In you, I see the girls who spat in my face as I walked home from school.
In me, you see every man who has ever treated you like a lesser being.
In you, I see the boys who always wanted to pick a fight.
In me, you see someone who just won’t listen.
In you, I see my father, a man I’ve always considered to be wise and thoughtful, telling me that I’ll be outed by the press and kicked out of university for using the women’s toilets if I transition after my A-levels.
In me, you see a forceful male penetration into women’s spaces.
In you, I see a hundred tabloid headlines screaming “tranny”.
In me, you see a blind adherence to the oppressive system of binary gender.
In you, I see the doctor who tells me what I can and can’t do with my body.
In me, you see the stooge of a patriarchal medical system.
In you, I see friends who have been beaten or raped before being told by authority figures that they brought it on themselves.
In me, you see a systematic desire to control and define womanhood.
In you, I see a systematic desire to control and define womanhood.
How do we bridge this impossible divide?
My truth and your truth are both derived from a fierce feminism, but somehow remain diametrically opposed. How is it that we can disagree so much over the existence of a feminist conference for “women born women living as women”?
I would tell you that my subconscious sex, the mental matrix that somehow marks the flesh I expect to see and feel when I behold myself, maps snugly onto the body I have inhabited since undergoing hormone therapy and genital reconstruction. I would tell you that for the last three years I have been happy and at ease with myself in a way I could never have been before.
I would tell you that I am a woman because I identify as a woman, I move through the world as a woman, and in this sense I have been a woman my entire adult life. I would tell you that I don’t even know what it’s like to be a man because that’s something I’ve simply never experienced. I do know what it’s like to be a teenage trans girl faking it as a boy though, and I can tell you that isn’t a whole lot of fun. I would tell you that trans women who transition later in life tend to encounter more significant challenges than I did, and that they are no less a woman for this.
I would tell you that yes, I agree that gender is a social construct that ascribes hegemonic power to the masculine. I would tell you that I, like you, am forced to negotiate a society where we cannot simply reject gender because we are gendered constantly by others. The body I inhabit, the things I enjoy, the manner in which I communicate, the clothes I prefer to wear fit better into the artificial category of “woman” than the artificial category of “man”.
I would tell you that “trans” is an aspect of my womanhood: womanhood is not an aspect of my transness. I am a woman who happens to be trans.
I would tell you that when I was with a woman, she loved me as a woman. Now I am with a man, he loves me as a man. I am entirely at ease with my bisexuality.
I would tell you that I reject outdated ideals of “appropriate” female behaviour. I don’t see why I should take on a submissive role within society, although I do feel it is important to recognise the voices of others and listen in a sisterly fashion. I do not see why I should dress in a particular feminine fashion, wear make-up or force myself into uncomfortable shoes, but reserve the right to occasionally dress “femme” when the mood takes me.
I would tell you that I rage against sexism and misogyny at every possible opportunity. I have dedicated a great deal of time fighting in solidarity alongside my feminist sisters for equality, for liberation, for choice.
I would tell you that I, too am subject to sexism and misogyny in many of their vile forms. My transness does not spare me. I would also tell you that I have experienced worse for being trans than I have for being a woman, although these unpleasant experiences have been limited by the privileges that come with my class status and the colour of my skin.
I would tell you that I believe in the importance of women’s spaces. I would argue that no group of women should be rejected from such a space.
I would tell you that this is my truth, and that there is no universal trans truth. That some trans people feel their gender is essential and innate, whilst others reject gender entirely, and so many occupy a myriad of positions between these poles. I would ask you to acknowledge the diversity and complexity of trans truths.
And you would tell me your truth. You would tell me of the pain that comes from growing up as a girl and then a woman in a patriarchal world. You would tell me that I can never know what this is like, that I will always be a man, that my chromosomes and life experience alike cannot be erased. You would tell me that you have a right to organise without me. That I should just leave you alone.
And the argument could roll on for a long time. For instance, I might draw upon the wisdom of black feminist thinkers to argue that there is no universal experience of womanhood. And you might argue that I, nevertheless, will always have with me the male privilege that comes with being raised as a boy. And I would say yes, I accept that, but I seek to acknowledge and check this in the same way I seek to acknowledge and check my other privileges, and moreover this intersects complexly with the oppression I experienced growing up as a young trans person, unable to access hegemonic forms of masculinity.
Where does this leave us?
At the end of the day, we have to draw a line in the sand. So you have your conference, and I am explicitly excluded. But I necessarily object to your conference, because you not only reject me on grounds that trouble me, but you invite a speaker who actively opposes my liberation.
So I am left with no choice but to actively oppose the public manifestation of opinions that will do harm to myself and my friends and my trans sisters and my trans brothers and my queer and/or non-gender-specific trans siblings.
I oppose you not because I hate you, and certainly not because I oppose feminism. I oppose you because you would cause me harm.
And in doing so, you believe that I cause you harm.
And so the dance goes on.
TRIGGER WARNING:comments contain upsetting language, erasure etc.