SSCAB/DSCAB: Reconsidering the Conversation

[Note: There are several acronyms used throughout this post. If needed, you can hover your mouse over them to view meaning.]

In an online conversation about the use and application of the acronym “TERF” (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist [sometimes the E is said to stand for "Exterminating" or "Eradicating"]), a friend argued the semantics of calling something “women or female space” when what is meant is “space for women who are Female Assigned At Birth (FAAB).” As she put it, “Why is it OK to use the terms woman or female to describe FAAB spaces when you know very well that there is a conflicting view about the accuracy and appropriateness of those terms?”

Inevitably, conversations about separatist spaces intended for females devolve into assumptions or projections that such spaces are inherently “anti-trans.” The label “TERF” is applied to any female who admits to finding value in taking space as a woman who was born and raised female.

The “accuracy and appropriateness” of the words “woman” and “female” have come into question mostly in queer/trans/LGBT circles. What is considered status quo in the community in terms of being inclusive and accepting of trans people is agreeing that gender and sex should be determined and defined solely by individual identity without exception or qualification. Within this understanding, what makes one a man or a woman, male, female, or other, amounts to simply stating, “I am a [woman/man/other].”

One of the events that has been central in these discussions, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which is intended to be for Womyn Born Womyn (WBW) only, is an example of what was meant in my friend’s question above.  Her contention is that space determined for WBW should be named more specifically for whom it is intended. That to name it a “Womyn’s Music Festival” and not include all women is to suggest that trans women are not women. She and many others also take issue with the language “Womyn Born Womyn,” because in their view, anyone who identifies as a woman was also born a woman. What they see in the intention for WBW space is the deliberate exclusion of trans women from the sex and gender classifications of “female”/“woman”—in addition to their exclusion from the actual physical space. The simple solution, in this case, could be to rename the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival the Michigan FAAB Womyn’s Music Festival; that is, if this were just about semantics and the specificity of intention in the branding. However, it is not, and it never has been. This assertion, I will address later within this post.

The language and terminology found to be acceptable in these conversations is ever changing. Some of the currently used acronyms are as follows:

FAAB/MAAB – Female or Male Assigned At Birth

CAFAB/CAMAB – Coercively Assigned Female or Male At Birth

DFAB/DMAB – Designated Female or Male At Birth

There is some dispute about the use of all of the above as potentially an appropriation of language coined by and for the intersex community. It is difficult to tell, what is true about that by searching online. I list them though as examples of what is fairly regularly used in discussions about trans and non-trans people. Additional words that are commonly used are trans, transgender, transsexual, cis, cissexual, cisgender. Rather than attempt to define these words myself, I am copying definitions from internet sources. If you are already familiar with these terms, feel free to skip past the following section.

Transgender – An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. The term may include but is not limited to: transsexuals, cross-dressers, and other gender-variant people. Transgender people may identify as female-to-male (FTM) or male-to-female (MTF). Use the descriptive term (transgender, transsexual, cross-dresser, FTM or MTF) preferred by the individual. Transgender people may or may not choose to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically.1

Transsexual (Transexual) – An older term which originated in the medical and psychological communities. Many transgender people prefer the term “transgender” to “transsexual.” Some transsexual people still prefer to use the term to describe themselves. However, unlike transgender, transsexual is not an umbrella term, and many transgender people do not identify as transsexual. It is best to ask which term an individual prefers.1

Cissexual and Cisgender are terms for non-transsexual people, whose assigned gender matches their assigned sex.2

When a person is cisgender, they identify as the gender that matches the sex that they were assigned at birth. Cisgender is, as such, a complementary designation to the term transgender. 3

A transgender woman is a person who was assigned male at birth but who identifies as a female, while a cisgender woman is a person who was assigned female at birth and identifies as female.3

Examples:

“Many sexuality educators, LGBT activists, and individuals who are cognizant of gender politics use the term cisgender to reduce the stigma associated with a transgender identity. It is easy for people say things like “transgender as opposed to normal gender” when describing individuals who identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth; however, that implies that transgender people are not normal. Using the term cisgender, in contrast, does not assign a relative value to either gender identity. Instead, it accepts transgender and cisgender identities as equally valid ways to experience gender.”3

“Cisgender” and or “cis” are purported to be and presented as “non-offensive.” They are said to be words that simply mean “not-trans.” Not all women labeled “cis” agree that it is “non-offensive.” I, personally, do not care for what it implies in terms of assumed comfort level with my body and or gender role expectations. It is not my identity, though it may be how some identify me simply, because it is true that I do not identify as trans. According to the entry “Cisgender” on Wikipedia, the term “cissexual” implies congruence of body, mind, and gendered expectations, while “cisgender is a slightly narrower term for those who do not identify as transgender (a larger cultural category than the more clinical transsexual).”

Like woman and female, cissexual and cisgender are somewhat debatable in definition within queer community. In theory, someone who is not dysphoric about their body, but dysphoric about their gender, could be considered cissexual and transgender. “Cis” is never really applied that way. Its primary use seems to be to distinguish trans from non-trans people and to establish a power dynamic between the two, with “cis” people, male and female, understood as privileged over—and the oppressors of—trans people.

This framing of non-trans people as the oppressors of trans people is widely accepted among liberals and progressives. More and more we see efforts to accommodate this understanding with changes to laws regarding sex-segregated spaces, so that anyone who identifies as either woman or man is allowed to be in the respective sex-segregated space based on his or her gender identity. This means that some women will have traditionally recognized “male bodies,” and if such women are in, say, a locker room, where nudity is commonplace, it should be understood that some women will have penises and some will have vaginas and anyone who has a problem with that should just “get over it”—they should get over their “cis-sexism,” their “cis-supremacy,” their “transphobia,” and do whatever they must to address their own comfort level, other than exercising their “cis privilege” by making the trans person feel uncomfortable or unwelcome in such spaces. This is understood to be the kind and inclusive thing to do, though for some non-trans women, this is a very confounding situation: we are torn between what makes us feel safe in physically vulnerable spaces, wanting to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings, and not wanting to be oppressive or to act from a place of privilege. But what is expected of us then in sex segregated spaces is that we assume anyone in such spaces is there because they identify as women. That requires us to forego our instincts for determining and knowing the sex of those in our presence, which is generally what we also use to gauge our level of relative safety. To be clear, I am not saying that trans women themselves are a danger. Historically and statistically, there is  no better way to gauge our relative safety as females than understanding who is male in our presence, which, in traditionally understood sex-segregated spaces, would be no one.

In the conversation I mentioned at the beginning of this writing, I had a powerful Consciousness Raising (CR) moment. What has always bothered me with the framing of non-trans women as privileged is the denial of the subjugation of females as female (as biologically defined). If being women who were designated female at birth means being inherently privileged over women who were designated male at birth, what does that say about our experience of subjugation that is a result of being born and assigned female?

