Scrolling through my Facebook feed this Sunday I saw that many friends had posted the same article, the discussions occurring on each persons post could not have been more different. Responses were either overwhelmingly in support of the article or vehemently against it. “What Makes a Woman.” I read. “Hmm,” I thought, “Sounds like this could be an interesting read.” Seeing as The New York Times has been spotlighting transgender stories in a tremendously good light recently, I was excited to sink my teeth into what I thought would be a piece written in the same vein and supportive spirit.
I was wrong.
From the consistent use of Caitlyn Jenner’s dead name to the use of TERF rhetoric, I was shocked that the Times felt this piece of gender policing and transphobia was enlightened enough to take up the front page of the Sunday Style’s section. I’ve highlighted the parts of this disastrous piece that personally struck me the hardest. But in all honestly, I could have just copy and pasted the entire article.
Their truth is not my truth. Their female identities are not my female identity. They haven’t traveled through the world as women and been shaped by all that this entails. They haven’t suffered through business meetings with men talking to their breasts or woken up after sex terrified they’d forgotten to take their birth control pills the day before. They haven’t had to cope with the onset of their periods in the middle of a crowded subway, the humiliation of discovering that their male work partners’ checks were far larger than theirs, or the fear of being too weak to ward off rapists.
Transgender women are women. They are not “almost” and they are not “half.” If a trans woman is asking you to use female pronouns that is who she is: A female. Cis women do not have it easy in this world. There I said it, and as a staunch feminist I believe it to the core of my bones. But, do you know who has it worse? Transgender individuals. I am sorry for every woman who has ever experienced work place harassment, there is no place for it and it is unacceptable. Many trans women won’t experience work place harassment, because many transwomen will never be employed. Transgender folks suffer from unemployment rates that are double that of the rest of society. The National Transgender Discrimination survey found that on top of that “ninety-seven percent (97%) of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment or mistreatment on the job,” and “forty-seven percent (47%) had experienced an adverse job outcome, such as being fired, not hired or denied a promotion.” As far as the job market goes, trans people are met with absolutely overwhelming discrimination.
Periods suck. We can all agree there. You know who they really suck for? Trans men. Getting your period unexpectedly is the absolute worse. Getting it unexpectedly while in men’s clothing is dangerous, for you’ve just been outed.
Rape. Rape is horrible, horrifying, life altering, and scarring. Rape is not something that only happens to cis women, and making a statement that alludes to that is erasure to those survivors who are not cis women. The National Center for Lesbian Rights states that 64% of transgender people have experienced sexual assault, where as 1 in 8 cis gendered women have.
Let me get this right: The word “vagina” is exclusionary and offers an extremely narrow perspective on womanhood, so the 3.5 billion of us who have vaginas, along with the trans people who want them, should describe ours with the politically correct terminology trans activists are pushing on us: “front hole” or “internal genitalia”?
For trans men and those whose gender doesn’t fit into a nice compact box, genitalia is an extremely sensitive issue. While I was born with a vagina, as I grew up and started to realize that my gender was different than that of the gender I had been assigned, I began to feel a distance from what I now simply call my bits. If you are personally proud to call your pee hole a vagina, by all means go for it. No trans or non binary person is demanding that cis individuals change their personal vocabulary. We are instead asking for changes to be made in spaces where we are directly affected.
Women’s colleges are contorting themselves into knots to accommodate female students who consider themselves men, but usually not men who are living as women. Now these institutions, whose core mission is to cultivate female leaders, have student government and dormitory presidents who identify as males.
Because of how our society treats both gender and sexuality, many of us don’t have any space to discuss or explore those parts of our makeup until we are far away from our parents. College provides a space in which for the first time young adults are not only on their own but also being taught classes on subjects they never even knew existed. Many young women enter college straight and emerge LGBQ, with the same thought process should they be forced to stay the same? You enter college under the pretense and hope, to stay the same? When has that ever been the mindset attached to higher education?
