A Beginner’s Guide To Trans-Misogyny

Although I’ve mentioned it before, and have often had to explore it in order to make certain arguments clear, I realized yesterday that I’ve never really taken the time to specifically discuss and outline the phenomenon of trans-misogyny for its own sake. Trans-misogyny, simply put, is the unique confluence of various attitudes about gender that end up being directed as hatred, discrimination, scorn or ridicule towards trans women. Or pretty much just the unique and particular form of misogyny that targets trans women.

Because it’s such a central concept to understanding what trans women deal with, and why, and what motivates the pronounced cultural hostility towards us, I thought it could be helpful to take a post to just quickly go over the basic concepts at play here, and what makes trans-misogyny unique, in comparison to other related bigotries like transphobia and misogyny. Understanding trans-misogyny is also extremely helpful in being able to understand why trans issues are important to feminism, and vice versa, and how much the hatred directed towards trans women (and other people who were assigned-male-at-birth but deviate from gender norms) is connected to the cultural devaluing of women. It helps to make it clear why, contrary to the attitudes of transphobic feminists like Janice Raymond, Germaine Greer, Mary Daly, Sheila Jeffreys or MichFest and the Uncritical-Butlerians, trans women and feminism can and should be allies, that we absolutely need one another in order to be able to understand the problems we’re facing and attempting to overcome. Trans-misogyny is not just a trans women’s issue, it’s a women’s issue.

One of the basic things to recognize, as pointed out by a few commenters in yesterday’s “When Trans-Inclusivity Goes Wrong” comment thread, is that while transitioning to male is seen as “upgrading” in the cultural sense that male is still subconsciously regarded as the “superior” gender, transitioning to female is “downgrading”, regarded as giving something up, becoming a lesser kind of being. I find this is often expressed through the way that SRS is so quickly misapprehended as “amputation”, “cutting off your dick”… as though female genitals are just the absence of male ones.

This is connected to femmephobia, of course, and the idea that not only is femaleness of lesser value than maleness, but that which is culturally coded as “feminine” (or “associated with women and girls”) is subconsciously regarded as of lesser value than that which is coded as “masculine”. Frivolous, silly, delicate, inane.

Within this basic framework of “traditional sexism”, the age-old hierarchy of male > female, a trans woman just doesn’t really make sense. She can’t really exist. I think this is responsible for a lot of the cultural obsession with trans women, and non-gender-normative people who were assigned male… an obsession for which trans men do not experience an analog. While our culture has been more or less content to ignore trans men, or pretend they don’t exist, it has sought out, and endlessly theorized and pontificated upon, mocked, fetishized, re-theorized, belittled, and pathologized trans women.

A lot of that obsession is fueled because trans women can’t fit into the narrative we’ve constructed about gender. See, if maleness and masculinity is superior and preferable to femaleness and femininity, then how could anyone who has been blessed with being male ever want to give that up? How could ANYONE actually want to trade in the almighty phallus for one of those weird, squishy vagina things? Why would anyone embrace a female identity if they didn’t have to? How can a sane, rational, reasonable person actually find femaleness and/or femininity to be an empowering self-identification, and find themselves happier, more fulfilled, more at peace, more at home, and more complete within them?

The answer is pretty easy: obviously they aren’t sane, rational or reasonable. Right? They must be mentally ill. Or delusional.  Or are a self-hating gay man who can’t accept his own homosexuality. Or if you’re a clever sort, you can construct elaborate psychosexual theoretical frameworks in which you can imagine a man might want to have a female body (he’s a gay guy who wants to attract straight men! He’s a straight guy who wants to have his very own female body to get off on! etc).  Or if all that is too much work, you just mock and ridicule them. Or if that doesn’t quite take care of the problem, and the threat they pose, you can just go and bash their brains in or something.

A trans-women, simply by existing, poses a fundamental threat to the assumption of male superiority. That threat is part, but not all, of what constitutes and fuels trans-misogyny. There are other threats as well, such as to a man’s (and sometimes woman’s) own sexuality and gender.

