Tue Jul 22nd, 2008 at 05:18:16 PM EST
Sorry - a bit of a whinge I'm afraid
I was having a conversation with a lesbian friend yesterday about her inability to be honest with her girlfriends. She said she had problems talking to women and I (daftly, I know) said she didn't seem to have any problem talking to me. At which she said "but you aren't actually a woman".
Of course she was embarrassed, and I couldn't stop myself from making things worse by saying it was okay as it was a common sentiment in lesbian feminist (ie wimminist) circles. Of course, in mitigation she made the valid point that she's known me for 25 years, only the last five of which as a female (we didn't speak for the first year as she disagreed with my transition). Now I don't mention this in order to publicly embarrass her, but because it allows me to discuss the public acceptance of transgendered people. Because it is that very perception, that I and other transgendered mtfs are not, nor ever will be, really women that underlies almost all of the disussions on the subject, even when it's not explicitly mentioned.
Christians use it all the time, especially in the US, where it's always about the
toilet restroom. About how men in drag will take advantage of the situation to abuse women in the ladies facility. Not that here has been a single recorded example of this happening, ever; although one Christian group did fake an incident in a sports club and get it on telly. Let's be honest here, if there had ever been any genuine documented examples of cross-dressed individuals attempting to use public accommodation laws in an attempt to cover unlawful predatory behavior, I'm absolutely sure we'd have heard about it -- it would be a very, very newsworthy story. Yet the absence of such an incident doesn't stop it being the number one off-the-shelf public panic story christians use against us.
And feminists as well. As I wrote in my diary about the ENDA legislation in the USA, there is a long history of hostility from feminists towards the transgendered, especially in the UK. Michigan Womyn's music Camp have operated a womyn-born-womyn policy for years (although they seem relaxed about men-born-womyn ftm). Again, there is an apocryphal incident of a "man" entering the communal showers there, even tho' there do not seem to be any primary witnesses of the event, a strange lack given the propaganda coup such would have.
I accept that there are issues about male privilege, especially in the USA where surgery is expensive and rarely covered by insurance so that many longtime mtfs may be taking hormones, but are still physically male. As Autumn Sadeen wrote in this essay;-
In our society, it seems to me that we tend to perceive most men as potential perpetrators. Transgender women, far more often than not, aren't perpetrators...they aren't predators of other women or of children. But, because transgender women are perceived as men by conservative Christians and others, transgender women are perceived as perpetrators...predators. This is especially true in the public restroom.
Which public restroom transgender people who don't have "passing privilege" should be legally allowed to use usually comes down to this: Is a visibly transgender woman automatically assumed to be a man, and therefore a potential perpetrator in the women's public restroom? If one considers the transgender woman to be a woman, then public restroom usage by transgender people is considered in terms of a transgender woman's safety, or in terms of discrimination. If one considers a transgender woman really to be a man -- a potential perpetrator -- then restroom usage becomes an safety issue for the natal women who use the women's restroom.
But frankly the objections are so starkly expressed that it is obvious that, for many wimminists, anybody born male can never be accepted as a woman.
The absurdity of this is revealed by instances where masculine looking women have been prevented from using their gender appropriate facilities.
This paranoia reached its height of absurdity just a fortnight ago when transgender women were prevented from using women's facilities at the London Pride LGBT event.
Official stewards who were running the toilets at Trafalgar Square announced that I, and any other transgender or transsexual woman, had to use the disabled toilets and was not allowed to use the regular women's toilets. I pointed out to the stewards that I transitioned and had surgery before they were born; I was more polite than a polite thing. No dice.
And the reason given ? Our old favourite...;-
At one point it was claimed that they had instituted this policy a few minutes earlier because a man had attacked a woman;
So naturally you respond to an alleged (still no report on any such incident) heterosexual attack at a Pride event by keeping the trannies out. :-o
This has become a bit of an embarrasment for the Pride organisation, especially as most trans people point out that Pride Events are some of the few places where they feel genuinely safe. Sadly it is quite obvious that all involved; Pride, the Metropolitan Police and the stewards organisation are all involved in damage limitation and blame avoidance. It is unlikely that any resolution will be reached to the satisfaction of TransLondon.
I shouldn't moan as I'm lucky. I was able to transition painlessly at work and received considerable support both from colleagues and organisationally. I was only ever hassled on a couple of occasions about being transgendered and never experienced any genuine threat. I have never been challenged over using a female facility, even tho' I am aware I get quizzical glances from time to time due to my size (and I do get blokier looking body language when I'm tired or drunk).
But slightly different circumstances could have resulted in very different experiences. And I'm aware that, amongst those women who know my transgender status, I'm accepted wholly, except for some intangible half inch, I've rarely used shared facilities and never shared a hotel room at recreational events as I'm always carefully, tactfully, steered into a single room.
Because I'm transgendered. Because I'm not actually a woman. Because as far as anyone who believes that we aren't really women is concerned, it's always about the
toilet restroom, about male privilege. Cos once a man, always a man and forever suspect.
And for those who live in less tolerant circumstances, these little, acceptable distastes are the difference between acceptance and being able to live "normally" and rejection and being cast into a twilight world of poverty or worse