Tag Archives: Kate Bornstein

International ‘Real’ Women’s Day, not Trans, not Intersex, and not Men

International ‘Real’ Women’s Day

On this day, each year, I usually write about current social issues worldwide that affect women disproportionately. I often quote my sheroes – Audre Lorde, Simone de Beauvoir, Malala Yousafzai, Muzoon Almellehan, Ellen DeGeneres, Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga and so many more. Alternatively, I’d be railing against Islamic State (ISIL), Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, extreme sharia or tribal law sex-based violence used to oppress. Instead, it’s the voice of BBC Woman’s Hour, Dame Jenni Murray that is still ringing in my ears. 

Jenni Murray defining Women

On Sunday, Murray decided to wade into the “are trans women real women debate?” She prefaced her article in The Sunday Times with “I’m not a transphobe but…” along with “I’m not a radical feminist” either. 

“I am not transphobic or anti-trans. Not a Terf in other words. That’s trans-exclusionary radical feminist, to use one of the often-confusing expressions that have entered the language in this age of gender revolution. I’ll admit to feminist, but radical or separatist? No…” – Jenni Murray

The article was doomed from then, as that is how so many of the “I’m not a racist but…”, or “I’m not anti-gay but…” arguments begin. I bit my lip and pressed on, trying to remain open to rational argument. On the one hand, I actually agree with her – trans women do not experience life the same as “women born women” – or rather raised as girls and sometimes, as feminism argues, oppressed as women by the so-called patriarchy – some MRAs have challenged me to look at that term again, in the 21st century West, anyway. Perhaps it is now better seen as a kyriarchy, in the UK at least with its several queens and two female prime ministers.

On the other hand, neither do any two women have the same experiences. Birth, school, puberty, bullying, sexuality are near-universal human experiences and we all experience them differently.

“if womanhood is defined as the sum of everything that has ever happened to a woman because of her gender, then logically nobody born with male organs can ever quite attain it. It’s tantamount to saying that you can only be a woman if you’ve always been treated as one.” – Gaby Hinsliff, Guardian

Not all women experience oppression equally – wealth, class, and education, come into play as much as gender. To define ‘real’ women as only those who have experienced sexism or assault is ludicrous.

“Although a person’s sex as male or female stands as a biological fact that is identical in any culture, what that specific sex means in reference to a person’s gender role as a woman or a man in society varies cross culturally according to what things are considered to be masculine or feminine.” – Wikipedia definition

It is not automatic that a trans woman experiences life with “male privilege” before feeling gender dysphoria, bullying, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and internalised oppression – that, to date, psychological therapies have failed to cure, to the point where most psych associations now regard any attempt to as unethical.

If anything, it is the language of the article that is the problem. As soon as one starts defining a “real” woman, one has to question what characteristics make up that definition?

“Gender refers to the socially constructed characteristics of women and men – such as norms, roles and relationships of and between groups of women and men. It varies from society to society and can be changed.” – WHO definition

Clearly, the answer is not someone resembling the impossibly proportioned Barbie or Sindy, but I’m not going to get into thin-waist, hourglass figure shaming – a shame cisgender girls and transfeminine teens alike will find nigh on impossible to emulate.

The debate about “real” women runs dangerously close to policing sex/gender and a form of CisAryanism as Jane Fae notes:

Not “am I a real woman?”, but “am I a pure one?” – Jane Fae

Sex and gender spectra -whether biological or psychological (still part of the body-mind/neurology entity, I’m not a Cartesian dualist) defy the possibility of a single archetype of default woman, and as soon as one does it creates the possibility of discrimination and judgement upon anyone not conforming, passing, meriting, having perfect reproductive systems, or preferring same-sex or childless relationships.

