SUZANNE HARRINGTON: Feminism must learn to accept trans women

AS the summer of LGBT Pride rolls on, we are still asking if trans women can ever be ‘real’ women.

 Why are some districts in the feminism neighbourhood still shutting the door in this idea’s face? What is it about trans women, who identify as women, that makes other women say ‘no, you are not one of us’? While Ireland has some of the most progressive trans legislation in the world, why does transmisogyny continue to exist in such unexpected places?

‘Transmisogyny’ was coined in a decade ago by Dr Julia Serano, author of Whipping Girl: Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. Basically, it’s what happens when transphobia and misogyny combine to create a double whammy of exclusion and discrimination, sometimes from surprising sources: From feminist BBC broadcaster, Jenni Murray (“Be trans, be proud — but don’t call yourself a ‘real woman’. Can someone who has lived as a man, with all the privilege that entails, really lay claim to womanhood? It takes more than a sex change and makeup”); and feminist author, Chimamanda NgoziAdichie (“Trans women are trans women”) to feminist academic, Germaine Greer (“just because you lop off your penis…it doesn’t make you a woman”) — feminism has not entirely embraced the womanhood of trans women.

Let’s apply simple logic. Why would anyone put themselves through the pain, harrowing isolation, lack of understanding — if not outright ridicule and persecution — and crippling expense, if their need for their outside to be in sync with their inside were not so all-consuming?

Why not remain outwardly a man, with all the automatic privilege which comes with that gender? When I first witnessed the transition of a man into a woman, it was like watching a caterpillar turn into a butterfly. Not a particularly beautiful butterfly, but the authentic version of what he was meant to be. That is, a she.

While still living as a man, I’d see him around, this bloke with bad hair and incongruous diamond earrings. Awkward, melancholic, no eye contact. Until, one day, he turned up in a gypsy skirt and sandals, very much a man in a dress, looking both happy and uncomfortable. Definitely not ‘passing’. He went missing for a while, so I assumed he’d moved away.

Months later, he reappeared. Or, rather, she. New body, new clothes, new (better) hair. A new voice, new body language. She introduced herself with her new name, a feminisation of the old one. Eye contact, pride. “I was in Belgium,” she said, pointing at her breasts.

It was not the new shapes under her shirt that made her a woman, but the certainty she exuded of being entirely in her own skin, her own self, for the first time. Her authentic self.

I’m with Gloria Steinem on this: “I believe that transgender people…. are living out real, authentic lives…as we move away from only the binary boxes of ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ and begin to live along the full human continuum of identity and expression.”


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