You are a trans woman. You get chatting to someone in a bar, and go off to a dark corner to make out. Then they shout, “Ew, gross, you’re a man!” Could you be prosecuted for sexual assault? Continue reading
“I really trust in myself and my own Blackness,” says Quinta Brunson. How liberating! Something condemned, or seen as other and inferior, feared oppressed and resisted, being Claimed. “This is who I am, and it is Good.” Beautiful. I screwed up my courage, and typed: I really trust in myself, and my own
I have wrestled with the concept here for ten years. It feels weak, vulnerable and frightening. It seems an oppressive, Patriarchal concept: women are not always feminine, and should not be expected to be. Sometimes it appears incoherent. And I feel unworthy of it. My internalised transphobia claims I am not really feminine.
I keep coming back to the fact of my femininity. I am still resisting, but it becomes more undeniable. I fear it, and that sets up internal conflicts which paralyse me. I denounced it as weak, sick, perverted, disgusting, ridiculous and illusory. Only as I accept that I am as I am, can I become free.
I desired someone. She was dominant, and I would submit. I wanted to nurture and care for her. The term in a Domination/submission (D/s) dynamic would be “serve”, but I don’t like that word. It is not just false self-image which makes me resist: I have value and agency which the word “serve” does not properly acknowledge.
It appears that some women, like me, want to be “taken”, or “overpowered”, by a sexual partner. Not all women, of course, and sex without consent is a violation. Some would deny it, and some would whisper about it. Some would fear it. Some would see it in themselves, and take precautions: being overpowered could be damaging, unless there is love between a couple.
Most people discover sex in their teens. A lesbian blogger said she was twenty before she found her community, and sexual love. I was so damaged by my culture, society and upbringing, so bound up in the need to make a man of myself, that I could not possibly have recognised my desires then. I want to be overwhelmed, and that would have been too great a threat to my sense of self.
Others saw in me what I denied in myself. At a dance in 1994, I took Jan in a ballroom hold, and she started to lead. I got embarrassed and upset, and she said, “I thought that was what you wanted”. It was, just, not what I could admit to myself. So I was stuck in impossible internal conflicts, denial and suppression, and starved for connection.
I want to be overwhelmed, and wonder if it is pathological: if my mother made me that way. When a trait is disrespected and denied, we search for a cause. The cause is, natural human diversity.
If it is hard for women to accept that desire, how much harder for men! Even when you accept it, the danger of it, the possibility of exploitation, continues. I am not a man, I am more or less clear on that twenty years after transitioning. The desire to make a man of myself recedes, though it was so powerful in me that there are still echoes. And perhaps in others: if men have an inkling that they do not fit the gender stereotypes of Manliness, they might have powerful feelings which they need to deny and suppress out of consciousness just as I did. It would feel humiliating, where if there were Love and acceptance it could be fulfilling.
I have little experience of sex, and almost none satisfactory. Well, we did not evolve to be happy, we evolved to reproduce. Two years ago, I coined this phrase: I want to open up like a flower. I have done, once, with a big, gentle man. My only response to him was to open from a foetal position, curled up protecting my breasts, belly and genitals, to lying on my back with my legs apart. This took more than an hour. And there was no “relationship” beyond friendship. Possibly his care was large enough to fill the word “Love”. Possibly the friendship and trust I felt for him was sufficient.
A scenario: you, the sub, are bound, gagged, helpless, at the Mistress’ feet (apologies to anyone who finds this overly vanilla).
I feel the sub’s attraction. There is the sense of being helpless, overwhelmed, controlled. But the fantasy is humiliating, echoing the humiliation the sub feels at his desires. He realises this is not manly. If he maintains a manly façade elsewhere, it might make him more ashamed and less likely to form a loving sexual bond.
At best, the humiliation might break him open, so he can admit his desire and be his whole self. Or he can explore it, experiencing what it is like to be this part of himself with another human being. At worst, he has an occasional outlet, walled round with shame and denial. I had an occasional outlet in cross-dressing. I could only integrate a huge part of myself through transition, and am still working on it now.
