Jenni Murray on Trans as not Real Women

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.

Oxford University History Society 

Whether Jenni Murray is “transphobic” or not has come back to haunt her in November 2018 as an invite for her to speak at Oxford Uni HistorySoc was condemned by LGBTQ & Women’s liberation socs there leading to uproar in the Spectator, Daily Telegraph and more, and eventually for Dame Jenni’s withdrawal from speaking.

4 thoughts on “International ‘Real’ Women’s Day, not Trans, not Intersex, and not Men”

  1. Speaking for myself and I know I’m going to say things that upset some people but I think
    it needs to be said
    Having read the article written by Jenni Murray ,it does raise some issues which I think need to be said and raised, maybe at some time in the future she would like to clarify her comments and attitudes, does this article mean she is trans-phobic, in one very important sense yes, it is she uses the same attitudes and arguments that I have heard time and time again, About people to do with race gender and sexuality,

    I almost expected her to say I don’t mind transgender people I just don’t want them living next door to me.

    The other question I have is why is this whole argument always spotlight on male to female transgender people”like myself” , she doesn’t seem to get very upset or maybe it doesn’t cross her mind about female to male transgender people, perhaps she has never considered it or it just doesn’t fit in with her view of the world,
    may be being the 1970s feminist she is, the idea that a woman might want to become a man and become one of the oppressors in her eyes is inconceivable,

    I just think it is very sad that somebody who has claim that she has fought for the rights of other minorities especially women cannot see that she is actually discriminating against another minority, a bit of hypocrisy there wouldn’t you say,

    let’s face it nobody wakes up on a Monday morning and decides I know wouldn’t it be fun let’s change my sex let’s change my gender let’s put up with surgery ,hormones, psychiatrist reports, psychologist reports, blood tests,
    waiting for letters, sitting in waiting rooms, and so on , the sniggering attitudes from people and the funny looks we do not do it for fun,

    my other issue I have with her article is she uses the term male privilege, I must have missed that one because I never felt privileged, with the gender I was born with,
    does she mean a privilege of being made to run around a muddy field kicking a ball about being shouted at and being told it’s good for you it will make a man of you
    “thay got that one wrong”.

    Does she mean the privilege as a man of being told by a housing officer when you are in your early 20s and you are homeless you have no rights as a man to housing. But then being told if you was a woman the council would help you as they would see you as vulnerable, “what a privilege that was”,

    The privilege of having the right to be turned down for a job on the grounds of your gender, not to mention little other privileges being beaten up in the street by a drunk, the privilege of almost being stabbed to death because you was in the wrong place at the wrong time, if these are privileges that men get I’m sorry I don’t want them and I’m glad I don’t have them anymore,

    I have course met some very privileged people both men and women who for whatever reason, know the right people, went to the right schools, and so on the old boy and girl network, that I’m sure we have all experienced some time in our life.
    May be this is what Jenni Murray refers to as privilege, but then again if you earn tens of thousands of pounds writing an article like this then that makes you privileged now that would be a privilege “I would love to have”.

    One of the arguments that is used against transwoman is you cannot be a real woman is because we was not born with the necessary plumbing, not having a uterus or ovaries,
    We cannot have a period and cannot have children, this means you cannot be a proper woman, this is the argument that is used against us by Jenni Murray and the likes of Germaine Greer, of course it quietly forgets what happens if you are born female with out the necessary plumbing and you cannot have children, does this mean they are not women,
    of course this works the other way around if you are a transman you cannot be a real man because you do not have a fully functioning penis and testicles,
    so you cannot father children you are not a real man, but of course what does this mean for men that were born without a functioning penis are they not real men,

    But here is something people might like to think about, in the future may be in just 5 10 20 years from now it will be perfectly possible to transplant a uterus with ovaries into a woman who was born without them or has had to have them removed, for health reasons, this will also mean that trans women will be able to have a uterus and ovaries implanted we will have the same plumbing as other women, it will mean that you could have periods and have children “so get the tampons ready girls it’s something to look forward to LOL”.

    And using Jenni Murray’s argument we will now be proper women, and the opposite is true sometime in the near future if a man has been born without a functioning penis and testicles they will either be able to construct one or transplant one, this will mean that trans men will be able to father children “so boys you have got something to look forward to and have all of the privilege that being a man brings you “, this procedure may take a little bit longer but certainly in the future , but by this times if you want to change your gender or get the gender you should had when you were born there will be no problem you will just go along to your local hospital or medical facility and just have a simple procedure and nobody will care, I am just sad that I will not be there to see it and it’s not here now if it had been I would have done it years ago.
    As for the argument this is to do with free speech it is a complete red herring I wonder if these people that are now shouting about free speech if I was to use some derogatory term towards other minorities on the grounds of their race, sexuality or gender or economic circumstances they would be only too happy to condemn me, but then what you expect from the sun ‘O’ sorry the times the thinking persons rag just go back and look at what the Murdoch press has said about minorities in the past, but I suppose if you’re getting a small fortune for writing article from the Murdoch press you don’t care may be Jenni Murray would like to donate her 30 pieces of silver for writing this article to a transgender charity,
    or maybe she would like to meet some ordinary transgender people that have to deal with real issues of society, but perhaps she wouldn’t maybe because some of us shave our legs.

    1. If you are actually interested in what male privilege means, you can find many great articles on it. This is a good list:

      And this is written by a white straight man, so men sometimes do listen to him:

      Male privilege is a fact, not a debate, rather like gravity is a “theory” only in the sense that theory means accepted and recognised scientific theory validated by scientific research, not a hypothesis as flat earthers think theory means.

