Friday, June 22, 2007

Having it both ways

I went to the 3rd annual TransForming Community event tonight – it is an event that is dedicated to exploring the friction at the intersection of contemporary trans and queer communities. I think my two favorite pieces of the evening were those by Prado Gomez and Storm Florez, both of whom (in different ways) addressed the issue of trans men needing to own the fact that they are men (rather than retreating into the excuse that they are not “really” men when it suits their interests). Prado’s piece discussed how some trans guys will wield masculine/male power and privilege at one moment, then the next argue they don’t actually have such power because they’re trans, or they weren’t socialized male, or that they aren’t capable of sexually violating someone else because they don’t have a penis. Perhaps I appreciated these pieces so much because they addressed a certain double standard that I see going on all the time in queer/trans/feminist communities, but which has not yet been clearly articulated.

In my work on the issue of trans woman-exclusion, I have found that one of the biggest hurdles trans women face in making our case that we should be able to participate in lesbian/women-only spaces is the growing number of trans guys who now feel entitled to be in these spaces too. I have (on numerous occasions) heard trans guys who are on T and who go by “he” say they have no qualms about attending Michigan because they don’t feel 100% like a “man”. Or they’ll say they are genderqueer or boi-identified, even though their appearance definitely reads male. Of course, this having your cake and eating it too attitude comes at the expense of trans women. Because if trans guys are inherently “safe” because of their transness or female socialization or lack of penis, it implies that trans women remain inherently dangerous.

I remember once, when I was doing outreach for Camp Trans, getting into a heated discussion with a lesbian who insisted that trans women were a potential threat to women’s spaces because male socialization and privilege are insidious – she insisted that we still carry that around with us even if we feel as though we’ve moved beyond it. Afterwards, as I walked toward my BART stop, a guy harassed me. When I ignored him, he got hostile and made a point of telling me that he could take me if he wanted to. Afterwards, when I reflected on it all, I was really pissed – not only at the harasser, but at the lesbian who I spoke with just beforehand. It suddenly struck me that, in effect, she was lumping me into the same category as the guy who had just threatened to rape me.

For the same reason, I now get pissed at trans guys who want to have it both ways: being men in the male-centered mainstream and then being “not-men” in queer/women’s/feminist spaces. They seem not to give a shit about how this invisibilizes and marginalizes trans women. We, after all, are placed in no-win situation by this same ideology: We are treated as second-class citizens in the male-centered mainstream because of our femaleness, but then we are derided as being scary, untrustworthy “men” in queer/feminist/women’s spaces...



helen_boyd said...


being someone who feels like they fit in nowhere/everywhere, i can kind of understand an ftm genderqueer's reasoning for being part of women's space.

we're both het & queer, but also considered (by others) not het and not queer. depending on who you talk to.

i like the idea of people being able to claim both, but don't deny this sets up a double-edged sword for MTFs.

i'm not fond of women's spaces anyway, having often been dismissed for being a het woman in them.

i find it hard to believe on one hand that anyone who has ever met a significant # of trans women would keep them from women's spaces. but i also find it hard to believe that many trans women don't know other trans women who are disruptive of women's culture/space.

emilia said...

Focusing on the existence of disruptive transwomen is still unfairly targeting transwomen.

One can be against disruptive behavior regardless of whether someone is trans or not.

No one is worried about women's spaces being overrun by ex-gay activists and yet they are likely to be disruptive to such an event.

helen_boyd said...

yes, that's true.

i think the expectation is that people raised male would be more likely to be disruptive.

& i can't quite disagree with that, no matter how much i dislike (1) border policing, (2) anti-male sexism, and (3) women's spaces.

BUT on the other hand, i'm not sure MTFs are really "raised male" in the way non-trans men are.

look, i don't think i should be allowed into women's-only spaces, to be honest, because i don't grok them. but you know, being het, i'm just a tool of patriarchy myself.

that is, i think the policy rots, but i get the experiences it's coming from. is it still prejudice? yes.

-julia said...

i have certainly met trans women who are loud, annoying, and set on making themselves the center of attention in women's spaces. But I have also met many more cis women who engage in the very same behaviors. What seems to me to be the most relevant difference between the two is that the trans woman is often specifically called out for her male socialization/privilege/etc. while a cis woman is often praised for the very same attitudes (aka, for defying female socialization).

