No, trans women don’t have any of the privilege

Recently I asked why, during their consultation meetings, Stonewall appeared to have elected to hold men only groups but not women only groups (I am now unclear whether this is actually the case, but the subsequent discussion still warrants some thought.)

As a feminist, I’m sure you can imagine I was outraged by the idea of men only groups without women only groups. But I was assured the situation is different within the trans community, because trans women “dominate” the discussion and are over-represented, so man-only spaces are needed. It wasn’t long before the underlying belief was voiced – a trans man boldly stated that trans women have louder voices because they were raised in male privilege.

What scares me is that hardly anyone seemed to bat an eyelid at this statement.

If this is going to be the underlying assumption influencing Stonewall’s thinking about trans people, then we are moving into dangerous territory. The idea that trans women have louder voices in the community because of male privilege is an assumption based in a repeated myth from second wave feminist spaces, reiterated so often it begins to sound true.

I believe the reality is that trans women, due to the unique oppressions they face, often have to learn to be “fighty” when it isn’t actually in their nature or upbringing at all. Most of the fight I’ve experienced in my trans women friends has developed as they transition – it is a response to their experience of oppression. The association with “maleness” is a lazy and unfounded leap, based on a transparently false assumption that all AMAB people are socialized with identical traits.

I also see trans men, who generally get listened to without the need to shout, being worryingly uncomfortable about acknowledging the structural inequality between themselves and trans women. While I agree trans men also experience some misogyny when they are perceived as women, I am not sure how many trans men or AFAB non-binary folks are aware of how toxic an entity transmisogyny is – that is the specific violence that is targeted at AMAB people when they expose even the slightest hint of their femininity. Transmisogyny is linked to society’s undervaluing and violence towards everything that is perceived as feminine, which is in turn an enormous part of what underpins the structural inequality between the sexes.

Trans men do not experience societal violence in the way trans women do, because becoming more “manly” and “masculine” is not seen as faulty or transgressive in the same way – femininity is cast, even by some feminists, as weak, artificial, pointless, valueless, and of course, inherently sexual. This means that trans women are more scrutinised and suspect, and experience higher rates of harassment, violence and murder. There is less social stigma in somebody assigned female wanting what’s perceived as a male role, male dress or male occupation. The evidence of the inequality between trans men and women can also be shown in this article about pay and employment.

Trans men are also less visible – pre-transition, they can dress as they choose with less stigma, post-transition, they are more likely to “pass” because of the one-way effects of male hormonal puberty. Because of this, most trans guys I know are not as interested in being involved with a trans community, except for a brief period while they are more visible during transition. It’s not a good thing for any person to feel compelled to hide their history in order to feel safe, but reality is a lot of trans guys can and do hide – they choose to quietly live their lives and not be visible.

Trans women receive a greater degree of social stigma and harassment, often coupled with increased visibility. Understandable, then, if they throw themselves more into activism, get more angry. But just as has been said to many feminists over the years in order to put women back in their place, trans women who speak up are told they are “acting like men”.

That such statements come from within the trans community is especially troubling. Trans men who say they don’t have a voice, who cry “what about the men?” are replicating something that is happening everywhere. That we see it as being outrageous that trans spaces are women-led says a lot about how we think about women, and echoes how threatened cis men feel by women-dominated feminist spaces.

Hooray for women-dominated spaces, I say – how dare we as a community twist that and misgender trans women rather than admiring the long fight and painstaking social organizing that has helped trans women fight back against the forces of their oppression.

Sure, trans men and AFAB trans folks need to be more visible, but we do that by taking our place within the community and not minding having our masculine expectations shattered – we are not the most important people here. I have no problem with more leaders in the trans community being women. I accept that transfeminine people are at greater risk in our society; they experience societal violence from birth, in the form of physical, sexual and emotional attack on all perceived femininity in assigned male people.

I am less afraid of loud and fighty trans women than I am of a community of trans women who meekly learn to “know their place” in order to rebut accusations of maleness. I also fear that in being seen as the “default” trans person, trans women will have their unique experiences as women invisibilised, and will quickly lose their ability to speak about transmisogyny as women’s issues once again get swept to the side in favour of the issues that affect men too.

This is a crucial time in the evolution of our relationship with Stonewall – allowing lazy assumptions about the male privilege of trans women to pass unchallenged could have a long term impact on how Stonewall handles future issues.

edit – after feedback, I’ve edited two sloppy bits of wording – I was never against men-only groups if there are women-only groups in parallel, and suggesting masculine clothing on AFAB folks goes without comment was definitely an overstatement. Apologies to those whose cages were unnecessarily rattled by my poor choice of words.

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29 thoughts on “No, trans women don’t have any of the privilege

  1. George Davis

    Unfortunately, research suggests that trans kids experience a high level of violence and trauma in their childhoods. I don’t think there’s any suggestion that it is worse for trans women or trans men growing up.

