Trans women…

To be honest, I kind of like trans women a lot more than I like most people.

Sorry, everyone else.

This is not to say that I haven’t had more than my fair share of awful experiences with trans women. More so than anyone else, we know how to hurt each other, and more than anyone else, we have a whole boatload of motives for doing so.

I’ve been to the support groups. I’ve been held to the standards. I’ve been given the lectures. I’ve been offered the unsolicited advice- on “passing”, on “acting like a woman”, on fitting into the narrative, on what surgeries I should or shouldn’t have done, on my voice, my language, my occupation, my interests, my sexuality. I’ve received a thousand offers for “help” all acting as coded messages for who is or isn’t allowed into the inner sanctum of acceptance within the community. And I’ve even been invited to sit at the cute, pretty, young, femme, binary girls’ table, as the older women, the visibly gender variant women, the non-binary women, the women with disabilities (physical or mental), sat apart from us, diverting the negative attention. I know that more often than not, “support” and “help” are code for control, limitation, self-denial, and submitting to external expectations. Everything I viewed myself as transitioning away from.

I’ve also been attacked, cut down, trolled. When shitty transphobic things happen to me, more often than not, it’s trans women who take the opportunity to tell me how I brought it on myself. By not passing well enough, by living in the wrong neighbourhoods, by not being able to afford the right breakfasts. It’s trans women who’ve told me that clearly disclosure is only an academic issue for me, that it’s totally understandable that I use a cartoon avatar, that my work is tepid and forgettable, that I don’t contribute anything of value to anyone, and that it’s a mystery why anyone reads it. Rad-scum and trolls and the ERVites have all made attempts at hurting me, sure, but they’re usually just hilariously inept. But trans women? They know how to cut to the bone. And they do.

And I’m repeatedly disappointed in our community. I’m disappointed in how casually people will maintain their transier-than-thou “I always knew with absolute certainty!” narratives, even when its obviously false, and extremely damaging to those still in the early, frightened, doubt-ridden phases of their transitions. I’m disappointed in how readily we position the “leaders” of our community as being above question. I’m disappointed in how the dominant narratives are so incredibly controlled by those who are white, binary, able-bodied, without intersexual histories or bodies, middle-class, transitioning within a specific period of their lives. I’m disappointed in how other kinds of narratives are, at best, ignored, or at worst, exploited so as to help market our own agendas to the mainstream, or outright stated to be invalid, impossible, or lies if they don’t happen to fit into people’s expectations for what trans histories are supposed to be. Like how this past week, as my friend Erica’s post about having survived a trans-orbital lobotomy made the rounds at reddit, she was repeatedly accused by other trans women of having made the whole thing up, on nothing more substantial than their claim that “that simply doesn’t happen”. Or how Zoe Brain is repeatedly met with similar accusations of lying about her intersex condition and the history of her body because that also “simply doesn’t happen”.

I’m disappointed with the fact that I get a lot more attention and readers than dozens of at least as talented trans-feminist writers due to what appears to only be the simple fact that my narrative fits just cozily enough into what people expect a trans narrative to look like.

I’m disappointed with how we expect ourselves to be perfect and amazing in order to have any worth or value at all.

I’m disappointed with how we constantly cut each other down to make ourselves feel just a little bit less ashamed of our own identities. “Sure, I may be a freak, but at least I’m not as much of a freak as those freaks over there.”

And I’m disappointed in how we often won’t even let ourselves own our own anger, pain and hurt. Because someone else has it worse. Or we’ll alienate allies. Or transition was already a “selfish” thing to do anyway. Or we don’t want to hurt anyone. And God, you know, we’re just so sorry we ended up trans in the first place. Forgive us!

But none of that changes the fact that when I think about who my closest friends are, who the people I love most in the world, who I most enjoy spending time with and talking to, who I feel at home around, who I feel like I could spend a lifetime just walking around in their ideas, perspectives and experiences, who I want to fight for and who makes any of anything worth doing anything about… it’s trans women.

A few weeks ago I was chatting with some twitter friends about the terms we use to describe the conditions and qualities that define transgenderism, specifically the word “atypical”, and how we could describe the fact that these conditions and qualities are rare, relative to those that define cisgenderism, without implicitly positioning ourselves as abnormal, unnatural, aberrant, a problematic deviation from a script. Although certainly rare, the conditions that produce queerness (homosexuality, intersexuality, transgenderism, etc.) are a natural, normal aspect of the system of sexual differentiation that human beings evolved. They come part and parcel with that system and all the advantages it confers on our species. But in order to be able to talk about it, we do need to be able to talk about the way that these qualities result from variations from the more common manner in which sexuality and gender develop in an individual. How do you do that without devaluing ourselves?

The word I ultimately decided to settle on, in place of “atypical”, “abnormal”, “rare” or “variant”, was “extraordinary”.

I think that’s a big part of why I adore other trans women so much. What I adore is absolutely not the community as a whole. I fight for that community, but damn would I love to see them doing a better job of fighting for themselves, ourselves, each other, and those who should be members of it but are unjustly excluded. When positioned as a whole, “the community”, all those individual little bits of extraordinariness get lost in the shuffle, mixed into a sort of gray, goopy, lowest-common-denominator mass of most-common-characteristics… which by definition erases exactly the thing I love so much about individual trans women. That individually, we’re extraordinary.

Perhaps that fondness I feel is a byproduct of pretty natural biases. That I would of course feel a greater sense of connection with people who resemble me in their experiences. But the truth is that when speaking of individual trans women, it’s in fact intensely difficult to find commonalities. As a group defined precisely by variance, we are an almost hilariously varied group. Do you know how incredibly rare it is for me to meet other trans women who identified as gay men, like I did? Who are recovered IV-drug addicts? Who had intersex aspects to their bodies? And when you take all the elements that comprise an individual narrative, how we’re cut off from anything resembling the “universal” histories and socializations that even the illusion of which is exclusively the domain of the cisgendered (and otherwise privileged), we exist in a sad, lonely, but beautiful isolation… compulsively looking to other trans experiences to find whatever scraps of resonance we can with our own. We do find those resonances, but they’re isolated. To find someone “like” ourselves we’d need to assemble a sort of  Frankenstein’s Monster creation from fragments of the histories of every trans person we’ve known. This is because we’re individual. Extraordinary.