From my perspective, this is less about socialization and more about perception. People accept me fully as female until I mention that I'm trans. As soon as I do, they re-code me with their eyes. They read "male" into me - the deepness of my voice, the squareness of my jaw, and yes, they probably read male privilege into my actions and mannerisms (whether real or imagined).

If someone accused a trans woman of being a jerk, I wouldn't think twice about it. I've met plenty of people (trans & cis, female & male, and every combination thereof) who are jerks, or who are arrogant, entitled, etc. But when someone accuses a trans woman of male privilege or socialization, I always become suspicious because I've seen that used too many times as a double standard.

Many women want trans women to always acknowledge our male privilege any time someone brings it up. But at the same time, most cissexual women (as well as many FTM spectrum folks) are unwilling to examine their own privileges, one of which includes being generally assumed to be non-threatening.

Because many people still buy into unilateral sexism (aka, the beleif that sexism only occurs in one direction - that men are oppressors and women the oppressed, end of story), many cis women feel that they can hurl whatever insults and accusations they want at trans women (despite the fact that we now live as women). So when trans guys play the "female" or "not-man" card in order to gain female privileges (e.g., being accepted in women's spaces or being seen as non-threatening), they completely sell out their trans sisters whether they realize it or not. The privilege they benefit from is directly related to the presumption that we (trans women) are inherently threatening.

BTW, if they are genderqueer- or non-binary-identified, they still need to come to terms with the privileges that come from being able to fall back on a female identity whenever it suits them. Lord knows, if I asked to have all of the privileges associated with being female, and then (whenever it suited me) I tried to fall back on male privilege, every feminist I know would call me out on it. All I ask is that we acknowledge this double standard.

Isn't that what feminism is all about: calling people out on unfair gender-based double standards?


helen_boyd said...

julia, to expand on what you're saying: i wish more women were raised with male privilege. to me, *that* is the point of feminism - that women have equal access & acceptance in male spheres of power (aka "THE spheres of power").

i see my nieces (all 10 of them) growing up & i don't want them to act "like women." & not like ladies, either. there are still too many cultural taboos about what it is & isn't acceptable for women to be in order to be accepted as women.

but i will add: i think you're mistaken in thinking cis women don't have their woman-ness criticized & even taken away when they don't act "like women." look at what happens to anne coulter - her woman-ness is regularly considered suspect because of the way she behaves.

likewise, as a woman who is happily child-free, i find my woman-ness suspect as well.

so i'd just like to say: i won't call you on it if you were to use male privilege to get a little more justice in the world.

caprice said...

Anne Coulter certainly isn't the only one. Every time a big tennis tournament is televised I get several searches hitting my blog for "Mary Carillo transgender" or "Mary Carillo transsexual" or similar.

-julia said...

Hi Helen,

I feel like we are talking past one another here, which is perhaps my fault for not making myself clearer in my last two posts. I will try to rectify that in this post.

> i think you're mistaken in thinking cis women don't have their woman-ness criticized & even taken away when they don't act "like women." i think you're mistaken in thinking cis women don't have their woman-ness criticized & even taken away when they don't act "like women."

First off, this is not what I think. As a woman who comes off as a tomboyish, dykey woman to people who are unaware of my transness, I think that I know exactly what you are talking about. I’ve had people let me know (either directly or indirectly) that I am generally perceived as bit of a cold fish, or that I am sometimes a bit too forward or aggressive or not smiley/giggly enough for my own good. I read this (probably as many women do) as both a critique of my lacking femininity and as my seriousness & intellectual capabilities being perceived as being somehow less natural than those of men (who are never critiqued for being “cold fish” or too aggressive).

I would imagine that we agree up to this point (please correct me if I’m wrong about this). Where my experiences and your experiences likely diverge is when people find out that I’m trans. The overwhelming percentage of people I’ve met (whether queer or straight) have an unsophisticated understanding of transness, such that when I tell them that I’m trans they start seeing me as a “man”. I’m sure that most of the transsexuals on this board would agree with me in the fact that this is not merely a superficial thing, but a rather intense re-reading of my person. All of the sudden, aspects of my person that went previously unnoticed (my somewhat deepish voice, my hairier than average forearms, and so on) become noticed. And my mannerisms, actions and behaviors are read as deriving from a “man” (rather than from a woman).

