Thursday, October 27, 2011

Trans Womyn are Born Womyn

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.

1. Womon.

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 male sex-class.

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 sex-class wermen.

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 normativity.

2. Biology

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.

3. 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.
 4. Originality.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.