Talkin’ ‘Bout My S-S-S-Socialization

So a little while ago a twitter-friend of mine, LifeInNeon, linked this interesting post by When Cylons Dream (a bit nsfw) over at her blog, on the question of trans women’s socialization (the manner in which we were / are raised, relative to gender). I found it very interesting and wanted to share.

Yesterday, in a post all about how not all feminists practice the same style of ninjitsu, I discussed some of the history of transphobia within feminism, and various policies (both official and unspoken) that often exclude trans women from feminist spaces or conversation. One of the more common justifications for this attitude is the issue of socialization, that because we were not raised as female, and did not experience the same form of socialization (with its attendant forms of oppression, such as stereotype threat, being trained to be passive, submissive and docile, being trained to make yourself an appealing object for pursuit by men, being sexualized as an object from an early age, etc.) that we do not, therefore, understand female experience, cannot participate meaningfully in feminist discourse, and that, at the extreme end of the scale, are in fact in possession of male privilege- the argument often being extended to a sort of Catch-22 wherein our wish to be included in feminist or women’s spaces is a demonstration of the male sense of entitlement, and when we become angry in response to these trans-exclusionist policies or statements, we are demonstrating male aggression, and are part of a male attempt to control women and appropriate feminism.

Thus in voicing our desire for participation, we are “proving” exactly why our participation should be barred. In objecting to the bigoted, discriminatory policies, we are “proving” why they need to be enforced. In attempting to assert our right to not be subjugated under cultural conventions of the female role, in asserting our choice not to be docile and passive, in simply attempting to live up to feminist ideals of strength and self-confidence, we end up being painted as the privileged oppressor. A girl just can’t win.

But to me, the concept of socialization seems far more complex than how it’s presented when used to invalidate the experiences or identities of trans women. On a direct level, there is not, as I mentioned yesterday, really any such thing as a universal female experience or universal narrative of being a woman. There is no singular event or story that all cis women experienced and all trans women did not. And although the issue of gendered socialization, and the manner in which girls are treated and raised, is indeed highly important and obviously has consequences that very much deserve consideration and relate to issues of oppression and privilege, it seems like treating it as some kind of universal trait that cannot be overcome and singularly defines someone’s gender and its legitimacy is to reify the process of socialization and create a new form of gender essentialism. If we cannot overcome our gendered socialization, and if it defines us and who we are, then what the fuck is the point of feminism in the first place? We must believe a woman is more than what her socialization taught her to be.

There is no singular, universal woman’s narrative. There are as many stories and experiences as there are women.

To go further: to what extent is a trans woman’s socialization inconsistent with the socialization of cis women, or consistent with the socialization of cis men? Can we really claim that young trans girls respond to the same lessons of gender in the same manner that cis children do? Or are our responses, our childhood experiences, and the process through which we internalize the cultural messages of gender roles unique? Can you really dare claim that while a trans girl may have received some of the relatively advantageous treatment offered to boys that she experienced this as a positive, that it was a privilege? That she was enjoying male socialization as a boon, and that she was fully being conferred those social benefits at the expense of cis women, the oppressed party in this dynamic? And state that claim in such a way as to imply it isn’t worth bothering to weigh those social benefits against the attendant harm of the gender into which she is coercively shuffled being inconsistent with her sense of self? Let’s remember our intersectionality 101. Presence of many aspects of male privilege, yes, absolutely, but definite absence of cis privilege.

A touchstone I’ve come across in such conversations is the issue of rape culture, and the internalization of it by girls. The argument was presented to me just a few weeks ago, by a trans woman claiming that we do all still possess male privilege, one of these privileges being the long term consequences of the fact that trans girls did not have to undergo the internalization of rape culture. Citation needed. Just as there is no universal narrative of cis women’s experiences, there is certainly no universal narrative of trans experience. How and when we fully define ourselves as female can vary wildly, and often occurs very, very early in childhood. For trans girls who came to understand themselves as girls at a young enough age, the same cultural messages about what a girl or woman is supposed to be, relative to status as sexual object, and the various messages of rape culture, will be internalized as messages about what they’re supposed to be, to want and to fear; internalizing them as messages of self-image, just like most girls would, not messages regarding the Other (such as what you “should” desire in her), as in the case of boys.

It’s often been noted, typically in rather insensitive ways, that there are often noticeable differences between the image, presentation and stereotype of a late transitioner versus those who transitioned earlier in life and came to understand themselves as female relatively early. This difference between two apparent “types” of trans women has led many not-so-trans-friendly theorists to come up with various half-baked, cissexist, not-quite-getting-it / should-have-asked-for-our-input descriptions of multiple trans etiologies (for instance “the homosexual transsexual” and “the autogynephile”). But considering it from within, from a perspective that looks at this from a position of directly understanding trans lives and experiences (rather than a perspective that looks at us as curiosities, paraphilias, oddities, and men), this difference isn’t terribly hard to understand given the question of socialization, and hardly justifies a concept of two different “types” of transsexuality.

Someone who comes to understand themselves as female relatively early in life is, as I described, much more likely to internalize cultural messages of femininity and end up subconsciously believing that to be the image of self she must aspire towards in order to be a “good” girl. Conversely, someone who suppresses her female identity and instead embarks on the path of trying to live up to a conventional male image and role (which will never, for her, feel quite right… even a butch tomboy is not and cannot be a manly man), will instead not end up internalizing the cultural concepts of femininity in the same way, and therefore her own presentation will often not, from an outside perspective, seem to quite fit the stereotyped concept of what a woman is supposed to look, dress and act like. Though she is indeed female, she hasn’t been conditioned in the same manner as most women and this gets picked up on by others. The fact that this act of not “properly” conforming to social expectations of womanhood is seen as a failure, shortcoming and negative trait even amongst feminists is a disturbing sign about the degree to which our cultural conventions of gender role have been engrained.

It’s evident that at least for many trans women, internalization of a male identity is rejected entirely, and to insist that these women experienced something so wholly apart from female socialization that they cannot possibly understand the experiences of other women is to hold her to a ludicrously strict standard of how she was supposed to have experienced female socialization, a standard that a great many cis women themselves would not meet. Are you to say that all cis women internalized the prescriptive cultural messages of the female gender role? Because if not (the only realistic position), there’s no way you can exclude such a trans woman from your clubhouse on these grounds without also excluding any cis woman who managed to dodge the bullet of fully-internalized female socialization.

And is the statement here that one’s right to be present in a women’s or feminist space conditional on the degree to which you ended up being victimized by patriarchy, and internalized its messages? Do we really wish to define ourselves by the oppression rather than by our cooperative fight against it?

Even those trans women who did believe their identity to be male until later in life did not experience male socialization in the same manner as cis men did, and would likely be extremely insulted to be told that male socialization was a privilege.

The expectations for how a boy is meant to behave, while being on the advantaged side of the binary coin, are typically much more strictly enforced than the expectations placed on girls. Femmephobia (the fear and hatred of that which is feminine, based on a misogynist attitude that maleness and masculinity are superior) has a strange and darkly-comic habit of harming AMAB people (assigned-male-at-birth) in ways much harsher than its impact on AFAB people (assigned-female-at-birth). While deviation by anyone from gender binaries is never openly embraced, there’s typically much more leeway afforded to AFAB folks in that as long as masculinity is assumed as the superior quality, breaking gender expectations in order to pursue masculinity is subconsciously accepted as understandable, and “only natural”, given just how awesome masculinity is, and how stupid, weak, pathetic and frivolous femininity is (don’t worry, this is sarcasm, Reader. I use it a lot). An obvious example is the much broader range of accepted ways an AFAB person can express their gender through clothing. An AMAB person, on the other hand, is typically ridiculed or pathologized for dressing in a manner culturally coded as feminine… as I’ve noted in past blog-posts, “transvestic fetishism” is a diagnosis reserved exclusively for men. It’s also worth noting that gender variance in an AMAB person is much more likely to be met with violence than analogous AFAB gender variance.

