Tag Archives: transgender

Reflections on transgender and feminist conflict

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months reading the thoughts of good people who are very supportive of trans rights, good people who are themselves trans, and good people who are very wary about some things around transgender politics, and people on all sides who are downright shitty. I’ve taken my time over piling in, because I’m not trans, and I don’t identify with anti-trans feminists. I find I feel significant sympathies for people on both sides, and significant unease with people on both sides. Usually not the same people.

My starting point is that everyone involved, regardless of their position and opinion, is entitled to have their basic human rights upheld. This means being free from violence and the threat of violence. I am dismayed and disorientated by the violence, and threat of violence coming from all sides. I don’t think it’s ok to punch 60 year old women, however abhorrent you find their opinion. I am also aware that the anti-trans feelings out there can only add to the considerable violence trans folk already experience.

I see online that lesbians who are not comfortable with women who have penises, are being labelled as transphobic. This troubles me greatly. The freedom to love who we love is vital. The freedom to express that as we choose is vital. The right to say no, to any person, for any reason, is vital. I can’t see how not being attracted to someone’s body is phobic. We do not label straight people phobic for not being attracted to same sex people. Every time I go outside I encounter lots of people to whom I feel no attraction. We all of us, as a basic human right, need to be allowed not to have to fake being attracted to people. Being pressured into having sex with someone you do not want to have sex with, is rape.

So, here’s a theory. There are women who have started out with bodies that do not represent them. They identify with, sympathise with, empathise with other women. They want to be recognised as women too. I don’t see any reason to have a problem with this. I know a number of transwomen who I feel very comfortable with and who I have no difficulty identifying as women. Some of them are more feminine than I am, as a cis woman with some gender fluid stuff living in my head.

However, there are also men who want to move into female spaces, bringing all their male privilege with them. Men who want to make women do things for them, and who want women to put them first, and treat them as special, and let them be in charge. Men who feel entitled to tell women who and what they should be attracted to. If a man enters a female space acting from a place of male privilege, I don’t care what he looks like or how he has, or has not modified his body, I’m going to treat him as an entitled man forcing himself into female space. I’ve encountered a bit of this in person, too. It was not a good experience. Anyone who wants to be recognised as a woman cannot at the same time expect to keep their male privilege.

Equally, feminists raising issues about how some men may use trans inclusion to enable predation and violence against women is a thing I take seriously. Female safety is something I take seriously. But, a line is crossed if in the name of feminism, you start trying to deny human rights to someone who is transgender. That’s not what feminism is for. We need to be clear about the differences between human rights, and issues of entitlement if we’re going to figure this stuff out.

The day I discovered I am female after all

Apparently I’m not the poor excuse for a woman I thought I was. This comes as a surprise to me. I’ve been reading Caitlin Moran’s book on being a woman, and it’s made me realise that I am not a freak. I am not some kind of walking feminine-fail. I’ve talked about gender identity before. About how even though I bleed, have breasts, have given birth, I never felt like a proper girl. In the last 24 hours I’ve turned a corner, and I wanted to share something of that.

So here’s the reasons I felt like a failure. I hate high heels, I do not covet them, I cannot walk in them. In fact, in whatever shoe, I do no walk like a girl, I don’t sashay my hips. It goes further, none of my movements, or postures, are sufficiently feminine. I don’t much like makeup. I don’t paint my face. Mostly I just wash, brush and restrain my hair, I don’t devote hours to it. I do not enjoy clothes shopping.  I also don’t like the kinds of clothes that are bought and worn purely to be sexually appealing. I like sturdy, practical clothes. Being pretty has never really been on my agenda.

For years, I lived with a man who devoted a lot of time to pointing out where I didn’t cut it as a girl. He told me what clothes I should be wearing, what colours and shapes, because apparently I had no idea how to dress myself. He tried to teach me how I should move, walk and stand. He bought me heels. And lingerie. Clothes worn to be sexually appealing, to him.

But of course he was better at being a girl than me. He knew how to move, how to walk. He could walk happily in high heels. He paid a lot of attention to hair and makeup, and loved pretty dresses, and slutty dresses, and lingerie. He was the girl, I was merely the person who looked after the child and did the cleaning. I wasn’t a proper woman. And gradually, my confidence waned, my sense of self eroded and I stopped feeling like any kind of real person at all.

I’d like to pause here and say this is not about transgender. I know quite a few trans folk, one way and another, and the only other one I don’t get on with, the problem has nothing to do with femininity and everything to do with her having a very short temper. People are people, I’m not one to judge, and it doesn’t bother me how anyone else chooses to self identify. But that’s also the point here. How anyone else chooses to self identify. Because there is no self identity in the world, other than ‘total shithouse’, that requires the deliberate and consistent denigration of someone else.

I’m a girl. I would pass the medical. I’ve got all the right reproductive organs, I even managed to produce milk for a while. I bleed. Compared to whether I like handbags, this seems to be the more important qualifier. In all fairness, I struggled with gender identity in my teens, before the advent of the bloke, but that doesn’t let him off the hook in the slightest.

Editing for Giselle Renarde last week, I came across a beautiful line about a trans character who did not pin her gender identity to her body parts. Lovely. What a beautiful, self empowered way to be. So why was my gender identity pinned to whether I met someone else’s definition of what female ought to look like? That’s nuts. And what a representation of female that was – please haul out your worst vision of a drag queen caricature and add in ways of moving that suggest you’re a rather low cost sort of hooker and you’ve got the right image. I don’t want to be a drag queen, I’ve got breasts already.

We all have the freedom to imagine who we are. That does not have to be about what nature gave us. We all have the option to fantasise, and we all have the scope to try and shift our reality that bit closer to the dream. Be that a hair colour, or a false leg, or getting your tongue split, or a new tattoo… who we are is our own business. But as soon as we feel we have to knock someone else down to build that, we’ve gone somewhere entirely dishonourable. It’s as true in spiritual life as in gender identity. To be a Druid, I don’t need to rubbish half the other Druids out there. I don’t need to bitch about other people’s beliefs, or put them down. I reserve the right to comment on things, but that’s about being a questioning human being. I don’t need anyone else to be anything less in order for me to be myself. And next time anyone tries to build themselves up but flattening me, I am not going to co-operate.

For the first time in a long time I feel entitled to this skin I’m wearing, to the gender identity that goes with it, and that bit closer to feeling able to be me.