The feminine self

I am smiling, though I feel intense misery: I smile because this is me, the most feminine part of me, speaking now. I definitely don’t have multiple personalities, and this is me, speaking naturally above the break, wearing earrings and enjoying the sensation of them in my ears.

The process, the whole animal, does not cry, and here am I, I, crying, and feeling the joy at being this feminine part of me, and surprising myself as I did not expect this. Another, perhaps more cynical or appraising rationalist part wants to break through and I don’t want it to.

I do not need looked after.
I do not need restrained.
The world is not dangerous for me, nor I for it.

I speak from this place when I stop fighting, relax and open out. I am exploring now, I don’t know what’s going on. I want to see the world from here, from this perspective, and I want to show it to other people. Normally I am more guarded than this.

In this feminine part is my appreciation of beauty. I look at the stems and leaves pattern on my net curtains. The curves are dancing. This feels more authentic than any other part of me and I don’t really know what she wants, what she does, what she can do, she has been despised for too long.

Going back to one of my myths: I wanted to build the dome, I wanted to do it quickly and efficiently, and well- out of fear of being useless, fear of being seen to be useless, and because it would prove my value, to me, and possibly to other people. I think doing it was valuable, I am not merely projecting. I don’t think it was just fear.

Fear and love, the two great motivators, running from or running to.

This is where my playfulness lives. This is where my ability to know other people lives, not analytical, though the analytical is not alien to this, rationality is a skill this can use. This is in no way an emotional part separate from my analytical power.

Why would you fear being childish? Because it is vulnerable. Yet- vulnerable to what? The judgment which matters is my own. If I fear this I cannot show it to anyone. Yet they might accept me like this.

This is beautifully soft, and can be determined. I am determined now. I hunger to know how I may be when I am like this, because the lesson I have learned that being like this is dangerous is I think a childhood lesson which no longer applies. Other parts of me seek to protect me from the hostility of others by making me shut up and vanish, but I don’t think everyone would be hostile.

This is the part of me that writes poetry.

I often wonder how my analogues are doing in alternative universes. In how many am I dead? Do I have children? Fear and desire- in one, I present the most popular television programme, to millions of adoring fans. It is an hour-long interview in which I strip away the masks of others, my own authenticity inspiring theirs, generally as liberation and occasionally as complete humiliation- a politician would have to be very brave to accept the invitation. An hour long interview with someone revealing entirely who they are, any age from five to ninety.

Though while electrons are capable of quantum superposition, being a fuzzy cloud expanding to fill the whole universe, I am not.

This feminine self is where my hurt is. I had no access to this at all, because of the hurt, and there is still the possibility of hurt, though not the annihilation the child feared.

This is the part of me where my strength is. In part this is scared, and in part she has complete confidence.

A friend went over her handlebars into a ditch, and has been terrified of cycling since. I suggested she cycle in the carpark of a supermarket after it had closed, when she has an expanse of tarmac and no cars, so that she can learn to trust.

I can learn to trust. I have been hurt, and can practise on small things-

I want to show off, because I want admiration and affirmation- though since this experience I have been affirming myself. This is where the possibilities are. This is where any desire worth anything is.

I have hidden it, and fought for it, and had glimpses and occasional moments of being, my feminine self is still unrealised seventeen years after transition, often quickly submerged or suppressed.

Authenticity is possible.

Hello.

Greenbelt affirmations

Taking the microphone and looking out over the thousand-member audience, I said, “I am wise. Listen to me.”

I am feeling powerfully affirmed right now. I have spoken before in conversation from my integrity, all of me united in a belief or intention. I check it is right and true then say it. As I do this more I become clearer.

Then there was the Queer Spirit festival, 16-18 August. At the Authentic Communicating workshop I talked of this, of the way of speaking from my whole self, and the facilitator addressed me, “Tell us the truth, O wise one”. It is hard to imagine such words without sarcasm, but he said them with utter sincerity. There I saw beautiful playfulness, and a profound shift in a man, shedding his introjects. I asked to be lifted and supported on nine pairs of hands, and was borne aloft. I could trust. Then we group hugged.

That night I left the big top at eleven, and dozily left my handbag in a toilet. I went to that workshop with no money, no house keys, no way of getting home, wondering if I could ask anyone to drive me there. We decided I could ask the festival to loan me enough for a taxi and the buses. At eight, no one had handed in my handbag but after the workshop someone had contacted the organiser, and I went to pick it up from the Faerie area. If there was anyone who would steal it at the festival, they were unlikely to be the one to find it.