Radical feminism, as I understand it, has always attempted to address oppression as class-based. My response to my friend’s question is what made me feel like I had a personal breakthrough with the language about this: If we are going to dismiss the significance of our bodies and how oppression affects females (conventional meaning) based on the fact of our female bodies, then let’s talk about it in terms of class and not bring our bodies into the conversation at all. This breakthrough resulted in the creation of new terms and acronyms:

SSCAB – Subjugated [or perhaps Subservient] Sex Class Assigned at Birth

DSCAB – Dominating Sex Class Assigned at Birth

I am inclined to use “subjugated” over “subservient,” because when looking at the definitions, though I think both could apply to many, subjugated implies that something is being done to us, whereas subservient almost sounds voluntary. I believe subservience comes as a result of being subjugated. It is a resolution to be compliant when there really is no choice.

This framing also works for race and (actual or assumed) economic class, and probably in many other areas of class-based oppression as well.

Getting back to why I believe that a rebranding or a change in the semantics around the name of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival would not end the decades-old battle, I have come to this belief through an active participation in these discussions for more than twenty years, during which time I have heard it expressed in no uncertain terms. “Taking space as womyn born womyn is inherently hateful.” If you accept that “cis” women have power over trans women, it follows that non-trans women taking space that does not include trans women would be seen as hateful and oppressive to trans women. People often assert that this is parallel to white women taking space that excludes women of color. That is to say, WOC are and should be allowed to take separatist healing space, but white women should not. Oppressed classes of people have a right to healing space away from their oppressors; oppressor classes of people do not. I actually disagree with that in terms of healing spaces, but that is the logic in the analogy, so if non-trans women defined as “cis” and therefore as oppressors of trans women remains the accepted framing, a simple change in branding will only affirm the projection that the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is an anti-trans event. Whereas, examining the idea of non-trans women as SSCAB and trans women as DSCAB, the dynamics are quite the opposite.

I believe that even without finding the exact language to convey true heartfelt intention into words, intention can be understood. In a sense, “intention” is the language with which subjugated classes of people have traditionally found common ground. Rarely are our oppressors honest in the language they choose to explain the disparity in our positions. So, spoken or unspoken, I understand intention to be an important aspect of communication. And I have always understood the intention for the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival to be a healing space for womyn who were determined Subjugated Sex Class Assigned at Birth, even if the language traditionally used has been “Womyn Born Womyn.” It has never been a hateful event. If it were understood as that, SSCAB women who consider themselves trans allies would not be fighting to change the intention to include trans women—why would anyone fight to include their loved ones in spaces they actually experience as hateful themselves? I contend that these allies do not experience the festival as hateful, but have accepted the framing of themselves, non-trans women, as privileged over trans women. As women of good conscience, therefore, they have felt driven to correct what they understood as an injustice. I understand and appreciate the intention of love in their efforts, even while I have experienced this as oppressive and hurtful both to myself and the festival community; in fact, I find it harmful to the larger community of SSCAB women and the larger still community of SSCAB and DSCAB women who care about justice and healing and ending oppression.

Throughout these discussions, I have always also experienced what has felt like racism.  That is true, in part, because of the appropriation of racial narratives used to compare the plight of Dominating Sex Class AB women (who, for the most part in these conversations, have been white [or Dominating Race Class Assigned at Birth]), with that of African Americans as they have historically been treated in the United States. Disregarding the intention for WBW space at Michigan is said to be the trans equivalent to liberating lunch counters in the Jim Crow–era South. One white trans woman, in a fairly major LGBT publication, compared the producer of the MWMF and her commitment to the intention for WBW space to George Wallace, the governor of Alabama who ordered fire hoses to be turned on nonviolent African Americans protesting the injustices of Jim Crow, the denial of legal rights, and the unconstrained lynching of black folks. I find that as outrageous in retrospect as I did when I first read it. And the climate for being critical of trans women, even when the focus of the criticism is racism, has been so hostile that such a blatant and racist appropriation can be made by a white person, in supposedly progressive community, followed only by the sound of crickets; this resounding silence in response to a white trans women’s racism is not unusual.

If we examine the racial comparisons under the new framing, however, it looks quite different. To be someone who is Dominating Sex Class AB, Dominating Race Class AB, and (actually and/or presumed to be) Dominating Economic Class appropriating the narratives of people who are Subjugated Race Class AB and Subjugated Economic Class, the offense is clear. And for Dominating Sex Class members—women-identified or not—to insist they be allowed in the healing spaces of women who are Subjugated Sex Class, trying to heal themselves of the effects of being SSCAB, we can see the entitlement and privilege and how it is informed by their socialization as dominating class members. And within this framing, we can see it and name it without questioning or challenging anyone’s gender identity.

So regarding “TERF,” in relation to this context, I (and I’m sure most anyone who has been determined a “TERF”) understand that it is intended as a pejorative term. It is dismissive of the expressed concerns and analysis of SSCAB women who understand how the dynamics of living under a patriarchal culture that assigns subjugated and dominating sex classes harms and oppresses people who are SSCAB. “TERF” is intended to intimidate SSCAB women from speaking out about their oppression at the hands of DSCAB people. The fact that some DSCAB people identify as women does not change the fact that they are likely to exercise and benefit from DSCAB socialization and privilege. For me, this understanding and framing is clarifying and even inclusive. It allows me a way to speak about my need and desire for SSCAB women’s healing space without dismissing the gender identities of trans women. It also calls on trans women to examine how their lives are informed by being socialized as DSCAB people and validates the experience SSCAB women have of much of the trans activist movement as dominating, bullying, and abusive to SSCAB women who want SSCAB women’s space.

I understand that there are likely to be many non-trans women who would refuse to acknowledge trans women as women. In fact, if they are reading this, they may be resenting my use of “non-trans women” this very moment. They may feel like this entire post indulges trans women who are, in their view, men. I feel like I can understand where these non-trans women are coming from, but I personally want to be open to respecting the possibility that trans individuals are finding their truths and doing their best to live them. That means, I am willing to take folks at their word and be as respectful as I can regarding their identities.

However, over the years, I have certainly become more jaded and distrusting than I was when I started having these conversations. I feel the positions and the actions of some trans women have been abusive and hurtful. I find that I am less open to new friendships with trans women in particular, because of the current predominant trans political ideology. I have also removed myself from the “queer” community, because it has been complicit in the aforementioned abuse. Ironically, the so-called “inclusive” community does not feel inclusive to me, a SSCAB woman, because I am unwilling to deny the weight of what it means for me to be SSCAB.

For the record, I do not expect women who were born female to simply jump on board with this language. I do not expect them to resolve to the use of free-floating definitions for “female” and “woman.” It is certainly much simpler not to have to break things down with multiple terms and so many words. So, so many words. In a way, putting this much thought and time into explaining the need for boundaries feels almost apologetic, when what one wants to say is simply, “No! No means NO!” In the context of understanding SSCAB women as resisting domination and oppression enacted upon them by DSCAB people, I do not believe that SSCAB women should be required to give up or expand upon the definitions of words they feel they need to name their oppression or their oppressors. Perhaps, with time and healing, this will change on an individual basis. Perhaps it will not.

