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On Wednesday, McGowan hosted a book signing at Barnes & Noble in New York City’s Union Square where she talked about her new memoir Brave and fielded a couple of questions from fans. The event got off to a decent start, until one woman from the audience asked McGowan about some comments she made on RuPaul’s podcast What’s the Tee? in July 2017.
“[Trans women] assume because they felt like a woman on the inside. That’s not developing as a woman,” McGowan said during the episode, Advocate reports. “That’s not growing as a woman, that’s not living in this world as a woman, and a lot of the stuff I hear trans complaining about, yeah, welcome to the world.”
It’s pretty easy to see how McGowan’s comments were offensive. Saying that trans women don’t understand womanhood is not just invalidating, it flies in the face of what psychologists and neuroscientists know about both gender dysphoria and experiencing gender psychologically. Living as a woman is a lot more complicated than how the outside world perceives a person’s gender. And McGowan’s comments have a lot more in common with anti-transgender sentiments that actively hurt trans women than showing understanding and compassion for what trans women face.
Rose McGowan on trans women:— Love, Caelan (@CaelanConrad) December 12, 2017
"They assume because they felt like a woman on the inside. That's not developing as a woman. That's not growing as a woman, that's not living in this world as a woman and a lot of the stuff I hear trans complaining about, yeah, welcome to the world" pic.twitter.com/T4CARvf4GK
In response to those views, a trans woman stood up and urged McGowan at the book event to rethink her take on trans women’s experiences.
“Trans women are dying and you said that we, as trans women, are not like regular women,” she said, Variety reports. “We get raped more often. We go through domestic violence more often. There was a trans woman killed here a few blocks [away]. I have been followed home–”
But McGowan wasn’t ready to listen. She interrupted the audience member and responded defensively.
“Hold on. So am I. We are the same,” McGowan began. “My point was, we are the same. There’s an entire show called ID channel, a network dedicated to women getting abused, murdered, sexualized, violated, and you’re a part of that, too, sister. It’s the same.”
This did not de-escalate the situation, however, as McGowan implied that cisgender women and transgender women go through the exact same sexual harassment every day. The back-and-forth only grew more heated.
“You do nothing for them. Trans women are in men’s prisons. And what have you done for them?” the audience member pressed on. To which McGowan asked the transgender woman, “What have you done for women?”
Rose McGowan had more to say. This was moments after the Trans woman was kicked out the Barnes & Noble. pic.twitter.com/DiIJWwOvyw— Pop Crave (@PopCrave) February 2, 2018
Eventually, the entire discussion broke down, with McGowan repeatedly telling the audience member to “sit down” and “shut up” as the trans woman who called out McGowan was escorted away from Barnes & Noble by security as she repeatedly shouted “white cis feminism.” But instead of acknowledging the situation and admitting the nuance involved, McGowan proceeded to blow up, defending herself and attacking the woman’s initial points—mainly, that she should step back, acknowledge her privilege, and listen to trans women.
“Don’t label me, sister. Don’t put your labels on me. Don’t you fucking do that. Do not put your labels on me. I don’t come from your planet. Leave me alone,” McGowan said, after the woman had been escorted out, to growing cheers. “I do not subscribe to your rules. I do not subscribe to your language. You will not put labels on me or anybody. Step the fuck back.”
Break down my ass, just sick of labels and stupidity.— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) February 2, 2018
The situation only grew more awkward as McGowan suggested that the trans woman should have been “grateful” for McGowan in the first place. And then, McGowan implied that trans women shouldn’t call her out for her privilege at all, suggesting transgender women’s life experiences aren’t quite as hard as her’s.
“There’s not a network devoted to your fucking death,” McGowan told the audience. “There’s not advertisers advertising tampons as a camera goes lovingly up a girl’s body as she’s being fucking raped and strangled. Piss off. And until you can collect that fucking check, back up.”
“My name is Rose McGowan and I’m obviously fucking brave,” she concluded.
Actually, trans women frequently face harassment
During McGowan’s rant, she suggested that domestic violence and sexual harassment happens against trans women at a similar rate to cis women. But the research just isn’t in McGowan’s favor.
The Office for Victims of Crime reports that one in two transgender people are sexually abused or assaulted and that the “majority of transgender individuals are living with the aftermath of trauma and the fear of possible repeat victimization.” Meanwhile, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey reports that 78 percent of transgender students from K-12 face harassment in school and 90 percent of transgender people at work have experienced “harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination” or had to hide their gender identity to avoid the consequences of being openly transgender.
