Content warning: strong language; adult themes; sexuality; spoilers for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series
Intro: Wanda and the moon road
The first trans character I remember encountering in fiction was Wanda, in the graphic novel “A Game of You.” It was part of the much longer, now beloved Sandman series by Neil Gaiman. Wanda was a trans woman, and her gender and identity figure into the story. In “A Game of You,” a witch named Thessaly performs a ritual to draw down the moon—a ritual based in fact, dating back to ancient Greece.
However, Wanda isn’t able to travel on the moon road—the witch telling her, “you’re a man,” and a different character later telling Wanda that gender isn’t something she can pick and choose, that chromosomes matter to the moon goddess.
To be honest, what happened to Wanda never sat right with me. While I liked the inclusion of a trans woman, I thought Wanda should’ve been able to go on the moon road with the cis women. However, I had a hard time articulating why. As I’ve worked through my own issues with trans rights, and also my own gender identity, I kept coming back to Wanda’s story.
So, a little about me: I came out as bisexual when I was 17, in the late 90s, and have been seeking out books about lesbians and queer issues ever since. From artsy lesbian movies, like All Over Me, to classic queer books like The Well of Loneliness to queer theory like The Femme Mystique, the title a nod to the 1963 book that helped spark the second wave of feminism, I loved reading and watching and thinking about women’s issues. From feminism to deconstructing femininity, I’m all about it.
Of course, I examined my own feminism and identity as a woman. One of the first academic books about feminism I read was bell hook’s Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, cementing my belief that feminism has to be intersectional to be worthwhile. And my gender: I’ve had lots of discussions with friends about gender roles and expectations, and what that means for my own identity. I’ve wondered about that, sometimes, as I’ve had dreams where I’ve been a man since I was a teenager.
Which is why I was so compelled when I first heard the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival described to me: a lesbian friend explained, proudly, that no men were allowed on the land. The way she said “land” made it sound like it was this sapphic Eden, a magical place where women could be without worrying about rape, the male gaze, or being told by anyone to smile.
Until I saw a documentary about drag kings called Ladies as Gentleman: Drag Kings on Tour, as part of a film festival during Pride in 2005. The kings weren’t allowed to perform at MichFest because they used music that had male singers. That gave me pause.
No men allowed on the land. Not even their voices.
Again, this didn’t sit right with me, but I couldn’t really articulate why. I did think it seemed really constraining— not even recordings of male voices? Even if the performers themselves were women?
It also seemed like the festival was more concerned about defining women as what men were not— instead of defining what women were. While I struggled with the contradiction, I still couldn’t find the words to explain my thoughts.
When I heard that the festival excluded trans women, my heart sank. I thought back to Wanda and the moon road. Still, I wasn’t able to put any of my feelings into words. I even defended the festival’s decision to exclude trans women. While I’m not proud of it, I did try to justify the festival’s policy. I’d read about it, and I didn’t like it… but I also stood by their decision. Back then, I thought… was it really so bad for people assigned female at birth to have their own space? It always seems like it’s women who are expected to make accommodations for other people. I thought, if trans women wanted to be part of a festival, why not make their own?
I took this lazy route to avoid discussing if I thought trans women were “real” women. This also allowed me to gloss over what I thought the word “woman” meant. Did I even need to define the word “woman?” I mean… someone with a uterus, who has a period, who deals with sexism from men? People with less facial hair and softer voices? Easy, right? Right…
It took many more years before I was able to fully articulate my thoughts on trans women, and overcome my own transphobic, gender-critical thoughts. While I’m not proud of what I used to think, I do want to share how and why I changed my mind.
So, welcome to: debunking the so-called “gender-critical” arguments. I’ve spent some time reading through gender critical threads on Reddit and watching videos about their arguments, and I think I’m ready.
Flawed argument #1: women are oppressed because of biology.
This is easily the most common argument I’ve seen used to exclude trans women. Since men oppress women because we can get pregnant, therefore, trans women can’t be oppressed by men.
