A long very good read (not my writings here)

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Post  Lesley Niyori on Sun Mar 03, 2019 7:58 pm

This is an article I encountered today that I think should be required reading to a point.

Debunking “Trans Women Are Not Women” Arguments
Go to the profile of Julia Serano
Julia Serano
Jun 27, 2017

photo by FreeImages.com/Johanna Ljungblom
I was recently interviewed by the New York Times about my work and writings as a trans feminist. From pre-interview conversations we shared, I knew that my interviewer planned to ask me about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s comments from earlier this year wherein she claimed that trans women are not women. So in preparation for my interview, I decided to revisit my first book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity and create a list of all the arguments that I made there to counter such claims. I would go on to make some of these points during the interview, although only a few were included in the final article (as it was edited for length). But since these trans-women-are-not-women claims recur on a regular basis (and are often forwarded by people who self-identify as feminists), I thought that it would be worthwhile to compile all my relevant counterarguments in one essay.

Preliminaries: regarding the term cisgender

Throughout this essay, I will use the terms cis or cisgender to refer to women who are not trans or transgender. I explain the logic behind this terminology in my FAQ on cis-terminology, and in two additional follow up essays that can be accessed here. Women who insist that trans women are not women often object to being called “cis women” under the false assumption that it somehow undermines their femaleness — this is not at all the purpose of this language. The sole purpose of cis terminology is to name the unmarked majority (similar to how one might refer to white women, or heterosexual women, or able-bodied women, etc.). In other words, referring to someone as “cisgender” simply means that they have not had a transgender experience.

Trans women’s realities

Trans women differ greatly from one another. Perhaps the only thing that we share in common is a self-understanding that there was something wrong with our being assigned a male sex at birth and/or that we should be female instead. While some cisgender people refuse to take our experiences seriously, the fact of the matter is that transgender people can be found in virtually every culture and throughout history; current estimates suggest that we make up 0.2 – 0.3% of the population [or possibly more, see note further down]. In other words, we simply exist.

In my own case, I spent a number of years trying to make sense of the inexplicable and irrepressible feelings that I experienced before finally making the decision to transition seventeen years ago. I have been living as a woman ever since. Every single day of my life, people perceive and treat me as a woman, and I routinely experience sexism as a result. While cis feminists who claim that trans women are not women obsess over questions of identity (“How can a ‘man’ possibly call ‘himself’ a woman?”), they purposefully overlook or play down the fact that we have very real life experiences as women.

Like women more generally, many trans women are feminists. Feminism and transgender activism are not in any way incompatible or mutually exclusive. As feminists who acknowledge intersectionality, we believe that we should be fighting to end all forms of sexism and marginalization — this includes both traditional sexism and transphobia. Forcing trans women into a separate group that is distinct from cis women does not in any way help achieve feminism’s central goal of ending sexism.

The “biological woman” fallacy

Claims that trans women are not women often rely on essentialist (and therefore incorrect) assumptions about biology. For instance, people might argue that trans women are not “genetically female,” despite the fact that we cannot readily ascertain anybody’s sex chromosomes. Indeed, most people have never even had their sex chromosomes examined, and those that do are sometimes surprised by the results.

Other common appeals to biology center on reproduction — e.g., stating that trans women have not experienced menstruation, or cannot become pregnant. This ignores the fact that some cisgender women never menstruate and/or are unable to become pregnant.

Claims about genitals are similarly problematic: Women’s genitals vary greatly, and as with chromosomes and reproductive capabilities, we cannot readily see other people’s genitals in everyday encounters. If you and I were to meet, should I refuse to recognize or refer to you as a woman unless you show me your genitals? And frankly, what could possibly be more sexist than reducing a woman to what’s between her legs? Isn’t that precisely what sexist men have been doing to women for centuries on end?

I would argue that all of these appeals to biology are inherently anti-feminist. Sexists routinely dismiss women by pointing to real or presumed biological differences. Feminists have long challenged the objectification of our bodies, and have argued that we are not limited by our biology. So it is hypocritical for any self-identified feminist to use “biology” and “body parts” arguments in their attempts to dismiss trans women.

[note added 7–17–17: I discuss this particular topic in more depth in a subsequent essay, Transgender People and “Biological Sex” Myths.]