Once this happens, my seriousness/aggressiveness (which most feminists would have previously applauded under the assumption that I am a cis woman) is re-interpreted as male privilege/entitlement. To be honest, when I was male I was typically read as being less aggressive than other men, and now as a woman, I am often seen as being more aggressive than other women. Perhaps this disposition came from a combination of being raised male (i.e., to be entitled) combined with being gender-non-conforming (i.e., to be marginalized). Or maybe it has to do with other factors (perhaps some complex mix of biology, psychology & upbringing). For the rest of this post, I want to be agnostic about the source of my androgynous behaviors & instead focus on the double standard in the way my behaviors are perceived based on whether I am known to be trans.

What I tried to address in my last two posts (and for which I apologize about if I was less than clear) is the double standard upon which trans people are perceived, particularly in queer/women/feminist spaces, where women are seen as victims and men are seen as oppressors. In such a situation, my transness means that I am regularly viewed as an oppressor/appropriator/colonizer/etc. This is regularly used against me – I am seen as a threat, despite the fact that 99% of the time I am assumed to be a cis woman. In other words, I am oppressed as a woman, but that oppression is seen as less worthy of respecting/defending due to my past supposed “oppressor” status. Conversely, when trans guys come out as trans in queer/women/feminist spaces, they are typically seen as more inherently safe and oppressed as a result, even though they move through the world as men. In other words, they are granted a "female" privilege - the same double standard that results in me being seen more threatening and less worthy of protection from gender discrimination.

> to me, *that* is the point of feminism - that women have equal access & acceptance in male spheres of power (aka "THE spheres of power").
to me, *that* is the point of feminism - that women have equal access & acceptance in male spheres of power (aka "THE spheres of power").

I think this is where we may actually disagree. Because this idea (that maleness/masculinity = power and femaleness/femininity = powerlessness) merely reinforces male/masculine-centrism. I believe that we as people naturally fall all over the map with regards to gender & sexuality. Therefore, sexism arises from the meanings & connotations that we associate with maleness/masculinity & femaleness/femininity, rather than from those ways of being in and of themselves. If we raised every person to gravitate toward what is now perceived as the “male sphere,” a) many people (both female and/or male) would reject those ways of being, and b) there would still be a gender/sexual power differential. In other words, there would still be sexism.

What we need to eradicate is not "femininity", but rather the double standards themselves. Women & men & genderqueer, feminine & masculine& androgynous, trans & cis, homo & hetero & bi should all be held to the same standards, rather than being held to unequal ones - this is what I believe feminism is all about: the wiping out of any & all double standards with regards to sex/gender/sexuality.

From my perspective, when trans guys use their transness, female socialization or lack of penis to make the case that they are safe & trust worthy to be in women’s spaces, they reinforce the double standards that most trans-ignorant people typically assign to femaleness & maleness. In other words, they reinforce the idea that trans women are not to be trusted. In other words, they are enabling sexism.

One final thought: we’ve had several trans-related conversations where we have disagreed, & I’m starting to realize how our different perspectives may arise from our different experiences within the trans community. You seem to interact way more with folks who are in the earliest stages of transitioning. In other words, you regularly deal with MTF spectrum folks who have not yet had the experience of being regularly perceived as women – from my own past experience, I can understand how this might sometimes be frustrating. However, I am coming from the perspective of a trans dyke who has been living as a woman for many years. Most of the trans women I know are also queer-and feminist-identified and who feel shut out of queer/lesbian/feminist politics. Perhaps this is where our differing opinions often arise?

Respectfully your, -julia

helen_boyd said...

first off, julia, i want to thank you: it's really a wonderful thing to get to hash stuff out with someone who (1) knows of what they speak, (2) gets the idea of hashing things out in order to reach greater understanding, and (3) who don't just dimiss me as a nutty feminist.

i'm not interested in being adversarial, but more in trying to shed light on what i think are sometimes built-in difficulties for the trans/feminist universe.

so to your post:

first, you're entirely right that some people will read any masculinity in a trans woman as evidence of male privilege in a way that my masculinity (or yours, when they don't know you're trans) will be read.

i left a certain kind of feminist circle because i found it impossible to be heterosexual in them. my somewhat throwaway comment about being considered a tool of the patriarchy is really not so throwaway & has been a painful realization at different times in my life. that said, it's true: liking or expressing maleness or masculinity is just unacceptable in some quarters, & i find that sexist & shitty. i've met many men in my life who are ardent feminists, kind or gentle souls, & who don't stand a chance of being seen for who they really are & instead are seen only as Men = oppressors, purveyors of male privilege, dangerous, sexually suspect.

