The edge of transphobia II

My friend wrote, I think there is a real discussion to be had about what constitutes a woman (I’m open to discussion but I currently think being a woman is an embodied state, so ones body is relevant to it) and calling people transphobic who think that differences between cis gender women and trans women are up for discussion transphobic or TERFs does not help reflective engagement in an open discussion about gender.

How can we show respect for women’s bodies? A woman spoke impassionedly to me about her body, about suckling with her breasts, about carrying a baby, about giving birth. These things clearly matter. We have no experience of them. There are many reasons why there should be women’s spaces, and the vulnerability of bodies which might give birth is surely a strong reason. I felt the emotional swings that progesterone could bring, and when I found them unbearable could simply stop taking the tablets. I remember the miserable pleading of a child, “Please, Miss, can I go to the toilet?” repeatedly during lessons, from nearly forty years ago, and realise I have no idea of the shame and pain of her experience.

Many on the other side see menstruation and penises as trump cards. That’s it, there is no further need for discussion. Trans women are men, and should be kept out of women’s spaces. Some tolerate post-operative transsexuals, some not even that.

I may have driven a woman into the arms of the anti-trans campaigners by my attitude to menstruation. I hated the thought that it was a trump card. Germaine Greer said, Being a woman is a bit tricky. If you didn’t find your pants full of blood when you were 13 there’s something important about being a woman you don’t know. It’s not all cake and jam. Well, no. Yet, if that means there should be female spaces where not even post-operative trans can go, it changes my life completely. I am afraid. I see myself as a harmless anomaly, one in a thousand, not really a threat, and wish feminists would devote their campaigning attention to the gender pay gap or sexual harassment, and not to me.

There was a loose group of bloggers, commenting on each others’ posts- queers, straight Lefties, and religious sceptics- and Roughseas’ first comment on my blog admired the portraits I had had taken expressing female when I was nerving myself to transition. She commented here from 2012-2016. Then I wrote on menstruation as a trump card, and she challenged me. And, as you’ve said you’ve lived as a woman for 13 years, I can take it you have no experiential knowledge of horrible bloody soggy knickers in your teens, leaking sanitary towels, leaking tampons and people making snide digs when you were ‘on’. Her last comments here were challenging my feminine presentation: Whatever you think and buy, you are supporting patriarchal imagery. It may be what you want. It still supports the idea that the rest of us should do the same. She started following and supporting anti-trans blogs. I don’t think I converted her to anti-trans campaigning, but what I said could have pushed her in that direction.

My friend wrote, I disagreed with a statement you made early in the gathering to the effect that objections to people with penis’s in women’s spaces is transphobia. I thought it was unhelpful and should have been publicly challenged at the time as I think that sort of statement serves to shut down debate.

There is a moment where slight discomfort with trans people, moderated with sympathy for our struggles, can become anger at “trans rights activists” and campaigning against trans inclusion. Looking into each others’ eyes, making an effort to understand the other, and being very careful with our speech we might still see each others’ humanity and accept the other; yet that is so difficult.

How can I accept your slight discomfort when I am sensitised by open hate? I see the disgust and contempt on twitter, and claim that all this talk of penises is transphobic. Well-

Having a penis is also a source of shame and pain. I was always sitting to wee long before I stopped presenting male. Like others, I was bathing with bubble bath to avoid seeing the thing. When presenting male is unbearable, and expressing female is terrifying-

I now fear my initial reply is not enough. I wrote,

I said it was transphobic to object to penises in women’s spaces because most of us have penises. To give myself as an example: I associated with transsexuals, and knew I wanted to transition, but took some time seeing if I could manage it before seeing my doctor. That meant dressing female and going in women’s spaces, first around Canal St., the gay area of Manchester, then the Bridgewater Hall, then supermarkets and other such places. Later, I had a diagnosis from a psychiatrist and had thrown out all my male clothes, but had not yet had my operation. Some people wait more than ten years for the operation. So although most of us want it, many of us have not had it.