While I do think that sexism and patriarchy has roots in biology, and mainly, in men’s desire to be certain about paternity, I think that sexism has evolved to include not just female bodies, but anything feminine. In my opinion, it is femininity that is looked down on, not just being biologically female.
Look at the way feminine gay men are treated, or straight men who aren’t traditionally masculine. From being told to “man up” to “making a man” out of someone, there are plenty of instances of sexism rooted in English, with the idea of appearing to be feminine as bad.
Look at some common insults directed at gay men: sissies, pansies, “poufs,” that view gay men as feminine, and therefore bad. That gay men are somehow less masculine than straight men, or they’re a threat to traditional masculinity. A lot of insults about gay men hinge on them being seen as effeminate, and therefore worthy of scorn.
Being “girly” is only an insult if you think being a girl is something bad.
And I need to add: infertile women aren’t treated better than fertile women… as if there is more to oppression than just biology.
Flawed argument #2: men need to be kept out of women’s spaces to make those spaces safe
Spoilers: banning men from a place does not mean that place is safe for women. One, women can be misogynists too. “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people,” as Marie Shear said, and people are not perfect. I dislike the idea that women are inherently wonderful and men are inherently bad. Not only is it inaccurate, it’s incredibly regressive—the idea of men as predators/women as prey BS has been around since Christianity. That idea strips people of their agency.
This argument ignores that plenty of women have internalized misogyny, and have decided that being feminine or female is bad. Don’t believe me? Go look at Reddit’s sub about “not like other girls,” a topic I’ll return to later.
This take also ignores that abuse happens in same-sex relationships. Assault, rape, and abuse don’t “belong” to men any more than being the victim of violence is something that “belongs” to women. Men can be victims and women can be perpetrators of assault. While there are more male rapists than female, there’s still a huge stigma attached to male rape victims, including reporting and seeking help.
I was struck by how weird the idea of same-gender spaces as being safe was, when I subbed for another teacher at my school. The class was all women, all Muslim, and who all wore niqabs, or a type of scarf that covers the lower part of the face. When I was teaching, about 20 minutes in, the students nodded to each other, made sure the classroom door was locked, and with a sigh, removed the part of the niqab that covered their faces.
When I mentioned this to my colleague, he looked a little wistful, and said he wished his students trusted him the same way they trusted a female teacher they only met once.
And I realized how odd it was: my colleague was gay, and I’m bi, so— I realized just how silly the idea of sex-same spaces can be. If the point is to keep out people who check out women… how can queer women be in women-only spaces?
There’s also the issue of prisoners’ relationships and violence in all-women’s prisons. While some relationships between female prisoners are likely consensual, research shows that a lot of the relationships are coercive. While prisons are certainly not the best example, it does point to a basic flaw in gender critical thinking: that removing men from a place make that place safe for women.
And if statistics don’t impress you, I’ve got another anecdote.
I’ve been swimming laps for years, and I’ve used women’s locker rooms in various states in the US, as well as in various countries in Europe. In general, women aren’t very talkative in locker rooms. Maybe it’s because a woman-only space is one of the few times we can relax and not worry about appearing nice. In the more than 10 years I’ve been regularly using women’s locker rooms, I’ve only had a few people try to talk to me.
Which was why I was caught so off-guard when, while I was changing, a woman asked me, “Does your boyfriend pay for your tattoos?” Not only did she assume I’m straight and apparently bad with my finances… I was shocked that anyone asked me a question like that in a locker room.
To me, she was acting like a stereotypical man: presumptuous, obnoxious, and ignoring boundaries.
Flawed argument #3: patriarchy doesn’t hurt men
As I said earlier, it’s not just being female that gets you treated badly—it’s being feminine in general. On the flipside, sexism hurts men in certain ways. Specifically, there are certain behaviors expected of men, such as being stoic and not expressing emotions; or being good at physical activities, like sports or home repair projects; that can be restrictive to men. Look at the backlash after Gillette aired its ad about toxic masculinity. Just the suggestion that men shouldn’t engage in toxic behavior had some circles infuriated, and vowing to boycott Gillette products.