& my response to that kind of thinking was to leave. i couldn't abide it, the same way that i can't abide people who think all women are feminine or that all women are nurturing. it's just too broad a brush.

so my question/curiosity for you is why you think there's any hope of them NOT dismissing you for your maleness when they find out you're trans.

that's not to say there aren't people who can't be won over; there are. but there are also folks who demonizing maleness & masculinity (in men) in such obviously hypocritical ways - that they'd applaud a woman exerting masculine traits but not a man who does. masculinity - like femininity - has aspects that are positive. there are good things & bad things about being socialized male or female, imho. dismissing all masculinity as expressed by men is just short-sighted to me, as so many men i've known over the years really do struggle to dump the kinds of masculline socialization that's damaging to them & to the world and who simultaneously try to retain the aspects of it that they see as positive.

i think it's difficult for women to get past the types of female socialization that they want and need to get past, & that trans women, potentially, are a great source of inspiration for how to manage it. i love meeting women who (like yourself) can bring some kinds of empowerment out of their socialization as men forward into their woman-ness, just as we all, as a community, often speak so highly of the very cool trans men who bring the cool parts of their female socialization (like their feminism, say) forward into their maleness.

& i think that kind of work - of blending our gendered socializations & even our innate temperaments & sensibilities - should be applauded.

but the demonization of maleness is not a small hill. that's one of the reasons i left certain circles of feminism; i just saw too much hypocrisy & double-standard, too much valorization of women for being women & too much demonization of men for being men.

& i think there's cool stuff to be had in both genders.

so while on the one hand i get the pain & frustration these double standards might cause, i wonder too about why trans women would want to hang out with women who categorically deny that there is anything good about maleness whatsoever. surely the negative aspects of masculinity are not collected in a penis, for god's sake.

so to me, those that would give trans men "female privilege" don't respect a trans man's maleness as much as they disrespect your womanness. & that's not cool, either way.

as for your final thought, about where you & i are coming from: perhaps. but i think mine also comes from already having been rejected in certain feminist circles for liking men & masculinity in men. i just don't have much patience with feminists who base their feminism on the demonization of maleness, & don't tolerate it.

but i'm not sure that a trans man who "use their transness, female socialization or lack of penis to make the case that they are safe & trust worthy to be in women’s spaces" are reinforcing sexism. they could also be seen as bringing new forms of maleness & masculinity into feminism. but that depends, i think, entirely on how they're accepted for who they are: if they're being seen ultimately as women because of their female socialization/lack of penis, then nothing new is going on there. but if they are being accepted as men, but as men who aren't threatening, privileged, & sexually suspect, they may have the potential to change the way some feminists think about maleness.

but that might be me being optimistic.

& when i talked about male spheres of power i was simply using a shorthand for expressing the idea that men still own & run most of everything. call me a marxist feminist if you'd like, but i think until women own a chunk of what "counts" in the worlds of power, we won't get much of anywhere in terms of equality. i'm not happy about that, but being a pragamatist, i see that as an unfortunate truth.

with respect

Zander Keig said...

Hi Julia,

It is my understanding that the policy at Michigan is "womyn born womyn living and/or identifying as womyn", which would seem to exclude trans men.

As a trans man, I have no interest in attending Michigan. However, I do support full inclusion of trans women at Michigan.

Prior to my transition, I spent 18 years in the lesbian feminist community and heard/participated in countless diatribes meant to deny trans women their own identities. I also spent as much time learning to despise men, which prolonged my transition by eight years. I make a point to speak about this issue every opportunity I get, which has given me a chance to heal and make amends.

It seems to me that the alliance we could forge and the movement we could make, if trans men and trans women worked more closely together, seems a priority.

I am working at the grassroots level, like many of us are, to get beyond petty diversions to foster a vibrant and inclusive community.

I thank you for your work, your new book, your voice, your critiques, your energy and your spirit.

Zander Keig

eastsidekate said...

If I may wade into the back-and-forth between Helen and Julia, it seems like you're coming from very different positions.

Helen, from my perspective, you seem to be conflating a dislike of male privilege with a dislike of masculinity, and I have to disagree with you.

I'm a young transsexual woman. I've been out for two years, but am very much still in transition (I've lived full time as a woman for over a year, but am frequently perceived by others to be a man).

