More on Transwomen and Male Privilege

The following is a comment in response to “Cisfeminism, Transwomen and Male Privilege” on a feminist forum:

I feel like it’s important to qualify that there is a big difference between attempting to exercise male privilege, what Bornstein calls male behavior, and actually having male privilege extended to you by others. when I came out by just telling people I identify as a woman, people generally still extended male privilege my direction, but when I came out by actually presenting that way — being “full time” — nobody extended male privilege to me any more.

I agree that there’s a distinction between how you act and how others treat you.  I’m sure I am extended more male privilege by others than many transwomen, esspecially those who live in stealth, because I’m genderqueer and my transition doesn’t involve any medical changes.  I’d be very cautious with this line of thinking though.  There seems to be two big problems with it that allow it to be used to reinforce  both male supremacy and cissexism.

It would be too simplistic to ignore that male privilege is also extended based on your behavior, not just your appearance.  A transwoman who shows learned male behavior will have people deferring to her privilege regardless of her appearance.  This reinforces male supremacy by taking accountability off of the individual flexing their privilege and putting it on everyone else.

That dynamic is especially problematic in women’s only spaces.   A ciswoman is put in the paradoxical position of having to call out male privilege in a supposedly safe space while not being cissexist.  If accountability is pushed from the woman not checking her privilege to the others in the space then the appearance of cissexism is impossible to avoid.

Let’s also consider the implicit cissexism in the thinking that male privilege extended from others is a factor in determining access to women’s spaces.  Earlier I wrote that I likely am extended more male privilege than many transwomen.  However, transwomen who do not use hormones, hair removal or facial surgery will also be extended more male privilege, this is a consequence of cissexism.

Do we really want to open the door for others to be able to determine womanhood or maleness based on our appearance, or how feminine we are.  Is a transwoman who can’t afford SRS, hormones and fashionable clothes any less of a woman?  Should her access to women’s spaces be determined by how feminine she feels like presenting that day?  No, the only factor that should go into a transwoman’s inclusion in a safe space is how well she does at checking her privilege at the door.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. irateadri
    Mar 10, 2011 @ 14:19:40

    Hi QC,

    I’m interested in this and your last post on the topic. Were you, at least in part, inspired to write this post because of the recent fallout on the radfem blogosphere after IBTP’s kick ass defense of transwomen’s access to women only spaces? I’ve been thinking and writing (or at least trying to) about it, and it seems we’ve diverged a bit in our thinking on the matter, so I have a couple of questions.

    When you talk about ciswomen extending transwomen male privilege in women only spaces, isn’t this, rather than the fault of the transwoman, a failing of the ciswoman to, at some level (conscious or not), recognize that transwomen are women?

    What would you have transwomen do? They are already silenced, completely and utterly, by a cissupremacist and patriarchal culture, and by and large the feminist movement, radical or otherwise, ignores them or throws them under the bus. How closely should transpeople watch themselves, and how should our behavior change, exactly, to lessen whatever male privilege might still be there?

    Thanks. I love that you are blogging, by the way!

    -The artist formerly known as comrade flies.


  2. QueerCoup
    Mar 10, 2011 @ 15:01:31

    Hi Flies!

    Thanks for the questions, Twisty’s posts on IBTP were a bit of an impetus for this, though I’ve been interested in what motivates the divide between trans-activists and feminists for a while.

    You’re first question brings up a lot of nuance that I hadn’t delved into. When I wrote about ciswomen extending male privilege to transwomen it wasn’t clear that I was referring to her socialized tendency to defer to people who are acting in a dominating manner. You’re right that cissexism is also a factor in giving male privilege to transwomen, even in women’s only spaces. So while transwomen are expected to keep their male socialisation in line, ciswomen are also expected to check their cis privilege to make it a truly safe space.

    As for what I’d have transwomen do, I should make it more clear that I believe most transwomen (and MTF spectrum people) are doing it right already. In my own personal experience radical cisfeminists and MTF spectrum people have done a great job of navigating each others needs and finding a working safe space. I’ve never personally experience the rift afk, just seen the animosity on the internet. I’m trying to get to the root of the rift and find the language to help heal it, and I need to speak more to how cissexism and transphobia are factors.

    If you’ve got some ideas to help me explore the subject further please let me know, I’d don’t just want to give voice to the cisfeminist concerns.


  3. irateadri
    Mar 10, 2011 @ 15:26:15

    Thanks for the quick response. I think I understand a bit better now; I really appreciate this series of posts because they have made me aware of a few blindspots I had as a transperson. Yay, learning. 🙂

    I’m glad to hear that you’ve experiences have been fairly positive in regards to radical cisfeminists, not all of ours have been and it can very much make it difficult to speak calmly on the subject, believe me. (You should see some of the stuff I’ve written, jesus christ!)

    I won’t lie, I was initially a little concerned over what you were saying because I see so many expectations pushed onto transwomen. Be more feminine or you won’t pass and your identity as a woman will be further called into question; be less feminine or you’re just reinforcing Patriarchy. Be less masculine or you’re making women feel unsafe, be more masculine or you’re merely performing a pathetic caricature of femininity. There is no safe way to be a woman if you are trans, it is always poisoned by cissupremacy. (I think this goes for ciswomen as well, like with the madona/whore problem, but it is somewhat different in form and function) It is a difficult thing to balance, and even though I’ve been lucky enough to avoid much of it as a nonbinary transperson, what I’ve experienced hasn’t exactly been pleasant. But now that I understand what you were saying, I think there is a really important dialogue to be had here.

    I have a lot of ideas on the subject, as it’s also something I’ve always been interested in, but recent personal experiences with it has very much pushed it to the foreground. I’ll probably have a post on it done sometime this weekend.


  4. QueerCoup
    Mar 10, 2011 @ 15:52:54

    I can’t wait to read your thoughts, thanks again for the feedback.


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