Growing up amidst male socialization when one’s gender identity is not consistent with it is a horrifying and traumatic experience. Nothing about it is in any way a privilege, and one does not internalize or adapt to it in a manner at all similar to how a cis man does. Rather than it being a means through which one develops confidence and a sense of power and entitlement, eventually taking one’s vantage point for granted, it is instead a painful, self-erasing performance one has been forced to adopt. One has a constant inner checklist of the behaviours and mannerisms you’re supposed to display in order to avoid being seen as girly and consequently ridiculed or beaten up. Instead of gaining the benefits of being the “superior” class within our cultural gender dynamics, you’re instead experiencing an extremely harsh, constraining prison of gender’s unspoken rules and regulations. Instead of internalizing a sense of being the default, favoured, normal gender, you internalize scripts, shame, self-hatred and the need to police your own gender- police your expression, your personality, your interests, the ways in which you interact with others, anything that could end up with you getting “caught” and revealing how you’re not normal, you’re inferior, broken and wrong.

Every aspect of socialization that for cis men becomes the groundwork for privilege, entitlement and patriarchal mentalities is instead perverted into our oppression.

We do not experience male socialization. We experience transgender socialization. A system that explicitly subjugates us and forces us to suppress our own identities in order to fit into cultural standards of biological destiny, or destroys us trying.

If you’re to try to argue that this socialization was my privilege, that it makes me the advantaged party relative to a cis woman whose experiences I can’t understand, that it means I’m a poser and not a real woman, that it makes me the oppressor who must be excluded from feminism, wellllll… I would ask you to remember the number of occasions where you, as a child, were permitted to freely express your gender as you chose, such as wearing a bow in your hair when you felt like it or opting for pants instead of a skirt when you felt like that. Then subtract from that number the number of times that expressing your gender was met with violence. If you end up with a positive integer, that is the number of times I’d like you to go fuck yourself.


  1. embertine says

    Accusing trans women of having male privilege, even after transition? That, in addition to being ridiculous, is really freaking cruel. Just to remind you you’ll never be a real girl, Pinocchia, lest you forget. I do wonder whether these people have any sense of empathy at all.

    I think you make a great point about not all cis women internalising messages of gender stereotyping. I would add to that that even those of use who do, don’t all do so in the same way, and don’t all do so to the same extent. I was raised to believe that girls should be quieter and more accommodating. I was also taught that girls are just as good as boys at science and maths and shouldn’t let anyone tell them otherwise.

    As you say, there is not one female narrative for any of us, cis or trans. This sbhould be an opportunity to learn, not to exclude.

    • Anders says

      It’s in-group out-group morality at its finest. The people who accuse transwomen of having male privilege are probably completely empathetic and sympathetic toward other members of the in-group. In a way, the fight for equal rights is the fight for an end to in-group out-group morality. An end to Otherness if you will. I don’t know that its possible to end this, but we’ll never know unless we try.

      Good article as always so far.

  2. Emily says

    I was never overly masculine by any means (Really just the quiet nerd more than anything else), but I still cringed and shied away from anything that I considered feminine. About the only place where I allowed myself female expression was online, and I was terrified of my online identity being linked to me. People think I should have benefited from being socialized that way? I don’t think so.

  3. says

    This is yet another argument I’ve had. It’s hard to convince some people that, no, I WASN’T socialized male. If anything, I was socialized trans. I could never live up to the expectations of boy children and wasn’t allowed to conform to the expectations of girl children even though I totally absorbed them all, so I got all of the attendant cognitive dissonance. Yeah, this sucks.

  4. says

    thank you for this long explanation of trans socialization (though I fully understand it’s of course nowhere near complete). I’m going to smugly pat myself on the shoulder for having figured some of this stuff out myself (for example, it seemed obvious that kids who perceive themselves as female would twig to the female-targeted messages; after all, it’s not like we are socialized in total sex-segregation. Rather, socialization happens in mixed spaces, but we filter the messages according to self-identification). Ultimately though, all my figurin’ is just mental masturbation if it doesn’t conform to the lived experiences of people who have been socialized like that.

    I also figured male socialization into male privilege would be the sort of double-edged sword that straight socialization for closeted homosexual people, or even “passing for white” when actually belonging to a ethnic minority (apparently that also happens with class, but seems more transient, except where class has calcified, like in Britain): people may treat you as if you had privilege(so you might not be aware of the extent of the oppression on that particular axis of oppression), but internally it feels dangerous and fake and you just know someone will find out any moment now and punish you for your failure. Thus, you experience a different kind of oppression.

    At least, how I understand this. Feel free to tell me if I got it completely wrong…

    • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden Molly Ivins says

      No, you have it down pretty well.

      When you receive a constant buffeting of messages – you should do X because you’re a guy (turn) you’re not a real guy (turn) What? You’re not a girl!! Are you crazy? (turn) …

      the message you ultimately receive is that others know more about you and who you are and how you should be than you do yourself. While you might get called on more often in class, while you might have benefits of a male body, like that many drugs are tested for safety & efficacy on male bodies only, and while you might be encouraged in certain contexts, ultimately you are taught that who you are is unlovable, impossible, and that your responsibility is to please others through your actions rather than asserting your own desire.

      This doesn’t play out in exactly the same way as cisfeminine socialization, but this way of relating to others is very, very feminine and not at all masculine.

      While Natalie says we experience transgender socialization, I would say we experience transsexual and/or transgender socialization (or just trans socialization). There is a distinct difference between being in conflict with oneself over one’s body…and having others notice that and oppress you for it, and having no conflict with oneself but still having a conflict with the persons and society around you. Having a conflict with your own body is simply different – not better, not worse, not more authentically trans. It’s just a transsexual experience rather than a transgender experience because it flows from conflict with one’s sexed body.

      However, regardless of how this is kickstarted – conflict with one’s own body or direct conflict with one’s peers/family/society – being socialized as openly trans with all its attendant risks cannot be contrasted with being socialized as a passing non-trans person with the relentless anxiety of recognizing that one has benefits and that those benefits are constantly in jeopardy of being instantly removed. This is not a simple binary where one is an example of being raised targeted by oppression and one is an example of being raised in an environment of pure privilege.

      One of the advantages of pure privilege is that you take it for granted. This is rarely, rarely true during the childhood socialization of MtF trans folks. However, when it is, the bubble must burst and bust hard when someone comes out as an MtF trans person.

      Thus, to the best of anyone’s knowledge (admitting the lack of studies that can be generalized to a universal trans community, though I do have a copy of a study of trans childhood socialization from SFSU that focused on socialization through mass media – mainly book publishing & TV) Jadehawk, there is a common experience that greatly resembles what you describe. It’s impossible to know just how many people it describes, but it certainly describes quite a number of MtF trans folks.

      On the FtM spectrum, there are different but parallel problems with assumptions made about childhood socialization. I’ll let others (Natalie?) talk about those.

      • Pteryxx says

        Thanks for this.

        I do hope somebody addresses the FtM side of things… I’m kind of surprised no-one has spoken up yet. Are these folks really so rare?

        • says

          No, there are roughly just as many trans men as there are trans women. And many of them speak about their experiences. Several of the blogs in my blogroll are by trans men. I also strongly recommend the works of Patrick Califia and S. Paul Bergman.

  5. Peter says

    This is, for crying out loud, the 21st century. A few decades ago it seemed (to me) that we were headed toward a society that would be tolerant of harmless differences, welcome diverse ways of living and generally encourage people to be individuals. What went wrong? And what threat does a person being trans present to anybody?

    • Anders says

      I think transpersons represent a threat to the social order and ultimately to reality itself. The binary gendersystem, and the identification of a person’s gender with that person’s sex seems rock-solid to certain people. It’s a test of the world’s reality in the way – day still follows night, the moon follows its cycle and men are not women.