In every single trans woman there’s such a lonely, beautiful history to be found. This can be said of almost all human beings, but it is particularly palpable amongst us trans people. Yesterday, in response to Stephen Ira tweeting that he wished he had a secret origin, I joked that ALL of us trans folk have our origin stories (mostly involving failed attempts at self-destruction). Every single one of us has a story to tell about when and how it was we made our choice. Maybe a squirrel distracted you from the razor blade for the twenty minutes it took in order for your friend to ultimately walk in on you in time. Maybe a shower rod broke from your weight, foiling your hanging. Maybe you nearly OD’d when a shady dealer accidentally sold you coke instead of heroin, and you realized you didn’t exactly want to die after all. Maybe you got beaten up so badly at recess one day that you decided you just didn’t care what anyone thought, they were going to hate you anyway, so you’d just go ahead and tell your parents what you really want to do and who you really want to be.

We all have our origin stories. And our secret identities. And super-powers. And sometimes even our own little Justice Leagues to hang out with.

And amongst our histories we also all have our tragedies. All the violence that has been done to us, all the ways our hearts have been broken, all the times our identities have been stripped from us and invalidated, all the friends and family who left, all the horrible things that people or society or we ourselves did to “cure” us, all the parts of our bodies we still feel dysphoric about or ashamed of and the parts we can’t change, all of our shame and loss and grief.

And from those tragedies, in each of us has emerged a survivor. Someone who’s made it through. Someone who’s been dealt at least a glimpse of the genuine pain that life is capable of meting out on a person (at random) and still, somehow, found strength and grace. Someone who continues to walk, breathe, talk, laugh, smile. I don’t care how down on herself a trans woman gets (and yeah, we can get really down on ourselves), she still has managed to pull herself through really awful things that can and do kill people. Even at her weakest, most ashamed, most vulnerable, a trans woman is still a fucking badass.

And those smiles we manage to pull off? Well, we each also have our joys. We all know what it is to decide the direction of your life for yourself. To claim the right to self-determination. To take a truly radical action, in genuine defiance of enforced normativity in the name of nothing more than your respect for your own identity and rights. We know what it means to actually embody that self-determination. To have our identity houses in a body that is enscribed with the act of saying that we are the ones who decide who we are, and who we are to be. We each remember all our little moments of validation, the times when people saw us, those first times we saw ourselves in the mirror and could feel okay with what was there reflected, those fumbling, awkward, scary but so intensely liberating first steps out into the world presenting an uncompromised self, the friends we made and the friends and family who stayed, the connections formed, the first glimpses of owning and knowing oneself. The first prescription in hand or the first time buying make-up or the first time having sex in the right kind of body or…well… it could be lots of things, since it’s all so intensely individual.

I could read another trans woman’s history forever and never stop finding it awesome.

But you know the fun thing about “extraordinary”? It doesn’t have to imply everything is perfect and okay. It goes beyond, or at least, outside of that. One of the things I find is that a lot of our individuality, a lot of what makes us extraordinary, is marked by how intensely fucked up we are.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend that trans women are all “functional” (suddenly occurs to me there’s a rather creepy undertone to that word, if you dig down… functional relative to what? What function? What for? People are tools. They don’t have functions). And I’m certainly not in any way going to suggest we exceed the capabilities, or overall “health”, of anyone else. To be brutally honest, the truth is that as a general rule, we’re all pretty messed up.

But perfection, normalcy, function, ordinaryness… these things are nice, but they aren’t very interesting or inspiring or beautiful. One of the things I most love about art, and one of the things I believe allows art to be beautiful, is that all of its uses come secondarily. Sure, maybe a work of art might help “communicate emotional states”, or “record the appearance of an individual or event”, or “bring visibility to minority concerns”, or “give voice to social justice movement X”, or “provide catharsis”, or whatever-the-fuck. But really, if these things are what you think art is about, you’re deeply, deeply missing the point. Art isn’t necessarily FOR anything. Art is there to be.

Human beings, and indeed life, is much the same way. Which is why “what is the meaning of life?” is such a bone-headedly stupid question. If you consider a deer in the forest, that deer may ultimately help graze the foliage, fertilize the soil, and ultimately provide a meal for a lynx while its remaining corpse feeds scavengers and, again, the soil… but NONE of those things are the “reason”, “use” or “meaning” for the deer. A deer is not a tool. And to the deer? It really couldn’t possibly care any less about any of that. The purpose of a deer is to be a deer.

And a human being? Well, yeah. We’re not here to be functional. Relative to our society and civilization (our very badly damaged and possibly completely hopeless society and civilization) a human being may have a function or role or whatever, sure. But that’s not why we’re here, as individuals. And when that society kind of doesn’t like you very much, kind of systematically excludes, ignores, oppresses, ridicules or enacts violence against you, well… why should any of us care about how functional we are?

Trans women, as completely, utterly messed up we are, are a bit like art. And a bit beautiful like art. Beautiful, non-functional, non-utilitarian, fantastically useless to the interests of mainstream society (which I really wouldn’t WANT to be useful to), confusing and weird and incomprehensible to that same society (and “threatening its foundations”!), perfectly imperfect, existing pretty much just for our own sake. There to be. Beautiful messes.

I want more from our community. A whole lot more. But the reason for that isn’t to help serve some greater cause for the good of society or whatever. I want that because I know we’re comprised of hundreds of thousands of absolutely fucking awesome, beautiful, badass women, who each, as individuals, are extraordinary and deserving of a whole lot better than what we’ve gotten. At the very least, we deserve to give each other better than we have been doing.

