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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

"Shared Girlhood" (from a Guy who was a Girl)

As you may already know if you've been involved with the trans community more than ten minutes, there's a streak within feminist thought that is trying desperately in any way they can to exclude transgender women, both from women's space and from the feminist agenda as a whole.  Even people who genuinely don't think they are transmisogynistic have fallen into the trap of subtly rejecting trans women or making "exceptions" when their issues come up.  One that had my own folks up in arms recently is the idea of "shared girlhood."

As a man who was once a girl, this is cringeworthy on two counts, most importantly the vile attempt to exclude trans women but alongside that the reactionary arguments against this that erase my own girlhood.  See, right now the current within trans discourse is to believe that trans men have "always" been male and trans women have "always" been female, which is meant to validate trans women's right to feminist and women's spaces but also labels trans men "problematic" or worse when we talk about our experiences on the barrel end of misogyny.

Let's Talk about the Transmisogyny Escalator

It's important to recognize that when "feminists" try excluding trans women, they are making reactionary arguments in an attempt to pull the rug out from under trans women without accidentally tripping every cis woman (and there are many) who incidentally is subject to those same arguments.

It's hard to explain, so I'll give you an example.  There are some areas of women's spirituality that are very womb-centered and in fact very body-centered in general, and cis women within these have spent decades coming up with half-assed arguments as to why these mysteries don't apply to trans women.  This usually involves the argument that trans women can't possibly experience or even benefit from women's mysteries work because they haven't experienced menstruation, childbirth, or some other uterus-based experience.  The problem is that not all cis women have these experiences, either, due to choice or medical condition or any other variety of reasons.  To accommodate these women they talk about concepts like "womb space," which is a spiritual entity that takes the place of a physical womb in the event of its absence.  They then take this concept (a lovely concept which is very healing to women who have had hysterectomies or some other health problem preventing them from experiencing those mysteries) and insist trans women inherently do not have one... with no real explanation why.

"Shared girlhood" is in the same category.  "Shared girlhood" (at least in this context) is a concept transmisogynistic folks created specifically to scrounge around for a reason they could exclude trans women from feminism.  They argue that women have a natural identification and kinship with other women because they all had this shared experience of being girls, therefore it doesn't matter that an adult trans woman documentably experiences misogyny just like a cis woman, because they didn't have that magical girl child experience.

The "shared girlhood" excuse is countered by trans activists with another reactionary argument, the notion that trans women, even if they transitioned as adults, were born female and therefore did experience girlhood, regardless of what anybody thought about them.

Where that Reactionary Argument Fails

Listen, I'm not going to argue that any trans person wasn't born the gender they say they were born.  I consider myself a man who was born a girl and had a girlhood; being trans is not an experience that can be universalized, and there are so many trans people who had miserable childhoods because they knew they were being raised into a gender they didn't identify with.  But I would like people to, instead of just insisting trans women are included in that "shared girlhood," also understand that the whole idea of "shared girlhood" is both false and moot, for a couple reasons:
  1. Cis women as a whole do not actually have an experience of "shared girlhood."  Yup, I said it.
  2. Oppression isn't really about how you feel about your identity.
  3. Changing gender actually does very rapidly shift the privileges you get.
And I need to stress:  None of these arguments is an argument against women's space, against feminism, for redefining trans women as non-women, or anything like that.  They are ways to say that trans women are women regardless of the convoluted arguments transmisogynists make, because the base arguments never made sense to begin with.

"Shared Girlhood" is Shit

I have had what I consider to be highly valuable girlhood experiences.  I was a Girl Scout for decades, including working for them as an adult.  I experienced the shame around menstruation and the extreme difficulty managing it as a poor girl, as well as the physical pain it brings.  I've experienced men talking down to me, assuming I lacked physical or emotional strength, I've had entitled men touch me without permission and much worse.  Many cis women would prefer men they talk to not understand these experiences, and so I don't talk about these things with all women, but when they are receptive to talking to a dude about it I'm happy to talk hilarious uterus stories and grow an affinity with women over them.  I consider myself to, generally speaking, understand girlhood very well.