What I can’t see, in the D/s scenario, is anything valuing the sub. I have value. I am not just a plaything. The conventional ways people are valued- family, job, status- do not apply to me. I was systematically devalued, so I devalued myself. The vulnerable sexual being, overwhelmed, needs to be valued. I love Cranmer’s words: “Love, protect and cherish”. Cherished, I might flourish. Devalued and humiliated, I hide away.
Humans respond to being valued. We bring forth our valued parts. We hide those parts that are devalued. I have this capacity for surrender, which I fear in myself, and have judged and seen as weak. I need to value it.
A sex worker can get people to pay for that humiliation. And if she enjoys it, and he asks for it, why wouldn’t she?
Possibly, it’s just me, and everyone else has come to terms with all this…
I had initially called this “Fearful femininity” in the sense of “fearful symmetry”. I am in the embrace of unyielding reality, holding me as I struggle. If I reject my femininity I cannot protect those vulnerabilities in myself. I must value and protect my femininity.
I do not know my own desires, but I have been finding out some things.
Deeply repressed in my twenties, so ashamed of cross-dressing that I had aversion therapy, not knowing my own feelings, I wanted a girlfriend like a repressed gay man might- to make me normal, to make me appear normal. I believe a woman fell in love with me at University, saw the gentle soul below the layers of terror and arrogance, and took years to recover. I did not see it.
I thought of calling this “Towards a theory of my sexuality,” though I feel, as well as analysing. The working theory until this week was that my sexuality was like my father’s. He liked strong, controlling women, first my mother, then M. We had one honest conversation about this. I get the impression that some people think this is just kink, possibly kink in denial. (People I have talked to recently have referred to “kink” rather than “BDSM”.) I think it is different. My mother never even wore a high heeled boot. I like to be controlled, and being controlled has hurt me. And I want to open up like a flower.
U would have controlled me for her own purposes, just because she could. I did not see it, and F did: she told me of a man who had been gloriously dominant, and she had just accommodated to him. Now she had a man who appreciated her nature and helped her be herself.
I craved seeing D. I asked for a video call, and when I saw her, all my oxytocin went off. In that moment I felt my deep emotional need for connection. I had not realised its strength.
I talked about this with my friend who does twelve-steps. We agreed that humans kid ourselves all the time. The alcoholic will take just one drink, he thinks. She does not want me hurt, and said I should sever all contact. I picked another friend to talk to because they have poly relationships, not knowing they are into kink. I thought poly would teach them to be conscious about feelings, needs and illusions. They said, “You know I’m not going to judge you, right?” Of course, that’s why I picked you. I still could not speak clearly, just sat silent or said disconnected words, until they loved me back to coherence.
I still surprised them. “I think of mine as male sexuality,” I said. “Oh! OK,” they said. Well, like my father’s. I want to understand, so no concept is off limits- imagining that I am a man, a woman, or nonbinary helps me understand different things about myself. Though I don’t like it when others pigeon hole me. More than one has said, “Oh, I don’t think of you as man or woman, I think of you as Clare”. I resist “nonbinary”, because of my starkly binary transition.
I need an emotional connection, I said. “The word for that is ‘demisexual’,” they said, and I felt resistance. I feel it, it is real now, and I will not shut myself off from future experience by classifying My Precise Orientation too early.
Then Michelle Goldberg in the NYT hits me between the eyes. “Women are still embarrassed by their desires, particularly when they are emotional.” Women might put their partner’s needs above their own. One felt embarrassed wanting to stop her partner choking her during sex, even though she did not like it.
This brought me to tears. “I want to be a man,” I wept. It would make life so much easier! But I am not. I am a woman. I want to be hurt! Not in a masochistic sense, but because I want to open up to all experience, and it is only through being open to being hurt that I might find what I desire.