Maybe the first steps in that direction are our friendships. Our relationships on individual levels. If on that level, we can learn to see in one another all the incredibly awesomeness that’s there instead of just using each other as a mirror against which to assess our own flaws and shame, well… maybe from there we can work our way up to a more positive, beneficial, less destructive community.



      • Emily Aoife Somers says

        As I’ve written on my own private anti-blog, one of the most enchanting powers of the friendship I’ve made with other trans women has been that, despite the collision of steely personal differences, I’ve felt a magnitude of a deep friendship with them that I have never, ever felt before.

        Every trans woman I meet is *so* unlike me: under ciscumstances, I probably wouldn’t even get to know them. Transitioned older than me, younger. Identified as gay before or totally straight. Raised with no religion, raised with holiday religion, raised to have ongoing panic attacks over religion. Meat eaters, fizzy drink consumers, non-exercisers. Devout Christians and radical sceptics. People who think a great holiday is fishing or being ensconced on a perfect beach and never leaving. Maths geniuses, lacrosse players, punk rockers, penny pinchers. Dresses in tatters, adorned with feathers. Butch, femme, binary, non-binary, rich, poor, optimistic, comatose. Those who like me, those who hate me. Those who think I’m clever, those who think I’m pretentious. Those who ask me over for tea, those who warn others to avoid me like leprosy.

        And trans. Like me.

        Even the trans woman who I most, well, dislike, who I feel most betrayed by — I would never ever pronoun her. I will slag her choice in lovers, I will question her common sense, I would swear an affidavit that I wouldn’t piss on her even if she were on fire. But I would never mis pronoun her.

        Because I know what an unpardonable sin that is, what a soul-crushing act of filth, warui kotodama, lashon ha-ra, evil eye, just nasty bit of devilry that is.

        I know how fucking badly it hurts.

        I know the size, width, and depth of the wound.

        The commonality I have with other trans women is that, like them, I am a survivor, some incohate war on unseen terrain, with casualties whose name never make the monuments, whose gender is ridiculed in the newspaper, assuming their deaths make the back bylines, of countless dispersed little stars of my sisters who vanished from the skies before ever knowing their beautiful place in the constellations.

        We survived that war, that insoluble battle, that the majority can never, ever understand. Perhaps I was a pilot soaring over the tropics, and she was in the artillery barrages of a snow-washed field. The operations may have been clandestine, composed of skirmished attrition, or a full-on cataclysm of blood and steel. Or something as horribly everyday as a dishonest drug deal, or a BJJ belt and a thorough knowledge of how to apply a blood choke.

        But we are here. And I think every trans woman, at some level, recognises that hereness in her sisters.

  1. says

    Hell of a message to wake up to. I agree entirely that this is a sorority made up of a cadre of amazing women. I, too, am fascinated by and love the company of our own. I don’t think I’ve made a friend since coming out that wasn’t at least queer but the ones who I spend the most time offering love and support to(and finding no shortage of the same in return) are the trans women.

    <3 back at you

  2. Katrina Swales says

    I was one of the people on reddit trying to say, hang on, why are you saying that Erica’s story didn’t happen, and offering her well and good wishes over everything. I just dont get why some people seem to think, They think one way, so therefore everyone does, “they like the word tranny, so therefore any trans person is being over sensitive, they dont think lobotomies happen anymore, and they happen to be friends with someone they dont like, so therefore it cant have happened.

  3. Erin W says

    Since I started reading your blog, I’ve felt sad that I live so far from Vancouver, because I would love to get a (beverage_$) with you and just talk about shit.

    I’m gonna go the the Philly trans conference this weekend and find someone in my city to get a (beverage_$) with and talk about shit. It’s about time I joined our community. Thanks for the inspiration, as always.

  4. says

    Thank you for this post. As a relative newcomer to the community, it can be a bit blindsiding just how messed up a lot of us trans women are, each in her own way, and navigating that takes a whole lot of patience and love. But I have to keep reminding myself to seek out the beautiful, the awesome, and to see my own beauty and awesomeness reflected and affirmed in others’. We deserve to give ourselves at least that much.

  5. says

    I had a pretty horrible episode tonight over a lot of what makes me “messed up”, so to read this, and see these sorts of things being reframed as things that make me beautiful and extraordinary is a wonderful thing to have just before I go off to sleep…

    Thank you <3

  6. says

    I think it’s just a society-wide mistake to regard gender as a binary thing rather then a sliding scale between one and the other.
    But then, it’s also in the interests of those currently in power to remain that way by engendering fear of the ‘OTHER’. Or more specifically the other-than-themselves.
    Fundamental religions always view alternative sexual behavior as threatening. They want to divide everyone into neat little groups that they can alternately pander to and scapegoat as needed.

    • Erin W says

      But ‘sliding scale’ leaves a lot of people out, too. There are quite a few people who see a gender spectrum and choose ‘none of the above’.

    • says

      I think it’s an equally dangerous mistake to regard gender as a sliding scale between two binary poles.

      Please see yesterday’s post, and the comments, for more.

    • says

      Gender is not an on-off switch, or even a volume control with two extremes and an infinity of intermediate states — it’s more like a graphic equaliser, with multiple variables.

  7. Jayne Jayney says

    Wow… I think you just about nailed it!

    I’ve heard so so many say the cliched “I knew I was in the wrong body at a very early age”, and yes in many cases it sounds very fake. Or at least it did to me, I knew I was a bit different from most of the other kids, but never really worked out why. Even at my first gender psychiatrist appointment 3 years ago, I said I “probably wouldn’t transition”. Oh my god, how wrong I was!

    I also agree with the messed up bit, even a year into RLE, I am still a total mess on a regular basis, and the “community” doesn’t really give a toss. In fact, I often wonder how many of those claiming to be trans women, and trans men, have actually transitioned, as a hell of a lot seem to get very upset over the slightest little thing. #transchat on Twitter is a classic example, it’s like walking on eggshells most of the time. To me, developing a thick skin along with a don’t-give-a-shit attitude, is essential to get through the first few months of transition relatively unscathed. And yet so many throw a hissy fit if you say transwoman instead of trans woman. FFS… Get a grip!