One of the things that often triggers homophobic reactions is the way that human beings typically conceptualize “The Other” in terms of attempting to relate the other to themselves, “putting themselves in their shoes”. This is usually a healthy, adaptive behaviour, and very strongly connected to our capacity for empathy. However in trying to conceptualize homosexuality, and what homosexuality means, an individual will often have to imagine what it would be to engage in and enjoy homosexual acts. Given the immense cultural baggage tied to homosexuality, the stigma and hatred, the connections between sexuality and gender, how male homosexuality is perceived as “feminine” and “unmanly” and (by way of femmephobia and misogyny) therefore bad, that act of conceptualization, rather than simply being an emotionally neutral exercise in trying to understand, can end up eliciting intense feelings of revulsion, disgust, shame, self-hatred, and a bunch of other things, which are also usually externalized onto the object whose presence triggered those feelings. Because the thought of yourself engaging in homosexual sex elicits (largely by way of cultural conditioning) feelings of disgust, the person identifying as gay is thought to be disgusting.

The presence of trans women can trigger similar, but even more complex, chains of internal questions, associations and emotional reactions. In trying to comprehend transsexuality, most people will think in terms of why they would do that. Why someone who “is” the assigned sex would “want” to be the “opposite” sex. So initially you have the conceptual distortion of framing a trans woman’s desire for transition as being about why a man would want to have a female body (which is already way off the mark… it’s actually all about why a woman would want to have a female body), but a man may then insert himself into the conceptualization in order to understand it. Again, feelings of disgust, revulsion, shame, self-hatred, as well as all kinds of fears related to castration or body modification, and even the conceptualization of the gender dysphoria that would come along with his body being rendered female (ironic, really, in that his own disgust and fear of his own body becoming female actually gets very close to the actual motivations behind transition; it’s just the other way around), and those negative feelings are then again projected onto the object that triggered them. If the idea of becoming a woman is so thoroughly horrifying to a man, then any “man” who willingly does so must “him”self be horrifying and deeply alien (again, the irony being that the feelings triggering this sense of alienation could, with a very simple conceptual act of using that horror with a female body to comprehend why trans men transition, and then working backwards from there, help someone understand just how basic and human and not really alien at all it is).

A cis woman may also feel discomfort in the presence of trans women, feeling that the gendered elements of her own body are also not necessarily simply a given, a fixed reality, but something “acquirable” by a strange, external Other, or imagining herself in the position of having to fight for her body against an assigned maleness, or its femaleness being incongruent with other elements. That “female” can be a claimed state, rather than just something someone simply is. She may feel the validity of her womanhood is threatened, if other people are able to simply “fake it”. She might feel encroached upon. Or maybe like something fundamentally her’s is being taken away, that women don’t even have control over “woman” anymore.

This gets further complicated by a couple additional things: first there’s the introduction of awareness, or a reminder, that gender is mutable and not concrete. People want to feel secure and stable and thoroughly positioned in their gender. That their gender simply is. Being confronted with someone who made the choice not to accept their gender as a given makes someone realize that they could make that choice too, that gender therefore isn’t simply something that “just is”, but something destabilized, something that isn’t just solid and unwavering, something that an individual can define for themselves. That takes one of the most concrete, basic foundations of identity, one of the most comfortingly basic facts of one’s life and being, the very first thing about your identity that is proclaimed and known (“it’s a boy!” “it’s a girl!”) and throws it into flux, which is incredibly scary.

Secondly, there is the threat posed by potentially being attracted to a trans woman. You don’t even need to actually be attracted to her, just the idea that you might be, or might be attracted to someone like her, can end up being similarly destabilizing and terrifying. Like gender, but perhaps not to the same extent, our sense of sexual orientation is another very important and very central facet of our identity. In so far as most cis people aren’t able to simply conceptualize a trans person as the presented gender and leave it at that, they end up taking the comforting consistencies and certainties of one’s sexual attractions and throwing those into chaos as well. A man might wonder if it “makes him gay” or could “turn him gay”. A straight woman might fear the same. A lesbian might fear becoming straight. And so forth. The fact that trans women, by virtue of being women, are culturally positioned as sexual objects makes this a bit more prominent. And when you throw in the conceptual emphasis placed on the sexual aspects of a trans woman’s body, the cultural sexualization of what transition is (it’s all about boobs and vaginas in the documentaries; they don’t much talk about skin, scent, body hair, fat redistribution, lasering away the facial hair, changes in fingernail strength, muscle loss or all that other random stuff… just the sexy sex-times parts), and the degree to which our conception of gender identity and gender expression is confused with sexuality, and even the kind of attempts to conceptualize her gender I described earlier can lead to contemplation of her sexuality.

