Another Sunday arrives, and with it another hit piece about trans women in a British newspaper. We’re used to this by now, of course, but I’ll admit to getting slightly bored by the tiresome carousel of repetition of the same old tropes, the same tepid takes, and the same blunt instruments of attack.
This week’s episode (paywalled) sees Jenni Murray of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour telling us that trans women are not ‘real women’. Once I picked myself up off the floor at the unbridled shock that anyone associated with Woman’s Hour could hold the slightest opinion contrary to party line held by the supposedly powerful trans lobby, the article itself is really just a variation on the standard “Here are some trans women who think womanhood is defined by clothes and makeup, and here are a couple of trans women who don’t really think they’re ‘proper’ women, so all trans women must be men because all ‘real’ women are perfect feminists”
Leaving aside the question of what a ‘real woman’ is anyway (An argument made much more effectively by many feminists and women much more well read than I, and in fact Helen Lewis has acknowledged that here), the argument here is essentially that trans women are not ‘proper’ women because we can find trans women who hold problematic opinions and say and do things which are not feminist. This plays very well to a certain type of person. That type of person is someone who already thought trans women are all men, and just wanted a ‘progressive’ reason to justify it. Let me be frank – there are some awful opinions among trans women. The examples Murray cites at the beginning of this article are as cringeworthy to me as they probably are to her. India Willoughby, who has recently risen to prominence as a ‘go-to’ media transgender person, said some nonsense a few months ago on Woman’s Hour about how women should shave their legs and wear high heels for work. That went down about as well as you’d expect. This is a bona fide bad opinion. Similarly, she talks of a Reverend who transitioned and spent a lot of time worrying about what dress to wear. Remember Caitlyn Jenner did that too? Let’s not pretend there isn’t a problem with misogynist attitudes among trans women. They’re there, and we have to call them out and combat them. But the existence of bad opinions and attitudes in a group does not mean the whole group is fake!
Allow yourself to think for a moment of all the misogynist opinions you’ve held yourself, or have encountered from all sorts of people. We live in a world that brings everyone up to hold misogynist attitudes, and we have to listen and learn and rid ourselves of them. Some people have done this a lot more effectively than others. This problem is exacerbated in the trans community, because trans women often come out after many years of hiding from themselves, and have a lot to learn in a short space of time. You can see this by spending time in trans spaces, but I’ve also learned so much about feminism from so many trans women who have really thrown themselves into reading and listening, and calling out the mistakes made by trans women who haven’t. Unfortunately, when trans women transition in the public eye, such as Willoughby, Jenner or someone like Kellie Maloney, they often haven’t worked through the process of realising just how much negative socialisation they’ve been through, and their public utterances are frequently the subject of much ridicule and facepalming from numerous angles, including from other trans women.
What we can’t allow is a situation where people are stripped of their identity and dismissed as ‘fake’ because they hold bad opinions, particularly when that action is taken against the entire group. People holding misogynist opinions hurt women whether they are trans, cis or whatever you want to call them. Misogyny can come from anywhere, and it’s this which is the problem – if a trans woman is being a misogynist, call her a misogynist, not a man. Trans women are usually painfully aware that our experiences & socialisation are different from cis women, but that difference varies massively from one person to the next, just as much as the experiences & socialisation of cis women differ wildly from one to the next. So, write an article saying that there are trans women who are misogynists! Write an article saying that the trans community could do better at calling out this misogyny! Just don’t contribute to the already pervasive societal opinion that we’re all frauds.
by Natalie Washington (@transsomething)
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