I went to college in the early 90s, and I was exposed to all sorts of crazy (albeit compelling) post-modern theory. It was fun to think about, even to apply – to literature, to film, sometimes to politics. But if one had told the nineteen-year-old dyke I was that someday, in the not-so-distant-future, these ideas (best engaged in the hallowed halls of academia) would be applied in very serious ways to women’s existence, lesbian’s existence, I wouldn’t have believed it.
In fact, this is exactly what has happened in the dominant culture. We have taken post-modern theory and applied it to a subjugated class (women). We say, with straight faces, “Anyone can be a woman!” We say, without stuttering, “A man is a woman if he says so.” What we then are to infer is that “woman” is a meaningless term – a concept, a malleable notion, a bit of academic jargon that can be tried out on a poem, a work of art, a dude. And in this way, we relegate “woman” to the status of “thing” – the lived reality of women becomes a text, an application.
I don’t give a fuck how anyone identifies. Truly, I don’t.
If, for example, a man says, “I identify as a woman. I’m going to dress like a woman. Change my name. Get some surgery. Take some pills.” Okay, fine. Cool. Rock on with your bad self. But the problem is, identity doesn’t, and never will, transcend biological reality.
The M2T seems to love this very philosophical idea: “I feel like . . . therefore I am.” M2T activists insist that males (I’m talking biology) who “feel like” females (I’m talking biology) are entitled — because of a feeling, a hunch – to women-only space (MichFest), to lesbian-only space, to shelters, to clinics, to organizations, to academic institutions that have been designed to serve the interests of women.
In a world that serves the interests of men, these spaces are essential. When we redefine woman/female as “anything anyone says it is,” then these essential spaces disappear (we already see this happening) – I mean, why have special services, spaces, institutions for a permeable concept?
But “woman” and “female” are not permeable concepts. “Female” is not a bit of academic puffery. Female is not a “feeling.”
I menstruated in adolescence not because of a “sense” or a “feeling” I had, but because of the biological reality of my femaleness. I developed breasts, not of my own volition, not of a desire to develop breasts, but because of my biology.
And despite my androgyny, my “identification” with stereotypically masculine ways of presenting myself, despite often being “misgendered” as a “sir,” (an occurrence, by the way, that never devastated me) I got breast cancer in my early thirties, a type of breast cancer caused by the estrogen my body naturally produces because I am female. This is sex. This is reality. This is not a feeling.
To that end, I’d like to conclude this post with an anecdote. I realize anecdotes are inherently problematic, as they often only speak to one experience, but this one I think is germane to my point:
When I found out I had cancer, I was frightened and devastated. Furthermore, I was living far from my family and friends. So I sought out psychotherapy to help me work through the trauma of cancer, of chemo, of losing my hair (temporarily) and parts of my body (permanently). I ended up with a therapist who was a “transwoman.” I had no problem with this – he was trained in dealing with trauma, and had worked with cancer patients before. Frankly, we had a wonderful client-therapist relationship. He saw me through the most difficult, terrifying time in my life and I have nothing but warm feelings toward him.
However, there were many times when we were not on the same page. There were many times when I think I would have been better off with a female therapist. You see, for him, womanhood was a thing to be sought after, an elusive, albeit highly desired, state. For me – as a dyke with breast cancer – womanhood was something of a burden.
During one of my first visits with him, I explained how I had begged my surgeon to “take both of my breasts.” His reaction was to gasp in shock, and fold his arms around his surgically implanted breasts. In the moment, the gesture was subtle, but also profoundly telling. He had bought his breasts, coveted them, saved and planned for those orbs under his sweater. They were precious to him, and he could not fathom demanding their removal.
But you see, for me, losing my breasts did not mean losing my identity. My identity was not contingent on my breasts and my sex would remain female regardless. Sure, it was a sad thought – I’d had those bitches since girlhood, and I quite liked them – but I was thinking about my survival. I was not, as my M2t therapist was, thinking about their value with regard to my identity.
I already had an “identity,” largely irrespective of my biology. I already was a fully formed human being with interests and a sense of humor and an aesthetic sensibility that had little to do with my possession of tits or a vag.
However, my biology is part of my reality. I had estrogen induced breast cancer. I have breasts. I menstruate. I see a gynecologist for reasons beyond mere pretense. As an adolescent, I was ogled by adult men and felt afraid. As a teen, I rejected the cult of makeup and had no interest in boys and was ridiculed for this – and no, that does not make me “trans,” it makes me a dyke. I appreciate my dumb luck at being born a female in the First World.
Tell Malala Yousafza that “female is a feeling.” Tell baby girls in China that female is “whatever you want it to be.” That woman is “whatever” is a male conceit and it is false. Men, despite their precious fucking feelings cannot simply colonize womanhood. Not without a fight.
You can identify as whatever-the-fuck you like, but unless you were born female, you will never be female. Embrace your fanciful identity. Enjoy your feelings. Leave women alone.