The following post is about reconciling my trans inclusive feminism with my own gender identity. There will be moments when what I say shows ignorance, but I’m trying to show my learning journey. And of course, I’m still on that learning journey—so please do correct me if anything I say is misinformed or uses the wrong language. I do want to get this right! OK, here goes…
There’s a blog going round the Internet at the moment arguing that the statement “trans women are women” is a lie. When I first saw the link, I started to roll my eyes and move on, thinking it was yet another trans-exclusionary feminist with hateful ideas like the ones Germaine Greer has been expressing. My feminism has always been trans inclusive feminism, so I didn’t think it would be a piece I’d enjoy. But then I noticed that the author of the article is trans themselves—and this intrigued me enough to read it.
Helen Highwater does not identify as a woman, but as a gender non conforming male, or “transwoman (no space please)”. Helen argues that classing “transwomen” as women is perpetuating a gender binary, and that gender non conforming men should be accepted as they are, not just because they are “actually women”. Well, yes—but does that mean that trans women mustn’t be classed as women? Can’t there be a coexistence of transwomen (no space) like Helen, who would like to be accepted as men, and trans women (with a space) like, for example, Janet Mock?
As part of Diverse December, I read Janet Mock’s memoir Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More. And I loved it. Janet’s experience of her own gender, and its relation to her experience of her race, provided a whole new perspective for me of my own gender identity and racial privilege. However, with Helen Highwater’s words fresh in my mind, I did notice a few conflicts between Mock’s expression of gender, and my own feminism.
Early on in the book, Mock admits that the statement “I always knew I was a girl” isn’t quite true; in fact, what she discovered was a “desire to step across the chasm that separated [her] from the girls”. Now, it’s almost impossible for us to know exactly where this chasm came from. Within my personal feminism, I feel that gender is just a social construct—and so perhaps this chasm just came from the “rules” about gender that society imposed on Mock. If this is the case, I suppose you could argue that to campaign that this chasm is real, and that Mock’s desire to cross it means she must be a woman, is to perpetuate gender binaries. OK, but so what?
I then turned to a video by trans YouTuber Kat Blaque. She argues that, yeah, this might be the case—but why are we blaming trans people for perpetuating gender roles singlehandedly? I, as a cis woman, perpetuate a very stereotypically feminine gender presentation on a daily basis—and although I believe my gender identity is a social construct, I would feel pretty damn violated if anyone tried to strip me of it now.
Now, there were definitely moments in Redefining Realness when my own gender identity contrasted with Mock’s. But did I have to redefine my understanding of feminism to continue including Mock in it? Of course not. Trans inclusive feminism doesn’t mean we all have to share one experience of womanhood. (Isn’t that what intersectional feminism is all about?) Mock articulated this perfectly while explaining her desire for genital reconstruction surgery.
“Most of the woman I knew hadn’t undergone GRS … I knew that their genitals didn’t dictate their womanhood, and I knew there were many paths to womanhood. My path and my internal sense of womanhood included a vagina, and that does not negate anyone else’s experiences.”
For me, my womanhood does feel dictated (unfairly) by the body I was born with, and I don’t apply “womanhood” to any other part of my personality, even to the “feminine” way I dress and act. But that’s just me. Trans inclusive feminism means I can continue to feel that way about myself, without negating anyone else’s experiences.
In a feminist utopia, perhaps we wouldn’t talk about gender at all. Perhaps trans people and cis people and gender non-conforming people would cease to exist; we would all just be humans with the freedom to dress, act, and love however and whomever we wanted. But we don’t live in that world. In this world, we’re all up against the patriarchy together, from trans women to cis men. Trans inclusive feminism isn’t about pushing gender binaries as fact; it’s about acknowledging everyone’s experience of this patriarchal, gender-obsessed society. And of course, Janet Mock said it best:
“There is no formula when it comes to gender and sexuality … I wish that instead of investing in these hierarchies of what’s right and who’s wrong, what’s authentic and who’s not … we gave people freedom and resources to define, determine, and declare who they are.”
Once again, please do tell me if anything I’ve said here has been misinformed. I’m more than willing to be corrected!