    Reply
    1. Sam Hope Post author

      I absolutely agree – we can never compare trans children’s lives with cis lives, I get so frustrated when trans women are assumed to have had a comparable life pre-transition to cis men when the abuse statistics alone tell a very different story

      Reply
      1. Jade

        I agree with this as a woman who transitioned early in life(pre 20s) I feel that I haven’t experienced much of what would be called male privilege and yet I feel that if I do ever speak up this is looked on negatively and I do believe there is a great stigma attached to being a trans woman than and trans guy. Don’t get me wrong i think both have there own unique struggles and some with are comaon to both groups. But I do feel that a greater number of post transition men experience so called “passing privilege” than post transition trans women do. obviously this also goes the same for individuals who are gender quire or fluid.

  2. genderneutral

    Sam I found this thought provoking. I see your point completely and as a trans man I struggle to shake off some of the conditioned female attributes I had pounded into me growing up. At least some trans women must struggle with the same. That being said, my favorite dialogs have been when all genders have come together for respectful sharing of ideas and thoughts. Often individuals of any sex/gender can get impassioned. Sometimes this comes off as aggressive. For me it is part of the process and healthy. And I do see how women are characterized quite differently in typical settings then men when they get particularly outspoken. This I am sure applies to trans women as well as cis. And yes we uphold the stereo type and oppression of all women when we perpetuate it. It blows my mind certain feminists don’t see this.

    Reply
    1. Sam Hope Post author

      we are all looking through a lot of filters when it comes to gender! When people see “maleness” in trans women (and vice versa) I always think of the experiment where experts were asked to try dyed white wine and they swore it was red . . . 🙂

      Reply
  3. rimonim

    Wow, good lord. As a post-transition guy, I see so many ways that trans women are targeted, and no ways that my sisters are privileged over me. Literally none. I definitely face hardships around being trans. I also benefit hugely from male and masculine privilege, and the privilege of being correctly gendered. I walk around everyday and get treated like any straight guy. That includes, as you say, people listening to me without me having to shout.

    Reply
  4. lindseysdavis

    Our society is routinely more concerned about the expression of “feminine” traits by male children than “masculine” traits by female children. Consider the social consequences of growing up a female “tomboy” as compared to growing up a male “sissy.” I would argue that any privilege afforded to a male child by virtue of his biological sex is confiscated as soon as he stops conforming to the masculine ideal and is completely eliminated by trans identification.

    Reply
  5. Sahra Rae Taylor

    Having been at a conference on trans* and intersex issues (up in Scotland) this weekend, it did seem like there were a lot less trans* guys… which is also indicated by the research. Which means that within the scene itself, it may be necessary for trans* guys to have their own spaces, just as we do. I have no issues with this because of the massive disparity in numbers and the absolute requirement that we can find our own safe spaces.

    Saying that, it was a wonderful, equal, caring weekend where we all had our voices heard. 😀

    Reply
    1. Sam Hope Post author

      Absolutely agree there should be spaces for trans men, as long as there can be spaces for trans women too, but on the whole I hope we’re stronger together 🙂

      Reply
  6. taylorstocks

    I appreciate the article and most comments so far. Safe spaces are important for all and compassion and empathy seems the way forward.

    For a moment, though, I must speak to my own experiences. I come from a small queer community in the remote province of Newfoundland in Canada, where you could fit most of the out transfolk around a big table. Because of our small size, dynamics can be felt in a very extreme way. There is not enough of us to have a transwomen’s space, transmen’s space, and a non-binary space, we’re all lumped together. In these arenas, I have often found that there are some transwomen who take up all the space with no recognition that that is what’s going on.

    Now before we get all up in arms about #notalltranswomen, my question is regarding how to deal with these particular instances when they do arise. As an AFAB non-binary person who a) has done what I can to keep my woman in me alive, in spite of great difficulty and b) cares deeply about the languages and practices learned from 14 years at an all-girls school, it is really hard to stomach a version of woman that is oblivious to the space that it is taking up. It literally gets to the point where I feel compelled toward masculine dominating speech, cutting the person off so that others might have a chance to use this space. I don’t appreciate having ‘I am woman, it is difficult, therefore I have the right to speak anytime I want’ card waved in front of my and my other transfamily’s faces.

    I just don’t really know what to do. How can I address this properly? It makes me feel that because I have man in me, it’s my job to shut up (because fuck the patriarchy or something) and that the woman in me has no right to say that this type of space imposition is exactly what all those years of schooling trained out of me. I’m in a double-bind. I feel like those who really need that space are not getting it and its these particular women that the rest of the community knows when you say the word ‘trans’. I just feel really shitty about the whole thing and I don’t know how to move forward.

    I’m sorry if this is too much for here, I just don’t really have anywhere else to discuss it given the smallness of our community here.