The Caitlyn Jenner fallacy

These days, trans-women-are-not-women arguments invariably cite Caitlyn Jenner, typically making the following claim: “How can someone like Jenner, who lived their entire life as a man and experienced the privilege associated with that, ever possibly claim to be a woman?” There are likely appeals to biology in this particular example, as many people remember Jenner as a physically masculine decathlete. But the main thrust of this assertion is that women are women because of socialization and/or their experiences with sexism.

But what about me then? I have lived more of my adult life as a woman than as someone who was perceived to be a man, and I have experienced plenty of sexism since my transition: street remarks and sexual harassment, attempted date rape, men talking over me or not taking me seriously, and so on. Or what about young trans girls who socially transition early in life, and who never have the experience of being perceived or treated as a man? If you are making the “socialization” or “experiencing sexism” argument, then you have to concede that many trans women have these experiences too, and are therefore women under such criteria. Even older transitioners like Jenner will face sexism once people begin perceiving them as women. And even if the trans woman in question is visibly transgender, she will still experience plenty of sexism in the form of trans-misogyny.

If you happen to be a proponent of the women-are-women-because-of-socialization argument, then I ask you to consider the following scenario: A young girl is forced against her will to live as a boy. Upon reaching adulthood, after years of male socialization and privilege, she comes out about identifying as female and begins to live as a woman. Do you accept her as a woman? If your answer is yes, then it is hypocritical of you to not also accept trans women as women. (Indeed, the “forced against her will into boyhood” scenario is exactly how many trans women describe their childhoods.)

More often than not, people who claim that trans women aren’t women make both the biology and socialization arguments simultaneously, even though they are seemingly contradictory (i.e., if biology is the predominant criteria, then one’s socialization shouldn’t matter, and vice versa). Much like their homophobic counterparts who make appeals to biology (“God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”) then hypocritically invoke socialization (e.g., claiming that people can be turned gay as a result of gay teachers or the “homosexual agenda”), the trans-women-aren’t-women crowd desperately throws the entire kitchen sink at us rather than attempting to make a coherent argument.

While gender socialization is quite real, all of us are capable of overcoming or transcending the socialization that we experienced as children. And gender socialization doesn’t simply stop when one reaches adulthood: All of us are constantly facing gender-related social pressures, expectations, and obstacles throughout our lives. If you believe that these statements are true for cis women, then they also must be true for trans women.

The “male energy” and “male privilege” fallacies

One offshoot of the socialization argument goes something like this: Despite transitioning to female and moving through the world as women, trans women nevertheless still possess “male privilege” or “male energy.” The “male energy” claim seems especially sexist to me, as it implies that men have some kind of magical or mystical life force that women do not or cannot possess.

These sorts of claims seem to be based on conjecture or projection. For instance, in my many years of being perceived by the world as a cisgender woman, I have never once had anyone claim to detect “male privilege” or “male energy” in me. However, upon learning that I am transgender, some people are likely to read these traits into my behaviors. In fact, if I were to tell you that a particular woman is transgender (even if it was not true), you might be inclined to (re)interpret her in a similar way: reading any tomboyish or butch tendencies she exhibits as manifestations of “male energy,” and assuming that every time she asserts or stands up for herself it must be a sign of her deep-seated “male privilege.”

Male privilege is a very real thing. In my booking Whipping Girl, I talk at length about my own personal experiences of having it, and subsequently losing it post-transition. However, not every trans woman experiences male privilege (e.g., younger transitioners). Furthermore, the whole purpose of talking about privilege (whether it be male, white, middle/upper-class, able-bodied, or straight privilege, to name a few) is to raise awareness about the advantages that members of the dominant/majority group experience due to the fact that they do not face a particular type of sexism or marginalization. And the fact that the trans-women-aren’t-women crowd constantly harp about trans women’s real or imagined male privilege, yet refuse to acknowledge or examine their own cisgender privilege, demonstrates that their concerns about privilege are disingenuous, and that they are merely using the concept in order to delegitimize trans women’s identities and lived experiences as women.

The trans-women-as-caricatures-of-women fallacy

This somewhat overlaps with the Caitlyn Jenner fallacy, and it goes something like this: Trans women cannot possibly know what it’s like to be a woman. So therefore, they must be driven to transition by an extremely superficial or stereotypical idea of what it means to be a woman, one based upon conventional feminine ideals that many feminists have rejected. In other words, trans women are not actual women, but rather we merely turn ourselves into “parodies” or “caricatures” of women. People who make this case often additionally invoke male privilege — e.g., insinuating that it must be “male arrogance” or “male entitlement” that leads trans women to presume that we can understand and/or become women ourselves.

