Trigger Warning: Trans*phobia, transmisogyny, cissexism, femmephobia
There lies a double standard in feminism and society on a broad scale, not just radical feminists of the TERF variety, that holds trans* people to an entirely different set of qualifications than their cis counterparts. It’s interesting how feminism is about freedom of expression and freedom to simply be without policing. Yet at the same time, police exactly how one should be a feminist and a “real” person. Trans* people’s bodies are not seen as our own. In an age where we fight for bodily autonomy, trans* bodies are still at the mercy of others, whether it be doctors, therapists, other medical professionals, or fellow people. Trans* bodies are not allowed to exist as their own and hinge on the validation of others for their existence. We are not allowed to be in control of our own lives, bodies, and identities in the same way that cis people are.
These double standards exist is different degrees and different ways for trans* people. Trans women, trans men, and non-binary people are held to different standards, even among themselves. Feminists and those who proclaim to be all accepting (or even openly discriminatory) highlight these differences quite explicitly. For example, it is easy to see how many feminist spaces are dominated by more masculine or butch people. Even among trans* circles, genderqueer, genderfluid, trans men, masculine of center, or trans masculine people who are FAAB, dominate discourse and discussion (heck, even butch cis women). These people are often celebrated for forsaking the gender binary and transgressing it while at the same time, trans women, trans feminine people, and even feminine cis women are seen as promoting stereotypes and binary oppression. Femme people, across all gender categories, are seen as tools of the patriarchy who have succumb to media and social pressures and thus, have submitted to these forces.
These beliefs seem especially strong when talking about trans women though. In many feminist areas, trans women are in a damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation. Trans women who present as feminine people are seen as reinforcing gender norms and stereotypes. They are seen as upholders of the patriarchal society and as people who are merely just trying to mimic how society tells a woman should be. Trans women who are on the more butch side of the spectrum are seen as not female enough or it is used as proof as how these women are really men. These very policing ideas and tones come from people who wish to be free from policing. They demand that others not police them and their identities while doing the same to others. Their identities cannot be placed under a microscope and examined and vivisectioned. However, the identities of trans* people, especially trans women, are of free reign.
I’ve experienced this personal vivisection on many different levels. As a non-binary presenting (IE cross-dressing) trans male, my identity is constantly called into question. My love for heels, bright colors, tight pants, and so on are seen as markers of how I am truly a woman or not really trans*. These are things I’ve discussed in great length in I Am Valid and Gender: Peacock. My identity is something to put under a microscope and carefully dissect, something that is not done to the identities of cis people to the same extent. Their identities are not examined to show “tells” of how they are truly not men or women. Their bodies are not examined with the same speculation that mine and other trans* bodies are. Natural variations in human bodies are suddenly seen as vital evidence of contrary and somehow conflicting identities. Real and trans* are not allowed to exist in the same space, whether it be in regards to body and identity. This same inability is not afforded to cis people since they are the default real and the standard that trans* people are held to. As opposed to viewing everyone as individuals, we are seen as collectives, seen as stereotypes. Even cis people, are seen as this all powerful image trans* people wish to hold themselves to because cis is seen as the default.
Gender critical has been used by those who wish to dissect gender and its nuances. However, they are not critical of gender. They do not critique cis people, or even trans* CAFAB people, only those who are trans women, trans feminine, or somewhere along the trans* spectrum as a CAMAB person. It is almost as if they are penis critical, but only if that penis is attached to someone who is a fellow woman. These people do not believe in gender as anything but a socially constructed absolute. People do not have inborn and innate identities, despite the science and history saying otherwise. Gender is a system of oppression entirely. Gender critical people are also gender abolitionists. Gender must be destroyed, including those who believe and identify within its walls. This seems to be similar to a Scorched Earth-type policy; destroy everything and do not care about that harm it does to others.
Recently, I was engaging with Elizabeth Hungerford on Twitter. While a known TERF/”gender critical” (who actually wrote a letter to the UN saying how protecting trans* people was damaging women which she no longer supports as it was ‘too nice’ to trans* people), Hungerford was asserting that trans women should be allowed to transition, however after two years of a “real life test”. For those who do not know, the “real life test” is required by some therapists and doctors in order to get access to hormones, surgery, and the like for transition. I will also make note that the requirements by many doctors are usually only a year, while still absurd and unnecessary, they are still half of what Hungerford was asserting. The “real life test” asserts that trans* people must live as their identified gender for a certain amount of time before any of these will be given. The problems should be apparent. Trans* people already are living at their identified gender, they just may not be presenting as such. Or their presentation may be non-stereotypical (such as masculine/butch trans women, feminine/femme trans men, or non-binary). Presenting as one’s identified gender before hormones leads to people being visibly trans*. While inherently not an issue, society takes and latches onto these people in violent ways. Trans* people, especially those of color, are more likely to face discrimination, rape, assault, harassment, murder, and so on due to their trans* status compared to their cis counterparts. This is why many trans* people do not even begin to present as their identified gender before months (and maybe a year or more) on hormones.