Also, I find it very interesting that in order to be a man, you must prove yourself in some way. Which is very different than being a woman, where being a woman is just assumed— as long as you look the part. If you’re slender enough, graceful enough, pretty enough without looking “made up”— congrats, you’re a woman.
So: what does it mean to be a man? That’s an extremely complicated question, and one tied into one’s culture.
I really started to think about what masculinity and male-ness meant when I started performing as a drag king. In my troupe, we’ve practiced walking and talking like men: being louder, taking up more space, using one’s shoulders when walking instead of swaying one’s hips. When I’m in drag, I give myself permission to spread out, expand into my space, and be more gruff. One of the biggest changes I’ve noticed when I’m dressed as a man, as opposed to as a woman, is how often I smile and how I walk. Of course, there’s the cosmetic changes: taping down breasts, painting on facial hair.
I enjoy this type of performing because I see most of gender as performance. I was assigned female at birth, and I’m short, have a high voice, and like wearing dresses. Society considers that enough to mark me as permanently female. What bothers me is how often strength and power are associated with masculinity—and I like the chance to try that identity on, to see how it feels. Also, when I’m out in public as a man, I’ve noticed people are much, much less likely to bump into me, which is nice.
But that’s my personal take. How do different societies define masculinity or maleness?
Reading about some coming of age rituals for men across cultures, I’ve noticed a pattern: lots of the rituals involve hunting or fighting; some involve circumcision. In addition, many of these rites involve men relying on each other and overcoming obstacles together. These rites celebrate men’s physical strength. And again: being a man is something that you must earn.
These rituals stand in contrast to a lot of women’s rites of passage across cultures, which often center on menstruation or on marriage. Women’s rites of passage have to do with fertility and their relationship to men, as opposed to physical or mental tests. These rites are different as well, as it’s just assumed that a girl will become a woman. While there’s history of pain and abuse for women who are infertile, there’s no similar language for girls not “becoming” women. On the flipside, there’s plenty of language to describe men who don’t properly “become” men in society’s eyes. For example, a lot of Hollywood movies about the Army have language about recruits being too weak, soft, or feminine to be part of the military. Being a man is something you earn, being a woman is assumed— as long as you look feminine enough.
Back to my original point, about patriarchy and men: if you’re not tall and strong, are you still masculine? How do you prove yourself without these things?
Part 2: Why I dislike TERFs: trashing trans women’s looks and the penis myth
As I said, I’ve spent some time reading up on the so-called “gender-critical feminist” take on women. I’m also dumping that term for the rest of this video, and going with TERFs, or trans exclusionary radical feminists. TERFs believe that you can only be a woman if you’re born with a uterus and vagina, and trans people just have a mental illness.
First, I need to explain a concept I’ve seen on Reddit: the idea of “peak trans.” “Peak trans” is the moment when a previously trans-accepting person broke and decided no, trans women aren’t real women, the whole trans movement is a sham and a way for men to force themselves into women’s spaces, and that a person’s transgenderism is actually just a manifestation of sexism.
So, I think it’s time we address a common story I’ve heard: how predatory trans women are menacing cis women in bathrooms, and why I don’t think these stories hold much water.
On Reddit and elsewhere, I’ve read some first-person accounts from cis women claiming that trans women have harassed, ogled, or assaulted them in bathrooms. These stories are supposed to back up the claim that if trans women are in cis women’s spaces, then they will harass cis women just like cis men do.
First, let’s take these stories at face value. I don’t want to discount anyone’s experience. However, I am curious… in these locker rooms, these yoga studios, are there policies already in place to deal with sexual harassment? I say this, because: what if the harassers were cis women?
I have a hard time buying the “I’m afraid to speak up because I’ll be seen as transphobic” argument. If someone is being harassing, then someone is being harassing, regardless of gender. To me, these stories point to a need to have better reporting systems or policies at businesses to deal with harassment. Or better training for staff at fitness centers and for locker room attendants. If women are harassing one another in locker rooms as frequently as it’s talked about on Reddit, there needs to be a lot more training for staff members at fitness and yoga centers.
