Trans women are women. No ifs, no buts, no maybes. You can tell by the cunningly placed “women” in the label.
I figure that most of my readers are more or less on board with this one. Aside from a few of you (who in all honesty rarely get past moderation-seriously, you lot, read the comment policy!) I seem to be fortunate to have a rather sensible, reasonable bunch of people showing up here for a bit of a read. Much appreciated, by the way.
I’ll bet, though, that some of you simply haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about trans issues, or the inclusion of trans women in women’s and feminist spaces. There’s s lot of issues in the world and a lot of groups getting marginalised, and only so much time for each of us to spend thinking about this stuff. But given that it’s trans visibility week and just a few days after the annual Trans Day of Remembrance, I’d like to take a few minutes to sit down with you cis folks who might not be massively aware of your trans 101.
Because, you see, even within our supposedly progressive, feminist communities, some cis people do object to trans people- particularly trans women, because misogyny and transmisogyny are things- there are people who do think, for all sorts of (spoiler: bullshit) reasons, that trans women aren’t as entitled to a space in feminist and queer-lady communities as cis women are. People who are really, really invested in making sure that trans women are seen as, at best, guests whose welcome can be revoked at any time. At worst.. let’s not even go there.
The thing about the arguments they use, though? Not only do they not stand up to even the smallest amount of scrutiny, but they are also generally based on a horribly invasive sense of entitlement to other people’s lives and bodies. To the extent, by the way, that it feels vaguely icky and invasive just to counter them- I feel like this is stuff that is nobody’s business and we shouldn’t have to discuss it, never mind argue about it.
On the other hand? Like it or not, people are bringing this shit up. Let’s take a look at some of the arguments they put forward, shall we? And I’ll explain why they’re not as valid as they appear at first glance, and see why actively including trans people- especially trans women- is very, very important.
We’re going to look at three different areas where cis people say trans people are too different from cis to truly ‘count’ as ‘real’ men or women- those being bodies, upbringing and gender policing. Hold on to your delightfully stylish hats. This one could get bumpy, so have a helllll of a trigger warning for the rest of this post.
There’s no denying that cis and trans women start off with different bodies- and many (but not all!) trans women go through puberties that change those bodies even more from what most cis women’s are like. To top that off, there are some parts of cis women’s bodies- like uteri, ovaries and the like- that trans women don’t have, and things that many cis women do- periods and pregnancy, basically- that trans women’s bodies don’t do.
If you have a group of people whose bodies don’t do all the things associated with one group (women), and some of whom do a bunch of things associated with another different group (men), how can you say that their bodies are every bit as much women’s bodies as cis women’s?
Surprisingly easily, it turns out (phew!).
Let’s tackle the uteri and ovaries thing. That’s the elephant in the room, eh? Because some people would have you believe that the lack of uteri and ovaries and the ability to use them to bleed every few weeks and pop a baby out every so often makes a person less of a woman.
When you put it that way, it doesn’t take much to see that that’s one seriously messed-up argument, eh? While most cis women can do all of those things, it’s by no means universal. There’s plenty of reasons why someone wouldn’t be fertile. Plenty of people have hysterectomies, and cis as well as trans women are born without uteri sometimes too. And as for periods- well, I know a shedload of women, myself included, who’ll happily drink a large glass of red (wine, that is! But whatever floats your boat, like) to the scientists who invented the pills, implants and IUDs that let us skip the damn things entirely.
Women have all sorts of bodies. Tall ones, short ones, skinny ones, fat ones, curvy ones. Our bodies don’t make us more or less women. They’re just.. a part of who we are. What we walk around in. How people see us. That’s all.
Selves, society, and statistics.
Okay, so we’ve been through the body thing. Our bodies don’t make us who we are- if you somehow transplanted my brain into, say, a brand new robot body tomorrow, I’d still be a somewhat cranky Irishwoman. I might have super robot strength and a shiny chrome casing, but I’d still be me. Not only do our bodies not make us who we are, but there are as many different ways to have and live in bodies as there are people.
But what about privilege?
I’ve heard it said that most trans* women grew up living as men and boys, and therefore have male privilege- something that sticks around after coming out and whatever kind of transition someone decides to undergo.
It sounds like a fair cop, doesn’t it? Even if someone doesn’t feel like they really fit in a certain category, if everyone else assumes that they are, then they get all the benefits, right?
My answer to this one is something that many people reading this will be familiar with. Lots of us have had to go through some process of coming out in our time. And before we came out? There was a time when we knew that we were something other than straight- but nobody else did. Or else they did- which is a whole different can of worms.
I don’t think that being assumed to be heterosexual growing up is the same for a gay, bi or ace kid as it is for a straight kid. Especially as we get a little (or a lot!) older, and start to figure out that the things that everyone else assumes of us? Don’t fit. There’s that nagging sense that things are wrong. There’s the fear of being found out. There’s the sense of confusion and not knowing where you fit in. Frankly? Even if everyone else does think that you’re the same as everyone else, it still sucks. Because you know better. Deep down in your guts, where the butterflies in your stomach live. You know better.
