Even if you aren’t a fan of reality shows, it’s nearly impossible to miss that Caitlyn Jenner has been a hot topic of conversation. I’m old enough to remember her as the male presenting decathlete on the Wheaties box in the early 1980s. The fact that she can now live as her true gender and receive a generally positive reecption says so much for how far our culture has come. Conversations with and about MOGAI people, Caitlyn on the cover of Vanity Fair, Laverne Cox on Time, Transparent winning the Golden Globe at the start of the year, we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots.
And there’s the inevitable criticism, like this editorial from yesterday’s New York Times. A cis woman criticising Caitlyn’s coming out, many words against trans folks (who knows what she might say about non-binary people), and despite her claims to the contrary, engages in some serious gender essentialism. Not only that, she seems intent on turning Caitlyn’s personal experiences into a broad brush for all trans women.
I thought we were supposed to be past this in feminism. We’re not supposed to be reduced to out genitalia or secondary sex characteristics. We’re supposed to be more than just reproduction machines, bringing about the next generation of workers (or elites in the rare cases), keeping the house cleaning, and a martini ready for our man when he gets home. Marriage is no longer an automatic in womens’ lives, nor is having children, or even compulsory heterosexuality. We have autonomy.
That’s the core here, autonomy. Autonomy over our bodies.
I’m guessing Elinor Burkett has not spoken with many trans people in her life.
Her words remind me of what the Dianic community continues to spout about the exclusion of trans women from their spaces and treating trans women as the ultimate enemy. Back in the 1970s there was an idea that trans women were not actually female identified. Instead they were so threatened by women’s spaces and hated women so much, they sought out sex changes in an effort to invade those single sex spaces.
Let’s take that apart. Men who apparently loathe women so much, they will become the object of their hate, fundamentally change their bodies on the outside, risk the loss of jobs, friends, family, and life, just to “invade” a space. Seems like a steep price to pay, especially since it’s not that easy to “change back.”
MOGAI people are not a modern invention. We find people like this all over the world, and through history. But we’ve had a dominant culture in place for a long time which punishes people for trying to step anywhere outside their designated boxes. Even feminism, which has done so much to help women and men, has only widened the box in certain ways for women. We’re still in an overculture where the worst insult you can deliver to a man is to insinuate that he is even a little bit “feminine.” Yes, women can wear pants, but how often do you see someone male-identified/male-presenting in a dress? I’m not talking about drag here, or something done for humor or humiliation. When it’s summer, I practically live in dresses because it takes 30 seconds to get dressed and there’s no worry about coordination.
Burkett seems to think that the existence of trans women, identifying as women and accepted by other women as being just that, is a threat to her own identity as a woman. How? Do women who do not have kids do that? Do women who do not share her sexual identity do that? Do women lose that womanness when they have hysterectomies or mastectomies? There is an undercurrent of objectification to her editorial. I’m guessing she did not see the interview where Laverne Cox schooled Katie Couric about why cis people need to stop focusing on the surgery side or what resides between their legs.
She’d also do well to familiarize herself with the work of Norman Spack, who works with transgender youth. Maybe she’d see that many trans folk know from a very young age that their gender assignment at birth does not match with their true identity.
This is the world which feminism has helped to shape. There are still miles to go. But I write this today, as a bisexual queer woman, over 40, unmarried, not being pressured to change that, with many friends and even family who are trans, genderqueer, metagender, who do not have to live their lives struggling to be someone they are not. In modern paganisms and polytheisms we are finding more ways to acknowledge and celebrate our siblings in all their identities. Until children do not have to worry about violence from their families as a response to their autonomy, until slurs in reference to gender and sexuality are gone from our vocabulary, until young people stop killing themselves because they cannot live as their authentic selves, we need to continue to support trans women. They are our sisters too.