Content Warning: Transphobia; gender/body dysphoria; reference to suicide.
When the hell did this become a transgender blog? I remember when I used to post light-hearted comedic posts actually no I don’t forget that.
Tonight I wanted to blog a little bit on… I don’t know what you’d call it. Hashtag-Trans-Rights? It’s the… ‘debate’ — let’s call it a ‘debate’ — over whether or not trans people have the right to exist and express who they are and live according to their understanding of themselves.
There is a debate online — particularly on Twitter, that toxic, noxious anus of a social media platform — whereby this question is being wrangled back and forth. There is an argument that trans people are not really what they say they are and that they’re doing it for various nefarious reasons… I’m not entirely sure what those reasons are. Some people seem to be suggesting that we’re doing it to get privilege of some sort? I should make clear I’m talking primarily here about trans women, who are the focus of this ‘debate’. Now not for one moment am I going to suggest that trans men have an easy time of it. However, it is fair to say, I think, that this particular difficulty — i.e. the hostility that is directed from certain non-trans people — certain political agitators…
Terfs, okay? I’m talking about terfs.
This is a word that we aren’t allowed to use because it’s a slur.
‘Terf’, if you haven’t heard the expression before, is an acronym standing for ‘Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist’; and this is accurately descriptive of a certain group of mostly women, but also numerous men* who represent themselves as feminists fighting for women’s rights. That fight is, of course, still a necessary one, because as any reasonably non-partisan assessment of our society will show, there is still quite obviously a lot of disparity that still needs to be addressed.
[* Very sadly, Father Ted co-writer Graham Linehan has embraced a burgeoning post-comedy career as a professional online hater of trans people, all in the name of defending ‘real women’, making him a terf.]
This is not a tirade against feminism. Most trans women in my experience are strongly feminist, because they are women and feel an affinity with the cause; and even aside that, many men are effective and determined feminists as well. As a trans woman, I am, for the record, all for genuine, honest, inclusive feminism.
Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists — terfs — generally refuse to acknowledge that trans women are women, because they, the terfs, are entirely focused on a person’s physical attributes. They cannot or will not see past what a person looks like to them. They have in their heads a fixed profile of “what a woman looks like”. And to some extent there are certain attributes that people will use, mostly unconsciously, to differentiate, because people do. I know trans advocates say we shouldn’t assume someone’s gender, but we do: we’re human and we perceive the world in terms of patterns. I’m a trans person and I do it myself. There is always a moment on first meeting someone where my brain makes that snap judgement as to whether the person I’m talking to is male or female — but I do try at least to bear in mind the possibility of variance, even then, and try to take care in how I actually treat them. But I won’t deny my brain normally makes that snap judgement call before I take a second to override it.
In other words I don’t blame terfs for having brains that do likewise. I can’t. But where our moral structures diverge is in what happens after that initial unconscious assessment.
See, terfs — or, as they prefer to be called, “gender-critical feminists” — are people who do not want to mess about with that sort of nonsense. As far as they are concerned there are MEN and there are WOMEN. Men look like this; women look like that. Men behave like this; women behave like that. Men think like this; women think like that. And it’s all determined by those invariable physical attributes; that one of two possible profiles into which all people must fit in the worldview of a terf.
Essentially, terfs are concerned pretty much exclusively with what a person is packing between their legs. That is the be-all and end-all of whether you are a woman or not, and all the other characteristics must match up. It is not how you act, how you think, what concerns you, what you want in life, what you’re afraid of. It’s not any of this stuff. It’s not how you think the world should work or what you hope for or what you want to be within that world. It’s none of this philosophical nonsense. It’s just, simply, do you have a penis, or do you have a vagina?
If you have a vagina your world has to look a certain way. You have a certain set of opportunities and restrictions, and a corresponding set of responsibilities and roles to play. If you have a penis, you are opposed to women’s rights, you are misogynistic, you are an abuser; and it follows then that the only reason that a man might “dress up as a woman” — which is how terfs view trans women, particularly those who haven’t been through gender corrective surgery and so probably still have a penis — is in order to enable or facilitate abuse of individual women or of women as a whole, stereotypically by using their dressing-up ability to infiltrate women-only safe spaces. (The current moral panic, many times debunked, is that men will claim to be trans women in order to gain entry to women’s rest rooms to abuse women — something that has never once been recorded as having happened, and has even been admitted to be a made-up scare story invented by an anti-trans campaign group.)
And I should put in at this point that in all this I’m leaving unspoken a whole different swathe of concerns and challenges faced by non-binary trans people. I’m not in any way trying to suggest NB people don’t have an enormous amount of shit to deal with themselves — but I am not really entitled to speak to the non-binary experience. I have not had that experience. I am a binary trans woman, meaning that I am — to invoke a phrase now considered very outdated, but one that does describe my individual experience quite well — a “woman who was born in the wrong body”. That is not an adequate description of the trans experience on average, but it is my experience. My body was that of a man; but my mind was that of a woman.
So I made some alterations that made my body a little bit closer to what it should have been, and I feel better for it. That’s my experience as a binary trans woman. I don’t have the necessary experience to speak for the enbies, and I would not try. I am not ignoring them in this post, but I am not speaking for them.