There is a constant harping on about penises in the campaign against us, in stickers saying “Women do not have penises”. I find it dehumanising. I am so much more than a penis.

These things could have been brought out if we had a longer dialogue. But I take the point about dislike of the word “transphobia”.

I now fear that was not enough. A minor point was, what women’s spaces? Loos but not changing rooms, and only loos when I really needed them. Not changing rooms: I did not swim for three years. Though I think we should be in changing rooms, we do not want to show off our genitals more than any normal person.

But more, it does not address the discomfort. I am claiming a trump card of my own- because transition is more important to me than anything else in the world, I should be accepted. On the anti-trans side, there is the idea of “Peak trans”- you are a liberal feminist, or even a radical feminist, believing that trans people have a lot to cope with and should be accepted, and then you meet a few, or read what trans women write, and find that natural slight discomfort becomes campaigning energy against us. If that is true, then trans women have no hope.

There is so much fear and shame here. Trans women should never forget the depth of oppression of cis women by patriarchy. My own burden of fear and shame is so great! I hate the thought that I pushed someone to be against us; but if we cannot hear each other, and see each others’ humanity, across the divide between trans women and cis women, then trans women will not survive.

Yet- I am here! I cry, despairingly. I am human too!

9 thoughts on “The edge of transphobia II

  1. In my eyes it is transphobia. If cis people woke up one day and had grown a penis, or lost it, they would realise the hurt it gives us, how distressing it is. If they then wanted help with it but received only hate and stigma, they would realise the damage they do on top of the dysphoria. “you cant use the womens bathroom now because of that” “we hate you because of that” “your experiences mean nothing because of that” I believe there is a huge lack of empathy. Being trans isn’t a problem, transphobia is, this is what is causing huge amounts of distress and suicide in our communities.

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    • OK. Then we’re all completely fxxked.

      If there can be no meeting of minds, because enough cis women are sensitive about having a body with a female reproductive system and all that entails, and enough trans women are sensitive about our own difficulties, then every woman who is mostly trans-friendly but a bit concerned will be peak-transed into a full-on gender critical feminist. We can’t presume anything. If you can’t imagine having your knickers wet with blood when you are miles from home aged 13 and being terrified people can smell you, then you have no right to any empathy from anyone else.

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  2. Its not like the two experiences are incompatible. I do feel empathy for women and trans men in that situation you described, I don’t know why you think otherwise and am a little offended. I don’t see how I am not meeting minds. Most people are not transphobic or homophobic. Most people are not racist, I am still going to call it out where it exists.

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    • Yes. And transphobia is an irrational disproportionate fear, not all questioning. People who give up almost all other feminist campaigning to devote all their energies to campaigning against us are transphobic. Not all questioning is transphobic.

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      • Fortunately it isn’t seen so with racism and antisemitism. I can have racist thoughts, I question myself and try to improve myself as much as possible. Maybe it is easier to blame me for the fact that there are hateful people in the world people who will hate transgender people no matter what. If you think I deserve no empathy then that is sad but I have lived my life trying to be a better person. If someone says should there be an apartheid to keep races seperate, I would be correct in saying no that is a racist idea, explaining why. It would also be correct to not have that as a public debate as it lends credibility to racists. If they choose to join a neo nazi movement I wouldn’t then blame myself for their choice.

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        • Antisemitism is similarly fuzzy. Is BDS antisemitic? Is it antisemitic to support policies which, if carried out, would mean the end of the State of Israel, and which policies are those? These things can be debated. There are people who do not hate or fear trans people, but want the issue of trans women in women’s space to be debated. Which trans women? Which spaces?

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          • If I say something racist then I hope to be corrected for it and would change. It doesn’t make me a racist. If people fear that trans women are a threat then that is transphobic. They may or may not be transphobes but we should point it out to them. If a criminal does something criminal then you should punish the criminal.

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    • That was not quite what I meant, and I would be sorry to see you go. I have been glad of your comments here. To summarise: transphobia is disproportionate fear and anger, just as arachnophobia is disproportionate. Not all questioning is phobic.

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