Forever the Acolyte…

So far, my circumstances have been so favourable that I have encountered no overt prejudice or discrimination since I came out as trans. I have, however, both invited and encountered challenge. A while back I posted about the troubling sense I had come to that by not only desiring to become a woman, but by desiring to become at least in the figurative sense a lady (what one might argue to be a highly gender-socialised woman), my transgenderism would put me as far beyond the pale for feminists – whose views I respect – as it would for reactionary conservatives – whose views I do not. Such did indeed prove to be the case…

‘“I prefer to consider myself a feminist, but do I pay feminism a grave disservice by embodying the idea that a certain physical form carries an “appropriately gendered” code of behaviour?” [Original quote]

Given that feminists such as Germaine Greer view gender as a social construct designed specifically for male dominance and female oppression, the short answer is “yes.” The slightly longer answer is that this idea of an “appropriately gendered code of behavior” is patriarchy.’

(Comment by Elle Kacee, in response to

This post is thus in response to Elle Kacee’s blog “Social Essentialism – Feminism Gone Radical,” in which she expounds the Radical Feminist viewpoint that “gender,” far from being a biological destiny, is merely a social programming, albeit a very pervasive one that cannot be easily unravelled (or arguably not at all), and which – like it or not – even trans people will have internalised, even if (in their own estimation) they have been very unsuccessful or unwilling in embodying it. Though I would be deeply sceptical of the idea that everyone in the world is subject to two basic cookie-cutter models of social indoctrination with no nuances whatsoever, I cannot altogether refute the principle. In my own case, after the exquisite horror of adolescence, when it seemed I was now irrevocably trapped in the wrong, very manly body and had better make the best of a bad lot, I attempted with varying degrees of embarrassment and awkwardness to ape masculine social norms. The fact that I feel much happier expressing myself in feminine ways merely proves that I am much happier expressing myself in feminine ways. Not that I am better-programmed as a woman or that I have a “feminine soul” (though I would certainly love to believe the latter, but the metaphysics of gender dysphoria is a different kettle of fish from the politics).

One post that particularly drew my notice on Social Essentialism was the following: “What makes a real woman?” Answering an article on the proposed inclusion of transwomen within the aegis of feminism, Kacee rejects the proposal with the following:

‘“But isn’t that the point of feminism? The fact that our very biology, our femaleness, has been systemically exploited by men for the purposes of sexual slavery and forced reproduction in ways that cannot be analogized onto the male body? Isn’t all the rest just symptoms of this underlying disease? If we take the “female” out of “feminism,” aren’t we left with a directionless “every(wo)man” movement that essentially means nothing? What am I, a biologically female, girlhood-surviving mother to do with a feminism that paints me as a phony or nonexistent woman while championing for male-bodied trans women to claim the title of “real woman?”’

Curiously, instead of offending me, this post drew me back to a now distant past when I was still Anthony Burns, a decidedly effete but male-presenting figure, prey to dysphoric self-loathing but not yet feeling up to emerging from my closet, and I remembered one event that may well have helped to keep that closet door shut: I was in an LGBT-friendly pub with my then girlfriend, when a very (I mean overtly) femininely-dressed but obviously male-bodied figure sidled up to me on the bench, all fishnet stockings and golden sequins. At the time I assumed she was a drag queen, and I only discovered later that she was in fact a transwoman – a fact which did not make me especially proud of my own latent inclinations. At any rate, I brushed off her overtures as civilly as possible, bearing in mind I was clearly with someone and not soliciting random singles. This did not thrill her, though, and having scowled at my partner she made some snarky aside about how she was “more of a woman” than my partner could ever be.

When I discovered that this boastful and rather pathetic person was my fellow GD-sufferer, I was instantly ashamed, and I thought at the time it was much better to pretend to be a “normal” man than to go down that route. Unfortunately, I found no exit to my dysphoria along the other route, and I thus ended up backtracking with my tail more tightly between my legs than ever. Which does at least go to show one thing that tends to get glossed over by radfems…

Gender dysphoria (FtM or MtF) is not a fetish, a game of “let’s pretend,” or indeed any sort of choice whatsoever. It is a pathological condition, and thus may arguably be said to be something to be pitied rather than celebrated, but it will not vanish simply because both radicals and reactionaries find it disgusting in equal measure. One might as well tell sufferers of autism to pull themselves together and stop being a nuisance… One does not expect Radical Feminism to bend over backwards to accommodate the needs of trans people (that is the proper business of doctors and lawmakers, in any case), but a little compassion goes a long way.

Rant over. At any rate, when I finally knew I had to abandon the pretence and become myself, I kept one reservation: that I would never presume to tell a born woman that I was “more of a woman” than them, or assume that I ever could be. It must at least be conceded to Radical Feminism that the experience of growing up as a girl, and the social expectations laid upon one from childhood – whether intentionally by parenting, or by osmosis from society in general – are not equivalent to the experience of growing up with either the status or the covert knowledge of being trans (though that carries its own stigmas and trials, of course). To borrow and clarify a statement from Prof. Greer…

“There’s a hardship about being a woman. I always wanted to be a Jew, but I can’t be.”


One can assume Greer is making a distinction between Jewish as in ethnic identity, and Jewish as in religion, as it is indeed possible for a non-Jew to convert to the latter. Nevertheless, I think it safe to say that Jewish people with a lifetime background in the culture and faith, generational history, and extensive knowledge, would find it pathetic if not downright offensive if the enthusiastic neophyte then went about proclaiming they were “more of a Jew” than anyone else.