Indeed, as Jane Fae draws attention to, Jenni Murray seems to define herself as a non-TERF by pointing out her marriage to a man and raising of “two fine sons” as if that explains her moderate feminism and typical womanhood. On the other hand, Julie Bindel said in response to what does being a woman mean:

“I have no idea what it feels like to be a woman. I don’t do gender. It is harmful and a total social construct that serves to reinforce patriarchy and women’s subordination to men. I wish to eradicate gender – that is the feminist goal…” – Julie Bindel, New Statesman

Simone de Beauvoir

“trans women are not just women. They are female. This is a hang-up on the part of many feminists who are still stuck in some world where biology is destiny (oh, the irony!). Because if ‘woman’ is a social construct, and deBeauvoir was right, we become women by living as women in the world, by facing oppression based on gender. For some women, that social conditioning starts with birth, because of a vagina and a doctor’s declaration. For others, it starts at 15, or 45, or 75.” Helen Boyd, author My Husband Betty

Some have argued that Murray would have been better writing about “natal” or “natural” women. On the former, I might quote, out of context but not without relevance, Simone de Beauvoir, from The Second Sex, introduction (1949):

“One is not born a woman, but becomes one.” 

Or so many more of de Beauvoir’s thoughts:

One wonders if women still exist, if they will always exist, whether or not it is desirable that they should…”

“It would appear, then, that every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity. Is this attribute something secreted by the ovaries? Or is it a Platonic essence, a product of the philosophic imagination?”

“Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him.” 

“She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other.”

Othering Trans Women

The irony that the argument of feminism and women’s liberation that women should not be defined as ‘other’ in relation to men, but should be equal in their own right, seems lost.

Now, however, trans women are defined as “other”, as the “third sex”, as women and LGB people were before them. Then there are those whose bodies are ‘other’ yet forcibly conformed to binary male or female. Dividing the human race into very strict boxes of men and women and who can be in them is erasing of intersex people, third gender folk from dozens of cultures and traditions around the world. 

Denying trans women membership of the cisterhood, only perpetuates what had previously been done to women by men in power of old – or not so long ago. 

Intersectional Feminism

I’ve no personal problem with being othered, or with not belonging, I’ve accepted that in life, but I shouldn’t need to and will fight my feminist sisters for their inclusion and my trans sisters to show some respect and learn some history. Both groups have very different forms of privilege, since much privilege is relative, and we need to look inside ourselves and our experiences to recognise that.

“Trans women are men”

Writing to the Daily Telegraph Letters page, Una-Jane Winfield writes that a proposed change to recognise gender identity and not just gender transition would have:

“extremely damaging consequences, especially for women at work and in public spaces, forcing them to accept non‑native women in their midst.

Dame Jenni Murray is right to draw attention to the privileged claim of ‘trans women’, who are socialised lifelong men, not women.

The change is not wanted by the 50 per cent of the human race called women, and it is an ‘equalities law”’ too far.”

To me, Winfield and Murray’s arguments are summed up in their attempting to speak for all women, without a referendum!

Biological Essentialism & Determinism

Furthermore, they define women just as men used to do, by the presence of a womb, ovaries, ability to conceive, or by the experience of puberty, menstruation, menopause – the very biological essentialism and reproductive value that women’s liberation and feminism sought to overcome. Now, some feminists are resorting to those self-same arguments to define themselves in opposition to trans women (men in their eyes).

“woman means something. It means sexual biological woman.”- Comment on Independent article

I’ll reiterate Simone de Beauvoir here because I think Winfield and Murray need to read it again themselves:

“every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity. Is this attribute something secreted by the ovaries?”

They speak unelected for all women, and stereotype all trans women as men in frocks, persisting in male criminality, wanting to forcibly invade women’s spaces etc. In their over-egged gender essentialist simplicity they ignore non-binary, assigned female at birth (AFAB) trans men, intersex people and folk like me who don’t give a fuck about labels and access to women’s spaces, unless I’m invited.

To paraphrase de Beauvoir,

“not every male human being is necessarily a man.”

I’m with Kate Bornstein, author of Gender Outlaw, who upon transitioning declared she was “no longer a man, but not entirely female.” Like her, I identify as non-binary, recognise my male past (despite a brief designation of female at birth and an endocrine puberty disorder), but don’t wholly identify with being a woman, but many trans women do.

What Is this, the 1950s?

Their binary defensiveness is a going backwards, when we should be going forwards together as so many younger inclusive feminists are. That said, some trans women need a Feminism 101 history lesson to avoid their gender presentation and attitudes being interpreted as wanting to be subjugated women in twin sets and pearls, tied to the kitchen sink, actually enjoying ironing.

“presenting womanhood as being about little more than cute outfits and chasing boys” – Meghan Murphy, Feminist Current

Young trans people are now diversifying the range of trans and non-binary gender presentations, so that old accusations of female parody and imitation are no longer true.

