if trans women aren’t welcome, neither am I

The question of whether or not to include trans women in women’s sexuality-based events is old and tiresome, but it still comes up with some regularity. I recently responded to a discussion on this topic and I realized that it might be useful to post my thoughts here, as I don’t know that I’ve ever done so in full.

I see a few main underlying assumptions come up in these discussions, and I’d like to counter them. Some of these arguments are stated outright, while others seem implicit in the language people tend to use. Most counter-arguments I’ve seen focus on the stated arguments, but I’d like to incorporate the underlying ones too, which makes the discussion a bit broader.

Comments are welcome, as always. That said, I realize that comments on posts like this often veer into the territory of flame-war pretty quickly. As a result I’m going to keep a tight rein on the comments here, and I may shut down comments fairly early in the game if only because so much of what might come up has already been said and I don’t think it’s worth rehashing lots of it here. This post is a position statement, not an invitation to a grand debate.


Assumption 1. There exists such thing as a “safe space.”

I feel strongly that the idea of safe space is a really dangerous one, no matter who’s claiming it for what space. It seems like there’s an underlying assumption in some comments that safe space does indeed exist or that it’s something worth striving for. For me, as soon as the concept comes up, whether this precise term is used or it just seems to be implied, I immediately become super uncomfortable and feel very concerned about how people will behave in whatever space is being discussed. I’ve seen this idea used as a battering ram, essentially, in way too many contexts, usually as a way to police behaviour in a mean-spirited manner or to exclude people or create an “in-crowd” of people who “get it.” Doesn’t really matter whether it’s an activist space, a party, a conference, whatever. Almost universally, it’s about people buying into a fantasy of safety that simply does not match reality—and making a lot of people quite unsafe by using policing-style behaviour.

In reality, you are only “safe” from things that might make you uncomfortable or triggered if you stay at home where you have absolute control over everything that happens (and even then, not always). Each person’s idea of “safe” is different, and therefore a group space cannot possibly be “safe.” “Safe” isn’t real, and as such I believe it’s not worth investing energy in. It’s much better, in my opinion, to create spaces where there are a few clear rules for acceptable behaviour (which does *not* depend on identity or status of any kind, gender or otherwise), a stated expectation of kindness and goodwill, and one or several people who are in charge of smoothing things out if they go wrong.

Assumption 2. We all have the right to expect to be comfortable in sexual space.

Speaking as someone who’s spent well over a decade attending group sexual events large and small in dozens of cities all over the world, I can say that no matter what the gender rules are for a given space, it is best for me to go into them not expecting to feel comfortable, *ever*. I’ve felt horribly uncomfortable at “women-only” events, and super comfortable in totally gender-mixed spaces. And vice versa too. The factors in that comfort level include people’s attitudes in general, the vibe and layout of the space, the level of alcohol consumption, temperature, the level of privacy, the loudness or nature/content of a scene or sex happening nearby, the organizers’ style, whether or not there’s pressure to play or fuck, the music, how high or stoned people are, what kind of porn is screening, the racial or age or body size or gender mix of the crowd, the presence or absence of one or two specific people… all of these things come into play in terms of my own comfort level, and they are not things I can know or expect going in.

I think we need to stop expecting sexual spaces to be comfortable in the first place, and understand that a thing that makes one of us feel right at home might make someone else feel sick to their stomach. (An intense blood play scene in the middle of the room… the presence of lots of butches… the opportunity to get high… Can you guess which one of those make me feel comfortable and which I find hard to handle? There is at least one of each. Do you think I would accurately guess your response to the same criteria?)

Most crucially, we need to remember that the exclusion of trans women is not the primary standard of comfort for everyone, or even for most people, or even for most cisgender dykes. When we expect a given space to make us feel comfortable in the first place, and then we reduce this question of comfort to a question of whether or not trans women are there, we are functioning from a very skewed picture of what actually makes a space comfortable for anyone outside our own selves, and making a lot of really unfounded assumptions about what works for everyone else around us too.

Assumption 3. One person having a trigger is a legitimate reason to exclude someone else from an event.

Here’s a list of some of the triggers and squicks I’ve encountered among the people I’ve met in the last few years as a travelling sex educator and event organizer: seeing someone taking off their belt; being touched on the belly; seeing porn; hearing the terms “fat,” “ugly,” and “stupid”; seeing blood; hearing a deep voice; seeing a masculine-presenting person fucking a feminine-presenting person doggy-style; seeing testicles (though a penis would be fine); military uniforms; finding out someone is bisexual or not a “gold-star” lesbian or gay man; watching age play or being in the presence of “littles”…  I could go on. The thing about a trigger is that it’s deeply personal, by its very nature. Sometimes it’s about past trauma, sometimes not. I know that for me, if I saw someone do a food play scene, I’d have to either leave the room or vomit, and I couldn’t tell you why—that’s just how it is.