    Despite my disdain at the so called “community”, as individuals, I like a lot of them and would even go as far as to call a few of them friends. Which is pretty good going, cos I’ve not really had any real friends since I left high school 25 years ago.

  8. Emptyell says


    I hope I’m not out of place here, but I want to thank you for all the brilliance and insight you bring to the community.

    As a typical relatively open minded, privileged SWM I have never much considered trans-gender issues. To the extent that I have been exposed it always seemed strange and other. Thanks for opening my eyes and expanding my sense of what it is to be human.

  9. autumnsandeen says

    Hey Natalie,

    Let me first just quickly say you significantly underestimate your writing skills — very significantly.

    Secondly, when it comes to hate I’ve decided to stick with love, or at least I try to stick with love. Hate and bitterness are just too great of burdens for me to bear.

    I feel a deep disappointment in knowing how much more trans people are capable of accomplishing than we’re actually accomplishing due to infighting and to build each other up by tearing others down, but that deep disappointment is rooted in love of my peers — the kind of love you expressed in your piece.

    As for trans women’s shame, I recently wrote about many of the ways we experience shame…experience internalized transphobia. It’s a big, unaddressed problem in our community.

    Thank you. This was a thoughtful piece, and definitely it was worth the read.

  10. Mattir says

    I love this post, but I would suggest that this passage:

    Beautiful, non-functional, non-utilitarian, fantastically useless to the interests of mainstream society (which I really wouldn’t WANT to be useful to), confusing and weird and incomprehensible to that same society (and “threatening its foundations”!), perfectly imperfect, existing pretty much just for our own sake. There to be. Beautiful messes.

    is seriously problematic. In Western culture, art done by women – generally textile based art – has been dismissed as Not Real Art, because it’s functional, because it gets used up and thrown out, because it’s part of caregiving, because it’s so intimately involved with the body. (Seriously, I still wrap myself up in my grandmother’s hand-pieced and quilted art when I’m sad – I don’t do the same with her paintings, but her quilt is no less Art than her painting.) It echoes a whole long and ugly history of misogyny and exclusion and pain. Please please please don’t go there. Please don’t make the yarn that I spin, the shawls I knit, the blankets I weave into Not Art because they get used, while my husband’s wood sculptures are Art because they don’t have any purpose except to be beautiful, non-functional, fantastically useless…

    As an afterthought, it’s amusing to me that I get scolded periodically by total strangers in public for spinning my own yarn or knitting my own socks. They’re just soooo clever by telling me that there are stores that sell such things. So I’m fine with inefficiency and non-utilitarian stuff, and plenty of my stuff is pretty much a mess. But the Real Art Has No Function meme deserves to die in a fire.

    • says

      Oh, no, don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying that functional art, or art attached to craft, is in ANY way “lesser” than art that is wholly divorced from function. But what makes such kinds of art beautiful and, well, art, is how they go above and beyond simple utility. We CAN have quilts, mugs, pots, sweaters, etc. that are just completely functional and utilitarian, but they wouldn’t be beautiful at all. It’s adding the beauty, going past simply doing the bare minimum necessity for the function, that causes a tool to transcend its baser purpose and become art.

      You’re quite right to point out that there’s a lot of sexism and misogyny built into the discourse surrounding art, and what media are and are not taken seriously as such. But I’d like to add that the way many “feminine” things (in particular those that exist for the sake of beauty, such as jewelry, make-up, fashion, lots of kinds of craft) are dismissed as “frivolous” and “pointless”, in contrast to the “pragmatic”, “down-to-earth” descriptions of “masculine” pursuits, is a cornerstone of femmephobia and misogyny. And likewise, the art of men, rather than being held as “frivolous”, “pointless” as are the aesthetic pursuits of women, is claimed to be super-duper important, having this massive, indispensible impact on the global consciousness or whatever. Women doing art is called a “hobby”, but the art of men is ‘SERIOUS BUSINESS’. In fact, though, the art of old, dead, anxious men that hangs in galleries, as beautiful and brilliant as it very often is, is still more or less the same thing as a piece of a jewelry or cross-stitch. Something that exists for the sake of being beautiful, to ornament and enrich our existence, and enact ourselves in it (if even that… more to the point: for no sake at all. Just nice.)

      I studied poetry and literature and art and stuff in college, mostly of the avante-garde variety. After years of theorizing and arguing, the only explanation for “what art is” that ultimately ended up making real sense to me was “stuff that’s cool to look at”.

      • says

        And just to eliminate nature from the definition:

        Stuff that at least one human being was somehow involved in making cool to look at, and that at least two human beings have agreed is cool to look at.

          • Mattir says

            The “socks at Walmart” advice is commonly administered as a “joke” to knitters, as if they didn’t know that they could accomplish the sock-function far more easily than by making their own.

            The “I love you” was because I was a bit intimidated to point out and rant about the fairly sexist (and classist) history of the “Real Art” versus “Mere Craft”/”Pop Art” meme in Western culture. I was on my way to my knitting group and didn’t have time to elaborate. Sorry about that.

      • says

        I went to art school for four years and that pretty much sums up my entire attitude to art: “stuff that looks cool”. Countless things were made, some useful, some completely useless, some even things that should have been useful but that were made to be useless (I knew a girl who would bake various kinds of lovely bread, only to use them as a material to make flowers and things…). But the thing that made them art was simply that you could look at them (and not every work, but as you suggested, at least some people could do this) and think “cool. That is really interesting”.

        And, I think it’s important to note that in my whole time there, I noticed exactly zero difference between the work of men and women, other than the differences between individuals. SO much for the traditional “men’s art is really important” meme.

