How Real Is Your Woman?

How Real Is Your Woman?

I wouldn’t be me if I could leave yesterday’s transphobic Sunday Times piece by Jenni Murry alone. For those who don’t know, Jenni presents the long-running Woman’s Hour magazine programme on BBC Radio 4. So you’d kind of expect her to support women.

Except that it appears she doesn’t. She gets her credentials in early: she’s not transphobic, she assures her readers. That’s good. If she hadn’t told me I’d have had to work out her opinion of women like me based solely on how she writes about us.

I’ll save you the torment of quoting bits and pieces of her article. Instead I’ll summarise it: trans women are not “real” women because Jenni doesn’t want them to be. For whatever reasons–and she doesn’t delve into the roots of her prejudices–she doesn’t want her idea of what a woman is to include people like me.

Her objections as stated in the article are thin and unconvincing. We haven’t had the same experiences as she did growing up? A cherry-picked selection of trans women have expressed superficial stereotypical thoughts? Come on Jenni, you can do better than this!

Why not be honest with your readers? Why not admit that you’ve got a nice, cosy, simplistic concept of what a woman is, and it’s basically people who are like you. Preferably middle class and white, no doubt, although it would be career suicide to voice those thoughts these days.

But trans women? Well, they’re fair game. Or so you think. It’s not that long since gay men were openly criticised as not being “real” men. A lot of people used to agree with that sentiment. But opinions change. Try publishing that one today and you’ll not get past the paper’s legal department.

More and more people, especially younger people, have no hesitation including trans women in their concept of women. The landscape is shifting under the feet of people like Jenni Murray, and her views that were once comfortably mainstream are looking increasingly extreme.

It’s not only trans women like me who cringe these days when we encounter these old-fashioned, outdated prejudices. People like Jenni are the minority now: it’s only their public profile that gets them a few column inches to keep reflecting the echo of their intolerance.

What makes a woman real isn’t any physical trait. It’s not how she looks or acts. It’s that the majority of society accepts her identity as a woman. Most women will never face this questioning, will not have people publicly reject their claim to be women. Some who don’t look conventionally female will know exactly what I am describing.

This isn’t about appearance though. It isn’t even about trans versus cis. It’s about who gets to decide what a woman is in our society. The large majority of people can reliably and consistently agree that most women are definitely women. This is about the rest, the edge cases. The ones who don’t exactly fit the usual, common definitions.

So how can we decide? An increasing number of people are realising that the simplest, fairest, most obvious way is to just ask the people themselves. A woman is someone who identifies as a woman. After all, they ought to know better than anybody else!

Some people, like Jenni Murray, feel threatened by this. They cling to the illusions of certainty that sprang forth from second wave feminism with its promise of a unified concept of womanhood (as long as you fit the ideals it was based on). They could never see that their perfect vision was as deeply rooted in stereotypes as the ones they now criticise some trans women for holding to.

There are no perfect, fact-based criteria to define who is and who is not a woman. There are some traits that apply to most women. For the rest, take their word for it. Most of us encounter people who leave us scratching our heads as we try to decide what gender they are. We need to stop worrying about it and just trust that they themselves know the answer much better than we do. That’s certainly real enough for me.

P is for… Other People

P is for… Other People

When I first came out as trans there were a lot of things I had to think about. Getting used to my changed name, referring to myself as the correct gender, preparing myself for prejudice and abuse from any person I encountered in case they were hostile. On thing I didn’t think about: using the bathroom.

Because who thinks about that, right? You need to pee, you go. Simple. It should be. But there are always those few people who feel a need to stick their noses in to something that is none of their business.

Of course, they are always at pains to point out that it’s not them that has a problem with me using the bathroom for my own gender. Oh no, they are worried that some imaginary other people might take issue with it.

And then there are the real far-out weirdos. Now, I don’t know what they get up to in public bathrooms, and for the sake of my peace of mind I’d rather not find out. But regular people like you and me only go to the bathroom for a couple of things. To use the loo or just to freshen up.

Anyhow, these strange people like to fantasise about male rapists entering women’s bathrooms and attacking women. And children! Yes, it’s not common but it has happened. And they seem to think that the chances of this occurring are affected by allowing trans women to use a gender-appropriate bathroom.

Yes, you read that right. They think that allowing all women to use women’s bathrooms makes men more likely to commit attacks in those bathrooms. Now I don’t know what fucking planet they’re from but here on Earth that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

What does make sense is that these people are transphobic, bigoted assholes, but afraid of the backlash if they come out and say so directly they hide behind a fiction of protecting women (and children) from an imaginary threat.

If they really cared about children they would care that trans children commit or attempt suicide at alarming rates largely because of discrimination and lack of acceptance by people like these assholes.

If they really cared about women they would care that trans women face disgusting levels of discrimination, harassment, assault and murder because of a lack of acceptance by people like these assholes.