Regardless of what it is, it’s super important that we take responsibility for managing our own triggers and squicks rather than expecting spaces to be set up to accommodate us, and all the more so when our trigger is about someone else’s looks, presence or behaviour. Outside basic rules of good behaviour, or specific event attendance rules for specific purposes—for instance, this event is only for people in full-time M/s relationships, or this is an event where everyone is expected to dress head-to-toe in red—it’s really not fair to ask others to curtail their behaviour or hide pieces of themselves in order to be welcome. I would never think of asking someone not to do food play in front of me. My squick, my responsibility to manage.

Assumption 4. Trans women have penises, and I will see those penises if they’re at a sex party.

***Added 2013/09/23: I want to preface this bit by stating in no uncertain terms that the configuration of a person’s genitals is none of my/your/anyone’s business unless you are about to engage in some kind of sexual touching that would require that knowledge. It’s also not a legitimate factor in whether or not someone should be considered to “really be” the gender they say they are. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health takes a strong stand against requiring any kind of surgical modification for someone to “qualify” as their stated gender, and everyone from governments to party organizers should take a cue from them. As well, I want to make it clear that many (most?) trans women don’t refer to their pre- or non-op genitals as “penises.” Some say clit, some say girl-dick, some say strapless – there’s a long list. Women’s individual choices about what they call their bits take precedence over any externally imposed words. Mostly, though, as with the question of what someone’s genitals look like, what they’re called is also none of anyone’s business unless you’re getting sexual together. The following paragraphs cover some basic information about genitals that you can find in a range of trans-101 resources, as well as in the zine I link to in point 9. I’m putting it here purely to counter the misinformation that this particular assumption is based on – not to imply that it’s anyone’s actual business to know what’s going on with any individual trans women’s genitals. ***

I think that a lot of people who are triggered by the idea of penises are *very* unlikely to be upset by most of what they’d see at an event that includes trans women. For starters, a lot of trans women get bottom surgery—I’d say at least three-quarters of the ones I’ve met in dyke contexts, though that’s anecdotal of course. It is much more common for trans women to opt for, and prioritize, bottom surgery than for trans men to do so (which is surely at least in good part due to cost, but also due to expected results).

The women who don’t have bottom surgery yet, but who are planning to, rarely want to show off or use their genitals in public space the way some cisgender men might. For them, the whole point of surgery is that they don’t want to have a penis at all, let alone wave it around in public, even less so among people who may be uncomfortable with that.

Among the trans gals who haven’t had bottom surgery and don’t plan to, the vast majority don’t have genitals that look like what most people would understand or immediately recognize as being a penis—the use of hormones makes the genitals much smaller and softer, and it’s usually not easy to get an erection or ejaculate. If you’re basing your idea of trans women as “chicks with dicks” you may have been watching too much shemale porn—and understand, please, that even in that kind of porn the trans women in question often have to use Viagra to get it up at all, and still often can’t come or ejaculate, and are in many cases keeping their penises for the moment only because porn is a way to earn enough money for bottom surgery. So it’s a bad place to judge from, even though it’s the easiest and quickest place to go if you want to see images of trans women’s non-surgically-altered bits.

Last but not least, there is the rare trans woman who has a dick and who understands it as such and is both capable of and interested in using it in typically “male” ways. All I have to say about that is that if I had one—a dick, that is—so would I! I think a lot of women feel the same if the popularity of strap-ons is any indication, to say nothing of the well-known dyke fascination with gay male porn. I’ve never actually seen this happen at a sex party, in all my travels, and as such I might be a bit surprised if I did. But if I can handle watching countless cis-dykes pound away at each other with dicks they’ve purchased at a store, surely I can handle watching a dyke use one she happens to have grown. We “allow” trans men the freedom to use the parts they were born with to achieve pleasure—surely we can extend that same acceptance to the very rare trans woman who wants to do the same. It seems a very strange thing to start judging, especially when we’re a community of people who gets off on a rather stunning variety of sexual practices to begin with.

And for people who equate “penis” with “ability to rape or assault” and are therefore triggered by the possibility or the reality of seeing one… first, see point 3. Beyond that, maybe your parents were a lot more specific about this, but my mom always told me to watch out for men, not for penises, if I wanted to avoid rape. But this same logic meant that nobody really told me to watch out for women who assault and rape. I know it’s a shitty thing to have to face, and I know a lot of dykes don’t like to talk about it because it damages their sense of safety in community… but I have met plenty of women who have had experiences of sexual assault or domestic violence with other women (cisgender and otherwise). At play parties and sex parties and bars, at home alone with a partner, with someone they’ve dated for a little while, with someone they’ve married… it happens, and way more than we’d like to think. Pretending that assault and rape are only perpetrated by men, or only done by people with penises, allows women and people with vaginas to get away with it that much more easily.

