I’ve written tons on this blog about trangenderism, particularly where it concerns MtT’s, but I’ve been pretty quiet on the matter of FtT’s. A lot of my silence around this has to do with the fact that I’d prefer to use this space to critique the behavior of men, to examine how male behavior, and male constructs like gender, harm women.
Recently, however, I had a really interesting conversation with a friend around the preponderance of late-transitioning lesbians.
It has long been my belief that women transition for reasons quite different than those of men. For young women, in particular, there is pressure to transition – particularly if you are a gender non-conforming lesbian. The dominant culture tells these girls that their preferences, their style, their desires “make them male.” Most of these young women never got a chance to be dykes in the world, because the messages encouraging them to transition were far too incessant, far too strong. Today, parents are increasingly encouraging their daughters to transition, when the daughters don’t “do female” the way society instructs.
But what of women who transition later in life? What of these women who have survived, in their way, as gender non-conforming dykes and then decide to “identify as male”? What exactly is going on here?
Even within the lesbian community, what’s left of it, there remains a problematic imperative, a “way to be” lesbian that is pretty strongly enforced. We have “butches” and we have “femmes” – and we don’t allow for a lot of grey area. This is a type of patriarchal heteronormative role play that probably emerged as a means of lesbian survival; not as a means of transgressing culture. (What we often forget is that adopting the suffocating gender mandates of the opposite sex isn’t, in fact, revolutionary – it’s just another boring story in the same, lousy genre.)
The butch-femme dynamic is as regressive, as patriarchal as transgenderism itself. Both the butch-femme dynamic and transgenderism are tethered to frivolous “identity politics” and slavish adherence to tedious gender norms. Here is a far stronger explanation of specifically what I’m talking about: http://genderfatigue.com/2013/05/31/hate-to-break-it-to-you-but-butch-and-femme-is-also-gender/
I lived out the first decade of the 2000’s in a very lesbian-identified neighborhood. On one hand, it was a paradise – dykes, dykes everywhere. On the other hand, for me, at the time, it was an extremely distressing place to exist. The community, on the whole, was swallowed up in the butch-femme binary. Among butches, there was often this game of “I am butcher than thou,” a sort of one-upping, which felt like masculine posturing, and made me feel super stressed the fuck out. At times, this “Quein Es Mas Butch?” game made me feel downright bad about myself. But this is what gender does – it makes people feel “bad about themselves” if they’re not “doing it” correctly. For me, as it turns out, I’ve just never known how to inhabit any gender norm properly. I certainly am not terribly “feminine” in the stereotypical sense of the word, and I never could manage to out-butch other lesbians who presented similarly.
Trangenderism among lesbians, I believe, was a direct result of how our community embraced the butch/femme dynamic. And transgenderism has really done a number on lesbian communities. Many people I knew in the neighborhood transitioned, and many other lesbians expressed regret at not having the financial resources for testosterone and/or top surgery. As this was happening, heterosexual men with ladybrains increasingly began to encroach on our spaces. (And for anyone who questions my assertion that men and women transition for very different reasons, you need look no further than the absolute dearth of “gay FtTs,” and the fact that the gay male community is largely untouched by the presence of male-identifying women while lesbian spaces are overrun by “lesbian men,” a huge number of whom hold leadership positions in formerly lesbian organizations.)
The erosion of lesbian communities and spaces and enclaves was the result of misogyny and lesbophobia, both of which are fueled by an unwavering belief in the innateness of gender. Period.
Lesbians, by virtue of being born female, have been socialized to “be nice” and willingly opened their spaces to men who “felt like ladies,” and many lesbians, who did not present in the way women are “supposed to” embraced the myth of “man trapped in a woman’s body.”
Those of us who fall somewhere on the “butch spectrum” – which really means “women who don’t lady right” — often face questions (and accusations) about why, with all the medical intervention easily available to us, we haven’t simply taken the next step: why haven’t we transitioned?
When I was dealing with cancer, I was put in touch with a lesbian who told me that her choice to not have reconstruction after her double mastectomy was read by others as a “step toward transitioning.” This would likely not have been the case were she a straight woman refusing breast reconstruction, but the culture seems to WANT to believe that gender non-conforming dykes are merely women who wish to be men. This myth, this notion, makes the dominant (straight, male-centric) culture FEEL better about the existence of lesbians.
