The world’s definitions are one thing and the life one actually lives is quite another. One cannot allow oneself, nor can one’s family, friends, or lovers — to say nothing of one’s children — to live according to the world’s definitions: one must find a way, perpetually, to be stronger and better than that.
— James Baldwin (quoted in ‘Refusing to be a Man: Essays on Sex and Justice’ John Stoltenberg.—Rev. ed, Taylor & Francis, 2000
i’m blessed. at least in this world, where i find myself increasingly alienated as i move away from what passes for “common sense” and appreciation/obedience to “the way things are” in our society, there are people kind enough to read me and give me constructive criticism.
i recently had a conversation with my ex-wife and she was surprised when i told her that contrary to the impression she had from a few months ago talking with me about my new-found membership in and identification with the Transgender Community, i now feel isolated and know that this has come about as the result of my own quixotic, off-beat way of thinking…
i’m sure that’s well illustrated by my having called myself a “male-Woman” and not joining in with my comrades, other Transgender Women, who make the claim that “Transgender Women Are Women!” central to their concept of justice and dignity.
a dear friend wrote to me and expressed the problem and the consequences to me like this:
“I find your term “male woman” less helpful. It mixes, I believe, the level of lived gender experience with gendered sense of self, and may lead some readers to think that the first part “male”, undermines the second “woman”. That is obviously not what you are trying to say, but I am afraid quite a few of your readers will understand it that way. Which may lead you to be defined as an “inferior” or even “fake” woman”
i know that my use of the term male-Woman is the most vulnerable edge of where my thinking has lead me… viewed as most people will, i am disavowing the “correct” point of view… i might make myself a pariah…
the problem begins with me where i can’t ignore or totally disagree with the “opposite side” in the disagreement between Gender Critical Feminists and Transgender Women over who gets to call themselves “Women”.
it seems that i agree with the Gender Critical Feminists that i can’t be a Woman because i haven’t paid the dues… and never will.
that situation is defined as having occurred and been caused by the cultural/historical/psychological/spiritual context of Patriarchy that Radical Feminist analysis brilliantly and vehemently opposes. the identity “Woman” as so defined is something that i think all would agree is unknowable to its depths to me, because i’m male, and this society defines that as being synonymous with being a “Man” and that’s the position to which my point of view has been chained.
Gender Critical Feminist critique says that the only kind of Woman i as a male could be is a Woman made of fantasy fragments all created in my own distorted Patriarchal mind… and i think that’s true. but then again, it’s true for them too. in other words, the concept is broken. there is no extant gender that avoids the basic problem of being part of a Patriarchal fantasy.
neither of us can be what we really are until we each let go of the Patriarchal association of the terms we use for identity which i argue needs to take place at the level of the basic psychological/conceptual framework in which our idea of identity has meaning, i.e. domination/submission etc. in other words, the words we use to describe things are not as important as what the things mean to us inside.
my position is not meant to be “the true position” and i don’t think it’s necessary or possible that anyone else think about themselves the way i think about myself. i respect what people tell me they mean to be seen as and what that means to them, even when (as is always the case) we all fail to really make a “perfect argument” that applies universally to all of us… of course not.
so, paradoxically (or perhaps to some just intellectually deficient) i’m also OK with people who disagree with Gender Critical Feminism on these points.
i don’t agree with Gender Critical Feminists that Transgender Women who demand to be considered as simply “Women” are being intentionally misogynist or that misogyny is the only possible result of their doing so, intentionally or not. at the same time, i see how from within the Patriarchal context of the use of the term “Woman” this is a possible interpretation of Transgender assertion of “Womanhood”.
but i think Transgender Women — many of us going to the length of becoming former “Men” — are doing a sheroic thing: we don’t want to be in that context anymore, and we’re willing to become “freaks” in the eyes of those who do, in our quest to create lives free from Patriarchy’s chains.
i think we’re all letting our language strangle us. what “Woman” can mean, what it might mean, what it ought to be free to mean… i see these as being the gifts of Transgender identity… possibilities of what waits ahead have got to be born somewhere. standing still is not possible and as a Transgender person, this is my heart’s desire… to be involved with the Transformation of our psyches and the dissolution of Patriarchy in our culture as Human Beings…
we have already developed enough insight about the ideology of Patriarchy to refute it and eject the baggage attached to the terms we use for gender if we want to.
can we seize the language and decide for ourselves what we mean by “Man” or “Woman”? do we serve ourselves, or our Masters by agreeing to understand our language in the context that it has been chained to, or can we say what we are and have it be that instead? Yoko Ono said “Peace if You Want It”. i follow that logic/illogic… i understand that this is a process… so neither answer is “right” and there is tension, to say the least.
i want to be about the work and play of creating a culture that no longer exhibits the toxic sociopathic conditions that we have learned characterize the assumptions at the root of Patriarchy.