Meanwhile, when looking at women within the general population, sexual harassment statistics against trans women are notoriously higher. One poll from the Wall Street Journal and NBC News reports that 48 percent of working women have experienced harassment at work, and another poll from Quinnipiac University finds 60 percent of American women have faced sexual harassment in some form. It’s unclear if trans women were included in either of these polls, granted. But at the very least, when trans people are stacked up to the general American populace, transgender women face much higher rates for assault, harassment, and workplace discrimination than their cisgender counterparts.
That’s not to say cisgender women’s experiences are invalid because trans women experience sexual harassment and assault at higher rates. But it does mean that McGowan isn’t correct when she stresses “we are the same.” Whether McGowan wants to call herself cisgender or not, being cisgender grants her certain privileges that transgender women do not have. And, yes, that includes facing a lower sexual harassment rate than transgender women.
Can #MeToo help trans women?
#MeToo was kickstarted en masse shortly after allegations mounted against Harvey Weinstein for sexual assault, but similar movements have been in the works for years by women of color—including Tarana Burke, who actually started the hashtag years ago. It’s just white women didn’t care to amplify Black and Brown women’s voices at the time. Only when a white woman stepped up, finally others were willing to support #MeToo.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a sexual harassment victim who’s also white, rich, and cisgender, of course. But because #MeToo focuses so heavily on cisgender experiences as a common point for connection between harassment victims, it’s hard for trans women to speak up and talk about the harassment and assault they’ve been through as well. Just as women of color suffer with this problem in regards to race, trans women do, too. Especially trans women of color.
rose mcgowan can eat shit for all i fucking care. fuck rose mcgowan, fuck her and her shitty white feminism. yelling "people hate me because i have a vagina" at a TRANS WOMAN is the worst thing rose mcgowan could have done. i never want to see her ar a womens march.— wil (@missloislane) February 2, 2018
If only Rose McGowan had the bravery & the courage to critique herself as fervently as she does others. Then and only then would I be impressed— Sister Outsider (@FeministGriote) February 2, 2018
As a rebuttal to a challenge she didn’t like about previous transphobic comments, Rose McGowan asks a trans woman, A WHOLE WOMAN, “What have you done for women?” Wow, okay.https://t.co/5m6TKrqD3y— Zoé (@ztsamudzi) February 1, 2018
1 in 2 trans women have been or will be violently sexually assaulted at LEAST once in their lifetime. Rose McGowan asking the trans-woman what she had done for “women” is disgusting, and I wish her nothing but bad things.— Arkee E. ✨ (@snacktavist) February 2, 2018
When privileged women (white, cis, famous) talk about #MeToo, they walk into the conversation with certain advantages that other women don’t have. And when these same women are given a microphone, they can do real damage to #MeToo’s marginalized women if they downplay oppressed survivors’ experiences.
In McGowan’s case, it’s not just that her comments are transphobic. It’s the fact that she has an audience. After lashing out at her critic and stressing that no one will “put your labels on me,” cheers erupted in the room, with the audience comforting McGowan and shouting, “We love you!” For many women finally coming to terms with their own experiences with harassment and assault, McGowan is their role model. And that means her beliefs are influential, too.
Many cisgender people in the audience will walk away from the incident confused perhaps, but likely believing that McGowan was correct and that trans women should “step the fuck back” from giving constructive criticism. And if that continues to happen, then it’s obvious #MeToo won’t have room for transgender women at all.
Update 1:36pm, Feb. 2: McGowan tweeted on Friday that she was canceling upcoming public appearances, citing she was “verbally assaulted” at her Barnes and Noble signing and calling what is assumed to be the trans woman “a paid actor.” Despite the woman being escorted out of the building and the audience telling McGowan they loved her, the actress said no one in the room did anything to help her.
“…Every person sitting in their chairs frozen by their weakness, a weakness called COMPLICITY. The truth is you all failed me. Again. And again. And again.”
I am canceling upcoming public appearances because I have given enough. I have given beauty, in return I was VERBALLY ASSAULTED for two full minutes @BNBuzz by an actor paid to verbally assault a woman who has been terrorized by your system. And no ONE in that room did anything— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) February 2, 2018
And everyone from my publicists, t assistants, managers and every person sitting in their chairs frozen by their weakness, a weakness called COMPLICITY. The truth is you all failed me. Again. And again. And again.— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) February 2, 2018
Ana Valens is a reporter specializing in online queer communities, marginalized identities, and adult content creation. She is Daily Dot's Trans/Sex columnist. Her work has appeared at Vice, Vox, Truthout, Bitch Media, Kill Screen, Rolling Stone, and the Toast. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and spends her free time developing queer adult games.