There are numerous problems with this line of reasoning:

1) It relies on a highly negative view of feminine gender expres​sion(that I have debunked in my writings) and implies that conventionally feminine cisgender women are also behaving superficially and/or reinforcing stereotypes.

2) It ignores the many trans women who are outspoken feminists and/or not conventionally feminine.

3) Trans women do not transition out of a desire to be feminine; we transition out of a self-understanding that we are or should be female (commonly referred to as gender identity).

4) Trans women who are conventionally feminine are not in any way asserting or insinuating that all women should be conventionally feminine, or that femininity is all there is to being a woman. Like cis women, trans women dress the way we do in order to express ourselves, not to critique or caricature other women.

5) This line of reasoning accuses trans women of arrogantly presuming to know what cis women experience, when we do no such thing. In reality, it’s the cis women who forward this accusation that are the ones arrogantly presuming to know what trans women experience and what motivates us.

As a trans woman, I will be the first to admit that I cannot possibly know what any other woman experiences or feels on the inside. But the thing is, the trans-women-aren’t-women crowd cannot possibly know what any other woman experiences or feels either! Every woman is different. We share some overlapping experiences, but we also differ in every possible way. Every trans woman I know acknowledges this diversity. In contrast, it’s the cis women who attempt to exclude us who seem to have a singular superficial stereotypical notion of what constitutes a woman, or of what women experience.

A final note: The “trans women as caricatures of women” claim is highly related to the “trans women reinforce sexism” trope, which I debunk in the following Twitter thread:


The brain differences fallacy

When you are a trans person (who does not possess cis privilege), people will often compel you to explain or justify your gender identity. One common response is to say something like, “I was born with a female brain despite having a male body.” Many times, this is a purposeful oversimplification on the trans person’s part — an attempt to distill down the complexities of the transgender experience into a sound-bite that the average cisgender person can comprehend. In other instances, the trans person may be referencing research that suggests that, in a few super-tiny gender dimorphic regions of the brain, trans women more closely resemble cis women than cis men. (Trans people differ significantly in whether we believe this research to be preliminary, valid, or invalid.)

However, some cis feminists will extrapolate from this that all trans people must hold highly essentialist beliefs about female-versus-male brains, and therefore that we are an affront to feminism. Often, they will make this case while simultaneously making essentialist claims themselves (e.g., regarding reproductive capacities) in order to undermine our identities (as Elinor Burkett does in her “kitchen sink” trans-women-aren’t-women op-ed; see video of me rebutting her arguments here).

The Rachel Dolezal fallacy

Along with Caitlyn Jenner, contemporary trans-women-aren’t-women arguments almost always namedrop Rachel Dolezal. The implication is that a “man” claiming to be a woman is as ridiculous (and as enabled by privilege) as a white person claiming to be black. But here’s the thing: Rachel Dolezal is one person. In sharp contrast (as I alluded to earlier), transgender people are a pan-cultural and trans-historical phenomenon, and comprise approximately 0.2 – 0.3% of the population. [note: one reader pointed out that more recent studies suggest that it may be 0.6% or higher.] If you are interested in learning more about the existence of gender-variant people, here is an endnote from my book Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive referencing this history and cultural diversity:


from Julia Serano, Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive
The “trans women refuse to acknowledge any distinction” fallacy

People who make the trans-women-aren’t-women case will often insist that there is a distinction between cis women and trans women, yet trans women refuse to acknowledge this distinction. I find such claims endlessly frustrating. I have never once in my life heard a trans woman claim that our experiences are 100 percent identical to those of cis women. Indeed, the very fact that we in the trans community describe people as being “transgender” and “cisgender” points to an acknowledgement of potential differences!

The problem isn’t that we (i.e., trans women) refuse to acknowledge any differences, but rather that the trans-women-aren’t-women crowd refuses to acknowledge our many similarities.

There was a time in the 1960s and 1970s when many heterosexual feminists wanted to similarly exclude lesbians from women’s organizations and from feminism. The justifications that they forwarded were eerily similarly to trans-women-aren’t-women arguments: They accused lesbians of being “oppressively male” and of “reinforcing the sex class system” (see earlier Twitter thread). If you read the Wikipedia article I linked to earlier in this paragraph, you will find that lesbians fought back against such accusations. They didn’t do this because they believed that they were 100 percent identical to heterosexual feminists. They did it because some feminists were attempting to exclude them from feminism and the category of woman. Just like those who forward trans-women-aren’t-women arguments are attempting to do to us now.

