Backstory: I was born male but I’ve been living as a girl/woman for over half of my life now, and I’ve read a lot of radical feminist texts. In fact, the first feminist book I read was Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse, when I was 15. So I’ve been thinking about radical feminism for even longer than I’ve been transsexual! This post is kind of long, because it takes a while to build a foundation. Please try to read the whole thing!
My understanding of radical feminism, and why transwomen are different from females
Radical feminism is based on the analysis that females as a sex class are oppressed by males as a sex class. It’s not about individuals. If you don’t believe that patriarchy exists, you might want to review statistics about violent crime world-wide. It’s overwhelmingly perpetrated by males against females. But I’ll assume you (the reader) already know this.
Since you do believe that patriarchy exists, then you have to acknowledge that on average, trans women grew up with male privilege. Trans women who were visibly gender non-conforming in childhood probably suffered oppression for being gender non-conforming. But many/most trans women live outwardly as gender conforming boys/men up until their “discovery” of their trans identity. In fact, many trans women live as men into their 30’s, working as men in male-dominated fields, marrying women and fathering children. Hint: that’s not ‘female privilege!’
Since trans women grow up with male privilege, which is a totally different way of seeing the world, it’s legitimate to differentiate between females and transwomen. Female socialization means “you’re not a full human being.” For females, that starts at birth, and continues in your adult life. Transwomen as a class don’t experience that socialization from birth. In fact, we don’t experience it until we began passing as female. After all, gender is an assigned characteristic based on perceived sex, not an identity.
Since transwomen and females are legitimately different in important ways (socialization, biology), it’s to the benefit of all women (both female and trans-) that we have spaces exclusive to our own kind. Females need somewhere to unpack the bullshit around being female socialized from birth. Transwomen need somewhere to discuss the whole of our lives, including the parts when we lived as boys/men, without fear of that discussion changing the way people perceive our gender.
So wbw is not transphobic – it’s not even about us! The least we can do as (trans) women is to support our female sisters. If we don’t support them, why should they support us?
So, let’s consider some practical implications. I think it’s valid and important for females to have wbw spaces – in my mind, this means things like MWMF, Radfem2013, and female-only discussion groups, whether it’s a book club, a survivors of CSA group, or whatever. If a group of women invites a transwomen to join them, great. But transwomen don’t have any “right” to female space – please! That’s like complaining to the teacher in elementary school that some “mean kids” left you out, and then the teacher tells those kids they “have to be” friends with you.
Transwomen shouldn’t use women’s locker rooms (or other spaces where people get naked) unless they pass, and they’re discrete enough that no one notices if they’re preop. Sorry but penis doesn’t belong in female space, even if it’s on someone who’s perceived to be a woman. That’s just out of safe-space considerations for females who’ve been raped. Likewise, the presence of a transwoman who’s obviously male in a space where women are naked is also triggering for obvious reasons. Whether or not a non-passing transwoman has had surgery doesn’t matter in this case, unfortunately.
Bathrooms are a little more flexible, since there’s no expectation of nudity. My perspective is that the right time to switch public bathrooms is when you’re likely to cause less commotion in one than the other. But this has to be reality-based. A while ago Cathy Brennan posted an incredible story of a transwoman who was asked to leave the women’s bathroom. She described her encounter with the security guard: “When I said it had never caused a problem before, and no-one has either noticed or cared I was trans, he replied that they noticed – implying that I do not pass as a woman, which I don’t believe is correct.” Hahaha we don’t get to decide if we pass, that’s up to other people!
That said, we as transwomen need to stop pretending that it “never happens” that trans women use bathrooms and locker rooms for “improper purposes”. We need to call these people out! If we don’t do the difficult work of policing the boundaries of our community by calling Colleen Francis a male sex predator, or calling out Reed Barrow aka sissytgkristal or whatever, then trans gets redefined as “sexually predatory males.”
Likewise, we need to call out the anti-lesbian rape apologists, like Morgan Paige, Julia Serrano, Savanah Garmond aka leftytgirl, etc. We also need to call out trans women who advocate physical violence against females – that would be Monica Roberts, Kinsey Hope/genderbitch, Anthony Casebaer, Char the butcher, etc.
You may have noticed a pattern, which is that all of these people have been profiled on pretendbians. (Except genderbitch, who definitely should be.) So, I actually don’t support pretendbians being taken down, until these people change their behavior! Maybe it’s not the place of a non-trans-identified lesbian to do the callouts, but since the trans community has failed, I’m glad someone is doing it.
How this effected me personally
I personally experienced male privilege growing up, because my interests in technical fields (which translates to high-paying career in adulthood) were encouraged. Nobody said “You like math, you should be a teacher!”, they said “You like math, you should be a scientist!” That’s a pay difference of about $70k btw. It’s kind of the definition of patriarchal bullshit in elementary school education!
I also personally experienced a lot of prejudice because in middle and high school, I was gender non-conforming. This came in the form of verbal and physical harassment, both by students and by teachers and school administrators. It really messed up my self-worth, and unfortunately I still haven’t recovered 100% from that.
Despite the occasional physical abuse I experienced, my physiology allowed me a much greater sense of physical safety than many of my female friends in general – I was taller, I had broader shoulders, I had more upper body strength, and I wasn’t worried about getting raped, since I didn’t have a vagina. I also had the first 13 years of my life when I wasn’t as obviously gender non-conforming, where I had felt sure of the physical integrity of my body. In contrast, I had a number of female friends who were sexually abused as children. CSA is much more common among females, btw! It’s related to that patriarchy thing.
So, the privilege and the oppression didn’t just “cancel each other out” – rather, they intersected in some complicated ways, which for obvious reasons is the definition of intersectionality!
My first introduction to gay and lesbian theory was to radical feminism, thank god! I later got swept up in queer theory, but I had to discard it eventually since it failed to explain the world I live in. 99% of the people in the world base their definitions of man and woman on physical sex, and secondarily on conformance with sex roles. Trans theory assumes that a tiny fraction of the population gets to make up new definitions which have nothing to do with anything, and everyone else is wrong! That analysis left me really depressed, because it’s so in conflict with the real world, so I discarded it.
Recently I’ve taken up radical feminist analysis again. It’s challenging to me but ultimately feels a lot more liberatory. I am a male who lives as a woman. I’m never going to not be male. By accepting that fact, it can’t hurt me any more. That doesn’t mean I’m going to be out all the time. It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop hanging out with women and “go back to my roots” by joining a men’s movement group (lol). But it means that maybe I have some hope of finding peace in my life.
I don’t know “why” I’m trans. At this point, it happened a lot time ago, and it’s kind of a done deal. Were my motivations “correct”? I don’t know. I definitely said some sexist bullshit when I was a teenager and thinking about transitioning! All I know now is that I’m happier at this point in my life than I’ve ever been, so I probably made the right decisions.
I’m very selective about who I talk about being trans with irl, because I know how the rumor mill works, and I know how people will change their behavior towards me when they find out I’m transsexual. The only way to cut that bullshit out that I have found, was to not talk about being transsexual irl. I also cut a lot of people out of my life, over the many years after I transitioned.
That means life is kind of lonely sometimes, but thank god I have tumblr, other internet communities, a few irl trans friends who I intentionally sought out, and a few special female friends who I can talk about it with.