination, and violence across most spheres of social life, including disproportionate levels of hate crime, abuse, homelessness, and restricted access to essential and lifesaving healthcare, further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. While trans people’s lives and bodies have become the locus of backlash and debate over ‘biological sex’ and its relationship to gender identity, trans people themselves face deeply engrained inequalities and violence that often make their lives unliveable. 

Sonja Erikainen will consider the manifestations of the backlash and debates, their effects on trans lives and implications for questions of social justice. They will argue that trans lives and trans people’s right to self-determination are not and should not be seen as up for debate.

Speaker

Sonja Erikainen is a lecturer in sociology at the university of Aberdeen. Their work focuses on social, historical, and ethical issues around gender, sports, health and medicine, especially in relation to scientific knowledge production and gender and sex diversity. Their research and publications cover areas including trans and non-binary identities and bodies, embodiment of intersex and diverse sex characteristics, and the history and politics of sport, biology, biomedicine, and the science of sex difference.

They are the author of Gender Verification and the Making of the Female Body on Sport: A History of the Present and co-editor of TERF Wars: Feminism and the Fight for Transgender Futures.


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