Sister not Cister: a fight to be safe

The issue of trans rights is one which has caused enormous upheaval across the left, including the anarchist movement. Below, a member of trans-solidarity group Sister Not Cister talks about the uphill struggle trans people and their allies are facing — and how SNC is trying to help.

One of the more infamous incidents within the anarchist movement of recent times took place in 2017, at the London Anarchist Bookfair when a group of Trans Exclusionary Radical feminists (Terfs)* attended and handed out transphobic leaflets, sparking a fight at the event and its subsequent closure last year.

This sparked a divide in the London community between those who stood with the Terfs and those who did not. (see freedomnews.org.uk/get-terfs-out-of-feminism for more information).

In response to the anarchist bookfair incident and other transphobic events taking place during that time and the general transphobic backlash towards the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) consultation, a couple of cis* female allies created a statement which was published on Freedom News. It was called ‘It’s spelt sisterhood not cis-terhood’ (see freedomnews.org.uk/its-spelt-sisterhood-not-cis-terhood-statement).

The statement was then signed by hundreds of individuals, and groups. The authors of the statement then created a Facebook page called Sister Not Cister so that the statement could be kept pinned to the page. It was this statement which led to a physical group forming.

Allies of many of these anarchist Terfs within our movement would like to lead folks to believe that the transgender community are an entitled group making a lot of fuss over nothing. That we should stop no-platforming these Terf groups and hear them out.

The trans struggle is a class struggle, as a leaflet produced earlier this year by Leeds activists We Are The Rabl (bit.ly/werrable) sums up:

“As trans people we tend to be poorer, and the poorer we are the more vulnerable to transphobia.

  • We’re more likely to be unemployed. A third of employers admit to being less likely to hire us.
  • We suffer worse working conditions than our colleagues. One in eight of us have been physically attacked at work. Many turn to sex work due to this and fear of unemployment.
  • When we try to access healthcare, we are considered difficult to treat, even for issues not related to us being trans. A broken arm becomes a “trans broken arm” and inadequately trained and understaffed healthcare facilities often turn us away.
  • Due to inconsistent funding, many of us are left unnecessarily infertile.
  • We are far more likely to face housing problems due to discrimination and parental rejection.

“Bosses, politicians and landlords exploit us all, and are the ones with the power to translate society’s transphobia into problems in our daily lives.”

SNC, with the Trans Liberation Assembly, would like to add: On February 11th 2019, plans were announced to scrap the already limited provisions for trans prisoners. Some trans women have already been moved to the men’s prison estate.

Abhorrent transphobia in the media, championed by both Terfs and so-called respectable academic at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCIS) has been a sinister factor in increasingly violent treatment enacted against trans women who are victims of the prison estate.

Every prisoner is a political prisoner, and prisons make up a vast system of gendered and white supremacist violence which enforces borders and a notion of social cohesion which is held together by the most extreme brutality.

No-one of any gender can be free while we rely on the police, borders, and cages to make us safe.

Terfs have shown time and time again that they will direct the police towards us, they willingly threaten us with arrest and potentially prison. On May 1st Terfs attempted to join the annual workers May Day March, and when removed by anti-fascist comrades and the march stewards they called the police.

Recently they held a protest at Downview prison with banners saying “No men in women’s prisons” protesting the placement of trans women in female prison estates. SNC asks, how can these groups claim to care about women when they hold a demo at a prison and fail to critique the structural ways in which the prison system itself is harming and killing women, and particularly those who are marginalised?

  • 45% of incarcerated women have reported being subject to domestic violence.
  • 31% were looked after (in foster care) as children.
  • Black women are more likely to be remanded in custody and to receive custodial sentences.
  • Women in prison are five times more likely than those on the outside to have mental health problems.
  • In 2016 alone there were 12 suicides.
  • For 85% of mothers, being sent to prison is the first time they will be separated from their children for an extended period of time.

Despite the above, apparently for Terfs the main concern is to move transwomen to male prison where many of our sisters have already been murdered.

Shocking statistics were released in 2018 on the discrimination we face as transgender people in the UK. More than a third of all trans people in the UK had been victims of a hate crime in 2017-2018. 41% of trans people have experienced a hate crime because of their gender identity and up to 53% for young trans people between 18 and 24 years old. 79% of trans people did not report the crimes due to lack of support or fear or further discrimination.

Speaking from experience, we also have little support within our own activist communities in supporting our transgender combabes through these situations. Trans people are twice as likely to experience hate crimes in comparison to members of the LGB community.

Sister Not Cister is now made up of 100 individuals across Britain and our activists work alongside and within various other groups such as anti-fascist and feminist organisations.

We receive information every single day about various events that are taking place. These may be Terf-led talks run by groups like Women’s Place UK and Transgender Trend. Political parties hosting talks which have transphobic speakers. Universities which are acting in transphobic ways towards their staff or students. Transphobic leaflets or stickers being handed out. Transphobic materials being shared in schools. The forming of new transphobic groups. Transgender individuals who are experiencing harassment. News articles which publish transphobic materials.

We respond to each and every message that we receive and to every piece of information and then form a response.

This may come in the form of sharing social media posts through our huge and still growing network of various activist groups, writing press releases, encouraging folks to contact newspapers or advertising boards for retractions, we offer support in protest and demo planning for individuals who are experiencing transphobia, and plan larger scale protests and no platforming actions in response to transphobic talks and organisations.

SNC also runs multiple workshops and share our resources freely.

We are entirely unfunded and any money we raise through sales of our merchandise (distrohex.org/sister-not-cister) go towards printing costs/travel funds for folks who would like to travel to our protests and meetings.

We welcome all within SNC, if you would like more information or to get involved you can message us through our FB page: facebook.com/SisterNotCisterUK.


* “Terf” is claimed to be a slur by anti-trans campaigners (who usually prefer the fluffier-sounding label “gender critical”), as it is often used pejoratively online by pro-trans activists. Freedom has tended to reject that claim however, as in this case Terf was originally a self-descriptor applied by radical feminists which simply became associated with nasty attitudes and behaviour. If you make a bigoted bed you can reasonably be expected to lie in it — we would not indulge anti-choice activists who might prefer to call themselves “pro-life”, or racists who would rather be known as “race realists”.

**Cisgender is derived from Latin prefix ‘cis‘ which is used in the fields of chemistry and genetics. Together with the word ‘gender’ it forms the opposite meaning to “trans” gender.