Monday, August 04, 2014

Feel like a womyn

Like the rest of the internet-to-whom-it-may-concern, I've been reading about the tensions between radical feminists and the transwomen they exclude. And... I guess there are two takeaways from Michelle Goldberg's fascinating article. One, that if you're trying to be progressive, not being exclusionary is usually the way to err. Common sense dictates that if you're a biological man who self-presents and self-identifies as a woman, your "privilege" is if anything less than that of a cisgender woman. (All things equal, of course.)

But at the same time, the article wouldn't be interesting if that were the whole point. The other issue is that a good amount of The Female Experience, or one version of it at least, is rooted in biological facts, not gender identity. Periods, developing (oh that euphemism), pregnancy/pregnancy avoidance/pregnancy scares, rape/rape avoidance/rape-near-misses, street harassment (at its most obscene when directed at young girls), relative physical vulnerability... All of these could well amount to obstacles less profound than those faced by transwomen (I don't buy the argument that "male privilege" extends to transwomen), but they are without a doubt different obstacles.

Basically, the plight of the biologically female is a thing, and it's not necessarily transphobic, I think, that some would make this their cause. A transwoman has always felt female, but didn't spend her adolescence petrified she'd become a teen mom. Where transphobia enters into it is, it seems to me, stuff like the refusal to use correct pronouns (i.e. pronouns people want used about themselves), and just generally being... phobic. That transwomen don't know what it's like to be a 12-year-old with uterus doesn't mean they're a menace, for crying out loud. "Womyn-born womyn" could plausibly make sense for certain kinds of support groups, but a music festival?

All of which points back to what I think is the reason trans identity is so hard to conceptualize for many of us who are not trans. While there probably are some biologically-female women who really feel like women, my guess is that many of us experience femaleness the same way as we experience being the height, age, and ethnicity we happen to be. Which is to say, as traits we've just kind of landed with, that we might try to gently alter in superficial ways (heels, sunscreen, etc.), but that just sort of are what they are, and feel like non-negotiables. Much of women's famed performance of gender isn't so much a celebration of femininity as... a way to make the least effort possible to look acceptable in society. Femininity can seem like a burden quite a lot of the time, to those of us who didn't opt in. Which is why my sense is that this is a problem of terminology - transwomen didn't opt in, either. They're not - as the radfems seem to believe - men who choose to live as women. They're women who ended up -pre-transition - looking like men. Who - like cisgender women - surely know that life is easier in our society for men, but who see living as a man as just as impossible as cisgender women do.


caryatis said...

Surprisingly, I agree mostly. A "trans woman" is never going to experience femininity the same way a born woman does, but doesn't have "male privilege." Could not care less about infighting at a woman's festival. I'd rather keep my bathrooms single-sex, though. Let's see, should we make things uncomfortable for the less than 1% who are transsexual, or make things uncomfortable for the more than 99% who prefer single-sex bathrooms?

"see living as a man as just as impossible as cisgender women do"

I don't think living as a man would be impossible. If that was what society expected me to do, sure, I could cut my hair and give up dresses. As long as I get to have sex with men, who cares about the superficial accoutrements? I'm inclined to think that deep dissatisfaction with one's gender, whichever it is, is a sign of an underlying psychological problem. We can sympathize with the real suffering of transsexuals without accepting their theory of gender.

Phoebe said...

What I meant re: seeing being a man as impossible is, I don't feel this is something I could ever possibly choose to become. It's not that I'd object, it just seems... impossible. My sense, then, is that a transwoman would see it as impossible for her to be male, despite having the physical attributes of a man (pre-transition, that is) and a life-thus-far of going by male pronouns, being received as male, etc.

As for "theory of gender" aspects to this, I think there's a sensible compromise position. One that doesn't hold it as offensive to whichever minute population of pregnant men to say that "women" can get pregnant, but that still involves being respectful of the gender people identify as, using the desired pronoun, that sort of thing.

Where it gets complicated is when it comes to romance, orientation, etc. I remember a scandal from a while back over a woman announcing that she was only interested in dating women and transmen. And this was seen as unfairly lumping transmen into the category of "women." And... I'm not entirely sure that sexual orientation is, for everyone, more about gender than biological sex. It's a nice idea that it would be, and I suppose it is for some people, but is it always thus? When people stay with a spouse across a transition, is it because they're bisexual, or because they love their partner that much as a person, or is it maybe because the gender their spouse felt was never as important as the sex their spouse was?

caryatis said...

"I remember a scandal from a while back over a woman announcing that she was only interested in dating women and transmen."

Does that mean people with vaginas? Or "persons of non-male gender", as a terrible article I read recently put it. Let's see, would you rather be with a person who fulfilled a socially male role but had a female-like body, or the converse? I guess the male role is more important for me. I could learn how to deal with a vagina.

Pronouns are complicated because, by using e.g. "she," aren't you implicitly endorsing the transsexual's belief that "she" is a woman? When "her" biological sex and gender experience say otherwise. When it comes down to it, I'd rather not be rude even if I have to implicitly lie, though. Although I have never been confronted with one of those people who feel entitled to make up their own extra-special pronoun, ugh, how arrogant can you get.