Rape and assault are not about penises. They are about someone’s sense of entitlement to touch another person’s body without consent. We need to stop projecting our fears onto a body part (regardless of who’s sporting it) and start looking at how people actually behave. It will make us *feel* less safe to acknowledge this, but I think it will make us actually *be* safer if we can talk about it openly.

Assumption 5. Trans women are aggressive in a way that makes people uncomfortable.

To me this sounds a whole lot like “black people are all so angry!” or “women are so over-emotional and hysterical!” or even “gay men are so effeminate!” It’s a stereotype, pure and simple. It’s especially similar to those other examples because it’s a stereotype that focuses on the way someone expresses themselves. We expect these behaviours or expression styles because we fear them – oppressive white people are scared of angry black people, men who are taught not to feel or deal with emotions are scared of women expressing emotions, people who are taught that masculinity is precious and fragile and absolutely necessary to their survival are terrified to see how easily someone can “lose” their masculinity, and so forth. From there, if we see these things happen in real life once or twice, we believe them to be true of everyone in a given group all the time. Then it becomes really easy to *only* see those things, and to miss or simply ignore—or, in this case, *deprive ourselves of the opportunity to see*—people in that same category behaving in other ways too. Which they/we do, because we are human. We need to get past this, plain and simple.

Assumption 6. Trans women are all the same.

We need to make sure, when we’re talking about trans women just as with any other group, that we aren’t speaking as though they were all the same. Trans women are as different from one another as any other people are. Some are aggressive, some soft and sweet. Some big, some small; some butch, others femme, others genderqueer, and so forth. Some lesbians, some straight, some bi, some queer. Every imaginable racial and ethnic background. Every imaginable profession and economic status (though statistically more likely to be poor and underemployed, regardless of their education level, due to rampant systemic transphobia). Some pre-op, some post-op, some non-op (bottom surgery). Some on hormones, some not. Some who “pass” easily, some who don’t and won’t ever. Some who have breast implants, some who don’t. So anytime you start a sentence with “trans women are…”, think carefully about what you’re going to say next and whether it’s true all the time or not.

Assumption 7. The term “woman” or “women” is by definition about cisgendered women.

In my world, when we talk about women, that includes trans women, because trans women are women. If we’re trying to say something specific about women who were assigned female at birth and are still happy to be referred to that way today, we call them cis or cisgendered women. If we’re trying to say something specific about women who were assigned male at birth but later transitioned, we call them trans women, or possibly women with a history of transition. But “women” on its own doesn’t imply anything about how someone was born. There’s nothing offensive about any of these terms unless they’re applied to someone inaccurately or with intent to shame or hurt.

For me personally, I don’t love being called a cis woman, not because there’s anything wrong with the term or because I think it’s pejorative, but because I am actually not always comfortable living in a female body and I feel like I float in a middle space between several genders. “Woman” I’ll accept, though only barely, and I wish I had another option than either that or “man.” But when someone calls me “cis,” to me that makes me feel they are making some very mistaken assumptions about me, and *that*—not the term itself—can be offensive. (Same as being assumed straight, or femme, or able-bodied… nothing wrong with those terms, they’re just inaccurate when applied to me.) But even then, I can still recognize that most of the world, most of the time, sees me as a woman, and that I get certain privileges because of that. So being *perceived* as a cis woman still gives me advantages, even if I don’t apply the term to myself. As such it’s still a useful term.

Assumption 8. Trans women aren’t really women, because they weren’t socialized as women.

This one falls apart on several levels.

First, it assumes that all women were socialized the same way. This makes no room for the vastly diverse types of socializing we each go through. A past butch partner of mine, for instance, refers to her childhood as being a “boyhood”—she played sports, spent time with her dad learning about woodworking and was never forced to look or dress girly. I, on the other hand, was very much socialized to be a girl, with all the expectations and prohibitions that come along with that. This is a pretty stark difference in childhood gender-socialization experiences despite how we were both raised in white, Ontario-based, heterosexually-parented, middle-class families with religious mothers and multiple siblings. As soon as we start adding on other differences—race, economic status, geographic location, age, number and configuration of parents, sexual orientations within the family, religion, schooling and so forth—we multiply the ways in which our gender socialization might change.

Second, it assumes that the way we are socialized “sticks” the same way on everyone. I would argue, for instance, that probably none of us who are queer were socialized as children to be queer. Most of us who are gender-independent weren’t taught to be that way by our parents. And I’ve only rarely met people who are what I’d call second-generation poly—as in, they had openly non-monogamous parents and are themselves non-monogamous. Possibly even more rarely than that have I encountered people whose parents were openly kinky such that they were socialized from childhood to be perverts. (And certainly, I was never taught, as a girl, to be a dominant or a top!) I could say similar things about feminism—I don’t think, for instance, that I’m any less “real” or “legit” a feminist because my mother and father most certainly aren’t feminists. And I can assure you that I was never socialized to work primarily at night, or have a freelance career, or to do a PhD—I’m the only one in my entire family doing any of those things, and they are huge pieces of how I understand myself as an agent in the world and of how I live my everyday life. And so on, and so forth. So it’s very odd to see people who’ve made life decisions that for the most part radically depart from what they were taught to do as children try to argue that on this singular point—the question of gender—socialization trumps choice, trumps our innate sense of who we are and trumps all the efforts we make to do about that. It just doesn’t work that way. Of all people, we should know.