They don’t care. It’s just an excuse so they can behave like assholes to trans people. Particularly trans children and women: they don’t seem to realise non binary folks or trans men even exist.

So if you care at all about people getting treated fairly and with respect, rather than being discriminated against through prejudice, be open about accepting and supporting trans people. And, for fuck’s sake, just let us go piss in peace.

Judging A Book By Its Cover

Judging A Book By Its Cover

I’m lucky, I guess. When I am out and about I usually get gendered correctly. Shop staff call me madam, a dad called “Mind out for that lady” to his young children who were running about as I walked past, colleagues at work use the correct pronouns to refer to me. I still feel happy when I hear it although the degree of pleasure has diminished as it has become my normal experience.

I realize this experience is not typical for a trans woman. A big factor in my favor is that I don’t pay much attention to people around me: I have no idea if people are looking at me and rarely will I notice if they are talking about me. It’s a facet of my autism; I’ve never been particularly aware of other people unless I’m interacting with them and I can hardly begin to guess at how they perceive me. So I don’t think about it.

Many accounts from trans women that I’ve heard or read describe a catalog of negative reactions from people. Uncomfortable staring, misgendering, verbal and physical abuse. What causes such prejudice and hatred? It’s a fact that nobody is born with these feelings of hostility towards others: they are learned from parents, family, educators, peers and the media.

I’ve heard people in bars discuss whether another person there is male or female. Establishing gender, putting that person into one of two boxes seems important to them. It’s as if they can’t conceive of a world where everyone’s a unique person in their own right. They have to impose this binary on everyone they encounter. It’s that deeply ingrained. People who don’t obviously fit either category stand out: non-gender conforming individuals are viewed as dangerously other.

But where is the danger? I’ve encountered a handful of people — almost exclusively cis men — who felt somehow threatened by my existence as a trans person and I’m struggling to understand their reaction. I genuinely cannot fathom how anybody could see me as frightening (even without my makeup!). Is it insecurity on their part? Are they so firmly invested in the binary myth that they feel their own identity is inseparable from it?

Certainly their reaction can be shockingly visceral. It’s akin to confronting and challenging a deeply-held belief: the strength of their feeling is equivalent to how they might respond to, say, desecration of a Bible. In their cisgender, heterosexual world view there exist two distinct genders and there is no overlap between them. Anybody who doesn’t fit into either category, who disturbs this comfortable fiction, is a dangerous freak.

What might happen if we break down the doors of their perception and force them to confront reality? How could they cope with people in all their nuanced variety? They’d have to make more effort in their thoughts, no longer able to rely on simple stereotypes of male and female. No longer able to make snap judgments based on how a person looks, judging the book by its cover.

I do suspect that they fear losing their feeling of certainty about their own identity. They identify so strongly with a cultural model of man or woman that anything which blurs the lines between them causes them to question who they are. The security of their self-image is a house built on sand and the tide is coming in. Every encounter with somebody like me who doesn’t fit the model is another wave washing away the foundations of their belief.

In their irrational fear they attack, desperately struggling to maintain the integrity of their delusion. By subjecting us to ridicule or hatred they seek to diminish our importance, remove our influence over them. They have been conditioned so strongly to believe we are inferior that any suggestion they might share something in common with us makes them feel self-loathing. The very idea of somebody stepping outside one of their gender boxes raises questions they are ill-equipped to handle.

I don’t need people like that in my life. I have people who accept me and other gender variant people, and that works for me. As Strother Martin’s character says in Cool Hand Luke, “Some men you just can’t reach.” Well, I don’t waste my effort on them because I know who I am and that doesn’t depend on approval or even recognition by others. All the affirmative reactions I experience are effects of my identity, not its cause. This book is defined by its contents, not its cover.

I’m An Embarrassment?

I’m An Embarrassment?

Somebody that my wife, Anne, has known all her life phoned her the other day. She hadn’t spoken to this person for a couple of months and had thought it strange that they had not been in touch for so long.

It turned out that this person had been on the receiving end of some transphobic teasing in public because of his association with me through my wife. Rather than standing up for Anne and me, he found the experience humiliating and took this out on my wife.

I’ll not go into all the details, but she was subjected to a torrent of insults and abuse shouted down the phone by this so-called close friend and ended up very upset and distressed. Being called some of the things — perverted, disgusting, embarrassing, mental — was bad enough, but there was worse which I will not repeat here. I’ll just say that it was a massive slur on her character and definitely slanderous.

All because she continues to love me as a trans woman. So these people think I am an embarrassment because I am making the journey to become my real self? Anne and I are two people who love each other and we can’t see how that affects the lives of these others.

We have a message for the people who don’t like how we are: we don’t want anything to do with you and your intolerance. You are an embarrassment, and your ignorant prejudice has no place in our lives. We choose to associate with people who value and practice tolerance, acceptance, understanding and love. Not those who close their minds and treat anything outside their narrow view of the world with fear, contempt, disgust and hatred.