      There are communities where no distinction between natural law and social law is made. It was present in Greek and Christian philosophy for centuries. God (or the nearest equivalent) made the laws of nature and the laws of society. I think many people unconsciously think the same way today. And if you think like that, transpeople become a deadly threat to the established order and Chaos lies along the border. Let transpeople change their sex and the country will become a failed state, a new Somalia.

      Something like that.

      • awkwardturtles says

        good point; sadly, i do think a lot of people think this way. my only objection is to your claim that in Greek society there was no distinction between natural law and social law. as a classicist, i can assure you that the distinction between nature and culture, the respective laws that govern them, and the relation between them, was a subject of perennial interest and debate throughout ancient Greek intellectual history.

  6. Besomyka says

    I’ve been struggling to come to terms within myself about all this. I think it’s part of coming to terms with who I am, but I worry that in reflecting on it that I’m coloring my memories to fit my current life. It’s hard to be objective.

    For some time I thought that if I had grown up around more stringent gendered expectations that it would have been easier to come to terms with my identity, that it would have been harder to rationalize the thoughts and feelings that I had.

    I’m not pretty certain that I am wrong about that. All the people that I know that knew early and were challenges just pushed all that even deeper, and felt even more shame directed at themselves and generally waited even longer to take positive action, but weren’t able to rationalize in order to survive and fell in to self-abuse even earlier.

    I was lucky in a way. When I wanted to learn how to decorate cakes or make pretty paper from scraps, I was encouraged. When I wanted to play soccer and learn how to program, I was encouraged. When my sister wanted college medical texts as a High School Freshmen she got them. When my other sister wanted to build an entire extension by hand to our garage as a personal play-space, my Dad worked with her to do that.

    My siblings and myself were allowed to explore whatever we were interested in, and for that I’m so grateful.

    There was a line, though. One never said, one that I guess I internalized from just being in school and our society. I didn’t feel like I could wear a skirt, or play with makeup even though I wanted to (and did, late at night when everyone else was asleep). That was a step too far, even without anything explicit being said. I didn’t feel like I could even ask.

    So I don’t know how I was socialized. I’ve never felt like I belonged in more traditionally masculine areas — I’m always a little wary and intimidated going to a sports bar, for example. It doesn’t stop me from going and cheering for my team, but… yeah.

    Projecting masculine confidence was something that I had – in my 20’s – to consciously do. I had to be prepared to act that way in situations like job interviews, or personal relationships. I couldn’t do it cold. I had to talk myself up, and remind myself constantly how I needed to act in those situations. It never came naturally.

    That’s not to say that I’m demure or lack personal confidence, there’s just something different about the chest puffing, the need to subtly challenge. There’s a different mindset, and a different body language.

    I’m rambling. I agree, Natalie. I don’t know that I was ever socialized ‘male’, and although I think I did internalize a lot of female socialization, there was a lot that I didn’t experience so I don’t think I was that way either. I think you’re right. I was, in some way, self-socialized trans and I’m still trying to make sense of that.

  7. says

    Thank you for this post. Very educational.

    (Also, I second your motion to rename that one post “the absurd transphobia of some of pharyngula’s commenters”. Some of those comments… gah)

  8. Anna says

    “We do not experience male socialization. We experience transgender socialization”

    Exactly. I try to express sometimes when challenged how I did not in any way have a male socialization, but at the same time I have to admit I did not have a typical female socialization (whatever that is supposed to be)

    When I was really little it was more consistant. I wanted to be like my sister. I always identified as a female and so she was a natural role model for me. I wanted to dress like her, I wanted to act like her, I would listen to the same music, try to watch the same shows (hopefully someday I can forget the Brady Bunch) and general internalized her version of feminine expression.

    Soon afterwards this became a problem and the message got mixed. Wearing her clothes or playing with the wrong toys was quickly punished and in a backhanded way I learned about what was expected as a male. I did not identify with this socialization but I had to learn it to survive.

    School brought another change. Girls didn’t want to be with a boy and the boys could tell I was differant and I was shunned and physically assualted regularly (this was before it gets better – being beaten up got me sent to the guidance coucillor to learn to get along). I couldn’t express my feminine leanings and I failed horribly at maleness. I spent the next period of my life being socialized in a third way as the “other”.

    This is why i’m so angry at being accused of male socialization and male privledge. The only privledge I had was trans privledge. The privledge to not fit in. The privledge to fear constantly from violence, not in a rape culture way (although as many gender questioning youth I did experience sexual assault), but as a constant threat both outside and at home. There is some upsides, as trans I felt observation was a key to my survival so it helped me to learn and watch behavior and this helped me greatly as a social scientist.

    I still dont claim this gives me a common trans socialization either. As Natalie points out, trans experiences are differant in the way cis male and female experiences are differant. I was raised in the 1970s, I was in canada, my family was very poor, my family was white, I female identified immediately instead of strugglig for a long time, all these differance and variables make my experince and socialization unique. Woman’s experience are just as unique.

    I just want to be in woman’s spaces to explore my commonality and understand my uniqueness. There IS a commonality too, quite a lot. I also am a woman and always have been so I just feel more comfortable and safe there. Being trans isnt all I am. I don’t want to spend all my time in trans space. I am trans, I am a woman, I am skeptic, I am an athiest, I am a leftist, I need outlits to express all of this to be a complete person and it hurts me to be denied part of myself. I honestly am no threat, I am in fact so powerless in society economically, physically and socially I don’t see how i could easily be seen as an oppressor.

    “I would ask you to remember the number of occasions where you, as a child, were permitted to freely express your gender as you chose, such as wearing a bow in your hair when you felt like it or opting for pants instead of a skirt when you felt like that. Then subtract from that number the number of times that expressing your gender was met with violence. If you end up with a positive integer, that is the number of times I’d like you to go fuck yourself”

    As angry as this is I 100% agree

  9. starskeptic says

    There is no singular, universal woman’s narrative. There are as many stories and experiences as there are women.

    Spot-on, perfect; I’d even go so far as to say “There is no singular, universal [insert any group where individuals are all conveniently lumped together] narrative.”

  10. says

    Excellent post, I am bookmarking all of these. As a cis woman who was raised pretty gender neutral by two feminists (and suffered for that with bullying throughout school), I was raised to understand that there are just some people who don’t identify with the gender they are assigned at birth, but I never learned more about that, especially not from transgender people themselves – sadly, there isn’t much children’s literature, or any widely avialable literature at all, about and by transgender people. So I am appreciating these new insights very much 🙂
    Also, I once heard a story about a boy (amab) who was raised by his family as a girl because they wanted a daughter. He only realized when he was a teen that he wasn’t “like the other girls”. Do you think that some sort of comparision can be made here? Like telling people “imagine your parents had raised you as a [their opposite gender] and you would be starting to realize that you aren’t actually that gender”? Or is that not really comparable because that boy was (apparently without disagreeing with that himself, inwardly or outwardly) socialized as female?

    • Cara says

      Similar, but not the same: he’d have the internal conflict between socialization and his feelings about his own gender that’s one common aspect of the experiences of trans people, but not the dissonance between body and mind that’s another common aspect.

  11. Ace of Sevens says

    Trying to fit people into neat categories is the universal sign of a small mind. These gender essentialists aren’t ultimately much different than monotheistic gender essentialists in their core thought processes.

  12. Claire says

    I can’t speak for all trans people, but I think a lot of us if not all of us are internalizing all those messages from the media/peers/teachers/parents about the gender they identify as, even before we start to transition or tell anyone.