I am a trans woman. I am never going to say my “sex” is male. To threaten me with the offence of making a false answer to the Census, with a maximum fine of £1000, would only increase my determination. I have a GRC, which has never been useful to me, which was expensive and humiliating to obtain, but which by s9 of the Gender Recognition Act ordains that my sex is female; but I would never have said I was male, certainly not after transition, probably not after deciding to transition.
Anti-trans campaigners speak movingly about pregnancy. I understand. Female reproductive biology, its wonder and delight, and the humiliation and threat of it in patriarchy, all matter. The powerlessness and difficulty of new motherhood can radicalise people.
I don’t deny sex is real. But trans people exist. At worst, I have an indefatigable delusion- I believe I am a woman, and cannot be persuaded otherwise. Unless you believe in a “soul”, this is biological, and AI can differentiate trans and cis brains. Recognising trans people does not mean devaluing cis women or their struggles. The great lie is that trans rights are a threat to women’s rights.
Sex and gender are synonyms in law. Gender, in ordinary usage, such as in a form asking your “gender”, is a synonym for sex. The Gender Recognition Act says my sex is female. The Equality Act s7 refers to “gender reassignment” of “transsexual persons”, and the Code of Practice shows trans women use “single sex” services for women. The distinction- sex is physical, gender is cultural- in gender studies cuts both ways. Unless you want to have a baby, or have a health problem, everything else is culture.
The Women and Equalities Committee of the House of Commons, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, as well as anti-trans hate groups have demanded a legal distinction between sex and gender. I see the benefit for the hate groups: cis women, called “women”, would use single-sex services and transgender women would use the men’s. Perhaps we could still change our sex with two years “in role” and a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, though that is unworkable. Perhaps even with a GRC we could still be excluded. Or the law could be redrafted, so that after we decide to transition trans women could use women’s services unless there was good reason to exclude us, as now. It seems a huge fuss for no benefit.
We used to call ourselves transsexual. The word puts social pressure on us to have surgery, and not everyone wants that, but we could go back to it. I am a woman, not a feminine male.
To threaten criminal prosecution of a trans woman who says her sex is female is cruel and humiliating, yet a hate group tried to get the Scottish courts to do just that. Fortunately, unlike in England, the court refused. The judgment is in this pdf.
The guidance will say, “If you are transgender the answer you give can be different from what is on your birth certificate. You do not need a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).” It says nonbinary people must say M or F.
The hate group’s bottomless pockets are shown by this malicious attempt, but their strategy of suing whenever they can imagine a cause of action has backfired. They attempted to argue that the word “sex” has the narrow, exclusive meaning that claims trans women are men, and the judge found the complete opposite. He said the statute should be construed in the interests of society. The Scottish government argued that had changed- as trans people are more and more recognised, the court could say that a trans woman’s sex is female, even if she has no GRC; but the judge said there were trans people in 1920 when the Census Act was enacted, and “sex” was capable of including self-identified or lived sex, even in 1920. So, trans women are women, and always have been. See paragraph 55.
In 2018 the Scottish government wanted to specify that sex included gender identity, for the purposes of the census. That definition was withdrawn. The judge calls this a “no-score draw”- both human rights campaigners and anti-trans campaigners agreed it would cause confusion, though for different reasons. However, that certainly does not mean that sex does not include gender identity (para 48).
The hate group attempted to argue that the case of Bellinger, about a trans woman’s marriage to a cis man, defined the word “sex” in law for all time. The judge said it didn’t: it only defined “sex” for the purposes of marriage in England, in 2003.
In England, the hate group got an interim order against the census on 9 March, when the census was due to take place on 21 March. They got the guidance in England changed by a trick. It is unlikely that the proportion of the population who is trans is significantly different in England and Scotland, but if the Scottish census produces a higher estimate it will show the hate group scared trans people from answering the trans question.