Women’s colleges are ripe with budding feminists, feminists who (if they are the right kind) will be trans allies for life. In this welcoming environment, trans men feel safe in coming out. There experience in life until this point has been one lived in a female body. The safety and understanding that trans men are met with at women’s colleges is quite unique. If more schools offered the feminist mindset along with a trans friendly campus that had safety codes in place to protect trans students, maybe trans individuals would feel comfortable applying elsewhere. Until that becomes a reality trans folks, much like everyone else, will go where we will be accepted.
Women like me are not lost in false paradoxes; we were smashing binary views of male and female well before most Americans had ever heard the word “transgender” or used the word “binary” as an adjective. Because we did, and continue to do so, thousands of women once confined to jobs as secretaries, beauticians or flight attendants now work as welders, mechanics and pilots. It’s why our daughters play with trains and trucks as well as dolls, and why most of us feel free to wear skirts and heels on Tuesday and bluejeans on Friday.
First of all, just because Americans hadn’t heard of transgender people, it by no means that trans folks didn’t exist. The media just didn’t deem us worthy to talk about. What I don’t think cis people grasp is that a trans man, even one who is presenting as a female, is STILL a trans man. Catlyin Jenner was always a trans woman. Even in a tuxedo at one of her weddings the person underneath those clothes, they were transgender.
Secondly, trans women are not here to invalidate the progress the trailblazers of women’s rights have made. They are simply asking to not be left out. Transgender women do not pose a threat to, nor does their existence diminish, cis women or the feminist movement.
If that’s the ultimate message of the mainstream of the trans community, we’ll happily, lovingly welcome them to the fight to create space for everyone to express him-, her- or, in gender neutral parlance, hir-self without being coerced by gendered expectations. But undermining women’s identities, and silencing, erasing or renaming our experiences, aren’t necessary to that struggle.
I had no idea that there was a keeper to the keys of feminism, and in order to gain admission you had to be cleared. Feminists should “lovingly welcome” all transgender humans because of the simple fact that WE ARE HUMANS. Humans that are more likely than our cis peers to declare that we are feminists and speak out against misogyny and the patriarchy. Why? Because we have to continually explain ourselves. Because we have lived a life in fear. Because we can still be fired for being out at work. Because we have a hire chance of committing suicide. Because we have spent our entire lives focusing on gender to a point that it at times it was all overwhelming, to a point where it was daunting and terrifying. Imagine coming to the realization that you were not he you were she. That you were not she but he. Imagine the fear of looking in the mirror and seeing an image that was entirely wrong. Women can uphold and cling to their identifies as much as they’d like, as should trans people.
Bruce Jenner told Ms. Sawyer that what he looked forward to most in his transition was the chance to wear nail polish, not for a furtive, fugitive instant, but until it chips off. I want that for Bruce, now Caitlyn, too. But I also want her to remember: Nail polish does not a woman make.
Makeup is marketed at women. Little girls sit and watch their mothers get ready, they sit and watch their favorite celebrities dolled up in music videos and on red carpets. At some point their curiosity reaches the point where they want to imitate what they’ve grown up seeing. And because they are little girls, and because society tells us that women are to wear makeup, that child is given the opportunity to play dress up. A transgender little girl, dressed in boys clothes, expected to have male heroes, and exude some form of masculinity does not have that same chance. She is he to the world, and unless that child has forward thinking liberally minded parents she will stay confined to being a he. Caitlyn never got to wear nail polish as a child. She never got to wear her mothers heels, or try different styles with her hair. She was confined to the body she was born into. And confined to the gender roles that go alongside it. Anyone who knows what it feels like to go without, can understand what it feels like to be her. To be Caitlyn and every other trans person.
You don’t get to decide who calls themselves a man or a woman. You don’t get to decide how that person presents or how that person lives their life. You wouldn’t want anyone doing that for you, why should transgender people be any different?
– Feature image by Amy Beckerman Photography.
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