Trans Women Are Women. Why Do We Have to Keep Saying This?

Caitlin Jenner posing on the cover of Vanity Fair

This Sunday, the New York Times ran an op-ed by feminist filmmaker and journalist Elinor Burkett, titled "What Makes a Woman?" The piece voices Burkett's manifold complaints with the trans equality movement, focusing specifically on the ways trans women like Caitlyn Jenner express femininity and the manner in which trans visibility redefines the term "woman." 

For trans women, Burkett's arguments are, sadly, nothing new. But with the recent explosion of trans visibility in mainstream culture, it feels important to offer a response. 

Second-wave feminist thought was largely "trans exclusionary," meaning its members often expressed a refusal to see trans women as women. In the 1970s and 1980s, Gloria Steinem, Germaine Greer, Janice Raymond, and others held that trans women were aberrant and did not belong in the women's movement. Since then, some prominent feminists—including Steinem—have publicly changed their stances after hearing from trans people. But at the time, the main argument against recognizing the identities of trans women was two-fold and sometimes contradictory: Being a woman is a cultural experience and therefore only belongs to people raised from birth as girls, as cis women are. At the same time, the argument goes, trans women who would present as women using the trappings of traditional femininity—like dresses or Jenner’s sexy corset—were holding back the movement's goal to get rid of the idea that being a woman required being traditionally feminine.

With cultural acceptance for the trans community rising, women such as Burkett—cis women accustomed to defining womanhood on their own terms—find themselves befuddled and aggrieved by notions of womanhood becoming even broader.  

Burkett argues that “people who haven’t lived their whole lives as women” shouldn’t get to define what being a woman means. She writes:

"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.”

This is classic transphobia: a cis person believing their gender identity allows them to define "true" gender identities. It’s saying: I have a uterus, and—despite you and all of your forms of hard-won legal ID saying you're female—I make the rules.  As Burkett notes, though, the rules have changed. And she's upset by it.

Another trope among second-wave feminists' right to exclude trans women is the notion of residual "male privilege." Burkett employs that in her article, as well. Shortly after offering menstruation as the true mark of womanhood, she shifts gears and argues for acculturation. "Ms. Jenner’s experience included a hefty dose of male privilege few women could possibly imagine," she writes, citing Jenner's athletic success, earning potential, and safety while walking at night as evidence.  

To someone who saw trans women as men and had no understanding of—or empathy for—trans experiences, this might sound persuasive. However, this is not how trans women experience their forced misgendering. For many, many trans people, it is not all high wages and safe walks home at night. Instead, trans people face high rates of assault and can legally be fired for their gender identity in most states. In her interview with Diane Sawyer, Caitlyn Jenner offered an achingly honest account of the dysphoria and isolation she suffered as a closeted trans girl and woman, one with which I could identify. 

Statistics from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Graphic by Bitch Media.

For me, the experience of being forcibly acculturated male involved my gender being misassigned at birth, years before it actually emerged. When I asserted my identity at the age of three, I was bullied and harassed until I disavowed it, learning to police my behavior and eliminate any femininity from my expression. I entered a world as a child that contained zero trans representation. Like a character in some dystopic novel, my identity was a frightening, shameful secret, and puberty was a confusing trauma. Any privilege I might have accrued feels well mitigated by the terror and self-loathing that defined my early life.

The idea of trans women's theoretical "male privilege" becomes even more distasteful when one considers trans women like Islan Nettles, and those like her, who are murdered simply because of her gender identity, or trans feminine youth like Leelah Alcorn, who take their lives because they can't imagine a future for themselves in a transmisogynist world. 

Because women like Burkett do not see trans women as women, they tend to view our gender expressions to be mockeries of womanhood. Though they've worked throughout their lives to free women from sexist scrutiny, they freely scrutinize and ridicule the appearance of women like Caitlyn Jenner. 

With derision, she describes Jenner's appearance in Vanity Fair, cataloging her "cleavage-boosting corset, sultry poses, (and) thick mascara." Were anyone to critique a cis woman this way, one imagines Burkett would take umbrage. Likewise, were one to extrapolate from a few photos that this was the subject's "idea of a woman," as Burkett does here with Jenner, one would think any feminist would take offense.  Burkett seems to see trans women as interlopers or squatters in the land of femaledom. In a particularly offensive passage, she likens a trans woman to a young man who dies his skin and "crochets his hair into twists" and "expects to be embraced by the black community." 

The clear theme of Burkett's article is that she does not wish to see gender redefined from the way she and her generation would have it set. In the article's second half, she offers a lengthy recitation of what might be called "occasions in which trans activists have argued for inclusive language," a list familiar to readers of Michelle Goldberg’s articles on the issue. In observing recent requests by queer and trans people and their allies that abortion not be defined by vaginas, that The Vagina Monologues not be performed because of it's exclusionary of trans identities, and that the term "sisterhood" be replaced by "siblinghood" at women's colleges, Burkett detects the definition of woman changing in a way that she thinks is misguided.

On the one hand, one can sympathize with how she feels, given that she and her cohorts worked hard to advance women's rights. Burkett clearly feels a stake in women's advancement and I respect that and the hard work she channeled into gaining gender equality years before I was born. On the other hand, though, if the feminists of a generation ago had not actively excluded transgender women, we wouldn't have to make as much of a ruckus today.

Throughout Burkett's life, trans women have lived largely on the margins of society (or in the closet) without rights or protections. Rather than see us as equals, many feminists of her generation insisted, as Burkett does still, on insulting and repudiating us. Our bodies are different, and, against our wills, so were our childhoods. From her perch, Burkett appoints herself to critique our appearance, language ,and experience apparently without a lot of input from transgender people themselves.