Even without a GRC, I would have said I am female. The judge says an answer provided in good faith and on reasonable grounds is not false, and therefore trans women have this right. As our passports say “Sex/Sexe: F”, it shows our sex is recognised by the State even without a GRC. A cis woman who had never thought she was trans would be answering the sex question falsely if she said she was male; a trans man would not be.
Hate groups say it distorts statistics to include trans women as women. The 2011 census could only estimate the Scottish population as between 5.21 and 5.38 million. There are probably not 170,000 trans people in Scotland. Beside that unavoidable imprecision, the effect of trans people is insignificant.
The Scottish census case provides a host of good legal arguments why trans women are women, and our sex is female. The hate group has scored an own goal.
If you have the time, I recommend reading the judgment. However, it quotes over four pages the hate group’s arguments. I found them horrible. I had to keep taking a break, to reconnect with decency and reality.
27 February 2022: The Inner House heard and dispatched an appeal quickly. Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk, who gave the judgment in the Scottish Public Boards case, also gave the judgment here. It made this case considerably less valuable to trans people than the initial judgment might have seemed. See paragraph 23: a trans woman without a GRC can say her sex is female if she likes; but where “matters of status, proof of identity or other important rights” are involved, “it may be necessary to apply a biological definition of sex”.
I always understood that without a GRC I would not have a claim for sex discrimination if an employer preferred a man to me (notwithstanding Neil Gorsuch’s argument). I worried Lady Dorrian’s decision in the Scottish Public Boards case imperils trans women’s rights to enter women’s services, if they do not have a GRC, as Joanna Cherry implies. But, read with the census case, it does not.
Has the Equality and Human Rights Commission kept its promise to tell businesses they can exclude trans women from women’s services? It’s doing its best.
The Core Guidance for businesses is not yet changed, and the Statutory code of practice still applies, but the note on Gyms, health clubs, and changing rooms claims a difference between Sex and Gender, and could affect us in changing rooms. It was last changed on 13 July 2020, and was still visible- see web archive- on 6 April 2022, after the new, trans-exclusionary, guidance came out.
For anti-trans campaigners, trans women change gender, but not sex. Sex-based rights are for cis women. Therefore No Transwomen in Women’s Spaces! It’s a simple syllogism. But that’s not the difference between sex and gender.
Sex is physical and gender is cultural. If you want to reproduce without medical help, you need a couple with a functioning womb and functioning testicles. If any trans person has a genital operation, or takes hormones, that’s a matter of sex- their fertility is affected. But whether people wear high heels, skirts or makeup is cultural.
If a trans man needs a cervical smear test, that’s sex, and if he has bristles on his chin that’s sex too. But his choice to shave them is a matter of culture- gender, not sex. And who are the victims of violence, and whose violence is condoned, is cultural. Who needs, and who deserves protection from violence, and whose protection matters less? Culture decides.
The Equality Act says we have the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment” once we decide to transition, and calls us “transsexual persons”. It makes no distinction between sex and gender.
So, what about changing rooms? Last year, the EHRC was confused about the difference between sex and gender, and this year they are confused in a different way. Before, they wrote we should be treated as belonging “to the sex in which the transsexual person presents”. But I “present” or express my sex with my feminine hairstyle, clothes, and perhaps makeup. That’s culture. I don’t have to prove my fertility or infertility.
Now they say we should be treated as belonging to “the gender they identify with”. But, I’m wearing high heels, a skirt, and makeup. If gender is cultural rather than physical, that’s my gender. It’s not a matter of “identifying with”, it’s just who I am. Or, I’m in jeans and a T-shirt, but my breasts (sex) change my visible shape, and I use the name Clare. My sex is ambiguous, if you really want to do a chromosome test, but my gender is female.
There’s another change, and it relates to those “visually indistinguishable” trans women which we should all, apparently, aspire to be. Do you pass, girls? No? Work harder!! Deportment and voice are so important, and if your frame is too masculine you should probably not transition at all.