I knew no one at Queer Spirit but started conversation easily, asking and receiving hugs. I noticed how forebearing we were with each other, anxious to please as if used to hurt and slights- as you might expect in an LGBT festival. I see it in myself and in queer friends.

Leaving Queer Spirit I resented the cost of the taxi to Nupton, the buses having been cut, but a man joined me and talked of Faerie, halving my fare. It is an alternative gay culture for men tired of shallowly pumping iron and using the right grooming products. He is spiritual but not religious, having had a harmful religious upbringing, and liked my line “I am rationally atheist and emotionally theist: I have a strong personal relationship with the God I do not believe in”.

Then there was the Quaker meeting. It was a Leading to hold it at Greenbelt, but my leading was not affirmed by my Meeting, who had told the Festival there was no one to organise the worship. It felt haphazard, and I felt unprepared. Yet after we had 110 in worship and I introduced it, emphasising the welcome enquirers should expect, I felt vindicated. My leading had been recognised by events.

Nadia Bolz-Weber talked of bodies, how people are ashamed of bodies and how we are fed false ideals which we cannot match. She told us to turn to a neighbour and say something we liked about our bodies. My neighbour had beautiful eyes, and said so. We were in a place, after three days of Festival, where we could say such things.

If women did not spend the energy fruitlessly chasing the beauty myth we could solve global heating.

I spoke into the microphone. I said how after transition I finally loved my body, its beauty and effectiveness, and of how people are also shamed about Gender, and how humanity needs to affirm soft men and powerful women, strong and gentle humans. I asked the speakers to affirm our gender in all its variety and contradictoriness. I got applauded. I am affirmed again.

Another woman said whenever she had an unpleasant experience her mother would ask, “What did you do to cause that?” Such shaming could make a child hide away completely, like a rabbit fearing all attention was predatory. She is in middle age recovering.

Another said as a trans man he wanted chest surgery, yet he also wanted to bear a child and breast feed- but not yet, maybe in six years’ time. How could he live with his body as it is, and all it means to others, in that tension?

I am feeling powerful. My working out my need heals others. Having valued my softness as strength when I saw it as weakness for so long, I can help others free themselves.

This pillar was marked “The wisest thing I ever heard was-”

Are you female, or feminine?

I asked trans men if they were transitioning because they were really a man, or because they were masculine; women if female or feminine, non-binary because their true physical form, or their character, was non-binary?

Several trans men said they were really men. Their female-developed bodies revolted them. Their breasts, their widening hips, had been horrible, a weird, squishy, fleshy thing. Their chest masculinisation freed them to be feminine. Femininity before transition was an act, now they could be their authentic feminine selves if no-one would think them a woman. Female puberty had confirmed that they really were men, if there had been any doubt. Body hair delights them, the voice breaking delights them. So even in a utopia without gender stereotypes, they would transition.

I worried about this, when I heard it. I have no idea what proportion detransition. It might seem to confirm the gender-critical feminist perspective, that teenage girls want to transition because being a woman can be horrible, subject to groping, unwanted advances, sexist “banter”, sexist assumptions and treatment at school, university and in employment, and being a man would seem liberating, and yet being a woman is wonderful, being a mother, giving birth and suckling a child are the purpose of these body parts, as well as the sexual pleasure of their owner. Women can be used sexually in a way men are not, so much. Approximating to being a man is liberating, at great cost in physical mutilation and long term hormone treatment with unknown consequences. These women pay the price of sexism with their beautiful female bodies. Sexism erases lesbians.

And yet, that denies the ability of these trans men to make decisions for themselves, or to know themselves. None will say that they transition to escape sexism, but because they really are men, and that they want their bodies to reflect the fact. They are clear that they are men.

I feel feminine. That is how transition enabled me to discover myself and value myself: I could be my feminine self, and begin to peel back the thick layers of shame obscuring myself. I don’t feel constrained by any particular concept of feminine. It is elastic and fuzzy, covering a wide variety of women. I don’t know how things would be, if I had not had hormones and surgery, but had attempted a transition without, but I transitioned because of my femininity.