This isn't the same as shared girlhood, though.  There are a few key experiences that most (not all) girls have, and a wide spectrum of gendered experiences that vary considerably based on culture as well as intersections with other axes of oppression.  A black girl and a white girl are treated entirely different by the same culture, with black girls viewed as older than they are and inherently more threatening, which changes that experience.  A queer girl will not have the same experiences as a cishet girl, and they may have wildly different forms of exposure to men.  A girl in a rich family may disbelieve that women's oppression even exists because her experiences are mitigated so much by money, and there are other girls who disbelieve in their own oppression because they were taught to disbelieve in it or in order to be non-threatening to men.  Even physical experiences are not easily universalized... there are literally girls--today--who are locked in a hut when they menstruate, or who never do menstruate due to nutritional issues, illness, or genetics.  There are girls who have very light periods and very few other symptoms, and who don't understand what the big deal is, there are those who wind up staying home from school because it is so painful.

So it's not just that trans women are included in shared girlhood, it's that shared girlhood is a falsity.  It doesn't exist.  It's just an excuse.

Oppression isn't just about Feelings

In the second paragraph under this warning there is a mention of sexual assault.

One of the issues with this whole thing is connected to the way transgender-related privilege arguments are constructed.  It's really tempting to act like trans women and trans men have either the exact same experiences, or the exact opposite experiences, with no nuance regarding it.  So it's not super uncommon to hear the argument that trans women never had male privilege, even when everyone viewed them as boys, therefore trans men must have always had male privilege, even when seen as girls.

This implies that oppression and marginalization are merely about how you feel about things rather than the documentable effects of that oppression.  Once, when I was working while closeted, I was sexually assaulted by a group of men who had targeted me for being a butch woman.  I viewed myself as a man, I even had already had my name changed, but I got sexually assaulted anyway by people who specifically thought it would be hilarious to pretend to be interested in an "ugly" woman.  There are those who insist that I call things like this "transphobia" rather than misogyny, because in sexually assaulting me my attackers were "misgendering" me.  This is a revolting request.

That's, of course, an extreme example in a sea of misogynistic aggressions.  My childhood was filled with cases in which I was barred from taking certain classes that were "for boys," I had my strength questioned, I didn't realize I didn't suck at math until college because my teachers would tell me that as a girl I wouldn't be good at it anyway (I had changed my career trajectory entirely based on the premise that I wouldn't be able to handle the math), and so forth.  You know what else?  I was super ignorant and did not view any of this as marginalization of girls until I was older.  I was "one of the guys."  I viewed the reason I was being "punished" as people not realizing I wasn't like normal girls.  And it still affected me up until and including much of adulthood, including after I realized my perspective on it was crap.  I was treated differently for being a girl--or being viewed as one--and several aspects of my life never rebounded from that.

The thing about this is that, as I alluded to above, trans women and trans men do not have complimentary experiences.  Many of my friends are trans women, including one I knew as a "boy" in high school, and their childhoods did not protect them from misogyny at all (I will not tell their stories as they aren't mine, but I will say that many were similar to my own experiences in ways I shudder to think about; in a nutshell, a pre-discovery trans woman is highly likely to be "treated like a girl" as punishment for being a feminine "boy").

But what if they did?  What if trans women did, in theory, have male privilege as boys?

It's a moot point.

Changing Genders Really Does Change Your Privilege Level... Rapidly

In addition to the gross transmisogyny going around, there's another article about a guy who traded names with a woman co-worker of his for a week and found out that nobody took him seriously anymore.  A lot of people are rolling their eyes about that, under the assumption that men should know the this already as women talk about it all the time... there's a degree to which that's true, but from (the opposite) experience I can tell you that the extent to which this is different is quite staggering and I don't blame men for being shocked when they discover the discrepancy.

So I had a girlhood and then at 18 went into a sort of "twilight" period where I was living as a man most places but closeted in others because I could not find a job otherwise and took my damn time coming out to extended relatives, finally going on hormones at 26 years old.  The time period between ages 25 and 27 was very notable in how rapidly everything changed.