Another issue lies in the fact that Hungerford does not believe any trans* person who is pre-op should be allowed in a women’s bathroom (like most TERFs, her only focus is on trans women). Thus, leading to a conundrum. How should a trans women be expected to access the bathroom of her gender, like anyone else, if she is required to live as her identified gender, but not allowed into vital areas such as public restrooms? The “real life test” is often held to extremely out-dated, sexist, and stereotypical ideals. For example, trans women are expected to present extremely femme while trans men are expected to present extremely masculine. This perpetuates the stereotype that trans* people are hyper-femme or hyper-masculine in order to compensate for their gender identities. This also causes issues for non-binary people who wish to medically transition, but do not fit into specific categories. Doctors who uphold to this “real life test” also expect trans women and trans men to be straight and being anything other than that is seen as proof that they are not truly trans*.
“Real life tests” force trans* people to behave in certain ways with certain expectations to their presentations and sexualities. Trans* people, as previously stated, are expected to be straight. Trans* people with queer sexualities are further pathologized. Instead of being seen as simply being gay (or bi, pan, etc.) they are seen as sexualizing the people and bodies they wish they were/had. Trans women who are lesbians are seen as sexualizing and objectifying women because of their identities. This is something that is not done to cis women, nor is it done to trans men in the same way that trans women experience it.
This leads me into another double standard that seems to be making a comeback from the earlier years, autogynephilia. Autogynephilia is the sexual interest and thought as oneself as a woman. This was often used to show how trans women were just perverts who wanted to obtain the bodies of women for their own sexual gratification (ignoring trans women who do not want bottom surgery or to medically transition at all). However, it does not seem odd to question a cis woman who wants a sexier and more attractive body. We do not question cis women who feel and see themselves as sexy or as objects of desire. Also, the opposite does not exist for trans men. This is a classification that was reserved for trans women to pathologize their identities as something sexual and perverted. In fact, a study was conducted and if the cis women were held to the same standard that trans women are, 93% of them would be considered to be autogynephiles. Almost all the women in the study would be classified as being sexually interested in being a woman. However, this is a standard that is only held to trans women.
The oversexualization of trans* people, their bodies, and their transition paired with the desexualization of trans* people posses another set of double standards. As shown by the existence of the belief of autogynephilia, trans* people, mostly trans women, are viewed as nonsexual people. While expected to be straight, they are not expected to be sexual in anyway, especially if they see themselves as women. However, at the same time, trans* people (once again, most trans women) are fetishized. Porn featuring trans women (under many less than appropriate names) is a big commodity. In fact, it is one of the most consumed forms of porn by straight, cis men. Thus, trans women are portrayed as extremely and oversexual beings (often considered to be preying on straight, cis men). These women are shown as deceivers, not truly who they say they are. Words like trap have become synonymous with trans women and their sexualities. They are ‘traps’ for straight cis men, ways to make them question their very sexuality and identities. Trans women are portrayed as sexual predators (something too many people play off).
This belief that trans* people are predators, using their identities to prey on cis people, is something that is often used. Also all campaigns against trans* people and equal access to facilities play off this idea. How many times has the trope of a “man in a dress” preying on women in the female locker room or restroom been used? How often has this actually happened? I cannot think of any evidence of a trans* person using their identity to prey on cis people. In fact, cis people often prey on trans* people due to their trans* identities. Trans* people fall victim to trans* panic more often than they should (which should be never). While trans* people, especially trans women, are portrayed as predators to cis people, the reality is quite the reverse. Trans* people are the prey, the victims, of cissexist society.
Cis women are not expected to prove their identities nor are cis men. Their identities are taken for what they are at face value. There is no “real life test” for these people because their lives are considered valid and legitimate. This is the very definition of cissexism, the idea that cis people’s identities are more valid and more legitimate than those of trans* people. Cissexism is the very reason that many of these double standards exist and occur. Trans* people are not allowed to identify as they wish without retrospection, vigorous investigation, and often personal, invasion into their psyche. Trans* people are held under a microscope and every interaction of their lives, every wrinkle and crease of their bodies inspected as a way to either prove or disprove their identities. Trans* people are held to rigid standards that are so varied between even different medical professionals and caretakers that there is infighting over who is truly trans* or not. Trans* people are at the mercy of others with their identities, forever seeking validation for something they have already validated themselves long ago, their worthiness to live their lives as their authentic selves.