Some of the comments on news articles about this feel like Daily Mail readers are now reading all the other papers too. In the year that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality and we are back to determining which LGBTIQA+ people have rights, and it is some of the older Lesbians and Gays, as well as straight traditionalists who are opposing rights for trans and genderqueer people.

“Trans are not women. LBGT thing is a nonsense.” – Comment on Daily Telegraph article

“Gender appropriation in action.” – Comment on Independent article

“the Trojan horse of transvestite men’s “rights” to steal biological women’s rights” – Comment on Independent article

In addition, I’ve had “gay eugenics” thrown up this week, the idea that trans people are erasing gays and lesbians, the erroneous idea that easily obtainable without medical ethics puberty blockers and hormones are forced upon teenagers to prevent them discovering their sexuality! Somewhat similar to the “butch erasure” touted by some lesbian feminists such as Sheila Jeffries, Julie Bindel et al, not respecting the feminist rights of their “assigned sisters at birth” who want to express their gender identity as male psyche and body now. Some have even created the term ftMysognist to describe those leaving the lesbian fold because of transition.

No Two Women…are the same

It’s not that trans women are the same as natal women, it’s that no two women are the same either. Then there are intersex variations, for example, from 1-in-1000 to as many as 1-in-100 births can be gender indeterminate at first sight during birth, many are then conformed by non-consensual (on the part of the child) surgery to a pseudo-sex binary. There are natal ‘girls’ raised as female who turn out to have XY chromosomes as part of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) or 5α-Reductase deficiency (5-ARD) and whose sex and gender identity is more often identified as young adults. See Anne Fausto-Sterling’s Sexing the Body or Sex/Gender: Biology in a Social World for more on intersex prevalence and sex diversity.

“Man A: I have an XXY chromosome set with Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, so that’s two elements of intersex in one body. I have one ovary, a uterus, and a vagina (via vaginaplasty and labiaplasty) behind my scrotum, but I also have a functional penis and one testicle. I have no body hair, female skeleton, and I menstruate. In the old days, they used to call people like me a “true hermaphrodite,” but that is not the modern term. So I play the role of male, knowing that I am biologically neither male nor female.” – Cosmopolitan

This person would confuse Jenni Murray’s simple categories of man, trans woman and real woman.

Natal, natural, nature, whatever you want to call it all create ‘real’ variations in human bodies and brains, in-utero and post-utero. Just read Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender and Sexuality in Nature and People by evolutionary biologist Joan Roughgarden.

“To acknowledge different experiences is to start to move towards more fluid – and therefore more honest and true to the real world – conceptions of gender.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 

Trans are a small minority, why bother?

The number of comments on Jenni Murray’s and response articles suggesting that trans are a minority and therefore should not be accommodated reeks of “the tyranny of the majority”.

“Trying to fully accommodate and integrate the relatively very few transgender people into a society constructed around 2 distinct sexes is I think, almost impossible.” – Comment on The Times article

“why so much hot air is being expended on such a small part of the population” – Comment on Daily Telegraph article

Actually, the number of trans, non-binary, and/or intersex people (these categories can overlap) exceeds the number of wheelchair users, yet we rightly make adjustments for them. Indeed, gender reassignment is a protected characteristic in equality law, whatever anyone’s personal beliefs and reasonable adjustment, gender recognition, and the avoidance of discrimination are legal requirements. Are we not stronger together, even if we are different?

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” – Audre Lorde

Debate speech not hate speech

If you want to follow some of the discussion there’s debate, and not a little hate, on facebook here and here, as well as in the comments sections of some of the articles cited above in The Times, (and this one), Telegraph, GuardianIndependent, Feminist Current and Pink News.

Again, I actually have no problem with Jenni Murray having the discussion, although many do, I’m into respectful, fair and free speech, and debate not no-platforming (unless inciting hate and violence). As a result, I will challenge her argument (essentially that ovaries and oppression make a woman) and not attack her person as some have done, deplorably. This debate about who is a woman still raises heckles on all sides, that it does, shows we are not there yet. Roll back 50 or 150 years and people were questioning race, colour and sexuality, as not equal to white western heterosexual man. Let’s thrash this out but without attacking individuals. Science and society have moved on from these out of date views but airing them still shows how retrograde they are.