And the final main component fueling trans-misogyny is the gender binary. The idea of male and female as two discrete, mutually exclusive, non-overlapping, “opposite” sexes. Obviously trans men are an equal threat to this. Trans women, as mentioned above, require reappraising what gender is and means, which due to the degree of comfort we take in feeling our own genders to be stable, and how much of a personal stake an individual can feel in terms of wanting to maintain that sense of stability, any such reappraisal is scary and uncomfortable.

So altogether you have trans women embodying several uncomfortable, disturbing questions:

– Is maleness not necessarily superior and preferable to femaleness?

– Is masculinity not necessarily superior and preferable to femininity?

– How can someone choose to do something that I find so horrifying and the thought of which fills me with so much anxiety and disgust?

– How can they lay claim to a gender that is not rightfully theirs? Does that mean maybe mine is not a birthright?

– Is my gender truly stable and fixed? Do I have to be what I think I am?

– Is my sexuality stable? May my sexuality be something other than what I thought it to be?

– Is the concept of gender more complex than what I assumed?

and perhaps the sneaking suspicion that

– Are there are other basic truths I took as a given that are unstable, fluid or far more complex than I assumed?

This intersection of threats to pretty much ALL the basic assumptions our culture carries about sexuality and gender ends up creating a situation where there’s considerable emotional stakes involved in simply acknowledging or confronting the existence of trans women. But trans-misogyny is not simply the emotional responses. It’s the institutional discrimination, hatred, ridicule, trivialization, pathologization, dismissal and violence used to avoid confronting those questions, and render trans women either invisible or “invalid” in terms of having to be confronted, accepted and our implications considered.

There are a number of ways to make those questions go away. I mentioned a few earlier, but for the sake of making another fun little list-like thing, I’m going to make another fun little list-like thing:

– Enforced conformity / normativity. Through things like the “gatekeeping” system, or the constant threat of harassment and violence, it is possible to coerce or intimidate trans women into rendering themselves invisible, and reduce the degree to which they pose the threats and questions I mentioned, through conformity to cultural norms of gender. If you cause trans women to feel their safety, value, worth, or ability to access treatment at all, is dependent on blending in as cis women (“passing”), and NOT coming across as anything threatening or non-normative or thought-provoking, you can convince them to do the bulk of the work for you in terms of mitigating their socio-cultural impact.

– Pathologization. By establishing transsexuality and transgenderism as distinct medial pathologies / disorders, you can end up painting the trans experience of gender as fundamentally distinct and alien to human experiences of gender, and therefore not worth considering. By medicalizing our identities and treating them as “pathological” / “unnatural”, rather than accepting them as a natural extension of human variance, it becomes something apart from “normal” gender, and therefore does not have any implications for what gender “normally” means and how it “normally” operates. (note: I personally do not object to the term “gender identity disorder”, and do believe that GID is a medical condition that deserves medical treatment. However, I do not think of trans identities, or our genders themselves, as what are “wrong” with us. What’s “wrong” with us is the mismatched bodies, and that can successfully be treated). Additionally, by treating trans women as mentally ill or “insane”, it allows us to not have to imagine our decisions as having been reasonable and informed. We don’t legitimately embrace being female and find it more comfortable than being male, we’re “just crazy”!

– Invalidation. By treated us as “really” just male, only “cosmetically” female, refusing to gender us appropriately, refusing to use the appropriate pronouns, insisting that we must not enter the “wrong” bathroom or fitting room, etc. it is possible to sweep all the questions aside. One can just close one’s eyes, plug one’s ears, and just say “man man man man! gender is binary and fixed! you’re a dude! lalalalala! man man man!”. It’s surprisingly effective. That way the only uncomfortable thing left to worry about is “his” attractiveness “making you gay”. And if that happens, you can, again, just kill “him”. Problem solved. And if you get caught and go to trial? Trans panic defense!

– Ridicule. This one is easy. You mock and ridicule and poke fun at us, and that way you get to spend your time laughing instead of actually considering that we might, you know, be serious. And imply serious things. As long as trans women are a joke, we’re not a threat. “Pssssh, you think you’re a chick? HILARIOUS!” Similar to the invalidation technique in that it’s all about just plain not confronting our existence or accepting what that means.

