Meredith Talusan writes, I have short hair. I don’t wear heels. Because there is no one way to be a trans woman, either.
She’s in her early forties. She transitioned in 2001, four years after graduating, and in her twenties wore makeup and feminine clothes to make her beautiful for herself, and attractive to others. But the effort and the attention became oppressive. Oestrogen had softened her features, and she slowly reduced her makeup, sometimes wearing none at all, and wore more comfortable clothes. Then at the college reunion queer reception, someone said to her,
“I remember you. You look the same.”
And this made her self-conscious. She went to look in the mirror. Do I look like a man? No, she decided, she is quite sure of that.
Well. She might have looked quite feminine when she was presenting male. And cis women as well as trans women might start dressing more comfortably, as they moved from twenties to forties. Dressing attractively can mean vulnerability: it takes a special kind of woman for that to be only a manifestation of power. (Yes, I mean you. I doubt you read this and you are still in my thoughts.) There can be advantages in becoming less visible.
Yet one of the myths the trans-excluders spread, to foment fear, is the “trans woman” who just looks like a man. They aren’t trans, not really, they just want to invade women’s spaces. Self-id will mean a horde of balding men with beards and beer guts, in jeans and scuzzy t-shirts, claiming to be women. Look at that hulking man-beast! Surely all women should be frightened and angry and all decent men should stand up for women’s rights against these…
This is the kind of thing they say, and some of that is a direct quote. Should I be held to a particular standard of feminine presentation? Because sometimes people see me as a man.
I became aware of the physical fear of traumatised women in a drama. A male psychologist interviewed a woman who claimed to have been raped and pointed out to her that she did not flinch when he touched her, and so he did not believe her. That is problematic, the false allegation trope- I can’t remember how her motivation was explained- but what I took from it was the unbearable presence of the man, for the violated woman.
The presence of me? That is a central allegation by those who want me out of, say, shop changing rooms.
As for me, well it’s complicated. I want to hide away, and I do, not going out for days, and that is not the behaviour I would expect from one whose experience of other humans had been entirely positive. And I don’t flinch from touch. I might be numb, I don’t know, there are some indications.
I know that trans-excluder fears are generally exaggerated. Somehow, trans women have become the focus of the campaigners’ fears of male violence. Well, male violence is a real threat, and a real experience, and it seems they find it easier to focus on trans exclusion, just because the problem of heterosexual men, of rape culture, as a whole is just too daunting. And look what work women’s refuges must put in, for so little support.
My tentative answer is to hear the fears of everyone. If all people cannot be accommodated, then we cannot have a solution. I am a trans woman, like thousands of others, quite harmless, not the monster some fear. I know men would be ashamed to claim to be women, especially trans women, and well the fear is there. And then value everyone’s needs, including mine. Excluding all the trans women does not work for me.
Should we wear skirts and makeup more? The trouble with that is that we are treated unequally, with suspicion not applied to others. Because the trans-excluders imagine a group of unworthy persons, and suggest we might be in that group, we have to prove that we are not. This does not work. Our evidence will never be enough to the trans-excluders.
Or, there are two fears, to be treated differently. One is the fear of the traumatised woman. She sees me and responds in fear, and I hope any trans woman and other people would respond sympathetically. But the other is the fear of the trans-excluder: she claims someone may see me and respond in fear, so I should be restricted in case that happens. That is one of their main arguments, to stop me living my life in peace.