Burkett writes that she wants to "rally behind the movement for transgender rights" and I believe her. Most people who believe in equality now do. For the communities who've been historically closest to them, meaning the LGBTQ and women's movements, supporting transgender rights today can mean having to face the ways they've excluded trans people and refused to see us as who we really are. 

Supporting trans women means seeing them as equal to all other women. When you do this, then Caitlyn Jenner's self-expression is as valid as any other woman's. It means every trans woman's body is a woman's body and any definition of woman inherently includes trans women. If this is what Burkett means when she writes the trans movement is "demanding that women reconceptualize ourselves," then I suppose she's correct. It will be nice when people no longer see it as a "demand," though, and when people no longer ask, "What makes a woman?" and assuming the answer excludes transgender women. 

Related Reading: It's Time to End the Long History of Feminism Failing Transgender Women

Leela Ginelle is a trans woman playwright and journalist whose work appears in PQ Monthly, Bitch, and the Advocate. 

 

by Leela Ginelle
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Leela Ginelle is a trans woman journalist and playwright living in Portland, OR. Her work appears in PQ Monthly, Bitch and The Advocate. Follow her at @leelaginelle.

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31 Comments Have Been Posted

::sigh::

So many problematic things about both Burkett's op-ed and about this response.

Of course second wave feminism was anti-trans. Second wave feminism was anti-anything that wasn't white, middle class, and heterosexual. Lesbians were specifically ejected from the 1970 "Second Congress to Unite Women" (lavender menace, anyone?).

Burkett's arguments about the nature of being female in society make sense if you equate being female with only one form of gender expression, which both her argument and this response do.

Gender and sex are not the same. Unfortunately in our society assumptions are made about gender based on sex when, in reality, the two may significantly diverge.

Why not agree on a 3rd and 4th gender?

The confrontation between trans women and cis women who reject the notion of trans women's full equivalency within their gender sounds a lot to me like an Israel and Palestine sort of unresolvable struggle. What I would like to understand is this: why is the preservation of the binary ("man or woman") so important to so many trans men and women?

It seems to me that gender is a historically specific cultural construct, in no way natural to anybody's brain or body. Yet phenomenologically, here are the many real people who feel that they somehow "are" the "other" gender; that is, the one that is usually associated with the "other" biological sex. That experience is real, and nobody is arguing against that. But many of those who were assigned the female biological sex at birth and who do identify with its culturally-associated gender norms--who have been formed as subjects through that gendered frame of interpellation since the moment they were born--maintain that their experience of being both biologically female and gendered as women is fundamental to what it means to be a woman; that particular mix of experiences which are a constant dialogue between female biology and the woman gender, artificially constructed as the latter may be. No man can say that they know what it feels like to be a woman, they might argue.

And anyone might argue in turn, that no one knows what it feels like to be anybody--nobody is a category; we are all individuals. When trans women claim that they belong to the same category of whatever "woman" means as cis women, they are making one kind of argument--that being a woman is a subjective sense of self. And when cis women reject trans women as fully equivalent, they are making a different kind of argument--that being a woman is a lifelong, biologically-integrated experience in which choice or sense of self has never been an option; in a sense, the absence of a choice whether to be interpellated by everyone all throughout life as a woman is a fundamental part of their idea of what it means to be a woman, it seems to me. It is not only rooted in the body, but in the weight of generations of a specific history (or herstory) or what it has meant to be a person as a woman, to develop as a person through the gendered experience of womanhood, rather than to be a person whose relationship to their socially-imposed gender has felt like a disjunction throughout that process.

What I would like to understand, because this really matters to me and I just don't get it yet, is why it is that so many (by no means all) binary trans women feel that they "really are" women. To want to live as a woman is something akin, I think, to wanting to go live in another country and become integrated into a different culture that feels more in line with one's own personality. I totally get that. But to feel that one "is" a woman--that I do not understand. Women (and men) are made, not born. In a sense, there is no "there" there. This is both an argument for opening womanhood to those who were born male, and the cause of my own confusion about why those same individuals would feel that this artificial thing (a particular gender) is somehow natural to them.

Of course there is also resistance by some cis women against trans women, because it can seem like yet another co-option by men, completing their milliion-year project of colonization and domination by planting their flag even on what it means to be a woman--stealing, in a way, the very last thing that they could not have, and redefining it. I understand that. I do not understand why trans women seek inclusion within this category of womanhood in the first place, however; why not define and fully validate yourself as a 3rd gender (as the term "trans" woman already implies, qualified as it is) and be done with it? Honest question. I can plainly see that this is NOT what many trans women want, and I am not suggesting that anybody should want what they don't (that doesn't even make sense to me); I just would like to understand what it is that they DO want, in light of my rambling late-night attempt to get my head around this.

To put it bluntly, I can feel as if I were Czech in my soul, and it's as if I were switched at birth and brought up as an American--but at the same time I know that to be Czech is an artificially-constructed experience that begins early in life, before a Czech person has any control or awareness of it; I can never replicate that in myself because I am already a person, as an American, who doesn't fully identify with what I think people think that means. But that's who I am; not a Czech, but a person who has these complex feelings. Why not sit there? Why tell Czech people that you are just like them now, and that this means that what they are must change to accommodate you?

Or do trans women see themselves (to keep with this analogy) as immigrants, who bring different experiences to the gender, sure, but who claim their right to participate in the ongoing evolution of that gender, just as immigrants to a country claim their right to help (re)define what it means to be a citizen of that country?