I really haven't been able to find a place for myself in the queer community. People are nice enough to me at events, but I'm almost always the only one I meet that identifies as a transsexual woman. I've pretty much stopped trying to make friends within the LGBT community. Maybe when I find myself consistantly being read as a woman, I'll try again.

What does this have to do with this thread? When I enter queer spaces, they seem very masculine. When I go to lesbian spaces, they also seem very masculine. I feel like I owe someone an apology for being somewhat feminine. I get the impression that I'm merely being tolerated as a newcomer who hasn't figured out what the drill is; others act is if they assume I'll eventually either cut my hair or stop coming around. It's not that people are mean to me-- it's just that it's very clear that I'm not part of the "scene."

What particularly upsets me is the way the privileging of masculinity seems to pervade GLBT spaces. Early in my transition, people kept advising me to meet people from the local gay organization, and kept insinuating that I should make some gay male friends. Huh? Even if I wasn't a lesbian, what would gay men have to do with me? I have nothing against them, but they're men, and I'm a woman.

I don't spend time in gay spaces, but I get the impression that there aren't a lot of trans women there. Why would there be? The gay scene would seem to be fairly masculine. But then why are there trans men in lesbian spaces? Shouldn't this make about as much sense as seeing transsexual women in gay spaces? Apparently not. IMO, lesbian circles cater more to trans men than they do trans lesbians. Why am I the outsider? I thought I was a lesbian, but apparently not.

I don't mean to attack other lesbians and feminists, or trans men, and I understand that my personal situation impacts my perceptions. Perhaps if my hormones and electrolysis were doing more for me, I'd be more accepted, and I wouldn't feel like such an outsider. But, I'd like to think that other queer people would understand my position.

I see trans men in women's and lesbian spaces, but I don't see room for femininity. To me, this completely undercuts the very tenets of feminism that we're supposedly fighting for as women and queers: A woman should be able to take on whatever traits she wants-- while she can be as masculine as she desires, she shouldn't need to be masculine to be an equally valued member of society.

From my perspective, the argument is not that masculinity is wrong, but that compulsory masculinity is.

As for women-only spaces, if a space is specifically centered on being raised female, then of course trans men should be welcomed (and trans women excluded). I can see the value of having women's spaces that are open to male allies (say, traditionally women's colleges). But if transsexual men are allowed, I think it only follows than other men should be allowed too. I'm confused by how trans men have more privileges as woman than do trans women.

So to sum up an unfortunately long-winded comment: I don't see masculinity-bashing in queer spaces, but I do see man-bashing. As a result, as a feminine transsexual woman, I'm screwed both ways-- either I'm perceived as too feminine or as too much of a man. It's nonsense, and I'd rather disappear and work in my garden than trying to change things, because as you can tell, it gets me wound-up.


Max Wolf Valerio said...

I absolutely agree that there are far too many trans men who trade on their female past to get into the good graces of women who, essentially, cannot abide having men in their space. If a space is for "queer women and trans men" I confess, I will go. Sometimes, feeling queasy, but I will go. (queasy since I may not really be welcome or my welcome is contingent on my being perceived as "not really a man") However, if the space says that it is for "women and trans people who are NOT identified as men" -- I will NOT go. Further, I completely respect that decision. Women do have a right to their own space, period.

I feel queasy that the women's space claiming it is also "trans space" is being set up not for the inclusion of trans women, but for the inclusion of trans men. And, frankly, trans women belong in women's spaces and trans men do not. Trans men are not women. Are trans men gentler, kinder, nicer, less sexist? Maybe yes, maybe no. I do NOT think that being a trans man means that we are all gentle, housebroken and "feminist" men, or even -- nice guys. Some of us are jerks, or just -- average guys. When we see bare titties, we think of sex - at least, if we are heterosexual or bisexual. So, if we are at Michigan, in a sea of bare breasted women, chances are --we are going to be experiencing this event in a different way from the average womon-loving-womon who attends. Not that she would not also love those bare breasted women, but I do believe, men tend to be a bit more salacious. I am known as a gentleman, and I would be polite and beyond reproach in my behavior, but that doesn't mean I am not also a man who likes to look, and most likely -- in a way different from the way I looked at women when I was female. Yes, its the T. My sex drive is higher and more visual and sometimes, it shows. I have, I am told - "male energy".

Certainly, it is not only the testosterone, but I know that does make a significant difference. In that sense, socialization is trumped by the transforming power of biological sex change.

