As detailed here, for many transwomen the answer seems to be "I want to be the male fantasy of a sexually powerful woman."
However, a different response I hear - from my transwomen friends - is “I hated my sexed body to the point it was intolerable, and transitioning enabled me to get on with my life.” These people experience sex dysmorphia and are transsexual.
Another response I hear from my friends is “I never felt like a man as defined by patriarchy, and didn’t feel I could survive as a man among men in the patriarchy. Transitioning enabled me to get on with my life.” These people seem to me to be “gender refugees.”
There can be a lot of overlap between these two answers; sex dysmorphia is a complicated, poorly understood condition, and by all accounts harrowing. But let’s note three things.
First, my friends sought to transition - both medically and socially - and did not simply declare themselves "trans" as a magical passkey. Second, they sought to transition in order to get on with their lives, not in order to spend all their time attacking women for not putting them first. Third, my transwomen friends are not mistakes of God or nature ("women born in men's bodies," a phrase as linguistically/categorically non-sensical as "mammals born in fish bodies.") They are lovely human beings who for one or both of the above reasons felt they could not continue living as men. I think they’d all agree that transitioning is an imperfect solution to an intense, complex problem; however, it enabled them to continue living in this world and I for one am glad to have them here.
So if I accept the basic biological reality that sex is immutable and furthermore agree with the radical feminist line that men “identifying” as women is both ludicrous and harmful to women, how do I reconcile that with the sympathy and support I feel for my transwomen friends?
Let’s get back to the question of boundaries in re. identities.
I often hate being a white person. (White people have major privilege, which I’ve already blogged about.) However, white people, as a class, have also been the assholes of Western history. Furthermore, white people these days will state in one breath that racism is over and in the next breath exhort these stupid violent lazy black people to get over it. I am not exaggerating when I say that I read these things and look down at my skin and want to peel it right off. It disgusts me to share this identifying characteristic with those moronic crackers.
I also strongly believe that black Americans have a much more vibrant and downright clever culture than white Americans do (though this is generalizing a whole lot, to say there is one black and one white culture – but I do think most readers will get what I am saying.)
And I’d even take it a further step, past appreciation, to say that although my white skin makes me stand out in a black crowd – and I hate standing out – in many ways, I feel more myself in a black social setting. Because I come from a working class background and (in my experience, anyway) black people are MUCH less likely to equate personal wealth with personal worth than white people are, and because I like to play with language, use humor as an intellectual weapon, dance, and generally not behave as if I have a 200 year old stick up my butt.
HOWEVER. I’m never going to try to pull a “Soul Man.” Because that would be incredibly, mind-blowingly appropriative and offensive and wrong. Also, if I *could* somehow become black, I’d quickly be reminded that being black is not all about fun and culture, it is also about being on the receiving end of a constant barrage of racism. And since I did not grow up with that racism, I would not know how to deal with it, and would likely end up in prison for some minor offense. “Black” isn't a cultural vacation I can go on – it is a political position that I, as a white person, will never fully understand (though ongoing attempts at increased understanding are, I think, still useful/necessary.)
But sometimes I have a more imaginative fantasy. It’s inspired by trans people, actually. I have a fantasy that white people could choose to be another color. For me, and it’s OK by me if you want to laugh at this because it IS absurd -- but sometimes playful imagination is my way forward. I’d like to be purple. It’s my favorite color. [Insert Purple People Eater joke here]
So say white people could make our skin purple, and in this way publicly disavow our allegiance with white privilege--without claiming that said privilege never existed/affected us--and without trying to claim the identity of black people (or any other race/ethnicity.)
We would stand out. We would be targets. We would have to fight to find ways to live peacefully in a world that doesn’t want to recognize the purple. And that fight would be our own, not the fight of anyone born "of color." We would never insist on purple being the center of focus for "people of color."
I think I might choose that road. I won’t say for sure because I don’t want to downplay how hard that decision and process and life would be. But I think it would also, maybe, be kind of beautiful.
So here is where I say: when I call my friends “transwomen,” descriptor included, it is not an insult, it is a concession. The descriptor “trans” takes into account both their male biology and their sincere and sustained rejection of masculinity (and male privilege) and it is meant in good faith, to say I recognize them as something new.
However, the only reason I can make that concession is that they have also put forth the good faith to recognize that transwomen are NOT “women, period.” Their bodies and experiences are different from mine, and part of their transition is listening to women (no “cis” needed) and taking our side.
I will still keep saying that “very feminine” boys and “very masculine” girls should be brought up knowing there is absolutely nothing wrong with them, that the words “feminine” and “masculine” should dissolve anyhow, that their bodies are their own, that they belong in those bodies and can play with whatever toys they want and wear whatever clothes they want and should never be bullied for it and should always know pleasure in their own skin. You can’t stop me saying it, either.