I mentioned this website [edit: in the few weeks I've been sitting on this post, the original site has gone down, but you can read it here: Page 1 Page 2 Page 3] in my last post, and in some ways the more I ponder it the less I want to tackle it. There are so many layers of horribleness, each piled on top of the next, and there’s only so much mental energy I can devote to shoveling it up. But there’s a lot of interesting stuff in here, as problematic as it is, and I think it’s important to take a closer look at it.
The author of this site (which I’ll refer to here as SYWT) is, as far as I can tell, a very binary-identified transsexual woman who falls into the “transsexual separatist” category I discussed in my previous post. It’s a transition guide (written for women, although the introduction says that 90% of the content is applicable for the trans male world) in three parts: coming to understand one’s true identity and beginning transition, life when you are mid-transition and/or don’t “pass” regularly, and living in deep stealth. It doesn’t focus on how to get medical treatment, adopting feminine behaviors, or how to shop for clothing in the women’s section, the way a lot of other transition resources do. Instead, it focuses much more on behavior and lists of things that prove someone isn’t a “real” transsexual woman (but instead a faker/drag queen/tranny/man-in-dress/etc.).
What’s most striking to me about this entire guide is that the author is constantly insulting and dismissive of any trans person who doesn’t fall into her extremely narrow definition of what makes a transsexual. There are multiple mentions of trans activists and how harmful they are to the “real” transsexuals who are just trying to quietly live in stealth, and lists such as the following:
You shouldn’t transition if you are a crossdresser, transvestite, or drag queen… if you have pictures of yourself on the net that are sexual in nature or of you in a hotel room… if female clothing turns you on… if you go to meetings at a crossdresser club, a transsexual club, or a gay rights group… if you are “out and proud” (lesbians don’t count)… if you took a bastardization of a male name for your female name…if you took something like “Luvs” or “Aphrodite” or some other overly-feminine, ridiculous, childish word or name as part or all of your new name… if you hang out in drag bars… if your friends hang out in drag bars… if you have a “drag mother”… if you go out in 6” heels and mini skirts… if you own 6” heels and mini skirts… if you do not own a pair of jeans and sneakers… if you penetrate men in the anus during sexual intercourse… if you “dress up” to masturbate… if you can’t have sex naked… if you think playing with your breasts after they grow would be “cool”… if you want to be a porn star or an escort after you transition… if you can’t visit with every single one of your co-workers, friends, family, children, parents, or anyone else on the planet for that matter, afterwards… if you still own a single item of male clothing… if you display photos of the “old” you… if you still have a single piece of your male life intact… if you still go out as a male for any reason now… if you do not plan on, are working towards, or already have tried to get GRS… if you do not have a plan that will see you through to stealth and beyond… if you think your voice doesn’t need work… if you consider yourself a “transgender”, “gender fuck”, or label yourself as anything other than a woman… if you describe yourself as “sexually confused”, a “freak”, or un-definable… if you plan on being a transsexual rather than a woman… if you want to keep your penis… if you think it will be easy… if you start a fight when you get clocked… if you haven’t seen a psychiatrist, a doctor, and a lawyer yet… if you get your hormones without a legitimate prescription while under a doctors care… if you want more out of the transition than what any other woman out there has now… if you think transitioning will make you happy… if you want to become a transsexual, or, if you want to become a woman.
That’s… a long list. One of the most frustrating things about this list in particular, and the entire piece in general, is that the author has this extremely narrow view of what makes a “real” transsexual woman. There’s no room for variation.
She wants trans women to be feminine, but even within that she sets out specific rules. Hyper-feminine clothing such as mini-skirts are out, as are any sexual pleasure that a trans woman might gain from her changing body and any overtly sexual interaction with others. Doesn’t this just sound like the slut-shaming that comes from sexist people who want to keep the good old Madonna/Whore dichotomy alive?
On the other hand, though, if someone isn’t female-acting enough for her (no plans for genital surgery, penetrating sexual partners, a new name that’s masculine-sounding), they aren’t doing it right either. So what we wind up with is the same sort of nasty, restrictive gender-policing that trans folks (and all flavors of cis folks that are gender-non-conforming in some way, let’s remember – this isn’t solely a trans issue) already get on a daily basis. And this from a member of the community who is, in theory, offering a helpful resource for folks just starting out on their transition or trying to sort through a huge pile of conflicting emotions. This is what they’re offered: a giant checklist of Forbidden Items with the warning that if they fail to follow any of these arbitrary rules, they don’t deserve to transition.
I realize that the “I have always been a woman/man” feeling is very very real to a lot of trans folks, and I’m not downplaying that narrative. But to claim that it’s the only authentic trans identity is ridiculous and harmful to those of us who’ve come at our identities through other paths. I think it’s safe to say that all trans people, no matter how closely their personal story may match the “classic” transsexual narrative, spend some amount of time feeling like they’re being squished into a restrictive set of gender roles that doesn’t reflect their actual identities. It’s really upsetting to me to read a piece by someone within the community who’s setting up the same inflexible expectations of “proper” behavior, desire, and presentation.
What does the author think of femme men or butch women? I originally thought of this question with trans folks in mind, but I also wonder what she thinks of cisgendered people with “abnormal” gender expressions. She doesn’t directly address genderqueer or other non-binarily-identified people in this piece, but she seems to lump them in with the freak-type transgendered folks, which to her seems to be anyone who transitions without Complete Stealth as the ultimate goal. So while I’m not sure exactly what her take on them would be, I doubt it would be pleasant. Is this entire article just a lot of internalized transphobia making its out in a particularly nasty way?
In my mind, any form of gender expression that makes someone feel more happy, playful, sexy, confident, or more comfortable in their body is a good thing. And no “resource” that is insulting or dismissive of any form of gender expression/presentation, or sets up hierarchies of good/better/best trans folks, deserves to be treated as such. No matter how popular or frequently-referenced the SYWT author says her article is, that doesn’t make it helpful, truthful, or worth reading. If I’d come across something like this when I was in the early days of sorting out what on earth my gender was and what I wanted to do about it, I think it would have kept me quiet about what I was feeling for even longer.
[Obviously, I'm not even the target audience here. If any of you can stomach the entire thing (I just skimmed it at first and was re-horrified when I went back and read it in-depth), I'd love to get feedback from trans folks who are female-identified to any extent.]