This Friday, my friend Athena blogged “Replying to a Text From My Mother” on Cyborg Workshop. Seriously, you need to read this post in its entirety. Right now, I want to focus on a moment I had while reading her words, particularly at this spot:
“…while I was attempting to build a relationship with you and help you to understand and know me, I was constantly inundated with the message that there were some things I couldn’t know because ‘only women can understand.’”
That sentence evoked a visceral reaction within me. I fast-traveled back to moments from my own past where cis women had assumed and treated me as if I was “part of the club.” I’d been assigned the female label at birth because of my genitalia. For several decades, I tried my damnedest to live up to it, shoving away any uncertainties about my gender that bubbled up in the back of my mind.
A Quick Trip Back in Time
I remembered smiling, nodding, and chiming in with my own experiences with groups of (presumably all-femme) coworkers and friends as I dealt with menstrual pain and fatigue. During the years I still had a period, I was fortunate enough to be able to sometimes take time off to rest, medicate, and recover. Looking back, I think my symptoms would probably fit the criteria for primary dysmenorrhea, a condition still little understood and ignored because it’s seen as a “woman’s issue” and an expected part of life to endure. However, not all women menstruate and not everyone who menstruates is a woman.
I recalled sharing my frustrations about the men I’d dated and how they’d treated me. I’ve thankfully not ever been trapped in an all-out abusive relationship, but I’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty shitty behavior. One example: I’ve been fetishized by both White and Black cis men because of my multiracial heritage and skin color. I’ve been approached, catcalled and harassed by, and hurt by men who thanks to their own racism wouldn’t touch a dark-skinned woman with a thousand-foot pole. Nevertheless, queer men of color can find themselves in somewhat similar positions. Their romantic histories with men don’t make them women, any more than mine makes me a woman.
I flashed back to times in which I’ve dealt with body image issues and ableism. That includes being shamed for my weight, my natural hair texture, an inability to find clothing in my size, even the very ways in which I walked and moved my body. I remember sharing these with friends, acquaintances, relatives, and coworkers who were women, and listening to their experiences in turn. Now, I perceive that femmes may experience these realities in much different ways than I did, and that misogyny (and misogynoir) adds more layers and nuances. Also, people who aren’t women also struggle with these same areas of marginalization.
“But…But…You Were (Fill in the Blank)”
To be fair, I wasn’t completely honest about my “not being part of the club” until I was 38 years old. After I came out as Autistic at age 33, I thought that perhaps the nagging feeling that I was an imposter and an outsider came from trying to pass as allistic. While that may have partly contributed to my feelings, they didn’t go away after I came out as Autistic. In fact, they sometimes intensified. After starting my MFA studies in 2014 and being forced to confront the scars from my childhood as I wrote, I decided there was no reason to pretend to be a woman anymore.
After I came out as trans two and a half years ago, I received a lot of support. Meanwhile, I have encountered my own share of being misunderstood. I’ve had to cut off contact with people who didn’t even try to get it, or who seemed to be “okay” but then revealed that they weren’t, and those who still insisted that I was the deadnamed individual who shared their spaces once upon a time. These actions were necessary to protect myself and my health in the physical, mental, and emotional senses.
At the same time, I’ve also tried my best to recognize when it was time to exit women’s spaces in which I clearly did not belong. It doesn’t help when others keep trying to drag me back into them. Believe me, misguided attempts to be “inclusive” can be just as problematic as outright marginalization, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.
An Incomprehensible Logic
This post is also the result of me now sitting back and processing years of experiences that have accumulated. It’s also the result of understanding that trans people are not socialized as whatever their assigned genders at birth are. I think it’s incredibly fucked up that this logic is used to exclude trans women from women’s spaces but yet the cis women doing the excluding have absolutely no problems with actual men (i.e. trans men) being in their spaces. That means that fundamentally, they do not see trans women as women and trans men as men. And don’t even get me started over the invalidation of nonbinary, agender, and other individuals whose genders do not fit the traditional binary.
If you ever thought of me as part of the secret sisterhood, understand this. I do not know what it’s like to be a woman. I only know what it’s like to pretend to be one. However, I do know what it’s like to be invalidated and treated like shit because of being perceived as a woman. I can’t decide what makes me angrier: the fact that I suffered for it through several decades or the fact that people justify such shitty treatment to women.
Hey there! I’ve written more about this, and my work is included in fabulous places such as the Spoon Knife: Test Chamber anthology. If you haven’t picked up a copy, you can still hop over to the AutPress store and order one.