Others echoed this. They were feminine rather than female. Many, men and women, were not really masculine or feminine, they thought, but both or neither. “I’m just me” is a good way of being. I feel non-binary is freeing. We should be able to adjust our bodies just as far as we need, and express our personalities without feeling constrained by ideals of masculinity or femininity. Men need to find and liberate their feminine side, not just trans women. Yet it is uncomfortable being feminine, and appearing to be a man.

As people went through the transition process they thought less about these things, and were more simply and unaffectedly themselves. Not everyone. Some detransition, and curse the whole idea of changing sex or gender; but it saves many lives.

And the gender-critical should get alongside us. So, yes, they are oppressed by sexism, by men interrupting and taking up space and not respecting them and suspicious of their leadership and ogling and groping and demanding sex. They are distracted from fighting these things by being drawn to fight a few thousand mostly-harmless trans women. We liberate ourselves from patriarchal oppression as best we can.

Gender non-conforming

What does “gender non-conforming” mean to you? To me it’s quite clear: there are gender stereotypes, most people more or less fit them, gender non-conforming means you don’t and you don’t want to pretend that you do. Gender-punk I quite like: the person who told me about it is clearly AMAB, and wears skirts in public without breast forms or make-up. Cross-dressers and trans women genderally try to look like women,  but this person chooses the pronoun “they” and doesn’t, though their height might make it difficult. They mix it up, choose what they like. The clothes and mannerisms are symbols, which indicate an underlying personality, and they break expectations. I usually see them in skirts which don’t look feminine at all, just practical.

-Ooh look, a man in a skirt! shouted someone at them.
-Ooh look, a woman in trousers! they riposted.

So depending on how non-conforming, or how uncomfortable with gender stereotypes you were, there would be say 10% of women and 10% of men who were so far from the stereotype as to be gender non-conforming. That would include all lesbian, gay, bi or trans folks but a lot of others too, and we could all join in one big happy family because we had that in common, and advance our rights together.

Yeah.
No.

Some people think gender stereotypes matter, and they will be judged and punished for breaching them. We observe the bullying of non-conforming boys, we were bullied like that, we have an idea of masculinity which we don’t fit and it crucifies us. Some people are comfortable with a wide range of behaviour, some of which might seem to fit the gender stereotype and some not. And the stereotype itself is fuzzy- how rigid or restrictive is it, really?

I was chatting with a gay man about “gender diversity”. He agreed with my definition of gender diversity, and we agreed a woman we know might fit in a “gender diversity community” or a “queer” group. I don’t think she would agree. A feminist perspective is that women are oppressed- disrespected, treated as sex objects, disadvantaged because of their reproductive systems, as women. Then the gender stereotype is part of the oppression of women, and no-one fits it, not really. It is a series of demands and expectations, such as being the carer in all sorts of situations, which oppress every woman.

Though not all women are feminists in the same way, and some find feminism means they can choose those “feminine” roles- it is the right to choose, not the particular thing chosen, that matters. Then some are clearly gender conforming. It does not follow that those who are not will ever identify as gender non-conforming. Just as heavy drinkers think they are average drinkers, women particularly distant from the gender stereotype think all women are equally distant.

I don’t understand. I knew before I transitioned that even if I reverted, I needed to go through transition or I would be stuck in my desire for it. To live as a man I needed to transition to female. Does that make any sense at all to you? I don’t want to revert now, it would be too much trouble, yet I wish I could have avoided it. From this particular position, I don’t understand anyone else. I don’t understand the trans woman or trans man who talks of their gender identity, which looks to me like a verbal justification for a particular act, not an objective measurable thing. My identity is me, which formerly was “a trans woman” and is now “a feminine male”. I am a trans woman because I have transitioned and not reverted. As I see gender roles as important and limiting, I don’t understand anyone who breaches them without seeming to care.

For gender non-conformity to mean something we need an idea of what feminine gender is, and to believe that some women fit it. Many of those women I think are gender non-conforming deny there is a coherent concept of femininity, or that anyone fits it. Being gender non-conforming, they believe, makes them feminist, not part of some queer subculture.

So it is possible to identify as gender non-conforming, to feel something in common with other GNC people and find some value and self-understanding in the term, but not possible to define it or apply it to anyone who does not apply it to themself.