    I had an eating disorder in my teens. Even though people viewed me as male, I never compared my body to a boys body. I wanted to be skinny, to be pretty like the other girls in my grade. I wanted to fit in with others girls, even though no one viewed me as a girl and I was too scared to tell anyone what I was feeling. Fucking insane, I know. My body weight and my hair seemed like the were only things I had control over, the only things that helped me lessen my gender/body dysphoria. I got bullied in high school for being skinny, having long hair, being too girly looking, not to mention how angry my dad would get at me over these things (now that “I’m a girl” he doesn’t yell at me anymore, because being skinny as a girl is “ok”, what the fuck dad… at least he’s accepting I guess). It’s either conform and feel even more like shit, or don’t conform and get the shit kicked out of you. I feel like a lot of trans women could probably relate to this. I’m honestly not sure what I would call my “socialization”, everyone has their own experiences. I definitely agree that it’s not something I would label as “male socialization”. So anyways, this is my long way of saying “Nice post!”

  13. says

    When I first read this I was a bit wary of it, particularly of the part about girls atleast having the choice between pants or a skirt. As I’m sure you’re aware, that’s one thing that MRA-type people love to use to prove female privilege and such, so I was a slight bit on edge in regards to that. That said, I think you did a very nice job of clarifying your position when you mentioned transgender ‘privilege.’ I hadn’t actually thought of that before.

    I will admit, I’d never claim that a trans woman was less of a woman than one assigned female at birth, but I have thought before that at the very least, trans women had the privilege of not being told that they were only good for looking pretty and being stupid. After reading this though, I suppose that that privilege (for the trans women who experienced it) is outweighed by all of anti-privilege that trans women receive.

    Part of my hesitating to deny that trans women had the privilege of being raised male, I think, comes from my own experience though. I’m AFAB, and while I’m not trans my opinion of acting female tends to be in the ranges of “mild avoidance” to “abject hatred,” and at the very least I’m androgynous or genderqueer. I can remember a plethora of times when I wished I wasn’t being socialized female, and even though females acting slightly masculine is acceptable, it certainly isn’t encouraged. I was never beaten up for not being girly, but I certainly did grow up not fitting in due to it. It makes it hard to think that a male socialization could be anything but ideal.

    The more I think about it though, I suppose that any socialization is bad when you don’t match the gender you’re being socialized, so I must say you’ve changed my mind about trans women having that advantage of being raised male.

    I do have a question though- how would you determine whether an AFAB person experienced transgender socialization? I mean, I really don’t think I count as more than genderqueer so I don’t think I could claim transgender socialization, but I have to wonder when a FTM transgender person experiences the same socialization issue that MTF transgender person would. Yes, girls do have the advantage of getting to wear non-gendered clothing, but I can distinctly remember times when I was ostracized or insulted for treading to far into the masculine territory, and where an AMAB person may be treated similarly for wanting to live a female role, there have been instances where the idea of me wanting to do something male has been met with flippancy, strange looks, and disgust.

    • says

      I can’t really speak to the actual experiences of how a trans guy experiences female socialization. I’m sorry. But I just don’t have any firsthand experience of that, nor have I had many serious conversations about it with trans guys. I imagine, though, that they have a pretty awful experience. The “get to wear pants instead of a skirt” thing would hardly be much consolation if you’re still experiencing the torment of being trained to be a gender incongruent with your own identity. And while a trans guy isn’t as likely to experience the same level of violence, or as likely to experience the complications of femmephobia, they’re dealing with being socialized against their will into the “inferior”, secondary gender role rather than being socialized against their will into the “superior”, primary gender role. Also the increased “leeway” offered to women in terms of gender expression can itself become an obstacle for trans men, in that it becomes much harder to assert or explore their identity as MALE rather than simply as butch, tomboy or perhaps lesbian.

      So when we take all those levels of intersectionality into account, male privilege, cis privilege, femmephobia, trans-misogyny, misogyny, cisnormativity, assumptions about butch identity, trans male erasure, etc. we end up with an image where there’s not really any party here who definitively is “better off” than another. What we have are a group of people- cis women, trans women, trans men- who are ALL highly oppressed or disadvantaged by our current constructs of gender socialization. Even many cis men are harmed by it.

      So while we all may possess certain forms of privilege along axes of gender, it’s just definitely an icky, creepy, oppressive thing, in my opinion, to use socialization as a tool for defining identity, invalidating one’s gender or experiences or narrative, or excluding allies from a movement.

    • says

      BTW, though we weren’t deliberately trained to feel the only way to be good was through being pretty and desirable to men, we WERE told that’s the way to be a good girl, that that’s what a girl is, that that’s what defines femininity, and in so far as we regarded ourselves as female and wanted to be female, we DID end up internalizing those messages, as I said, as messages of self-image and victimizing ourselves through them.

      I don’t know a SINGLE trans woman who doesn’t have some level of body issues connected to the exact same self-destructive aspirations towards the “ideal” female form, the same way cis women do. We see the same advertisements showing what a woman is supposed to look like, and we end up hating ourselves just as much for failing to live up to that.

      Also, our socialization, as noted, was defined almost entirely by being taught that we are wrong, broken, abnormal, fundamentally flawed, sick, perverted, disgusting, immoral and unlovable. Add to that the internalized images of ideal femaleness, and how our own bodies fell so far from that image and…well…

      You see what I’m saying? In some ways, we actually experienced a sort of heightened form of some of the same oppressions experienced by cis women through their socialization and the messages they were handed about what it is and means to be female.

      • says

        Ironically, the way people are socialized regarding gender makes us overlook the variety of ways people are socialized. For instance, even people who admit that trans women don’t have male privilege will still concede that there are certain things trans women just aren’t socialized to do. The chief one being that we’re never socialized to appeal to men. This may be true in a majority of cases, but it is not true across the board.

        This is one of those instances where, yes, feminism’s unwillingness to address boys who are raped inflicts serious damage. The cis world rarely admits that some of those violated boys are not boys at all. In the greater struggle to purge ridiculous “men’s rights” arguments, MAAB survivors of childhood sexual abuse are overlooked and underserved. Trans girls are inevitably caught in the crossfire.

        I was one of those trans girls. My abusers prettied me up for men, taught me to striptease, and sold me for sex. They taught me I was nothing more than an object. They taught me to be passive and docile. All these things feminism swears I never experienced because of my “male upbringing”, were forced upon me from a very young age.

        Femme hatred often results in trans women receiving even more intense violence than cis women when targeted by misogyny. This is especially true in the case of trans female children who are sexually abused. I was simultaneously called a faggot and demonized for being a gay male, objectified for being female, and objectified as a male by older girls who used me as a proxy to get revenge against the men who abused them. At every step of the way I was either made into something I’m not so someone else could use me as a punching bag, or I was punched even harder for daring to be who I really am.

        I don’t really see where male privilege enters into this equation.

      • says

        Actually now that you put it that way, with the heightened form of cis-girl socialization, I do see what you mean. I don’t think I’d taken into account before that the oppressions forced onto cis-women are still publicly known to everyone and can be internalized by trans-women all the same.

        And in response to your first response, I’m going to have to agree with the second to last paragraph. Seems silly now to try to define specifically what kind of oppressions/socializations someone faced instead of just focusing on how they’re shitty in general.

  14. gemmaseymour says

    Natalie, you’re going to have to turn these into a book, you know. You’ve done an excellent job of summarizing what’s going on in trans land lately.

    I don’t know how many times I’ve countered that bit about “growing up with male privilege” with the response that trans girls don’t receive male socialization in the same way as cis boys, and only *we* can tell you what it was like and what it means, but I really think you laid out the specifics here very well.

    Of course, now that I’ve said that, I have to have some picky thing to say about it, and that would be (this time) that I think you tread on some very shaky foundations when you start comparing the situations of earlier and later transitioners. I’m sure you would agree that as with cis girls and women, there is no single narrative for trans girls and women, no matter at what age they realize their ability, desire, and/or need to transition.

    Not that I want to turn your comments section into a cornucopia of personal anecdotes (although, this is somewhat inevitable, given the nature of the topic) seemingly intended to refute some aspect or another of your article, some are going to be worth mentioning. In this case, it would be that although I didn’t realize my own need and ability to transition until the day I turned 40 years old, to say that I did not understand my desire to transition would not be entirely accurate, to say the least, nor would it be necessarily correct to say that I did not come to understand my self as female, or at least, mostly like the girls I knew and hardly at all like the boys I knew, even if I did not put the proper label to it until much later on.

