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Trans Women Included: Feminism and Trans* Intersections

By Allison Moon
LesbianWerewolves.com
@TalesofthePack
Author of Hungry Ghost, the sequel to Lunatic Fringe.

Emelina invited me to share my thoughts on the intersections of Trans* and Feminism, as inspired by a panel I was a part of at WisCon, a feminist Science Fiction/Fantasy conference. The questions I seek to address are listed in this post.

This essay has to be introduced with some disclaimers: 1) The first is that as a cis-y (cis-ish?) queer woman, there’s only so much perspective I can offer, and naturally my opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Emelina’s or any other person anywhere, ever. 2) Because we didn’t record the panel referenced earlier, I won’t attempt to recreate the comments made by anyone else in the room, and I’ll only speak from my experience. 3) This post specifically addresses trans women and the intersection of their struggle for equality with the struggle of various feminist movements. I don’t address trans masculine issues in this post because I believe it’s a very different struggle that would turn this already long post into an epic post. So, it’s with simplicity in mind that I focus only on women-identified people moving forward.

The final caveat is that whenever I use the unqualified term “woman” in this post, it’s referring to all woman-identified people regardless of genetics or genitalia.


Feminism includes trans* rights. To declare otherwise is to completely ignore, deny and dismiss the core of feminist ethos: the belief in the fundamental equality and core humanity of womanhood and manhood, and of femininity and masculinity.

Let’s take it down to a fundamental. Definitionally, feminism is the belief in the equality of the sexes. Functionally, it is the belief in the raising of stature of female people and feminine concepts, ideals and communities in order to achieve that equality. In its earliest incarnations feminism championed the belief that woman’s work was work, that functionally supporting a household was worthy of admiration, that we had the right to choose when and how we reproduced and raised children, that having the right to opt powerfully into woman’s work was just as worthy as choosing to opt out of it.

It sought to even the playing field by taking the weights off women’s ankles.

The fight remains tangible: equal pay, fair maternity leave, women of stature lauded for their accomplishments, reproductive rights and access to safe health care, eradication of rape culture, more roles for women of color in film, equal representation in public office and Fortune 500 companies.

The fight is also subtle: Honoring the inherit worth in traditionally feminine concepts and actions: environmentalism, collaboration, empathy, emotional dynamism, dialogue, transformation, compassion, process.

The fight against patriarchy and misogyny is the fight for respect for our identities, our bodies and our right to exist as autonomous individuals. It is the demand for respect for our fundamental humanity and worth.

The reason why trans* rights within the feminist fight are considered a “conundrum” or a “debate” is because there are some very loud people with some very strong misunderstandings about how gender based oppression works in real life. These people see a penis and think “rape,” instead of “complicated”. They see a uterus and think “universal experience.”

Unfortunately, I’ve learned about these arguments mostly from reading insane vitriol on so-called “radfem” websites, where dialogue or counterpoints are certainly not appreciated. Most of these “radfem” arguments are so easily destroyed that I’m not going to spend much time dismantling them here. Instead, I’d direct you to Julia Serano’s post at Ms. Magazine where she does most of the heavy lifting necessary.

What makes the radfem arguments stick is that often they do include a tiny kernel of truth, no matter how covered with the grime of bigotry and loathing.

The first of these arguments is that trans women are “dudes in dresses” or don’t know what it’s like to be a woman because they weren’t socialized as women.

Practically speaking, I have known some trans women who do indeed present as clumsy or grasping at tenuous ideas of womanhood and femininity. Some of them have gone through phases of ascribing to patriarchal ideals of what a woman “should” be, stumbling through versions of identities on their way to who they will eventually (perhaps just as transiently) become. Rather than following whatever inner compass or outer role models better suited for the job, they reach for the most obvious neon-lit versions of women – the super models, the actresses, the porn stars and the fembots. These are the trans women the radfems usually point to when complaining that all trans women are just guys in disguise (patly ignoring, of course, that these women may just be clumsy women instead of nefarious men). There are many women who go through these phases, cis women absolutely included. Young trans women have very little chance of learning the ways of femininity at a self-directed pace, because most of them have to wait until they’re no longer dependents or socially threatened (economically or culturally speaking) before they can even begin to explore femininity. This means we find far more 50 something women who are transitioning than one might expect. I’ve known trans women who’ve become green berets, steel workers and merchant marines, all to escape their inner truth.