The Mythic Archetypal Feminine

“In most mythologies and archetypal psychology, the feminine principle has greater interest in the inner, the soul, the formless, intuition, connection, harmony, beauty, and relationality in general; it is more identified with lunar subtlety than the over-differentiating light of the masculine sun god or the literalism and linearity of the left brain. … Jesus himself illustrates these feminine qualities…and God is variously described as a compassionate mother, a hen protecting her chicks, and even “The Breasted One” or El Shaddai.

“The masculine principle, as I experience it and have observed it, is more interested in the outer, the mental, exterior form, idea, the movement or action of things, the naming and differentiation of things one from another; solar clarity of individual things, as it were, as opposed to the relationship of one thing to another. It prefers the ascent of mind to the descent of soul. It often moves toward “agency” and action before relationship or intimacy. Just watch little boys play, and watch how men love to fix, build, and also demolish. It is often a more “focused consciousness” than the “diffuse awareness” of the feminine principle, as Carl Jung noted. We see examples of these characteristics in Moses, the Hebrew judges, the practical, eager disciples, and in many images of God as lion and king.”

That’s Richard Rohr. I find his comments harmful. People need to experience both to be fully rounded. He is clearly more comfortable with the masculine principle than the feminine: he ascribes the masculine specifically to boys and men, but not the feminine to girls and women. With the possible exception of the judge Deborah, he does not name women- even, he implies that Mary Magdalen was not a “disciple”. In describing the feminine, he specifically contrasts the masculine, in negative terms, but describing masculine he alludes to the feminine as “descent of soul”: he is frightened of critiquing what he calls feminine.

What he calls feminine is necessary to serve what he calls masculine. It is all very well to “fix, build and demolish” as long as you are not in conflict. The “feminine” relationality means we can co-operate, and eases the self-doubt of the man when he fails. I see female architects building, which creates a shift: the work of supporting is for all of us, not just females. Monks and male priests, men of peace, ideally take on that feminine role, using intuition, compassion and connection.

The “descent of soul” is a matter of maturity, not just femininity. We learn who we are, and come to accept the whole in unity rather than just the active, confident mask. Men have to learn to do this for themselves, without women supporting them. Then we can support each other, and move between soul and intellect, intuition and action, as necessary. We can be co-operative rather than hierarchical. We will have diverse voices and so greater collective understanding.

In “The State of the Art”, Iain M Banks’ character observes that a particular Holocaust memorial is a cave to walk into, “a cunt rather than a prick”. The man approves, but they are two parts that fit together, not symbols of discrete roles. One might think of the active yoni “enveloping” the phallus, and of monuments being just that, stone symbols of commemoration, not penises.

The result is a union of archetypes. Each person’s gifts are valued. Couples may be partnerships without “men’s” and “women’s” roles. These separate archetypes have value, but as active and contemplative, or nuanced and decisive, rather than masculine and feminine. God may unite them as of equal worth without being seen as mother or father.

Avoiding transition

-Doctor, I am a trans woman. I want to transition, and I want your help and support to do that: I want testosterone suppressants and oestrogen, and I may want surgery at some time, I have not completely decided on that.

-Many people transition, and find it makes them happier and better adjusted. You can certainly transition. Why do you want to?

-I knew there was something wrong before I went to school, and when I went to school I worked out what it was. I was a girl, and I am a woman. I did not feel as the boys felt. I did not want to play with the boys. Now, I do not like to be with the blokes. I much prefer being with women.

-What does it mean to be a woman? When you say you are a trans woman, what is it that you are?

-I am feminine, by which I mean I am sensitive. I have strong feelings, and I like to express them. I am good at reading the feelings of others. I loathe conflict, and like reconciliation. I want people to be happy. I have a strong aesthetic sense: I love beauty, and enjoy flower arranging.

-I wonder if that could be a description of a man. Have you ever heard Alfred Brendel play Beethoven, or Maurizio Pollini, Chopin? Can you hear the strong feelings, the sweet yearning gentleness, expressed there? Or have you seen the paintings of Henry Raeburn or Allan Ramsay: there is strong feeling. The painters well those passions read, which yet survive on the living canvas. Both painted women as well as men. As for wanting people to be happy, Jesus would not break a bruised reed or quench a smouldering wick. Jeremy Corbyn, always speaking out for peace- is he not a man? Or Carl Rogers, who founded person-centred counselling? Why is being a man so difficult for you? What does it mean to be a man?

-Rudyard Kipling’s If. The Scout Law. Self-reliance. Rationality. Preferring things over people, rationally organising. Relishing conflict, and overcoming.