Patriarchy has warped our minds with its delusional, toxic sociopathic beliefs such as the absolute truth of the duality of all things, the absolute moral right assigned to privilege based on sex, race, age, rank and status, the absolute power of violence and dishonesty to control and dominate…
i see paths away from the delusional, toxic sociopathic beliefs of Patriarchy and the social/physical structures built on them with the Feminist Theory of Mary Daly/bell hooks and other input like the Social Ecology of Murray Bookchin/Janet Biehl, the psychological wisdom of Gregory Bateson/R.D. Laing, the biological science of Lyn Margulis, the anthropological science of Elanor Burke Leacock/Marshall Sahlins, the historical research of Gerda Lerner/Silvia Federici, the moral authority of Vandana Shiva/MLK, the political militancy of Winona LaDuke/the Zapatistas).
so, back to the point…
i accept that from the mainstream point of view that me qualifying my use of the term “Woman” to describe myself with the term “male” in front of it means that i am not identifying according to the same criteria as Transgender Women who would say that i’m not “real” because i don’t claim to be a Woman, same as any other Woman. that’s also why i’m OK using the term “Transgender Woman” though, because i mean it literally…
to me this resolves a whole bunch of the tension that i want to get past with Gender Critical Feminism because i cede the point to them… sure, since “Woman” is a term that is inextricably entangled with the vile distortions of Human identity imposed by Patriarchy, then of course i can’t be a “Woman”.
i mean that i can’t argue with someone that says to me that i can’t know what being a “Woman” is because society has never in the past treated me any differently than it treats Men… who it should be acknowledged suffer from hierarchical divisions that subject them to obscene suffering too, but…
the truth remains that in this vicious culture of domination/submission, any Man always has the “right” to “be a Man” and “take action” and “defend his property”… so even an oppressed Man is always free, and in fact obligated on simple survival grounds to dominate whoever he may find that is weaker. of course, Woman has been filling that role since before Eve was blamed for the Fall by Man, the producers of this show. “they” are inferior, even in the hovels of serfs. Men have a different point of view than Women in this sense that can’t be erased by the stroke of a pen or simply changing the way we use a word…
my dilemma is that i refuse to live any longer under the yoke of that point of view, that of a “Man”.
but apparently, i can’t ignore the criticism of Gender Critical Feminists that the term “Woman” is a whole bundle of experiences that i don’t have and so can’t use the term without altering it’s meaning. Gender Critical Feminists feel that this alteration negates the high price they’ve paid for that experience… this is why they talk about the end of gender altogether. but while simultaneously claiming exclusive ownership of the gender term “Woman”, they want all of us to walk away from those terms and… i don’t know what.
i think that at least that the definitions we have of these terms need to be erased and redrawn, losing the connotations of inferiority/superiority and etc. that have been grafted to them by Patriarchy and Hierarchical social concepts.
so… since no such identity or “gender” has ever existed in our culture that isn’t Man or Woman, i am calling myself a Transgender Woman, changing my hormonal balance toward the female, adopting many markers culturally understood as pertaining to “Women”, using feminine pronouns and my legal documents are all in order as a female (since there has up until now not been the third option of “non-binary” available, and the government conflates sex/gender as interchangeable, female is the only alternative for a male wishing to identify as a Transgender Woman).
given all that, i guess i just have to be OK that this could make me a “fake Woman” according to a whole lot of the Transgender people that i thought i was “part of” as i came out, people who conceive of themselves as “real Women”.
at the same time i understand that my acceptance of this “inferiorization” does nothing at all to make me acceptable to the Gender Critical Feminists i think i’m trying to respect.
but so far, this is the best i can do…
there’s been a lot to learn.
obviously, i’m in need of more of that. i bet we all are. let’s keep going…