– Discrimination and segregation. Although these kinds of techniques don’t directly get us out of the way, or eliminate the icky questions, they reassert the power structure. By refusing to create anti-discrimination laws and protections, by threatening to fire us if we transition, or not accepting us into housing, or kicking us off of airplanes, or insisting on your right to “sir” us, and all the little games cis people play in daily interactions where they assert who has control of the discourse, it is possible to keep trans people forever in a position of vulnerability, perpetually dependent on external validations and mercies, and thereby maintain power over the situation. That way you balance the conceptual threat posed by trans women by keeping them threatened by your relative social power. Keeps ’em from getting all uppity.

– Trivialization. We’re “just” men who think they want to be girls. We’re “just” confused. We’re “just” trying to attract straight guys. We’re “just” not able to accept ourselves as we are. We’re “just” internalizing homophobia. We’re “just” looking for a kinky thrill. We’re “just” trying to get attention. We’ve “just” become fixated on this because of our autism / ADD / OCD / asperger’s / PTSD / depression / addiction / whatever. We’re “just” looking for an explanation for why we never fit in. We’re “just” unable to think outside of gender boxes and labels. We “just” have self-esteem issues. We’re “just” buying into outdated binaries. We’re “just” really really really gay. We’re “just” going through a phase. We’re “just” overzealous cross-dressers. We’re “just” jealous. “Just” a bunch of silly trannies. Putting “just” in front of things tends to make them seem a lot less scary, powerful or meaningful.

– Violence.

Anyway, altogether, trans-misogyny, as said, is intimately connected to maintaining the basic cultural standards of gender and sexuality. It isn’t really about trans women in particular. What it’s about is clinging to the same ideas we’ve been basing things on for centuries. Ideas which have simply proved inadequate and harmful.

By understanding how trans-misogyny is about things like maintaining the assumption that male is the superior, default gender and that masculinity is natural and powerful but femininity is artificial and frivolous, or understanding how homophobia is connected to the imposition of gender roles and attempt to corral men into not “giving up” their privileged station (and thereby invalidating its assumed supremacy), we can make a lot of headway into understanding the overlaps between different forms of oppression, and begin working towards a more cohesive movement in terms of gender rights.

Ultimately, feminism, LGB rights, and trans rights, are ALL about asserting that there is more than one way to be a man or woman. That biology is not destiny. Analysis of particular iterations of discrimination on this basis, such as the particularly forceful and violent discrimination towards trans women, can offer considerable insight into the commonalities amongst our individual experiences, and the common bases of our shared oppression. Identifying this kind of thing can allow us to work towards targeting the foundations on which our oppression is built, rather than just addressing surface-level symptoms of the problem. And it can allow us to perceive our shared goals.

If we work together, understanding what an individual form of oppression means in relation to others, we can build a movement not about minorities, but about a majority who deviate from the strict standards of a privileged few. When we get to the point of creating a feminism inclusive and understanding of the shared oppression of women, trans people, LGB people, other queer people, and non-gender-normative men, there will be more of us than them. And winning will become inevitable.



  1. Anders says

    Interesting. And the way we allies can help, I suppose, is to oppose those trans-misogynistic and transphobic strategies.

    – So instead of Enforced conformity / normativity we should speak out for diversity.

    – Instead of Pathologization there should be the notion that trans people are as normal (or no more insane, depending on your outlook…) as cis people.

    – Instad of Invalidation we must have respect for trans people’s right to define themselves (actually, everyone’s right to define themselves).

    – Instead of Ridicule, we must declare that it’s not ok to laugh at trans people – in movies, in plays, in commercials, and everywhere else (still ok to laugh with them).

    – Instead of Discrimination/Segregation we must fight laws that institute discrimination, boycott and organize boycotts of companies that do not treat trans people equally and make sure such companies lose face and – more importantly – money.

    – Instead of Trivialization we must have empowerment – really the same issues as Invalidation, isn’t it? Fight with the same weapons.

    – And fight Violence with the means we have at hand. Make sure the police and courts take violence against trans people seriously. Make sure that any lawyer who raises the Trans Rage defense is laughed out of court. And if we see violence against a trans person we should either act directly or, if the opposition seems so formidable that direct action is impossible, at least call 911 and collect all evidence you can (cell phone cameras have many uses).

