Trigger warning: Transphobia is discussed in detail.
You’ve probably heard it on various not very nice parts of the internet. I, as a trans woman, have male privilege. This is because I was socialised as a man, or born as one, or something else where I totally was unambiguously a man until, in a small flat in Western Helsinki, I made a post on facebook in which I came out to my friends and abruptly became something different out of nowhere. The privilege of that maleness that totally defined me before that point remains like last night’s excessive alcohol intake in my bloodstream, making me the privileged half of the species.
Where this notion of remanent privilege hinges on biological determinism, it doesn’t deserve the time of day. When it’s talking about the history of how a trans woman was treated at any such time as they were read as reasonably well-conforming males probably still doesn’t deserve the time of day, but requires a more thorough exploration of things to properly engage with. I suspect one would find it basically impossible to make any generalised analysis over the class of trans women, because like everyone else, things vary wildly between how we were socialised as young people. In particular, things get messy because many of us failed abjectly at doing maleness, if we ever really tried at all.
I’m not going to go that deeply into it right now (yes, that’s what ze said). But I was thinking about the whole thing on a very warm megabus on the Northbound M1 today, and how bizarrely contradictory the whole idea of remanent male privilege feels in terms of my lived experience.
Society is deeply binarist. To the majority, there are only two genders. That majority has an amazing need to constantly be reading people’s gender all of the time, and an amazing confidence in the judgment calls they make. So there are two gender readings I’m going to get – male or female. When I get the male reading, that should supposedly privilege me over the times I get the female reading. Here’s that totally contradictory thing: It doesn’t. A female reading will grant me access to relative safety and decent treatment from strangers. If it can be sustained over a period of time, it will grant me access to non-queer spaces with relative ease, and to employment or anything else (as much as any women ever have those things). A male reading, meanwhile, threatens my safety and decent treatment; access to non-queer spaces, employment and so on.
Clearly, there’s something else going on that makes a male gender reading different from that being given to, well, men. I present very much as female, in an awesome queer femme kind of way. Other things like my body and my voice are coming to deviate from appearing male too. So my appearance is something that makes people afraid, angry or confused; something they see as strange and wrong. Or I’m just seen as a plain old gay boy or queer, with much the same effect. Perhaps a source of confusion is that under male supremacy, a man is something I should want to be; perhaps the fact I’m not being that challenges the very idea that men really are that great.
There’s something else going on when someone isn’t conforming to the gender they’ve been read as. Trans oppression (or queer oppression; they’re much the same in a society that doesn’t understand trans-ness), as we can call it. And do. Oppression that people that are cis, getting the correct gender reading and not being seen as too gender deviant don’t experience. Something that has the sort of the effects I described in the previous paragraph, whereby the fact we’re seen at least sometimes as deviating from what’s judged to be our assigned gender is a problem for people, including ones with power over our lives.
There are things I want to explore more deeply in the near future. For now, here’s the point: My lived experience is something in which a reading as male doesn’t make things good in any way; it makes things shitty. It makes a lot of things worse than if I was being read as a cis female. Such is the nature of trans oppression as it intersects with my gender. Our feminism should be grounded in women’s actual lived experience, and going on about male privilege in trans women is doing the opposite of that.