Content note: Transphobia is discussed, rape is mentioned without description.
One common theme going on in the writing of feminists that wish to exclude or disregard trans women is the idea that the feminism of trans women and others that don’t hate trans women wants to deny cis women the space to talk about their bodies and how they relate to their oppressions. I most recently noticed this when Glosswitch, whose gradual progression into serious transphobia I’ve been watching recently, creates a straw (wo)man feminist that wants to pretend what she calls “female biological functions” don’t exist.
Thing is… we get it. We actually get it. If you’re aware of how cissexism works you’re more or less bound to get it.
Knowing cissexism, we know exactly how a cissexist patriarchy throws a bunch of things together into womanhood, which it hates. It hates women. That means it hates the bodies it associates with women, the behaviours and expressions it associates with women, anyone that is a woman. (I’m going to say patriarchy a lot, by the way. To be clear, I’m talking about the totality of actions of individuals and institutions driven by the subjugation of women.)
It’s true that patriarchy associates vaginas, uteri and other things with women. It therefore either despises them or sees them only as objects to be penetrated and make babies. When Chella Quint speaks brilliantly on period shaming, she’s talking about patriarchy. When we talk about denial of abortion rights, we’re talking about patriarchy. A patriarchy that’s cissexist; that therefore doesn’t care, even acknowledge, that trans men are caught up in those things too (not that we shouldn’t care).
Patriarchy hates women just as vehemently whether or not it knows about their genitals or other sex characteristics. Being cissexist, there doesn’t even need to be a conscious assumption. If it’s not actively reading a woman as trans (which itself doesn’t guarantee much in the way of sex characteristics), it’s passively reading a woman as cis. Without needing to actively examine bodily characteristics, it affords women lesser social status compared to men of otherwise similar status. It rejects their job application, ignores their sexual desires or lack of, it screams “bitch” or “dyke” or “slut” at them in the street. Having not a single uterus to my name, I experience all of these things.
It associates feminine appearance and expression with women too. Those read as feminine women are being frivolous and artificial; things taken as a reflection on their personality. If they are raped, they were asking for it. Those read as feminine men are the most dangerous of gender deviants, far more so than masculine women (men are better than women, why wouldn’t you want to be masculine?) and receive a huge amount of violence and hatred.
Supposing you’re a trans woman being read as a woman (as you’ll recall, passively read as cis), you can’t get the dick-you-may-or-may-not-have out and get a pardon and apology. Hey, I wrote about that already. On the contrary, it’s a greater offence to not only be a woman (enough to be read as such), but not even be a viable sex object for straight men. Or not someone a straight man wants to admit is a viable sex object. What the hell use are you, then?
And on that last point, we go full circle. Patriarchy is obsessed with women’s bodies and their ability to be penetrated and make babies. If a woman can do that, she sure as hell ought to. If a woman can’t or won’t do either then she’s useless. In the case of trans women, even a fraud. The oppression of cis and trans women is, then, cut from the same cloth. We know this.
Patriarchy does not care for your definitions of biological sex. It does not care for a distinction of “natural” sex or “artificial” gender. It hates women. It hates whoever it’s judging as enough-of-a-woman at a particular moment. Yes, sex characteristics are part of that. So are many other ways of determining enough-of-a-woman. If we’re to be honest about patriarchal oppression, it means acknowledging all of it, not just the bits about vaginas, uteri and whatever other sex characteristics suit one’s definitions.