TL;DR: Why "trans woman," and not something entirely new?

I really appreciated your

I really appreciated your post, the questions you raise and your tone. I also am struggling to understand many of those things and I think it should be ok to vocalize them. So many times I've found that the response is a silencing shaming one, but it's important to keep trying and keep the dialogue open. I read the original article this one was responding to and I really agree with it. I'm encouraged that there are others who share my frustration, my confusion and my willingness to engage in difficult but necessary conversations. Anyway, thank you!

This is a fantastic comment

This is a fantastic comment and I would love to see a response. I feel the same way--very much in my heart understand and empathize with the trans struggle, but I see a strange erasure of "womanhood", while still striving for that very same thing, happening in the movement and it is baffling to me. I support trans rights. What I can't wrap my mind around is calling the vast majority of lived realities discriminatory to trans people. Why can't there be a 3rd or 4th?

Because race/ethnicity and

Because race/ethnicity and gender identity are not the same things. Because race is a social construct, not an inherent trait of one's personality. There's no underlying neurological structure or predisposition that would cause a person to "feel white" or "feel Black" or "feel Czech."

Conversely, if trans men experience menstruation, and do not experience the so-called 'male privilege' ascribed to trans women, are trans men also defined by their assigned sex? Are they "female," despite having a male gender identity?

Gender roles are social constructs.

Gender identity is not.

Gender Idenitity *is* mostly

Gender Idenitity *is* mostly socially constructed and is the same thing as gender roles and gender stereotypes.

"Feminine" and "masculine" are really *HUMAN* traits,thoughts,feelings and behaviors.

And there is plenty of decades worth of great psychological research studies by many different psychologists that shows that the sexes are much more alike than different in most traits,abilities and behaviors with a very large overlap between them,and that most of the differences between them are really small average differences,many of which have shrunk even smaller,and they find much greater individual *people* differences! Biologically the sexes are more alike than different too! As I said comedian Elaine Boosler said in the 1980's,I'm only a person trapped in a woman's body.

Feminists(such as Robin Morgan,Janice Raymond,Gloria Steinem,Germain'e Greer Sheila Jeffreys etc) who have rightfully pointed this fact out,are not afraid of transsexuals or prejudiced against them,the issue is what I said it is. The only transsexual woman who actually debunks these common sexist gender myths,and gender stereotypes is Kate Bornstein author of Gender Outlaw:On Men,Women And The Rest Of Us,Gender Outlaws,My Gender Workbook etc. She was a heterosexual man who was married and had a daughter,then had a sex change and became a lesbian woman and then decided not to idenify as a man or a woman.

I heard Kate interviewed in 1998 on a local NPR show and she totally debunks gender myths,and rejects the "feminine" and "masculine" categories as the mostly socially constructed categories that they really are.She even said,what does it mean to feel or think like a woman(or man) she said what does that really mean.

And as cultural anthropologist Roger Lancaster wrote in his introduction, in his very good 2003 book,The Trouble With Nature sex In Science when he's talking about how scientists constantly search for a ''gay brain'',a ''gay gene'' or ''gay intergovernmental'' patterns. Roger came out as a gay man in college.

He then says (One can hardly understate the naive literalism of present-day science on these matters: Scientists still look for the supposed anatomical attributes of the opposite sex embedded somewhere in the inverts brain or nervous system.) He then says and this notion now enjoys a second,third,and even fourth life in political discourses.He then says it is by appeal to such conceits that Aaron Hans,a Washington,D.C.- based transgender activist,reflects on his uncomfortable life as a girl:''I didn't *think* I was a boy,I *knew* I was a boy.'' He says,Hans elaborates: ''You look at pictures of me- I actually have great pictures of me in drag-and I literally look like a little boy in a dress.

Roger then says,Far,far be it from me to cast doubt on anyone's sense of discomfort with the ascribed gender roles.Nor would I question anyone's sense that sexual identity is a deeply seated aspect of who they are .But testimonies of this sort and appeals to the self-evidence of perception beg the obvious question:Just what is a little boy or girl * supposed* to look like? The photograph that accompanies Han's interview shows a somewhat robust girl.Is this to say that (real) girls are necessarily delicate and (real) boys athletic? He then says (If so,virtually all of my nieces are ''really'' boys,since not a one of them is delicate or un presupposing)

Roger then says,There is indeed something compelling about such intensely felt and oft- involved experiences-''I knew I was gay all along''; ''I felt like a girl'' - but that compulsion belongs to the realm of outer culture,not nature.That is, if ''inappropriate'' acts,feelings,body types,or desires seem to throw us into the bodies or minds other genders,it is because acts,feelings,and so on are associated with gender by dint of the same all-enveloping cultural logic that gives us pink blankets ( or caps,or crib cards,I.D. bracelets) for girls and blue for boys in maternity ward cribs.He then says,when we diverge one way or another from those totalizing associations,we feel-we really feel;in the depths of our being-''different''.Therein lies the basis for an existential opposition to the established order of gendered associations.

Roger then says But therein also lies the perpetual trap: Every essentialist claim about the ''nature'' of same sex desire in turn refers to and reinforces suppositions about the ''nature'' of ''real'' men and women (from whom the invert differs), about the ''naturalness'' of their mutual attraction(demonstrated nowhere so much as in the inverts inversion),about the scope of their acts,feelings,body types,and so on( again, marked off by the deviation of the deviant). Aping the worst elements of gender/sexual conservatism,every such proposition takes culturally constituted meanings -the correlative associations of masculinity and femininity,active and passive,blue and pink- as ''natural facts''.