        • says

          Yeah, when I talk about how men’s art (the art of the museums) is all super-duper serious business vs. the “frivolous” art of women (which goes in cafes, fairs, markets, and all the not-museum places), I don’t mean that I actually buy into that division (nor does it mean I see that division as strictly operating along an axis of gender, only that gender noticeably plays into it) nor that I think any category of art is more important than any other. Honestly, all of it can be cool to look at. Pop art, futurism, comics (superheroes, indie, cartoons, sci-fi, autobiographical, journalistic, whatever), abstract expressionism, knitting, tarot cards, found sculpture, collage, fashion, metalwork, jewelry, conceptual art, wood cutting, printmaking, poster design, flyer design, illustration, album covers, tattoos, Magic: The Gathering cards, ceramics, patches, pinbacks, dada, anti-art, toys, book art, photography, snapshots, sketches, performance art, WHATEVER…it can all be really really cool to look at. Or uncool and boring. I am SOOOO fucking over the stratification of media into “high art” / “avante-garde” / “classics” / etc. and “low art” / “populism” / “for the people” / “pop culture” / etc. It’s so silly and arbitrary and pointless and an INTENSE waste of opportunities to make really interesting connections, and find really interesting creative opportunities.

          I think in general I’m going through a phase in my intellectual development where I’m just getting sick and bored with binaries, stratifications, heirarchies and dichotomies in general. I swear like at least 90% of them are totally useless and just hold things back. Like, it’s like I decide “male/female binary is arbitrary, unrealistic and pretty useless”, then decided that divisions like science/art, reason/emotion, dominant/subsmissive, and a dozen others were also kind of useless and inaccurate (which is not to say that these things don’t have meaningful distinctions from one another, just that it’s silly to see them as opposite and mutually exclusive. Just like with male/female. Both still have meaning, and we don’t need to reject them or reject gender, we just should accept that they can overlap or bleed into one another or exist alongside one another and that there are other categories too and so on.). And from there I’ve just been noticing more and more and more such dichotomies that just seem like a pointlessly self-imposed limitation on how we can see things, and what we can do with them.

          Current motto? “Transcend ALL THE BINARIES!”

          Sorry for the little mini-rant.

          • says

            Hehe, I didn’t think you bought into that division (if that wasn’t clear), I just thought I’d point it out.

            Once of my favourite things about the course I did was that my university had probably the most progressive art department in Sydney (possibly Australia)… there were no divisions, not between “high art” / “avante-garde” / “classics” / etc. and “low art” / “populism” / “for the people” / “pop culture”, or even really between different forms like painting, sculpture, video, or whatever. Anything was deemed worthwhile. And crossing between disciplines and “levels” was very much encouraged.

          • says

            “…a phase in my intellectual development where I’m just getting sick and bored with binaries, stratifications, heirarchies and dichotomies in general…”

            Is that a phase? I definitely entered it. I have geeky friends who really enjoy mapping schemes (you know, “I’m Chaotic Good'” and “you’re Green in MtG” and so on) and their continuing has made it obvious that I’ve completely lost my taste for such things. Perhaps something could revive my interest, but it’s hard to imagine what. What would get you out of this “phase”?

          • Lucy says

            Thank you for the little mini-rant…I’ve been leaning towards that way of thinking for a little while as well, at least as far as *noticing* more of the binaries and questioning whether they really are, or if they’re just there because people like neat boxes and “opposites”. See also: pretty much any news story on any topic. I think the phrase “It’s a bit more complicated than that” should be used more, hopefully followed up with “but it’s more interesting too…let’s explore!”

  11. says

    yeah, i agree with Autumn that you vastly underestimate your writing skills.

    the reddit shitpile was unsurprising but at the same time i really knew it would happen if it got to a broader audience, and it did. (i know 2500 views in a day is nothing to you, but it’s a LOT for me) the problem is that nobody has a convincing argument with anything better than a Wikipedia article (which i have done quite a few edits on), alleged personal knowledge, and a bunch of random conclusions about things i didn’t say.

    i don’t get surprised anymore at how much the community silences voices that it considers inconvenient, because i don’t think i’m ever going to be taken seriously given that it’s more important to silence what you don’t understand than it is to consider rationally that each person has value even if their narrative isn’t the same. the narrative police actually strike me in the same vein as fundamentalist Christianity in that you cannot ever dissent, have an imperfect body, think independent thoughts, etc etc. heck, the idea that there is a “mandatory donation” to attend the local support group makes it about the same as a lot of corporate megachurches.

    perhaps part of liberating ourselves as trans women is liberating ourselves from the notion that we must follow one specific path and the idea that we all ascribe to that specific path (again, disturbingly like any fundamentalist religion) and that we must follow the approval structures of specific agencies, something eerily close to the religiously-based idea that you must go to a certain church to be a valid person.

    • says

      Oh my dear goodness. A trans support group that CHARGES ADMISSION?!?

      Wow, Erica. I share a lot of your frustrations with the community as a whole, but it sounds like [name of city redacted] is particularly fucked.

      • says

        it’s a “mandatory donation” so far as they’re concerned. the couple of times i boyed up so as to be allowed into the group generally with less gender policing, it was “strongly suggested” that the minimum was 5 bucks.

        of course being an idiot i forgot to change to a more gender-neutral wallet. SO PRO.

        anyways, i’m sure they’d object to it being seen as “admission” since you can’t question the Church…er, i mean the trans orthodoxy. it’s a “mandatory donation”, slavery is freedom, up is down, and left is right.

        • says

          Jeez. Well anyway, to your first comment: I assure you, the shitstorm means that despite the silencing efforts, a lot of people are listening. I’ll probably never forget that account of yours.

        • Lucy says

          I might just be being slow, but why do you need to boy up to go to a trans support group? If anywhere should be accepting of gender differences, surely that is the place…

          Also, mandatory donations?? *Not* helpful, especially to those who most need somewhere. *fume*.