Before I end, I do want to address the violence experienced by DSCAB women. Using this language and framing of DSCAB/SSCAB is not intended in any way to excuse or deny the violence DSCAB women experience. It does mean, however, that DSCAB women need to place the violence in a proper context that makes DSCAB men responsible — the men who are the perpetrators of 99 percent of said violence. And the framing of SSCAB women as “privileged” for not experiencing violence specifically as a result of being DSCAB women needs to end. The violence DSCAB women experience at the hands of DSCAB men is a direct result of a patriarchal culture that insists that some people must be dominating and some must be subjugated. Some DSCAB women may be reluctant to acknowledging and then healing what it means to be socialized as DSCAB people, because it means giving up the benefits of privilege and power, as well as admitting that said privilege and power exists for them. I hope, though, that understanding how domination is enacted upon them as individuals and as a class—especially when it includes violence—will move some, challenging as it may be, to consider this new framing.

What I am suggesting here is not very different in intention than what I and many other SSCAB women have been saying for years. This is only a change in language and framing that I hope brings about more understanding regarding the need some SSCAB women have for SSCAB women’s space. Unlike the “cis/trans” framing, SSCAB/DSCAB doesn’t deny the lived experiences of women who were designated Subjugated Sex Class at Birth. It also exposes the aspect of the “cis/trans” framing that has romanticized the experience of being women who are SSCAB. That we “pass” as women is about our bodies and our “beauty,” the value of which we understand to be determined by our ability to please the Dominating Sex Class. This is not a privilege. Calling it privilege is akin to fetishizing our sex class subjugation. The framing of our subjugation as privilege is a twisted and manipulative reversal and an exploitation of our socialization as SSCAB women. There is healing that needs to be done around that.

Even still, I am inspired by the possibilities that this reframing has for healing and change. I feel more open already. I know there are and can imagine there will be more trans women who are actively working to heal their DSCAB socialization, and I will be as open to them as I have been to anyone who is actively working to heal their various and layered oppressive “isms.”

Since I began this writing, I have shared the ideas and done some tweaking for the sake of clarity, thoroughness and spelling etc. I feel uneasy that it falls short in terms of showing concern for the ways in which SSCAB women do contribute to the difficulties that DSCAB women face. Someone is surely and sacrcastically saying to themselves, “ya think?” Please believe me, I am concerned. I would not be writing this if I was not concerned about all sides. I don’t believe that SSCAB women and DSCAB women need to be enemies. This is doing none of us any good.

I’ve tried to approach these conversations and remain in respectful dialogue as much as I can, though there are times when I have been snarky or impatient or insensitive and ultimately hurtful. It is my goal to be more and ever thoughtful with regard to how I participate in communicating with other people so that even if the person I am talking with fiercely disagrees with the conclusions of my thinking, we can still end recognizing each other’s humanity. People can agree to disagree and not stop loving each other. Love only really gets lost when we become unwilling to treat people with some amount of dignity and respect. That seems like a fairly universal truth and it requires all parties to be invested in, not just our ability to one up each other over differences and disagreements, but in finding and elevating the commonality that connects us, even if the only thing we can imagine we share in common is that we are human and living on the planet Earth.

I was thinking last night about how my brother and a friend of his, when we were kids, used to go up to this creek near where we lived at the time and catch crawfish. His friend had a bit of a cruel streak and he would cut the eyes off the crawfish he caught and then toss them together to fight each other. This was amusing to him. Now imagine being in pain, blinded and afraid then tossed into someone else who is also in pain, blinded and afraid. Sometimes I feel like that is what we go through in our struggles for justice and healing. We’re all hurt. And we are hurt purposely by an outside force that seems to thrive off our pain. And while we fight each other, we are not focused on undoing the root cause.

A friend of mine said in another online discussion, “if this was truly a discussion about patriarchy, power or misogyny I’d be all for it.” She and I seem to disagree that there is value and healing in separatist space. But I think we do agree that we would all be better served and healed as individuals and as a community if we focused on fighting patriarchy instead of each other. I’d like to think that is possible.

It is unfortunate that in writing this and putting it out publicly, I do so with an understanding that I may receive not only criticism and challenges to my ideas, but actual threats of violence and acts of intimidation. This has been the case for many SSCAB women who have given voice to their resistance to the “cis/trans” framing. I find that disheartening, but I remain encouraged by the words of Audre Lorde when she said:

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect.”

I look forward, with hope, to your thoughtful response and analysis.

  1. http://www.gaycenter.org/gip/transbasics/glossary
  2. http://gayteens.about.com/od/glossary/g/Cissexual-And-Cisgender-Terms-For-Non-Transsexuals.htm
  3. http://std.about.com/od/C-D/g/CisGendered.htm

60 thoughts on “SSCAB/DSCAB: Reconsidering the Conversation

  1. Thank you. I sincerely hope your articulation of our communities’ experiences over the past twenty years and your proposed changes in the words we use helps us to consider our intentions and to communicate and act with respect.

    In these new terms I myself am SSCAB.

  2. More seriously, it’s a bit ironic that MichFest was the first large national event/organization to use the spelling of “women” as “womyn”. This was not done just to be clever, edgy or rebellious–spelling the word differently just to be different. The “e” was changed to a “y” to remove the word “men” from within the word referring to female humans. We didn’t want “men” involved–even in our name. Perhaps that’s one point: MichFest has ALREADY changed its name (long before the Trans controversy) to mean something other than “regular woman”. So Fest could be construed to not be implying that Trans aren’t women–just that they are not womyn.
    Personally, I think that instead of WBW we should begin spelling womyn as womban/womben–pointing out the major significant difference between the sexes. We can get pregnant. That fact has shaped my existence in a male-dominated system from my earliest experiences–not just “femininity” or my resistance to it, and not just rape, but also the potential consequences of the rape I have suffered. I understand that “womyn” was chosen over “womban” or “womb-one” because in the 70s we were fighting to NOT be reduced to just our wombs. By choice, I have never given birth nor do I ever expect to use my womb–but the fact that I have one has shaped my experiences in both negative and positive ways. Being a carrier of a womb is a particular way to be human that transcends gender. It is an aspect of embodied sexuality that can’t be reduced or reproduced by reassignment or performance.
    It also clarifies questions of genuine intersexed individuals. The question would be, “did you grow up believing you had a womb?” And living among the class of individuals who believe they had a womb (whether this turns out to be false or not) even if this womb is later removed or lost due to health or injury (as opposed to rejecting yourself as a member of the class of humans who carry wombs) would be the relevant issue. Not “womb checks” but the expectation that we would be honored for our unique experiences and given the dignity to meet together with others who have shared those experiences as womb bearers.
    But, as womb bearers are the most denigrated humans on the planet, I don’t see much hope of ever being given this respect by those who grew up to either (a) believe they were/are inherently better than anyone born with a womb; or (b) hating being in the denigrated class of wombed individuals so much they choose to have themselves surgically removed from that class.
    But, perhaps, it is time that WE step up and give ourselves the honor we deserve for carrying the responsibility of bringing new humans into the world or carrying the responsibility of choosing NOT to bear new human life. Just being female, we carry a huge responsibility. Perhaps it’s time we respected ourselves for it.

    • I like the idea of dropping the AN/EN from WOMAN and WOMEN and just becoming WOM. It feels more aligned with the biological basis of our sex class. We are born with, or are perceived, based on external visual inspection, to have, a womb, therefore, we are a Wom. And it detaches us from men, who do not have a womb, and who have, for centuries, oppressed us simply because we have a womb.