Roger then says,In a twist as ironic as the winding of a double helix that goes first this way,then that,the search for gay identify gradually finds it's closure in the normalcy of the norm as a natural law.In the end,I am not convinced of the basic suppositions here. I doubt that most men are unfamiliar with the sentiment given poetic form by Pablo Neruda:''It happens that I became tired of being a man. ''Even psychiatrists who treat ''gender dysphoria''- a slick term for rebellion against conventional gender roles -admit that at least 50% of children at some point exhibit signs of mixed or crossed gender identify or express a desire to be the ''opposite'' sex. Roger has a note number to the reference in his notes section to a March 22,1994 New York Times article by Daniel Goleman called,The 'Wrong' Sex:A New Definition of Childhood Pain.
Roger also says that the way the media reported the David Reimer case was very gender stereotyped and and biological deterministc.He also said that they raised him as a girl too late.

well said

very well said. It is an interesting question. The author quickly glosses over the race analogy, but i think the article would've been much better served if it could've gone into how that type of "change" is not possible but another type is.

Much of this hinges on language, and on feminists trying to push (not trying to imply pushiness tho) a new set of terminology on the wider culture. I'm not even entirely sure how we are to go about this. Woman is a term used to describe anyone who decides they are a woman, and within this class you have cis and trans. Natural born women (rightfully, I think) balk at being called "cis women" instead of just "women". But even beyond that, for more mundane reasons, the new terminology won't catch on. When people say "I'm going out to meet a woman" or "a man", they usually have something specific in mind. No one looks forward to the extra line of questioning "so you say you're a man/woman.... do you mean cis or.... trans.... or.....?" Doctors, when they ask your sex/gender, what they want to know and what you tell them may not match up, and etc. The final irony, of course, is that a person born a man can tell a person born a woman that she doesn't have any right to say she knows more about being a woman than he, it's all a matter of feelings. Why do feminists need to keep saying things? I guess it's because the world doesn't change it's culture just by command.

The simplest solution is to just let "trans woman" be the term, and let women keep "woman".

Okay, cislady here, sharing

Okay, cislady here, sharing my own thoughts on your thoughts:

First I would say let go of the idea that trans people are a "they" that can be figured out, and then I would also let go of the idea that figuring "them" out is something that all of the rest of us have a right to. Trans women, like all groups of humans linked largely by a single trait, are going to vary in opinions, tastes, etc., so figuring them out is not going to happen, cause, you know, all that stuff I just said. The important point is not the rest of us figuring anything out, it is allowing trans women the space to exist, happy healthy and whole.

Having said that, listening to trans voices about how to do that is really important, and there are plenty of trans folks writing and talking about gender, and there are plenty of gender queer folks doing the same, if you are earnest in your desire to understand more trans perspectives, that would be the first place to look.

In part what you are asking trans women to do is something that is not fair, to create a possibly disingenuous 3rd or 4th gender, when for many many trans women, they are women end of story. Think of it in a less loaded way. Say you and I both identify as punks, but we look different. Does one of us become the default punk and the other then has to qualify their punkness is relation to the default punk? Or would that be exclusionary and weird and wildly irrelevant? The problem here does not lie with trans women or anything they are asking for, the problem lies with the rest of us and our unwillingness to recognize that these women are women, we can take their word for it, we don't need to see their credentials and we don't need to contort words or descriptions to fit them in somewhere else, we can just say, okay, cool, nice to meet you, glad you are here.

Further, yes gender is a construct, but that is a lot easier to say when everyone else immediately recognizes you as the construct you are. Am I comfortable with all of the constructions of "woman" in my culture? Nope. Do I still recognize myself as a woman in spite of that, in a way that I can't quite put a finger on? Yep. Why shouldn't other people be able to know who they are in a similar magical way?

And finally, I think it is interesting that these conversations tend to focus on trans women, without acknowledging trans men. Why is that? Is masculinity seen as somehow less mysterious? Is it more about obsession with policing women? So, I'm just going to throw it out there that trans men are men. End of story. Everybody is who they say they are, let's just start there.

Oh wait, not finally. Israel and Palestine can be solved, the problem was created, that means it can be changed. Throwing our hands up and saying, well those two crazy kids just can't agree on anything is not the answer. It actually results in the deaths of thousands of innocent people because people are willing to wash their hands of it and call it unsolvable. Similarly, refusal to fight transphobia and transmisogyny head on results in the deaths of innocent trans people whose real lives are being made miserable.

excellent questions

"Why tell Czech people that you are just like them now, and that this means that they are must change to accommodate you?"

Bingo.

"it can seem like yet another co-option by men, completing their three-million year project of colonization and domination by planting their flag even on what it means to be a woman..."

Triple bingo.

Also, I think your question "why not just sit there" -- i.e. embracing the ambiguity and complexity -- is a very valuable one that is not adequately, sufficiently considered. It might get you branded a transphobe.

Great Comment

This is an amazing comment, better than both of these articles and I completely agree with you. Let's move away from the gender binary

WHY SHOULD "TRANS" WOMEN BE DIFFERENT?

Misogynist.

This is a woman hating piece of writing. A trans woman's body isnt a woman's body. It is ok to know there are differences between women and transwomen. They are trans for a reason. It means they are biologically male.