    That is, of course, the short story. I’ve talked much more extensively about my particular situation in other venues, some of which you may have read. Reading Neon’s commentary on “Trans Socialization”, I had to laugh, because I thought I was the only little kid that obsessively copied the handwriting of the girls I knew, hearts over i’s and all. This is 2nd grade I’m talking about. 7 years old. I didn’t know why I wanted to be like the girls, even while I was enjoying playing Little League Baseball, but I definitely knew that I did.

    All my life, people have complimented me on my handwriting. I tell them it’s because I had, over the course of my school career, no less than four years of drafting classes, 6th grade, 8th grade, 10th grade, and at university, and also because I studied calligraphy from the time I was about 10 years old. Lies. All lies. Not that I didn’t have the drafting classes and teach myself calligraphy, but that those things are the reason why my handwriting is nice. The real reason is because of what I was doing back then in 2nd grade. Being like the girls as much as I could get away with.

    Talk about being an outsider! The only Asian kid around (well, besides my brother) in a rural, nearly 100% white area, the top student in the school, at times taking classes three grade levels above where I was “supposed” to be, and oddly kinda girly, too. I was the guinea pig for “gifted and talented” elementary school programs in the mid 1970’s. There was no such thing where I lived until I came along. It all began with me, alone with a teacher they hired just to teach me, in a converted broom closet. It’s a wonder I didn’t get beat up, but since I grew up fighting back against my aggressive brother, I supposed that’s how I learned to protect myself.

    Anyway…just be careful when you start using the words “late transitioner”. It’s like lobbing lawn darts into a minefield.

    “We do not experience male socialization. We experience transgender socialization.” Truer words were never spoken.

    Oh, and that last paragraph? Priceless.

    Love ya…XOXO, Gemma

    • says

      Don’t worry, Gemma. I do fully intend to do a book as soon as I’m able, probably a collection of expanded and polished versions of my best and most popular essays. But it’s still early days to start thinking about that kind of thing.

  15. gemmaseymour says

    See, I knew I was forgetting something. This was what I really wanted to emphasize:

    “For trans girls who came to understand themselves as girls at a young enough age, the same cultural messages about what a girl or woman is supposed to be, relative to status as sexual object, and the various messages of rape culture, will be internalized as messages about what they’re supposed to be, to want and to fear; internalizing them as messages of self-image, just like most girls would, not messages regarding the Other (such as what you “should” desire in her), as in the case of boys.”

    That right there is the awesomesauce.

    I’d like to hear you expound upon that point, taking into account the effects that this ends up having on lesbian trans girls, because (as I mentioned in my last comment), as someone who *did* have at least a partial understanding of herself as female at a young age, even if it was suppressed in many ways, I have found myself struggling my entire life with conflicted feelings and impulses about my self-image and about the things that I find desirable in women. I also say this as someone who was raised primarily by a very strongly feminist professional mother, and secondarily by a mostly absent father (I always hate saying that, because of the inevitable nonsense that forms in people’s heads when they hear it), the point being that what girls were “supposed to be” in terms of societal roles was always limitless in my house, and in my heart.

    And now I’m going to launch into another TL;DR story when I said I wasn’t going to do that, but I actually wrote most of what follows before I even realized what I was doing, and then I didn’t want to delete it, because I wouldn’t have written it if I didn’t need to say it to *somebody*. Story of my life, lately.

    I’m a femme trans woman who is attracted to femme women, yet I have difficulties in that I am both shy when meeting women (Goddess help me if I think a woman I’m meeting is attractive), and assertive once I get to know them. As a friend of mine once told me as I was complaining to her about why women don’t approach me when i hear so often how attractive I am, “Well, you have really toppy energy…” She wasn’t wrong, but I also have this image of myself as being similar to Neon in that, when it comes to the dating game, I’ve always been the sort who expects pursuit (and is honestly quite inept at, and terrified at, the idea of pursuing). I have been fortunate that relationships have always seemed to find me in the past, but that seems no longer to be the case.

    I definitely absorbed those messages as a child, the messages of what a girl is supposed to look like, to want, as well as the messages about what supposedly made a girl desirable, and found myself aghast at the behavior of the boys I knew as we began to grow into puberty. Hell, I became aghast at my own behavior. I went through a crazy period there when I just went off the deep end. Some things that other girls wanted, I rejected. Others, I envied with a passion.

    In some ways, I had a disjointed education in such matters, because I changed schools in 8th Grade, 9th Grade (twice), and 10th Grade. During those critical years, there was no continuity available to me in observing the girls I had known as girls becoming women, but once things settled down, well…then the dysphoria began in earnest. Once I found myself in a stable environment filled with young women who were past the awkward stage of puberty, as I was now past the worst of mine, that was when I really started to feel *wrong*. Like, as in “there is something fundamentally wrong with the universe” wrong. That was when it really hit home what testosterone had done to me.

    And it made me angry. And scared. And lonely. So, I did what any completely lost person might do. I pretended those feelings didn’t exist whenever I could. It didn’t work very well, but I coped, marginally. And found a girlfriend. And that made the pain go away for awhile, but it never lasted, and if I wasn’t completely heartbroken about my last breakup, then the dysphoria would come back all over again.

    There was a brief period in my early 20’s when it almost all came out. I was single and living in a house with five guys, having dropped out of college, and one December night, I got almost-dead-from-acute-alcohol-poisoning drunk because I felt so terribly, horribly alone. And as a woman I knew held my long hair out of the toilet, I puked myself silly…and told her who I really was. December 30, 1989. I was 21 years and 25 days old, and I admitted that I wanted to be a girl for the first time. No one else in the house heard me.

    That story remained a secret until almost 20 years later, when I finally realized my ability and need to transition, in the wake of the destruction of my marriage. And once again, on another cold December night, this time on December 5, 2008, the evening of my 40th birthday, I drank myself silly in a bar in Brooklyn, because I was so desperately alone. In the middle of the drunken and public breakdown that followed I finally understood that if I didn’t transition, I’d wake up on a day not too far away, maybe my 50th birthday, and probably blow my fucking brains out for having wasted my life not knowing who I could have been if I’d just had the…if I’d just…

    So, here I am, now, finally really being me to everyone else, both young and old at the same time, a child in the body of a woman in some ways, and an old crone in the body of a warrior in others, learning as much from younger sisters with more experience as from older sisters with less, and vice versa.

    • Anders says

      I read somewhere “I didn’t choose to transition. I chose not to kill myself.” (Of course, if ‘somewhere’ was here I’ll be looking pretty derpy but life is full of risks).
      I don’t know if ‘brave’ is the right word to use, but whatever you are, I admire you for it.

  16. Beatrice, anormalement indécente says

    *wandering over from Pharyngula*

    Hi. Having nothing more important to do on a Saturday, I was going trough the Be Scofield thread. When I saw that you tackled the issue of how trans women experience socialization in more depth here, I was intrigued. It’s a great post. You write beautifully and I’m learning things I had no chance to learn about in meatlife.
    I’ve already read some of your posts on Skepchick, but I’m glad you’re here now. I hang around FTB most days anyway, so it’s easier when all interesting bloggers are in one place.
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experiences.

  17. Irene Delse says

    Another visitor from Pharyngula, here. Thanks a lot for sharing, Natalie, this is one good thought-provoking post.

    The bitter irony is that the kind of gender essentialist who excludes trans women on the basis of “not being/having been socialised as a girl” should, if they were following their logic, exclude people like me too for having experienced a non-standard socialisation. “Being trained to make yourself an appealing object for pursuit by men, being sexualized as an object from an early age”? Nope, not in my very Catholic family. The idea was rather to make us girls as sexless as possible, and to make us internalise the idea that women who dressed in alluring clothes and wore make-up we fallen creatures to be pitied and not emulated. (And what a sad, twisted state of mind it was. Ugh.) But the added quirk of having been raised by ambitious, intellectual Catholic parents led to not much in the way of training for docility: good girls are girls who perform at the top of their possibilities and make their way in the world!

