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Germaine Greer's comments on transgender women are outright cruel.

Germaine Greer is a rare breed.

As a teenager in the 1970s shaped by the second wave of feminism, I’ve admired her feistiness, her outspokenness and her resolve.

But her recent comments that trans women aren’t real women are damaging, discriminatory and needlessly cruel.

Greer has missed the revelation we’ve had over the past few decades that gender isn’t binary, but exists as a spectrum.

Greer has missed the revelation we’ve had over the past few decades that gender isn’t binary, but exists as a spectrum.

Many of us sit comfortably close to one end or another, and our gender aligns with our physical sex. There are people across the spectrum who are gender fluid or diverse, for whom the descriptor of being male or female does not sit well. Then there are people who are gender dysphoric, whose physical biological sex doesn’t align with their gender.

For some, being gender fluid or dysphoric can be an overwhelming feeling that cannot be ignored, often from childhood. Others can face years of repressing the discomfort and disconnectedness, pretending to be something they’re not because of barriers put up by societal expectations.

These barriers only become higher with comments like we’ve heard from Germaine Greer.

When Greer says “I don’t think that post-operative transgender men are women”, she reveals the binary world she chooses to lives in.

When Greer denigrates trans women as “pantomime dames”, she encourages others to view trans people as other, as lesser, as objects of ridicule and jest.

These outright cruel comments affect the everyday lives of trans women and their families.

I’ve been lucky to meet some of these people. A few are very close to my heart, including my partner Penny.

I have met extraordinary gender diverse young people who, from a very early age, knew their assigned sex was not who they are.

They are often supported by wonderful, compassionate parents and carers who embrace their true identity, advocate for them at kinder and school, and support them to access medical and social support so they can experience happy and fulfilling lives.

They have created groups like YGender to provide peer-led social support and advocacy groups for trans and gender diverse young people.

This trans and gender diverse movement has worked hard to break down barriers and challenge the binary definitions of male and female – something we all benefit from.

Greer’s comments make it harder for a 12 year old to feel they can confide to their parents that they are April not Andrew, or Arnold not Alice, or Alex, who isn’t sure whether they are a girl or a boy.

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The comments increase the barriers for April, Arnold and Alex to access medical treatment – if they want, if they know it’s right for them, if their doctors agree – to stop the onset of puberty, and then access hormones so their physical appearance aligns with their preferred gender.

Greer has mentioned that she doesn’t care about hurting people because she gets hurt as an older woman all the time.

But being the target of discrimination does not create an open licence to dish it out. More than that, someone of such standing has a responsibility to stand up for the disempowered and marginalised. Not everyone has the personal strength to be able to withstand such blows.

This responsibility isn’t absolved because of Greer’s past contribution to the women’s movement. Indeed, her words become even more dangerous because of the weight they carry. The results can be devastating.

My wife is a trans woman who transitioned at the age of 45. Penny has fortunately been able to withstand such jibes without it undermining her mental health. But it’s a rocky journey for far too many trans people.

"This responsibility isn’t absolved because of Greer’s past contribution to the women’s movement." (Image iStock)

A recent Australian survey of trans young people found that over half had been clinically diagnosed with depression.

38% had considered suicide. That figure is terrifying. We must do all we can to reduce it.

This mental illness comes because of stigma, bullying and attacks, and the lack of hope for their future – all of which are reinforced when people like Germaine Greer speak out in such a hurtful way.

Another tragic aspect about comments like Greer’s is they encourage trans people who are not yet out to hide and even actively deceive their true selves from the people they love. This is not a recipe for a full and happy life

Trans and gender diverse people need to be supported by our parliaments, our laws and our community.

Whether it is in our personal and professional lives, we must all work in solidarity with trans and gender diverse communities to create an inclusive society that celebrates everyone for who they truly are.

Senator Janet Rice is the Australian Greens spokesperson for gender identity and mental health. 

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