That is, or course, if we take all of these stories at face value and completely overlook the violence and danger that trans people put themselves in by using bathrooms. Or ignoring the time and effort trans women put into passing. Apparently, we’ve reached a point in society that trans people don’t have to worry about passing, or about violence about being discovered they’re trans. (Yeah, right. I wanna go live in that society.)
I also doubt that trans women are flaunting their penises in locker rooms the way TERFs say they are. But then again, I don’t make a point of looking at stranger’s crotches in locker rooms. I’m also very doubtful that trans women are flaunting their penises in locker rooms as often as TERFs say they are. But then again, I don’t make a point of looking at stranger’s crotches in locker rooms.
The penis is a red herring.
I think that TERFs focus on penises so much because it’s an easy scare tactic. It’s less an argument and more of fear-mongering. Why talk about human rights or privacy issues when you can freak out about penises?
This really hit home for me when I had my “peak cis” moment. During the early days of the #MeToo movement, a Michigan politician running for attorney general had an in your face slogan: “Who can you trust to not show you their penis in a professional setting?”
That’s right. Dana Nessel’s campaign was built on the fact she didn’t have a dick. Not her policies, or experience, or her ideas. But her body.
However, after reading about this, I didn’t immediately discount all women, or feminists, or everything to do with #MeToo. I recognized that this was one politician, not an entire group of people.
Which is why I find the “peak trans” complaints pretty disingenuous. I’ve had a few times when things certain trans activists have said or done that I’ve disagreed with. For example, in 2015, students at Mount Holyoke College decided not to stage a performance of The Vagina Monologues because it wasn’t inclusive to trans women. This struck a nerve with me, because I’ve seen this play performed, and really enjoyed it. Further, the playwright, Eve Ensler, has included an optional monologue based on interviews she had with trans women.
However… the decision of a tiny, private university to put on a different play doesn’t matter that much. Looking at Wikipedia, the college has just over 2,000 students. Getting upset about this decision is just a bunch of bees.
The “peak trans” thing honestly reminds me of how men’s rights activists criticize women or feminists. Instead of building a coherent argument backed up by facts, MRAs, or men’s rights activists, the misogynist trolls hiding behind a veneer of activism, just glom on to the most extreme statements or instances they can find on Twitter. While it’s easy to get outraged about this stuff, it doesn’t make for a substantial argument. TERFs do the same thing.
Which is why the focus on penises in “peak trans” moments is misleading. This isn’t a logically sound argument. I gotta ask: are these “peak trans” moments really things the whole trans community at large is advocating for, like not performing the Vagina Monologues… or are these moments just Tweets that made you upset?
Let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s take my abusive male ex and make it impossible for him to get an erection. Pills in his drink, a magic spell, a chastity device he somehow isn’t noticing, whatever. But let’s say he cannot get an erection, and he and I are trapped alone in a room together, like something out of Sartre’s No Exit.
Would I be less afraid of my abusive ex if he couldn’t get a hard-on? No, of course not.
I wasn’t afraid of my ex’s penis. I was afraid of rage, his controlling behavior and his temper.
On the other hand, I do get why TERFs react the way they do when people talk about downplaying vaginal imagery. While civil rights aren’t like pie, people’s attention span is. Since society is still really sexist towards women—heck, we’re still fighting over if abortion should be legal, and if pharmacists should have to give out birth control!—I get why some older feminists get defensive when asked to take down vaginal imagery.
Because at times, it does seem like trans women want to take away something that is part of many cis women’s shared experience. Yes, we shouldn’t reduce women down to their genitals. However, given how sexist society still is towards cis women’s genitals— the images of the beast superimposed over uteruses, or this image of Google’s first result when you search for “menstruation—” talking about how cis women’s anatomy works is still really important, in my opinion. Of course, there needs to be room for all women— trans, cis, intersex— to talk about their health and genitals.