The patriarchy creates the conundrum, as we women must wonder whether to assimilate or rebel, and what exactly either of those choices would look like in practice. However, it’s far more likely that a trans woman will suffer the slings and arrows of some feminists for clumsy entrees into womanhood, while the equally clumsy and seeking cis women may get a free pass as a “phase” or misplaced acting out, or often a sad, ignorant woman who is just another victim of the patriarchy.

No doubt the oppression a young cis woman experiences is different from that a young trans woman or genderqueer person experiences, because the world tends to treat people born with penises differently from people with vaginas. That doesn’t, however, mean that people born with penises don’t have a conflict with the way they’re treated, and it certainly doesn’t mean that as that person ages they won’t experience violence, witness misogyny, or feel the bite of anti-feminine oppression.

Regardless of what you’re packing in your panties, many of us try on versions of femininity that become a form of drag, merely because it doesn’t “fit” in the way a more organic identification with femininity ultimately becomes.

(sidenote: I’ve known women with hyper-feminine diction, manners, gait, vocal inflection, and dress who appear far less draggy than their more “neutral” counterparts. They’re called femmes. And you wouldn’t dare tell them they’re tools of the patriarchy unless you want a stiletto in the eye.)

We all have to learn how to be women in the world. Possession of a fully-functional uterus does not guarantee the presence of any positive qualities of femininity. We all must learn empathy, cooperation, kindness and love. Women, it might be argued, learn these things from birth because we’re treated as though they are endemic to our gender, but also because of the solidarity that arises as a side effect of oppression.

Being born with a uterus is only a guarantee of one thing: having a uterus. Not everyone with a uterus ovulates, menstruates, gives birth, has sex, gets raped or develops cervical cancer. But the radfem claim that uteruses matter SO MUCH to the construction of womanhood that I have more in common with a heterosexual Sudanese mother of six than I have in common with Julia Serano, is just dumb.

Oppression doesn’t start and end at the uterus. The experience of womanhood in our world is informed by race, class, gender expression, nationality, religion, age and any number of other ways society constructs worth.

Using the uterus to define some sort of universal experience is just a convenient way of ignoring all these less cut and dry ways in which oppression acts on women.

What we’re actually dealing with is the presence of the penis, either real or implied. And this is where anti-trans “feminists” go full circle to patriarchal tools. Reducing a person to their genitalia is exactly what the patriarchy has been doing for fucktons of years. Women were denigrated because our constitutions were considered weak, we were crazy because our uteruses wandered through our bodies, and we weren’t capable of authority because our brains were smaller than men’s. It was our junk that made us less than, undeveloped, inferior.

Now, “radfems” are claiming this argument as their own, declaring trans women not women because of their genitalia, regardless of what it actually looks like.

Do fibroids matter? Of course. Do female genital mutilations, transvaginal ultrasounds, hypertension and menopause matter? Yes, yes, they do. Do they matter enough to occlude all the other things we as women are fighting for? Do they take precedent over equal pay, rape culture, preservation of the environment, maternity leave, marriage rights and hate crimes? Are they so much more important than creating lasting bonds around our womanhood, strengthening our communities economically, socially and spiritually, and exalting the feminine such that it must be considered indispensible around the world?

Which leads us to the question: What exactly are we fighting for? What relevance can feminism hope to have if we are actively policing the qualifications of people who want to join the fight?

The fundamentalists of our world already got feminists to in-fight once. It happened in the late 70s and early 80s when the sex wars began. We started policing other women’s behavior, including who we took to bed, how we dressed and how we chose to express ourselves publicly. And, it can be argued that this infighting is what has kept women from achieving much of what was so close in the 60s. The Backlash isn’t just Christian-funded. They have folks working on the inside.

One of the greatest successes of the women’s liberation, feminist and womanist movements was their ability to expand the acceptance of gender non-normativity for women. Women are allowed to wear pants, work in labor jobs, hold political office and fight in the armed forces because of the work of early feminists. There is still rigidity, no doubt, but our range of acceptable expression is far wider than that of masculine-acculturated people.

If we’re fighting for the sanctity of womanhood, should we not be inviting those that revere it equally to the table? Those who have fought and suffered to bear the cross of a oppressed gender?

I’d rather have Andrea James, Julia Serano and Drew Deveaux at my party before I’d think of inviting Michelle Bachmann. Just because Ms. Bachmann was born with two X-Chromosomes (I assume – when was the last time you got your chromosomes tested?), doesn’t make her a stronger cocompatriot.

This is, of course, assuming they want a seat at the table. I believe separatism has a valuable role in the healing and strengthening of an individual. It is sometimes necessary to cloister oneself from the world to allow yourself time to heal. However, separatism is not a useful tool for social change. What anti-trans radfems are doing is misconstruing their happy place for the world everyone should live in.