 

International Transgender Day of Visibility #TDOV

Transgender Day of Visibility #TDOV

The last day of Women’s History Month, the day before April Fool’s, is the International Trans Day of Visibility (TDOV), 31 March. Since 2009, it has sought to celebrate transgender positivity in contrast to the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) events around 20 November that draw attention to the high levels of violence and murder that trans people suffer in some countries. Even where murder is less likely, bullying, harassment, and discrimination can be part of the transphobic package that can add to the likelihood of suicide, which some 40% of trans people attempt, and twice that number, consider.

TDOV is an opportunity to portray positive role models, to let the many trans just coming out know that “it gets better“. I’ve spent ten plus years ‘out’ and it’s been a rocky road, with the almost requisite marriage break-up, suicide attempts, looks in the street, and transphobic abuse online. But that need not be everyone’s experience and for many, it is getting easier, with better support and a more accepting society.

SuperTrans Coming Out Transgender Visibility
SuperTrans ‘Coming Out’

Ironically, many trans people don’t want to be visible, they’d rather not be noticed, hopefully passing as fellow human beings in a crowd. Inevitably, some of us stand out more than others, some by choice, some by fate. Don’t always assume a trans person wants to be recognised or feted as one, many would rather be seen as your common or garden variety man or woman. I’m of the louder and more visual variety, who’ll probably die still not conforming to gender stereotypes and expectations.

Non-Binary leads to inevitable visibility

I’ve found, indeed, that being non-binary is a better fit for me than the discrete categories of man or woman, male or female, boy or girl. I, personally, don’t mind whether anyone sees me as a “real woman” or not, I know basic biology, although mine is more complex and many people exist that makes one think again about binary sex default and gender constructs.

I am, however, also not a “real man”, that too is fine! Perhaps, as one of my godchildren once cheekily remarked to me upon opening the door, saying, “Half-ladies first”, I am a “Shim”, also his delightful invention. Other people should be respected, however they prefer to be addressed.

Beyond He or She Gender Time Magazine cover
Beyond He or She Gender Time Magazine cover, March 2017

Whilst 2014 has been regarded as the “Transgender tipping point”, 2016-17 seems to be the year of Non-Binary Genderqueer and Genderfluid. In January, National Geographic ran a “Gender Revolution” special issue, and this March, TIME Magazine ran with “Beyond He or She”. 

Half of young people now see gender as a spectrum and identify their own sexuality between gay and straight. Most now know someone who is trans and/or non-binary, and they are broadly accepting, the best it has ever been, teaching older adults the way to be around identity and expression. Whilst traditional feminists regard gender as a construct, it is young women who are most likely to see it as a spectrum, blurring the lines between gender and sex. Some 22% of young women identify as other than 100% female.

New Gender Honorific Titles on Bank Cards

Just this week, HSBC announced 10 new non-binary honorifics besides the usual Mr, Mrs, Ms etc,. Metro Bank and RBS NatWest already allowed Mx (as I have) or no title. HSBC customers can now choose from:

  • Ind (individual)
  • M
  • Mx (pron. “mix” or “mux”)
  • Misc (miscellaneous)
  • Mre (mystery)
  • Msr (mix of miss/sir)
  • Myr
  • Pr (pron. “per”, for person)
  • Sai (pron. “sigh”)
  • Ser (pron. “sair”)

A Most Reluctant Transsexual

To be honest, I haven’t had it too hard, people have been accepting, and although gender dysphoric, at times I’ve been euphoric to finally be myself. Even with some trials and tribulations, it has been worth it.

Katy Went Transgender Voices NHS NSFT photoshoot
Katy Went “Transgender Voices” NHS NSFT magazine photoshoot

My ten-year journey as Norfolk’s “most reluctant transsexual” – as my psychiatrist once called me, has recently closed one chapter and turned the page to another. After nearly 6 years on hormones my resistance towards surgery shattered and I went ahead with a version of GRS that suited my identity and needs. It has made me a happier, healthier person, with no regrets. Rather surprisingly, to myself at least, it has improved my other mental health condition, bipolar, for now at least, with just pockets of extreme downs, rarer hypomanic highs, and many more days of productivity and calm.