      • panty – i agree with you that it should just be WOM – or some other term because the other two are attached to men. The concern i would have is that you state that it is aligned with biological basis of class, yet you say ‘we’ are ‘percieved’ to have a womb. I was not born with a womb, but have been perceived as having one for half my life – i am not sure you would consider my using the term WOM because of that perception of having a womb is consistent with the biological basis of sex class.
        I also don’t agree that men have oppressed women simply because we have a womb – i think that many men could care less whether a woman or wom has a womb itself – as long as the pipes that would typically hook up to a womb are in place, or the woman is pretty enough and willing to please in other ways – men will be glad to oppress.
        Of course these are generalizations – I have met men that don’t oppress women and women that do oppress other women.

  3. It is an excellent mind exercise to go through this thought process. But the ironic thing is that the new term for the likes of females such as me and you, is that “woman”, etymologically speaking, means exactly SSCAB !

    https://www.google.ca/search?q=woman+etymology

    Whereas with “female”, derived from old Latin, the fe refers to the old root of “life giver”. Since I started reading about radical feminism a couple of years ago (much less than you admittedly), I have resigned myself to longer use the word “woman”, as I now find that word to be inherently, literally, sexist.
    I now use female in nearly all situations. I am a biologist, a bi, who is anti-marriage and had my tubes cauterised at age 30, for I knew I never wanted my womb to be in service to the production of cheap labour.
    Thereby, the festival, which I’d LOVE to attend, I think should remain for females, and be renamed Michigan Female Music Festival !

  4. I agree, this is brilliant, because it is comprehensive, sophisticated in its treatment of the issues, is remarkably lucidly written, offers a new lens that does add to our understanding, and leaves us with hope.
    Also, the analysis is correct, and the new acronyms offered are very useful in making clear the overreaching of current transactivist theory in ignoring the subjugated status of XX women, which does justify their expressed need for some exclusive places to gather, heal, and consider resistant strategies to end their universal and global oppression.
    The only perspectives missing in the posting above, maybe, are to note and consider the relative sizes of the transgender women class compared to the XX class, and to consider the different specific oppressions suffered by the two classes. While there is overlap, global issues such as forced marriage, abortion, menstruation isolation, female genital mutilation, birth control, literacy rates, divorce restrictions, and socialization of girls in general are of specific crucial importance to XX women, for example. Complete incorporation of trans gender women into the XX class of women in the context of liberation politics doesn’t seem to be the ideal solution. Alliance without complete incorporation is the realistic solution.
    Thank you.

  5. my womanhood is not about men. it does not center around men, nor involve them. i have no regard for men, other than what is required for my safety. i refuse any incursion into my womanhood, i refuse any attempt to be defined by men, i refuse male interests. i am a human and will not accept anything other than a full recognition of my absolute humanity. full stop.

    sister. you are clearly a brilliant thinker. and a male apologist. i feel that your words come from a place of deep compassion. a compassion for everyone other than your wonderful female humanity. you put yourself last here. you contort and twist and thicken language to accommodate male interests.

    i am sorry to inform you that men will never accept you as human. ever.

    men will never accept your humanity. no matter your demonstrated brilliance. no matter how small you make yourself to fit around their insistence of centrality. they will never acknowledge the truth of your luminous female humanity.

    this understanding offers pure freedom to speak the fiery truth, as loud as you can. for as long as you can.

    removing men and male interests from your consciousness will liberate you from self-hatred.

    there is no acronym that will protect you from male violence. only the burning hellfires of white-hot self love, only a heart on fire with self-love, will protect you.

    there is no other refuge than love.

    none.

    • Your response was an interesting mix of compliment (maybe?), condescension, insult and perhaps even genuine concern. It’s a challenge to respond to it, because had it just been completely hostile, I probably would have ignored it. I am trying to find ways to heal hostility. I see no reason to give a platform to it when people have the option to reblog and or link from their own social media and say whatever they want. But I don’t want to be a censor of thoughtful response even when I don’t agree with it. For now anyway.

      I can tell you that my initial reaction to being called a “male apologist” is “No. I am not a male apologist. I’m just not a white woman.” Now I don’t want you or anyone else to run with that, but there is a certain amount of privilege involved in the ability to live without men. And I say that because I kind of think only white women (and maybe white women apologists?) can really fathom writing men off entirely. Sometimes, because of the not only misogynist, BUT ALSO RACIST society we live in, men of color are my refuge. And sometimes they are my family, my brother, my father, my cousins etc. I can understand keeping interaction with some to a minimum, best one can, but still I make no excuses for the men in my life nor will I apologize about the fact that they are in it.

      But really, you are talking about me being a “male apologist” because this blog is centered on healing the hostility between females and trans women, particularly around WBF space. As I said in my post, I don’t expect everyone to be on board with how I am trying to have this conversation. I don’t expect that everyone will choose to work with the language SSCAB/DSCAB. And I don’t expect people to give up the language they feel they need in order to name their oppression or their oppressors. I’m doing me and blessings to you if how you do you is working for you.

      As to your diagnosis of me as “self-hating,” you don’t know me. It just reads like inaccurate projection to me and I really have no idea why a stranger would feel at liberty to make such a judgement and speak it to me, except for a sense of entitlement.

      We can agree that “there is no other refuge than love” though we may disagree with what love looks like. For me, in my ideal world, no one is considered expendable. I appreciate your interest in encouraging self love. I wish you the same.

      • dear sister, i am a black woman. and i live in the midst of men. two of my dearest friends are white gay men. i joined them in marriage. men happen. just like bad weather. or any type of weather. men are a phenomenon of the natural world.

        so men are around me, but not in my mind. not in my mind. because they do not belong there. my humanity is always central. this is only possible with a devoted meditation practice.

        trans “women” are men. so this blog is about male interests. which is fine. but is not the same as placing women first and women’s interests being central to thinking. i am happy to elaborate via email, if you like.

        if you would like to correspond via email, please feel free to reach out to me at radicalredhester at gmail. i welcome you, as my sister. it seems we have sparked each other. which is delightful.

        when do you come first? perfect, complete, YOU.

  6. Brilliant… Audre also said ”it is not Our differences that separate us, but our inability to recognize such differences” love you Nedra, Ashé!

  7. Another brilliant article Nedra, but I agree with the Michfest womyn and the use of the term womyn to mean “without men” and WBW to mean as it has been bio female. Also as she’s stated about carrying a womb/Yoni from birth and how we are treated because of it that makes the whole trans struggle almost irrelevant to the worldwide struggle born females have to regulate OUR OWN bodies and determine whether we will be impregnated or not or for those who do end up pregnant more and more are threatened by having their choice to end said pregnancy terminated.

    There is absolutely NO comparison to those females who lose their wombs to disease to Male to Females who claim they are just like a womon without a womb. But yet instead of MTFS actually LISTENING AND LEARNING from us and our needs and where to trad and where not to, they want to coopt us and all our spaces altogether as the born males they are with years of born male socialization, hormones and privileges. Without recognizing thr oppression so many women suffer under patriarchy PRECISELY BECAUSE OF OUR BIOLOGY! Something they WILL NEVER HAVE TO FEAR.