-These are difficult for anybody. If all around are losing their heads, and only one is keeping his, are the others not men, or not real men, or what? What should they do? Give up their Man card? Can you think of anyone who is like that? It seems to me your difficulty is not with being a man, but with your idea of what a man should be.

-Well, in my case I want to transition. I am happiest when I am Clare, and when I go back to being Stephen it is horrible.

 ♥♥♥

The lightbulb must want to change. By the time you see the gender psychiatrist, you know who you are, and what you need. No-one goes to the psychiatrist because they might be transsexual. Now, years afterwards, I am well aware of the breadth of male and female emotional expression and rationality, relish for conflict or desire for reconciliation, interest in things or people. I can value my gentleness. Now, with the new concept of gender-schematic, I can see that imagining some concept of manhood separate from my own gifts and inclinations is poisonous rather than idealistic, pointless and harmful, and while one might escape it into transition it would be so much better to escape it into appreciation of onesself as a rounded human being.

As for “femininity”, women are not all like that, and to some extent neither am I. So often in a group, the trans woman is the only one in a skirt, the cis women are far more spirited than our passive ideal. One sees that “femininity” is often oppressive. Equality is better than subordination- By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: the very being and existence of the woman is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband, wrote Blackstone (quoted by Rebecca Solnit). Concepts of femininity might be closer to who I am than the concept of masculinity I grew up with, but still require me to deny parts of myself. It seems such a long way round to self-acceptance.

People will continue to transition. Many people are satisfied with the result of their operations, and others’ dissatisfaction as well as my own goes with poorer results- pain, and lessened sensitivity. If I advise people not to transition, that may fall on deaf ears. Yet there are better ways to health. How to unpick the desire? I do not advocate conversion therapy, but self-acceptance: yet acceptance of body as well as character. “Why are you so unhappy?” might be a good question.

On trans rights, having transitioned I am entitled to be treated as a woman. So are any others who go through this. It is hard enough to be trans, without the covenant we have with liberal human rights, by which we are members of the acquired gender, being overturned.

Gender-schematic

Gender-schematic people use gender stereotypes to organise information in their world. People who identify strongly with their gender stereotype adopt attitudes and behaviours consistent with it, and use it to judge others. That seems me to fit trans folk. We imagine that “masculine” and “feminine” have meaning. Trans women I know tried desperately to fit the masculine stereotype, perhaps even ultra-masculine, and then become ultra-feminine, at least in presentation.

Cordelia Fine did not say how the Attitude Interest Analysis Survey decided what was masculine and what was feminine. Hundreds of specimen attitudes, emotions, personality traits and occupational choices were put before American school-children. Those which elicited strongly different responses from one sex were included in the survey. So it is a test of conformity: those who score as particularly masculine or feminine are those who want to conform. Trans people can report that does not mean we accurately estimate who we are.

The Bem Sex Role Inventory, made by S.L. Bem, asked adults about the desirability of traits in men and in women. It had separate scales, one for masculinity, one for femininity, and so could produce results as masculine, feminine, androgynous (both) or undifferentiated (neither). I found this pdf for the Personal Attributes Questionnaire, which indicates the scores with the questions. I scored myself high feminine, low masculine, though wondered whether others would score me the same. Would their estimation of me equal mine? For this test, to be “excitable”  in a major crisis is thought feminine, to be calm, masculine. But the weaker person with less control might be resigned, rather than excitable. Excitable might go with panic and fruitless activity or passion and directed activity. One might think it “British” to be calm, and “Italian” (well, we are talking stereotypes) to be excitable.

The source I looked at said PAQ measured “desirable” traits. I don’t see excitability in a crisis to be desirable, but then I am British, and conform to that stereotype to a great extent. Also, it said “feminine” in the test meant expressive, and “masculine”, instrumental. It says it is masculine to be competitive, but not feminine to be uncompetitive. Fine says that women can be competitive, in sports and for academic advancement.

PAQ says women are sensitive, in the negative sense that their feelings are easily hurt and the positive sense that they are aware of the feelings of others. I feel these traits go together.

I don’t know what I would have said when I was struggling so gamely to make a man of myself. I know that I was not aware of my feelings, and might have been similarly unaware of my attributes. I remember claiming not to be easily hurt, and Moira incredulously denying that. I would deny it myself, now.

