“Nowadays we are all likely to meet people who think they are women, have women’s names, and feminine clothes and lots of eyeshadow, who seem to us to be some kind of ghastly parody, though it isn’t polite to say so. We pretend that all the people passing for female really are. Other delusions may be challenged, but not a man’s delusion that he is female.”(1)
“The lack of insight that MtF transsexuals about the extent of their acceptance as females should be an indication that their behaviour is less rational than it seems.”(2)
(Prof. Germaine Greer)
Before I began my transition, it is safe to say that I had a pretty grim social life. Defined by the perceived need to embody a certain image that I hated and had no desire to be read according to, nor interacted with on the basis of, I more often than not simply tended not to bother, and thus became both very creative and very lonely. For many years I had decided that this was as much destiny as my gender was, and always referred to myself as an introvert.
I am not so sure of that, now. While 2015 was very much about tentatively finding my feet as a self-confessed transwoman, 2016 has seen me at my most socially active, and being trans has itself opened social doors which I never anticipated: my Springboard career development course, for example. Although I was initially very nervous about being the only transwoman in my group, there has been no hostility or bad atmosphere whatsoever. My local LGBT support group continues to invite me to conferences, plays, and coffee mornings, and in a recent highlight my friends in the local queer scene invited me to Birkenstomp VII: a feminist music event and LGBT-friendly space, describing itself thusly…
“Obviously, it’s trans-inclusive. Do we need to even say that?”
…so why, in that case, did I feel so uneasy there, and afraid that I was intruding?
I have no good reason to believe that. Quite apart from having been invited, I wanted to see a friend’s new band that was playing their first gig there, and thus felt my reasons for attending to be basically supportive. Still, in spite of that and the fact that my presence there was never questioned, I found myself being sceptical and judgemental on everyone else’s behalf, second-guessing all of my possible ulterior motives for being there, and feeling guilty for the unnecessary strain I was putting on the tolerance of all of the non-trans women, as if I was cruelly taking advantage of their kindness… and in fact I know why I felt that way, and the reason is that I have brainwashed myself. Bravo me…
To be more specific, I have conditioned my mind to repeat a trope that I have often encountered in gender-critical discourse: that (non-trans) women, being socialised into politeness, kindness, and putting the needs of men first (which I do not dispute), would never think to confront a transwoman in public, but in private they all consider us as frauds, or at any rate the majority who have not bought into the delusion think so. That being the case, this discourse encourages us to distrust whatever acceptance we receive, especially from women, and to assume that we are more often than not merely pitied, or secretly held in contempt and derision. In effect, it aims to encourage suspicion and social disengagement, and to thus hinder meaningful social transition, although it may also be argued this is for our good if it encourages us to see transition as a hopeless, hollow sham, and to thus detransition and accept reality.(3)
Is there anything at all in this? It would be disingenuous of me to claim no sympathies whatsoever. I have, alas, suffered enough past sexual harassment at the hands of the local trans / drag scene that these days I assume the worst automatically and never set foot in those type of clubs (including, alas, the one Cal and I first met in), although to my mind the transwomen who frequent such venues have little in common with the dysphoric, innocent, endearingly nerdy lot who tend to constitute our support group. Still, a new transitionee or someone considering transition will sometimes join the group, and my instant mental reaction will, unfortunately, be “she looks and sounds just like a traumatised, effeminate man”… which I can hardly help but be aware is exactly the figure I cut when I first dared to seek help there.
Knowing that, there is certainly no part of me that feels I would do any good in this world by promoting a message that boils down to “who are you kidding?” Transition, for all of its trials and imperfections, brought me out of a profoundly low, dark place and has so far shown me an overwhelmingly positive side to humanity, and if acceptance is the reaction I get from almost everyone who isn’t the very worst type of unreformed alpha-male misogynist (or pretend alpha, at least), then distrusting it seems more than a little ungrateful as well as counter-productive to my social transition. Nor do I see that my internalised transphobia does anything positive for feminism. Rather, it probably just makes me look like a paranoid wreck, and hinders me from more positive and effective participation.
The other event that got me thinking along these lines was re-connecting with the dear friend whom I mentioned in my previous post, who heavily cut down her own internet activities after online transpolitics left her depressed and disillusioned. She had, prior to that, been known as a strong radical feminist ally and prepared to accept some fairly disheartening definitions of transwomen’s social status in the interests of this alliance. When, in spite of that, she still drew accusations of delusion, perversion, and seeking to divide feminists by playing on their sympathy, she renounced the cause altogether and pulled back from social media. She has also started to speak of her transition not as a limited, faintly tragic thing that might just about be excused in our flawed society, but as the miracle that healed and saved her (and me). For all of my self-conditioning, that is still how it feels.
So if I do not seem to be around so much these days, I can only offer my apologies, but I must beware of offering as open a channel to transphobia as I seem to have done. I know there is an abundant supply of it, but until real life starts to justify that deluge (and it has so far done very little to) I feel I can do no better than to ignore it. With any luck, I may thus hope to cut a less shy, uptight figure at Birkenstomp VIII, although I will still, I rather fear, be a cringing mess of embarrassment around the ceramic vulva craft stall. My inner transphobe may one day be exorcised, but never my inner Victorian…
1 The Guardian, August 20 2009, “Caster Semenya sex row: What makes a woman?”
2 The Whole Woman (London: Transworld Publishers, 1999), p. 93… and if there was ever a more ironic choice of publishing house, I would like to hear it.
3 In an excellent pseudo-public demonstration of this, I was once chided on Twitter for calling a transwoman friend of mine sister, with the following rationale…
“you don’t think it’s hypocrisy to call a man [sic] your sister? … if you shore up his [sic] delusions, he [sic] begins to expect other women to do the same.”
…and no, they had not realised they were talking to another transwoman, but one gathers they were even more displeased when they finally clocked me.