          • says

            If anywhere should be accepting of gender differences, surely that is the place…

            Yeah, you’d think that’d be the case, wouldn’t you…

          • says

            why boy up? because it means not getting gender-policed, called “it”, and given “passing tips” which are veiled ableist/racist/fatphobic comments from the people you run across at the support group. again, given the stranglehold this group has, it’s kind of what makes it Deeply Problematic.

            boy-drag, which is kind of laughable on me (proof that a large frame and being tall does not make someone male) is at least some social cover. the gender policing is different but it hurts me a lot less.

            i’m butch…faking it as a boy for a few hours is not as bad or troublesome for me as it is for many trans women. heck, used to do it every other Wednesday night to sing with my “boi band” at the local dyke bar. in other words, it;s the safest way for someone like me to try to infiltrate the group given its badness.

            and yes, “mandatory donations” are super gross.

  12. julianmorrison says

    Please could you link the other trans women feminists who are being unfairly passed over? If there are good trans/feminist blogs I’m missing, I’d love an introduction.

  13. says

    I’m disappointed with the fact that I get a lot more attention and readers than dozens of at least as talented trans-feminist writers due to what appears to only be the simple fact that my narrative fits just cozily enough into what people expect a trans narrative to look like.

    It might be helpful if you did a roundup post of online writing by trans women that shows how they don’t fit into what people expect a trans narrative to look like.

  14. says

    I’ve heard much the same from others in the disability community, and I understand the sentiment. The “normals” can empathize, yes, but never truly grok what it is to be Different.

    That’s why you have my support, whatever it’s worth to you.

  15. Kara says

    A very beautiful post. Definitely reminds of the section in Whipping Girl where Julia Serano describes the beauty she sees in trans women.

    Two comments:
    1. I must chime in with the others that you are underestimating your own writing talent. While there certainly are other excellent trans writers who deserve more traffic than they’re getting, I suspect your compelling writing style is as much a cause of your own blog’s popularity as your personal narrative’s mainstream-acceptability. (Of course, it might be arrogant to claim that oneself; and anyway I don’t mean to to say that this fact justifies the neglect of other deserving trans writers. Nonetheless, we should give credit where credit is due with respect to your writing.)

    2. Doesn’t many of the reasons you listed apply to trans men as well? Yet you don’t seem to have mentioned them in this article, unless I missed it somewhere.

    • Erin W says

      Jesus Merriweather Jones. There’s always got to be a ‘what about the (trans*) men?’ question, doesn’t there. Hasn’t the issue of erasure of trans women in favour of trans men been covered in these parts?

      • says

        +1. I was going to ask the exact same thing…and then thought “wait a second, check male privilege; trans women have transphobia and male privilege stacked against them and thus are more likely to be dismissed than trans men”. So I didn’t ask it. And I’m damn surprised that no one did until here at the bottom.

        Isn’t it fun what five seconds of thought will do to false balance?

        • betsumei says

          I was going to ask it, but I’m new to these parts, and I’ve been asking a lot of stupid newbie questions. Rather than balance, though, I was wondering if they’re a separate community or what. I keep hearing about some “gay agenda” thing, so I was wondering who was going to be showing up to the meetings (get it? agenda, meeting? no?) There are meetings, right?

        • Kara says

          Isn’t it fun what five seconds of thought will do to false balance?

          Is this a condescending jab at me (and presumably any others who’d ask this same question in this thread) for not spending “five seconds” to think about the issue of male privilege with respect to the differences between trans men and trans women? Or is it merely a non-directed remark on your own case?

      • Kara says

        Calm down a moment. This was a question about the inclusion of one group under a set of criteria, combined with the absence of another group that fits a very similar set of criteria. True, it did carry the implication “If there’s no good reason to distinguish between the two in this case, we should investigate whether there’s some kind of unfair disparity here”, but nothing in my question or intent precluded the possibility that there is a good reason to focus on one and not the other. It wasn’t an indictment, it was a request for clarification.

        If your rhetorical question about trans man versus trans woman erasure is supposed to indicate that my question has already been been answered “in these parts”, I’m not so sure that it has been. If I recall, in her “When Trans-Inclusivity Goes Wrong” post, Natalie discussed the problem of trans men misusing “erasure” to describe the fact that negative, degrading depictions of trans women are prevalent, while corresponding negative, degrading depictions of trans men are rare to nonexistent. I don’t recall any other discussion of trans man vs trans woman erasure; and indeed, in the comments of that post, Natalie clarified that she was talking about that particular kind of scenario, not something broader. If you can direct me toward writing “in these parts” that does directly address the issue, I will quite happily stand corrected.

    • says

      I think Natalie has mentioned several times in the past that as she’s not a trans man, she’s not entirely comfortable speaking for them. Of course a lot of this is extendable to trans men, but some isn’t, and, in the end, this is a post about Natalie’s relationships and experiences between her and other trans women, and within the female identifying part of the trans community, and what she’s taken away from that. I don’t see how not mentioning trans men detracts from this post in any way at all.

      • Tigger_the_Wing says

        Hear, hear; well said!

        One of the reasons I read this blog (besides the excellent writing) is precisely because Natalie doesn’t try to speak on behalf of other minorities like transmen.

        I know what my experience is and if I want to read the stories of other transmen I read them on their own blogs.

        Carry on doing what you are doing, Natalie. I appreciate it! =^_^=

      • Kara says

        That does sound reasonable.

        I’m thinking that I asked the wrong question to begin with. I meant something more like this: does the author, Natalie, feel similarly toward trans men for similar reasons, and if not, why not? If the answer is “because their struggles are too different from those of trans women” or “because I haven’t had enough personal experience with trans men” or some such, okay, that’s fine. I’m not criticizing, I’m curious to know about the origin of the difference in attitude. I would, however, criticize if the answer were “because all trans men are assholes”, but I truly wouldn’t anticipate any answer like that from Natalie.

