Features

Love Your Sisters And Not Just Your Cisters

Words By: Freya Hall


I was enraged this morning to read that a three-day women’s festival to be held in March next year at Mount Martha, south-east of Melbourne, is not allowing transgender women to attend unless they have undergone ‘all operative measures to become a woman.’

Kylee, who did not want to use her full name as her partner Belle is in the early stages of transitioning, wrote to festival organisers last month to ask whether Belle would be welcome.

“We’ve been trying to become more involved in women’s circles so that she can feel more comfortable, but at the moment she’s retreated a bit from life, so I thought a really beautiful camping festival with all women would be a really safe place for her to feel accepted,” she said.

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This instance of discrimination irked me and made me question: why is it that some of the most apparently left-wing, free-loving, feminists refuse to embrace transgender women? I decided to unpick the hypocrisy of the Seven Sisters Festival in an attempt to understand their reasoning.

  1. ‘Any age, any stage’

The ‘Seven Sisters Festival’ is a women’s-only camping festival that claims to be a place where

“…women can embrace whatever stage and age they are in, and collectively celebrate what it is to be a woman in all her shapes, colours and forms.”

Every stage, shape, and form except for pre-transition and transitioning transgender women, apparently. On what basis can Seven Sisters justify classifying pre-transition or transitioning women as not being at a crucial ‘stage’ in their life?

It has been clearly and repeatedly documented that there are disparities when comparing the mental health amongst the transgender population to that of the general populace. Transgender people are more vulnerable to symptoms of depression and anxiety, which is at least in part attributable to the social stress they experience as members of a gender minority population.

Deciding whether, and to what extent, one should ‘transition’ is undoubtedly a very difficult decision that transgender women have to grapple with. I cannot think of a more serious time in a transgender woman’s life when she would need the sort of affection, group support, sense of community, and love, that Seven Sisters claims to provide.

To dismiss this ‘stage’ in a transgender woman’s life as not important enough to qualify amongst cis-gender women’s ‘stages’, such as puberty and menopause, is incredibly heartless.

I’m calling bullshit on you Seven Sisters.

  1. ‘Real women.’

But the hypocrisy of Seven Sisters doesn’t stop there, on their website they continue:

“At Seven Sisters you will find women who are real, women who are powerful, women who want be the best versions of themselves—if only for a slice of time.”

How are transgender women not real? I can feel, smell, touch them (if they allow it). They physically exist and engage in the female world on a daily basis; transgender women can be sent to women’s jails, they might be peeing in the women’s toilet cubicle next to yours as you read this, and most importantly, they are discriminated against on the basis of gender.

Transgender women are our marginalised sisters; I concede, of course, that their lived experience may be different from cis-gender women’s, but we are sisters in arms.

I’m calling bullshit on you Seven Sisters.

  1. ‘Women who want to be the best version of themselves.’

In the above statement Seven Sisters also claims to be a place for ‘women who want to be the best version of themselves – if only for a slice of time.’ Not only are women such as Belle trying to be the best version of themselves, they are trying to be the truest version of themselves possible.

Not only do transgender women have to grapple internally with identity issues but they have to fight every single day just to be recognised as their true selves by a largely xenophobic and misinformed society. I cannot imagine the exhaustion. Let transgender women have a weekend away camping with other women where they can be their true selves, openly, ‘if only for a slice of time.’

I’m calling bullshit on you Seven Sisters.

  1. ‘All operative measures.’

In their email response to Kylee, Seven Sisters explained that they only allowed transgender women to attend if they had undertaken ‘all operative measures.’

What does ‘all operative measures’ mean? No euphemisms please Seven Sisters, do you mean gender reassignment surgery? Breast augmentation? Facial feminisation surgery? All of the above? The options open to transgender women regarding operative procedures varies depending on their location, expendable income, insurance, lifestyle, etc.

To place this very vague blanket ban on transgender women appears to be indicative of the archaic notion that in order for transgender women to be accepted they must be ‘passable’ as cis-gendered.

I say this because how would Seven Sisters be able to ascertain whether a woman had undertaken all operative measures? By looking at them? Surely transgender women would not be expected to send organisers a picture of their genitalia or a copy of their medical records.

I’m calling bullshit on you Seven Sisters.

After receiving backlash Seven Sisters posted a status on their Facebook event explaining that they would respond to concerns ‘within working hours.’ Some hours later they responded that they would be seeking legal advice and that

‘…in the next month, we will send a confidential survey to our fellow sisters who have and will be attending next years festival so they can share their opinions without fear of bullying.’

Hey ladies doing this survey, I implore you, show your love for all sisters, not just your cisters.