Out here, we’re all different shapes and colors and our worlds are vastly different depending on the permutations of oppressions and privileges that affect our lives. Feminism (womanism, humanism, etc) fights to transform the antiquated ideas of universality into ever-evolving ideas of intersectionality.

We learn a valuable lesson whenever a woman succeeds at whatever she chooses: Biology is not destiny. Our vaginas do not make us weak, our uteruses do not make us natural caregivers, our penises do not make us men. We can choose to be any of these things, but to assume that they stem from our sex organs and that our sex organs have the last word is reductive and most of all foolish.

Women’s status can only strengthen by honoring the feminine in everyone, exalting womanhood in its multiplicities and listening to everyone as they share their own (different) experiences of their femininity. Trans women enthusiastically included.

Allison Moon is an author and educator known for her lesbian werewolf book, Lunatic Fringe, which was nominated for a 2011 Goldie Award. A popular speaker and educator, Allison teaches publishing, creativity, art, writing and their intersections with social justice and sexuality. She’s best known for her workshops How to Drive a Vulva (aka Girl Sex 101) and Creativity for Radicals. In 2011, she was named a Lambda Literary Emerging LGBT Authors Fellow where she developed and workshopped the sequel to Lunatic Fringe. She blogs about gender, sexuality, writing and creativity at her website TalesofthePack.com You can preorder her sequel to Lunatic Fringe, Hungry Ghost, on Kickstarter through November 10, 2012.


This guest post will be re-published on The Human Experience once it’s live, an online queer publication aiming to redefine queer culture through the collaboration of all our voices. Find us on Facebook and Twitter.

About emelinaminero

I'm passionate about people, community, self-love and the diversity in the human experience.

Discussion

13 thoughts on “Trans Women Included: Feminism and Trans* Intersections

  1. Thank you! That was an awesome and uplifting article! <3

    Posted by Tamara Motola | July 17, 2012, 5:25 pm
  2. Thank you for writing this article! It was just awesome.

    Posted by Dana Lane Taylor | July 17, 2012, 6:31 pm
  3. I want to say that I’m always happy to see cis women standing up against the radfems. It was a well written article, and I’m glad that you were able to write it. I do have a few critiques, but I want you to know that I think it was still a well written piece.

    First, I want to speak to the “men in dresses” section. There are a few issues around this which should be talked about as well. The first thing is that, until VERY recently (last 6 years at the earliest), transitioning from male to female was much more strictly regulated. It was regulated by psychiatrists and doctors, by researchers and academics. Part of this regulation, were how trans women had to “prove” they were trans, before they could receive any of the medical care (or governmental documentation) they might need to transition. Many of these “gatekeepers” as we know of them in the trans community were very patriarchal in their views of gender, and since they could remove your care at a moment’s notice, you had to fit their views. Show up to a meeting in jeans, and you’ll be considered not willing enough to be a woman, and lose access to hormones for a month. On many occasions, they required photographs of the women to prove to the doctors that they were “female enough”. Even being attracted to other women could derail a trans woman seeking to transition. The outcome of this, oddly enough, is to produce women who fit into a very stereotypical mold. Forced to be “ultra feminine” to be allowed to even receive medical treatment. Of course, this ultra feminine group would then be studied by the same researchers gatekeeping them, and they would conclude that trans women try too hard to be feminine and thus aren’t actually women.

    Second, not just with medical transition, but trans women also are caught in a double bind socially. If you are a femme trans woman, you are considered to be too feminine, and thus are pretending to be a woman. If you are not femme enough, you are considered to not be trying, and thus proof that you’re actually a man. There is no middle ground for trans women to just be themselves, since they are judged with every action, and by every presentation they put forward.

    Third, again for the longest time, being “stealth” (living live as a cis person, after transitioning) was required to get treatment for being trans. Especially for those who could. Thus, having trans role models for people to follow was very difficult, as they couldn’t come out (or felt they couldn’t come out). Since most of those who can pass are highly encouraged to do so, generally you won’t see the trans women who pass, only those who stick out (like men in dresses).

    As for it mostly being older women who transition – again this isn’t quite true. Women transition (socially, or medically) at all ages. Is a trans woman who’s presented as female since she was 4 still saturated with male socialization? This is much more of a small issue, as the age when women transition wasn’t a major aspect of what was written.