    So by their own logic, transphobic feminists should also question my understanding female experience too and my ability to participate meaningfully in feminist discourse… But it doesn’t happen, and I can see that it’s because I’m a cis-woman. They just take it on trust that I have the same background as them because of how I was born.

    And now I begin to understand what cis privilege means. Another reason to thank you, Natalie.

  18. says

    Thank you for your very educational posts, Natalie

    But I admit that something inside me cringes when I read your stories about how you wanted the “girl stuff”.
    The little girl in me gets all angry and fuzzy and screams: Wait! Stop! That’s not what being a girl is about, that’s not what makes you a girl!
    Because that little girl inside of me never wanted the girl stuff, she much preferred the boy stuff.
    And although that is met with less violence, it comes at a price, too. Because you must not tread that fine line and become better than the boys.
    It hurt being told that “I’d better become a boy”, or “that a boy had been lost on me”, or simply having my mum asked “what’s his name?”
    Having your gender identity challenged as a cis-girl because your identity doesn’t match up people’s expectations is a cruel thing, too.
    Which doesn’t mean that I want to engage in the opression olympics or deny your narratives and identities.
    For me, whatever you tell me is good enough for me, because I assume since I know best about my gender, and not those assholes who told me that I wasn’t a real girl, you’ll know best about yours.

    • Pteryxx says

      It’s like, you have to constantly hoard gender coupons to “earn” tolerance of your own identity, instead of just having it given to you automatically, like everyone else seems to get, for free.

      No matter which gender someone assumes I am, it always feels to me like somebody is getting cheated.

    • says

      Where did I ever say that my transition was motivated by a desire for “girl stuff”?

      As I’ve noted several times, trans women do not transition because we are feminine, and we do not make some kind of fundamental confusion that feminine = female. We transition because we are female. Female = female.

      My relative femininity or girliness is completely secondary to the issue of my transition and GID.

      Gender expression =/= gender identity.

      And besides, being a girl can be about whatever I want it to be about. 😉

      • says

        Natalie, I said your stories as in the personal stories of trans-women. And often, especially in the those that recently gained media attention about young trans-girls who started transition early,the “girl stuff” featured heavily as an indicator. That they were “naturally” drawn towards Barbie, make-up, princess-dresses and all that shit as if any of them made you more of a girl and less of a boy.
        As said before, I fully accept and understand that you are a woman. You tell me, I accept, no matter what you actually do. If you are a lumberjack and that’s what you like doing, it doesn’t make you any less a woman than being a hairdresser.
        My point is that those things are still too heavily gendered. Wearing a bow in your hair or a baseball cap, or a skirt or pants, playing with toy trucks or dolls should simply be an indicator of personality, not of gender.
        That’s why taking a desire to play with opposite-gendered stuff as an indicator of transsexuality (or presenting it, as it is often done), makes me cringe.
        I’ve had that shit pulled with me, I see it being done to my youngest daughter. I withhold judgment of her gender, I think she’s way to young for me (and herself) to recognize, but I want her to be able to explore her personality freely without having gender-pressure applied in either way.

        • says

          Sure, I agree with you. But you’re saying you cringe when you see my stories about “girl stuff”. What such stories? Where have I ever said anything suggesting femininity and “girl stuff” is inherently female, or defines femaleness? Where have I said that it’s indicative of someone’s gender identity, rather than just a culturally gendered expression of personality? What exactly are you cringing at? Can you please point to an example? Because maintaining the distinction between gender expression (“feminine”/”masculine”/”androgynous”) and gender identity (man/woman/genderqueer) is an extremely important part of my work, and something I put a great deal of consideration into. If you can perhaps point out a specific instance where you felt I was making a mistake in this regard, and suggesting that “girliness” is indicative of being female, than I could better understand where you’re coming from, and how you perceive this as a problem in my own writing?

          • says

            I hate the English language.
            Why did you drop the fucking thou?
            Natalie, we’re having a missunderstanding here.
            Please read this sentence again:

            Natalie, I said your stories as in the personal stories of trans-women.

            You in the plural sense.
            I did not mean your story as in “thy storie”, but as in “the stories many trans-womwn tell and the stories the media publishes about trans-women.

            As for examples from this very thread:

            (And please, again, I don’t want to invalidate anybody’s experience or criticise you for what you want and like. Everybody should be able to want and like what they happen to want and like. Too much want and like in that sentence)

            So I don’t know how I was socialized. I’ve never felt like I belonged in more traditionally masculine areas —

            When I was really little it was more consistant. I wanted to be like my sister. I always identified as a female and so she was a natural role model for me. I wanted to dress like her, I wanted to act like her, I would listen to the same music, try to watch the same shows (hopefully someday I can forget the Brady Bunch) and general internalized her version of feminine expression.

            Soon afterwards this became a problem and the message got mixed. Wearing her clothes or playing with the wrong toys was quickly punished

            Again, this was not an issue I take up with your writing.
            You talk about narratives, and you rightly say that there is no universal narrative for all cis-women, yet I see the universal narrative of trans-women (and probably of trans-men, too) in the making, the narrative of always having wanted the gender-expression of the own real gender and not the one assigned at birth.
            I remember two or three stories about trans girls, especially of the pair of monzygotic twins that strongly hinted that way.
            Those stories imply that there truely is something inherently female (not even just feminine) about Barbie, princesses and stuff and I think that’s problematic for all of us, gender-conforming and non-conforming, trans and cis alike.
            It’s a bit like the “Lesbian narrative”, which over here is something like: short hair, plays football (soccer for you), is a mechanic.

        • Megan says

          So what’s your point? That trans women as a class ought to be held responsible for the fact that some trans women do internalize the “feminine = woman” idea that our culture pushes? Should we also hold cis women responsible, because some of them internalize the same thing?

  19. Anna says

    As you were quoting me I feel I have to respond to this since you clearly did not read what I said. I am the one with the sister.

    a. I specifically talked about being socialized as a girl my age would be. I said NOTHING about it being inherently female behavior. It was my sisters behavior. I felt I should physically be a girl so I emulated female role models. I never for a minute said she represented some universal female existance. It’s a big leap to go from wanting her as a role model to assuming there is some inherently female experience. Further in that response I said there is no such thing.

    b. You are also making some sort of assumptions about my sister. She wore girl clothing, she watched the brady bunch and she did in fact prefer Easy bake Oven (free cupcakes who wouldnt?), but for the most part she was not overtly feminine. There was no barbies, she didnt like dolls, there were no disney princess marketing campaigns in the 70s, and she mostly wore pants since not even my mother ever wore dresses except to funerals and weddings. She did wear colors a male was unlikely to wear, thats the main thing.

    I was saying I internalized the things she did in explaining that I still took in messages girls did about body image, and apropriate behavior and such. Not that I felt this burning need to play with barbies. Reading my post and assuming a narrative I specifically said was not true about a universal female or trans experience is specifically what is done to paint a caricature of trans people as overly girly slaves to a gender binary and is very invalidating.

    In other words, please don’t take part of my statement and make a point without the context of the rest of the statement just to validate your own assumptions.

    • Anna says

      This is in response to Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg’s post btw. That specific post did not have a reply option

    • says

      This is also in response to Gilliel:

      The fact that our gender expression was policed is very much an important aspect of the socialization of trans girls. We read cultural messages about what femaleness means (the same ones all girls see) and thereby use that cultural rubric as a means through which to express our gender identity. Noting the manner in which SOME (though certainly not ALL) trans women have experienced being chastised for their gender expression falling outside of the normative male gender role is not to prop up some kind of “universal narrative” or assert that femininity is the arch-indicator of femaleness. People are simply telling their own stories. None of the quotes you provided in any way asserted that the femininity was determinative of “female”, that was something you brought to the story, possibly fearing that others would interpret it as such. But the stories themselves don’t make any such statement.