    Reply
    1. Sam Hope Post author

      I think first that it’s important not to assume this is only a problem with trans women. I had a similar message to this in my inbox today from a trans woman thanking me for the blog because she had had similar experiences of space domination from trans men. Second, it’s important it’s not assumed that the person hasn’t “learned not to take up too much space” as a male-assigned person – there are lots of other reasons someone can talk over others, one of them being autism, which is very prevalent in the trans community, another one being feeling triggered – we’re all a bit louder, a little less careful with our speech, when we’re hyper-aroused, and it’s likely that, given the violence stats I quoted, trans women may be experiencing more hyper-arousal when they’re out and about.

      How does this help you, you ask? Well, because when you’re setting up the ground rules of the space you can explicitly talk about accessibility in terms of autism and trauma, and set up things that keep everyone safe. For instance, at meetings I enforce a strict turn-taking protocol – we go around the table so everyone takes a turn to speak, and we indicate when we’ve finished. As someone with mild autistic traits myself, who tends to dominate conversations, I find this really helpful because it means I can relax more and not get things wrong and piss people off – I’m not sure being the person who does too much talking is as comfortable a position to be in as you might imagine.

      If you make it an access issue rather than a gender issue, it’s much easier to tackle, and if you assume someone is over-talking not because of gender but trauma, or autism, it can sometimes help you challenge them compassionately. Equally, challenging and assertiveness are not “male” behaviours – of course you have the right to ask to have your say!

      Reply
    2. Tai Miller

      I think you have a good question, because what we do about disruptive people is important in any movement. For some people it’s also part of the transition process. One technique I’ve used successfully before is to point out that it’s not a good thing to have heirarchies of oppression. This idea plays itself out in trans politics frequently. For cis women it manifests as transwomen not understanding that we share the same exact oppressive experiences. To cis women this seems obvious because we have experienced the violence and discrimination since we popped out of the womb. Some trans people take a while to catch up. That’s why it’s called a transition. It can be a little rude to be told you have privilege though when you see women being raped and murdered all around you and you know what the truth is. If you choose to be a woman you choose to face this. And hopefully we can be in solidarity about it too because we all desperately need that solidarity if we want the violence and oppression to end.

      Reply
  7. Sarah Noble

    I’m somewhat sympathetic to Stonewall wanting to hold meetings in which the issues of trans men are actually discussed, especially given that meetings so far have had a dearth of them, but I don’t think even Stonewall are claiming it’s because trans women are privileged. Any trans men who are thinking that may need to inspect their own privilege.

    Reply
    1. Sam Hope Post author

      I agree – I was more interested in the assumptions that were coming up in the discussion of this, that I thought warranted examination. In my mind, the best case scenario is to have separate groups for men and women.

      Reply
  8. Ethan

    All this because some guys needed their own space? Sure – the asshat who said transwomen have male privilege is just that – an asshat. But we do need our own spaces. I’ve never been to a trans group where the guys weren’t treated poorly by the women. I think (especially early in transition) we tend to really misunderstand each other.

    Now if transwomen want their own space, that should be fine too. I just don’t understand why this is such a big deal.

    Reply
  9. Victoria Mitchell

    Uhhhhhhhh… Trans girl here seeing valid points in the other side of this argument. AMAB do and are raised inside of male privilege and often, I find that they argue in a combative and non-concensus-finding kinda way. They’re belligerent, condescending, and strident to the point of rudeness and over it. That said, trans dudes act like that too.

    I think that the type of ‘discussion’ that patriarchial attitudes engenders is very easy and feels more affirmative for the one doing the argument because it doesn’t need to acknowledge the other point of view or any possibility of error in logic or manners. I think that a LOT of trans girls keep this shit up and, while a few trans dudes I know have adopted this stance and attitude, they’re easily shut down by a room full of chicks who know exactly how to be the most annoying kind of conversational opponent and do it like they were born to it (because they were).

    I myself know how to argue like this and, if pushed to the point of anger, I will go there again, sometimes. Happened this weekend, actually.

    Is it a bad thing to acknowledge this? No. Its probably important to see where the patriarchial venom still lingers. Is it okay for trans dudes to make an exclusionary space? I guess? I mean, there might be some that need it. Is it okay to make parts of an inclusionary event seperate? Well, scc has the partners room and bathrooms are segregated by gender so… maybe?

    Reply
    1. Sam Hope Post author

      I know so many cis women who act like this too – I guess I just don’t see that men and women are socialised separately in the way commonly seen – we are all socialised in patriarchy and can pick up a trick or two from it, I know I have lots of typically male-socialised behaviours.

      Reply
  10. burnseleanor21

    My experience of transition has certainly been one of self-determination and empowerment from a place where I formerly felt very weak and lost. Ironically, this has indeed led to me being accused to acting more like a man than I was wont to act while actually trying (and failing) to identity as a man… I am very encouraged by your post, and thank you for your support. I can personally see no reason why having chiefly feminine inclinations / personality should automatically be tied to ideas of powerlessness and moral stigma, but such indeed appears to be the case (and if that isn’t a form of misogyny, I don’t know what it is).

    Reply
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