    If I saw a penis in a female locker room I’d either confront said individual or I’d leave and NEVER come back to that business. Used to be the ONLY time trans MTFS were allowed into such vulnerable women only spaces is ONLY after full transition. This policy should stay.

    its a good analysis, way longer than it needs to be but throwing around more terms and acronyms doesn’t change the fact that us born/bio females Need our wbw spaces for many reasons and that without recognizing bio female oppression MTFS will never have our respect and just be one more male perpetrator. No matter how many surgeries, hormones they take or dresses and skirts they wear.

    But I know you’ve made a strong effort on reaching out to all sides. You just have more patience after 20 years than I do…As I’ve been in the same struggle for at least that long myself….

    – In Sisterhood,
    -FeistyAmazon

  8. You have expressed yourself so well in this complex issue. I love how you changed the view from the difference in body parts to the issue of class: it makes a huge difference and a lot of sense.
    “And for Dominating Sex Class members—women-identified or not—to insist they be allowed in the healing spaces of women who are Subjugated Sex Class, trying to heal themselves of the effects of being SSCAB, we can see the entitlement and privilege and how it is informed by their socialization as dominating class members.”
    Yes, the entitlement. Women don’t act that way. The “If I can’t have it then no one else can (let’s destroy the festival)” attitude is not a female energy.
    And I love how you called out the convoluted view that SSCAB is a position of “privilege” over DSCAB.:
    “This is not a privilege. Calling it privilege is akin to fetishizing our sex class subjugation. The framing of our subjugation as privilege is a twisted and manipulative reversal and an exploitation of our socialization as SSCAB women. There is healing that needs to be done around that.”
    Thank you so much for putting this piece up!

  9. A sense of entitlement, yes. I have been very depressed recently by the nastiness radical feminists (self-designated, and it is not my place to argue with their self-descriptions) feel called upon to hurl at other women. Disagreements are completely valid, but telling other people who they are and what they think is something most women experience on a daily basis already (at work, at home, at school, etc), so why would they want to subject themselves to more of the same? Your reply to redhester, Nedra, is a model of rational calm, but then people of color must often maintain rational calm in this horribly racist society, to a degree that leaves me in stunned admiration.

      • Thank you for the clarification, redhester, but I took my perception from Nedra’s reply to you. I understand you perfectly about being complete unto yourself; I am a heterosexual woman and, oddly enough, I am COMPLETE unto myself. Understanding, of course, that I am only a tiny fragment of a huge world (our Mother) that is complete unto itself. The opportunity to have loving discourse is very meaningful to me; it has depressed me that so many radical feminists seem unable to be loving with other women if they perceive differences in outlook. By the way, I am not married to Toby (though some Christian fellow online thought I should be!); he is my beautiful 1700-pound horse, loving, affectionate, and humorous.

  10. Nedra, thank you, first of all for your efforts to heal and reframe the conversation in ways that might clarify and inspire new openings and alliances.
    I identify as a womon born womon. I experienced while growing up and currently experience gender dysphoria, as most radical feminist I know do. (Which is my argument with that phrase as used in the trans community.)
    The piece I find missing from your big hearted and thoughtful analysis is that so many people who are assigned the male sex/gender at birth, and later identify as trans speak of the punishing violence to their bodies and opportunities because of their inability and/or refusal to perform the male gender as defined by their ethnic/racial/class community. I believe them, based on my experience of the world. So I question how much “male privilege” they have actually had while growing up and conclude it varies enormously. I do think there are unique experiences, including worldwide misogyny, experienced by wbw which are most fruitfully explored in separatist space. And I believe at the same time I am an ally to transfolk by supporting efforts to end violence against them and end employment discrimination, etc.
    I hope you will address the issue of “assigned at birth as male” and “oppressed because of failure to perform the male gender while growing up.” Do you agree there are individuals who fit this category? Do you think one can meaningfully generalize about how much residual make privilege they have if they later get gender confirming surgery and live as transwomen? And where do transmen and intersexed and agender individuals fit in all of this? Always more to ponder. In solidarity.

    • Thanks Barbara Ruth. I am not able to fully respond now, but in saying that we are assigned to SSCAB or DSCAB, I am not saying that DSCAB women across the board are equally on par with DSCAB men to access that privilege and power. When I am able I will try to respond more fully about my thoughts on what you have said.

    • I have been thinking a lot about what to write here. And I think you brought up good points. More than an essay or more than me speaking as an authority on all the possible considerations, this is one contribution to a large conversation. For sure, what I have written does not cover all possible aspects of what we need to talk about. I can and will put more thought into the stuff you have suggested were missing. But I invite you and anyone else also to do the same. If you have more information and ideas bring them to the conversation. Expand on what I was able to get through… or disagree and explain why. I don’t imagine any one person is going say something that makes everyone on all sides agree and believe there is nothing more to say.

      • Nedra, you’re under no obligation to take this further. I was hoping you would because I think your blog does advance my thinking. What I feel is productive is caution about generalizations. In terms of women’s space, and who should be excluded, I think it depends on the intent of the space. Those who oppose the exclusion of transwomen at MichFest boycott it. As they should. I boycott events which have policies which I don’t support.
        I yearn for mutually respectful discourse between wimmin born wimmin and transwomen. It seems to me this blog is a move toward that. I wish I were reading more transwomen responding here.
        I’ve been thinking about this for decades. And I’m clearly not done.

      • I probably will. But I take a long time to think and process. So it will likely not be something I can just respond to right away. I do wish that the people who boycott fest were not also pressuring other people to not support it. I wish that performers weren’t being pressured, that they weren’t losing gigs at other venues because people are pressuring other venues to not include artists who perform at fest.

        I have been trying very hard to have this conversation civilly for years. Unfortunately they do often devolve into strawman arguments and anger. In don’t know what to do about it other than to try to resist going there myself. I am not always able.

        This obviously was easier to respond to… I have several responses in draft more specifically to your original comment. If I get clear I will respond again.

  11. Wonderful article Nedra, thank you for writing it. Though I wonder how many transwomen will read your words and absorb your ideas with an open mind and an honest heart? The difficulty in getting transactivists to hear your message revolves around the fact that a lot of transwomen would refuse to acknowledge that they were ever part of the DSCAB.
    It’s part of an overall retcon that takes place to convince themselves that they had no male privilege, never absorbed sexist or misogynistic male thinking, that they were “oppressed” by their genitals or their male lives and that they were oppressed under patriarchy “just like faab women”, and that brain sex studies “prove” that transwomen’s brains are wired “exactly” like non-trans women’s brains.
    Rather than be honest with themselves about their maab socialisation, some of them will try to derail the points you make by demanding that you consider the case of early transitioners. They will try to divert your attention away from from their thirty, forty-plus years spent living as men, soaking up and wielding male privilege before transitioning with this argument:
    “What about a maab who is socially transitioned at the age of five, put on puberty blockers at the age of ten, given female hormones at age fourteen and a sex change at the age of eighteen? Are you going to argue that this person is DSCAB?”

    • I am sure you are right. And BTW I have appreciated reading your blog in the past. And though people may think my answer to that question should be no, it is yes. Because subjugation socialization starts from our first breaths. SSCAB women have healing to do. That is the value of SSCAB women’s space. Its not about people who do not have the experience of being SSCAB. And 5 and 4 and 3 year old girls seem to know they get treated differently than the same age male children.

      I am on my phone so limited in my ability to respond. Thank you for you comment and your posts.