Third, the socialization argument dismisses and disrespects the enormous challenges that trans women have to go through to understand themselves as women, and to assert themselves as such in the face of huge social forces that tell them they are not and cannot be what they are. There are plenty of trans women who never felt like men in the first place, for whom existing in an assigned-male body was a horrific experience of dysphoria and disconnection, for whom being raised and socialized as male was deeply damaging to the point of leading them to depression and suicidality, or for whom the presence of a penis and the lack of a vagina (for those who haven’t had bottom surgery) is an ongoing source of trauma, not a free pass into male privilege. If we can understand our own struggles to self-define, to make sense of our desires and identities and bodies, surely we have it in us to understand others’ when they are arguably even more complex and more strongly discouraged by the world around them.

Last but not least, this argument also assumes that trans women are not treated as women by the world at large. It is true that some trans women are not read as women by the world around them. In those cases, they are often shunned, assaulted and disrespected—as “failed” women, as “failed” men, or as freaks in general. In this sense, trans women who don’t “pass” are punished in much the same way as cis women are punished when they fail to do “woman” right. For being too fat, or too hairy, or not passive enough, or too smart, or too capable, or not straight enough, or too slutty, or too frigid, or not curvy enough, or whatever else.

Trans women know exactly what it’s like to be told they’re not doing it right, and cis women know exactly how much that hurts because it’s done to many of us too. Trans women who do “pass,” on the other hand, are subjected to the same kinds of bullshit that many cis women are just for being women, even when we are doing “woman” right—essentially, lots of misplaced entitlement. People, especially but not exclusively men, feel entitled to comment on or touch or fuck our bodies, to expect our sexual interest, to measure their masculinity by how different it is from our femininity, to get paid more than we do, to be aggressive and active to our receptivity and passivity, to be physically strong to our weakness, and so forth. And beyond all this… trans women who sometimes “pass” and sometimes don’t get the unenviable privilege of being on the receiving end of *both* these kinds of bullshit, both of which are clearly linked to being a woman, if from different angles.

So I call bullshit on this socialization question. It just doesn’t hold water.


Assumption 9. The “cotton ceiling” is a way for trans women to bully cis women into having sex with them.

The idea of the “cotton ceiling” is intended to draw attention to how even in spaces that are politically and socially welcoming of trans women, transphobia often retains its influence on how we understand who is sexually desirable and who isn’t. It’s no different from other politicized criteria for desirability—people who are, for instance, fat or disabled are also often welcomed into queer women’s space but not seen as desirable compared to those hot slim, muscular, able-bodied sorts. This isn’t our fault—our entire culture tells us what’s sexy and what’s not, 24 hours a day, and that definition is terribly narrow. But it is really easy to forget how much influence advertising propaganda and social pressure can exert on what gets us wet and hard, and to let the mainstream’s terms dictate our desires.

It is possible to read the idea of the cotton ceiling as being about pressuring people to change who and what they desire. And that pressure can feel unwelcome. With that in mind, I would challenge those who feel it that way to look very carefully at the message that’s being delivered. Is it actually about you being told you need to go out and fuck people you’re not attracted to? Or is it about someone asking you to think about how much of your attractions are based on an underlying assumption of cissexism? Or perhaps, might it be about challenging women-centred sexual spaces to talk openly about trans women’s bodies and how to safely and enjoyably have sex with trans women—a topic about which it is ridiculously difficult to find solid information? (Try Mira Bellwether’s awesome zine, Fucking Trans Women, if you are in search!) Or perhaps it could be about challenging the producers of dyke sexual representation to include trans women as objects of desire—in porn, in art, in erotica—which is only barely beginning to happen?

This is a difficult line to walk in terms of messaging—there is a subtlety to the argument that can easily be misunderstood. And to be fair, some people delivering the message about the cotton ceiling may not be doing it in a skilful way. But I think mostly the misunderstanding here comes from people who are very attached to a body- or genitals-based understanding of gender and very threatened by anything that comes along and challenges that.

Fundamentally, it doesn’t do anyone any favours for a person to fuck someone for political reasons without genuine attraction. I really hope nobody goes out and fucks anyone just to prove a political point or make a statement about how wonderful and open-minded they are. I certainly wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of such false desire, and I would feel pretty disappointed in myself if I noticed I’d started to collect a list of sexual partners who conveniently belonged to stigmatized minority groups so that I could brag about it.