First of all, Bitch magazine,

First of all, Bitch magazine, I have to say, your newish comment moderation is seriously problematic. It takes your general lack of moderation to a different extreme. Whereas before not moderating the comments section led to a wide variety of offensive and unproductive comments, this new lack of moderation in the form of extreme delays stifles any actual reasonable conversation that could in fact be taking place. Maybe you should consider actual, active moderation, so that this blog might actually encourage real dialog.

There is absolutely nothing woman hating about this article. I do see some woman hating in the idea that our identities, trans/cis are being equated to our bodies. I personally find it much more useful/inclusive/loving to think about a continuum of experience. Yes, it is okay to know that there is a difference between cis and trans women, but focusing on the body misses the point entirely. Trans women experience being women very differently because they are not believed as women. Just as it is not only okay but important to know that black women have different experiences as women than white women, than native women, than latina women, etc. Those different experiences don't make any of us not women, but it does mean that we should listen to and honor each other, because we all represent and speak from different points on a continuum of experience/s being women.

WHY SINGLE OUT TRANS WOMEN?

I can't help but think that

I can't help but think that if the trans movement is "demanding that women reconceptualize ourselves" it is actually a good thing. We should explore boundaries, question why norms are that way, and dig out the unspoken assumptions about all things, including the terms and identities that we live every day.

demanding that women reconceptualize ourselves

Absolutely, because never in the history of feminist thought and activism have women ever tried to reconceptualize ourselves. Thank god a former man has now come along to demand that we do so.

every trans woman's body is a woman's body

Honest, serious question: is the penis a female sexual organ? I am seriously curious as to what you think.

Honest, serious question:

Honest, serious question: is(are) your sexual organ(s) the entirety of your gender identity/who you are? I am seriously curious as to what you think.

Answer

From a biological perspective, the penis is a gigantic clitoris with a urethra running through it, the scrotum is a fused together set of labia, and the testes are simply a reconfigured set of ovaries. With the exception of the internal plumbing (fallopian tubes, vas deferens, etc.) the "male" and "female" genitals arise from identical fetal structures, and a person only acquires one set or the other based on a single gene which codes for a single protein (Sex-determining region Y gene, which codes for the Testis determining factor protein).

Let me ask you, Susan, is your womanhood reducible to an accident of conception? Are you nothing more than someone with one gene less than the male half of the population? Is your identity as a woman so worthless, so without value, that it can really and authentically be reduced to the fact that you don't have the SRY gene, and that makes you different from the people who do have it?

I would maintain that womanhood is not so worthless that it can be reduced to accidents of conception, and that feminists should not degrade womanhood into a worthless biological quirk just to deny transwomen such as myself our identities. There is more to being a woman than bits of genetic code and pregnancy, and cisgender feminists should celebrate the complexity of womanhood with their trans-sisters, rather than degrading all of us by making womanhood a matter of whether or not are gonads dangle.

Not Susan, but

I believe my "womanness" is defined by having XX chromosomes, and the biological effects of that. I don't think that makes it worthless, but I do believe that is all the identity means to me. I'm sure being trans feels different, but it doesn't feel degrading to say that. This is honestly how I feel, which I think is why people have to "keep saying trans women are women." For some of us, being a woman doesn't feel like much of anything but a biological quirk we have to live with, and its frustrating to not be allowed to make that distinction.

PSA: Intersex people do not want to be your pawns

I want to support transwomen as women and transmen as men, but mocking and antagonizing self-identified radicals won't help. They're doubling down on their exclusionary rhetoric for the misidentified sake of "self-preservation." Please understand that women have always been asked to put others before themselves. Women are targeted for being women. Women fought hard against the male-as-default for increased visibility and opportunity and have watched first gay men, then trans women, fight for space (and often control) within their academic and activist organizations. Modern liberal culture views same-sex spaces as silly, outdated, and LGBT culture has a lot of infighting where postmodern queers questions anyone who perceives their orientation as gender singular and monosexual. The historic number of women in Congress right now is just 19%. The reproductive rights of those assigned female at birth have eroded to the point that in many states and metropolitan areas, access to abortion doesn't exist. When conversations about rape culture have been more prominent than ever but we're still fighting for investigation as much as conviction, the poorly phrased "cotton ceiling" sounds like forcing women to have sex with women they do not want to have sex with. The Equal Rights Amendment was never ratified, and many issues of discrimination against women are reframed as "business rights (birth control)" "privacy (AFAB healthcare)", "first amendment (abortion clinic harassment)", anything but what they actually are. Women are NOT people yet. Much like the infighting between lesbians and bisexual-identified women, "monosexuals" do not have privilege over the erasure of bisexuality and bisexuals don't have passing privilege over lesbians and gays. Cis women do not want to hear that they have privilege over transwomen. They do not feel they have the power to structurally oppress transwomen while simultaneously being targeted for being cis women. Lateral bias is real. Discrimination as transwomen is real. But doesn't it make sense that transwomen desperate for acceptance insisting they have a "woman's brain" comes across as offense as radical feminists insisting "transwomen are men"? Cis women are cajoled into putting everyone else before themselves. We don't only teach "No means no," we must first teach what "no" resembles because cis women are socialized to place nice and deny their selves. Just like mainstream feminism prioritizes ethical consumption of mascara over military sexual trauma and the jailing of poor and WOC for miscarriages, the mainstream misrepresents the trans (almost universally the MTF) experience as sensible due to stereotypes. In Jazz Jenning's documentary, her soccer coach laughs that she runs daintily like a girl does. We would NEVER excuse these comments about, say, a 14 year old Alex Morgan. It's sexist, it's belittling, but it's not Jazz's fault.

