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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Feminism and Trans Women

Helen Boyd talks about why she thinks pre/non transitioning trans women, crossdressers, and other MtF* gender variant people should become acquainted with feminism. If you haven't seen it, it's worth a look.

My Husband Bitchy.

Not surprisingly, I agree completely with Helen. I've even written about it here before. It's not just that a working knowledge of feminism, as Helen suggests, helps in the development of female empathy; it's because women's issues are women's issues and feminism provides an effective framework for discussing and deconstructing the prejudices we all suffer from.

Feminism is about eradicating sexism, and because sexism teaches everyone that it is bad to be a girl, it is a direct progenitor of transphobia. If you've ever wanted to walk down the street without drawing undesired attention from onlookers, to be considered equally for a job, to go on a date without fear of being hurt, to be seen as more than an object of sexual gratification, or to just not feel ashamed because your body is different/imperfect, then you and feminists already have a lot in common. I think that's just about all of us, no?

It takes work. It takes soul-searching. Sometimes it means shining a light on your own prejudices and letting go of them. But all of those are good things.

* I think there's a lot of crossover with the FtM population, but since I've never had that experience, I won't attempt to speak for them. Any trans men or non-binary individuals reading who want to jump in and talk about how feminism, sexism, and transphobia are experienced by them, feel free!


  1. What Helen wrote is not only about trans women needing to have some knowledge of feminism. More directly, she said that trans women need to learn about women, the lives of women, the reality of existing as a woman in the world. And I agree completely. Those who were reared and socialized as men can have very peculiar ideas of what it means to be a woman. Learning about the reality seems to me to be a minimum requirement.

  2. Gee...I must be a "negativist".

    "Feminism is about eradicating

    "ever wanted to walk down the street without drawing undesired attention from onlookers" -NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN, UNLESS YOU DRESS DOWN

    "be considered equally for a job" -NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN. YOU HAVE TO BE BETTER.

    "go on a date without fear of being hurt" -SURE. WHY NOT?

    "be seen as more than an object of sexual gratification" -DEPENDS...ON WHAT ELSE YOU MIGHT HAVE TO OFFER.

    "not feel ashamed because your body is different/imperfect" -THIS...YOU HAVE CONTROL OF, IT'S ALL IN YOUR HEAD

    Having said all that, I have no idea HOW the above would apply to CD's and other "gender non-conformists".

    While there is no question that CD's would benefit from understanding the reality of what it is REALLY like to be a woman, in order to "Fem-u-late" better, there is ABSOLUTELY NO DOUBT that those considering a R/T, full on surgical transition should REALLY, FUNDAMENTALLY, UNDERSTAND THE REALITY of being female.

  3. I think everyone should be acquainted with feminism.

  4. I think Veronica put it best. And any sort of safety behind the walls of any "trans-community" or "lgbt community" is only going to prevent those trans people from further experiencing what cis women experience. I'm not saying you need to attempt stealth, but it's time to get out, stay out there, and live it.

    Then again, that's only my perspective.

  5. All my life I've had people telling me what I should do, and how I should act. I guess the most profound thing I gleaned from that discussion, was Renee's comment, that "there is no one way to do woman". Thank you, Renee!

    Everyone's idea of what a woman is, is so subjective (even cis women have differing opinions), and everyone has the right to be what they think a woman should be. Genuine feminism, is libertarianism.

    Melissa XX

  6. I think the perspective that's lost is that, for trans women, regardless of where you are on the spectrum, since you are a woman and you are alive and experiencing life of some sort, that you don't need to learn about being a're not doing it wrong, even if you are doing it differently from the "norm".

    But learning about feminism will give you the understanding of other women's lives, the struggles they've had historically, and how that all connects to your life now. There's no obligation to experience what cis women experience, stealth itself is in some ways a decidedly unfeminist idea, and the more you delve into it the more you'll realize women are not a monolithic entity...although we are sometimes besieged by one (i.e., sexism, the "patriarcy", or whatever else you want to call it).

  7. @Renee: I'm all in favour of learning about feminism and the perspective on female lives that it can bring. But consider how non-trans women became women -- by growing up as girls, and learning to be women. They try things, they make mistakes, the share experiences with each other, and, above all, they model the women they know. As Simone de Beauvoir said, no one is born a woman. One becomes a woman. Well, no one is born again a woman. We must all become.