    I may have chosen the wrong names for some of these but I think it’s clear what I mean. Many of these are human rights that pertain to anyone, of course. It’s sad that we still need to fight for trans peoples’ right to them, but we can save the sadness for ready.

    How should we go about this?

    • Anders says

      I’m missing fetischization here, as a means of reducing trans women to their secondary sexual characteristics and ignoring that all people, including trans women, are more than just their sex and sexuality. It’s an important thing*, it shouldn’t be ignored and swept under the rug, but people do other things than fuck all day long.

      *except for Asexual people.

      • ladydreamgirl says

        Thanks for making a consideration of asexuality, but sex and sexuality can also be an important thing for asexuals. As a minority in a largely sexual world asexuals do still face having to navigate sex and sexuality in their interactions with others as well as our understanding of ourselves.

      • D-Dave says

        My sex drive has never been especially strong, and before I learned it was non-zero I preferred the term ‘sans-sexual’ to ‘asexual’ as the latter was just too close to ‘asexual reproduction’ for my tastes. I don’t have progeny produced through budding! 😛

        But searching Wikipedia shows that it’s actually a growing/recognised label now. Good to learn something new.

  2. Sebor says

    If we work together, understanding what an individual form of oppression means in relation to others, we can build a movement not about minorities, but about a majority who deviate from the strict standards of a privileged few.

    This. A thousand times.
    The collective prerogatives of the majority can be defended by power alone. As soon as you deviate from the majority your individual rights become dependent on the rights of others. So ultimately, standing up for the rights of any minority means standing up for your own personal rights.
    This could be a sufficient base for an alliance between all minority groups, which then in turn would actually be the majority.
    It’s really a shame that different minority groups seem to be prone to infighting and it’s clear who benefits the most.

    • says

      > “It’s really a shame that different minority groups seem to be prone to infighting and it’s clear who benefits the most.”

      This comment has a victim-blamey sound to it.

  3. says

    Weird how tricking lesbians is awful and tricking straight guys is just fodder for jokes in bad sex comedies.

    This is related to the problem that so long as trans women are “really” men, people are indifferent to violence against them thanks to other aspects of sexism.

  4. thaismcrc says

    “Weird, squishy vagina thing” would be a great name for a band.

    Anyway, great post, as usual. I’m curious about one thing you mentioned in passing, about accepting GID as a medical condition. What do you think about attempts to remove it from the next edition of the DSM? I’ve read arguments for and against and both sides make compelling cases, IMO.

    • Megan says

      “Weird, squishy vagina thing” would be a great name for a band.

      Heh. I thought the same thing when I read the phrase “MichFest and the Uncritical-Butlerians”. A good name for a sucky band, at least.

        • Megan says

          Butler does seem to espouse the “quantity is quality” approach to writing. The heavy dose of Lacanian psychoanalysis she incorporates into her work doesn’t help her comprehensibility, either. I’m not saying that she hasn’t hit on a few good ideas (particularly some of her later work), but given the choice between reading her original work or getting a condensed version of her ideas in everyday language, I’ll take the condensed version every time.

    • says

      I feel it should not be removed from the DSM, on account of that being too dangerous for people dependent on insurance coverage, until valid and established diagnostic criteria are laid out elsewhere.

      • Miri says

        I think it should be removed from the DSM. I don’t like that it it’s considered a psychological condition, first and foremost. However, I still believe it should be a medical diagnosis, make access to treatment and the ability to use insurance available. Is prefer though if it were a medical diagnosis where there body it’s considered to be the problem, and not the mind of the person. I think this kind of change might go some way to changing attitudes about us being “crazy”.

        • says

          Yeah, I don’t think it should be in the DSM either, but until there’s a legit set of medical diagnostic criteria elsewhere, it’s just WAY too risky and dangerous to campaign for its removal. Our focus should be on REDEFINING GID, not removing its status as a medical condition entirely.