Because let’s be honest. Outside of porn, the dominant culture does NOT like dykes, and is mistrustful of us, particularly if we present in a way that is outside of gender norms. We are dismissed as man-haters. If we are not sexually appealing to men, we are rendered invisible. Still very alive and well in our culture is the notion that lesbians can be “fucked” into heterosexuality – indeed, many rapes of lesbians, the world over, occur in order to achieve this end.
Under patriarchy, lesbians will always be seen as a grave threat, perpetual heretics. And when lesbian women transition, it is, in fact, a win for patriarchy and patriarchal norms. Most women who transition were previously lesbian-identified; now, they are straight men.
Males, I think, often transition for the love of the “fantasy of being woman” – and are then profoundly disappointed to realize the “reality of being woman” is that you live in a world which doesn’t center your feelings/opinions/perspectives. Men who identify as women are the ones who shout loudest about how we may or may not discuss female reality. Women fall in lock step with their directives, because men who transition never really lose the privileges afforded to them as males, because women will always recognize a male, even if he changes his pronouns.
On the other hand, women who transition can literally BUY their way into male privilege. Moreover, when women transition, especially later on, they are practically thrown a fucking ticker-tape parade. There is a collective sigh that accompanies all the shoulder patting – the sigh of, “thank god. You finally stopped being a gross lesbian and are AT LAST a heterosexual man. Phew.”
Transgenderism “fixes” us.
Think Leslie Feinberg. Think Chaz Bono. Who the fuck cared about either of these women when they were merely dykes? Feinberg’s death would have hardly earned a mention in the media had it not been for her identification as male. No one gave a fuck about Bono when she was merely the dyke daughter of Cher, but suddenly she was the poster child for courage when she changed her pronouns, bought some hormones and had her breasts cut off.
Women who transition receive an onslaught of accolades that they never received as women, much less as dykes. Moreover, the transition is viewed as “brave” – and yet, from my standpoint, it’s a hell of a lot more brave to exist in the world as a woman. (And by woman, I mean female, I mean biological reality, I mean I am sick of having to clarify this, but I must.)
And, as my friend said while we discussed this matter, “Don’t think for a second that these older women are confused. They’re not.” What she meant was these women KNOW they are purchasing privilege. They KNOW that they will be happily drowned in congratulations. They know that it’s a lot easier to navigate life as a straight man than as a dyke.
In order to prevent too much discourse around this, transgenderism (for both men and women) has been contextualized as naturally occurring – boy brains, girl brains. One mustn’t dare suggest that this is a choice, which it most certainly is. Similarly, in most lesbian circles, one must not suggest that lesbianism is a choice. We must blindly accept the notion that homosexuality, and gender, is carved into our brains from the moment of conception, despite the fact that there is NO SOLID EVIDENCE of this. Money is fucking poured into research in attempts to prove these biological theories of homosexuality and transgenderism. Why are we so hell bent on scientific proof? Frankly, I find it fascinating that trangenderists, in particular, are so devoted to this quest for biological proof when they are the very voices decrying science and the medical community for knowing penis is male.
In any case, time and money is wasted on these futile research endeavors rather than just accepting what, I think, common sense tells us: it’s all a choice. Maybe it’s not a choice as in “Would you like coffee or tea?” but a choice nevertheless. And so fucking what? Why can’t we just be comfortable with all of it being a matter of choice? Because we’ve so convinced ourselves that there are intrinsic “ways to be human” that don’t include boys wearing dresses, that don’t include women loving women. Because there is a vested interest in preventing the kind of paradigm shifts that might occur if we were to embrace the notion that gender is a farce and that females are actual human beings, not merely “feelings,” and that some women are lesbian because they WANT TO BE.
Also, if we frame a thing as being “natural” it silences all possible critique of that “thing.”
It’s like this – if an earthquake destroys your house, you just have to accept that, and move on. If a bomb destroys your house, you can talk about WHY that happened, and ask questions about who is responsible. We can’t get mad at the earthquake because it is naturally occurring, out of our control. We can get mad at the bomb because it was man-made, dropped by a human, a conscious choice. We can talk about the bomb, but we can’t talk about the earthquake. Rather, it would be worthless to talk about the earthquake, other than to say “it happened.”
Gender is a bomb. Not an earthquake. Gender is not naturally occurring, but an invention, a system, a “way of being” that is enforced in order to preserve societal hierarchies forever as they are. That means women are on the bottom, trampled, forever.