So now what? We don't play "Oppression Olympics" comparing the suicidal trans teenager against the raped native woman against the trans WOC murdered against the girl with her genitals mutilated by only a "nick". Period. There's an unfortunate tone argument here that pitting transwomen against cis women (many of whom are gender nonconforming) won't win acceptance. Patriarchy hurts everyone on the gender spectrum. Period. That reality should align us.

This August, I start as a postdoctoral fellow at a northern university medical center. I have a B.S. Neuroscience and Behavior. I was diagnosed with Congential Adrenal Hyperplasia really young. I have an enlarged clit. I started my period at 9 and had public hair in second grade. I'm quite petite at 4'11". My AFAB-coded experiences were chaotic. I don't feel female sometimes. I had to unlearn a lot of internalized misogyny at college to understand that rejecting femaleness and the feminine stereotypes I didn't meet or felt delegitimized for didn't make me "agender". I had to unlearn the shame girls grow up with about themselves, and it's bigger than "not feeling pretty." My email address is attached to my comment if you would ever want a guest blog entry with more academicese, more of my research background informed by my CAH.

*A few grammar errors in

*A few grammar errors in first submission.

I exactly see what Chapman Wing was trying to get at. I felt very conflicted throughout this article as a heterosexual cis woman. I have never had the transgender experience, so obviously I cannot connect fully to the pain they must feel on a daily basis before the transition. However, I agree with Chapman Wing. Why is it so important to transgender women/men to almost erase the existence of cis women/men? To refer to Chapman's example-- if I decide to live my life as a Czech person, I would know inherently that, unfortunate as it may be, I am not actually Czech. I have not lived the life from birth of being Czech, and cannot ask Czech people to change to accommodate me. Everyone deserves happiness; that cannot be mistaken or emphasized enough. But, the reality is that the transgender woman simply does not and cannot understand what it is like to live from birth in a misogynist society as a cis woman. Why not just accept that?

Another somewhat contradicting point-- the attempted movement by some to change "sisterhood" to "siblinghood" at women's colleges is a confusing concept to me. If a transgender person "is" a woman, wouldn't they WANT to be identified as a "sister" if they were to attend such a college? If they fully believed that the gender they were assigned at birth is not who they are-- why would the word "sisterhood" be threatening? To refer back to the Czech example-- why is it so important to make cis women change in order to accommodate transgender people? I, with the upmost sincerity, would truly like to know.

As a trans woman, I would

As a trans woman, I would want to be called "sister". However, trans men are the ones being accepted to women's colleges for being born with female biology. And in fairness, they usually haven't transitioned when they get accepted. Trans women aren't asking for "siblinghood" here, we are still asking to be accepted to many of these institutions in the first place, and being excluded by both cis women and trans men, without having a voice in this conversation at all. So be somewhat careful to not conflate issues being brought up by trans men who are being accepted into women's spaces, looking to get their gender identity affirmed by that space, and lay blame on trans women. The contradiction is in the assigning of the wrong group to this movement.

I'm not looking to erase the existence of cis women, I'm looking to expand "woman" to include both cis and trans. When someone says "you are a trans woman, not a woman", it evokes the feeling of being told I simply don't belong. Much like someone being told they are "a black american, not an american", as if white is the default and correct way to be american. Demanding the qualifier to exclude me from the larger group is quite honestly, painful, and is then used to further distance people like me. When society sees me as female, so long as I don't bother to tell anyone that I am also transgender, I am literally treated like any other woman. That leaves huge overlap on issues that will help trans women in society, and cis women. It isn't 100% overlap, no. And my experiences aren't yours, no. But suggesting that we don't understand this is ignorant of the arguments we are making.

Compassion and Complexity

"Ms. Jenner’s experience

"Ms. Jenner’s experience included a hefty dose of male privilege few women could possibly imagine," she writes, citing Jenner's athletic success, earning potential, and safety while walking at night as evidence.

This kind of logic really bothers me. When people behave like privilege is something you can measure in pounds and ounces and then compare to someone else's privilege, this is the kind of ridiculous position you end up in. Of course, Jenner might have benefited at some point from the perception that she was male, but the trans oppression that accompanied this is unquantifiable. Who on Earth is qualified to assess whether Jenner's "residual male privilege" (ugh, I hate the phrase but let's go along with their logic for a minute) is enough to cancel out the impact of spending a lifetime feeling obliged to go along with a gender identity that does not fit?

Privilege is not something you work out with a spreadsheet. You can't quantify a life time's worth of experience and add and subtract to work out how priveleged someone is. You can only understand oppression by listening to people's experiences, and even then there's no need to be ranking them against anyone else. Ultimately transphobia, misogyny, racism, ableism, homophobia, ageism, etc are all things that people shouldn't have to go through. Arguing about who gets more just detracts from the time we could spend addressing it.

Privilege matters.

Of course, Jenner might have benefited at some point from the perception that she was male, but the trans oppression that accompanied this is unquantifiable.

[...]

When people behave like privilege is something you can measure in pounds and ounces and then compare to someone else's privilege, this is the kind of ridiculous position you end up in. 

There's absolutely no question that Bruce Jenner benefited from dozens if not hundreds of opportunities that would not have been available ot Caitlyn Jenner in the same time period.  I'm sorry that makes you uncomfortable but to ignore that fact ignores the systemic inequities of gender and sex in American society.

