I want to be here. I don’t want to be here if you want me to go. How might I fit, here? Could I just be part of the group, or do I change it?
Am I a woman? This is who I am. Presenting male was unbearable. I am a woman if your definition of the word includes me, so I could be a man, a woman, both or neither, depending on what you think the words mean. Words do not fit reality, but they mould our understanding of it. If I am not a woman, I am at least a trans woman: I can be no other. I would rather “look like that, all the time”, facing prejudice and derision, than move through the world disguised as a man.
Being a woman is physical and cultural. I have not ovulated, and I never will, but I had synthetic progesterone for a time, and experienced glorious highs and terrifying lows on it. I had a conversation just after transition when I thought, as a man talking to this man I would top his story, and as a woman I did not have to, which felt freeing, at first, then oppressive. This man knows it is for him to speak, explore his opinions, show off his knowledge, wisdom and experience, and for me to listen: to be a mirror in which he sees himself reflected, rather than a whole human being.
The value of the women’s circle is that women can find their own voices without the weight of male privilege shutting them up. In mixed groups, the unconscious expectation of the men produces an echo in the women from long habit. Women and their concerns are devalued. Here, women can free themselves.
I presented male for 35 years. I had a voice. I was expected to use it. But I too was silenced, so suppressed that I did not say anything from my true self, only from a “real man” mask. I worked so hard at being a real man, not letting the mask slip, always feeling inadequate, and then the real me broke through and I had to liberate her. My voice- if only a trans woman’s, not really a woman’s- is not the man’s voice I was taught to imitate.
A man might see the weight of privilege, and encourage a woman to speak, in order to get to know her as a person, or out of respect for her personhood. Even if I were joining in the work of encouraging and enabling each woman here to find her voice and be celebrated for who she is, would I be seen to do it as a man- as a game, or as a gift the man could take back at any time?
I would certainly not want to be the half-man whose privilege you could practice challenging because I would give way, so that you could claim your power and personhood in the world outside the group.
Instead I want to be one of you, a sister helping sisters find their voices, equals celebrating each other and so being freed to be ourselves.
Possibly my residual manhood, things in my appearance, mannerisms and voice, make me appear so much a man to you that the dynamic of the women’s group seems lost. And, when any new person joins the group there is a new dynamic. Please do not be too quick to attribute the change, here, now, to some masculinity in me, and call it a loss. All women have some masculinity in them. When a new woman joins the group you have to get to know her.
I am an asylum seeker here, not a colonist. I do not want to take control, but to fit in, and contribute. I am nervous because I am different. I hope tensions in the group can be explored and worked through, bringing us together. We gain when we see how we are different from each other, as well as how we are the same. I hope I can come into the beautiful thing you have created, and help you build it into something more beautiful.