        • says

          No, I wouldn’t say all trans men are assholes. But I’ve had a lot of negative experiences with trans men, and not very many positive ones (though there have been a few, and there definitely are some trans guys I like a whole lot. But then again, there are some cis guys I like a whole lot too). And to be honest, at this current moment in our shared history, there are some really serious issues going on in the trans community in terms of how trans men treat and relate to trans women, and the social dynamics between us (and how they get treated by cis people relative to how we’re treated). I’ll be writing about a particular example in the very near future (the exploitative portrayal of murders of trans women of colour by trans male writers as representative of “risk of violence to trans people“). So to the degree that this post is about my own personal feelings, well… yeah, that’s all a part of it. I’m NOT going to make any blanket statements about trans men, especially since for obvious reasons I’m not going to know them or their community as well as I know my own, but speaking strictly of my own limited, personal experience, no… I simply don’t have the same feelings of affection towards trans men that I do towards trans women. I’d be lying if I claimed otherwise. But I’m not going to extrapolate anything from that basic, personal truth.

          • Kara says

            Ah, thank you very much for your reply. That is exactly the kind of answer I was interested in seeing, and I apologize if I came across wrong when I first brought it up. I do look forward to seeing your forthcoming posts on the topic. Cheers!

  16. TBS says

    Very nice post, Natalie. I particularly liked the idea of origin stories, you are totally a superhero, really no sarcasam.


    • betsumei says

      That bit had me thinking…

      Hey! Even if I can’t go around the streets in [CITY NAME REDACTED] just yet, maybe I should take on Paragon City instead!

      There’s that literalistic streak again…

  17. embertine says

    But, but, I’m a cis person and I’m amazing, why don’t you like MEEEEEEE best? Why are you writing about your experiences and not letting me turn it around and make it all about MEEEE and what I think about trans people?


    I kid, I kid.

  18. says

    Wow, Natalie’s blog sounded like a real run of bad hair days, and I don’t mean that in any disparaging way. What I do mean is that it can be discouraging – is that even strong enough? – to face such turn-offs and put-downs day after day. I celebrate her strength.

    At the end of my personal stuff, I will offer a bit of help.

    As the Chat Administrator at Susan’s Place, I see a lot of trans folks of not quite every stripe (very few CDs and no DQs while I’ve been there). The ‘transier than thou’ shows up more often on the Forums side of the house than in Chat, but staff deals with any such problems quickly in either place. We just don’t tolearate it, and it’s not very often that Susan herself has to chime in.

    My personal point being that as a 75-year-old, 12-year postop woman, I appear to be blessedly insulated from much of the crap that younger transactivists and trans-just-trying-to- live-their-lives seem to be exposed to nowadays. When I spent several years as a national level activist, the biggest problem I experienced, outside of establishment bigotry, was the VTS (virtual testosterone syndrome) suffered by some of the MTF activists who hadn’t yet quite integrated their female personas with the work they were trying to do. I never, ever had a problem with the FTMs. I even married one.

    The bit of help I promised? One of the best, most useful pieces of advise I have ever been given.

    When someone goes on the verbal attack, remind yourself of this:

    “What other people think/say about me is none of my business.”

    If that helps one newbie or one old hand, I have helped, and my work here is done.

    Me ka mahalo,

    • says

      Um… that point you just made about “virtual testosterone syndrome” and trans women activists not “integrating their female personas” is EXACTLY the kind of stratifying, gender-policing shit I was criticizing and that you claim to oppose. There is no “female persona” for a trans woman to integrate, because she IS fucking female, no matter how aggressive her activism may be. What you’re tacitly suggesting is that there’s a “proper” way for a trans woman to behave, and that if she does not behave in line with your particular conception of womanhood, then you strip her of the validity of her gender, comparing her to a man or implying she’s still a man or whatever.

      That shit is NOT cool and is an ENORMOUS problem in our community. It’s fundamentally anti-feminist, destructive, cissexist and unfairly makes other trans people feel shitty about themselves just so YOU can feel like YOU’RE “more” of a woman, or better understand what being a woman is all about. I AM going to call that horrible attitude out when I see it, and I see it very clearly here.

      You’ve only confirmed the negative things I’ve heard about Susan’s. If you want to create an inclusive, supportive community, you ought do better learning a bit of self-reflection and self-critique, not just CLAIM you’re doing a good job of minimizing that kind of behaviour while turning around and overtly engaging in it a few sentences later.

      • says

        LOL. Natalie, you may not have known these women as I did way back when.They are some of my dearest friends, and believe me, we did have to unlearn decades of trying to live in the world as men. I was almost 60 when I realized who I really am.

        Anyway, my apologies for a comment that was apparently too easy to misconstrue, for I am none of the things it caused you to think I am.

        By the way, I have not met anyone at Susan’s Place that has the situation I alluded to. I think it was seen more in some who long ago transitioned late in life and had years of male conditioning and experience to overcome. Some of us had old male triggers to rid ourselves of.

        I’m going to go look in the mirror for ‘anti-feminist, destructive, cissexist and unfair’ signs in myself and eliminate any I find. It’s the first time in 15 years that anyone has accused me of such traits. Then I’ll go back to trying to help those in transition to weather their personal/family/socetal storms and to grow.

        I’m sure that you and I and all your readers have the same goal: to allow and encourage all our brothers, sisters, parents, children to be true to themselves, to their own identities.


        • says

          I think the point here is that by saying that trans women need to “unlearn” being men suggests that there is some “right” way to be a woman. Very early on I read an article that suggested this, and I agonised over everything I did or said, wondering whether it was “female” enough, based on that writer’s criteria. But I realised, there is no such thing. I am a woman: everything I do is female enough, because it’s being done by a female. I have no female self so integrate, that’s all I have. I only had to shed certain superficial characteristics that I’d adopted to seem “more male” by the standards of society. And that really what this is about: society’s standards. I’m transitioning to live as myself, for myself, not to uphold society’s limited view of what it is to be a woman. Because, frankly, a woman is whatever the fuck she wants to be. This is why I’ll probably never wear a dress, or heels, or feminine jewellery, or proper makeup… because these things aren’t me, and they make me just as uncomfortable as pretending to be a man did.

          Now, maybe this isn’t what you meant. But it certainly reads that way…

  19. SG says

    “And I’m repeatedly disappointed in our community. I’m disappointed in how casually people will maintain their transier-than-thou “I always knew with absolute certainty!” narratives, even when its obviously false, and extremely damaging to those still in the early, frightened, doubt-ridden phases of their transitions.”