Trans women are women. We may not be “exactly like” cis women, but then again, cis women are not all “exactly like” one another either. But what we do share is that we all identify and move through the world as women. And because of this, we all regularly face sexism. That is what we should be focusing on and working together to challenge. And as I said at the outset, forcing trans women into a separate group that is distinct from cis women does not in any way help achieve feminism’s central goal of ending sexism. In fact, it only serves to undermine our collective cause.

This essay was made possible by my Patreon supporters — if you liked this piece and want to see more like it, please consider supporting me there. You can learn more about my writings and activism at juliaserano.com.

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Post  MichaelaSJ on Sun Mar 03, 2019 11:14 pm

If the argument gets down to male or female, then I think there can be an honest discussion of whether transfolk change 'sex', or not and my answer is not. There are simply too many differences between a physical male and a physical female to make an informed argument.

But we are not transsexual and should not talk about anatomical differences. We are women or men, each differently but each a woman or a man. I consider myself a woman and yet I do not have a vagina or female breasts large enough to fill a 'B' cup bra.

I remember when I first started exploring my ‘condition’ in 1965, the term was sexual reassignment surgery. I had heard about Christine Jorgensen, but in the 1960 pre-internet time, it was nearly impossible to find out anything more about ‘sex reassignment surgery’. Be assured that when I was on board my aircraft carrier in drydock in Bremerton, WA, the ship board library was just a tad lacking in anything of an academic sexual nature.  Eventually the term sexual reassignment surgery morphed into transsexual surgery, then into its current and common usage of Gender Confirmation/Re-assignment Surgery (GCS/GRS). I think the current term GCS/GRS is much more accurate in that it describes a change in gender to conform to who the person believes he or she is - within, because while the external genitalia are modified, the internals can never be changed – while the person, as a whole, can be changed.

I visited an old friend Friday who just passed her 54th birthday and we had a similar discussion. She is very much a woman having undergone GRS when she turned 18 and if you didn't know this you would never guess she is anything BUT a woman.

I, on the other hand, am thankful when I get 'ma'am' as I did several times Friday. I dress androgynously. I make little effort to hide my deep voice or large hands, yet I do my very best to live as a woman.

My friend owns a popular brick and mortar/internet store catering mostly to crossdressers. She gets a lot of calls from potential customers who want to dress so very femininely as to be laughable. Many ultimately admit to being or wanting to be transgender and she advises these customers appropriately. Many of her customers simply do not initially understand the difference.

I am reminded of Andrea's recent post where she finally realized that transitioning didn't really involve the clothes or where she visited on the internet but where she was within herself - how did Andrea define herself, not what the internet thought of her. I think Andrea has found herself – whatever that is to her.

Even though I had thoughts of Miki very early on, I grew up until recently as Michael. I spent much of my adult career life in a very masculine industry, residential development and homebuilding.
The Caitlyn Jenner fallacy
These days, trans-women-are-not-women arguments invariably cite Caitlyn Jenner, typically making the following claim: “How can someone like Jenner, who lived their entire life as a man and experienced the privilege associated with that, ever possibly claim to be a woman?”
When I came out to my closest business associate/friend he remarked, 'Now I know why you always worked late at night. How did you hide yourself for all these years?'. Well, I did hide, just like Caitlyn Jenner and countless other transfolk did and still do. Hiding hurts so bad, so very bad.

My friend, the one who owns the store, was exceeding fortunate to have parents who, while protesting vehemently, still understood their boy, first born, was not really a boy and ultimately supported her during her transition. We should all be so very lucky, but we aren't, are we. Her parents did the research and living in the New England area meant they would be mostly inquisitive about things in general and willing to accept the new research on sexual reassignment specifically. Having the Harvard and Yale and NYU medical schools within a day’s drive provides a wealth of information and advice.
The “male energy” and “male privilege” fallacies
One offshoot of the socialization argument goes something like this: Despite transitioning to female and moving through the world as women, trans women nevertheless still possess “male privilege” or “male energy.” The “male energy” claim seems especially sexist to me, as it implies that men have some kind of magical or mystical life force that women do not or cannot possess.
Up and until the time I started to have thoughts of Miki, I was a very aggressive male. I was very much an ‘A’ personality, yet I was small in stature. It wasn’t until I was a Junior in high school that I topped 5’7” and even then, I was only #130. Yet, no one ever successfully bullied me. I always fought back and mostly successfully. This attitude of never letting anyone take advantage of me allow me a modicum of success in life. I didn’t go to the best of universities, yet I could stand toe to toe with CEOs and Army Generals, mostly with good success.