      I think the way you react so negatively to this, even using highly evocative emotional descriptors for that reaction (“cringe”), and also grammatically assigning me as the entire trans community (via the plural you) are indicators that there might be some privilege worth unpacking. Why, for instance, do you hold trans narratives as being all about their social implications, and seem to react negatively in reaction to trans women describing their experiences, as though if there’s the slightest chance it could be used to hold up a gender-normative concept, that it should be silenced? Why render those narratives as being primarily about the gender norms that impact you, rather than simply the voicing of one’s own experience? Why hold trans women to this standard, and treat us like we need to be perfectly emblematic of feminist principles in everything we say and are in order for our narratives to be accepted? Why prioritize our possible, theoretical implications over our actual lives? Do you see what I’m getting at? Remember, for us this is not theory. This is what happened to us, and this is the life we’re living. Our survival, our lives, our stories and our visibility are going to continue being important to us whether some people exploit it for holding up idiotic gender essentialist principles or not. Whether or not those things are important to you, on the other hand…

      • says

        I’m sorry, I worded my arguments poorly and I’m sorry that this caused offense.
        I’m trying to re-formulate my thoughts and also reply to your and Anna’s arguments.

        and also grammatically assigning me as the entire trans community (via the plural you)

        Now, this is a pure missunderstanding. It was never my intention to assign you, by that I mean Natalie Reed, as the entire trans-community. I tried to clear that up, I obviously didn’t succeed, but I have no idea how to make it any clearer than this.

        even using highly evocative emotional descriptors for that reaction (“cringe”)

        Please note that I’m not a native speaker. This means that sometimes I assign the wrong emotional value/strength to a word. If it came across as a highly emotional descriptor, I must simply take it as a language-lesson learned. I’m sorry, it wasn’t meant that way.

        that there might be some privilege worth unpacking.

        That is absolutely true. I’ve been reading what you write ever since you started on skepchick in order to learn.

        Why, for instance, do you hold trans narratives as being all about their social implications, and seem to react negatively in reaction to trans women describing their experiences, as though if there’s the slightest chance it could be used to hold up a gender-normative concept, that it should be silenced?

        Here I think you’re reading too much into my statemens. I never said that those experiences and narratives should be silenced. If they could be used to hold up a gender-normative concept, we should fight this together.

        Why hold trans women to this standard, and treat us like we need to be perfectly emblematic of feminist principles in everything we say and are in order for our narratives to be accepted

        Where did I ever say that I didn’t accept your narratives? They are yours and I am absolutely not entitled or qualified to question your narratives. Where did I mention that you had to be perfectly emblematic of feminist principles? Which ones, by the way?
        Especially when you’re talking about childhood experiences, that would be plain silly.

        Why render those narratives as being primarily about the gender norms that impact you, rather than simply the voicing of one’s own experience?

        They are your experiences. They are also about gender roles that impact me and you and everybody else alike, that probably impact you even more than me.

        Why prioritize our possible, theoretical implications over our actual lives?

        I do not prioritize possible implications over your actual lives. I noticed a repeating pattern, a pattern that I found critical as a repeating pattern, not as an individual story.
        To use my “cringe” again: The fact that my daughter demands massive amounts of pink makes me cringe. My daughter herself doesn’t.

        Whether or not those things are important to you, on the other hand…

        If you weren’t, I wouldn’t be here.
        But I think I better shouldn’t be here for a while, because I have clearly crossed too much of a line, although it wasn’t my intention. But as they say, intent isn’t magic.

        • says

          You haven’t crossed some kind of awful line-of-no-return/forgiveness, and I’m not trying to drive you off or make you feel unwelcome. I just think that in this case the reaction you have to these narratives might be based more on your own relatively privileged position, and projections onto the stories rather than what they really mean, more than based on anything they really do inherently imply about gender, femininity and what it means to be female. But I’m not angry or think you’re a terrible person or anything.

  20. rozkaveney says

    An excellent post that pretty much sums up my own thoughts on this. Rather than just endorse it some more, I’ll add a poem I wrote a while back.

    On My Male Privilege

    My long thin skinny legs, arms without hair,
    Nipples as large as eyes stared from my chest
    the faintest curve of what might be a breast.
    One day my classmates tied me to a chair

    Went to the blackboard, picked up coloured chalks
    rubbed blue above my eyes, red on my cheeks
    and lips. The soreness stayed there for two weeks.
    I’d often go for melancholy walks

    out by the sewage farm and smell the shit
    my life was then. Boys told me I was queer
    hang me from windows, stand around and jeer
    I was a freak a girl a thing an it.

    How can I trust women who say I’m hot?
    Those sneering voices tell me that I’m not.

  21. savannah says

    Natalie, this is really brilliant. I have also felt this frustration around the argument that trans women should be excluded and the basis that they did not experience AFAB-typical socialization. It’s so bizarre because it seems that certain feminists are claiming that oppressive socialization is what makes a woman a woman. This is bothered me for a long time though I’ve struggled a bit with how to put it into words; here you have said it beautifully. Thanks!

  22. Sheena says

    I learned very early on to go stealth because of the beating from family and school kids. I never went the route of over compensating by being overtly masculine, as in some narratives. I was a girl, and I tried to be a girl every moment I could. To me it was a very physical thing. I knew my outie was wrong and got spanked when I was caught taping my crotch up when I was 3 or 4, it is my earliest memory. My friends through the 3rd grade were all tomboyish girls, and my first kiss was with one of those girls. My parents moved, the first of many constant movings, so many times we moved that I never really made friends for the long term. But those first tomboy friends I had were important because those girls were accepting of me and let me wear their clothes in dress up games. Then one day I was kicked out of daycare for dressing as a girl in dress up. My parents for ad me from being friends with those girls, after bruising and lacerating me once again with a switch. It never killed the girl in me, it just made me hide her deeper. Then one day at school, one of my bullies pulled down my pants in the hallway and revealed that I was wearing panties, the embarrassment made me want to kill myself. This was all by the age of 9 or 10, roughly 1984 in Oklahoma. We moved again. I was isolated from having friends at all. Nothing my parents did made me a “man” and it only fostered my hatred of them. It wasn’t until hight school when we moved one last time that I met a girl who would help me. It was 1990 and she was this openly bisexual Goth girl, and she let me be me. And who I am today is a accumulation of those girls, all of them from my earliest memories to the ones I have today. So tell me I didn’t have some female socialization, even if atypical.

  23. anon says

    i am glad that this is being discussed here, & hope that this theory/thinking spreads throughout the ‘queer’ community — i agree wholeheartedly that the ‘male socialization’ theory of trans women is bogus, and i wish that this were a more mainstream opinion.

    i’m curious about your statement “It’s also worth noting that gender variance in an AMAB person is much more likely to be met with violence than analogous AFAB gender variance” and wondering where that fact comes from & if it overlooks this other aspect/method of delivering violence against AFAB people that might slip under the radar as directly tied to gender expression.

    i attended a presentation a few months ago on the data from the national transgender survey that was conducted a few years ago. the highest rate of violence reported in the data was not reported by either trans women or trans men, but from genderqueer/third gender identifying people, particularly AFAB people who were not living as male, but who embodied a very masculine gender presentation. this group reported extraordinarily high rates of sexual assault, which makes me wonder if the violence that is done to the trans-masculine (i hope that is acceptable terminology, please correct me if it is not– i do not mean to offend) gets lumped in with ‘violence against women’ and is not seen as consequences of gender transgression the same way violence against an AMAB person who lives femininely/is female is seen as a consequence of gender transgression.

    anyway, looking forward to your thoughts on this.

  24. says

    I’m really intrigued by this essay, I enjoyed reading it and the added perspective it gave. It’s been a few months since you wrote it, so I don’t know if you’re still responding or paying attention to the comments.