    This. Just, this. I am very likely a trans dyke who just recently realized it, and this is exactly how I have felt, both for myself and my reaction to others pushing the standard narrative.

  20. says

    I hit a point right before my G.R.S where I realized that I will only be friends with trans people if I have something in common with them. I refuse to be friends with them simply because we share the trans journey.

    I tried to attend support groups early on and all it did for me was leave me depressed. For me transition was a positive thing. I had loads of support and lost no one in my circle of fmaily or friends. Transition gave me a positive attitude, until I’d hit support group or try to deal with other trans women. In return I found a mountain of negativety.

    While I agree some of us need more support because of the loss of family or friends, jobs etc. My heart goes out to those and I will always try to be supportive of those people.

    For the others I saw what couldn’t be done, the poor me’s, the jealously, the judgement and even the fringe crazies. I was made to feel crappy because my marriage stayed in tact. I was made to feel bad for keeping my job abd being able to afford my SRS. And when i walked away I was riduculed for not being supportive.

    Wanna know why post we go stealth? Look at the negative people. The ones who say that life isn’t black and white but then make it black and white about their own transitions. Look at the ones who claim they want to keeop their families together but instead of bringing them along slowly through their journey and instead tell them to simply “deal with it”

    I have some trans friends that are dear to me. We met because we are trans but we didn’t remain friends because they were, we remained friends because they were good people and had things in common with me. Just as and of my Gender Born Girlfriends and even my old male friends.

    This is why we lose our passion for the community. I’ll help anyone with their problems but they have to be willing to help themselves first and have to be good people

  21. Bia says

    This post is so god damn refreshing.

    It’s only been a year since I made the decision to actually face my gender issues and seek treatment. There were definitely signs when I was younger, but I think you’re correct regarding the narrative. Many of us get it in our minds that in order to make sense of what we’re experiencing, both for our own understanding and for those in our lives, we have fit some kind of narrative.

    I can’t count how many times during the first few months of ‘coming out’ that I found myself saying, “I’ve always known.” There is some truth to that of course, but I very much did not ‘know’ I was supposed to be a girl when I was 5. I did know that I wasn’t a boy though (as much as I did not understand why I couldn’t wear dresses, or why I had to act certain ways), and that I would have to adapt and mimic others to protect myself from being ostracized.

    However as trans individuals we’re taught that our inner knowing is under the scrutiny of not only science and health care professionals but also our friends and family, the Trans and LGBT community, etc. When you decide to tell society you’re tired of their heteronormative bullshit and stupid preconceptions about gender the most immediate responses are quit often dismissive, silencing or threatening.

    I don’t have to change my voice and wear high heals to be a woman. And I shouldn’t have to prove my inner knowing to anyone.

    Wow, that’s liberating to say.

    I am so glad I found this blog, Thank you!

  22. Jen says

    This post makes me feel weird.
    It’s because my past isn’t so amazingly uhm…beautiful? unique?
    I never tried to kill myself over GID, in fact I wasn’t aware of my trans feelings till a year ago. And once I discovered them, I acted on them pretty fast, got my hormones after half a year, been on HRT for half a year now.
    Never experienced violence or transphobia from people, by now I don’t know if they just don’t clock me, or if they’re just being polite. Didn’t experience outright rejection from my family either.
    I mean it’s not that I’m not fucked up. Believe me I am so fucking fucked up mentally by now. Maybe not knowing of my trans feelings was more damaging than anything possible when you at least know WHY you’re suffering.
    I just felt strange and inferior to both women and men. I developed multiple personality disorders, I guess. Avoidant-dependent. Learned helplessness. Social anxiety. Dysthymia with major depressive episodes. Stomach cramps that kept me away from school and made everyone think I was weird. There’s so much possible stuff that could be responsible for the way I am now. Desperate and lonely and feeling not understood.
    Yearning for cuddling and intimacy, can’t get any, feeling even lonelier and more inferior. Crying a lot. Hating my trans destiny. Being unsure if I’m really trans or just such a huge loser “beta male” that I couldn’t bear it and my mind made up “trans feelings” to escape this horrible reality. Zero self-confidence. Everything is negative. I am my very worst enemy. But the rest of the world is, too. They all go off to employ or marry other cispeople, and I’m alone and unemployed and utterly unwanted.
    IDK. I definitely fit the “fucked up” criterion. But I still ponder whether I’m really trans or not, daily. I don’t hate my penis. I love women (even though they cruelly mistreated and ignored me for being the way I was), I want to have sex with them like a cismale would (penetration). I often feel like a failed male, full of doubt. I have male nerd hobbies, etc…
    Dunno. I’m just confused at this point.

    • betsumei says

      Jen: Are you time traveling me from a year from now? If so, what are next week’s lotto numbers?

      • Jen says

        Unfortunately not. I wish I knew, then I could win lots of money and at least stop worrying about my passing-future (because I could just afford to fix my chin and nose which are looking to be my biggest hindrances).

  23. says

    I agree with yr observations and have indeed been worn down by all of it to the point where I’ve stopped trying and am no longer interested in community with trans women. I could go the rest of my life w/out ever seeing or talking to another trans woman and be 100% OK with it.

  24. Alexandra says

    I realize this was written quite a while ago, but I just wanted to thank you for writing this. I really needed this today because I get down on myself a lot and I have this weird sense of loss about not being cis and not castrating myself before puberty and thus not looking the way I feel I should and blah blah blah.

    I have the worst self-esteem of anyone I know, and since I’m a second-year law student that’s an accomplishment in its own right. A lot of this is directly because of my trans-ness and issues collateral to it. In your posts, you put so many of the things I’ve felt so eloquently, clearly, and beautifully that I’m almost ashamed to consider myself a good writer (especially after stumbling over words to even describe feelings like these to my therapist).

    I feel like I’m repeating myself in this comment, so I’ll cut it short and summarize: I appreciate this blog more than I can express.


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