  12. I would suggest that the above commenters read Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender. Very young children are aware of gender and also aware that people means male, not female. It would be very hard to be born male and not experience some degree of male privilege, the gender divide beginning even before conception. Just because one is unaware of male privilege does not mean one has not experienced it. The overwhelming majority of white people are completely unaware of white privilege.

    Interestingly, emphasis on gender seems to be increasing as women take on a variety of public roles, which may explain the rise of transgenderism. When it is made clear to little boys that they cannot play with dolls — if not by their parents then by everyone else, including other little boys and girls — or wear bows in their hair or do what they might consider fun, it would seem in a heavily gender-divided society that they must be little girls. My father, who was born in 1916, wore little dresses when he was a child as did all small boys. Is that acceptable these days?

  13. dear sister. thank you for your kindness. i appreciate it and will hold you in my burning heart. we are on fire together.

  14. Red (who has sent me 3 comments that have not been approved, not to be confused with Redhester)

    Maybe you have a need to be acknowledged. I get it. You hate my blog. Thanks for sharing. Now I would appreciate it if you stopped bothering to send comments. Love and light.

  15. Thank you Nedra for this effort to find a way clarify an issue that so many trans women fail to understand. What is, I think, being said is that a group of people with common experiences would like to meet together to share and support one another. That seems very reasonable to me. However, historically the dominant oppressor class has always tried to prevent a subjugated class from meeting together. Perhaps because the dominate class fears that the subjugated class may organize and threaten the status quo. It doesn’t occur to those who are raised with privilege and power, that people may want to meet together for the purpose of healing and supporting one another. Generally, because those in power only meet together to consolidate power.
    I was assigned male at birth, I certainly went through a horrendous time growing up because I was femme and gay. I was physically and sexually abused as a child and even into my early teens. I learned to use my body acquire warmth and shelter. So, I could say with this type of up bringing that I should not be considered a DSCAP, but I would be wrong. I can look over my life and I can see many instances where I benefitted from male privilege, and even instances where I had more power than those assigned female at birth. Yes, I was abused and subjugated, but my experience was nothing like any female I know. Even though I played with girls as a child, I always knew I was not a girl. Unfortunately for me, I also new I was different than the boys I grew up with. They knew I was different too, and reminded me of my differences with their bullying and fists on a daily basis. Yet, this does not make me similar to girls and later women. I really have nothing in common with women. I so wish I had been born a woman, but only for the reason that my life would be less lonely. I have no idea what a woman is, so how can I wish to be born a woman. I am only wishing to be some kind of projected fantasy, which has nothing to do with the real life experience of women.
    So, all of that is to say, and speaking as a female identified gender queer trans person, I have no desire to attend MWMF, or any other space that is designated as a healing space for WBW. I’m not a woman, period. The space is for women. Why are so many non WBW people having such a hard time with this? Personally, I think it comes from a feeling of entitlement and privilege. When a person is raised to be dominant they are not used to not getting what they want. Just because a person may have been assigned wrong at birth, and they later identify as a trans woman, does not mean they have anything in common with WBW. They were socialized completely different. I don’t mean to minimize the difficult struggles that trans women go through. I don’t know of any trans people who chose to be trans. It is not easy to reject the benefits of male privilege, and to be cast out of the dominant male society. But, that does not make them women. It does make them a subjugated class. It does make them vulnerable to male physical abuse and rape. It does make them, in many cases, an underclass wage earner. It does, in many ways, make them oppressed. But still, they are not women, and they do not have the same socialization and experiences that women have.
    It is unfortunate that the issue of inclusion or exclusion of trans people has become such a big issue. Generally, I blame trans women who are still carrying their learned sense of privilege and entitlement. Trans women who still haven’t learned that no means no. In my mind, all this misdirects us from the main battle which is patriarchy and hegemonic masculinity. And, lest we forget, capitalism, which, in my mind, is a tool of patriarchy.

    • Thank you for your comment Susan. I imagine that many people would take issue with the language you used in saying “trans women are not women.” But I hear your intention, not that you mean that to be hurtful to trans women, but that to use my terms which I hope are more neutral to experience, “trans (DSCAB) women are not (SSCAB) women.”

      I keep trying to figure out a better way to convey something, because people say things to me that still center the need for SSCAB women’s space on trans women. So they might suggest I am saying “I want WBF space because trans women are dominating.” No. That is not the point. I want WBF space, because I have healing to do. Why do I have healing to do? Because I was born and assigned to the subjugated sex class. I was taught stuff from the day I was born — things I need to unlearn. Things I need to discover that I believe and that I am applying in my life as true even though if I were to consider these things consciously I would soundly and actively reject them. This is about no one who is not a SSCAB woman. It’s not about hatred. It’s about our own healing.

      Again I thank you for your comments.

      • “trans (DSCAB) women are not (SSCAB) women.” Yes, that is what I mean in the context of this discussion. In a gender binary society there simply is not a enough “wiggle room” to describe non binary lived experiences or lived lives in a meaningful way. Trans (DSCAB) women are certainly not(DSCAB) men, so how do we in a meaningfully and compassionate way describe them and honor their lived experience? I don’t know. Throughout history their has been trans people. There has always been cross-gendered behavior, masculine women who often disguised themselves as men and became warriors and leaders and feminine men who became prostitutes, eunuchs, actors, etc. Patriarchal society does not treat kindly those who reject masculinity. Whatever the reason for cross-gendered behavior–there are many theories why this may be, but this is not the space to get into that, cross-gendered behavior exists. How we treat these people, which I am one, is an indication of the compassionate nature, or lack there of, of our society. Historically, human society has not done well with the assimilation of those that are different. We have blamed them for their difference, and they were either killed outright or regulated to some some form of subjugated status such as slavery. I have hopes that society is making progress in this area. However, (patriarchal) capitalism has much to gain by keeping us divided and fighting amongst ourselves.

  16. I wanted to respond to this:
    “I want WBF space, because I have healing to do. Why do I have healing to do? Because I was born and assigned to the subjugated sex class. I was taught stuff from the day I was born — things I need to unlearn. Things I need to discover that I believe and that I am applying in my life as true even though if I were to consider these things consciously I would soundly and actively reject them. This is about no one who is not a SSCAB woman. It’s not about hatred. It’s about our own healing.”
    I think this was beautifully said, and I totally get it. I facilitate transgender support groups. We often break out into more specific groups for the purpose of more intimate and personal sharing. Even as the facilitator, I have not attended a FtM support group. Their lived experiences are not mine; in fact, my lived experiences may negatively impact their ability to have a safe and healing discussion. We need to respect each other’s need for healing.

  17. I appreciate very much your intention to take trans folk “at their word” about being true to their experiences of self. That is what I had to do as a young lesbian while heterosexual culture tried very hard to talk me out of it, gender variant as I was. I could be read as male but still have immense pressure on me to be conforming to heterosexual mores by those who knew my sex. So my experience of this discussion is I have to start from a place of true respect. I do think there is an element of men doing work challenging gender identity put on them by other men. Working that through is complicated. As in some aspects in our feminist history there are times when it looks like, and is, appropriation of women’s gender roles as they are perceived as more desirable that roles currently available to men. I trust creativity will begin to expand vision. Nonetheless, it is men’s work to do, not mine. I am far from done healing and transforming myself as a woman in this culture. Women’s space gives me the support I need in my journey, and no where have I better found that than at Michigan. Again, Nedra, thank you for your wisdom and great heart. See you on the Land.