Are trans men socialized differently? Certainly, to one degree or another, no doubt we are- but medical transition changes us and so does living in the world as men. In fact, trans men are, crucially, we * are * men. I do believe we need to take responsibility for our choice to embody manhood physically, socially and legally - and that means, no women's spaces. Only if we are invited. And, then, frankly, I am deferential, and aware that I am in an environment by invitation - it is NOT mine. I am a guest. As a guest I tread lightly and am aware that is is a privilege and NOT a right. Many trans men appear to believe it is their RIGHT to be in dyke space; my answer to them, "buddy you gave that up when you decided to look, smell and sound like you had a biological penis --i.e. when you became a man. It is not your right, just as it is not the right of any man to be in women's space. Get a clue. Deal with it."

And, most importantly, I believe that it's about time transwomen were getting the permission to enter these spaces -- women's spaces. Yes, they are the women in this trans equation.

Like Julia, I also thought Prado's talk was wonderful!

I also agree Helen that many of these spaces are not tolerant of heterosexual women. And, yes, they are not friendly to masculinity or men. So, frankly, why do trans men want to be where they are not welcome?

I have gone to these events, the trans/women events, and will go again. I am asked to read there, and my girlfriend is identified as a femme. In the past, all my girlfriends were heterosexual, and had no real interest in these spaces, if they had existed at those times, which they did not. The reason they appear to exist now is because of the recent glut of people transitioning to male out of the dyke community. I can understand wanting to keep "the family" together, but I also believe that women have rights in this equation, and if they don't want our hairy asses in the soup (trans men) they certainly shouldn't have to abide them. If they do bring us in, for a visit now and then, I hope it is with the understanding that we are not "faux dykes" but actual men. I am not sure that is always the case, and again, that gives me a queasy feeling. I want my manhood to be respected as being actual and genuine -- if I did not, I would not have transitioned.

helen_boyd said...


i was to some degree conflating a dislike of male privilege with masculinity, but i meant to be clear that i meant masculinity *as expressed by men raised male* because female masculinity is often considered not just acceptable but laudable.


K said...

"i also find it hard to believe that many trans women don't know other trans women who are disruptive of women's culture/space"

By definition transwomen are women, therefore they can't be disruptive of women's space.

Your privilege and and prejudice is showing.

helen_boyd said...

actually, i expect people to call out bad behavior. if i knew a woman raised female who was disrupting women's space, i'd say something about it. & they do, too.

i'm not talking about innate woman-ness; i'm talking about whether a person is familiar with & can move reasonably well in certain spaces.

some women raised female don't respect women's space, for various reasons, & some trans women don't either.

Jenny Boylan said...

This dialogue is interesting.

It makes me think about how much of the way we think of people involves not who they are, but who they have been. In other words, the Michigan thing is only superficially about MTFs who "dominate" women-only spaces, or about it being "okay" for people who pass, and not for people who don't, and so on.

Let's say that someone fits seamlessly into the Michigan experience--or any experience which is meant to be for women-born-women; and by fits, i mean both in terms of demeanor and appearance. One might reasonably say, "who's to know:" and "what's the harm?"

I am sure that many MtFs attend Michigan in that very guise.

But if that person's history were unveilled, they would suddenly be unwelcome. Asked to leave. And this would be based not on how they look or how they act, but upon their history. A history that might be years-or decades--in the past; a history which might otherwise be invisible.

When I type it out that way it sounds like an injustice, doesn't it?

And yet I am willing to say that I think I understand.

Whoever it is we are is in part the result of history. We carry around the ghosts of the people we have been with us; the child we were; the adolescent or young adult who was trying to figure out the answers to the questions which have come to dominate our lives since.

And what I have come to understand is that that history is not nuthin'. You can't see it, but it is as fundamental to who we are as who are parents were (even though they may be living, or may be dead). We are our presents, for sure, but we are also our pasts.

And maybe, when people say they want to be in a space of "women born women" or "women born women living as women" what they're saying is, they want to be among people with a female history. And that maybe that means more to these folks than where people are now.

Because that history means a firsthand experience with male oppression; a firsthand experience with being female in the world from earliest memory; a firsthand experience with the absence of male privilege.

And maybe that's the bridge that these people want to celebrate.

Me personally, if I am to gather with a group of strangers, I think I'd be more interested in the future we all might imagien, or the present we all dwell in. And yes, the Michigan policy makes me feel sad; I've never even thought of going because there'd be no fun in going anyplace I was unwanted.

