A quizzical look

Peace in our time?

As a trans woman working in academia, one of the questions I regularly get asked is how I get along with feminist colleagues. When I invariably answer “incredibly well”, I’m often met with a quizzical look.

Trans and feminism have certainly had a wobbly relationship over the years, but trans writers have energetically drawn on and contributed to feminist theory, while trans politics has been positively embraced by many feminists. The story here is not one of political conflict, it’s of mutual recognition.

So what’s all this about Rowling then? Not a story of political conflict? Not a conflict between trans ideology and feminism?

It is little wonder that my own daughters, both young feminists themselves, unreservedly see trans as ally, not enemy. The reasons for this are not hard to fathom. After all, a fundamental tenet of feminism is to end forms of oppression; and the same rule must apply for a trans and gender-diverse minority.

No. The fundamental tenet of feminism is that women are not inferior or subordinate to men. It’s not about all “forms of oppression,” it’s about the specific form of oppression that oppresses women. Not men who say they are women, but women.

What’s more, much contemporary feminism rejects the pathologising dogmatism of “gender critical” and “sex-based rights” advocacy that paints trans and gender diversity as effectively delusional.

Ah yes that pesky dogmatism that thinks sex-based rights take precedence over fantasy-based rights. How dare we.

As both feminist and transfeminist writers have long pointed out, we are not immutably tethered to an innate experience of womanhood or manhood simply by being designated an F or an M at birth.

What does that mean? Pretty much nothing. In fact we do, just as a matter of definition, have an experience of being either a woman or a man, depending on which we in fact are. There’s no need to call it “innate,” much less to generalize about it as “an innate experience of womanhood”; it’s just an experience of being a girl and then a woman. Just one. Each of us is just one. We don’t experience all of womanhood, we just experience our own lives as female people. That’s all. It’s not grandiose or complicated, it’s just the reality. We don’t experience our lives as tigers or buildings or chestnuts, because we’re not any of those things. We are what we are.

Many of us are increasingly less excited about being told we have that in common with men who say they are women.

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