In going ahead with surgery I found my mind changed as much as my body. It really was life-changing, even saving, surgery. Whilst I had near constant doubts leading up to it, I’ve had none since that no-going-back day of 6 February 2016, and felt as much lighter between the ears as between the legs. I feel like a psycho-emotional brain tumour has been removed, I have more space in my head, in my thoughts and feelings, no longer obsessed and disturbed by gender identity. I feel no more female, just less encumbered and more myself. Oddly, I feel just as non-binary, non-conformist as ever, and, if anything, less gendered, though more comfortable in my body.

NSFT NHS Insight Magazine
NSFT NHS Insight Magazine

Prevalence of transgender people

I am but one of millions of trans people worldwide, more than a million in the USA alone, perhaps 300-600,000 in the UK or more. The NHS used to say that there were around 1-in-30,000 people born male (AMAB) transitioning to female (MTF) and 1-in-100,000 people born female (AFAB) transitioning to male (FTM). Those serious underestimates are reflected in the huge waiting lists of 1000s of people to access the handful of UK Gender Identity Clinics (GICs).

Given that the incidence of trans people seeking NHS help is now around 7,000 new referrals p.a., figures over an adult working lifetime would suggest a prevalence of 300,000-600,000 adults, around 0.5%-1% of the population, 1-in-200 or 1-in-100 people, perhaps more. In addition, For every trans person not seeking HRT or surgery there are four or five feeling and presenting as gender questioning or non-conforming. Recent surveys suggest 2.5% may identify as non-binary, 1.75% may be born intersex, and 2% may identify as trans or genderfluid. Overlap between these populations may suggest around 5% total, 1-in-20 people. This isn’t to conflate intersex with trans, just that some can be both, and it shows the degree of sex and/or gender atypicality in the population as a whole.

National Geographic, Gender Revolution
National Geographic, Gender Revolution, January 2017

Visible Trans Persons

In the UK we have many visible trans already such as the comedian, actor and now marathon-addict, Eddie Izzard. Other trans comedians include Bethany Black and Andrew O’Neill. Then there’s the arts writer and ceramicist, Turner Prize winning artist, Grayson Perry. In the world of journalism, there’s LGBT Pink List-topping radio and print journalist Paris Lees, along with several contributors to the Guardian newspaper such as Jane Fae, Juliet Jacques, and Roz Kaveney. In the field of law and diversity, Professor of Equalities Law at Manchester – Stephen Whittle, Christine Burns, formerly of Press for Change, Rachel Reese of the University of Law, law partner Clare Fielding, and barrister, Caroline Harrison, QC.

In sport, there’s recently-out boxing promoter, Kellie Maloney, and MMA fighter Roxeanne/Alex Reid. In business, there is Kate Craig-Wood, an entrepreneur and founder of one of the UK’s largest IT groups. Musicians like CN Lester, Thomas Dolby’s son Harper, and a magician, Fay Presto. In politics, there are several trans people who have stood as councillors or for election, across the political spectrum. On television, there are actors and a spate of reality TV stars. Among people who came out in the 1960s and 70s, there’s models April Ashley and Caroline Cossey, and writer, Jan Morris –  all well known British women with open transgender histories. I could go on as I know of hundreds of trans lawyers, doctors, activists in public life, here in the UK alone.

Time Magazine Transgender Tipping Point Laverne Cox
Time Magazine “The Transgender Tipping Point” Laverne Cox

In the USA, Janet Mock, among others have blazed the way by being out and public in their defence of being themselves, creating a tipping point of trans visibility, perhaps leading to the timing of former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out.

Also, recently, we’ve seen big names like Lana and Lilly Wachowski of the Matrix films, Chelsea Manning of Wikileaks fame, Cher’s son Chaz Bono, and Laura Jane Grace of Against Me. Actors like Alexis Arquette, Candis Cayne (“Dirty Sexy Money”), Laverne Cox (“Orange is the New Black”) and Calpernia Addams. Nor are “Gender Outlaw” author Kate Bornstein or Jennifer Boylan to be forgotten. Dr Marci Bowers, is an American gynaecologist and surgeon and actually carries out gender/sex-reassignment surgery. There’s the US biologist and author of “Evolution’s Rainbow” Joan Roughgarden.

The names above are just a sprinkling of the probably tens of millions of trans and gender-variant people million worldwide.

For more information about the transgender spectrum visit www.genderagenda.net.