But I can tell you that I do think that transwomen who say, "I am just exactly the same as other women" need to take a hard look at the arc of our whole lives. We may be women now--and I for one don't compromise on that--I dont' identify as genderqueer, or a transwoman, or a trans-anything, really, my passport says F and I identify as female and most of the time I am uninterested in being quantified or compromised in any other fashion.

But I'll say this: I am NOT the same as other women. It's not because of my Y chormosome (some other women have that); it's not because I can't get pregant (likewise); it's not because I don't have a period (likewise); it's not because I don't have a husband (also). So what makes me different?

History. And history might be invisible, but it also defines us, too. And so I think that transwomen (and transmen, too); need to accept this.

I'll also say, I dont' think my male history makes me less of a woman, or a bad person, or that I have anything to be ashamed of. It's a gift, really.

Sure, it's a gift I'd rather have done without. But I carry around the ghost of that boy child I used to be, and that's a good thing.

Accepting our pasts--even a past of sadness-- isn't a curse; it's a gift. That acceptance is what makes us whole.

Max Wolf Valerio said...

but i'm not sure that a trans man who "use their transness, female socialization or lack of penis to make the case that they are safe & trust worthy to be in women’s spaces" are reinforcing sexism. they could also be seen as bringing new forms of maleness & masculinity into feminism. but that depends, i think, entirely on how they're accepted for who they are: if they're being seen ultimately as women because of their female socialization/lack of penis, then nothing new is going on there. but if they are being accepted as men, but as men who aren't threatening, privileged, & sexually suspect, they may have the potential to change the way some feminists think about maleness.

I would hope transmen could affect positive change in these female-centric communities toward an acceptance of masculinity, and actual - maleness and even, manhood. And, conversely, an acceptance of femininity, in communities that often are conflicted about or contemptuous of that. That is, ultimately -- an acceptance of people as they are, all over the gender/sexual orientation/embodied sex map. However, my cynical side thinks that often, trans men are acceptable only if we say what "they" want us to say, and that is - only if we apologize for our maleness and masculinity and meekly accept the constant misandry posing as revolution.

DLevinsohn said...

helen said...
"i also find it hard to believe that many trans women don't know other trans women who are disruptive of women's culture/space"

kate said...

"By definition transwomen are women, therefore they can't be disruptive of women's space. Your privilege and and prejudice is showing."

I'm very much enjoying this blog -- particularly the current conversation between Helen and Julia -- and am happy that Helen created it.

I had hoped, though, that the discourse would stay above the level of personal attack and name-calling. And I think that this comment went below it, gratuitously so.

Yes, I consider Helen a good friend, but I also happen to be a transitioned trans woman myself.

And if you honestly believe Helen is "prejudiced" against trans women, or that her comment represents some kind of cisgendered "privilege," well, nothing could be further from the truth. I don't need to defend her. Her work, and her words, speak for themselves.

The fact is that your definitional contention honestly makes little sense to me, and seems somewhat sophistic. Of course trans women can be disruptive of women's space by virtue of their behavior (not by virtue of their existence or being; that clearly isn't what Helen was saying) -- just as a woman raised female can; just as anyone can be disruptive of anyone's space.

And, based entirely on my own experience, I don't disagree with Helen that trans women, particularly those who are early in the transition process and don't have a whole lot of experience interacting with women as a woman, are (as an admittedly gross generalization) more likely not to be perceived as "fitting in" (again, behaviorally at least as much as physically) than a non-trans woman or a trans woman who's further along in the process.

However, I do very much agree with Julia -- and I've been a great admirer of her work ever since I first read about her in Michelle Tea's "Believer" article about the MWMF and Camp Trans several years ago -- regarding the "re-gendering" and reinterpretation that happens once people learn of a trans woman's history, and the double standard that gets applied thereafter. (I'm not talking specifically about queer/women's spaces, since I have little experience in them, especially since my partner and I broke up last year; I'm talking about the world at large.)

