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16705179432_d212ce287d_kPhoto Credit: Flickr user trouble_x via Creative Commons

I have always felt that trans women are just as much women as I am, regardless of whether they were born with a similar body or not.  It feels silly to have to write an article such as this, but when I constantly see both women and men arguing that trans women are not really women, it proves the need for this.  So, let’s talk about what “makes” a woman.

“Trans women do not choose to be women, they simply are.”

Genitalia does not make a woman.  We do not tell women who have had hysterectomies, mastectomies, or other things done to their bodies that they are no longer women.  Feminists have fought for decades for the right to not be expected to bear children and treated as only having worth in their fertility or how well of a housemaker they can be.  Newsflash – when we essentialize trans women by their ability to bear children vaginally, we contradict everything that has been fought for previously. Being a woman is not defined by waking up to your period when you’re already late for work, worrying about missing a birth control pill, or bra shopping. Being a woman is so much more than that. It’s not common for a cis-woman to try to completely circumvent puberty, praying for the adult qualities of their young bodies to never appear.  This is a privilege.

[RELATED POST: America: It’s Time for Us to Take a Stand Against Transgender Violence]

Trans women do not choose to be women, they simply are.  No one wakes up one day and says, “You know what I’m sick of?  My privilege.  I choose to align myself with an oppressed group and give up any safety and privilege that I once had as a man.”  That’s not how this works.  Trans women dressing as their gender is not the equivalent of cultural appropriation or black face, as writer and activist Elinor Burkett asserts.

Makeup, clothes, and high heels do not make a woman, but choosing to embrace those things does not make a woman less of a feminist.  Many second-wave feminists take umbrage when a trans woman chooses to embrace these objects that society lumps with femininity.  I feel that it’s incredibly selfish to deny women the opportunity to embrace these things because one person may feel that it has been used as a tool of oppression in the past.  Trans women have often been held back from embracing these things because they have had their identities oppressed for fear of backlash from loved ones or strangers.  To suggest that this is a costume, as some  Trans Exclusionary Radical “Feminists” (TERFs) have, is disgusting and oppressive in and of itself.

Being a woman is infinitely more than just being oppressed and in danger, but if you insist on making that argument, trans women are right there with cis-women.  TERFs like to argue that they have no idea of the fear of being raped the way a cis-woman does, which is a load of crap.

21018557218_1ec471283f_zPhoto Credit: Flickr user Hotlanta Voyeur via Creative Commons

According to the Office for Victims of Crime,

“Sexual violence has been found to be even higher in some subpopulations within the transgender community, including transgender youth, transgender people of color, individuals living with disabilities, homeless individuals, and those who are involved in the sex trade. For example, the 2011 Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 12 percent of transgender youth report being sexually assaulted in K–12 settings by peers or educational staff; 13 percent of African-American transgender people surveyed were sexually assaulted in the workplace; and 22 percent of homeless transgender individuals were assaulted while staying in shelters. For those who have been in custody, 15% of trans individuals surveyed have said that they were sexually assaulted while in police custody. This shoots up to 32% (more than double!) for African-American transgender people. Between 5% and 9% of transgender survivors were sexually assaulted by police officers. Another 10% assaulted by health care professionals.”

Read more eye-opening statistics here and here.  

When we talk about oppression and lack of job opportunities as women, we have to especially consider the exponential issues that trans women run into regarding this.  The National Center for Transgender Equality published a study that found that transgender respondents were four times more likely to have a household income of $10,000 or less, compared to their cis-gender counterparts.  To compound this issue, trans people have a great deal of difficulty obtaining government documents that indicate their actual gender rather than their wrongfully assigned sex. This makes it difficult for them when seeking employment, often outting themselves in a potentially hostile environment.

Not only this, but it makes obtaining travel documents incredibly difficult and the act of both domestic and international travel exponentially stressful.  Remember when women were up in arms about folks being able to see their breasts with the x-rays put in after 9/11?  Imagine just trying to exist as a woman and having strangers see body parts that you don’t even want attached to your body.

The next time someone says that a transgender woman is not really a woman, I want you to present this knowledge to them.  It may not change their mind, but it’s hard to unhear these things.  When we create dialogue around these issues, we create empathy and acceptance.  Start talking about it.


Featured Image: Flickr user trouble_x via Creative Commons



Laurel Dickman is an intersectional feminist, plus size model, stylist, and fat activist that can also be found via her blogs, Exile In Dietville and 2 Broke Bitches. She grew up in the south between Florida and North Carolina, migrating to the Portland, OR in 2005. All three places inform her perspective of the world around her a great deal. While in Portland, she worked with the Alley 33 Annual Fashion Show, PudgePDX, PDX Fatshion, Plumplandia, and numerous other projects over the near decade that she was there. In August of 2014, she moved to the Bay area with her partner, David and trusty kitty, Dorian Gray. She continues her body positive and intersectional feminism through various forms of activism, fashion, photography projects, and writing from her home in the East Bay. She can be reached at laurel@wyvmag.com and encourages readers to reach out to her to collaborate!

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