    That's not to say that there is only one right way, but simply the fact of being trans in some way does not make one into a woman. Learning, in the broadest sense, does.

  8. I agree that for transwomen to have a greater perspective that a working knowlege of feminisim is very helpful, the good AND the bad. What I mean by the bad is the transphobia that is present in some quarters of the feminist movement. Some feminists will NEVER accept transwomen as their sisters/allies, which is a shame because we have a great deal in common.

  9. @ Veronica

    Isn't that quote out of context though? I think what Simone was saying was that women, as second class citizens, aren't allowed to just exist, but rather are shaped into what the ruling class (men, in this case) want them to be. No doubt she learned her lessons well growing up, but then she went on to break so many of those rules it would be hard to say she was anything other than a self-made woman. If she had a position about transsexuals, I don't know what it is, but I don't think she ever advocated for women teaching other women what it meant to be women. She did advocate for women taking charge of their own lives and not letting the prevailing society of the time tell them who they should be.

  10. OK, remove the quote. My argument doesn't need it. I still submit that girls learn to be women by modeling other women, among other ways of learning. It's less about women teaching than it is about girls learning. (Boys do it too -- they learn what it means to be a man.) At some point, of course, they become themselves, but you have to know the "rules" (not meaning any patriarchal rules) before you can break them effectively.

  11. Addendum: There is no one right way to be a woman. But however a trans woman understands what it means to be a woman, it's through learning. Not feeling like a woman. Not declaring oneself a woman. Learning what it means to be a woman -- one's authentic female self.

  12. Well, I think that in the sense that people learn by being around each other and picking up on stuff, yeah. It's wholly impossible for it not to. Socialization just happens. But we have some pretty screwed up ideas of what passes as appropriate for boys and girls, and I think it all needs to be met with soul searching and introspection. Most especially, I don't think trans women should be feel bad for breaking the "rules" or think they need to copy cis women to be valid in their identity.

    (Although, the thing that got me through the early part of transition was knowing that it was impossible not to copy someone out there because anything I could possibly want to do had already been done by a woman somewhere.)

    (I'll also be the first to admit that breaking the rules in ways that are even mildly transgressive can be difficult, so there's a pain versus reward thing going on that everyone has to assess personally.)

    FWIW, I had to suss out the meaning of that quote from Simone's biography and a synopsis of Second Sex. I have a passing knowledge of Simone de Beauvoir's work but I've never read Second Sex (I wonder if it's online?). I've always heard that quote used exactly the way you used it and I was never sure why it just didn't sit with me; until I do a more thorough reading I don't want to say for sure but given her worldview, I do believe she was trying to characterize the problem women have with their gender in this world...which is that who they are is all too often in the hands of others.

  13. "... women taking charge of their own lives..."

    If this is the primary tenet of feminism, then I can get behind that.

    I have always been my own woman. I was never too concerned about "breaking the rules", but rather about being true to MY OWN rules. After all this is MY life so in my reality, I make the rules.

    Now, having said that, it must be recognized that living by a set of rules which do not conform to the rules of the "ruling class", (be that the "patriarchy" or the "conventional wisdom" or the "nanny state union boshevicks" currently driving poor Lady Liberty into the poor house), can very well carry a significant price tag.

    I realize that for most "trans' people struggling to deal with their self-percieved "differentness", acceptance of that differentness would make their life much easier.

    However, unless one is able and willing to pay that price for being "different", it is much easier to conform to the "normative" standards.

    Now I hope you will not infer that because I recognize that there is a price for being different, that I am implying that there are not rewards. Consider that exceptional people are different from the norm. That is what makes them exceptional.

  14. Having re-read the comments, especially those by Renee and Melissa, I am struck by the "authority" from whence they both speak. I mean, statements like this one..."I think the perspective that's lost is that, for trans women, regardless of where you are on the spectrum, since you are a woman and you are alive and experiencing life of some sort, that you don't need to learn about being a're not doing it wrong, even if you are doing it differently from the "norm". Just make NO sense at all.

    I mean just because you are alive does not make you a woman. Just because you experience the 'thrill' of wearing heels and stockings and maybe even "passing" as a woman, does not mean you are a woman. How pray tell, can a "woman" come home, kick off her heels, take off her wig, and then take the wife and the kids out to a movie?