Actually you can compare levels of privilege.  In fact, you must if you have any hope of comprehending just how much of what you have in your life is a direct result of things you did nothing yourself to earn; personally, I'm white; I was born in the U.S.; I was born in a particular time when women have freedom of movement and more opportunities than they would have if I'd been born earlier; I was lucky enough to be born to a mother who valued education...it goes on.  Recognizing levels of privileges keeps you from buying into that neo-con bullsh*t idea that "I built this."  so why should I give anyone else a hand up?  Uh, because, you started with a systemic hand up you did nothing to earn.

Did Caitlyn Jenner face oppression during the time she was living and presenting as a man when that conflicted with her gender identity?  Absolutely.  But coming out is always a hard choice, and it's a choice that she chose not to make for decades.  Only she knows if or how much the privileges she was receiving presenting as a white, heterosexual, Christian, (seemingly) gender-conforming male figured in to that choice.

Daughter of a second-waver

I want to respond to Burkett too. As a trans woman who is looking just to survive day-to-day and month-to-month, I couldn't care less about academic, sociological or cultural rhetoric. I need to be legally recognized as a woman so I don't get fired, forcibly removed from the bathroom, detained at the men's facilities at the airport, forced to use men's gym rooms, etc.

I have a "girly-girl" appearance, as my friends say. That is my feminist choice. I wear it with pride. Growing up, it is the look I always imagined myself having as an adult. It is just who I am as a creative, aesthetic, fashionable individual with her own look. Imagine Taylor Swift but more DIY and customized to my age. I am not betraying women, feminism or women's empowerment by wearing lots of skirts and dresses. I am a feminist and a woman. I physically exist.

I think it would help Burkett to talk to me and learn that I have been a feminist all my life, taught by my second wave mother, and that I wouldn't be as happy as I am now without her help. I never thought of myself as having male privilege, because I never thought of myself as being male. It was only before I started physically transitioning that I would acknowledge that my appearance gave me male privilege that I had only facetiously at times. Mentally, the continuum hasn't changed pre- to mid-transition: I still feel no privilege when I walk by myself, l rarely talk to or make eye contact with others, and I'm using the same self defense methods. To others I describe it as a paradox: how I see a woman's body in the mirror when it is a body you assign as male, and when I felt out of place in kindergarten playing with the boys when you were the one who put me there, instead of with the girls where I wanted to be (this was 1976 and I went to a religious school.)

At several times in my life, and before she died, my Mom described to me what it means to be gay, lesbian and trans so sensitively and with such informed accuracy, mainly to help me help myself sort through my own feelings, that I know she would support me now and accept me as a woman. Trans women are women.

Biological sex means nothing to me and it shouldn't to anyone else. I was born a woman. My sex parts, regardless of how they contributed to me being assigned male at birth, are a woman's parts. They will be a woman's parts for the rest of my life, regardless if I have SRS or not. Everyone has a right to assign their own body to their identity regardless of what Burkett or Goldberg have to say.

"Cis Female" Offensive

I am genetically and physically female, I have been my whole life. I find the term 'cis female' offensive. It is not the preferred term and you should stop using it. You may refer to me as female, a woman or by name (Ellen).

"TRANSWOMAN" OFFENSIVE

What makes a woman a woman?

I was born with the external genitalia that led to me being marked as female. No one asked my opinion at any point in growing up if I was, in my own opinion, a female. I didn't ask either. Still, I did feel different and knew I wasn't acting quite like the other girls. Yet I never once thought I should have been born with boy parts. I accepted that I was female and that was that.

In adolescence, I discovered I was very much attracted to males. I was never repelled by other females but had no deep longing to be intimate with one.

If I were to place myself on a gender-sexual attraction continuum that ranged from 0 to 100, I am 80% identified with my physical gender most days to I am 0% identified with my physical gender some days. These latter are the days when wearing a skirt or makeup or anything girly just feels fake. On the extremely rare occasions when I put on full makeup and really feminine clothes, I feel a strong sense of being a fake, just playing at being super-woman and, on those rare occasions, it's like Halloween: just plain fun!

As far as my sexuality, I have no desire to be with other women but I do prefer men who are not too overtly manly, in the stereotypic concept of manhood. I like a man who is sensitive, disinclined to punch out people he disagrees with, not inclined to hide his feelings and content to let me be the dominate partner, most of the time, when it's time to get physical. That makes me about 75%-90% heterosexual on this imaginary continuum.

This imaginary continuum is not imaginary. What is imaginary is the idea that there is clear line between straight/gay, male/female. This line simply does not exist. We are all more or less both male and female and how much more or less can be altered by time, circumstance and experience. Why is that so difficult to comprehend? How does it serve the welfare of individuals or the culture in which we experience our human existence to define each other and ourselves in the artificial, limiting and clearly erroneous binary way that is still so dominate? Isn't the world more fun when we are busy accepting each other and ourselves, as we are, in the moment and not hurting ourselves and others with artificial boundaries and the bigoted judgments that arise as a result?

I, for one, am delighted that I can range from masculine to feminine, according to the way I feel on any given day and have no issue with people born with boy parts doing the same. Why should I? Why should anyone? Race is an artificial construct and, it turns out, so is the current binary view of human sexual identity and expression. What gay and trans people are doing for us is helping us understand the need to erase the boundaries cultures have for too long placed upon all of us. I, for one, am grateful. It's no fun living in a limitation box!

I have an excellent book

I have an excellent book from 1979 written by 2 parent child development psychologists Dr. Wendy Schemp Matthews and award winning psychologist from Columbia University, Dr.Jeane Brooks-Gunn, called He & She How Children Develop Their Sex Role Identity.

They thoroughly demonstrate with tons of great studies and experiments by parent child psychologists that girl and boy babies are actually born more alike than different with very few differences but they are still perceived and treated systematically very different from the moment of birth on by parents and other adult care givers. They go up to the teen years.