And it benefits people in positions of power when women, specifically, view the shackles of gender as naturally occurring, something that grew up from the ground and wound itself around our wrists – naturally. We can’t be mad about it. We can’t fight it, because we are taught to believe it’s natural. (And if we suggest otherwise we’re transphobic bigots.) But it’s not natural. And to believe that it is, is to buy into our own subjugation.
“Well what about you? You say you’re anti-gender, but look, you have a short haircut, you shop in the men’s department at Target, you have, at times, identified as butch” – and yes, all of this is true. And yes, my outward presentation can be gendered. But I don’t lie to myself about how it came to be so, nor do I center my political analysis on all the particulars of my own little existence.
I don’t believe for a moment that my gender presentation is innate, is coded into my DNA. I believe that I grew up as a girl who never quite embraced what society has deemed “girl things” (though I positively did love Barbie dolls and my taffeta skirt). I believe that I simply like short hair – in large part because I’m too lazy to deal with anything BUT short hair. I believe that I look weird in skirts, and prefer the cut of men’s pants. I believe that I found men boring for as long as I can remember, and as soon as I realized I had a choice to pursue romantic relationships with women, I chose thusly. I believe that I saw a lot of gendered bullshit that my grandmothers had to suffer as women, and I recognized my choice to reject these things. I believe that “choice feminism” is bullshit because our choices are so limited and all of them suck, but we do what we can within our very limited, shitty parameters.
And I don’t believe it’s radical or the result of some innate reality when lesbian women decide to transition. I believe it’s the result of the suck-ass choices afforded to women, especially lesbian women. I believe it’s the result of our internalized misogyny, and our weird need, even within our own “community” to act out antiquated gender norms. I believe it’s the result of rampant homophobia, the kind that still has people asking my wife questions like, “So does she see herself as your husband?”
I also think the lesbian community has to own up to our culpability in this. We have perpetuated these stereotypes. We have allowed patriarchal norms, misogynist ways of being, to flourish in our own lives by accepting, without question, the gender dogma served to us by men. We have failed to question, to push back against the very systems of oppression that, historically, kept us closeted, kept us in unhappy marriages to men, and the very systems that now allow male-bodied people to call us bigots for not sucking dick. We have failed to be critical of these systems and have, instead, perpetuated them, and it’s a damn shame.
But perhaps it’s easier to transition. It’s easier to present as a man than to be a dyke – especially to be a dyke who isn’t considered “femme enough” or “butch enough.” Not only is it easier, but everyone will celebrate your decision, your choice, which is, in fact, a choice. And you won’t ever really have to examine why you made that choice because the culture will also sell you a baseless lie about how your new identity as a man is innate, because all your preferences, all your lovers and your desires were too male for your female body. That’s not revolutionary. That’s not courageous. That’s a lie.
And yet, I get it. I am not trying to suggest my sisters who have chosen this path are traitors, because I know. I know how hard it is to live in this world as a woman, as a woman who doesn’t “do woman” the way we’re expected to. I know how hard it is to love other women, and to do so openly. I know what it feels like to be at a gas station in a small town, getting looks because you don’t pass as straight. I know what it feels like to wonder if it’s “okay” to hold your girlfriend’s hand at a restaurant. I get how invisible we, as women, are when we aren’t presenting or behaving “the right way.” It’s fucking hard. It’s exhausting. And there have been plenty of times in my life when I’ve thought – however fleetingly – about what it might be like to make that choice to transition.
But it is a choice. Let’s not delude ourselves any further. It’s a choice. We live in a time when we can “opt out” of womanhood. We live in a time when men can “opt in” to womanhood. But the kind of womanhood/manhood we can purchase from a doctor are inauthentic, synthetic, are visages, facades of woman/man. And the façade doesn’t change the facts. And while women don’t owe it to anyone to be social revolutionaries, transitioning from a dyke to a dude doesn’t make the world a better place for anyone, much less women, so let’s stop pretending that it does. When women transition, they have taken advantage of one shitty choice available to them, and have ostensibly admitted that it’s impossible to be female the way we wish to be female. Of course, the dominant culture doesn’t want you to think of it this way, so they tell you it’s “natural.” They tell you the wreckage from the bomb was actually caused by an earthquake. This way, you don’t ask why, you just salvage what you can from the wreckage and tell yourself the destruction was somehow inevitable.