      It wouldn’t matter if you were able to have someone operate on you so you have the same “plumbing” as women. Biological birth chromosomes dictate your sex. Sex is a fact, not a choice. Gender is a construction and does not exist. And the sooner men realise that, the sooner they can get on with doing whatever they want, as men, wearing dresses, or staying home and cooking, or whatever they have incorrectly been tricked into believing being a woman is.

      Being a woman means you are born a biological female and have made it to adulthood. That’s all it means. There is literally no such thing as feeling like a woman or acting like a woman, or a man. Women feel everything on the spectrum of human feelings, as do men. Women do everything on the spectrum, limited only by biological sex, as do men.

      If we all woke up tomorrow and women were of equal size and strength to men, there would be an awful lot of bewildered and frightened people around suddenly realising those gender roles they had been deceived into believing were innate, weren’t.

      I look forward to the day people realise that men can wear high heels, dresses and make up if they want to, and they’re still men. Can stay home with their children, and they’re still men. Can be nurturing and naturally submissive, and they’re still men. I look forward to the day men stop bashing and beating other men into being terrified of behaving in what they have been tricked into believing is a feminised fashion.

      I won’t be reinventing the wheel or arguing about the facts I have stated. They are inarguable.

      I hope you choose to learn, but only you can make that choice.

      1. Stating that your “facts” are “inarguable” kind of ends any discussion…However, “Biological birth chromosomes dictate your sex. Sex is a fact, not a choice. Gender is a construction and does not exist.” XX males and XY females exist, endocrine receptors go awry, XXY.. persons exist (21 varieties), SRY genes… these are just chromosome+endocrine factors. Read some Fausto-Sterling a female biologist on sex and gender, read the latest Judith Butler: Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”. You over simply and call absolute fact what science now recognises as a spectrum with far greater than binary variety.

  2. Woman – adult biological female. Yes, that’s exactly what it means. Yes, it’s that simple.

    So many young men deliriously happy that there’s finally a sanctioned way to publicly attack women again. All those years of stifling their resentment of women (particularly older women, who they largely consider socially useless), and then along comes the Trojan horse of transvestite men’s “rights” to steal biological women’s rights. More intense male aggression towards women packaged up neatly in fake progressive propaganda.

    Of course, none of them will admit to this, as they have convinced themselves that’s not what’s behind their vitriolic public response to women who dare to question trans dogma. How eagerly they jump at the chance to put women “in their place.”

    Trans are a tiny subset of humanity. Their rights and safety are important but SO ARE WOMEN’S. Men in dresses are screaming, beating and bashing their way into women’s safe spaces in highly entitled male fashion. Appallingly painfully transparent how some are champing at the bit to have a “justifiable” reason to attack women they don’t feel are adequately toeing the line and fulfilling their gender expectations. Intelligent enough to know that publicly calling women “b•••ches”, “c••ts” and “t••ts” before telling them to shut their mouth will probably land them in hot water with their progressive chums. But good news fellas! You can now scream shut up you “TERF” “SWERF” and “White Feminist.” You can shriek nonsensical unscientific rubbish at women and still call yourself progressive!

    The dreadful harm being done to actual woman by those shrieking for trans to have the right to bully women into giving up their safe spaces is horrific. Yes, transvestite men are often violent and harmful to women. Male impulses to be violent to women are not changed by wearing a dress. Bullying and beating their way into women’s spaces is a very entitled and privileged male thing to do. Nope that one woman you claim loves having penises in her locker room doesn’t count. Nope, you don’t share make up tips with a 200 pound linebacker. Nope, the vast majority of women don’t agree with you.

    There have already been numerous incidents of men who identify as “transgender women” raping, sexually molesting, spying on or video-recording very young girls and women (including elderly women) in public restrooms and women’s shelters. Additionally, the peer-reviewed study “Long-Term Follow-Up of Transsexual Persons Undergoing Sex Reassignment Surgery,” which was published in Public Library of Science (PLOS) Journal, found that men who identify as transgender “retain male patterns of criminality” in the rate at which they commit violent crimes, including in their rate of attacks against women, namely rape and murder of women.

    You are gaslighting women, insulting our intelligence and displaying your anti-woman bigotry by claiming that what is happening to us is not or could not be happening. You are telling girls and women who were raped, kidnapped and/or killed by men who identify as trans that they don’t exist. Trans such as Christopher Hambrook, who watched little girls and women shower at several women’s shelters he resided in before he graduated to sexually assaulting them; trans like Tyler Holder, who kidnapped, raped and smothered to death his 6-year-old neighbor Alanna Gallagher; trans like Synthia China Blast (Luis Morales) who raped, tortured, murdered, and burned up a 13-year-old girl; trans like Sandy Jo Battista (David Megarry) who is a serial child molesters of girl children. Trans who violently rape women are then housed in women’s prisons in increasing numbers, where their rapes of women often continue. Transvestites don’t deserve to be violently attacked by men. Neither do women.

    No feminist is trying to harm transvestites by keeping women’s rights. Women have a right not to have biological men in their safe spaces. End of. Yes, woman means something. It means sexual biological woman.

    DARVO. Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender. Allow us to run roughshod over women’s rights and privacy or it’s your fault we men are harming other men. Emotional blackmail straight from the misogynist’s playbook.

    Nope, there is literally no such thing as ladeebrainz. Nope, that one article you try to quote isn’t scientific and means nothing. Men should be safe to wear make up and high heels – just as they have in the past – without other men bashing and beating them. There is no such thing as feels like a woman or man. Doesn’t exist. What you feel as a born man is ipso facto how some men feel. You’re a man who likes dresses and make up and doing other things you think mean woman. They don’t. Woman means born of the female sex.

    Lobby for unisex toilets and lobby for education to stop other men beating the hell out of you. Real feminists are going to keep defending actual women’s rights.

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