    Again, it was a well written blog entry. I really enjoyed reading it. I hope more stuff like this can be published until those radical feminists who work so hard to deny my existence are only considered as hilarious fringe elements, lost in time.

    Posted by Jessica | July 17, 2012, 9:34 pm
    • Jessica, I’m so glad you commented. I had no clue about the process that one had to go through to transition from male to female, or that you could lose access to hormone treatment, or never git it, if you didn’t fit within a super feminine mold. That’s crazy that there were regulations like that, and I’m assuming that there probably still are some restricting, degrading and ridiculous regulations today.

      Myself and a team of people are working on creating a publication, The Human Experience, that will heavily feature guest essays, like this one, that cover an array of queer identities and issues to help open dialogue within the queer community, to help create more understanding of our individual experiences, to help lessen the bigotry within the queer community and to help bring us together as a community. Whether it be our guest essays or our articles and interviews pertaining to news, culture & entertainment, all of our content will have an element of capturing “The Human Experience,” a less glamorized and sexualized focus on our global culture and the people within in it, and a more humanizing and intimate focus that captures each of us as unique individuals and human beings.

      You wrote that you hope to find more content like this guest essay. The guest essay portion of The Human Experience will be largely influenced and shaped by readers. Whatever questions we receive or whatever topic and issue requests we get, that’s what we’ll cover. Anyone will be able to submit a guest essay about their own experiences. Through the readers’ submissions, questions and through their comments, they’ll shape the dialogue that takes place.

      Until our publication is up and running, I’ll be posting a few of the guest essay pieces here.

      Posted by emelinaminero | July 18, 2012, 1:04 am
    • Thank you, Jessica, for adding very important points to my essay. You’re right to point out the Catch-22 in which many trans women become stuck. The blame for the “men in dresses” phenomenon really rests on shoulders of doctors and the internalized misogyny present both within the medical establishment (and the resulting medicalization of non-normative gender expression) and the doctors’ individual biases.

      I think trans women can probably speak better to this than cis women in that the increasingly allowable androgyny of dress/career/mannerisms for women is a fairly recent development (Mad Men wasn’t that long ago, y’all), yet doctors still look to bygone eras of “proper” femininity when dealing with trans women.

      I agree that passing privilege affects who we see as role models. As trans* identity becomes less publicly shameful or taboo, I think we’ll see far more people identifying proudly as trans*. I would welcome this development, so more kids will have powerful role models in all fields.

      I also agree that passing privilege may skew what appears to be an “average” age of transition. I think, though, that we’re living through a time where parents are first starting to understand gender non-normativity and its often accompanying need to address issues of hormones before the onset of puberty. It’s slow going, but it’s happening. For this reason, I hope we see far more little trans girls who are allowed to be acculturated as girls, and trans boys acculturated as boys, rather than kids who get diagnosed, medicated, and “managed”. I think the whole “culturally socialized” radfem canard will dissolve as more kids get acculturated in the gender norms that are organic to their identities.

      Thanks again for your insightful comments and elucidations, Jessica! I appreciate you adding dimension, detail, and upgrades to my post.

      Posted by Allison Moon (@TalesofthePack) | July 21, 2012, 8:17 pm
  4. As a trans woman, I just want to say I loved this article immensely! Especially this paragraph:

    “Biology is not destiny. Our vaginas do not make us weak, our uteruses do not make us natural caregivers, our penises do not make us men. We can choose to be any of these things, but to assume that they stem from our sex organs and that our sex organs have the last word is reductive and most of all foolish.”

    exactly <3

    Posted by leftytgirl | July 18, 2012, 3:37 pm
    • I read your tweet that you found Allison Moon’s essay to be a beautiful ally piece. What a great way to start the morning with positive energy. Thank you. It makes me happy that you enjoyed Allison’s essay.

      Posted by emelinaminero | July 18, 2012, 6:05 pm
  5. Reblogged this on Porcausadamulhere comentado:
    Texto incrível pra se criticar cisfeminismos transfóbicos.

    Posted by vivi ;) | July 24, 2012, 2:43 am
  6. I cant thank you for writing what is rational. I dont think its refreshing either, but it is factual. Most of it should be so obvious that it should not be necessary to put it into words. This just goes to show how deeply ingrained transphobic feelings are that any trans woman should be grateful for or love someone stating what is obvious.

    Posted by amber | December 18, 2012, 10:48 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Trans Women Included: Feminism and Trans Intersections | The Human Experience Blog - July 27, 2012

  2. Pingback: Trans Women Included: Feminism and Trans Intersections | The Human Experience - October 25, 2013

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