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When Are Trans Women Woman Enough?

Allies of trans women:
When you say “trans women are women” do you mean:
They are “woman enough” to join in your discussions about oppression?
They are “woman enough” to express their rage alongside you?
They are “woman enough” to actually share in your concerns, your issues, your stances?
They are “woman enough” to be accepted as equals when you stand against oppression and misogyny?
That you genuinely treat them socially the way you treat other women? That you invite them to the same events, include them in the same events, socialize with them the same way?
I’ve seen a lot of people yelling about trans women being women, and at the same time, I see a whole lot of casually excluding us from the conversations that we should all be a part of. Sometimes, probably most of the time, it’s not even conscious or deliberate. I’ve been in spaces though where womens’ issues come up and trans women are shunted away from the discussion, often put into the same space socially as queer men.
It feels like you see our rage, our defiance, our struggle, but see is as something separate from your own, or ancillary to it. You will stand up for trans women being women, but you won’t share the table with us when it comes to broader women’s issues. You don’t give us space to speak on things like income inequality, sexual harassment and assault, body autonomy, general misogyny and other things that affect all women. You will signal boost what we say about trans stuff all day, but we aren’t invited to the larger conversations, and are ignored or talked over (on a good day; on a bad day we’re told that we can’t understand these experiences despite being directly affected by them even before we come out).
Trans women’s struggles aren’t just about being trans. They also deal with most of the other things that cis women have to deal with. (And for the biological differences, we’re all on the same page on body autonomy, are we not?)
“Trans Women Are Women” is unhelpful rhetoric unless you’re willing to truly include us socially. Unless you’re willing to actually treat us as other women, and this includes in activism and even just the conversations we need to have to vent and process the pain of living in a patriarchal, misogynist world, your words say one thing and your actions say another.
I spent more than half of my life silently fighting against reaching out when conversations about womens’ issues were discussed, because even though many of them affected me despite presenting as male at the time, I knew I wouldn’t be welcome.  Now that I am out, and people know I’m a woman, I’ve found myself in a similar position all too often – sitting across the room from the women and afab femme folx discussing issues that include me, and being talked over and ignored when I try to chime in, to join in the venting, the ranting, the processing, the discussion.
It sure doesn’t feel like being accepted as a woman, I can tell you that.

Good Days and Bad

What are good days like?

So I estimate in my mental math that I “pass” (i.e. people assume I’m a cis woman) approximately 1/4 to 1/3 of the time.  I gauge this by things like people being shocked at the depth of my voice or asking questions about reproductive health that they wouldn’t ask as trans woman.  There are a lot of little cues.

Passing is bullshit, obviously.  The point of passing is hiding.  A lot of trans people have to fight to pass because they live in environments where being openly trans is a clear and present danger to their lives.  While nobody is completely safe I’m in one of the safer places in the world, and I’m white, and I can be intimidating when I want to be, so I have the luxury of not having to worry AS much as many others about my trans identity causing a violent reaction.

Passing is only necessary because society thinks of being trans as a negative thing.  Ideally it wouldn’t matter if someone was cis or trans, and that’s the kind of world I want to work towards.  Regardless though, it’s very validating, and it’s a relief.

It’s a relief because of the times that I don’t pass.

So 2/3 to 3/4 of the time when meeting a stranger they know that I’m trans, or at least they are aware that I’m AMAB.  Most of the time nowadays and in the place I live where trans folks are more visibly present people get it right.  They see me, they see woman, and they act accordingly.

There are always those asssholes out there though who see me, know that I’m trans, and turn up the hostility.  They call me “sir” or “man” with a harsh edge to their voice (it’s an edge that a lot of trans people learn to pick up on quickly).  They make faces at me.  They yank their children out of the way with whispered warnings.

Most human beings do not put up with the level and frequency hostility that trans people do.  A lot of people attract hostility for a lot of reasons, but honestly there’s nothing like being transgender when it comes to this.

So for me a good day is when people generally treat me as what I am.  A good day is a day when I get gendered correctly, when people, whether they know I’m trans or not, treat me as a woman.

Good days are rare.  I encounter a lot of people on the day to day, living as I do in a major metropolitan area, working in a huge company, and commuting in the human equivalent of a cattle car.  Most days aren’t good days.  Average days involve a mix of reactions.  Sure, some jackass will wince when they look at me, or pretend I don’t exist when I try to talk to them.  People will giggle when I walk past.  Someone who genuinely just doesn’t get it will call me sir.  That’s an AVERAGE day.  That’s what I put up with most days.

