Trans rights are essential to feminism, for they are the way to value all that a woman can be, from ultra-feminine to (almost) trans man. Trans rights are a feminist issue. Trans people advance feminist concerns.
I spent half an hour last night on Youtube watching a feminist attack trans rights on feminist grounds. She told of the opposition to the women’s suffrage movement a century ago, by women as well as men, based on the idea that women were different and would not have the objectivity to judge the interests of the public sphere. She has been held back by this persisting idea of difference, which is the heart of women’s oppression, and which she says “trans ideology” actively enshrines.
That might be true if trans were static, one way of being trans being the only way. But trans people are creative, finding new ways of being ourselves in our own spaces, in performance writing and entertainment, and in ordinary lives in the world. Trans is a force undermining that idea of difference between sexes and promoting the truth of the variation within the sexes which increases the freedom of everyone.
I want to relate to others as myself, with minimal pretence to comply to gender norms. This is easier after transition. I tried to “make a man” of myself, with a restrictive idea of how a man should be. Expressing myself as a woman freed me. If it were indeed seen as leaping a chasm, becoming something utterly different, that would be conservative, enshrining difference. When the doctors got hold of the idea of trans, taking it out of our own subcultures, they produced a medicalised idea of transition, involving hair removal, genital alteration and hormone treatments, to create a person who would look like a man, or look like a woman, undressed as well as clothed.
The idea that I am really a woman, with a woman’s brain, spirit or character, which this feminist finds so oppressive because it means there is a difference between men and women beyond our reproductive function, freed me to transition. Thousands of us, rather than tens of thousands in Scotland where she was speaking and which proposes altering the law, might be freed from a conception of their gender which they find oppressive, yet they cannot change without this drastic step- by allowing transition. Out of 5.3m people, ten thousand would be 0.2%, a large number actually to transition.
The idea of a transsexual person freed me to transition, but even as I did I realised there were two questions.
Am I transsexual?
Will I be happier if I transition?
The second is more important. First the ideology, then the idea frees me to express my gender by teaching me that it is possible. So individuals and society together produce formalised routes for transition and recognition. Trans people become more visible, vocal and encouraged, and empowered to do something about the restrictions of their gender rather than living fearful, stultified lives or ending them.
As we become empowered, we critique the medicalised concept of transition. Do we really need genital surgery? Should someone necessarily be sterilised before their gender is recognised? No, we say. Do we need to live in stealth, where people think we were born (wo)men? No, because that is in fear of transphobic violence- it may be prudent sometimes but it oppresses us with an impossible ideal of beauty.
Gender ceases to be a choice of two, almost entirely aligned with physical sex, and becomes a palette of possibilities. It is happening- here, now, in Scotland and beyond, with people who would never think of themselves as trans but also with trans people, blurring the lines and increasing freedom. Eventually the two groups will meet, a spectrum of gender rather than a division between those self-identified as trans or not-trans. The increasing complexity of ideas such as genderqueer and non-binary accelerate this change.
Femininity is oppressive when people are judged as less because of their natural unfeminineness. Then femininity can seem merely oppressive, a tool to oppress women. Trans shows that femininity freely chosen is a source of strength and self-actualisation, valuable in its own right for AFAB as well as AMAB. I see trans men choosing what I rejected, and so am enabled to see value in it.
That feminist on the video, wanting to say “NO” to a trans woman entering a woman’s bathroom, and getting a loud cheer for rejecting the idea that women must always put others’ feelings before their own, paradoxically aids the conservatives by restricting trans people to a narrow, absolute concept of transition. She opposes the law being more liberal, and discerns a loosening of the concept of a “sex change”, though in Scotland the proposals would still require us to swear we would live in the other gender life long. Allowed to grow freely, the trans movement would increase the range of gender expression and freedom.
Trans is a feminist movement, promoting the freedom of all, including cis women who do not conform to the cultural stereotype of femininity, including that woman who rails against it. Many cis women support trans rights. As Margaret Atwood says, A war among women, as opposed to a war on women, is always pleasing to those who do not wish women well. Women strongly opposed to trans rights should consider whether any of the wrongs they rail against has any realistic chance of happening.