According to the Statement Protesting Discrimination and Exclusion against Trans Women, which was uploaded on the WAN site on February 26 as an emergency appeal, the issue of trans women’s entry into public space allocated for the female gender has provoked anxieties and objections- mainly on the internet- since 2018. The Statement was produced by a group of researchers of feminism and sociology staging a campaign to collect signatures for support. They are seriously concerned about the fact that those anxieties and objections have been voiced by women who claim to be feminists, and that more and more obvious trans gender discrimination is expressed and shared on the internet.

As was mentioned in the Statement, in 2018 Ochanomizu University, a national women’s university which was founded in 1875 as Tokyo Women’s Normal School, announced that they would admit those who wish to enter the women’s university based on their self-identification starting from academic year 2020. In other words, transgender students who are recorded as male in an official family register but identify themselves as female are likely to enter the national women’s university in April 2020. This decision was grounded in the university’s Charter which was established in 2004 to offer an arena for all highly motivated female students to make their dreams come true.

The Statement also referred to the proposal of the LGBTI subcommittee of the SCJ (Science Council of Japan) Law Committee, which was announced in 2017, to secure the rights of sexual minorities. The proposal pointed out that if MtF trans individuals could not be admitted into girls’ high schools or women’s universities, it would constitute a breach of the right to learn.
These moves observed in recent years are encouraging to advocates and feminists who are engaged in higher education to promote gender and sexuality studies. To meet their expectation, discussion on institutional changes has actually started. But various bashing was triggered and bitter words uttered as well.

What I personally heard first was the physical and sexual fear of men expressed by women suffering from the trauma of sexual abuse or violence. If public lavatories and bath houses could become open to trans women who are physically male, these women would have to self-exclude from those public spaces. Just the thought of the possible presence of those who had the ability to rape would adversely affect their recovery from the trauma. Their problem should be quite understandable to feminists.
But when these fears, which are usually shared in a limited sphere of self-help groups or victims’ communities, are openly referred to by feminist scholars, they are not always accepted with sympathy. They may be regarded as transphobic or a form of discrimination by minority groups. Nowadays this kind of labeling and criticism tends to be escalated on the internet. When there occurred a bashing by a trans woman directly targeting at victims of sexual violence, abusive words including doubts about their claim to be a victim were so intimidating that the victims felt forced to keep silent. A trans woman even reported that she dared to sneak into a women-only bathroom and watched other women out of curiosity, which implies her masculinity. The shaming of well-known feminist scholars for not having signed the Statement was no less damaging, making the signature collection function as “color coding” or a kind of allegiance test.
Some observers, including myself, hesitate to support the Statement right away as it does not describe what kind of anxieties and objections have been specifically expressed. I need to take time to understand how trans gender discrimination is generated and how it can be corrected.
Through my personal contact with MtF trans individuals, I think I can imagine trans women must always encounter difficulty under the current social and legal systems in identifying where to belong. Sex reassignment surgery is not necessarily an optimal solution, either. If they took the anxieties and objections voiced on the internet as a straightforward rejection, they would be hurt even more badly. They could have been somewhat relieved and encouraged by the Statement. In that sense, the result that thousands of signatures were collected in a month or so must be helpful as an emergency appeal. In fact, not only feminist researchers but also a wider range of people concerned with sexual minorities joined in the campaign.

But needless to say, “trans women” is too diverse a category to be supported or excluded as a whole. The above-mentioned trans woman who attacked unfavorable feminists does not represent trans women. Her violent message will not relieve trans women, nor stimulate any positive counter-argument, but does illustrate how she is isolated, infuriated, and depressed. She and the victims of sexual violence both deserve attention as the most vulnerable people oppressed by the social order of sex and gender.
The argument should not be reduced to the conflict between the victims’ right to live safely without fear of sexual violence and trans women’s freedom to enter female-only spaces based on their self-identification.

The background and the consequences of the Statement seem to suggest that the whole process should be reviewed from the view point of those who are suffering and troubled and that conscious observers as well as specialized researchers should consider what they can do for individual cases based on their personal expertise. For instance, researchers should probe into anxieties and objections in addition to defending those who they think are most vulnerable in a certain context. Thus the nature of the problem could be analyzed and relevant disciplines possibly developed beyond the inevitable historical limitations. Non-academics like me could try to be more conscious and receptive of a possible existence of minorities nearby, whether it is sexual, social, or ethnic, who cannot even come out to make their anxieties or sufferings heard. And we should all be more aware of the peculiarity of virtual communication so that verbal violence by any group does not unjustly hurt us.

Written by FUKUOKA. A. A