I knew there was a problem when I was two, and I knew what it was by the age of five- I was a girl. That was “The script”, the way to convince a psychiatrist that you should be allowed to transition. I don’t know if people still say it, if it is not true for them. It is true for some but not all of us.
There is a set of ideas about trans folk, mocked by transphobes as “Trans ideology”: trans women have women’s brains, or spirits, and are really women. What “real” means there is slippery- have we redefined “woman” to include those of us with a belief we are women or a desire to be women, or have we access to some objective idea of “woman” which naturally includes us?
Those who want to exclude us ramp up their expression of us as men- trans identified males, trans rights activists TRA to remind people of MRA, even “transsexual man”. They refuse to refer to us with female pronouns, and sometimes won’t even use ambiguous words which could mean either sex.
People who support us say “Trans women are women”, and that is a statement about what is morally right rather than about biology. We should be accepted in women’s spaces and women’s programmes, like the Jo Cox Leadership Programme which welcomes trans women. Trans women exist, whether this is something to do with differences in brains, levels of hormones in utero, or culture and Patriarchy.
Those who want us included do not need to believe that our brains are different. They don’t need an explanation of why someone might be trans. “Gender dysphoria” or “gender identity disorder” are names rather than explanations.
It is more important that a woman is willing to accept me in women’s spaces than that she has particular beliefs about what transgender means. Possibly, she could think that gender was the tool of the patriarchy to oppress women, and that in an ideal genderless society people could be valued for their characteristics without judging whether those characteristics were “masculine” or “feminine”. She could believe that we had different experiences and residual male privilege. As long as she thought we were entitled to be in women’s space, she is an ally. Refuges want to support victims of intimate partner violence whatever their sex or gender.
This means we do not alienate anyone by calling them transphobic. It also means that we can point out transphobia where it exists: if I am harmlessly using a loo, when another woman there sees me and feels fear and anger because she sees I am a trans woman and imagines I am a man, that is transphobia, an unreasoning fear of something harmless. “Don’t be so silly or self-righteous” becomes a reasonable response to the transphobe. It is not about belief but fear. There is nothing to fear.
The belief can be important for us. If I am really a woman, it begins to make sense that I should transition. I puzzled out what “really a woman” or “true transsexual” might mean. If it applied to me, I could transition. And I was sensitive about others’ beliefs, so avidly read the TNUK yahoo email group, which circulated endless stories about some nutcase Evangelical in the US preaching that Sodomy was Bad. Oh! They hate us! I’ll never manage it! These things hurt.
I would rather that even if someone thought transition was ridiculous or disgusting they would never say it because they knew everyone they loved or respected would despise them for the thought. That is not where we are now. For various reasons lots of people are saying we should not be in women’s spaces. Most people don’t care. We care intensely, have internalised transphobia and project it onto others, imagining they judge us when they are worried about their own concerns. If we keep the word transphobia for irrational, disproportionate fear, it will be accepted by most of those people.
Why should you accept me? Because I exist. Why should you treat me as a woman? Because we’ve been treating trans women as women since the 1960s. Simple, really. So much rhetoric, to such little effect!