Do trans women have privilege?
At first you will think, all the privilege is on the cis side, but we should check our privilege. I have found arguable trans privilege. But first, a question: When did my country get so nasty? she asked.
It’s been going that way for a long time- since about 1979. That got a laugh of assent. How much we hate hearing about “Hard working families”: it is corralling the wagons, in defence against the Bad People outside. That UKIP poster is horrible, and the Tory one just as bad- vote for us, and you can drug yourself into apathy tuppence cheaper.
The woman at the bus stop was desperate to chat. As I sat on the perch, it creaked and rocked forward, and she said they should make those things safe, you know. That was enough, as I am keen to chat too. She told me of going to the convent in Lucknow, when her mother was a sergeant-cook in the Army (just before India awoke to life and freedom). Her brother was at St Joseph’s. It is still going, but it is all Indian now. She knows because it is a small world: she had been in Oxford having her brain tumour removed- she turned her head, I gently felt the scar- and she got chatting to an Indian from Lucknow. He said he had been to St Joseph’s. She would not have believed him, as it is the sort of thing they would say, but he gave sufficient detail. Then they came to Swanston, and where they lived everyone was Indian. They’re all Polish now, she said, disappointedly. Though she is a foreigner, too. Her mother was Greek. “She tried to speak English as much as possible.” All this racial stereotyping- “These people” are individuals, who react in an idiosyncratic not a monolithic way- gets to me a bit, but I forebear from challenging. I am female now. I account it privilege that she wants to start a conversation with me.
On the bus a big bloke sat beside me, and told me how cold the weather was. And it was so beautiful last week. What work do I do? Feeling no obligation to tell him the truth, I say I am an adviser. He used to drive a crane, but has not done that for years. He plays in a six piece steel band, for weddings and all occasions. He gives me a card. He would play for my wedding. Are you married? Good looking woman like you should have a fine choice of men. Do you often come into Swanston? Where do you live? He got off “to go and see a friend”, he explained, and kissed my hand.
There you go. Trans privilege. I did not feel threatened- more surprised than anything, though not particularly flattered. Perhaps, rather, it is size privilege, as any woman my height and weight would feel less bothered than someone petite. Don’t tell the TERFs I said so.
A feminist’s perspective
Then I made friends with a feminist academic, and had friendly, careful discussions about radical feminist theory. Do trans folk subvert patriarchal gender norms, or support them? In one case, she may be an ally. She believes there is trans privilege, and at first convinced me.
H was at a formal dinner, the guest of a trans woman. The trans woman was particularly glamorous, in pink silk dress, hair, makeup, nails all beautiful, performing Femininity squared. H is vegetarian, and the staff repeatedly brought her meat. The trans woman perhaps should have taken this up with the staff, as the hostess, but H felt she was behaving in a somewhat masculine manner, in care-taking. As perhaps I was, when I insisted on paying for the wine.
Then the trans woman stood to address the assembled multitude, giving a loud, extrovert, girlipink performance, like a drag queen. You may have done this yourself. It is risqué, but only to an extent. It is a queer performance of gender which the culture has just about accepted.
Trans-women, on the whole, do not get slut-shamed. H admits that I will have had shame and restrictions as a child, but we do not have the experience aged 12 or 13 of burgeoning sexual feelings along with strong social messages that they must not be acted upon.
Oh you can’t lie back
You must stay cold at heart
You must never let your feelings show
For the moment you feel it might start
Why then the only answer’s No.
Girls must be modest. The man who sleeps around is Jack the Lad. Do not disclose Lord Palmerston’s philandering, or everyone will vote for him. The woman who sleeps around is a slut. H was with Green Party activists, who referred to a Conservative candidate as “the town bike”. That shocked me, too. I would expect Greens to be sensitive to such things.
We are careful and courteous. I said I did not object to the word “transsexual” used as a noun, though some of us do. H was surprised that I was so revolted by the expression “biological woman” to mean cis-woman. It says I am not a woman. Well, maybe I am not, but the implication still hurts. In an ideal world, would people have The Operations? I explained how delighted I was to have my op, how horrified I am at the thought of losing my toe, and how I don’t think social pressures alone, strong as they are, would convince me to be castrated against the most basic survival instinct. I am not sure she accepted this. Well, I grew this breast, and the thought of losing it horrifies me as much as you- but top surgery is right for trans men.
She was an ally on the matter of autogynephilia. I explained James Cantor‘s concept of euphilia, and the thought that M-F transsexualism in gynephiles is perversion, and she said that she found that meaningless. The thought that there could be a “perversion” would mean that there was a “normal” to be perverted from. It has no relation to reality.