Possibly none of us are visually indistinguishable. Justice Ormrod thought April Ashley looked like a “female impersonator”. Before, the EHRC wrote about these paragons’ “preferred gender” and “acquired gender”. Gender, cultural, even though having breasts- physical, a matter of secondary sexual characteristics- is part of passing.
Now, the EHRC refers to “the gender they identify with” and their “gender identity”. Are you “visually and for all practical purposes indistinguishable from someone of the gender [you] identify with”? That makes no sense. I and a cis woman are both glammed up, make-up, evening gown with a slit up to here, “fuck me” shoes, very different from the second wave feminist in her DMs and crew cut.
If gender is cultural, the feminine woman and the second wave feminist exhibit different gender. And allowing trans people to go out into the world and thrive shows that we can express our true gender, so increases freedom for that second wave feminist, and everyone else.
Claiming gender is cultural does not help the trans-excluders make sense.
I am worried about the EHRC. It has been captured by Tory appointees, several of whom are trans excluders: Akua Reindorf, Lady Falkner. But this page, last updated 22 December 2021, is unobjectionable- it says trans women should use women’s services except “in very restricted circumstances”. The EHRC still has a lot of employees supporting trans rights, despite their board.
The Equality Act which passed the House of Representatives is the greatest blow for sex equality possible. It would be a far greater benefit for anti-trans campaigners than for trans people. This is because of its definition of “gender identity”:
The term ‘gender identity’ means the gender-related identity, appearance, mannerisms, or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, regardless of the individual’s designated sex at birth.
It includes every way human beings express ourselves, including how “bossy” (female) or “decisive” (male) we are, how “feminine” (good) or “effeminate” (bad).
Reacting to a person based on gender stereotypes would become potential unlawful discrimination. Specifically, “The term ‘sex’ includes a sex stereotype”. As I understand it, statute does not define “sex” for the purposes of discrimination, which is how Aimee Stephens could persuade the US Supreme Court to protect her based on her gender identity. But the law does not yet specifically protect against discrimination based on sex stereotype.
Trans excluders would be less keen that “in a situation in which sex is a bona fide occupational qualification, individuals [have a right to be] recognized as qualified in accordance with their gender identity”. And “an individual shall not be denied access to a shared facility, including a restroom, a locker room, and a dressing room, that is in accordance with the individual’s gender identity.” Excluders are going mad about this, now. They pretend that trans women are sexual perverts, or that we want to use women’s facilities because of sexual perversion. I want to use loos because I have functioning kidneys, and so need to pee regularly. I have little interest in other people there, indeed am happiest when toilets are deserted. But then I should not be excluded now, based on the Bostock case. All the Act does is put that beyond all doubt.
Republicans in the Senate will block it. They filibuster everything. I read that Americans do not know that they can block legislation with 41 Senate votes: only 15% of voters surveyed got that right. That’s despite the New York Times Opinion section having 81 articles in the past year about the filibuster, with headlines like “The Filibuster Must Go”. Those of us interested in politics can be shocked by how uninterested in politics, and ignorant, most people are. Voters think the Democrats control the Senate and House, so blame the Democrats for failure to legislate. Only people interested in politics would read those NYT articles.
Does the Act matter? Whether or not it is passed, some trans women will be mocked, bullied or excluded from women’s spaces, some might claim unlawful discrimination, various people will get irate, and the New York Times will put forth comment articles. I read two or three a day because I find them entertaining. Real life will go on. But, for those aware of it, the Act passing the Senate would shift the culture towards greater acceptance of difference, including gendered difference, and that would benefit everyone.
You know you are the opposite sex. You know this is mad, and shameful, and no-one must know. You think you are the only one. But brave people are making paths, and transition is becoming possible. Government and society are tolerant if contemptuous. You can be you.
The case of Corbett v Corbett or Ashley decided in England that a trans woman, even after an operation, could not marry a man, and that decision stood until the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which had certain insulting restrictions. However, it says something about what it was like to be trans in 1970, when it was decided.