    I know that many of you will disagree, because WE disagree on the FUNDAMENTAL concept of WOMAN vs MAN. I do understand that some conditions exist whereby human fetuses develope with female brain and a male body. This seems to be the primary cause of GD. However, this does not mean that one is a woman because one says one is.

    The classic lament of the feminist is that they are held hostage to their gender. Well, perhaps if they just quit whinning about it and simply took control over their own lives and "did their own thing", they would not need a political movement. Sorry ladies, we already got the vote. And sadly, IMO, we got 'liberated'.

    It has actually cost me well over one million dollars over the course of three divorces, because I earned significantly more than my husbands. That is the price of equality, and incidently, it was cheap at twice the price.

  15. @ Dani

    What you say is true, unfortunately. Luckily, we don't need their acceptance...they don't have final veto power. And third wave feminists have started to reverse that trend, realizing the wrongness of it. It's really encouraging to me to see people policing their own prejudices.

    @ Anne

    I agree with almost everything you said in your first comment, and disagree with almost everything in your second, but that's fine. I will say that feminists, or at least modern feminists, don't believe they're being held hostage by their gender...that would be blaming themselves for other peoples' prejudices. They rightly place that blame on the largely male-enforced cultural paradigms that we all grew up with. The goal is to change those paradigms.

    And getting the right to vote didn't equate to liberation. It was a step but women clearly don't operate in an equal playing field, even now. I know you know this because in your first comment you noted that the reality is that women just need to be better at everything, and that's true...but it's also not fair and something to work to fix. You've done stunningly well for yourself and many women do, but your story is more an exception than a rule and we have a ways to go before parity is restored.

    One final note, I do agree that there's more to be being a woman than just saying it and poof, it's so. But I don't know what the criteria are either. If a woman was born in the wild and living with wolves her life and then stumbled into town one day, no doubt she'd still be a woman, though she'd never met any other women or been assimilated into cultural as one. In fact, I don't have any way of knowing anything about anyone except to listen to what they say and trust them when they tell me things...they're a better a source of authority on their identity than me. Do I worry about people co-opting women's experiences for nefarious reasons? I do. I just don't have a great way of drawing the line that seems foolproof and I'd rather err in a way that hurts less people.

  16. I found this particular except from "The Empire Strikes Back: A Post Transsexual Manifesto" by Sandy Stone. to be paricularly on point when it comes to describing the roots of the current dialogue.....

    "The people who have no voice in this theorizing are the
    transsexuals themselves. As with males theorizing about women from
    the beginning of time, theorists of gender have seen transsexuals as
    possessing something less than agency. As with genetic women,
    transsexuals are infantilized, considered too illogical or
    irresponsible to achieve true subjectivity, or clinically erased by
    diagnostic criteria; or else, as constructed by some radical feminist
    theorists, as robots of an insidious and menacing patriarchy, an alien
    army designed and constructed to infiltrate, pervert and destroy
    "true" women. In this construction as well, the transsexuals have
    been resolutely complicit by failing to develop an effective

    The entire article which is provides an enlightening insight into the developmental history of this ongoing, seemingly never ending discussion, can be found here.....

  17. Unfortunately, Sandy, concludes with this....: Still, transsexuals know that
    silence can be an extremely high price to pay for acceptance. I want
    to speak directly to the brothers and sisters who may read/"read" this
    and say: I ask all of us to use the strength which brought us through
    the effort of restructuring identity, and which has also helped us to
    live in silence and denial, for a re-visioning of our lives. I know
    you feel that most of the work is behind you and that the price of
    invisibility is not great. But, although individual change is the
    foundation of all things, it is not the end of all things. Perhaps
    it's time to begin laying the groundwork for the next transformation"

    Manifestly guilty of her own accusation, setting up yet another false "construct".

    That "next transformation", being the "Transgender"

  18. Yeah, she has a point. Historically speaking, transsexual voices were often erased from the conversation. I think we've made a lot of gains in the past few I said elsewhere, the walls of animosity between trans and cis feminists have started to fall, especially among the younger crowd. Did we finally develop an effective rhetoric or did our opponents just get wise to their own bs? I'm not really sure...maybe a mix of both. Whatever the case, it's a far cry from perfect and will be for quite some time.

    I haven't read Ms. Stone's treatise...I'm bookmarking it now for future perusal.


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