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

I highlighted several things in your article, not because I agree with them per se, but because they have been stumbling blocks for me in the past. I say this as someone who is for all intents and purposes a cis woman, although had I grown up in a different time or place, I might have self defined as genderqueer (I don’t see the point now — I’m pretty entrenched in the feminine identity I assumed, and almost nobody is going to see anything else when they look at me).

To paraphrase one of your points, you do not want to see a penis, no matter to whom it belongs, in a woman-only space, and this is because of the trauma that men have caused you. Do I have that right?

Here’s the thing: it’s not that you don’t have the right to say that you are traumatized by the unexpected sight of a penis and therefore don’t want to see them. Frankly, I don’t want to see a penis that I’m not expecting, either, for pretty much the same reasons. But I don’t object to trans women who have penises being in women-only changing (or other naked or semi-naked) spaces because I already expect, if an adult person is in that space, they’re a woman, and nothing I see is going to change my belief in that, if that person’s behavior is not in question. Frankly, when I am in a changing or other naked/semi-naked space, unless that space is predefined as sexual, I’m probably not going to notice anyone’s genitals. Have you actually SEEN a penis or penises in these situations and were upset by them? I’m not saying you haven’t, but I’m wondering to what extent this is a hypothetical argument.

One thing all trans people know that you may not is that you have already been in such a space with a trans person in the past, possibly many different times, and you didn’t realize. You yourself have said that you are not upset by trans women in women-only spaces (in terms of changing, anyway), but by penises. And this is why what you are really saying is that women with penises are not, to you, women…because if you saw them as women, you would not be traumatized by them, since your trauma has been caused by men (according to you). When you see a flash of a penis while you’re changing, you think “man” and therefore feel unsafe, completely despite the point that the person in question is a woman who has a penis. You’ve denied her womanhood altogether. That’s also pretty traumatizing for her, and it’s a trauma that trans women have to think about every time they step into such a space.

You are correct in saying that your experience of being a woman is very different from that of a trans woman. But you can’t say that as a cis woman (I’m not going to use the term “natal born woman” because it doesn’t mean anything; “natal” and “born” just both mean “born”, whereas cisgender actually means “identifying with one’s gender assigned at birth”). You can’t, because your experience of being a woman is also very different from my experience of being a woman and in fact from every woman’s experience of being a woman. There is no “cis experience”. There’s no “trans experience” either, as New York State found out when they decided some gender-related medical procedures would be covered under Medicaid while others are considered “merely” cosmetic and are not covered…yet are considered more important by some trans persons. Every woman’s womanhood is different.

There are definitely trans people (such as Helen Highwater) who do not identify as a gender at all, but they also can’t say that their experience is valid for every trans person. As much as you, the more privileged person, does not want to be oppressed, you are yourself oppressing trans people by trying to put them all in one neatly labeled box, but this label won’t stick.

I still have kneejerk phobic reactions. When I read the article I referenced above, one of the first thoughts in my mind was, “Wow, I don’t look the way I want to either, but nobody’s paying for my face work,” which is true but which misses the point that no amount of cosmetic surgery is going to make me feel more or less like a “real woman” than I already do, because nobody has ever questioned that I am, in fact, a woman — but it does make the difference for some trans women, while the same trans women might or might not care about getting rid of their penises; to them, a penis doesn’t make them question their gender identity because nobody (except people they already feel safe with) is going to see that. (That isn’t the only reason some trans women don’t want to get “the surgery”, and not the one given by the woman profiled in the story, but it’s one I’ve heard mentioned.) This particular kneejerk reaction is, as are most kneejerks, related to past trauma; in this case it’s due to having been told I’m not pretty or attractive enough to be considered desirable to some male. That’s valid, but it doesn’t mean it’s more important than a trans woman’s need to be able to present her gender believably without having to be rich enough to pay for cosmetic surgery…just like your penis/man trauma is not more important than a trans woman’s need to change her clothes in a safe space.

We cis women are oppressed as women, but we are privileged compared to trans women. Therefore we cannot be oppressed by them; if you feel oppressed by trans women it is because you are equating them to men in your mind at least sometimes. That makes you part of the problem, not part of the solution, no matter how much time or energy you might spend advocating for trans people at other times. That doesn’t make you bad; it means you’ve made a mistake, and you need to realize it, rather than creating these straw arguments and accusing trans people of oppressing women.

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