So here’s what I want to tell transpeople assigned as male bodied at birth or soon thereafter.
You can effectively be a guy-in-a-dress in the world, but only if you are not an asshole.
And claiming that you are really female and all-woman, well, that can make a lot of people see you as an asshole.
I know that you have little interest in walking through the world as a guy-in-a-dress. Since you were young you dreamed of being a woman, of being female. That’s how you want people to see you, how you want people to treat you.
The problem is that your body isn’t female and your experience isn’t the experience of someone who grew up with a female body.
Now, you have some belief about what that means. You were born with a birth defect, your mind has always been female, you were always a woman, whatever the explanation you claim. This is true to you, and other people should damn well accept what you claim.
If you can demand that others accept what you claim, though, can they demand you accept what they claim? Is there a golden rule thing here, treating their beliefs as you want your beliefs to be treated?
I suspect that you want to have some discretion in believing what others claim about themselves. If that’s true, why don’t they have discretion in believing what you claim about yourself?
Trans is a truth of desire. Nobody has figured out how to scientifically verify that what we desire is somehow biologically determined. We can’t examine the structures of the mind or body and determine that one person really loves men, one really loves women, or that someone is, all outward signs to the contrary, really programmed with the desires of a woman or a man.
Sure, we know what we love, what we have always loved, know what feels right, know what we want and need for ourselves. But proving that inner knowledge is somehow biologically true, pure and unchangeable? That hasn’t happened for lesbian and gay people yet, and I can’t imagine it happening for transpeople anytime in the foreseeable future.
People will, though, let us act on our inner knowledge, on our desires, a long as we aren’t an asshole about it. That’s not what we want — we want them to believe what we believe about ourselves, want to become normative and invisible — but for most transpeople who went through puberty as a male, it’s the best that we are going to get.
The younger they are, the more able they are to accept that we are who we show ourselves to be through our choices. The coming generations just don’t believe in either/or the same way their parents were taught to. That’ doesn’t mean they understand or have compassion for the challenges we faced, that they get how toxic and damaging was the abuse we took to try and keep us small, eased and apparently normative.
Instead, they take us at face value, allowing us to make our own choices as long as we aren’t an asshole about it.
This is hard for us. We feel entitled to be an asshole for so many reasons. We were bashed and erased and shamed and tortured in an attempt to break our spirit and have us deny our trans nature. People need to understand how much that hurt, people need to understand how real our inner self is, people need to accept the truth we tell them about ourselves. They just damn well need to shape up and treat us right, treat us the way we deserve to be treated.
Our pain and rage and shame needs to be broken and the only way to do that is boldly, proudly demanding that no one is entitled to be an asshole to us. We learned to be tough and confrontational, we know what we should have, so why not just force others into doing what we want and need?
The reason, of course, is simple. If we are an asshole, people won’t cut us any slack. They won’t look upon us with an open mind and an open heart. They won’t defend us, won’t stand up for our right to make the choices that celebrate the call of who we know ourselves to be.
You can walk in the world as a guy-in-a-dress without getting too much shit as long as you aren’t an asshole about it.
If you carry a huge chip on your shoulder, if you lead with pain, anger and shame, if you demand consideration and respect that you refuse to give to others, what you get back from others will be resistance, rejection and toxicity.
Don’t think that I like this truth. I want to be seen as a woman, to be accepted as one of the girls. I never, ever dreamed of being a guy-in-a-dress. In fact, lots of guys-in-dresses just make me uncomfortable and squeamish because their choices seem so ugly, brutal and disrespectful to women.
You might think that it would be nice to have some kind of scientific test, some kind of differential diagnosis that separates we “real” transwomen from the fakers and pretenders who are just posing as women but who don’t get it, who are just acting out of their masculine entitlement to colonize other identities. But who would be the judge and what would the test be? How could it take into account the defenses we built up and the need for immersion to facilitate revelation, emergence and transformation? What if we aren’t judged “real,” like so many were not by gatekeepers in the past?
I know that we cannot yet do sex changes and that my body will always be marked by male puberty. That’s not going to change; bones don’t lie. I also know that however much woman’s cultural literacy I do (and I have done a great deal) I will never have the experience of being female in the world on my skin in the same way as women who went through puberty as female.
My choices are those of a woman, because my view of the world is much, much more like a woman’s than it ever has been the view of a man. Primary socialization didn’t take well for me, as I was never really cocky enough. I know myself as a woman.
That doesn’t mean, however, that I can control how others see me, that I can demand that they believe the same about me as I believe about myself. Sure, if they are my allies, they will respect and honor my choices, but they will only do that if I am not an asshole about it.
I just know that I can walk in the world following my own feminine choices, even if I am seen as just a guy-in-a-dress, if I am not an asshole about it. That’s not all I want, but it’s much, much better than when I was a kid and the only choice was to hide behind a passing facade, in fear of being found out.
And I know that the more transwomen are out there, the more we do that ultimate trans surgery of pulling the stick out of our own ass, the more the world will open to people like us. The more people see our hearts over our biology, trusting our choices over our history, the more we will be accepted for who we know ourselves to be.
The path to that, though, for individuals and for society begins with accepting guys-in-dresses as long as they are not assholes.
That’s not where trans understanding and acceptance ends, I don’t think, but it seems to be where it starts.