Where the fuck was I?
Oh, yeah. So terfs look at us and they see “men dressing up as women”. They do not see what trans people go through. They do not see what is in those people’s minds. They do not see the effort that those people go to to try to present themselves according to society’s mandated profile of what a woman should look like — the exact profile that terfs are so determined to enforce. They do not see the absolute torture that trans people endure when they cannot reach those standards to their own satisfaction.
I’ve been lucky in some respects. I am a big person — but I’m told, by people I trust, that by and large I am not an overly masculine individual. In that respect I’ve been very lucky. I started transitioning at 38. Thirty-eight years of letting testosterone wreak its savage havoc on my body, and I still got away relatively lightly. Relatively. I’m not a womanly woman, by any means; but I can just about — just — manage, if people are predisposed to be kind. And I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by some very kind people: family, friends, colleagues – all have been very supportive of me and I will always be grateful for it.
But there are trans women who have not been as fortunate as I have. In terms of the end result of transition there are trans women who have been a damn sight luckier than me, who look gorgeous… But there are some — many — who struggle more than I do. And even I, having said how much I appreciate my good fortune in some respects, even I struggle when I know or think I’m not matching that profile as well as I should. For example, I’m not happy with my voice. And it’s not through want of poor Barbara trying to voice-therap me into speaking with a more feminine voice; she did her very, very best but I was too self-conscious and I couldn’t bring myself to do the exercises.
I also still grow facial hair. I’ve had a few rounds of laser and electrolysis but not enough to make a difference, and I can’t afford enough to make a difference. So it’s makeup for me for the foreseeable future. Which never looks good on me anyway.
I’m not especially happy with my body shape. It’s not as bad as it was — it’s improved considerably. I’d have liked bigger boobs. I’d have like bigger hips. Don’t get me wrong, I’m aware this particular bit isn’t exclusive to the trans experience; I’m conscious anyone can go through this kind of stuff. But there are things I don’t like about myself. Don’t like my jawline or my chin.
My body hurts frequently and there’s discomfort most of the time, albeit mostly quite mild.
Point is, even despite the above, I’m still relatively lucky. There are people who feel they fall too far short of that standard that society tells them they should reach.
And I can’t help but think about Becca at this point. About the note that she left. Which as far as I know is no longer accessible — I guess one of her family or someone took over her blog and locked it down, which of course was their decision to make and they had to do what was best and right for them. But I read that note. I felt obliged: I didn’t know her prior to her death but she was — at least in some ways — someone like me, and she wanted to be heard. It was a long note, and detailed. And even so I won’t claim to understand exactly how she felt. There may be parallels — more than is comfortable — but some of her reasons were still things I’ve been very fortunate not to experience. But unhappiness at herself, who she was, how she felt she presented, and was perceived, and the difficulty she had with that, all featured strongly. And that’s the point: that is the state of mind that somebody can find themselves in, when they themselves don’t think that they measure up to society’s standards. That was how she felt about herself. And a person might well be in that position even before they start listening to terfs and the like, who will make declarations, who will decide what the standard is that that person must measure up to. The terfs and their fellow-travellers will take that right, that authority, upon themselves, and they will say, “You don’t look like we want you to look, so we’re not going to accept you as the person you’re telling us that you are.”
And terfs don’t care, because they have a worldview, a simple template for everyone that you must fit. And if you don’t fit that template, they don’t care about you. They don’t care about your dignity, your humanity, your health, or your life. They don’t care about the fact that you may already be suffering. They don’t care about the frustration that you may be feeling every moment of every day. They don’t care that to hear your own voice, or see your own reflection, may be agony for you. They don’t care how hard you may be finding it simply to be yourself. And they absolutely do not care if you wind up standing…
They don’t care about you. They’re not interested in you, because you don’t look right. You don’t sound right. You have the wrong bodily features. And that upsets their world template and makes them uncomfortable. And why should they be uncomfortable, eh? Why does everything always have to be about you, trans people?
So they’ll ‘debate’ you. If you’re there, they’ll question you as to why you think you’re entitled to express who you are when they disagree with you. They’ll demand evidence, scientific evidence to prove transgender people really exist; that gender dysphoria is a real thing… But of course they don’t want the word of trans people, because they’re all in on it. They don’t want the words of trans allies, because they’re brainwashed. They don’t want the words of the medical professionals around the world who accept the reality — often the painful reality — of gender incongruence, because they’re making money out of it, or something.
And, eventually, the conversation excludes trans people altogether — inevitably, because trans people aren’t real, so it’s proper to ignore them while the terfs, the gatekeepers of rigid gender roles, decide what the trans people who don’t matter anyway can be allowed to do, and be, and think, and want. And if trans people die — if they’re murdered or if they kill themselves — well, why worry? They were never authentic anyway.
But we’re not supposed to call them ‘terfs’, because that’s a slur. And we mustn’t make them uncomfortable, must we?
Okay. Deep breaths.
Wow, this got quite dark, didn’t it?
You know what? I’m quite wound up now. Think I’m going to go shoot some space pirates like a proper LAY-DEE.