They also show that surveys show that boys are overwhelmingly preferred over girls,(sadly nothing has changed and sexist woman-hating,girl-hating Tee shirts that say( I'm Too Pretty For Homework So I Let My Brother Do It For Me) (and other sexist anti-female ads,pornography,etc do too) like these both reflect and contribute to this injustice.They also explain that when people guess if a pregnant woman is having a girl or a boy,and they list a whole bunch of false unproven sexist, gender myth,gender stereotyped,old wives tales,that assign all negative characteristics to a woman if they think she's having a girl,and the imagined girls or given all of the negative characteristics.

For example they say that author Elana Belotti(1977) explained these examples, The man and woman each take hold of one end of a wishbone and pull it apart.If the longest part comes away in the man's hand,the baby will be a boy. If you suddenly ask a pregnant woman what she has in her hand and she looks at her right hand first ,she will have a boy;if she looks at her left hand it will be a girl.If the mother's belly is bigger on the right-hand side a boy will be born,and also if her right breast is bigger than her left,or if her right foot is more restless.

If a woman is placid during pregnancy she will have a boy,but if she is bad-tempered or cries a lot,she will have a girl.If her complexion is rosy she's going to have a son;if she is pale a daughter. If her looks improve,she's expecting a boy;if they worsen,a girl.If the fetal heartbeat is fast,it is a boy;if it is slow it is a girl.If the fetus has started to move by the fortieth day it will be a boy and the birth will be easy,but if it doesn't move until the ninetieth day it will be a girl.( Belotti 1977,pp.22-23)

Dr.Brooks-Gunn and Wendy Schempp Matthews then say, now rate each of the characteristics above as positive or negative. A woman expecting a girl is pale,her looks deteriorate,she is cross and ill-tempered,and she gets the short end of the wishbone,all negative characteristics. They then say,furthermore ,a girl is symbolized by the left-the left hand,the left side of the belly,the left foot,the left breast. They say,left connotes evil,a bad omen,or sinister,again the girls have all of the negative characteristics.

They then say,that sex-role stereotypes about activity also characterize Belotti's recipes:boys are believed to be active from the very beginning and girls have slower heartbeats and begin to move around later.They then say,the message although contradictory(girls cause more trouble even though they are more passive) is clear in that it reflects the sex-role stereotype that boys "do" while girls "are" and the belief that boys are more desirable than girls.

They also say that parents have gender stereotyped reasons for wanting a girl or a boy,obviously if they didn't it wouldn't matter if it's a girl or boy.When my first cousin was pregnant with her first of two girls people even strangers said such false ridiculous things to her,that they were sure she was going to have a boy because she was carrying low or how stomach looked.

I once spoke with Dr.Brooks-Gunn in 1994 and I asked her how she could explain all of these great studies that show that girl and boy babies are actually born more alike with few differences but are still perceived and treated so differently anyway, and she said that's due to socialization and she said there is no question, that socialization plays a very big part.

I know that many scientists know that the brain is plastic and can be shaped and changed by different life experiences and different environments too and Eastern College gender and Christian psychology professor Dr.Mary Stewart Van Leewuen told this to me too when I spoke to her 15 years ago. Dr.Van Leeuwen also said that human beings don't have sex fixed in the brain and she told me that humans have a unique highly developed cerebral cortex that allows us to make choices in our behaviors and we can learn things that animals can't.

There was another case in Canada that I read about online some years ago about another case in which a normal genetic male baby's penis was destroyed when he was an infant and in this case he was raised as a girl from the much younger age of only 7 months old,not as late as 21 months as was David Reimer,and research shows that the core gender identity is learned by as early as 18 months old.

In this other case,it was reported in 1998 he was still living as a woman in his 20's but a bisexual woman. With David Reimer they raised him as a girl too late after he learned most of his gender identity as a boy from the moment he was born and put into blue clothes, treated totally differently, given gender stereotyped toys, perceived and treated totally differently than girls are in every way(in the great book,He and She:How Children Develop Their Sex Role Identity it explains that a lot of research studies and tests by parent child psychologists found that they give 3 month old babies gender stereotyped toys long before they are able to develop these kinds of preferences or ask for these toys. They also found that when adults interacted with the same exact baby they didn't know was a girl or boy who was dressed in gender neutral clothes,they decided if they *believed* it was a girl or boy.

And those adults who thought the baby was a boy,always handed the baby a toy foot ball,but never a doll and were asked what made them think it was a girl or boy and they said they used characteristics of the baby to make the judgement . Those who thought the baby was a boy described characteristics such as strength,those who thought the baby was a girl described the baby as having softness and fragility,and as the Dr.Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and Wendy Schempp Mathews explain,Again remember that the same infant was being characterized as strong or soft,the actual distinction by sex characteristics being only in the minds of the adults.

They also explain that in the toy preference studies,girl toddlers often show an initial interest in the trucks,but eventually abandon them for a more familiar type of toy. Also check out Kate Bornstein's books,Gender Outlaw and My Gender Workbook,and recently a co-written book,Gender Outlaws. Kate used to be a heterosexual married man who fathered a daughter and then had a sex change and became a lesbian woman who now doesn't indemnity as a man or a woman. I heard Kate interview in 1998 on a local NPR show and she totally debunks gender myths,and rejects the "feminine" and "masculine" categories as the mostly socially constructed categories that they really are.She even said,what does it mean to feel or think like a woman(or man) she said what does that really mean.

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