    I really like your points about there not being a universal “female socialization,” and the concept of “trans socialization.” I think it might be accurate to say “female socialization” as it is described by sociologists and feminists is, at best, a mean average of the loudest messages about femaleness that are available in a particular society and time, which are often messages of conflict and contradiction, images of traditionalism versus modernity. And different points clearly seem to resonate differently with different women (cis women and trans women alike), since there are women who play sports, tech geek women, butch women, etc.

    There’s just one thing that I’m wondering about, and that’s that it seems like in the effort to distinguish that trans women are NOT socialized as boys, there’s sort of… a flattening, an assumption about male socialization and how cis boys really experience themselves in relation to masculinity?

    …one does not internalize or adapt to it in a manner at all similar to how a cis man does. Rather than it being a means through which one develops confidence and a sense of power and entitlement, eventually taking one’s vantage point for granted, it is instead a painful, self-erasing performance one has been forced to adopt.

    Writings on masculinity by authors like RJ Connell and the concept of hegemonic masculinity as well as cis men’s own lived experience as unable, often failing to and violently anxious about living up to the prototypical “Ideal Masculine”, I think suggests that cis men do not universally experience male socialization as granting confidence and entitlement that can be taken for granted… But that often cis men also experience masculine standards as “a painful, self-erasing performance one has been forced to adopt.”

    In pointing this out, I don’t think that my discomfort is an attempt to force the point and say that, “No, really, trans women do experience male socialization…” I don’t think that’s true or at least not uniformly true in the way that anti-trans feminists try to use it. Mostly because a) that assumes way too much streamlining of this loose and messy process called “socialization” and b) “trans socialization” makes a lot of sense. I’m also not trying to make a “what about the menz?” derail when the post itself and most of the comments after it are a discussion of trans women’s own lived experiences, but I’m wondering about this particularly “hard” line-in-the-sand style of distinction.

    I think that my discomfort is more along the lines that, it seems awkward if the idea of “trans socialization” is premised on the assumption that cis men’s childhood learning and embodiments of masculinity aren’t ever painful or feel artificial whereas trans women’s experiences with trying to embody masculinity definitely were, as a way of distinguishing between cis boys and trans girls developmental processes… Is/was this an assumption you were working from when writing this piece?

    Not being a cis man NOR a trans woman, I can only observe and guess… It seems to me that gender non-conforming AMAB persons who non-the-less develop boy/man/male gender identities must experience the pain of masculine performance fundamentally differently, in some way that seems to be very important, but I don’t really… understand.

    Is this a cis privilege thing that I’m just totally not getting and is totally obvious to everyone else? I’m sorry if this is really actually totally irrelevant and beside the point… I find myself worrying if this post is just worded awkwardly, if the idea itself is offensive, or if I’m just worrying too much.

    Anyway, thank you for writing this.

  25. Schala says

    Femmephobia (the fear and hatred of that which is feminine, based on a misogynist attitude that maleness and masculinity are superior) has a strange and darkly-comic habit of harming AMAB people (assigned-male-at-birth) in ways much harsher than its impact on AFAB people (assigned-female-at-birth). While deviation by anyone from gender binaries is never openly embraced, there’s typically much more leeway afforded to AFAB folks in that as long as masculinity is assumed as the superior quality, breaking gender expectations in order to pursue masculinity is subconsciously accepted as understandable, and “only natural”, given just how awesome masculinity is, and how stupid, weak, pathetic and frivolous femininity is (don’t worry, this is sarcasm, Reader. I use it a lot).

    I have a theory that is just about the opposite of this one.

    That in recent (post-Victorian) times, men’s roles has come to be associated with being “working-class”, rugged, working with his hands, not-rich, without much culture and more prone to violence (than women, at least). And the more like this, the more “manly” one is. An aristocratic man being seen as unmanly (and thus less useful to society, and so worthy of scorn), because of how he holds himself, how he dresses or that he likes high-culture stuff like ballet, museums, operas.

    Clothing is expected to be practical and bland, nothing that defines you or expresses anything in particular. Even formal clothing is all-the-same, with the subtle distinctions only being perceivable by connaisseurs (ask Noah Brand). Short hair is preferred because it’s “less of a bother”, which goes towards “simpler is better” and points to pragmatism and practicality again.

    In the same times, women’s roles has been contrasted with men’s to be associated with “aristocratic-like” behavior, clean (overly so to most reasonable people), not working with her hands – so having long and decorated nails (historically a sign of being rich), liking high-culture (hence how ballet, opera and theater have become coded-feminine), weird but artistic hair-dos (think Padmé, but in our culture), and portrayed as incapable of violence (because the rich have servants/guards/an army to do that). The more like this, the more feminine one is. Since it’s partially based on one-upmanship, anyone who tries to raise too high is punished by the others due to jealousy.

    Clothing is expected to be about showing expression and showing off to other aristocrats (historically true, but back then men also showed off and had frilly clothing, if they were rich – of course women aristocrats only too, not commoners who probably couldn’t afford to be flashy fashion-wise). A super big palette of possibilities in clothing, although celebrities like to wear the exact same thing in different colors (that’s how those dresses look to me – like they have zero imagination and feel forced to wear skin-tight dresses every time. I’d personally wear more “old school” ones that are aesthetically pleasing, without it being all about the body.).

    It might have been a deformation of “men do, women are”, and men being overvalued for their utility while women being overvalued for their looks (including their fashion looks). It was not possible when the majority of people could not afford it. Then it was a sport for the 1%. At the celebrity level, this is NFL players (showing their physical prowess) vs (most) actresses (showing their physical beauty). I say most actresses as some are actresses without any accounting for their looks, or despite their looks (which is the situation of most actors, George Clooney being an exception).

    Much like the poor are punished for trying to usurp or impersonate the rich, trans women are punished for being working class impersonating aristocrats.

    The reverse makes no sense: we don’t punish people who become poor, or try everything to prevent, including “defending poorness”.

    If maleness and masculinity was perceived as superior as is said, then there would be defenders at the door to defend manhood from intrusion. Male privilege would be “valiantly” kept as something unique to “men-born-men” and usurpers thrown out very fast.

    Yet we see the opposite. And not just from TERFs.

  26. Schala says

    I should note that, the theory I posted about in #41 took me a while to think. I transitioned 7 years ago (I was short of being 24).

    And 7 years ago, I believed wholesale the male privilege vs no-female-privilege and that freedom of expression is a double-edged sword not worthy of being called an advantage. Except I believed it on faith (unexamined).

    I thought I might have been the exception who didn’t benefit much from male privilege, and that maleness itself was probably valued more than femaleness.

    Critical thinking over years and various issues has led me to examine the logic of defending womanhood and femaleness from “outsiders”, lest it be made to mean less. I’m sure there are martyrs who will defend their martyrdom’s uniqueness to death, but I doubt it would even show on the radar the way TERFs do (and the equivalent to culture feminism in conservative women). But most people who defend an identity do so because it means something *positive* to them. And probably more positive than alternatives.

    I would defend geekness, and will consider it to have more value than jockness, for example. I won’t think jock is better, but I got second best so will defend geek to death “because screw geeks who passed for jocks”. I think geekness is cool, fun, interesting, and a weird way to lead life (to most people). I think normal is boring, overrated, and hate conformism.

    I would posit second-wavers who claim femaleness = oppression are hiding their positivity derived from being female-identified, which would have to be much higher than men’s positivity from being male-identified, since men won’t guard it.

    Note that I don’t posit women are oppressing men, that men are more oppressed than women, or that femaleness is all cakes and sundaes.

    I reject the A oppressing B concept entirely (I view it as System vs A and B). I don’t think we can know (for the West) which sex is more oppressed – and ultimately it shouldn’t matter, we ought to fix it all. I think both maleness and femaleness can be great and shitty both, depending on one’s experience, and at different times.


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