Women’s jeans are nicer than men’s. They are not cut for the shape of my hips, and jeans look fairly alike across the sexes; but I still prefer women’s jeans. It took a leap of empathy when a trans man told me he preferred men’s.
Loos were more of a stretch. The smell is worse in men’s, it’s more likely there will be puddles on the floor, and even considering the chance of queues women’s are much nicer. Still he prefers men’s. This is a person whose experience is complementary to mine- in some ways the same, in some ways the mirror-opposite. In part I can simply feel with him, because I know exactly what that feels like, and in part I have to step back, think about it, make an adjustment, and see. I do that because understanding positive motivation of others makes them more comprehensible to me, and makes it easier to associate with them.
For a woman who experiences Patriarchy as restricting women in general, and feels it most keenly restricting her, it must be hard to see men’s freedoms as restricting some. Images are pernicious. I just image-searched “scientist”. The first pictures show a man, a woman, and a man and woman together, and are gender balanced. There is a row of options across the screen: click physics or chemistry, and the images are of men. Even in biology, which was seen as a “girl’s subject” at my school, the first pictures are all of men. Girls are not expected to be rational or put themselves forward. Girls are not given the tools to defend themselves from sex pests. Girls are expected to be demure and accommodating, passive not active, listening not speaking when important matters are discussed. Even if it is not always that bad, it can seem that way: any exceptions in treatment make the bad treatment more objectionable.
And if I say, I could not express my feelings, she might say well you can. Hurt, expressed as anger or resentment, is expected of boys and suppressed in girls. I feel released by transition, and she just cannot understand that. I feel able to be more expressive, but stating precisely how is difficult for me, especially if I have to communicate that to a sceptical other.
So when you said you understood how I had felt restricted it was salve on a chronic wound, the temporary lifting of a burden. I want to be understood, especially by you. I felt distorted, shoved into a box that did not fit me, confronted with demands I could not meet. And when I said “I am not that person” even to me it felt like weakness and inadequacy rather than otherness: my real gifts, not encouraged and so not developed, I did not see as gifts.
So much is pulling us apart. These women share alternative explanations for our transition. We are perverts, they say. It is autogynephilia. They have few privileges, and women’s spaces are important. We are a threat, men in women’s spaces, men exploiting programmes designed to overcome a few of women’s disadvantages under Patriarchy, such as all-women shortlists. These things should be for women born women, not males.
The dispute is primarily between trans women and women born women who insist they are women, that gender is oppressive and we conform to it, that transition is wrong. They see the issues in terms of lack, costs or risks for women: girls should not bind their breasts and make themselves sterile! Girls should not be forced into life-long dependency on dangerous drugs! Men should not pretend to be women! If you do not fit the expectations of your “gender” and demand to be accepted as yourself, as your sex and with all your qualities used and valued, transition appears a monstrous distortion.
If you feel restricted by society yet trenchantly assert your sex, you may feel society is pushing people into transition, a monstrous distortion serving gender myths. The leap of imagination is seeing transition as a response that people make, under the same oppression you suffer, even though it is not a response you could ever consider, even though it revolts you. I experienced gender expectations as restriction, rejection, devaluation, just as you did. Just as you should be supported in the way you respond, so should I. There is oppression. Let us work together against the oppression, rather than fight amongst ourselves about the different responses of oppressed people.
Two leaps of imagination are required. Those born men are oppressed too, are gender non-conforming too. And transition is a reasonable response to that oppression, even if it is not yours. And then a third- even though you may feel your allegiance is to women born women who refuse to transition, it is worthwhile to work with trans women, for by working together we can defeat the oppression. Even though our immediate interests may appear opposed- access to women’s space- our long term interests are the same.