I loved the conversation, all four hours of it. I find her fascinating.
A week later, I have very different views. First, she complained of that trans woman making a performance like a drag queen. It is an OTT performance of gender which is accepted from trans women but not real women. To show how objectionable this is: no-one would think of saying “She did that thing you black people do” so why would anyone imagine that referring to cliché trans behaviour was OK?
And it is an Uncle Tom act. We behave in a way the cis straights expect, understand, and laugh at. I want to keep my options open, to do that, as more choices mean more freedom, but am unclear how to do it in power.
And, yes, we don’t get slut-shamed, but I was shamed out of my sexuality, seeing it as disgusting, and not having words for it: so I had four girlfriends between 18 and 30, none at school, none lasting more than two months because I could not be myself with them. Worse, not within the protection of Feminine Virtue and Honour, we are seen as available. Steve, who has some charm and intelligence but has gone to seed, old and fat, drove me home from J’s U3A games morning. He said he found me attractive and asked if I would go to bed with him. At Oldham CAB, a dirty old man, poor, a miserable specimen, propositioned our work-experience Asian girls. They had rebelled against Asian modest dress, head-scarves and all that, but had no idea how to dress as Westerners so came to work dressed to party. He said their fathers in shame should throw them out, but he would take them in; and when he saw me about his income support, he touched up my bottom. Low status as he is, he imagines me as immediately sexually available to a path…
Do you see me at all? Here am I, without a house, partner, children, savings, job, pension fund, anything, completely vulnerable,
and you call me Privileged???
J’s joky tales of Steve’s misadventures on the dating scene, which he tells her to relieve his feelings and she tells me and her husband Pete for a laugh, rub it in. He takes women for coffee, because why take them for dinner when there will be only one fuck and who wants to be stuck with someone the whole evening? One said to him she would like him as a friend, and he expostulated that he has enough friends.
-He wants a fuck-buddy. Why not advertise for that?
Some people do. One woman basically said “Here I am- Take me.” Steve has a particularly unsuitable woman, Andrea, she’s alcoholic…
Privilege I clearly have
With a shock, I realised. She’s- working class!
I had not noticed until sitting with J and another friend of hers in her kitchen. I found their conversation of little interest. Then J complained that some people resent her large house, thinking she had “got above herself”. She often comments that she and her husband have done so much of the work on the house themselves, that she has got furniture second-hand, that her (beautiful) clothes are from charity shops. Clearly some friends do not object; but the stifling pressure of fearing being judged as “getting above yourself” might prevent a person reaching her potential, or traumatise her as she left behind her social group.
I have one particular privilege: it was expected that I would go to University, and my sister did not, initially; as our teacher my father saw that our IQ scores were similar, though I have the edge; she wanted to be a nurse, not then a degree profession, and got her nursing degree in her 40s while holding down a job and caring for a family. Though she was in rebellion against our parents in her teens, and peer pressure rather than parental expectation would have been more important. I remember writing “It is time to rebel against my parents” in my diary. I was in my thirties, or at least late twenties.
And working class boys were not expected to go to university, generally, by parents or peers, though an inspiring teacher might drive them on, and one trans friend was, from her grammar school.
It is not as simple as “male privilege” that boys have more education than girls, and in any case I have squandered any advantage from my degree, and always earned less than my sister, whether because of a miasma of cis-sexism, or other psychological difficulties.
Indeed I won’t get slut-shamed, but my sexuality still frightens and confuses me, and is arguably immature as I have had little experience of adult sexual relationships.
Here is a male privilege checklist. Despite the last, I have the privilege of being unaware of my male privilege, I don’t think the ones relating to ones current position apply. I get read. If I am not seen as a weirdo, my fear of that is as restricting as the reality. I doubt being trans is ever an advantage in a job interview.
“If I complain to the person in charge, the person I see will be of my sex.” No. I am considering visiting my new Tory MP, to confront him about some of his attitudes. I will have power as my authentic feminine self and not otherwise. The problem here is the woman feeling powerless. She has power if she only realised it.
To me, the greatest trans privilege is my weirdness. Other people may muddle along, more or less, in conventional or fashionable ways of being, because they fit well enough. I have had the great blessing of completely not fitting, so being forced to find my True Self. (Every cloud has a silver lining.)
My emotions overwhelm me- the analogy I use, with bitter irony, is being pre-menstrual. It may be down to the hormones. I started them to feminize my appearance, not thinking they would so intensify my anger, fear and misery. But at the time, I was beginning to get in touch with my feelings, and perhaps suppressing then finding is the cause. So “We get medical treatment with unknown side-effects”. Not a privilege.