Fundamentally, it also doesn’t do anyone any favours for a person to pressure anyone else to have sex, for political reasons or otherwise. So if a trans woman cruises you with a line like, “Hey, you should have sex with me to prove you’re not transphobic,” you have every right to say, “Uh, no thanks.” Failing that highly unlikely situation, though, I think a lot of cis and otherwise non-trans gals need to ratchet down the defensive reaction and take the opportunity to really examine how much of our desire rests on cissexism, and how much of the sexual culture we create and consume excludes trans women, even if we’re not doing it on purpose. That thought process may never change our physical attractions, and it doesn’t have to. But on the other hand, it might, and we shouldn’t be afraid of that. For a bunch of politicized people who are committed to resisting the patriarchy, fighting racism and advocating for accepting our bodies at any size, and then going ahead and representing those various bodies in all their delicious glory, this one really shouldn’t be a big stretch. And at the bare minimum, whether it changes our sexual practice or not, it could possibly help us to change a culture of exclusion such that the people next to us at that sex party—cis, trans and otherwise—can more easily access the kind of sex they’d like to be having.


Assumption 10. Trans men are a lot like women.

This one comes up as a counterpart to the “socialization” argument, specifically when people argue for the inclusion of trans men in women’s spaces as a counterpart to arguing against the inclusion of trans women in those same spaces. This is especially unhelpful to trans men.

A significant percentage of trans men are, well, men. They look like men, smell like men, identify and move through the world as men. If they’re told they’re allowed to attend a women’s event because they’re not really men, that’s pretty insulting.

Of course, *some* trans men are gender-fluid, or strongly attached to their history as dykes or as women, or see their transition as an extension of their former or current butch-ness and still prefer to date queer women, or what have you. So as such, some of them feel at home in queer women’s spaces, and it would be very sad and hurtful to exclude them. I totally get this. But let’s be clear that we are not talking about all trans men here. It’s a very specific range of trans men, and there’s a whole other range of trans men out there for whom such inclusion would be unwelcome at best and outright damaging at worst.

There are lots of trans men who never felt like women in the first place, for whom existing in a female-assigned body was a horrific experience of dysphoria and disconnection, for whom being raised and socialized as female was deeply damaging to the point of leading them to depression and suicidality, or for whom the lack of a penis (for those who don’t get bottom surgery) is an ongoing source of trauma, not a free pass into women’s space. Please let’s not disrespect these guys by assuming they’re “one of us” because they have vaginas. That’s what the rest of the world has been doing to them forever and sometimes it quite literally kills them.


This post is mostly about analyzing a set of arguments, sometimes in ways I’ve seen done by others, some less so. But in addition to the argumentation piece, I’m writing this to publicly say, in no uncertain terms, that as a woman who’s not trans, I fully support events that include trans women and tend to feel personally way more comfortable when trans women are welcome than when they’re not. For me, events that include trans women create a baseline of respect for people’s chosen gender identities—my own included—where I can breathe at least somewhat easier, instead of worrying about people making misguided assumptions and applying them to me and others. It’s a statement that clearly says “who you are is important, not who the world tells you to be.” This isn’t just symbolic. It makes a real difference in the vibe of a space, in my experience, and makes a lot more room for me too.


P.S. Adding this a day after first posting: I want to acknowledge an additional assumption that underpins everything I’ve tried to challenge here. This is the assumption that there is an “us” made up entirely of cis and otherwise non-trans women who are in charge of all women’s sexuality-based events and who get to make the decisions about including “them,” the trans women who’d like to attend. In fact my experience has been quite different from that. Trans women have been around for decades – “they” aren’t a sort of perpetually new part of “our” community, but rather a part of the fabric of it, of its history and its present and absolutely of its future. Several generations of trans women, and their contributions, long predate my own organizing efforts, for instance – so it’s a testament to the persistence of transphobia that somehow I, when I started organizing events in my early twenties, still understood that it was my job to “let” the trans women in (or bar them access). To me this feels like the height of disrespect – that some parts of the dyke world are still stuck on whether or not to include people who’ve been around since, y’know, the middle of last century. Many of the trans women in my community are older, wiser and more experienced than I am. I am fortunate to have many smart, powerful trans women as my elders – as scholars, as SM players, as dykes, as organizers, as role models, as writers and artists and activists. I’m grateful for their presence, their persistence in the face of discrimination, and for *their* willingness to let *me* in, to whatever extent they have.

