You know what baffles me? The thing where cis women say stuff like “natural-born women only” or “female bodies only” or whatever.
What is even the point of that? Are we gonna check X chromosomes at the door? Do we even know if someone might be intersex, or what their hormone levels are? How many years of feminine socialization are required to make one truly a woman?
However, I know what the result of this kind of rhetoric is: the kinds of douchey, exclusionary, essentializing policies that have been levied against women for so long that you’d think we’d know better than to enforce it on others by now.
Because here’s the thing: if you’re worried about letting someone into a safe space who’s going to be a jerk and interject “well actually” about their own experiences all the time, derailing left and right… they’ll get kicked out for being a jerk and interjecting and derailing all the time, not for having the “wrong” body for a given space.
So I’ll go ahead and say it: I’m a cis woman, and a feminist, and I don’t believe I gain anything by explicitly excluding trans women from women-centered spaces.
See also: Gender Is Not a Crime
If you need a safe space for women who’ve had certain kinds of experiences – survivors of sexual assault, or miscarriage, or intersectional oppression – then say that. But as Julia Serano has so cogently pointed out, feminine-seeming boys receive venomous backlash, the kind of misogyny that is “normally” reserved for women. So if we’re going to play the “well how much feminine conditioning have you received?” card, well, we might not like the answer. “Woman” is not a monolithic category.
There are many reasons why this kind of rhetoric has emerged and become popular, and they don’t all portray us (cis, and maybe cis-het, women) in the best light.Maybe this is just an instance where cis women have been conditioned to believe that trans women aren’t women, and it’s on us to change our conditioning.
Maybe cis women are so thoroughly conditioned to please others that when we get a whiff of someone having less power relative us, we’re eager to seize that power and say what we will and will not allow (it’s tiring to have to be nice and polite and pleasing all the time, I get it, but that doesn’t mean we should be jerks as soon as there’s a turnaround).
Maybe we’re so used to being judged and shamed for what we wear that as soon as we get the change to enact those same standards on someone else, we go for it.
Maybe cis women are still pretty ignorant of what trans women go through to arrive at that identification. Anyone who’s been through the difficult experience of questioning their gender and understanding that they’re a woman despite possible contradictions from biology and/or socialization probably experiences cognitive dissonance at the reminder that they’re “originally male” or “were born” male and thus wouldn’t bring it up.
Remember, trans people aren’t sick, the entire fucking patriarchy is. I’m not saying that to discount the suffering and lived experiences of trans people, but rather to say that the medical model is flawed and comes from a place of relative privilege. Sometime I believe that the diagnosis for gender dysphoria would look pretty different (e.g. way less pathologized/stigmatized) if we didn’t place such a high importance on binary gender as one of THE defining traits of identity.
As a feminist I believe we can do better than this. Creating spaces that welcome women of all stripes – including trans women – doesn’t take anything away from us. It’s sad that we ever got to the point where we believed that it does.