Bad days are more common than good.  Bad days involve being aggressively misgendered by strangers.  They involve people loudly referring to me as “him”.  They involve strangers saying “It’s a MAN BABY” (fuck Austin Powers and Michael Myers forever, btw).  They involve people being visibly embarrassed to talk to me in front of other people (sometimes when they are fine talking to me privately but they make it clear that they don’t want people to see them talking to the trans woman).  They involve bus drivers greeting everyone but me cheerfully and just giving me a long, dirty look.  The people at the restaurant give me the keys to the men’s room when I ask to use the restroom.  The cashier refers to me and my friends as “gentlemen” in a very pointed way.  The interesting person I’m talking to online blocks me after I mention being trans (something that could be avoided by reading profiles or actually paying attention, but good luck getting folks to do that).  People in shops give each other looks and roll their eyes when I ask a question.  People ask Jesus to protect them when they see me.

Bad days are the days when the world goes out of its way to remind me that I’m still a monster to the majority of the populace.  Even the people who are okay with my existence are only okay with it if/when I’m invisible.

Today I had a bad day.  I had one friend at work, and now that she has left the workplace nobody will talk to me.  Someone who I was talking to daily before she left got visibly agitated when I tried to talk to them in the lunch line.  People I used to sit with at lunch when she was with me actually got up with barely a word and left the table when I sat down.  The progressive tech company that I work with in forfucksake San Francisco became an outright hostile environment to me.  The only person who was even vaguely nice was a security guard, and he called me bro (which honestly with how I look and present baffles even me).

Today I had to breathe through it and remind myself that tomorrow probably wouldn’t be as bad.  I had to remind myself that despite the fact that nearly everyone I encountered would be much happier if I did not exist, not because of things I’ve done but because of who I am, that there are reasons to keep drawing breath.  People I love help by being wonderful, friends helped by being supportive.

If I didn’t have all of those things, I might have easily ended up among the ranks of trans folk who have taken their own lives.  It’s really hard to want to keep living in a world that reminds you constantly that you don’t belong and that people like you are both a threat and subhuman.

Today was a bad day, and there are far too many of those.  I am lucky I have the support network and mental techniques to balance myself, and I am grateful for them, because for each person like me who does have those benefits there are a dozen or so that don’t.  They have to put up with the same or worse levels of hostility from the world at large.  They have to fight to want to stay alive, and fight even harder than I do.

I’ve come close to giving up more times than I like to think about.  Whenever it happens, whenever I have a bad day, I remember all the people who haven’t made it.  The ones who didn’t have the strength to put up with a world that so utterly rejects us.

And I remember Leelah Alcorn’s final plea before she killed herself.  “My death needs to mean something.  My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year.  I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s f***ed up and fix it.  Fix society.  Please.”

Fix society.  Please.  Because with all of my privileges and ability I don’t know how much more I can take, and there are a lot of us who don’t have those privileges.  There are a lot of trans people who give up every day when faced with spending the rest of their lives being treated like monsters.

Fix society.  Please.

When Asking About Pronouns Hurts

I can’t do an intro here.  I just can’t.  So I’m just going to start talking.

I’ve always said that it’s perfectly fine to ask someone’s pronouns.  It’s bad to assume, yeah?  It’s good to know and make sure.

Gender and life are complicated and often stupid, so even that can be harmful sometimes.

The other day someone who has spent a fair amount of time in proximity to me asked me my pronouns.  This always throws me a bit – I’m publicly trans.  I talk about it a lot because trans activism is important to me.  So someone who has been around me, heard me rant, heard other people talk about me in third person asks me what my pronouns are on a day when I’m already feeling shitty about my presentation, and it feels like a knife in the heart.  This person’s mom, with cultural, generational, and linguistic barriers got it right without asking me.

It could very well have been deliberately insulting.  It’s much more likely that they really honestly wanted to know and somehow picked the worst possible time to ask.  I considered going to them and explaining why it was painful, but I don’t think they’d be very receptive to the explanation.

And, as I said, according to the Trans Code they were doing the right thing.  Sometimes there really isn’t something that can be done for something like this.  But being sensitive and worn out from other microaggressions make little things like this seem more deliberate.

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