The analogy is crude, and radical feminists will inevitably object that it is simply impossible for a man to “convert” to womanhood, except possibly by the definitions of the patriarchy (which radical feminism exists to deconstruct). I have no argument to that. However, I cannot deny that it has felt wonderful to be accepted as Eleanor by the women at my place of work, and in experience terms I can only compare that to the acceptance I have indeed felt in certain faith environments, where my desire to join the group was accepted unconditionally and warmly in spite of my lack of background in the faith, my deficient knowledge of it, etc. And I am under no illusions that I will always be the acolyte. I am a makeshift woman at best. It still feels better than being a dysphoric man, though…

Conclusion? I know I am on shaky intellectual ground, but transgenderism is not an intellectual challenge or a political statement. It is a medical condition, and the way it is treated by the NHS – the hormones and the surgery (albeit only after extensive psychological screening) – is not motivated by politics but by a perfectly Hippocratic desire to restore the sufferer to as much health and happiness as possible. I am dismayed to see (certain) transwomen childishly and unwisely competing with women and with feminists on their own turf, but I am also dismayed to see (certain) feminists* beating on transpeople as a whole class, denying they even exist per se, and implying that they are delusional, unfit to speak for themselves, and ought to just shut up, stop muddying the waters, and trust in the eventual revolution and abolition of gender to magically cure their transgenderism / transsexualism rather than in drastic (but statistically successful) medical interventions.

As I might have mentioned before, it would take an astonishingly irresponsible / sociopathic thinker (or an average conspiracy theorist) to advise cancer sufferers to eschew western medicine because a new miracle cure might be just around the corner, or to advise people to distrust renewable energy because any day now someone will reinvent Nikola Tesla’s free energy machine…


*By which I do not include Elle Kacee, if she happens to be reading this, as she has permitted me to rail on at length on her blog and – while evidently unconvinced of the validity of transgender experience – pays the courtesy of using gender-neutral pronouns to those of us who are clearly upset at being referred to by our birth-assigned pronouns. A little compassion, as I said…

2 thoughts on “Forever the Acolyte…

Add yours

  1. Honestly, I really can’t find anything in your post that I disagree with. You either summarized me quite fairly or I agree with you more than the “typical” radfem might, but I don’t really mind being used as a foil.

    I will also say that, while I believe destroying the patriarchy will help most trans folks (it’s my understanding there are variations on the definition of “feeling like a (wo)man”), I agree with you that meanwhile people are still alive and need to do what they need to do to survive. That’s reality as much as my reality as a female-bodied woman. The biggest differences in our* views seem to be that I don’t believe those choices are the way to enact the political change that will destroy the patriarchy and that the foundational socialization of female-bodied people and male-bodied people is inescapably entrenched.

    Hopefully I will become more coherent in writing about this over time. 🙂

    *Now I’m using you as a libfem/transfem foil. Hope you don’t mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. [EDITED]

      Don’t mind being a foil at all, though I am not sure after reading your blog that I would even be on safe ground categorising myself as libfem. As far as I am aware malicious intent in gender reassignment is extremely rare if it exists at all, but you have persuaded me that our pathology and the persepctive it gives (or denies) us perhaps makes us awkward spokespeople for anyone other than our fellow transpeople, and born women / men will always have that extra depth of perspective that makes complete identification impossible for transpeople.

      Much as it dismays me that I have kind of permanently excluded myself as an acceptable ally of feminism, I do feel I had no choice in the matter other than to drop off the grid (very appealing, but not immediately possible) or try to deal with my GD through antidepressants… and I would rather be a frustrated transwoman for my life than a prozac-fuelled zombie.

      “The biggest differences in our views seem to be that I don’t believe those choices are the way to enact the political change that will destroy the patriarchy and that the foundational socialization of female-bodied people and male-bodied people is inescapably entrenched.”

      Indeed, the current medical path is definitely not a way of enacting political change, but nothing better is on offer or within sight. I think what I am arguing for is for radical feminism to show a little magnanimity here and allow that transpeople’s medical condition is real (and not a mere sexual paraphilia or patriarchal fiction), and that their ability to participate in the radical movement on its terms (as Rachel Ivey appears to sincerely offer… even if the overall DGR message is “stay well clear”) is very difficult for them, and may be impossible unless psychiatry makes some massive advances. I know of no current method to exorcise a pervasive sense of gender dysphoria (other than reassignment therapy, that is).

      I would admit that transsexualism may be subjectively worsened by the gender roles of patriarchal society, but its sufferers are still very much victims of the system rather than motivated villains, and could be safely left out of radfem discourse, at least until it has a demonstrably better solution to offer them. But I see you are not in the “just pull yourself together” camp…

      “I agree with you that meanwhile people are still alive and need to do what they need to do to survive.”

      …which is good to hear. Though having finally perused DGR’s website, I doubt they would agree, as they assess the global crisis to be so dire, being anything less than a willing martyr is falling short of what is needed to solve it. I can but hope that is alarmist thinking, but who am I to say? 😦

      Nonetheless, I do consider myself basically a socialist, but I feel that even socialism needs to be wary that in persuing equality it does not simply persue equal misery for all, a la “Nineteen Eighty Four.” There will always be many human beings who do not fit neatly into categories, and it is disturbing when even a laudable ideology seems to be leaning towards seeking to either bully or argue them out of existence, or shave off their awkward corners to fit them into the round holes. That way lies another brand of tyranny, and tyranny under any flag is a lousy business.

      Wonderful to get your feedback, and you can probably tell I am enjoying getting to debate this, even if (or perhaps especially if) it gets me to confront the more troubling aspects of my GD… I look forward to reading more of your views on this subject. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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