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.

Cisfeminism,Transwomen and Male Privilege

It took becoming a woman to discover my “male behavior”- that is, exhibiting male privilege.  When I was first coming out, I used to hang out mostly with women.  Any act of mine that was learned male behavior stuck out like a sore thumb.  Things like leaping up and taking charge, even when it wasn’t called for; things like using a conversation like a sledgehammer; things like assuming that everyone owed me special consideration for my journey through a gender change- I still shudder at my arrogance.

-Kate Bornstein “Gender Outlaw”

There’s been quite a lot of criticism of Bornstein for internalised transphobia, but I find hir take on male privilege to be very refreshing.  The feminist and trans blogosphere has had a flare up on the issue of radical feminism and transphobia lately and looking back on hir words offers much needed perspective.

Male privilege is not something that disappears when a MTF spectrum person comes out.  It’s something that must be actively addressed and it takes time and work.  This seems to me to be at the heart of the debate.

Cisfeminsts must recognise that their concerns over male privilege entering women’s spaces needs to have a great deal of nuance to avoid the trappings of cissexism.  Transwomen need to recognise that the possibility of bringing male privilege into women’s spaces is very real.  Excluding transwomen is the wrong approach, increased scrutiny of transwomen is not correct either.  Every individual must be taken as an individual if the goal is to make a safe space.

So many factors go into the ammount of male privilege expressed by a transwoman; how actively she checks it, how long she’s been checking it, what age she was when she came out, when she began transitioning.  These days, when transgirls are coming out and transitioning at younger and younger ages, the diversity of experiences among transwomen is only going to increase.

There’s so much hurt and trauma behind the rift between cisfeminists and transfeminists.  We should be allies in the struggle against patriarchy, we should know that the source of that hurt is not each other, it’s male domination.  We have both been bringing cissexism and misogyny to the table for too long and it’s time to set it aside and work together because we all have a common enemy.