Trans Position


This article in a feminist zine, Ism, with some changes, under another pseudonym of mine, Amber Lamps.

Like most polyamorous couples, my partner and I real­ized the spark died long ago. Now we’re content to simply ex­change pleasantries on the rare occasion we pass each other in the hall, on the way to our many dates with people attractive enough to maintain our attention, yet va­pid enough to secure our inevitable disinterest. Exciting as this was, we felt something was missing in our relationship of conve­nience.

But what? I googled fu­riously for answers, for any­one who could understand our deviant, empty lifestyle of simmer­ing resent­ment and sex.

When I first found the page of a support group for polyamorous relation­ships, it seemed perfect. Not only was it tailored to our style, the description explicitly said that it welcomed all women, in­cluding “self-identified women.” For two trans-identified people, this sounded perfect, even too good to be true.

After sending the orga­nizer pictures she had requested so she could rec­ognize us at the door, we learned my partner’s self-identification as a woman was trumped by her body. Though she had no prob­lem with a transmasculine female-bodied person entering the group, when the organizer saw my partner’s face, she balked and my part­ner was informed that she was not wel­come. “Self-identified woman” turned out to be “post-operative, hormonally modified, culturally-identified women.” In short, she had better pass as a ciswoman. The organizer defend­ed her decision to bar my part­ner from the group by arguing that she was making sure people in the group felt ‘safe.’ The crux of this issue is what it means to be a woman and what women-only spaces look like.

As people, we are marked by two things: our sex (the kind of body we have) and our gender (what we do with that body). Both are a spectrum with few people fitting perfectly. Sex isn’t as simple as XY and XX nor is gender as simple as aftershave and lip­stick.

Some in­dividu­als with XY chromosomes develop as women, be­cause of androgen insensitivity disorder. Their body does not respond to testosterone, so that testosterone is instead converted to estrogen by an enzyme called aromatase.

Men who take testoster­one to build muscle, without also taking aromatase inhibitors, will grow breasts, because their bod­ies will convert some of the ex­cess testosterone into estrogen. People with Turner’s Syndrome have XO chromosomes, and de­velop so slowly that they appear to be children well into adult­hood. One in every thousand men has Klinefelter’s syndrome, meaning they have XXY chro­mosomes.

Gender is equally murky despite the fact that it is often de­termined years be­fore puber­ty morphs a child into a sexed adult. Many transgendered peo­ple, myself included, identified as the op­posite gender in early childhood. Over and over I would repeat to my parents that I was not like other girls. If they objected to my be­havior, I would snap back with a threat: “Do you want me to sit in a corner and quietly play with dolls?!” 

The important thing to remember is that, as a transgen­der person, I am not trying to be anything I am not: I’m just not what they said I was.

Not everyone who is fe­male is a woman and not every­one who is male is a man, yet we are disciplined from an early age to believe the correlation is that simple. What surprised me was that this training would echo into allegedly feminist spaces like the polyamory support group. I've encountered transphobia in other feminist spaces since then; when first writing this article, I received several comments on it to the effect that by suggesting that I had a masculine identity, I was saying masculinity existed and was associated with maleness and was therefore going against feminism. I was not invited back to write for the next issue.

We should not bar wom­en who happen to be male from our community – especially if I, a transmasculine person who happens to be female, am welcomed with open arms. As someone with a vagina, it’s taken for granted that I suffer from institutional and inter­personal sexism. It’s less obvious, but no less true, that my partner suffers as well. Certain­ly there is class-based violence against women. But there is violence against trans-women, too. And the notion that a male-bodied person is in­herently unsafe or dangerous to women contributes to that violence and suspicion and undermines the real feminist project: social, political and economic equality regardless of the shape of your body.

This woman imposed her assumptions about my partner’s gender based on the unjustifiable, bigoted linkage of sex and gender. We should recognize sexism in all forms, and judging a person on their genitals can’t be anything but sexist.

Ironically, or perhaps predictably, I was the real threat to the group’s safety. I don’t play nice in groups: I talk over oth­ers, dismiss opposing points of view and eviscerate deeply held beliefs with none of the la­dylike conciliatory crap my dear part­ner has mastered. If the group was truly afraid of men they should have banned me instead.

Men are dangerous, says the culture. Above all else, ye who are called women, fear them.


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  1. wow, i forgot about the comments you got in response to this article.  seriously, how dense do you have to be?  "sure, you may be a female masculine-identified person, but by asserting the mere existence of masculinity, you're upholding the association of masculinity with maleness!"  ugh.  the specific features of masculinity and femininity may be culturally contingent, but they are helpful descriptors and words we can use to help develop our sense of identity, regardless of our physical features.

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