  5. Dalillama says

    While I can understand to some extent from a cultural standpoint that list of questions, from a personal standpoint I can’t grok why they disturb most cis people so much. The first two definitely point out a cultural tropes/assumption that needs to be dealt with. The idea that masculinity is superior is probably one that has infiltrated my mind on some level, since I did grow up in this society, but it’s not a fundamental part of my identity or self conception, so I don’t feel threatened by people who question it. As for the rest, of course the world is more complex than initial assumptions would indicate, and that complexity is fractal. This isn’t news to me, and I have trouble understanding how it can be news to anyone who’s lived in a high tech society their whole lives. TL;DR: As a cis man, I have a much easier time mentally putting myself into a trans woman’s shoes than I do the shoes of a cis man who’s threatened by that list of questions.

  6. says

    I’m curious as to why “autogynephilia” (for lack of a less loaded term, setting aside for a moment whether it actually exists) might be considered a disqualifier to begin with. I mean, apart from apotemnophilia (and even then such extreme forms of body dysmorphia can be accommodated in much the same manner as GID as long as it doesn’t seriously cripple the patient), you don’t see many other body mods being considered a sign of mental illness. It seems like it comes down to little more than the usual anti-pleasure bias of much of the right wing.

    • Anders says

      Look, isn’t that putting the cart before the horse? If it doesn’t exist then asking why it would be relevant is as interesting as asking why owning a unicorn would disqualify someone.

      • says

        Not necessarily. It’s sort of like the question of whether Obama is a Muslim — as Colin Powell pointed out, no, he isn’t, but it shouldn’t matter, right?

        The issue here is that certain transphobes use autogynephilia as an excuse to say no, this person is not really a candidate for transition. Given the nature of kinks and sexual orientation in general, I don’t see how that in and of itself should be considered a disqualifier for at least partial transition, especially if the individual in question is unlikely to ever consider SRS. I just don’t see how it’s anything but a smokescreen for the usual Puritan bullshit over sex.

      • says

        There definitely exist people who identify as autogynephiliacs. Suggested blog: Crossdreamers.

        I would *guess* autogynephilia is a disqualifier because they wanted to reserve a different diagnosis for that. Otherwise people in that category would always have two diagnoses?

  7. christophburschka says

    This is extremely informative and educational. It took a while to read and was well worth it.

    Are there are other basic truths I took as a given that are unstable, fluid or far more complex than I assumed?

    The fear of this question is likely a cornerstone of most forms of prejudice.

  8. Besomyka says

    Another bookmarked post for my group. One of my friends has been hinting at this sort of thing for a while, but without the more details and focused vocabulary.

    Thanks for writing, Natalie. If my group has any interesting observations to add, I’ll pass them along (trying to get them on here as well, of course).

  9. Rilian says

    I didn’t care at all about my sex or gender until people started overtly treating me differently because of it, around the start of puberty. Then I was like “wait a second… I don’t want to be a woman!” I think what I do want to be is somewhere between a man and a non-gendered adult-person. I want to present as male … but I think that might just be to avoid misogyny, because if everyone else stopped caring about people’s sex, then I wouldn’t care either. I think the hatred and disgust of certain aspects of my body comes largely or maybe even completely from how people treat me because of it.

    What is femininity and masculinity anyway? No one ever really explains that. I think the core of femininity is weakness, and the core of masculinity is strength. So obviously those concepts have nothing to do with real men or real women. They’re just forced on people. Besides that, there’s silly sterotypes. Femininity is giggling, pink, and dresses. Masculinity is NOT THOSE and also big muscles, grunting, and being really dirty and not caring about it. I don’t want to be either of those stupid stereotypes. But I do want to be strong. And I want people to respect me. And women don’t get respect.

    I can understand wanting to transition to female just because that’s how you want your body to be. But if you transition socially to female, isn’t that a sacrifice? You ARE losing status, and respect. It shouldn’t be that way of course, but if it weren’t, then there would be no such thing as social transition. The social differences between men and women ONLY serve to put men above women, so if you take away the inequality, you’re taking away the differences. I’m not talking about differences in, like, sexual activity, since that’s based on physical differences. I’m talking about giggling, pink, and dresses. And women not being good at math, and men not being good with kids, etc.

    So anyway, I do wish I could physically transition (to neutrois, I think), but I also want to socially transition to male, just because in this horrible society, males are the people. And if we could get rid of the masculine/feminine distinction, that would be the same as making everyone socially male.

    I hope all that makes sense. Ramble ramble.

    • Rasmus says

      I think that only makes sense if you assume that it’s useful to think about gender as purely and utterly social, and that gender never gets solidified, that it remains completely and utterly fluid and changeable throughout life.