64 thoughts on “if trans women aren’t welcome, neither am I

  1. Thanks for this – i related immediately to your comment abut safe space as it has often struck me as unrealistic to expect any space in which personal growth and discovery can occur to be ‘safe’ – you simply dont know what will come up! (yes relatively safe in terms of mindful and considerate and supportive, but not in terms of protective of and from reality)

    Rather like the term or concept ‘woman’ which you discuss , ‘safe’ has different meanings for different people, and the opposite end of being in control to feel safe, is a celebration and acceptance of the understanding that we are not in control that paradoxically feels safer than the control position 🙂

    I more or loss follow the rest of your points which made me realise how many words/categories/definitions/boxes there are to accommodate our diversity – and in the end I was overwhelmed by them. Like the debate about gay marriage where it was pointed out that there is no such thing – just marriage between whoever regardless of gender and orientation – I think a lot of these categories are mostly steps on the way to becoming and self-acceptance and should not be used to ‘bully’ everyone else.

    I am a person first, then a man/gay/artist/bodyworker/son/brother/sister 🙂

    I enjoyed your previous long posts on polyamory and I like your mind and impish humour and forthrightness

    Cheers x

  2. Thank you! Lots of good points well explained!

    On being called “cis woman”: I think I’ve read elsewhere (possibly at Lisa Millbank’s blog? not sure now) the suggestion that the term “cis” is more useful in the context of unearned advantage than of identity. Or words to that effect. I broadly agree with that, and I get the sense from your words here that you probably would too.

    I think part of what would be useful is a development of the cultural understanding of cis privilege, more separated into its various strands so that people can more easily see which parts of it they do partake of even if not all.

    E.g. I understand myself as somewhat genderqueer rather than 100% cisgendered, my usual day-to-day presentation is fairly androgynous and I’ve often been misread as male (still occasionally nowadays, but I’m too old to be mistaken for a teenage boy any more, or indeed for any kind of teenager 🙂 ). However, I’ve never needed to struggle through medical gatekeeping for help to change my body, I’ve never had paperwork-mismatch bother, I can very easily be read as relatively-uncomplicatedly female if I actively present that way, etc. These are cis privileges regardless of my own identity.

    1. Totally agree, yes. I am super aware that I carry a lot of cis privilege – which is a very different story from actually being cis. So it often goes with elements of perceived vs. lived situations – being perceived as something you’re not does bring privileges with it, absolutely.

  3. I’d like to talk with you about the concept of ‘safe space’ off thread at some point. I think I have some data points that you’d find useful. Seriously.

  4. Thank you for including the section about trans men. As a trans man who identifies as fully male, I personally find it very difficult and demeaning when a women’s event is open to trans men in general without any qualifiers to identity. I understand that some people are trying to be inclusive of those trans men who want to keep their connections within the women’s community. Losing one’s community is a difficult thing and I would never advocate to push someone out of a community just because they decided to transition. For me though, the inclusion based on what’s between my legs makes me feel a bit like I’ve been reduced to my genitalia… Like I should start going around introducing myself by saying “Hi! I’m Mr. Vagina. How are you today?” It also feeds into the extremely harmful stereotype that I’m a “safe” man to be around *only* because I don’t have a full size penis.

  5. I really just have to express my absolute admiration and yes, gratitude, for stepping up and speaking about this topic. I have posted a link to this page on my FB profile and feel more hopeful about Queer women’s spaces and events in the future.

    hugs and smooches,


      1. Actually been working on a painting on the topic of inclusion/exclusion of women such as myself in Queer women’s baths, I’ve named it ‘ The space between ‘.

        So, yes I’m so glad to see someone who is not of transsexual or otherwise trans experienced, speak on this topic as you have. So again, much thanks, you rock! 🙂

  6. First and foremost, brava/o on being comfortable and brave enough to take a public stand and back it up with thoughtful dialogue.

    I was interviewed for a book on the intersection of BDSM and Trans identity, and the subject of “only” spaces was one of my longest answers, as a non-op trans man who is frequently read as a woman.

    I believe every individual, group, event, and organization should have the right to define who it includes and who it excludes; they also have the right to explain or not explain their choices as they see fit. However, I also believe that the right exists for individuals, groups, etc, have the right to choose to ally or become involved with those factions based on the implied or stated reasons for inclusion/exclusion. It is also okay for those decisions to be scrutinized, commented upon, upheld, or changed.

    I don’t want to be in a place that doesn’t want me there. Doubly so if I know or can intuit that my presence there will be made obvious to me in one way or another. For example, I do not attend events that are not wheelchair accessible, even if I am not planning to use my wheelchair there: partly to vote with my money and my wheels/feet to make it known that wheelchair accessibility is important to me, and that events that think about accessibility could possibily make more money simply by choosing a space that allows disabled people to attend.

    However, I also know that accesibility is rarely the first or most important factor for most spaces, and if they have to choose between a nonaccessible space that costs $100 to rent, and a space that is accessible but costs $300 to rent, accessibility is probably not going to be as important as what the event can afford.

