Self ID as a threat

In 2009 Alex Drummond transitioned from male to female. She still has her beard, and did not opt for hormones or surgery. I’m widening the bandwidth of how to be a woman, she said.

I rarely sympathise with the Mumsnet terfs, but when one asked why she couldn’t widen the bandwidth of how to be a man, I am with her. Men should be able to wear skirts if they wish, and should act as feminine as they feel inside- but if it means accessing women’s spaces, I feel there should be some restriction, to honestly intend to appear as a woman. Alex claims to be a woman, she may honestly believe she is one, and so that is not enough: she should not have to alter her body if she does not want to, but keeping the beard means she should not be in women’s spaces. There. I have now taken an exclusionary position.

We’ve all had to start somewhere- male features, bad wigs, unfashionable ill-fitting clothes, thick make-up not quite covering the stubble, obviously trans women. We might intend to transition, but not have started on hormones, or even beard removal yet. You shave as close as you can, and stubble shows. Why should that exclusion not apply to me? If I don’t pass now-

Because of my intention to appear like a woman, which is more than belief that I am one. Mix it up by all means, but go to the toilet of your birth sex, or gender neutral toilets. I will go to gender neutral toilets where available. What if I just could not appear as a woman at all? If I were street homeless, I could not maintain a wig- and therefore, could not socially claim to be a woman. Practically, I would revert.

No, you don’t have to wear skirts, makeup, high heels, long hair all the time. Women can dress down, and so can you. And at the margins it can be difficult- if women can dress androgynously, why not trans women? Of course we can- but not in women’s spaces.

I know that self-ID is a minor administrative change, only affecting those of us who intend to transition life long, not affecting the prevalence of medical treatment of trans folk, or our numbers. And some people appear to believe that it will result in a crowd of men claiming to be women, invading women’s spaces. In reality there are not that many of us, and we’re there already. Or it will in some way restrict other ways of challenging the gender binary, where people are forced to identify as trans rather than as with their birth sex. It’s not a threat, but they claim it is, a personal threat because their identity as a woman, though not “feminine”, is under threat.

Those who don’t like trans people are using the minor administrative change to open up the whole question of trans women in women’s space. They want us excluded, even though we have been there all along. They talk about genuine trans women and predatory men, and the boundary between these two groups- genuine so at least grudgingly tolerated, and predatory so to be excluded, and ideally shamed and prosecuted- is fuzzy. Some would exclude pre-op trans women. Some would go further, look at our motivations, decide some post-op trans women were “autogynephiliac” and exclude us too.

As there won’t be any particular change, there is no new threat. Trans women have been expressing ourselves as women, broadly tolerated, for over fifty years. Transition is a radical act, and only a very few will undertake it: it needs not just gender dysphoria, but the conviction that you will be happier transitioned and can make a go of it. Yet the pretence is that there will be a sudden influx of- people who are objectionable in some undefined way, and they may use that as an excuse to try to exclude me.

10 thoughts on “Self ID as a threat

  1. This is an extreme hypothetical, but suppose bearded Alex, who did not opt for hormones or surgery, continued to wear “male” clothing and live as she always had, i.e., nothing changed but her declaration of having transitioned. What precisely is “transitioning,” Clare? Laws require definitions after all.


    • The apposite but unfortunate metaphor is, how many hairs make a beard? I don’t know, but you know it when you see it. M-F, wearing women’s clothes, a woman’s hairstyle, and softening your voice is necessary. And beard removal. What are “women’s clothes” etc might be more flexible for cis women than for us.


  2. I’m less confident than you are in determining the gender status of someone with a beard. After all, there are women who are capable of growing them. While society expects women not to grow facial hair, the reality is that some do. I had two distant relatives who were frequently mistaken for males due to their angular facial features, and they had a constant battle with facial hair. One could (and for a while did) sport a beard as good as any teenage male.

    I’ve been told by some females that I must be a misogynist because I sport a beard. They say that men wear beards to present male characteristics such as aggression and dominance, and it’s worn to gain respect from other males!

    Yet the only reason I have a beard is because I grow facial hair that I’m not particularly fond of, but shaving is such an unpleasant experience that letting it grow is the “lesser of two evils”. There are no other reasons as I am concerned.

    I admit that the concept of being male or female is outside my ability to understand. I can recognise to some degree differing levels of various characteristics in people that supposedly are measures of being a man or woman, but as almost everyone has all of these characteristics to some extent, I find it impossible to rely on them to determine gender.


    • I’m not arguing about whether a cis woman is a woman, but whether a trans woman is a woman. Women can have beards, trans women shouldn’t.

      I don’t think the men with beards I know are particularly masculine, or dominant, but it is cultural so perhaps different in Aotearoa. It seems harsh to pick on you for sporting a beard. Some people don’t like shaving, or have difficulty shaving.


  3. it is a difficult area here because each time you take exception to trying to look the part you are reducing your credibility in entering women’s spaces. I pass without the aid of hormones and have not altered my body and yet am socially accepted as a woman. I think this is where part of the line comes: we should try and make the effort to fit in and be welcome whereas the beard is an affront to wanting to belong. The percentage of women who intentionally grow beards must be infinitesimally small and should not count. Much of this argument is about how one feels inside but most people cis or trans make efforts to fit in within the bandwidth of their target gender.


    • I think we should try to appear female, so should shave as closely as we can, maybe avoid women’s spaces if we can’t. And here is a trans woman who can’t transition for medical reasons arguing otherwise. From years ago. Is it just cos she might make my life more difficult that I object? This is the first time I have excluded anyone who self-identifies as a trans woman; and I just do. I may come up with a verbal justification later.


      • Clare, I appreciate what you originally wrote and what you write here. Even for binary folks like me, there is no black and white , and yet who’s responsible for determining where gray begins and ends?

        I agree with you. If I allow my beard to grow without due shaving then how to assert my rights to be in women’s spaces? Likewise if I pee standing up?

        I think we owe respect to our cis sisters to at least try to toe their line.


        • Should any trans woman stay out of women’s space? That is the question. There is only any objection to trans women with beards, or dressed male pre-transition, if they come into women’s spaces. And the exclusion should not be so zealous that it starts to affect masculine-looking cis women.


          • “Should any trans woman stay out of women’s space?” My answer is no. That said, Drummond’s chosen presentation style may be likened to yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater. I respect her right to present as she wants, which reminds me of the 60s when we wore our hair long to make a statement that we were standing up to The Establishment. However, I don’t feel she’s helping our cause, which is to be fully appreciated and included as the gender we know ourselves to be.


            • I welcome gender-queer presentation. I feel gender is ridiculous and oppressive, and those of us it who find it particularly ill-fitting should throw it off and ignore it, and be supported to do so by the wider society. And, the concept of transgender means presenting as the opposite sex. Only if you present as a woman should you get into women’s spaces. Alex is deliberately provocative. If she avoided women’s loos, she would be unremarkable.


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