      Brains are complicated things…

      • Rilian says

        I don’t know what terms you want to use, but there *is* something that’s just a social convention, two discrete roles, and you’re largely locked into one or the other from birth. And even if you manage to get out of the role you were assigned at birth, it’s only to switch to the other one. And whatever those roles are, they are not based on reality, not based on real people or genetics or anything. I want those roles to stop existing.

        And that’s completely separate from sex, the sex you are or the sex you want to be. Even that isn’t really binary though….

        • Anders says

          I’m not an expert but I think that would be gender roles. And it’s not strictly binary – there are a few different roles you can play depending on things like class. But I think the prevailing opinion is that men have more roles and generally get a better deal than women.

          And wanting to tear down gender roles makes you a feminist. Men and women should have equal rights, equal access to all roles that humanity can offer. Note that men get shafted by strict gender roles too, both directly – they can’t access the roles traditionally reserved for woman – and indirectly – society functions less well because competent people are kept out of roles where they would thrive.

          • Rilian says

            Yes, of course I’m a feminist. I believe in sexual equality. I don’t know if I agree with the other stuff you said, but it’s getting too confusing for me.

        • says

          “And even if you manage to get out of the role you were assigned at birth, it’s only to switch to the other one. ”

          Nope. Not really. There are lots of people who are genderqueer, non-binary-identified, bigendered, agendered, neutrois, third sex, androgyne, etc.

          • Rilian says

            I didn’t mean based on your own identity. I meant based on how other people categorize you in their minds and therefore how they treat you and how they expect you to act, and the fact that they lash out if you don’t do what they expect.

        • Rasmus says

          Sorry, it looks like my reply ended up as a new thread.

          Look, the thing is that things are complicated. 🙂

          It could be that gender identity and gender expression are arbitrary. It could be theoretically be possible to have a society with a third gender, or ten genders, or any arbitrary gender system one could think of. However, that would not in and of itself imply that people can generally change their gender identity and/or expression after they have passed a certain stage of development.

          Language is a social construct, but that does not mean that you can change your native language. It’s probably too late for that, unless you’re one of the exceptions to the rule.

  10. Rasmus says

    The thing about brains is that they are plastic, but less plastic the older you get. Even if something about a person is completely determined by the environment, then that thing is not necessarily going to be fluid and changeable beyond a certain age.

    For example, a lot of people can’t learn one or several languages natively after a certain age. There’s a window of opportunity in early childhood during which you learn your native language(s). (There are notable examples of people who seem to somehow be able to defy this. I don’t know if it’s know how they do it.)

    Perhaps there is a window of opportunity for gender identity. Maybe it’s wholly or partially decided before birth. I don’t know. It could be very complicated.

    • Rilian says

      But what is gender identity? Is it a desire for a certain type of body? Is it a desire to fit into whatever role your society provides for that given gender? Is it both, a combination, different for each person? Is it something completely different I haven’t thought of?

        • rilian says

          What does “sense of self as man or woman” mean? That you feel like a woman or man? I don’t know what that means. I don’t know what would that feel like. Like I don’t know what it means to feel white either. But no one ever says they feel white, so I don’t have to worry about that.

          • says

            What gender are you?

            How do you know you’re that gender?

            Would you feel uncomfortable if you were suddenly thrust into a differently sexed body?


          • rilian says

            I don’t know what gender I am because I don’t know what gender means.

            I understand the desire for your body to be different. And I think I understand the desire for people to accept your body as “real” if/after you take hormones or get any surgery.

            It seems now like you’re saying that gender is only the kind sex characteristics you want your body to have. I’d like for that to be the case, because that makes sense to me. But then I don’t see how femininity and masculinity fit in. How ’bout we just throw those noncepts away?

          • rilian says

            It occurs to me that maybe when you asked what gender I am, you meant biological sex. I’m biologically female but I don’t like having a female body, and I must have not have a female identity, since I have no idea what that means. I’m not sure I should just say then that I have a male identity, but I sure do like it when people think I’m male, which happens occasionally because of how I dress, I think. I’ve been considering trying to change my name legally to a “boy” name, but I haven’t been able to decide on a name.