    When it comes to gendered spaces, I am frequently flustered. I am very rarely included under most definitions of “men only” spaces, where I would feel more comfortable, and am frequently invited (some times over and over again, with assurances that I would “fit in”) to spaces that define as “women only”. As most mixed-gendered spaces tend to be hetero focused, as a queer man I am likely to either feel like the token queer, or have a distinct lack of other queer people to socialize with. (Luckily, some queer spaces are starting to invite queers of any gender – to much community support and success, such as Queer Invasion in CT.)

    I am glad conversations are happening, and continue to happen, in sex positive spaces, around gender fluidity and identity. I have found that in some, if not most, places where the point is made that if we believe gender is a spectrum and are accepting of genderqueer/genderfluid identities, we need to start taking a critical eye to why gendered spaces matter. And in the end, I am open to the conclusion that for some spaces, having a clear understanding of who is included and who left out, will choose to exclude certain groups of people. As long as this is done deliberately, with a clear and easily stated purpose, rather than a knee jerk idea of who is safe, or desireable, or who is a man/woman, then I can happily vote with my wheels if I support that decision. All I ask of people who agree with me, who consider themselves my ally, is that they do the same.

  7. I swear I have had these exact conversations, every single point, a hundred million times. Thanks for writing it all down!
    So so happy to have heaps of kickass trans women in my life who have made all this crystal clear. Ugh and the safer space stuff! yes yes yes. Some of us thought we might try applying a white people safety screen to all our events, seeing how that goes down. lol

  8. I love this post for many reasons including your discussion on safe space and socialisation. I’m glad to see it going around numerous feeds and am enjoying the much needed conversations it’s already generated (and will continue to, no doubt). I really appreciate you going into a lot of the implied but not explicitly stated undercurrents to transmisogyny.

    Just a note that as a guy who had phalloplasty, it would be appreciated if you didn’t contribute to the dominant discourse that my genitals aren’t desirable or “good enough” (as is implied by the “expected results” bit). It’s been a trip to simultaneously get confronted by those who are culturally queer (cis, genderqueer and trans) for having acquired a penis (and all the narratives projected unto it, some of which you touch on in this article) while being told that what I have is anything but a penis.

    1. Thanks Dylan! Certainly didn’t mean to imply anything about the quality of anyone’s phalloplasty. And perhaps my knowledge is outdated. My understanding from past reading/workshops/etc. has been that surgeons in the field have a lot more experience with bottom surgeries of various kinds for trans women, and that phalloplasty is a relatively higher-risk surgery in terms of necrosis, sensation loss, and so forth. Also that comparatively, the cost is exponentially higher for phalloplasty than for the range of SRS options available for trans women. Not so much that the end result of a phalloplasty is a not-real or somehow inferior penis – just that it’s a trickier and more expensive plan of action. I’d love to learn more if I’m wrong about this! And either way, no slight is intended toward anyone’s beautiful bits. 🙂

      1. I have learned more in this article and the replies, than I have in the past five years. Thank you for being intelligent, erudite and civil (all of you.)

  9. Outstanding piece. What you have said needs to be said and repeated until some measure of understanding and acceptance (not tolerance) is achieved. The truth is that I hate to feel angry eyes upon me and I hate to be objectified, which is why I tend to avoid places where I might encounter them. At the same time. there is a part of me that wants to challenge the right of those who would deny me access because they have a belief and feel it to be the absolute truth and a part of that belief is to objectify and negate me.

    On the use of “cis”: I don’t understand the objections to it. It’s like straight people objecting to the terms “straight” or “hetero.” I do understand your objection because you don’t feel your gender is clearly defined. That being the case, however, would willingly or no, place you underneath the so-called transgender umbrella (it’s a very big umbrella that covers people whether they like it or not).

    1. Thanks for your comment. 🙂 It’s interesting… I really have zero objection to the term cis, I think it’s super useful. And as I noted in a reply above, cis privilege absolutely applies to a lot of folks (myself included) whose identities are anything but.

      Speaking for myself here, while “cis” is not an accurate descriptor for me – I’m not always (ever?) comfortable with the sex I was assigned at birth, my sense of my gender does not match up with my body, etc. – I don’t think it’s fair to use the term “trans” to describe myself either. I realize the transgender umbrella is broad, and that a lot of people fall under it – but similarly to “cis,” claiming the word “trans” for myself I think would send an inaccurate message. Umbrella aside, most people who use the term “trans” still understand it to mean a crossing of sorts – whether from box A to box B, or from box A to somewhere new and different. Whether that’s about names, pronouns, dress, hormones, surgery or anything else – most people understand it to mean a physically or socially expressed change of some kind. And because that’s not the primary way my gender is different from the norm, I would feel… fraudulent?… if I started to call myself trans.

