I am a Woman. You are a Trans Woman. And That Distinction Matters.

I want to preface this by saying that I’m not a trans woman, nor a woman, but a trans man. I know I can never fully engage in this conversation from a position of empathy or true understanding, but I have strong feelings about it, perhaps because I’m trans, and so feel a sort of kinship with trans women, as much as I can. I was also raised and socialised as a woman, and went about the world perceived and treated as a woman, for twenty-five years before I transitioned. So, I wanted to respond.

I found your article very interesting. It provoked a lot of thought about classification, spaces, separation, and inclusiveness.

I do want to challenge some of the points you make, not in a spirit of anger or an attempt to silence or stifle, but in a spirit of, as you say, open conversation. I agree that we shouldn’t deny our differences, whether it be between trans and cis men, trans and cis women, cis men and cis women. In some instances, we should even celebrate them. I do, however, strongly feel that to dwell on some of these differences in certain ways is unproductive and even harmful.

I’m sad that you’ve been mis-treated for expressing your thoughts. I’m even more sad that trans people have spoken to you harshly, unfairly, or cruelly. I can only speculate that the motivation for their words (and this is not to condone hateful speech) is borne of a newer and rawer response to the hatred of society at large. Women have been fighting for acceptance and equality for centuries, and it’s a disgraceful failure of society that they haven’t yet achieved it. Trans women have only been acknowledged as women in the last decade or so. The battle is still in its early days, and emotions are running high.

There are undoubtedly differences in life experience between trans and cis women, but to emphasise differences in anatomy is, I think, to fundamentally misunderstand what it means to be trans.

I firmly believe that there’s no difference between trans and cis women that would justify separating them in physical space. I want to ask, what is the distinction between trans women and cis women you perceive that makes you ask for cis-women only spaces? Do you feel unsafe around trans women? If so, I must point out that though I can’t stop you feeling it, this is a completely unjustified fear. Do you feel unsafe around them because they may have a penis? Again, I am so very, very sad that cis men have sent you unsolicited pictures of their genitals and instilled fear and disgust in you this way, but this is entirely unrelated to whatever trans women might have between their legs. Those trans women you wish to exclude from ‘cis’ spaces have never sent you pictures of their genitals. They likely have a vastly different relationship to their genitals than those men who sent you those pictures. When you look at them, if you see their genitals, rather than their femininity, and their right to womanhood, then I do believe that is a type of discrimination, whether or not you may perceive or intend it as such. Rape is beyond terrible, but in an age of cyber-information in which anything and everything is logged and reported, I can’t find a single recorded case in which a trans woman has raped a cis woman. I think fear is a legitimate thing, and should be acknowledged and addressed, but I also think we should strive to intellectually overcome irrational fears. In short, I think it’s okay to be afraid, but not okay to make other, unassuming, innocent people feel frightening.

Language is a tricky area, to put it mildly. I think we need to embrace language change, and encourage and open our minds to more inclusiveness. Demanding that people use a certain term or definition is, I agree, oppressive. But when we learn new things about humanity and create or modify language to accommodate this, I can’t see how anyone could view this as oppression. Your words about Caitlyn Jenner made me a little uncomfortable. She hasn’t ‘been a man’ at all. She’s always been a woman, for all her years on this planet, even before she felt equipped to let people know. This is what being a trans woman is. When you say she won the award ‘over women’, when you are so careful elsewhere, perhaps it’s a slip that reveals that you really think the definition of ‘woman’ is ‘cis woman’. I felt the same when you wrote, ‘don’t ask for trans only safe spaces and then also try to force your way into women only spaces’. Do you really think only cis women are women? Do you really think that when trans women ask for access to these spaces, they are trying to ‘force’ their way in, or do you think they’re simply seeking acceptance, and somewhere they feel a sense of belonging? What harm do you think they mean to do? Or do would you be open to the idea that they simply wish to share their own experience of femininity, and feel safe in that space, just as you do?

I’m not sure I understand the link you make between encouraging medical professionals to use a more gender-neutral term than ‘mother’ and discrimination against cis female parents. Yes, the word ‘mother’ is wonderful in all it implies. And I don’t think anyone is discouraging a mother from identifying as such, or invalidating a cis mother because a doctor might use a less-specific term. I think that adopting more neutral language in a clinical setting is a sensible measure to prevent some people from feeling wrongly-acknowledged or downright excluded.

I take issue, too, with your term ‘invading’, when referring to trans women on infertility forums. Again, I can’t see how you view someone trans joining a traditionally cis conversation is a bad thing, when you yourself as a cis person are so strongly weighing in on trans issues (for the record, I think both should be embraced). I think trans women simply want to reach out to someone to talk about the awful pain of being unable to bear a child in their body, albeit a different type of bereft feeling than that experienced by someone born with a uterus. I can’t imagine any trans woman logging on to such a forum with the thought of invasion.

What you say about the temporary, past male privilege of trans women, perhaps is true in some cases. But in others, these trans women were persecuted for having perceived ‘feminine’ traits. And in all cases, these people so strongly identified with womanhood that they gave up their male privilege (and their cis privilege) to embrace their true gender. If you truly acknowledge them as women, surely you can acknowledge this.

Lastly, I’d like to ask you, because I’m truly curious and conflicted about this myself — where do trans men fit into your views? Do you believe, because I was born with a vagina and uterus and lived for twenty-five years feeling all the vulnerabilities, physical challenges and societal treatment associated with it (I’ve now had bottom surgery), that I have the right to speak more from the point of view of a cis woman, or of a cis man?

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