What does “Trans” mean? There are many answers, and this is mine.
Trans starts with the concepts of “masculinity” and “femininity”, which do not fit men and women as we really are. At its worst, toxic masculinity rejects the expression of emotion apart from anger and derision. Boys and men are expected to put on a manly mask which suffocates them. Women are objectified, valued for their looks, treated as weaker and needing looked after by men while made responsible for most housework and care of children, the disabled and elderly. Feminists call this “patriarchy” and differ in their emphasis on how it affects men, but it hurts everyone apart from a very few high-status men.
Patriarchy fits no-one. Everyone needs to deny part of themselves to fit in. Those who particularly do not fit are trans, or trans-like people. To call myself a “feminine” man is ridiculous, as “feminine” relates to women, but the word has come to denote qualities prescribed by patriarchy for women, such as being sensitive, empathetic, compassionate, communal, unselfish, supportive, motherly, nurturing, gentle, forgiving, and caring. These are my natural qualities, though my attempt to be a “Real Man” has twisted me.
Femininity can also refer to certain mannerisms, body language, or physical appearance.
I am mostly interested in trans women. Some of what I say could also apply to trans men, and I could use inclusive language, but will discuss trans women only. Trans women may be Gynephile, attracted to women, or Androphile, attracted to men. Androphiles are called “Homosexual” by the researchers, denying that they are women, and Gynephiles are called “Non-homosexual”, which I find demeaning, even though some of us present as bisexual or asexual. If I am not a woman then I am heterosexual, attracted to women. Trans in androphile and gynephiles may be different phenomena with different causation.
There is research on trans, and on the wider question of whether femininity and masculinity have any reality separate from culture. There is a wide range of masculinity and femininity in men and women, but by and large women are more feminine. Whether nature causes this, or nurture, culture and society, is strongly disputed. I would not accuse researchers of fitting the evidence to their preconceptions, but the questions are so political that they might choose research projects to confirm their claims, and interpreters can be wholly political. I read one conservative Christian sniffing that trans women’s brains are different because we obsess about trans, promoting dendrite growth in particular areas. And even if parents of both sexes expect a toddler boy to slide down a steeper slide than girls the same age, what could that mean? I do not have the time or education to assess individual research papers, leave alone the wider questions.
Studies show some brain differences- in the 1990s I was aware that brain dissection had found the BSTc, the central subdivision of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, is twice the size in men as in women, slightly larger in gay men, and female size in trans women, but what could cause that or what it could mean is a mystery to me. We could use it for large claims, that trans women are apart from men, really women, and some do, and there is a huge backlash. Brain research does not justify the large claims of some trans folk.
There is no clear cut-off between trans and cis-gendered. There is a spectrum of masculinity to femininity in men. So other circumstances will decide whether you transition, such as whether you have a partner and what they feel about it, what your job prospects are, or how well you pass. I read of a person who had been the subject of a documentary on transition, but stopped when he found a male partner.
Some men are aroused by cross-dressing, or by thoughts of themselves as women. This is more likely a by-product of being feminine than the cause of transition. Some are satisfied with recreational cross-dressing: at the Northern Concord, it seemed to me that some were just blokes down the pub, who happened to be dressed rather strangely, and some were feminine.
My particular interest is the gynephile trans woman, especially me, and her counterpart the masculine woman: viragos and harridans, sissies and pansies. This is the sexual orientation that has only hurtful names- the woman “wears the trousers”, the man is “pussy-whipped”. “Beta male” may be a more positive term, or “Alpha female”, but both these terms are claimed by other groups. My parents were like this, terrified of people finding out, and inculcated in me terrible shame. My mother would not let me play with Action Man because “boys should not play with dolls”. My father objected to women on Radio 4, claiming to loathe the sound of their voices.
In the Underground last week I saw a woman, her leg crossed, her foot against the shin of her man, holding his hand and squeezing or pinching it. I felt they might have such a relationship, and felt envy. It is not the same as BDSM.
I don’t know how the desire to present female and actual femininity are related. I tend to feel that some men feel that their characteristics are more acceptable in women, and it is in part a desire to fit in with social norms. I lay on the floor weeping “I am not a man”- if only I could have realised I am not that kind of man.
Though I had the operation, I oppose it. I had it because I thought that it would make me part of an acceptable class, that it was better to be transsexual than transvestite, rather than because I wanted it for itself. Before, I had been ashamed of my slim wrists and arms, but after I found them beautiful, so it enabled me to love my body- but I wish I had found some other way. For a time, it all seemed to fit: I was a “woman”, so I felt this way, and was pleased to appear this way. Possibly we have the operations because doctors wanted to be seen to be doing something, or even wanted a subject to experiment on. I feel some people want the operation simply for itself, and should be allowed to have it. In a world without patriarchy, we could know.
I have fellow-feeling with radical feminists, even TERFs. They are revolted by body-modification, and some lack any sense of proportion about trans women, as if we are the only feminist issue they care about, but they are often masculine women, and not fitting Patriarchy in a complementary way to me- how could I not sympathise? I would put them in a group with trans folk, those who are gender non-conforming, who do not fit patriarchal views of gender. We have so much in common, it is hard that we do not work together. We are oppressed by Patriarchy in such similar ways.
The basic phenomenon is feminine men and masculine women, but how we respond to that is shaped by the culture and our experience. I suppressed it, and tried to be Real Manly for years. There is transphobia, and internalised transphobia, which prevents us from flourishing. We learn to be ourselves better, but still in ways twisted by oppression. We must build coalitions and learn to resist oppression more effectively.
The words you use to describe the phenomenon affect how you understand it. But we don’t understand it, not really, so we need to keep playing with the words. I would ask potential transitioners, Who are you? What would really fulfil you- is it really this off-the-peg solution? I would refer to “gender diversity” rather than trans, for “gender-diverse” is how people are, and “trans” or even “gender-non-conformity” are choices, ways to deal with the pressures of Patriarchy on gender diverse folk.