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

Heyo. So, I’m a trans man. When talking about trans issues & how they relate to feminism, people don’t usually think of me. I think this is an important conversation, and your voice as a feminist has value in this conversation. But we are working from a different framework, and I’d like to explain to you a bit more of the perspective of us trans people, if you’re willing to put up with a few paragraphs of mansplaining.

By your metrics, my uterus makes me more of a member of the sisterhood of women than a trans woman — that being raised as a girl & the oppression specific to my genitals is irrevocably more important to the way I experience the world than my gender identity.

That doesn’t track with my experience, though, because the rest of the world doesn’t see me that way. Most people have no idea that I’m transgender. For the vast majority of my life, most people have no idea what my genitals are, and they’re more than happy to assume I’m a cis man, and afford me all of the privileges thereof. Once I started passing as a man, the difference in how people treated me was significant — my relationships with other men, my own sense of safety on the street, the way people react to my opinionated & outspoken personality — all of them changed, drastically. I’m sure you can imagine the difference in these everyday experiences, between how the world treats women vs men. I think it’s about as much proof to the existence of sexism & microaggressions as you can really get. I can say for sure that, as a person of general self-awareness, I definitely do not face the kinds of shit that women do on the daily.

Even before that, my experience with womanhood wasn’t the same as that of a cis woman. Even when I was a child, before I knew what “transgender” was, before I understood the burden of sexism, being a girl just didn’t fit me. I’ve wanted to be a boy for as long as I’ve been a conscious, thinking person. I haven’t been a girl, at any point in my life — I’ve been treated like one, sure, but the dissonance between “the way people treat me” and “the way I perceive myself” has always existed, and the sexism thrown at me growing up was filtered through my sense of self. This is a wholly different perspective than that experienced by a young woman trying to find her way in a sexist world. I see this asserted time and time again, that the life of a cis man is effectively identical to the life of a closeted (or as-yet-undiscovered, since for some of us, it takes a while to put a name to the feeling) trans woman, and that just doesn’t track.

To understand what it feels like to be transgender, don’t try to imagine yourself as the opposite gender, but rather that everyone around you just thinks you are the opposite gender, and won’t believe you when you tell them otherwise. How must it feel, to be a young woman constantly told that she is a man, to be punished for behaving like a young woman? What do you do — risk the punishment in order to feel like yourself, to live wholly and to feel a coherent sense of self, or don the mask every day to ride out the privilege as long as it lasts and hope that no one notices that it’s an act?

If you want to see how trans women are materially affected by privilege, you can just look at the statistics — they’re not doing well, in comparison to cis men or women. Something like 40% of transgender people attempt suicide, and in many places it’s still perfectly legal to fire us for being transgender. The pressure to be conventionally attractive, to take up as little space as possible, to be sexy-but-not-slutty (with the added knowledge that the “gay panic defense” will still hold up in court in many states, should they go to bed with someone who decides to get violent.), etc etc are levied at trans women just as hard. Conforming to conventional beauty standards can be a survival necessity for some trans women, and the pressure to prove their gender through performing femininity is immense. Finding good healthcare is still incredibly difficult (How many OBGYNs do you think know how to care for a post-op trans woman? None of the ones in my area know what to do with me, a pre-op trans man with a uterus and a vagina, so I can’t say trans healthcare is common knowledge). Rape culture applies to trans women. All the fraught feelings about menstruation and motherhood that some women deal with, some trans women also deal with, complicated by anatomy. They even face risk of genital mutilation, in the form of circumcision.

On some things, yes — experience does matter. On some things, our experiences are just different, and the issues that arise for each group deserve to have their own space to relate and to talk about what they face. The specific question of how the lesbian community should best handle the inclusion of trans women is a very difficult question that is beyond me to try and answer, because I’ve heard from many lesbians about it, both cis and trans.

But trans women are not the enemy in this pursuit —they just don’t experience male privilege the way that men do. They absolutely do not equate to men invading your space, and I think you’ll find that, if you’ll spend time with them, your experiences with sexism and oppression is more similar than not. It’s not transphobic to say, “hey, our experiences are different, let’s talk about that openly & honestly”, but it is transphobic to behave as if womanhood is tied more to the physical body than anything else, or that trans women are just former-men, or that trans women looking for acceptance within spaces for women is them acting as an arm of the patriarchy. I benefit more on the daily — materially, socially, personally — from the patriarchy than they do, by a long shot, and I’m the one with a uterus.