It wasn’t easy. First, you had to hear that other people were like this too. In her teens April Ashley had attempted suicide and been admitted to mental hospital, where she said she wanted to be a woman. In 1956, aged 21, she went to the south of France where she met and joined a troupe of female impersonators from the Carousel club, Paris. She was taking oestrogen.
In 1961 April was working as a model, until this was reported in the press. In 1962, the News of the World published a series of articles about her, telling her life story in considerable detail. Reporting was exploitative, but it was out there. Jan Morris’ book Conundrum was published in 1974. I found it unreadable, too close to my experience, and it was written to explain us to educated cis people rather than to ourselves, but it was there.
In 1961, April changed her name by deed poll, and obtained a passport in her female name. “The Ministry of National Insurance issued her with a woman’s insurance card, and now treat her as a woman for national insurance purposes.” The doctors had arranged this for several patients. The rules were different, based on the idea that women would marry and become housewives. There was a widow’s benefit but no equivalent for widowers. So the rules were inappropriate if you could not marry, but the thing was done.
In court, her husband’s barrister badgered her over whether she had had erections or ejaculated. The judge, contemptuously, records, “She simply refused to answer either question and wept a little”.
A lawyer in Gibraltar succeeded in getting a special licence for her to marry. So the High Court in London scotched that idea, but some officials would have given it a go.
There was a surgeon, Georges Burou, in Casablanca, who would perform the operation, and April had it in 1960. There were specialists in London who recommended it: Dr JB Randell, at the Charing Cross gender clinic, which had started in 1966, had recommended 35 patients for surgery. Patients had to sign a consent form saying “I understand it will not alter my male sex and that it is being done to prevent deterioration in my mental health”.
Arthur Corbett pressed her to marry, though she knew this was a mistake. Arthur was unhappily married, and had cross-dressed from 1948. They rarely dressed, saying “I didn’t like what I saw. You want the fantasy to appear right. It utterly failed to appear right in my eyes.” A man who had had an amputation told me those turned on by this didn’t last, as they wanted the amputation themselves. So Arthur pressed her to marry, but though April had had sex with others, Arthur could not go through with it. “On several occasions he succeeded in penetrating her fully, but immediately gave up, saying ’I can’t, I can’t’ and withdrew without ejaculation, and burst into tears.” She left Arthur, saying the years since they met had been the worst of her life.
I am not using pronouns for Arthur. I am pretty sure she was trans, and born fifty years later would have transitioned. She felt that, looking like she did, it would have been impossible. While the judge, and probably the psychiatrists, made a rigorous distinction then between “transsexuals” and “transvestites”, the difference is what you see as possible, rather than your true nature.
Lawyers soon began arguing that the Sex Discrimination Act 1970 made it illegal to discriminate against transsexuals.
Transition was even harder than now, but there were pathways, and official recognition, and exceptionally courageous individuals could do it, and make a life.
Rosa Freedman had her door soaked with urine, saw graffiti telling her to leave her job, and had phone calls throughout the night saying she should be raped and killed. She hid behind a tree because she was frightened of people following her.
Pause for a moment, and think of the horror of these experiences. Imagine this happening to you, or someone you love. Trans people, who receive such abuse all the time, should feel particular sympathy. She was abused because of what she says, which is trans-excluding. She wants to make a rigorous legal distinction between sex and gender, and enforce single sex spaces. My gender would be recognised as female, and I would be excluded from women’s space because my sex would still be male, unalterable.
Differentiating sex and gender does not make such an exclusion, by itself. At the moment both the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act use the words- if not interchangeably, or as if to confuse the two, certainly in a way it is difficult to distinguish them. But for trans women in women’s space, there is a two stage test. A service can be for women only if it is “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim” (PaMALA). Then it can exclude trans women, again if that is PaMALA. For law to permit what is “legitimate” may seem circular, but from such mysteries lawyers make their dosh.