This is why I loved the book Jailbreaking the Goddess so much: it reimagined the traditional Wicca idea of womanhood (maiden, mother, crone) to five life stages, none of which are solely connected with the reproductive cycle. This new idea of womanhood explicitly includes women who are infertile, choose not to have children, or who don’t have wombs.
However, this is not the only way that TERFs resemble MRAs. Which leads me to:
THE VERY PRODUCTIVE DISCOURSE OF WOMEN TEARING DOWN OTHER WOMEN’S LOOKS
You know what I saw a lot of on TERF Reddit? Women trashing other women’s looks. One big reason why I dislike TERFs is that they disparage trans women the exact same way cis men trash women. Judging on appearance, making fun of genitals, and focusing on fertility and menstruation: the same things the patriarchy said defines women are the same things that TERFs use to define women.
Criticizing a woman’s looks instead of her ideas is an old idea. For a great visual representation of this, here are some anti-suffragette image from the 1910s: notice anything about them?
It’s easy to tell which women want the right to vote in anti-suffragette posters: these women are ugly. Big noses, matronly-looking, dowdy women. Buck teeth, unfashionable clothes and hair, surrounded by language about old maids. All of this served to discourage women from wanting to vote. A poster that appeals to “womanliness” has a beautiful woman, with a scrawny, homely suffragette running behind her.
Earlier in this video, I mentioned internalized misogyny. There are two examples of this I want to look at: the phenomena of “Pick Me”s, and “NLOGs,” or “not like other girls.”
Let’s start with “Pick Me”s. This term originated on black Twitter, with some women shaming other women for their choices, while at the same time, trying to make themselves more appealing to men.
For example. this image of Amara La Negra cleaning a shower while wearing a tight dress, is captioned with: “A man’s house is a reflection of the woman he’s with. Food for thought. Being Pretty is Just a Bonus with me.” “Pick me”s earned their name from other women, who object to the idea that anyone should bend over backwards to please a partner this way.
“Pick me”s are similar to NLOGs, or “not like other girls.” Think of Taylor Swift’s song “You Belong With Me:” the eternal fight between a so-called “normal” girl and a blonde cheerleader. NLOGs claim they’re different—quirky, less obsessed with makeup or clothes than other, “not cool” women. There’s even been a trend of female artists drawing images that prop up this stereotype. Personally, I prefer the trend of artists redrawing these stupid cartoons by having both women— the cheerleader and the “quirky” girl— be a couple in the end.
I also like the trend of tongue-in-cheek reclaiming these “NLOG” moments, like that tweet about how all modern women can do is be bi, McDonald’s, charge their phone, eat hot chips and lie.
I think most feminists realize the trap of saying you’re “not like other girls.” Tearing down other women to prop yourself up is not feminist. It doesn’t matter if the women you’re attacking are trans—in fact, that makes it worse.
One of my own TERF-y issues was how much emphasis some trans women put into making themselves up. I didn’t like it because it seemed like they were just falling back onto old stereotypes, and equated being a woman with makeup and high heels.
However… after spending a small amount of time reading TERF posts, I get it. The viciousness with which TERFs attack trans women makes me very sympathetic.
How does one become a woman? Well, in some ways, and in most societies, you must look the part. When thinking about rites of passage, I understand why women are drawn to makeup. It’s common for girls in the US to experiment with lipstick at slumber parties. Since being a woman is something assumed, unlike being a man, which is often something earned, the tendency to use makeup to signify one’s passage into womanhood makes sense. Also, I’ll be honest. When a friend of mine thought they’d be transitioning, what did I do? I invited them over for a makeup lesson while discussing Marxist economic theory and how it relates to women. We could do our nails and talk about unpaid women’s labor!
The worst I saw of TERFs trashign women was the subReddit called “neo-vagina disasters,” which was honestly really, really disturbing. It featured photos of women’s genitals post-transition. Redditers revelled in the issues some women have had. It was banned recently because, well, it was a hateful, disgusting pile of trash.
