I read this interesting piece just now and it reminded me of some matters I’ve been considering recently. I, like many folk, have become far more aware of transgender issues during the last year. This was of course partly due to the mass-media out-coming of Caitlyn Jenner but, closer to home, I also happened to become friends with an actual, human, trans-woman and her partner. Not wishing to inadvertently hurt me friends through ignorance I’ve been doing what I do – reading up on stuff. And I have learned a lot this year!
Some of what I learned was about myself. For example, I learned that I am a cis-gender person. This time last year I’d never heard that term and I actually spent a few weeks thinking CIS was an abbreviation (for what, I did not know). It turns out cis is just the Latin for ‘on this side of’, and the opposite of trans (‘across’). So, I am a cis-gender woman – I identify with my biological gender, i.e. female.
I’m not sure I can imagine what it must feel like to be trans-gender, but perhaps I can, in a very small way. I always felt female, although I was never feminine. I knew I was a girl, I was proud to be a girl, but I was often told I was not girlish enough. Girls don’t whistle. Girls don’t fight, or walk around with their hands in their pockets. Girls should play with dolls not cap-guns… I was a girl but not quite the right sort of girl. I grew from being a ‘tomboy’ into a ‘feisty’ young woman. These days though I’m just ‘me’ and I tell them all to fuck off… but I digress.
Another thing I learned was that there are kind of 3 elements to be considered: gender; sex and sexuality. This is where I found things getting a little complicated for me.
Sex is biological, to do with genes, hormones and body parts. My understanding is that people can be female, male or intersex. I’m clear on that.
Sexuality has almost as much variety as there are individual people. I, for example, have never really identified as ‘heterosexual’ but in practice I’ve only had relationships with men. This is really only because I’ve always been shy and lacking in self-confidence – afraid to make the first move – and a woman has yet to make a move on me 😥 …So, sexuality is a spectrum, I’m fine with that too. Whatever bits you have, do with them as you will!
Now gender, I have learned, can be as fluid as sexuality, but is not the same thing. Gender is about how you feel and how you express your gender role. People can identify as male, female, both or neither. Gender too is a spectrum. Transgender people feel their gender does not match their biological sex. Again, this makes sense to me – I support people living as their true selves.
The complications I noted above arose when I was finding out about gender reassignment surgeries and how some trans people opt not to have them. They make this choice not so much because the surgeries are very complex and expensive (which they are) but because they’re just happy with their bodies. Obviously it’s a great thing that they’re happy but I found myself wondering “How can you be a woman without a vagina?”. I realised that my own sense of gender is totally wrapped up in my sexuality and I’m unable to separate them. I didn’t realise that about myself before. I never really had to think about it. Is that cis-privilege I wonder?…
Anyway, I got on to thinking about “What makes a woman?” and I realised it is an impossible question to answer.
You can’t, as I instinctively did, measure a woman fairly based on her body parts. A woman born intersex may not have a fully formed vagina but if she feels like a woman and lives as a woman, who’s to say she’s not? If a woman has a hysterectomy or mastectomy does she suddenly cease to be a woman? Of course not.
If women were measured by their ability to bear children, I would fail dismally on that count.
You can’t measure a woman by her femininity, her clothes or her personality. You can’t – fairly – measure a woman by any external standard. It seems to me the only thing that really “makes a woman” is the way she sees and identifies herself.
I realise the article that got me started on this was about trans-women and feminism and I haven’t even mentioned that yet. Long story short: the whole ‘male-privilege’ argument seems bogus for the same sort of reasons as I’ve noted above. You can’t know what someone has or has not experienced and/or suffered. And you shouldn’t judge an entire group of people based on their biological sex. We call that sexism and I think we can agree that’s pretty much THE thing feminists are against.
…but speaking of judging – I really have to say something about Caitlyn Jenner before I stop. She does not seem like a nice person. I applaud her choice to live her authentic life but beyond that? Boo Caitlyn! Just boo! I deeply disagree with those folk calling her an “insult to the trans community” though. She’s just one vapid “celebrity”. When did she sign up to be the spokesperson for all? I think such comments are distasteful… And yet… she does seem to be a pretty horrible, surprisingly bigoted, full-on conservative nutbar.
In conclusion: be who you want to be and let others be themselves too (unless they want to be bigots, in which case they should be made to sit in the corner and think about what they’ve done).