  18. Pingback: I value separate spaces… | Big Mouth Girl
  19. I enjoy reading your blog. About vocabulary, I have a few things to say :
    Carol Hanisch said we should consider if a new word is better than an old one, especially since it cuts off the old one and leave it behind : what are we trying to do ? Are we trying to get rid of something ? Why ?
    Bev Jo contends that having to “go educate yourself” before being able to join or understand a discussion is elitist & classist as fuck. It also creates an in-group and an out-group, something that clearly isn’t inclusive.
    I come from places sharing diverse languages (institutionally and in practice). The focus is ALWAYS on getting your audience to understand, not on using the finest words. Nobody cares if someone gets closing formulas or something wrong. Nobody. (especially since most people will make mistakes in both their language and foreign ones).
    Good girl-me tried to fit in English feminism by reading, but it was impossible to get any finite answer and, as soon as I voiced something, I was told to go educate myself (something I’ve been doing for a couple years) or that I was -phobic or misandrist or something. In consequence, I am against unnecessary vocabulary, if feminism isn’t solution- and action-oriented, but merely about policing others’ words, I don’t want to be part of it.

    • I’m not sure I understand your point. But I hope my blog does not come off as “policing language.” I do agree that more words and acronyms etc can add to confusion. But right now there are a lot of people policing the meaning of the words “woman” and “female” and it just seemed like it might help to think outside of those two words. Because conversations weren’t even getting out of the gate. And we don’t really need them in order to see that some human beings are assigned to the subjugated sex class at birth and some to the dominating sex class at birth.

      Some people seem to get stuck on acknowledging sex class assignment because of personal gender identification. The problem is that they also tend then to frame anyone not-trans as privileged over anyone who is trans. And this completely dismisses and denies that females are born and assigned to the subjugated sex class no matter how they personally identify. Its as if folks believe that being born female means being assigned “sugar and spice and everything nice.”

      I hope that makes sense.

  20. Pingback: SIS not Cis | graceaware
  21. Thank you, Nedra. A lot of what you’ve written here has expressed how I feel but am not eloquent enough to say. I am very uneasy with the term cis (possibly as I use the word practically every day in teaching Chemistry) and although acronyms can be bulky, your coinages have definitely got me thinking.

  22. It’s very, very simple, actually: male transwomen HATE US. They despise real women, they want to appropriate us and then erase us. This rabid, jealous, narcissistic RAGE against women is a huge factor in their mental condition. They don’t want us to exist as free human beings with minds of our own, especially not lesbians who refuse to take the lady-stick. They want to dominate, control, subjugate and eradicate us from the face of the Earth. It’s in their DNA. How do women “reason” with Ted Bundy? How do women “make peace” with Gary Ridgeway. How do we “coexist” with Richard Speck? This unhinged hate permeates everything they are and everything they do.

  23. Thank you, Nedra very helpful, especially the discussion of fetishizing sex class subjugation. See you in August.

  24. This, and your I Value Separate Spaces blog has really helped me as I struggle to understand this all. It has been most disheartening to know that people who boycott fest are also pressuring other people to not support it. In particular the performers who are affected and by contacting the other venues they have potential performances at.
    I remember my two attendances at Fest and that feeling I was left with, of safety, for me and my young daughter. Continue the good work to retain the intent of the space. Thank you. I look forward to more discussion on this topic.

  25. I just found this post, and I wanted to thank you.

    You say “What I am suggesting here is not very different in intention than what I and many other SSCAB women have been saying for years. This is only a change in language and framing that I hope brings about more understanding regarding the need some SSCAB women have for SSCAB women’s space.”

    I think your language and framing make a WORLD of difference for me. Because I think that the dialog around SSCAB spaces is very different when coming from a standpoint that acknowledges transwomen AS women. Saying “We need SSCAB spaces because DSCABs are not SSCABs” is very different from saying “We need WBW spaces because transwomen are MEN.”

    I am a SSCAB woman who considers herself a trans-ally, and you’ve given me a lot to think about. I appreciate your insights.

  26. Dear Nedra, I have pored over this entry of yours. I am fascinated by it all and I thank you for helping me understand more of such a complex issue. Your new acronyms, albeit only unfortunate in the sound “scab,” actually make so much sense! I appreciate your thoughtfulness and your fluency. I am hoping you can clarify the following…I don’t understand the clause that begins with “because.” How would acknowledging and then healing mean giving up the benefits? I am trying to understand every word. Thank you, Nedra, my new friend! Here is the sentence: “Some DSCAB women may be reluctant to acknowledging and then healing what it means to be socialized as DSCAB people, because it means giving up the benefits of privilege and power, as well as admitting that said privilege and power exists for them. I hope, though, that understanding how domination is enacted upon them as individuals and as a class—especially when it includes violence—will move some, challenging as it may be, to consider this new framing.”

    • Right now trans politics frames trans women in a very different light than DSCAB does… (and I agree the scab part is unfortunate, but…what can we do? Good thing is that everyone falls into it). So when I say DSCAB women may be “reluctant to acknowledging and then healing what it means to be socialized as DSCAB people,” I say that because I already see so many who frame SSCAB women as privileged and DSCAB women as not only NOT privileged, but kind of the most oppressed people ever. So if you don’t see yourself in a privileged position at all, you don’t see the power you have or see yourself wielding it, never mind benefiting from it. But consider the reply here from TiLiJay. See how she sees a difference in how her parents guided and expected her as opposed to how her sister was treated? It’s perhaps little stuff… but its there its real and it puts one person in a position of empowerment and the other in a position of… I don’t know what to call it… I don’t know if that helps you understand what I meant. I hope it does.

      • wow! between ur response to me and this TiLiJay person, i feel clarified! ty and what am interesting thoughtful letter he wrote, eh!?!? ty, Nedra, for ur willingness to share ur brain power! i nvr saw ur sweetheart at fest but pls pass along to her that i happily cashed in in her pre-approved hug. ur (plural) presence on the land matters! ty again!!

  27. You mentioned in one of your comments that you wanted more trans people to respond. I don’t usually respond to articles dealing with this kind of content, primarily since “trans” views are not typically valued in discussing these kinds of issues. I figured I would at least share some tiny thoughts on the article, and cross my fingers that I don’t get burned for it.

    Anyways, figure I’ll give some background then go from there. Using the terminology that you present here, I am DSCAB. So, at birth, the doctor looked me up and down said “it’s a boy” and that was the end of it. I grew up the eldest son of 3 children in a broken home. I struggled with my relationship with the function and appearance of my body from an early age, and it was difficult in middle school and high school coping with violence and aggression at the hands of my male classmates, my fraternal twin brother, my father, and in many ways the disengagement and absence of my mother. My sister and I did not have a close relationship until my early-twenties (she and I had very different interests, and I kept to myself most of the time).

    I did not have my first sexual experience until I was twenty, it was with a boy. I identified as a bisexual male and had the occasional fling with both men and women. I have had one long-term relationship, with a girl I met at twenty-one, which ended with my coming out about my difficulties regarding the function/appearance of my body, and my developing interest in pursuing relationships with men.