You want to tear down women’s genitals? Great. Welcome to the club. And get in line next to sexist men, TERFs Let me count the ways:
-joking about loose vaginas after giving birth
-believing that too much sex will make you loose
-complaining about a vagina’s smell or insisting on douching
-labiaplasty or complaining about the way labias look
Just because a woman said it doesn’t mean that it’s not sexist. For clarity’s sake, the main subReddit /GenderCritical never officially listed the neo-vagina sub in their sister sub lists. However, the neo-vagina sub shared members as well as a similar line of thinking. How do I know this? Well, I didn’t go looking for that sub, that’s for damn sure. It was suggested to me by Reddit’s algorithm, after I joined a bunch of gender critical sub reddits.
TERFs judge trans women on the same lame, superficial standards that sexist men do. Not pretty enough? Not feminine enough? Or worse, too feminine, and wearing too much makeup? Hair extensions and overdoing your eyebrows? What are you trying to prove?
The argument I hear echoed a lot on YouTube videos by TERFs is the line “biological reality.” This phrase stems from the idea that being trans doesn’t exist, that all trans people are delusional, or doing it for attention, or for likes, or some damn thing.
I once had a therapist that I decided to stop seeing after we had a disagreement that stemmed from a discussion about my abortion. Because of the abortion, my therapist tried to categorize me as a “mother.” I got irritated, and explained that just because I’d been impregnated didn’t mean I am a mother. There’s a lot more to being a mother than that!
However, my therapist insisted, and I got really upset. I’m not a mother. Biological definitions aside, I don’t identify as a mother, and that’s more important than any so-called “biological reality!”
To drive my revelation home: our bodies or biology do not define us. We’re more than the sum of our parts. To insist that being disabled, or abled, or tall, or short, or black or white, must mean a set thing about our characters or who we are, is a deeply fucked up thing to think.
Do our bodies shape our perception? Sure. But the bigger question is: do they define us? Does race, or disability, mean something inherent about us? If the answer is no, then how can one’s biological sex define us?
In some ways, I think the issues TERFs have with trans women relates to one of the failures of second wave feminism. While the second wave focused a lot on gaining access to traditionally male spaces, most particularly in jobs, how men’s roles should change didn’t get as much focus.
So: while feminism has encouraged women to take on traditionally male qualities and jobs, feminism hasn’t spent as much time encouraging the same in men. I can’t think of, or find any examples of large-scale efforts to get more men into daycare positions (which are almost exclusively held by women). Stay-at-home dads are getting more attention in media, but are definitely not the norm.
A particular passage about a woman being resentful of men intruding into women’s spaces and roles struck a chord with me. In the speculative novel Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy, a woman is able to see far into the future. This particular future is a type of egalitarian utopia, which has worked to eliminate any differences between gender, races, and classes. Men in this future are able to breastfeed. Here’s the main character’s reaction to seeing this for the first time:
“She felt angry. Yes, how dare any man share that pleasure. These women thought they had won, but they had abandoned to men the last refuge of women. What was special about being a woman here? They had given it all up, they had let men steal from them the last remnants of ancient power, those sealed in blood and in milk.”
I find it sad when TERFs cite children and periods as ways to “prove” their womanhood.
Of course, some women have children; some do not; some cannot. Whether it’s infertility, hysterectomy, choice, or something else, having children does not make you a woman. Ask the centuries of women who have been blamed for their husband’s infertility.
And whenever giving birth is brought up in discussions about trans people in the Olympics, I think… giving birth ain’t a sport. Unless there’s women built like salad shooters out there.
Despite everything, some women still believe that a woman’s identity and worth is tied to her ability to be useful to a man.
The TERF arguments also very nearly overlook the existence and experience of trans men. When TERFs mention them at all, trans men are dismissed as being delusional women. Which completely erases a lot the struggles of butch women, masculine women, and non-binary people.