That knowing better? That dissonance and discomfort? That sense that you can’t keep being dishonest with yourself and the people around you, and that sense that you’ve got to live authentically and honestly? Those aren’t things that straight people get when they’re assumed to be straight. They’re not things that cis people feel when we’re assumed to be cis. We could go into the fact that many of us, even cis people, don’t feel like we fit society’s expectations for our genders- but that’s a whole different article for a whole different day.
Straight privilege doesn’t work the same way when the person who is kind-of-sort-of getting it is queer. And male privilege doesn’t work the same way when the person who is kind-of-sort-of getting it is a woman.
Not to mention the ridiculousness of the idea that male privilege somehow keeps happening after someone transitions. Then, you’ve got a choice of two situations. Either you don’t ‘pass’ (ugh, I hate that concept- talk about bodyshaming!) as female, in which case you’re in for whole new levels of harassment. Or you do, in which case, well.. you’re still in for all of the scrutiny and assumptions and bullsh*t that every other woman has to deal with. If you’re really lucky, you’ll have to deal with a delightful pick ‘n’ mix of both. If that’s privilege? I think I’ll leave it.
Patriarchy and Privilege
When I hear what trans exclusionary feminists say about trans women, one of the primary arguments they have- aside from that trans women’s bodies are either fake, icky or both, and that many trans women were raised as boys, therefore cooties- is that trans people prop up the patriarchy. The gist of this argument is that trans people, by seeking medical and/or social transition, reinforce the idea that there is one particular way to be a woman or a man. In this view, trans women are all super feminine heterosexuals looking for white picket fences, husbands, and handbags. This, the argument goes, directly challenges the notion that femininity, husbands and handbags are things that anyone can have, regardless of gender, and reinforces the idea that there are two and only two gendered boxes that we all need to live in.
There’s two big problems with this, as far as I can see. The first is that, well, that idea of trans people doesn’t seem to have anything in common with the trans communities I’ve known. The trans umbrella is a big, diverse bunch of people that includes genderqueer and non-binary folks as well as trans* men and women. And while there are plenty of femme trans women out there- who have varying opinions on the matters of husbands, wives, and picket fences- they’re by no means everyone. And trans women are butches, andros, bois, gentledykes and tomboys every bit as much as cis. Trust me. If I have one talent in life, it’s being able to spot butches, andros, bois, gentledykes and tomboys at 50 paces. It’s a tough life, but I live to serve, y’know?
But before I go too far down that particular (delightful) tangent, I’d like to get back to the second problem I have with that idea. You see, I’m sure there are some trans women out there who want nothing more than a husband, 2.5 kids, and a nice house in the suburbs where they can be stay-at-home mums and housewives all day long. So what? Of course there are! There are cis women who want exactly the same thing. Some of ’em are even feminists! But even if they’re not, the fact that some cis women aren’t feminists doesn’t mean anything about the rest of us. Holding trans women to a different, higher standard than cis women is just plain discriminatory. Speaking of discriminatory..
Cotton Ceiling Misunderstandings
There’s a thing called the ‘cotton ceiling’. It gets misunderstood a lot, but at its most basic level it refers to the way that many people-who-fancy-women have a major problem with the idea of getting involved with trans women. The version that you hear about (again, from people who want to exclude trans women) is that trans woman are insisting that they have a right to have lesbians sleep with them, and every time someone turns down a trans woman, she’ll cry discrimination instead of taking it gracefully.
That’s not what it means, though. It’s actually something that I can empathise with a lot, as a bi woman. There’s lots of lesbians, you see, who won’t date or sleep with bi women. Even if there’s mutual attraction, they don’t want to go there, simply ’cause we fancy men as well. Girl meets girl, girl fancies girl, girl finds out girl also fancies guys, girl backs away in disgust. While it’s absolutely their right to reject whoever they like for any reason the like (of course!), it still sucks to hear. And the fact that it’s a pattern familiar to almost every bi woman I’ve talked about is, y’know, a problem. This doesn’t mean that every lesbian in the world has to date the first bi woman who fancies her, regardless of whether the attraction’s mutual! It just means that a lot of bi women (and hopefully loads of lesbians too) would like it if the lesbians who do feel that way took some time to think about whether their feelings might be based on prejudices and stereotypes. That’s all.
The cotton ceiling is pretty much the same thing. If I had a cookie for every time I heard trans friends of mine talking about meeting amazing people who they clicked really well with and everything going awesomely until the moment they came out as trans? I’d need a pretty big bowl for all the cookies. Again, nobody’s saying that every cis person should run out of the house, find the first trans person they see and immediately invite them ’round for candlelit dinners. It’s just that, well, if you’re cis and you meet someone who you think is the cat’s pyjamas, and if you find out she’s trans and your first instinct is to run away screaming? Taking a few deep breaths, educating yourself, and working out why you feel the way you do might just lead to something awesome.
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