Writing this isn’t an easy thing, because it is something even some of my close friends still struggle with; it is something that too easily gets perpetuated in even the most intersectional of feminist spaces I’ve recently engaged with. It is the statement that “transgender women are socialised as men.” Part of me even feared writing this, and as I type I’m trying to reflect on each and every word; because, for some reason, this is still debated in ways that makes me extremely uncomfortable. I want to stress that what I put forward here is very much my understanding, and I don’t seek to speak for all transgender people; it is simply a reflection of my engagement with “intersectional feminism” over the years.
Saying that “transgender women are socialised as men” is constructing a narrow experience of womanhood that is considered “valid”, and then drawing lines as to who can claim it and who can’t. It can even be an instrument of exclusion, where a transgender woman’s behaviour is policed, to check whether there is anything “masculine” about her; yet if we would apply such policing to a cisgender woman, it would immediately be called out because it is problematic. The most ironic form this has taken place is when a feminist would tell me that to be assertive is a male trait, and thus I am being masculine because I speak loudly about my issues; this completely missed the point that for many trans people, speaking softly about transgender inclusion mean that you just get ignored. And it is messed up because shouldn’t the entire point of feminism be to give voice to those who are oppressed? To those who don’t have a voice? To those who are told that they shouldn’t be assertive?
The question is also: who decided which women’s experience counts as “being socialised as a woman”… When cisgender women make the decision that they can set that standard, and by that standard decide whether the experience of a transgender woman is validly that of a woman, they fail to understand that they inherently are still unilaterally deciding what a woman is and what the definition of that experience is. We would never draw such lines in any other way? Not in terms of class or race; and nowadays rarely according to sexual orientation (those some of that did happen when looking at certain feminist discourses.) Furthermore, there are places and cultures where girls are raised as boys, and are socialised as such in their youth; should they grow up to be women, do we question their socialisation? I’ve rarely seen that happen… No, the fact that this line is draw predominantly according cisgender-transgender lines tells us know the idea of a transgender woman’s experience being, in fact, a woman’s experience, is something too many are still struggling to grasp.
As an inspiring trans activist I know put it”
Cisgender people “are”
Trans people “identify as”
The statement that “transgender woman are socialised as men” is simply another way of denying transgender woman a claim to being a woman, and it is a sign of the still – at times subtle – policing of transgender women’s behaviour and identity in feminist spaces.