Published in honour of Transgender Day of Visibility 2017 #TDOV. A longer version of this post describes my arrival at radical feminism.
When I was twelve, I wanted to be a man. Out loud, grinning, I told teachers and friends that I would grow up to be a wrinkly old chap in a leather armchair, beside the mahogany mantle of some Trumpian country club, swilling scotch and ashing my cigar. Even as a kid I knew where the power in this world lies.
But I wanted to be a man in more quiet ways, too, ways I never told my best friend, or my mother, or even the therapist she sent me to see when the panic attacks wouldn’t stop. After I spent the night at my best friend’s house and realised I wanted to touch her how I had never touched anyone. To hold her. No, that can’t be right. I’m not a lesbian. I can’t be. I was twelve: I was obsessed with making myself normal.
For the same reason, I did not permit the word “transgender” between my ears. But I remember looking down at my lap, wondering if something else ought to be there. Feeling like it already was. Something powerful was. What if I was just born wrong?
Nobody ever told me a cunt could be powerful.
From unfeminine kid to feminist woman
I was six feet of angles and limbs. I remember prodding my pitiful budding breasts in the mirror, willing them to grow voluptuously huge, like a porn star’s, or not at all. What woman hasn’t stared in the mirror, hating pieces of herself? Feeling like a prisoner in her own body?
I was always awkward in groups of girls. Sisterhood was out of reach, incomprehensible if I could not master wearing makeup and chasing boys and gossiping over magazines: the performance of womanhood. My mother wasn’t any good at it, either. I hated her for not possessing a tangible femininity, nor passing one down to me.
Even after dysphoria passed, I felt “different” from other women. I saw “women’s interests” as frivolous, making them complicit in their inferior status. Only when I entered the workforce and encountered inescapable sexism–regardless of how I dressed, or the jokes I made to distance myself from other women–did I come around to feminism, via Ariel Levy and Betty Friedan and then countless others.
Feminism finally taught me that it was patriarchy to blame. Only then could I place disappointment where it belonged. Femininity was no evidence of womanhood. It was gender, not women, who had let me down. I cannot overstate how liberating it has been for me to recognise the biological basis of women’s oppression. Because in naming it, we can fight it.
Will fluidity set us free?
An LGBT+ meeting on campus brought my personal past to a public head: could we theme our conference around gender? The ways it constrains us, the way fluidity sets us free? What if we can all be whatever we want to be?
That always-passive verb, “triggered,” is such a cliché.
My chest tightened. If that is our theme, I said, then I would respectfully recuse myself. Gender is a topic between me and my therapist.
I can’t help it. My face always grows hot to hear people talk about how liberating and freeing it is to call themselves a woman–a real woman, a woman who knows the fullest extent of what womanhood means. A trans woman giddy to tell me she’d been interrupted in a meeting and mistaken for a secretary. I try to feel happy that so many have found peace in femininity.
I believe the intention of allies has been pure. Dysphoria is painful. I know. I am fortunate that mine went away on its own, like it does for a vast majority of teenagers, many of whom grow up to be well-adjusted homosexual or, like me, bisexual adults. To come to terms with womanhood took me much longer.
A compassionate way forward
Believe it or not, I do want to stand beside the trans movement. Every kid suffering from gender dysphoria should have access to real dialogue and reliable statistics on desistance, as well as the success rate and side effects of social transition, hormone therapy, and/or gender affirming surgery. I hope they come to the decision to transition as informed adults, under the guidance of qualified and compassionate medical and mental health professionals. I want them to feel accepted in the identity they choose.
But I won’t abide by a movement that fights to make potentially-sterilising hormones available for young girls and boys. Because I am a radical feminist, yes–but more than anything, because I see too much of myself in these kids.