I feel my self-perception now- that I am easily hurt- is more accurate than it was then. This seems a matter of learning about myself as I age, but could equally be conforming to a feminine stereotype. One does not feel as one ought to feel, but as one feels, and that can be difficult to understand. I find the idea of what feelings are appropriate can be a barrier to knowing what one actually feels. I remember being surprised in the hour of my mother’s death that none of us were crying.

It could then be that trans people are just particularly gender-schematic, that we understand people through the concept of gender. Unable to fit as men, trans women transition. This may go along with arousal at cross-dressing, not as a prime cause but as a factor making transition more likely. The end of the concept of gender, as a way of understanding others or ourselves, would liberate us to find out who we really are.

Psychology Research and Reference on masculinity and femininity.

Battle of the sexes

Some feminists see the world through the question “How do women lose out?” There are so many ways- sexual violence, poorer work prospects, supporting men emotionally and with physical care… AFAB trans mutilate their bodies, AMAB trans encroach on women’s space. If trans is rejection of gender roles, it is highly stylised. Surely it would be better to be your true self without dressing up and pretending? I agree. Transition was my way to being my true self, but at such a cost! I did it because it was the only way I saw.

Men compete, viciously. In Siri Hustvedt’s academia, she enjoys the argument. The more you know the better your position. “Bite back, hard, and never cry,” she advises a colleague.

George Orwell despised softness and snivelling. He was an intellectual and political analyst, on the Left, and a fighter who had survived his Prep school, as well as Catalonia.

I hoped the law would be a cerebral, rational haven, and found it a battlefield. Even on the Left I find women fighting for equality and seeing me as against them. The Right is for a neo-liberal privatisation of all human activity, controlled by private wealth. The Left is about what we do together, social work, a safety net for those in need, public spaces, new antibiotics and caring for our biosphere- all the many market failures the Right ignores or devalues- but we still compete.

I write, and read that literature is a feminine pursuit, so devalued, worth less than rigorous intellectual manly pursuits.

I need to be at ease with my emotions, aware of them, able to express them, and find I am so imbued with the idea that this is weakness that it is a continual struggle; and my society finds it uncomfortable. That, too, is a way we struggle with each other.

Hustvedt shows how we split off parts of ourselves, labelling them “feminine” and thereby devaluing them or denying them. My femininity is a social construct and my engagement with it makes me wonder if “masculine” traits are in me yet devalued because I must assert my femininity or demanded of me but not in me. Transition helped me find a stereotype which is so much closer to Real Me yet capable of deluding me.

We spend our time, and we spend ourselves- usefully or frittering. Sitting at home I imbibe microplastics in tap or bottled water, tiny particles which fall from clothes and possessions as well as from throw-away packaging, then accumulate toxins. So many threats! Who would save their life will lose it. Everything is a struggle, so I must struggle for something I find worthwhile.

Grayson Perry

I am a transvestite; I am turned on by dressing in clothes that are heavily associated with being female…How can I, brought up as a man, know anything about the experience of being a woman? It would be insulting to women if I thought I did.

This is enough for some people to write Grayson Perry off as a transphobe- it implies that trans women insult women too. He speculates about how his mother, venting her rage about men, or her partner, the Minotaur who could be the only masculine one in the household, might affect his gender- it’s nurture, not just nature. Then he refers to his “gender dysphoria”. Later he says boys fear that putting on a dress will turn them into a girl. (If only!) He may be a trans woman who cannot admit it even to himself, but the truth keeps leaking out. Or, loathing makes him express it negatively- cross-dressing is “childish”, a “fantasy of femininity”- but also he (p52) calls it “adopting femininity”. He wears little girl dresses, the clearest transvestite fetish opposite of the serious trans woman in women’s trousers, and finds women dote over him like they would over a little girl, drawn into the narrative of the costume despite the incongruity of the wearer.

He conflates things we would differentiate, and states etiologies we would dispute. He boasts of using the men’s toilets “even” when wearing a dress, “out of respect”. Most say “cross-dresser” rather than transvestite. Yet he challenges Masculinity, which has poisoned us and which we flee. I would go beyond the failure to see trans as we see it, to his whole view. We can’t impose an orthodoxy on everyone. Many people will say “Trans women are women”, still, thank God. Does anything he says advance our cause?

