So a couple days ago my first piece landed over at Autostraddle: Getting With Girls Like Us: A Radical Guide to Dating Trans* Women for Cis Women. As I’ve read AS off and on through the last couple of years, I’ve thought before that I would hope to someday have the opportunity to publish something with them. Particularly, I was impressed with several amazing pieces from Annika.
As Annika recently decided to focus on other aspects of her life– writing her farewell piece for Autostraddle as she rode off into the sunset– I was a little saddened to think that we wouldn’t have new articles for her to look forward to in the future. But I admit I was also intrigued when AS linked to one of my pieces in their call for submissions for the Trans*Scribe theme issue, featuring trans women telling their stories from their own perspectives in their own words.
The piece that I chose to submit for Trans*Scribe was kind of a belated follow-up to my previous article on dating as a trans woman in the queer women’s communities, which was originally published at Prettyqueer, focusing on my feelings of distance and sometimes alienation dating as a trans woman. Primarily, I viewed that article as a call for dialogue between cis women and trans women on trans woman inclusion in the queer women’s communities (not that my piece is the first article along those lines, far from it). However, while that piece focused a bit more on an argument for trans woman inclusion, the recent piece at Autostraddle was a bit more focused towards women who might already be dating trans women or explicitly open to that possibility (of course, some trans women aren’t really separable in any obvious way from the larger cis woman population in the first place, and then a number of these questions are somewhat of a moot point anyways).
The follow-up piece has been something I’ve been planning to do for a while, in part because I wanted to clarify and refine a few points from the earlier article. That includes the statement I made in the more recent piece about the so-called “Cotton Ceiling” that had originally proposed in the context of the No More Apologies conference back in January 2012. The comment in the recent piece, basically stepping back from that particular framing of the issue, is something I had been planning on writing about for quite a while (unfortunately, I’m not always the fastest writer; luckily the Autostraddle window provided me with the right opportunity to put together a lot of these thoughts that I had had in mind for a while).
The discussion about why the Cotton Ceiling isn’t the best way to frame the issue is something that I plan to return to and make a more detailed comment about at some point in the future. For now, however, I will just point to this particular important comment that was left on the Autostraddle article.
I have to say I totally did not see the overwhelming response the more recent article has received coming at all; the comment thread has blown up in a way that I just never expected. By and large those comments have been supportive, expressing that they gained insight into trans women’s issues and perspectives. However, there has also been significant pushback from a number of (I’ll be generous and say) trans-critical women (and a couple of men as well).
I wanted to take the opportunity to clarify a few points here that keep recurring on the comment thread. First of all, it’s unfortunate that some people seem to be almost deliberately misunderstanding the article in several respects. As stated above, while I am speaking to some issues that affect queer women’s communities as a whole, the article is obviously largely directed towards cis women (although possibly trans women as well, in fact) who may be interested in or open to the possibility of dating trans women. It isn’t some kind of argument that every cis woman should feel obligated to jump into bed with a non-op trans woman, it’s more about having a conversation over how cis women and trans women who are interested in each other might approach intimacy, respect and openness with one another.
And as I stated in the article as well as about a zillion times in the comment thread, no one is obligated to touch a woman’s penis if they are not comfortable with that.
Another claim that has repeatedly come up as well is that no one is discussing cis men’s relations with trans women, or their need to accept the possibility that they might end up dating or flirting with a woman with a penis. Of course, that’s absolutely false as it is among one of the main topics of discussion among trans feminists. I would draw attention first of all to the following piece that I wrote on that exact subject “on the disclosure myth and the cissexist imagination,” which I consider to be the most important thing I’ve written. (I’ll try to dig up some further examples later, for now I’ll also point to this piece from Erica and I written in response to the same events as the first piece). Basically the point of this article is to present trans disclosure itself as a social construct and to challenge the victim-blaming narratives that that construct often engenders towards trans women who have faced violence from cis men in relation to sexual intimacy.
I got into a discussion with one lesbian cis woman “Amy” on the comment thread over this subject. I noticed that she kept insisting that she could simultaneously condemn a trans woman who does not reveal her genital status to someone with whom she is intimate while at the same time condemning some cis man that attacks her on that basis (or claims that as an excuse for violence, given that some cis men who have claimed this as a justification for violence almost certainly knew that their intimate partner was a trans woman all along anyways).
But here’s the thing: as I stated to her in the comment thread, the actual occurrence of non-op or pre-op trans women who do not reveal their genital status to an intimate partner isn’t necessarily all that common in the first place. Meanwhile, the occurrence of violence against trans women in intimate settings is sadly fairly common.
It’s a bit like the wider discussion around rape: yes, it is true that quite infrequently a woman might report a false rape accusation. However, it is much more common that a woman is too scared of being victim-blamed and ostracized for her to come forward about being raped. Hence the constant obsession with the small number of false rape allegations tends to distort the entire conversation and create an air of doubt around many actual rape victims.
I believe that a similar statement holds regarding trans women disclosure, in which the constant obsession with the idea of a trans woman who does not disclose her genital status to a potential partner is used to distract from a much-needed conversation about the more serious issue of violence against trans women.
Note: Those who wish to argue with me about these points, please feel free to comment on the original Autostraddle article, as I feel I don’t really have the energy for moderating the comments myself at this point (also more people can participate in the discussion there).