I really miss that part of my life, not so much the being a male amongst males, but the successes I achieved. The last real estate transaction I put together meant going toe-to-toe with my senior management and also a Army Two-Star General, but I did just that. With support from a group I led of local fellow employees, we got a project approved that was the largest, and last Real Property Exchange the government had ever done, and it was also the second most profitable transaction my employer had done up to that date.

I beat out MAJOR national players in the real estate development industry and put together a solution that everyone, except my team, had ignored. You cannot imagine the exhilaration when I was told by the west coast head of the Army Corps of Engineers,, face to face, and in front of my CEO that we had the best solution and the exchange was ours to negotiate. It took 35 more months to get to a definitive agreement, but I (and my team) did just that.

Part of me always goes back to an initial love of woodworking and boatbuilding. I never really saw that part of me as masculine or feminine. It was just something I was drawn to. I loved the artisanal aspects of the endeavor.

My health has foreclosed most dreams these days, but if I had it too do over again, I would love to have a little store front where I sold primarily hand tools, woodworking hand tools. I even had a name for the store: ‘Woodworking Unplugged’.

One of my dreams for my store was to offer to women, instruction in how to use hand tools and what you can build with them. It doesn’t take a lot of strength to use most hand tools, but it takes patience and the ability to work within yourself. Woodworking with hand tools is quiet. To listen to a handplane take off a strip of wood so thin you can read through it is sublime and SO satisfying. It is something I thought to also be SO feminine. Unfortunately, time has taken its toll on my body and dreams.

So, I have become the woman who I am, and I am pleased with Michaela Antonia Perata who likes to be called Miki.

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If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the Government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it is all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag.
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Post  Celia Eriksson on Mon Mar 04, 2019 12:26 am

Hi Lesley and Miki!!

Interesting reading. I won't add to it, coz it is par for the course stuff. I like much of what Miki has said in response, coz that is how it is. It is not par for the course for any of us. We are all different and real life stories are what's it's all about!!

There are plenty of things that Julia has written that we have come to realise all by ourselves, we know all that stuff Lesley, I'm sure you do... I have always known and stated many times how different we all are, for example, the rest is quite obvious too.

The fallacies are interesting and maybe I should download her book, but I am sure eggs, grandmothers, and the art of placing such eggs upon one's mouth and inhaling might deem it uneccessary. But, getting the message across is always good and Julia has done that, so I say good upon her at least for that.

I just might buy Whipping Girl.... have been there, (albeit as a feminine gay man), got the t-shirt, and the 'Whipping' bit, though not whipped, represents my early years being taken for granted, used and yes, abused and not in a nice way, either. It's my story, different to yours, different to Miki's and different to Julia's...... that is where the rub lies, not with what most of us already know.

Celia xx


P.S. Miki!!!! So, I can call you Miki and not Michaela now, cool..... I prefer Miki.... it suits you better!!!! XXXX

P.P.S. Lesley, written after reading this twice, but also after consuming half a bottle of wine..... so....
XXXXX

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A long very good read (not my writings here) Mtm
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Post  MichaelaSJ on Mon Mar 04, 2019 12:49 am

Celia Eriksson wrote:P.S. Miki!!!! So, I can call you Miki and not Michaela now, cool..... I prefer Miki.... it suits you better!!!! XXXX
When in boy mode, which is much too often, I prefer Michael as I never liked Mike although that is how I answer the phone. BUT, for my friends Smile  I am  MIKI Exclamation

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If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the Government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it is all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag.
Fahrenheit 451
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Post  Tara on Tue Mar 05, 2019 5:37 pm

Thanks for sharing that, Miki.

Celia Eriksson wrote:Hi Lesley and Miki!!
There are plenty of things that Julia has written that we have come to realise all by ourselves

For sure. But still, it's nice to have a well reasoned collection of responses to the arguments we all deal with.

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"Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see." — Edgar A. Poe
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