    I did not learn about trans people or transition until my early/mid twenties. Upon discovering hormone replacement therapy, I remember thinking “where have I BEEN for twenty years?!” I transitioned immediately, came out to my family and friends, yada yada I’m finishing up college now and have never been happier.

    On to the topic. When I was first reading through all the language and semantics you describe, my first reaction is “is this really necessary?” When I read about MWMF I have a lot of conflict going on. There’s always the old gut-reaction of “well, that doesn’t sound fair, what if I wanted to go?” Which I think is the initial reaction a lot of trans people and trans allies have to the situation. But there is also the pacifist and radical behaviorist in me that tries to observe the situation from outside the immediate conflict I am seeing in order to recognize the simple truths of the matter. Some women, not all women, share some very specific life circumstances that they feel necessitates the exclusion of others outside of those life circumstances when gathering for purposes of therapeutic healing, unity, camaraderie, and sisterhood associated with oppression or violence experienced as a result of those very specific life circumstances.

    If I decided to create a group to provide therapy for people who have been the victim of incest and decided to only include people who had those shared experiences, then I would hope that that would be respected by others who may wish to be included in the therapy for the purposes of it’s healing. I am in no position whatsoever to tell any women that their personal experiences (which I may have not endured) are not worthy of recognition, and as such I am also in no position to force them to allow my inclusion to the therapies associated with those experiences. Although I have experienced, and continue to experience, systematic oppression in my daily life associated with appearing/behaving/identifying as a typical 20-something American woman, I cannot be so bold as to imply that I share the experiences of a woman who appeared/behaved/identified as a typical American female from ages 1-23.

    One of the first things I have noticed since transitioning is the overwhelming frequency that my perceived gender (female) affects my day-to-day experiences and interactions with others. Simply taking my dog for a walk the other day involved me being approached on three separate occasions by men commenting on my clothes, my body, and asking if I was single and how old I am. And when I go to my roommates boyfriend after getting home to tell him about the situation, he treats me like I’m crazy for being upset about it. He was completely clueless about the privilege he had in not being approached or treated in such a way, and it made me realize how clueless I had been prior to my transition about the similar privilege I had shared.

    Regardless of the pain, isolation, and difficulties I faced growing up with body dysphoria and issues regarding my appearance, behavior, bodily function, etc. I at least was able to enjoy the benefits associated with being a young, intelligent, attractive, white male. If I had been born SSCAB, like my sister, I might not have done so well in school. Whereas my parents frequently reinforced behaviors in me that were associated with academic performance, with my sister they more frequently reinforced her behaviors associated with interactions with young boys, cooking with my mom, dressing and acting “pretty”. We are both incredibly intelligent, but I’m the one who graduated with honors, and she squeaked by (not to say that that is entirely gender-focused because my brother was the worst at school out of all of us, I’m just providing it as a general comparison).

    To be completely honest, four years ago I would have been much more defensive about the way that MWMF intends to provide only for a type of woman that explicitly does not include me. Today, I try to take it with a little more composure and understanding. I have never had any plans of attending the festival (I’ve never been to a music festival before actually). If I have close friends who plan to attend the festival I try to engage in a respectful discussion of the controversy surrounding the WBW intention and try to learn about their views as well as share my own to hopefully reach a common respect and understanding of each others differences and similarities.

    Do I think we need to keep re-writing the English language? It depends on the situation. Like you said, semantics can be an important tool in organizing systems of oppression. But when it comes to me and my life, I try to keep it simple. When I’m at the gym, I use the women’s locker room, but I don’t change unless I’m in a private stall, because I try to live my life privately, and I don’t want to open myself up for conflict or potential aggression. I don’t even change in front of my boyfriend, why would I ever feel comfortable changing in front of strangers?! When I read stories about trans people “exposing” their anatomy in private female-only spaces I just have shake my head and grimace because “seriously?! you’re not making it any easy for the rest of us, hon!!”

    I don’t know, I’ve kind of rambled, I appreciate the article, it gave me something to think about. I’ll be sure to share with with some of my friends to see what they think of it as well. Ciao <3

    • Thank you for reply. I don’t think there is anything you need to worry about being burned for… not from me anyway. It is complicated to speak about “intention” because its so much more to me than words can convey. And I think we try to find the right words, but sometimes we don’t quite get them right and we hurt feelings and make big messes of what we meant. But even in that, the intention itself does not change. And the intention is sort of a higher purpose. So all that to say… yes re-inventing the English language… It’s tiresome and complicated and confusing. But I am not sure what choice we have when we are trying to communicate in very sensitive situations. Thanks again for reading and responding.

  28. This is easily one of the most intelligent, thoughtful and critically astute pieces I have ever read, and I’m deeply grateful for your hard work and courage. I’m forwarding it, as well as your “companion essay” titled ‘I value separate spaces’, to everyone I know (I suspect my linguist daughter-in-law will find it quite compelling!), and it is especially meaningful for me now, as Michigan has been on my mind a lot lately. I have attended twice, with my daughters (interestingly, the first time, my younger daughter was 11 and still pretty androgynous-looking; she had just decided to buzz-cut her hair before we went, and she ended up having a few uncomfortable interactions where women at the fest stopped her to grill her as to whether she was a boy! It was an important lesson for her–and me, too, despite all my radical feminist assumptions–regarding snap judgements based on surface appearance…), and both times were among the most important and meaningful experiences in my life. Now, my elder daughter has two daughters of her own (my son and younger daughter have both chosen not to reproduce, more power to them!), and they, I, their Red Tent group, my housemate/best friend and her mother are all planning to attend next August as a little tribe of our own (where we hope to raise my daughter’s 300-sq-ft tipi as the center of our own little village!)… and the thought of these women and girls, all so precious to me, being able to gather in this utterly unique space, is not just important to me, it feels necessary, like rain after drought. It’s particularly poignant as I have serious health issues that make it likely next year will be the last time I can ever attend… In any case, the only element associated with Michigan that has caused me pain and sadness has been this profoundly caustic friction regarding the trans protest issue– not because I have any problem personally with the fest parameters (I don’t: I want it that way), but because I would probably call myself a trans ally (there are enough trans folk in my life to make that a necessity), and yet I’ve found it difficult to express in clear language why I don’t see the conflict around Michigan some of them do. And here you’ve laid it out, with kindness and ethics and sensitivity, and just in time! (For me, that is : ) )

    Thank you.

    p.s. Oh, and just to put my .25 cents-worth into the linguistic debate: my all-time favorite alternative to the dyadic “man/woman, she/he, him/her” element of our language has long been Marge Piercy’s choice in her novel “Woman on the Edge of Time”: using “person” and “per” to replace them all. I find it a fascinating exercise to realize that the moment one begins speaking of people without any reference to (with, in fact, utter indifference to) individual gender and sex, it changes how those persons are thought of hypothetically, as they can’t be automatically categorized via our most significant designator at this time (as in, the *very first* question virtually anyone ever asks about a newborn, for instance…). Obviously, nothing is that simple, and such a change only has real impact if the very structure of the surrounding culture/society is radically different to that we’ve had for millennia… but it’s food for thought. Just thought I’d share!

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