Recently, I read Stone Butch Blues, by the the late Leslie Feinberg, which is a fictional account of the struggles of a butch woman who decided to transition to a man, set in the late 60s and 70s in working class upstate New York. Their fear of being caught in the “wrong” bathroom was sometimes met with violence– violence that the police wouldn’t do anything about, as cops would frequently raid gay bars and beat people who resisted arrest, and one of the many reasons for the Stonewall riot.
I am convinced that the only way to actually enforce a single-sex bathroom is to literally check everyone’s genitals. Which is seriously messed up and a huge invasion of privacy, but is the only way to achieve TERFs’ goals.
This underscores an important idea: you don’t need to know what strangers’ genitals look like. You shouldn’t care. Wanting to know about strangers’ genitals makes you creepy and weird. Unless you’re a medical professional and it’s relevant to a diagnosis, or you’re someone’s romantic partner, you can’t ask.
A final thing I want to talk about is the idea of the “cotton ceiling.” This refers to how hard it can be for trans women to find partners, particularly lesbian partners. I have some complicated feelings on this, so here goes:
I used to be adverse to the idea of dating trans women. I still struggled with some TERFy ideas, and honestly, I wasn’t sure what to think about the ambiguity of trans genitals. I kinda knew that asking people about what’s between their legs before a first date would be rude as heck, but beyond that, I wasn’t. Are there manners about this?
Then I matched with a woman on OkCupid in the US. She was interesting, we had similar tastes in pop culture stuff, and she was pretty. Early into the conversation, she said she had just started trying to pass as a woman.
I thought about this for a moment. But, she was still interesting, we still had similar tastes, and she was still pretty. We kept chatting, and the main reason we never met up was that I had already moved to Europe.
But I did start thinking about my attraction to people, and what that means. Like I said, I’m bi, so I’ve dated both men and women. And for some time, I wasn’t sure about the uncertainty of meeting a partner and not knowing what they had in their pants, so to speak.
However, I do know that some people have a genital preference– and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. You can understand that having a penis doesn’t make you a man, any more than just having a vagina makes you a woman. But I’ve also seen the shouting matches people get into over this: that women who date trans women aren’t lesbians, or on the flip side, if you wouldn’t consider dating someone trans who didn’t match your preferred genitals, you’re transphobic trash.
Both views are bad, and not very nuanced. To me, it’s politicizing something that isn’t necessarily political. For a gender neutral example, I’m not big on receiving anal sex… so people who are into that aren’t really compatible with me. But that doesn’t mean there’s something inherently moral or woke about being into butt stuff. It’s just a preference.
I also think that, like any shift in society, there’s going to be a period when people are still figuring out the new norms. Advice columns are a guilty pleasure of mine, and I’ve seen on Slate’s Dear Prudence and on Dan Savage’s columns, more and more people are asking about etiquette for dating trans people. Some trans people talk about the idea of a “second puberty” when they medically transition, and I think, on a much less profound level, the same can be said for well-meaning cis people: a little bit of uncertainty about dating, like when you were a teen.
This brings me to the rhetoric I’ve seen from some trans activists on social media, particularly Twitter. Blanket statements like “if you don’t date trans women, you’re trash” and encouraging TERFs to “go die” are absolutely not helpful. I can empathize with the anger about society not accepting people because of their identity, particularly when trans people are met with violence just for existing. But the casual, snarky language on social media that encourages violence and discourages actual discussion is just toxic.
I’m not saying, don’t get angry at TERFs, or call them out. But: yelling at anonymous lesbians on social media for not considering sleeping with trans women isn’t helpful. This is punching across. We need to be fighting systemic sexism and transphobia, not each other.
One thing that stuck out to me in Stone Butch Blues was the mention of “feminist conscious groups” on universities. These were places where women could meet, discuss ideas, disagree, and learn. I think this would be a great thing now: we need a place, offline, for cis, trans, enby, GNC folks, and femmes can all meet. To talk, commiserate, express their issues and concerns on equal footing with respect and understanding, face to face. It’s easy to get mad and say terrible, awful things to each other—as I’ve seen many TERFs do. It’s much, much harder to look another woman in the eye and tell her she’s trash.