I was taking an associate's degree program in IT at the time, with mostly-male classes.  Having never experienced men taking me seriously, and assuming that having been out a lot of the time as a trans man I'd already attained max level male privilege, I assumed that it was because I was introverted, whether by upbringing or nature.  I was wrong.  I was sooooo wrong.

I started hormones in late December, during our holiday break, giving me a full month and a half before I returned to school.  I hadn't changed very much as far as my attitude, but was staggered by the way my classmates and teachers suddenly treated me.  The same guy who just a couple months earlier had sneered at me that I needed to contribute more in a group discussion he wouldn't let me talk in was complimenting my ideas, I was able to talk in class without people ignoring me or talking over me, at least not as much.

At the same time I started getting second job interviews and offers for positions very similar to ones I'd been told I didn't have the experience for a month and zero extra job experience earlier.  I was stunned.  I knew stuff like this happened, but had been "discoursed" into thinking that it hadn't affected me since I started living as a guy.  "Trans men have male privilege from birth!" right?

It's worth a sidenote that statistically speaking post-transition trans men still don't on average get equal pay or respect to cis men... but we often improve a lot.  This is indicative of having more privilege after transition than before, in other words, we were not born with male privilege, we acquire it, and it's mitigated by other factors just as other marginalized men's privilege is.

Trans women as well often experience a sudden drop in privilege once they come out.  This drop is different from the increase trans men experience... when we don't "pass," people are likely to treat us like women, which sucks.  When trans women come out, and don't "pass," they don't get treated like men or cis women, they get treated worse than either.  No amount of "male socialization" is going to make somebody listen to you, value you, and trust your experiences when they view you as an inferior person.

The only difference--maybe--is that there are some trans women who at the start of transition expect that they will get treated the same and then don't understand the misogyny in their treatment because they felt like they were entitled to better.  First of all, this isn't a trans woman thing.  Cis women do stuff like this, too, especially particularly privileged ones, and many of these women rarely wind up understanding oppression in any meaningful way.

Second, and here's the kicker, why do people making these arguments believe trans women are not entitled to things like equal pay, respect, careers, families, and the other things trans women often lose upon transition?  One of the most baffling things about transmisogyny in "feminism" is the wild double standard.  Look, I'm a radical.  I find the "Lean In" set repulsive and I don't believe that having women "act like men" is progress, because "acting like men" means emulating oppressor behavior (I would rather men stop engaging in oppressive behavior than women obtain it).  But mainstream feminism rewards cis women who engage in this sort of behavior all the time!  You can't complain that trans women "take up too much space" or "expect too much accommodation" when they behave in ways that get white cis women awards and accolades, which is exactly what's happening here.

It's 2017... if Shared Girlhood Exists, Many Trans Girls Are Experiencing It

We live in an age, right now, where many people are transitioning very young.  That rally that I wrote about a little while ago was organized (!!!) by teenagers, many of whom have been out and living their truths for years now, and many of the rallies I've seen on TV lately had flat-out kids who were like eight or nine years old who are transitioning through socialization and future puberty blockers.  Last year at a Pagan event I met a trans boy who was like ten years old.  I'm willing to bet that most of these kids will not grow up to be like me, who was a girl long enough to identify with it in the past-tense as an adult man.  They may barely remember it at all when they're adults outside of trauma inflicted on them by transphobes.

The idea that trans women live a substantial portion of their lives growing careers and marriages and financial assets and households bolstered by male privilege only to comfortably transition into a woman who "still acts like a man" (takes up space, feels entitled, talks over people) is a stereotype, and the few trans women who could even be argued to be in such a position aren't exactly popular in our community (Have you ever asked a run-of-the-mill trans person about how we feel about Caitlyn Jenner's ridiculousness?).

Conclusion

I think the trans community as a whole needs to be more assertive with the way we talk about ourselves rather than bending our discourse to meet the reactionary arguments of transphobic and particularly transmisogynistic individuals.  The reality is that trans people all have different experiences, just as all cis people have different experiences, and these experiences would not disqualify trans women from women's space even if the arguments made in favor of that disqualification had truth behind them.