          • Anders says

            I’ve pretty much given up on this question. You are asking what it would be like to be something else and that’s… difficult. You may want to read Nagel’s “What is it like to be a bat?” (appropriately enough for this blog): http://instruct.westvalley.edu/lafave/nagel_nice.html

            There’s the related question of what Gender Dysphoria feels like… I know what low-level anxiety feels like, I know what a panic attack feels like, and I know what it feels like to hate your body – put them in a mixer, hit blend and that’s as close as I’m going to get.

          • rilian says

            I don’t think that’s what I’m asking. I’m asking what gender identity is. Presumably I have one, right? So if you explain the concept, I should be able to recognize what thing in myself falls into that definition. But I’ve been asking people about this for *years* … I don’t think I’m ever going to get it.

          • says

            I didn’t really get it either. I went through most of my life not having any idea of my identity. I couldn’t behave like a ‘normal’ woman (I could see how other women behaved, I just didn’t/couldn’t know why). I didn’t have a personal identity because I was busy trying to fit other people’s ideas about who I should be. My brain just couldn’t follow the thought processes of my female friends and relations (although I had little to no trouble with male ones). Eventually 50% fell into place when I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in my 40’s and the other 50% when, having watched several online friends go through transition, I recently started seriously reading blogs like Natalie’s, and other online places where other transgendered people hang out. I finally admitted to myself something that I had known as a child but had suppressed (except for the occasional self-deprecating joke) because of denial. I am happy now. I know who I am. A gay man with a female body.

          • saraamis says

            This question also confused me at various points. I think that some people have a stronger felt-sense of their body as “male” or “female” than other people…and that if you don’t have that very strongly in the first place, then the attachment of that to social gender roles doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to you on a visceral level. I still don’t “get” it, but I understand that other people see it that way.

            I resist being called “cisgendered” because to me gender means a lot of the social stuff…which I have an excessively complicated relationship with. Cissexual, yes, in that I have a female type body and I don’t feel any particular discomfort with it…but I also don’t have a really strong sense of attachment to it. I can really easily imagine myself as a man, and it neither bothers me nor seems like something I want to do so strongly that it would be worth all the trouble and expense (and permanence). I like my woman-body just fine. It’s all the baggage that OTHER PEOPLE attach to it that bugs me, and it bugs me a lot. Especially when they get upset with me because I don’t act the way they think a woman ought to.

            With the material-social aspects of gender…by which I mean things like clothing, and also body language, pretty much anything that can be easily changed without getting into hormone therapy or surgery…I have whims. I am currently in a girly phase. It won’t last, and I’ll be back to wearing Dockers and work boots for a while. This is something more than just a momentary fashion choice, and something other than a projection of a discrete and definite identity. That is, it’s an expression of identity, but a mutable one.

            I think that framing transphobia towards trans women as misogyny is both interesting and dead on. It explains a lot of why the “women born women” rhetoric makes me uneasy…misogyny and feminism are two tastes that do not go well together. It also tends to make me personally wary, as those same people are often biphobic as well.

  11. rilian says

    I had a comment in my e-mail and now it’s not here. I guess it got deleted? Anyway, a few people seem to be under the impression that I’m cisgendered. I’m not.


  1. […] Natalie Reed’s “A Beginner’s Guide to Trans Mysogyny” “While our culture has been more or less content to ignore trans men, or pretend they don’t exist, it has sought out, and endlessly theorized and pontificated upon, mocked, fetishized, re-theorized, belittled, and pathologized trans women. A lot of that obsession is fueled because trans women can’t fit into the narrative we’ve constructed about gender. See, if maleness and masculinity is superior and preferable to femaleness and femininity, then how could anyone who has been blessed with being male ever want to give that up? How could ANYONE actually want to trade in the almighty phallus for one of those weird, squishy vagina things?” Way important for understanding trans-phobia. […]

  2. […] An introduction to Trans Misogyny by Natalie Reed, who is my favorite trans feminist writer–actually my favorite feminist writer–of all time. It’s not just that she has laid things out very well across many posts; it’s that she fosters a great environment for discussion on her blog, where people who disagree with each other manage to converse with a remarkable lack of hostility (compared to most places), and that her incisive analysis has led to a lot of people (mostly trans women, but other queer folks as well) feeling better able to be their authentic selves. For an example of the latter, just look at the awesome comments on this post. […]

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