Part two in a series; part one is here
In the previous post I admitted to struggling with the view that trans folk are, by definition, people who have seen to the depths of the fictions gender-roles imposed on all people, and yet made a choice to perpetuate them. And I struggled with the question of whether that meant that I was transphobic.
Given that the levels of transphobia present in civil society are serious cause for trans women to want to hide and pass as ‘real’ / cis / born women, it was simplistic for me to imagine that transitioning to be a woman was only a way to reject imposed male roles. I came to understand we have to present a gender to the world to function – nonbinary people are those who can defy this, not transfolk.
Levels of misogyny in society are such that being a woman is still to be discriminated against in many areas of life, sometimes in ways so subtle that we ourselves struggle daily to make out the contours, and resort to other explanations just to get respite from feeling we are on a battle frontline. The good news is, even though the trans debate has divided women, is has forced the question of the ontology of sex and gender back onto our agenda, which is something to make the best of.
Meanwhile, although there are many types of woman, many types of man, many types of transfolk, at the moment what I can see standing out are two types of trans woman and two types of cis-woman. I apologise if it sounds like this overlooks loads of other people: it doesn’t, it is just an observation about some types.
There are cis women who would like to not be treated as second-class citizens by social institutions and interpersonally by men: a heterosexual marriage can enable both. There are a thousand ways a woman can work to reduce the likelihood of being treated unfairly, and not one single way to escape it completely or permanently. These are women who make a stand if they can, and frequently question whether their demands may be unreasonable or unrealistic. On the whole, they are likely to respond kindly towards a feminine-presenting trans woman on the grounds that they have a lot in common in dealing with daily life. It may be hard for a cis woman to take a trans woman’s identity seriously if she still manifests lots of masculine traits familiar to her experience, such as talking loudly over her, or being misogynistic. This dissonance is not necessarily lessened by the simple fact of rude, boorish women existing.
There are also cis women who object to trans women on principle. Perhaps, like I did, they project onto the trans woman the belief that she must have at some stage internally shattered the illusions of gender completely. For a cis woman to have engaged with a complete critique of the outward affectations of both masculine and feminine social behaviours, and then be asked to relate to someone as a woman based entirely on these ‘fictions’ can cause serious cognitive dissonance. There is an answer to this conundrum, it lies again in the relationship between sexual ontology and social realities, but that is another story.
Meanwhile instead of drilling down (or while she does), the cis woman is prepared to challenge how trans women define themselves: she wants to defend woman’s sexual ontology. This can be her proportionate response to a genuinely felt threat. The problem is that it is not the trans woman, nor her claims, nor her own authentic personhood, that truly threatens women. It is the age-old misogyny that underpins violence, aggression and exploitation of women within a masculinist social context. And it is the new-fangled patriarchal backlash against women’s improving position in civil society that would exploit any loophole to tie her up in knots once again.
As for claiming that there are two types of trans woman that stand out – I know this is crude and repeat that we are all many and varied and this is just my device to help clarify our current problem. What I see, or rather hear, is trans women who were born male but have discovered they are deeply feminine, or female (again, this is not the time to dwell on the precise meaning of these terms – later), who have struggled and wrangled with an outer man until they have prevailed. This struggle creates the potential for a deep affinity with cis women who have struggled to become self-respecting women in this real time and place, rather than doormats. This is not to suggest that we are all authentic only when we have suffered deeply. Although there are seldom human lives so blessed that suffering is alien to them, it is still lazy and counterproductive to attribute psychological and spiritual maturation to negative experiences. I suspect many trans women develop a deep empathy with the misogyny directed at women precisely through the phobia and aggressive / violent behavioural-policing directed at them whenever they express/ed their feminine qualities while being read as male.
Meanwhile there appear to be trans women who are misogynistic. If you think that’s rude, or transphobic, think again. There are many, many women who are misogynistic. There are many women who are misandrous and there are many self-hating men.
Internalised misogyny is a thing. I often feel like saying, why call it ‘internalised misogyny’? What is the point of that phrase, as if misogyny was by definition something (some) men feel about women. What rubbish. Misogyny is a set of beliefs about the badness of women – it gets updated, it gets reduced, it gets reinvented, it gets swallowed. Clearing it out of our own psyches is every bit as important as fighting it in civil society and clearing men’s and women’s misandry is every bit as important as that. Trans folk offer an opportunity to debate sex and gender and thereby overcome irrational fears relating to those, but that doesn’t mean they are responsible for hosting that debate.
Some trans women have gone through their (possibly arduous, painful and even life-threatening) transition under the shadow not only of machismo but also of assertive women who insist that the sex of a woman is a hard reality that cannot be bought into (so to speak) by someone born a man. Those trans women have reason to dislike or fear or even hate these opinions and those who express them, just as those women have orginally had very good reason to reject the idea that a person’s true sexuate identity can be rooted entirely in socialised, gendered traits. It goes against their belief system, which is that gendered traits are inherently oppressive, just as their own views go against the experience and belief of the transitioner, that their identity is authentic. There need not be hatred between these people over these beliefs, there can be acceptance in both directions. Happily this form of acceptance is already prevalent in society between gender critics, trans people and trans gender critics. So why harassment in the streets?
To be continued …