by Marja Erwin, fully updated
Since the 1970s, the term "born womyn" has been used to exclude trans
womyn, or to include other womyn and sometimes certain men, on the
grounds of biology, socialization and originality. However, if we
consider this more closely, I think it is clear that we are also born
womyn on all of these grounds.
I call myself womon because I understand my female existence in
relation to myself and my sisters, not in relation to male normativity.
A misogynistic society centers the male sex-class, reserving the
unmarked term, man, to the male sex-class and applying the marked term,
woman, to the female sex-class. A feminist response should decenter the
It is usually better, and easier, to name ourselves than to attempt to
name others. For this reason, I prefer to call ourselves womyn, instead
of calling our own sex-class women and trying to call the male
A number of faab womyn argue that only faab womyn have the right to
call themselves womyn, and we must call ourselves women or transwomen.
I cannot understand this argument. We have the same right to define
ourselves in relation to ourselves, and it is anti-feminist to declare
that womyn, or any group of womyn, must be defined in relation to male
In theory, the assignment of children to male or female is the
assignment to one of two natural biological categories. And biological
sex is associated with certain biological differences, so an faab
individual probably has a womb, probably will have a menstrual cycle,
etc. and an maab individual probably does not have these. But biological
sex is full of exceptions.
Some have described menstruation and fertility as important differences
between faab and maab/trans womyn. These gain added importance because
of the social and political narratives surrounding fertility. However,
many faab womyn have never menstruated, and a few maab/trans womyn have
had müllerian tissue.
Some have described the dependence on external estrogen and, if
possible, progesterone, as well as, if desired and acessible, surgeries,
as important differences between faab and maab/trans womyn, and among
trans womyn. These gain added importance because of the social and
political narratives surrounding transition. In both cases, fertility
and transition, power structures oppose womyn's bodily autonomy.
Others have noted certain differences between male and female limbic
systems. Trans/maab womyn seem to have structures similar to faab womyn,
such as the size of the BSTc, and different from men. There are some
problems with the brain-structure studies. The sample sizes are small,
and its unclear how the few known differences may relate to sex
identity/subconscious sex. There is some controversy about whether these
studies have adequately ruled out any effects due to hormone
replacement therapy. These are subtle, but these are probably the most
important biological differences.
There is also evidence from the David Reimer case, as well as the
accounts of many trans people, that sex identity/subconscious sex can
emerge extremely early and can resist socialization.
In practice, the division of children into two sex-classes shapes our
childhoods and haunts our whole lives. If our parents did not enforce
the division, our teachers did, and many of them encouraged our bullies
to do the same.
We faced different circumstances, but we were taught the same message.
We heard, from other students, from bullies, and sometimes from
teachers, that being a girl or womon is a shameful condition and wanting
to be a girl or womon is a shameful desire. I think that these are
parallel but not identical. I think that these messages converge if and
when someone learns to take pride in herself as a womon and/or chooses
to transition, because these experiences unite the desire with the
condition. If anything, it means overcoming an additional layer of
misogyny to get from being a womon to proudly being one.
We faced different kinds of sex-role enforcement too. Because this
society is so misogynistic, it punishes assigned-boys who show feminine
interests or even just female physiques, while it mostly tolerates
assigned-girls who show masculine interests. My interests were more
like most boys than most girls. But I was too socially awkward to fit
in, and too small and asthmatic to keep up with the boys, so many of
them regarded me as one of the girls, if they didn't ridicule me as one.
And I faced beatings in school.
This is probably the hardest to define.
For the moment, I would say that originality is when a womon remembers,
reclaims, and expresses her whole self, future, present, and past.
Self-discovery, re-discovery and self-definition are part of
originality. Many smaller transitions are part of originality: girl to
womon, nonsexual to lesbian, and so on.
But our society is full of obstacles to originality: male domination,
misogyny, transphobia, lesbophobia, sex-role policing, and body
policing, among others. It is an ongoing challenge to create spaces
which are free from these obstacles, in part because many spaces which
avoid lesbophobia and sex-role policing end up re-creating transphobia
and body policing.
5. Born womon.
I call myself born-womon because I am one. I call myself born-womon
because, from my earliest memories, I have struggled with this inner
sense that I should be a womon and the society-wide message that I
should not. I have struggled through bullying and beatings. I have
learned self-hatred and fear. And it has not been easy to relearn
self-respect and love. All this is female experience.
- Marja Erwin