If sex and gender are legally distinct, the service would have to justify being a single-sex service. Why a single-sex service, rather than single-gender? The law might say, again, the service is single-sex if that is “legitimate”. Or it might just assume that services are single-sex, and exclude trans women from where we have been for decades. I hope it would not choose the latter course, because that would be against international human rights law, but Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Rosa is willing to try. For her, services should be single sex, not considering gender. She would “reconcile the concerns of those who identify as trans and those who are women” by excluding trans women from women’s spaces.
Rosa made a twitter thread describing the abuse, and the Daily Mail published it, with sympathetic commentary and her own words justifying her views. A much-upvoted comment said that if trans people were being harassed in this way the police would soon be arresting the perpetrators, which is not my experience. The police told me they could do nothing.
Rosa claims she has been “reasonable and respectful” in her expression of her views. I am not sure that is enough to avoid being objectionable. When she demands that I be excluded from where I am safe, when she claims I am a threat, it is worse that she uses apparently passion-free language, because that shows that she is cold and premeditated in her hatred.
I am glad Diva magazine is on my side. Their publisher was on Woman’s Hour, making a courteous, straightforward argument for inclusion, shouted down by a woman who said our rights were incompatible. When people fly-post stickers saying “Women’s rights are not for penises” they dehumanise us. I was so much more than a penis, even when I had one. That is a standard tactic for getting people to persecute a group, mockery and dehumanisation.
All bodies are beautiful.
Fat bodies and thin bodies, the stretch marks and the rib cages, babies whose heads need supported because their necks are not strong enough yet-
Oh! So Tiny!
and old bodies, grey hair, wrinkles, laugh lines and frown lines, bent backs, arthritic hips
the record of struggle and delight being and doing
the record of our humanity
We are human because of our bodies, created in the image of God so loving, creative, powerful, beautiful, male and female,
created over fifty million years of primate evolution so that we fit, here, now,
Voyagers beyond the solar system saying Hello! Is there anyone there?
the Svalbard Global Seed Vault so that we preserve something of the species we are destroying
a self-portrait of Clementine Helene Dufau whose eyes follow you round the room
Georgia O’Keefe’s grey lines with black, blue and yellow- is that a vagina?- surrounded by women contemplating the beauty of the colours.
I did not know my body’s beauty
I was brought up to Be a Man, a lawyer in a world of men in dark grey suits and white shirts with golden cufflinks, where bodies are denied.
To be a Real Man, a Christian Gentleman, cultured and educated
disembodied, nerveless below the neck, a mind seen as a computing machine,
a Cartesian intellect.
I am a body! I feel therefore I am! I did not know it then.
I was ashamed of my body, too thin, too weak, too slow, not at all manly, best kept hidden.
What created this shame- nature, or nurture? Nature, or Torture?
Sex was something I did, not because I wanted it, but because men were supposed to do it. I was in my head, my disembodied mind, doing it in the way men were supposed to, because I had to pretend to be a man. I did not do it much.
My mother wore the trousers in her relationship. My dad just loved that.
They were terrified of anyone finding out. This screwed me up.
My mother was a harridan, a strict, bossy or belligerent woman; a virago, a woman of masculine spirit; a termagant, a domineering or overbearing woman. My father was a pansy, a milk-sop, a namby-pamby, effete, feeble man.
I wish I had positive words for their specific, queer-hetero sexuality. My mother was powerful. My father was gentle. It would have been beautiful, but for the fear and denial, the false idea of the “real man”, that fake, false, fanciful, fictitious, fraudulent, oppressive, ridiculous ideal of a Man.
I needed to be a Man. So many trans women do. My friend was a fireman, my friend was a soldier, my friend was a police firearms officer.
What I wanted more than anything else in the world was to be myself, to be Abigail, a woman. I plucked up all my courage and devoted two years to planning and preparing, and I could.
I laid aside my act, my pretence, the heavy stiff armour with spikes on the inside, and could Be.