Although I'm fortunate enough to "blend in" very well (I hate the word "pass," because to me it implies pretending to be something I'm not) -- largely because I'm extremely small physically, didn't have to alter my voice at all when I transitioned, and have no incredibly obvious masculine features -- I very much agree with Julia that on the now-rare occasions when I disclose my past to people (men or women), something changes in the way they look at me, and the way they act towards me. I can't even necessarily put my finger on it, but there's clearly a difference. Which is why in my professional life (I'm a lawyer), even though I transitioned at the law firm I'd worked at for 10 years and remain there today, and even though everyone who's been there for more than two years obviously knows about my past, I never tell anyone anymore. Not the lawyers I deal with outside my firm (why would I!), not clients, not new attorneys who've joined the firm recently. Especially women. (Because, for the most part, I have no interest in what men think of me!) I wish I didn't have to worry about how people react to learning about my past; I wish I could mention where I went to high school without anyone over a certain age who grew up in New York realizing that it was an all boys' school at the time; I wish all of it were something I could mention as casually, if it happened to come up, as I do other things about my life. But I can't, and I don't think that's likely to change anytime soon.


-julia said...

hi everyone,

sorry for not being able to get back into this sooner…

i appreciate your response to my post Helen. i hear what you're saying about choosing not to be around people who are dismissive of you (whether it's because of one’s heterosexuality or transness or perceived maleness, etc.). the problem that I (and other dyke- and bisexual-identified trans women I know) have is that fear, suspicion, antagonism, and/or apathy toward trans woman permeates most queer women’s (as well as certain “trans”) spaces these days. Because this is so prevalent, the only way I could avoid that attitude is to not attend any queer women’s spaces, which is ridiculous because 1) I am a queer woman, and 2) those spaces are also where many of my friends and allies are.

Helen’s post (about being discriminated for being hetero) and Kate’s post (about being marginalized in lesbian spaces for being feminine (which has been my experience too)), bring up a number of complexities to this issue that often go unnoticed. Specifically, I would argue that the lesbian community over the last several decades has historically tended to frame itself in opposition to men, to heterosexuality and to femininity (which is often dismissed as facilitating the subjugation of women to heterosexual men). This opposite-think manifests itself in the queer women’s community’s convoluted “trans” politics (favoring those who are masculine yet “born female”, and accepting trans men so long as they don’t identify as 100% male) and in its ongoing marginalization of those who are not considered homosexual or queer enough (e.g., heterosexual feminists, bisexual women, femmes, and straight-identified trans guys).

I try to make this point in my book: the rhetoric regarding trans woman-exclusion is often couched in terms of our presumed maleness, but if you look closely at their actual arguments, they typically target trans women because of our femininity more than our “maleness”. If you don’t believe me, just read what folks like Raymond & Daly & Sheila Jeffreys & Robin Morgan have said about us – their writings are at least as anti-feminine as they are anti-male.

Anyway, while anti-feminine sentiment or trans-misogyny plays a far greater role in this issue than most people appreciate, the “man” issue still haunts this dialogue as well. My main point in my original post was the whole having your cake & eating it too attitude that some (but not all) trans guys have: They want to have their male identities respected, but then they’ll play the “woman” card to get into queer women’s spaces. This inherently undermines trans women’s attempts to argue for our own inclusion.

Helen, I also appreciated what you said about calling people out on their bad behavior. To be honest, I wish more trans men and cissexual women would do that. The reason why trans-misogyny continues to persist in queer women’s spaces is that those who express such sentiments are typically coddled rather than called out. Instead off merely taking advantage of their own increasing acceptance in queer women’s spaces, I wish more trans men would start calling out those folks on their trans-misogyny and advocating for the inclusion of their trans sisters.


helen_boyd said...

i wish my calling people out counted for something, but being somewhat honorary or liminal myself, often it isn't.

i still think it's possible to create new communities, & necessary.

i also want to get around to writing about femininity & misogyny. i think you do a great job of it in WG but i don't always agree with you that the root issue is femininity. but still, as a tomboy myself, i want to delve into my own feelings - which are far from cool. i like to think i can be a feminist despite it, but the more i've examined the whole issue of women & misogyny & femininity the more i'm sure there's something rotten in Denmark.

thanks, everyone, for such an interesting exchange.

AZAlison said...

I have recently taken to arguing this out live - it keeps me on my toes and is better than a self defense class.
BTW I just did a presentation at an environment where the penis was again the determining factor. I talked to staff at an Arizona State Prison in my area. Trans women inmates are housed there, with the men, because their plumbing dictates that is where they belong. Trans men are not welcome there. and even though there is no sex in prisons a very large number (as high as 70% - according to one doc in California) leave HIV positive.
Thank you all for keeping this so lively and vital.