No one’s mind in going to be changed because someone yelled at them on social media. My own shift away from TERFy thoughts was gradual and involved a lot of discussion, research, and self-reflection.
I’m not sure when, exactly, I shed my TERFy ideas. But I did, and I remember when I realized I had.
When I still lived in Michigan, I sometimes took the bus. There was a particularly early-morning bus that I occasionally shared with a woman, who I’m pretty sure was trans. One cold winter morning at the bus stop, a large man who was mumbling to himself walked towards us. Immediately, she and I glanced at each other, and moved closer together so we were standing almost shoulder to shoulder.
Luckily, the bus came soon. Thinking back, I didn’t have to ask myself about her chromosomes, or fucking “biological realities.” I knew she experienced the world in a similar way to me. She saw the same threat in a large, strange person that I did.
Because we’re both women.
Returning to the story from the beginning, about Wanda, I’ve had some time to think: Who do I want with me on the moon road? In my life, when I do my work, when I perform rituals, who do I want to walk beside me?
Also, with time comes hindsight. I made a passing reference to having dreams where I’ve been a man at the beginning of this video. Truthfully, I’ve thought about transitioning over the years. If I’d been born in a different generation, I may well have made the decision to live as a man. While I’m happy with my identity… part of the reason I was nervous about the idea of trans women was that they presented a direct challenge to my own femininity. Am I woman enough? Will the moon goddess think I’m feminine enough to walk the moon road?
Honestly I’m relieved that people are finding less of their identity in their biological sex. It’s freeing to let those expectations go.
(fade back in)
Also, a final thing about TERFs:
JESUS H CHRIST ON A HANDRAFT YOU ARE LITERALLY WORKING WITH MEN WHO HATE WOMEN.
TERFs hate trans women so much they are willing to throw all other women under the bus. Full stop. You don’t get to work with people, or platform people, who are actively working to restrict women’s rights and then claim you are any kind of a feminist. Julia Beck on Tucker Carlson? What the actual fuck? The friend of my enemy is not your damn friend.
Ok, I’m all done now.
Gaiman, Neil, Shawn McManus, Colleen Doran, Bryan Talbot, Stan Woch, Danny Vozzo, Todd Klein, and Dave McKean. A Game of You.
Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America. New York: Penguin Books, 2014
Hooks, Bell. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. 1984.
Ladies as Gentleman: Drag Kings on Tour (film)
Michigan Womyn’s Music festival:
Sexism in language: The representation of women and men in English idioms: a corpus-based study, Karin Wiecha (Universität Potsdam) 2013
Same sex partner violence:
Most rapists are male, most victims are female:
Information on male rape victims, including stigma of reporting:
Violence in women’s prisons:
Hat tip to Daniel Lavery for the “not belonging to” observation:
Female rites of passage:
Pollock, Kelly. Goleta, California Gender Rituals. From: Salamone, Frank A. Encyclopedia of Religiously Rites, Rituals, and Festivals. New York, NY: Routledge, 2012.
Male rites of passage:
Violence against trans women, statistics:
Michigan politician Dana Nessel:
Banning Vagina Monologues:
The creator’s response:
The monologue written for trans women:
On vaginal imagery, lesbians and transphobia:
Jailbreaking the Goddess: A Radical Revisioning of Feminist Spirituality Book by LaSara FireFox
Not like other girls, artists redrawing:
Eat hot chips and lie:
The sub that was banned (no page, just a reason why)
Blaming women for fertility issues:
Sandelowski, Margarete J. “Failures of Volition: Female Agency and Infertility in Historical Perspective.” Signs, vol. 15, no. 3, 1990, pp. 475–499. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3174424. Accessed 10 Jan. 2020.
Feinberg, Leslie. Stone Butch Blues. Firebrand books, 1993.
On fitting in in lesbian spaces as a trans man:
On genital preference:
TERFs on Fox News:
Gender critical, TERFs, trans rights, NLOGs, pick mes, transphobia, drag king
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