The world changed, from monochrome to colour. My body was alive. My fingertips felt Beauty in wood and metal, grass, earth and stone.
I became human.
I came to love my body. I saw its beauty. It is slim, and lithe.
It is effective, cycling fast in the sun, or in a warm and gentle cuddle
and on Stage! Hello!
I changed from being a fragment of a person, just an intellect
to a person almost whole. I was like a dancing doll, with legs, arms, fingers, but
It was as if my vagina did not exist. I did not look at it. I did not touch it except to clean it.
It might as well not have been there.
And then in the garden, in the summer. There had been a barbecue, there was a marquee, carpeted with rugs, deserted except for Carol and me. Everyone has gone to bed. And I am scared. I become the head, the intellect, again, not a body, for my body is curled up tight, turned away, trying not to exist. Oh! So tiny!
She knelt behind me and touched me on the shoulder. She caressed me on the arm. She spoke softly to me. And in the next hour I uncurled, I opened up, I flowered in her sunlight.
The variety of human sympathy and desire, with men loving men, women loving women, and men who wish to be desired as women… We insist it is a question of gender identity, not sexuality. Trans is who I am. Some people cannot and will not see it that way. It is a matter of sex.
Miri Rubin’s article sees sex as the heart of the relationship between men and women, almost to the exclusion of anything else. She is opposing patriarchy and seeking agency for women, but imagines that friendship between the sexes has rarely been possible with even old folk tormented by memory of lust and satiation. “It is better to marry than burn” wrote St Paul, but then marriage is two people thrust together uncomfortably by sexual need. I have a romantic idea of two people becoming one as a team working together and supporting each other in family love, not just as the beast with two backs, but some people see sex as the imperative towards union. Then transgender is seen as sexual, because everything is.
Even if Blanchard is wrong, and trans women are not motivated by sexual desire for ourselves rather than others, transition is so difficult that it consumes our attention, first deciding to transition then doing it. When the word was permissible, someone said “There are two ‘s’s in ‘transsexual’, and both of them stand for Selfish”. Then the medical treatments we receive blunt our libido, sometimes to nothing. The distinction is clear to us: it is a matter of identity. I am a woman. It is not that I want to be a woman, or that I want to be seen/desired as a woman, but that I am one. She confounds me by using the word “patriarchy” and then “desired as a woman” as if women were mere objects of desire, rather than sexual beings with desires and pleasures in their own right- though perhaps she thinks trans women, being men, think of women that way.
Hers seems a patriarchal view. Men overcome the resistance of a potential sexual partner. Some men want to be desired by a woman as they desire her, so that the two come together freely without force. Or, want trust and friendship in a couple first, so that sex follows naturally. The fear and resistance has gone before desire arises. Perhaps, though feminist, Prof. Rubin wants to be desired and overcome: perhaps that is not just a patriarchal construct, but the nature of some women.
Exclusive trans folk, who imagine themselves in some way true trans, say that others are just playing at it, out of a sexual perversion, rather than having the true trans identity. Calling others perverts is a way for them to project their insecurities around this. We are insecure. I do not make distinctions among trans women, but say “It is a matter of identity”. Prof. Rubin just does not understand. Well, we tell ourselves stories in order to live, and perhaps we do not understand. It really is all about sex, but we cannot admit that.
I do not know Prof. Rubin’s attitude to trans folk. That line I quoted ignores trans men- but then I do, mostly, some of what I write applies to all trans people but I rarely employ inclusive language. She appears to think it is all about sex. When we say it is all about “Identity” we seek to make ourselves safe. No, we are not perverts flaunting our sexual perversion in your faces as we walk down the street. We are women (or in the case of trans men, men). But these are two separate issues. Someone may think we are sexual perverts, but support our right to live in society. Someone might even accept it is about identity not sexuality, but still think we are not Normal so want to exclude us.
Some people accept difference, so accept us; some are simply not enraged enough at us to bother opposing us. Some people will never accept it is about gender identity, but that may be OK.