Unfortunately, his book The Descent of Man is confused. It seems he has thought a lot about masculinity, as a transvestite, but not read widely or systematically. Parliament being half women would bring in consensus, steady debate and empathy in leadership. So women are other, and I don’t get the same sense of women’s variation. High-achieving, ambitious men revel in the status quo. “Sexually promiscuous,” he calls them. That could be envy, though he is married. Men lower down the pecking order still benefit from the patriarchy. But “those who lose out”- probably “unmanly” men like him, have nothing to lose and might rise up alongside women. How many? “A lot of them,” that is, no idea.

Later, he writes “A lot of men are sold the narrative of male domination, but lead lives of frustration and servitude”. So the macho men who dropped out of education and have no job, but who beat up their partners, might rebel? They would rebel in quite a different way. Men compete unconsciously, talking of their achievements, possessions, and strengths. I have noticed that sometimes I do not feel the need to compete, sometimes I compete, and sometimes I can add nothing to a conversation, as if invisible (once on Saturday). I am aware of it. Not feeling a need to compete is a relief, but perhaps it was that I did not see the man telling me his boastful story as competition.

The props, gestures and script which signal gender are temporary social constructs. Yes. I would like a discussion of how our symbols relate to our underlying qualities, real or feigned, but it is not here. But he has interesting things to say about passing. He mimicked the “pimp roll” of older boys, being keen to pass as a real man. All men do, he argues. Authentic manhood, merely expressing ones inner qualities, is the ideal, and men have ways of pretending to that, such as leather biker jackets. We work at passing in many ways: sexuality, class, race, occupation or nationality. However for me, we imagine our interior selves fit our ideal. We do not know ourselves.

What is a “woman”?

“My femininity is different from your femaleness,” I said. “Oh, that’s good,” she said, writing it down. The gender non-conforming woman insists she is a woman and women are oppressed because they are women. Freedom for women requires a strict definition of “woman”, excluding trans women even though it includes some with disorders of sexual development.

My Radical feminist Friend (I have more than one- do not assume any individual) wrote, The illusion of gender difference is the one making it possible to let one sex be dominant and the other subordinate. Any definition of “woman” which includes me would exclude her, or restrict and limit her to “femininity”. Trans is no escape from oppression: she mocked the trans “man”, 5′ tall with a high voice and feminine mannerisms.

A social conservative arguing for traditional marriage, even for women to remain at home looking after children, wrote, Men’s gift, physical strength, is at the same time their greatest liability. It enables them to be extremely helpful but also enables them to get what they want without regard for what is good for everyone. Suddenly I saw this social conservative was on the Left, in seeking common goals and goods rather than individual dominance. We would argue over our differences while here is this clear agreement.

Rather than state advantages for the GNC woman’s definition of “woman”, I might couch them as fears, what she seeks to avoid, to show that I too seek to avoid what she fears- or can gain the advantages she seeks. I can assuage your fears, I say, reassuringly. However it seems they are fears, she is protecting what she has against possible loss.

If I am a woman because of my femininity, then the GNC woman feels she is either restricted to femininity, or excluded from womanhood. She will not accept either. So her definition of woman relies on sexual dimorphism, and whatever fun we can have with intersex or disorders of sexual development, the distinction holds. Including an androgen-insensitive XY woman does not mean she must include me. My side could argue the different intersex folk show sufficient fuzziness at the edges of the definition for me to squeeze in. She does not accept that.

Who needs protected? The GNC woman says women, the XX people, from men, the XY people, because of men’s physical strength and gendered propensity to violence and expressing anger against others rather than internalising it against themselves. Possibly I could say with that social conservative that those needing protection are those who seek “what is good for everyone rather than what they want”, but not all who transition are on the left, and she would say transition is a conservative phenomenon. Both sides are mostly on the left, accusing the other side of being on the right. “You perpetuate gender roles!” they say. “You write for The Spectator!” we reply.

My radical feminist friend told me of girls brought up as boys in Afghanistan, because without a male relative a woman cannot go out. So a widow takes her “son”. One such boy-girl revelled in the freedom that gave her, and one pined for feminine pursuits. People have gender, it just does not correlate to sex.

To answer “Who is a woman?” I would say, everyone who wants to be one or considers herself one- not in the moment on a whim, but as a settled conviction and desire for all of life. Then, “What is a woman like?” Anything women born women want to be, without restriction, but complete diversity including that femininity which appeals to some women, and to all of us who transition to womanhood.