Absolutely True™ Statements:
First though, let me state the things I consider obvious and absolutely true. The following statements supersede and override anything else I may imply in this discussion that may be construed otherwise.
- Everyone has 100% autonomy to decide their own identities as long as it doesn’t impose on other people
- Everyone has 100% autonomy in deciding their own sexualities AND controlling their own bodies
- Cis women (and all AFAB – assigned female at birth) should be allowed to discuss their biology without being silenced
- no one is entitled to sex whatsoever and anyone acting entitled to sex is a non-factor in this discussion because they need to grow up and come back humbled
The Subjects of Contention
- Cis/AFAB being accused of transphobia when discussing reproductive functions and parts (pussy hats! menstruation!)
- the sexually coercive ideology that people should ignore genitals entirely when discussing sexuality
- TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists), toxic masculinity and the unbearable pressure put on transwomen
Transwomen have an incredible challenge in their search for acceptance and validation from the world. They are constantly undermined by cis people who deny them their gender on basically any ground that they can: religious, mental, superficial, or biological. A transwoman must show great resolve in affirming her own identity, lest she be trod upon. Not everyone believes that “transwomen are women” and having your gender and identity constantly questioned is hurtful and causes people to become sensitive and defensive.
When vaginas/female reproductive systems are brought up as a de facto representation of womanhood, some transwomen, from their precarious and unsettled positions as “kinda recognized as women but not by everyone and constantly forced to justify themselves to most”, are uncomfortable. Transwomen’s acceptance as women isn’t a given so anything that can be leveraged against them 1) probably has been and 2) will be again and 3) could possibly be used against them RIGHT NOW. It differentiates them from their cis gendered counterparts. In a fair and just world, this would not be a big issue: we’re all different, we can accept and love and embrace each other. This is not a fair and just world though. Trans lives are defined by what they aren’t (cis), and bringing up the biological factors can feel like an attack on their right to womanhood. “You’re not a real woman because you can’t give birth.” is a common argument trans people hear. Without the external pressure of people demanding that they aren’t real women, transwomen would likely be a lot less concerned about feeling excluded by discussions of biology. This *must* be kept in mind when talking about this subject. Something Cis people take for granted is something that is constantly scrutinized for transpeople. When a transwoman is upset about being excluded, its because that exclusion feels like a rejection of her identity in a way that she has very little power to defend.
So how do we reconcile this? How do transwomen feel included and not “othered” while allowing cis women to discuss their anatomy with the freedom it deserves? Short of deconstructing patriarchy and instilling in all people that all women are fully women, I don’t know the answer. The answer is what we need to *points at title* save the world!
Part 2 of this, and really an extension of the topic above, is the idea that: if all transwomen are women, then lesbians and straight men should date them even though they may have a dick. There’s multiple problems with this: one, it denies people autonomy over their own sexuality and by using the argument, you’re essentially using the same argument conversion therapists and anti-gay advocates have used. “People aren’t born predisposed to liking certain sexual body parts, we can demand that people learn to like ones they may be repulsed by.” It denies a lesbians right to enjoy vagina as an essential part of their sexuality. This is wrong. The reason this is even a topic though is because, as above, “transwomen are women”, so why shouldn’t lesbians date them? Doesn’t the fact that lesbians may not be interested in them because of their genitals undermine their womanhood? and if it doesn’t, doesn’t it still make sense that it may cause self-doubt or hurt feelings in the transwoman when she’s rejected for something that she never wanted and is actively rejecting herself?
The problem with these things is that on a very basic level, these different and contradictory views have validity on their own merits and there’s no way to simply and elegantly reconcile them without attacking someone vulnerable over something precious to them.
Debates turn to anger, hatred, and resentment on both sides. Name calling. TERF! People who should be friends and allies turn against each other because of insecurities, feelings of entitlement and hurt feelings. We have to be better than all of this.
Some time in the future we will have sophisticated gender theory regarding trans and sexuality but the foundation is not there yet. Feminism didn’t just manifest whole and finished, like any major ideology it evolved over many years on the shoulders of many many great advocates and thinkers. We are in the early phases of an ideological revolution and we haven’t had the time to work through all of these extremely nuanced and complicated issues. Transpeople aren’t going to be perfect – trans activists are still trying to understand a very complicated subject themselves – and mistakes are going to happen.
I urge patience, the trans community is still trying to find itself, it’s voice, and its heroes. Don’t hold them to standards they can’t possibly stand up to yet when they’ve barely gotten started on this long journey.