      We are sorely lacking in language to discuss non-binary, non-transition-based yet still non-normative genders. Many people fall between the lived realities of cis and trans. We need more options. A “they” pronoun, for instance, is only a tiny piece of that, and it doesn’t work for everyone in this middle/other/beyond space. I hope this cultural conversation develops to include vastly more nuance and richness over the course of my lifetime. 🙂

  10. “Of course, *some* trans men are gender-fluid, or strongly attached to their history as dykes or as women, or see their transition as an extension of their former or current butch-ness and still prefer to date queer women, or what have you. So as such, some of them feel at home in queer women’s spaces, and it would be very sad and hurtful to exclude them. I totally get this.”

    I’m a man of trans experience, and I don’t get this. It might feel sad and hurtful to them to be excluded, but it also might feel sad and hurtful for cis men who feel a connection to queer women’s spaces (they do exist) to feel excluded. But inclusion in or exclusion from women’s spaces is not about hurting men’s feelings or validating men’s feelings. It’s about making a space for women (which is cool, because women are a marginalized group of people). If those men move through the world at large as men, and – even more pointedly – move through women’s spaces as men (and i think this includes anyone and everyone who asks to be referred to by a male pronoun), then they don’t belong in women’s spaces. There is no way to include trans men or any subset of trans men, by policy, in a women’s space and not have that fuck over trans women who want to access women’s spaces more generally and also not have that fuck over trans men who want to access men’s spaces. I really appreciate the rest of your post. I think it’s spot on and can’t be said enough.

  11. This is awesome, and I’d love to add my signature to the bottom. But I specifically wanted to respond to this:

    ““Woman” I’ll accept, though only barely, and I wish I had another option than either that or “man.””
    While they aren’t widely known or accepted, you do have the option of IDing as non-binary and/or gender fluid and/or similar. I have several friends who go by gender neutral pronouns such as ‘Zi’ ‘They’ and ‘Ey.’ It isn’t an easy thing to do openly, society definitely pushes back against it. But if you don’t feel comfortable as man or woman, that third space is an option.

    1. Thanks for your note, Jessica. I do identify as gender-fluid, publicly and privately. I am also aware of the pronoun options – and they work for many of the folks in my circles as well, but for me, I just… don’t care that much. I mean, I feel neutral about all pronouns. There isn’t one that makes me uncomfortable and another one that feels better. They serve to get a grammatical job done, and as such, I’m happy to be referred to as he, she, they, zie, and pretty much anything else that isn’t “it” (still human and animate, thanks!). This places me in a very small minority – I know for a lot of folks pronouns have a strong emotional value, and I absolutely respect that. For me, it doesn’t feel like where the struggle lies.

      I also acknowledge that my primary allegiances are in women’s and dyke spaces and communities, and that most (though not all) of the time I am perceived as a cis woman. So I do accept “woman” – but like I said, only just. It’s good enough for now. Not perfect, but none of the other options seem especially better, so I am making do. Who knows. Maybe that’ll change. 🙂

  12. “Safe” isn’t real, and as such I believe it’s not worth investing energy in. It’s much better, in my opinion, to create spaces where there are a few clear rules for acceptable behaviour (which does *not* depend on identity or status of any kind, gender or otherwise), a stated expectation of kindness and goodwill, and one or several people who are in charge of smoothing things out if they go wrong.

    *lightbulb goes on* That makes a lot of sense. I like the fantasy of a safe space, but a space that’s safe for me to talk about my kinks is not a safe space for someone who’s had bad experiences with kink, even if we’re both cisgendered women with similar views on feminism. Clear rules and expectations and people in charge of working things out sound a lot more effective than hoping that people are similar in some way will just happen to not accidentally hurt each other.

  13. #allmyfeels

    As a transfeminine critter that’s transitioning, I feel super undesirable all the time. Because of this, for a while, I tried to have sex with folks I wasn’t that into and it wasn’t a good experience. o.o;;; I’m still not sure how to deal with this tension between experiencing a lot of undesirability and how I myself have been socialized to think certain bodies are desirable. >.> Goddess, fucking while clusterfuck!marginalized is complicated sometimes.

  14. This is really an amazing piece. I am outside your demographic (I’m a queer trans man not interested in women’s spaces) but I feel a big affinity with, as we sometimes weirdly like to say in the trans community, my trans sisters. I especially like what you have to say about each person’s triggers being their own to manage, and how basically if everyone’s triggers dictated who was allowed in spaces and what activities could occur–no one would be anywhere doing anything. Big kudos too about explaining the ‘good’ behind the cotton ceiling concept–if I could point to anything that was taken with as little good faith as possible it would be that.

    If you ever do decide to write about trans men, I would point out that plenty of trans men didn’t come out of the lesbian community and weren’t butches.

    1. Hi jayinchicago – thanks for your note. Absolutely, plenty of trans men were never butches or dykes. I mention that here because those who were one or both are the ones most likely to retain an attachment to women-centred queer spaces – not at all aiming to imply that this is true of all trans guys, far from it. In any case – thanks for the kind words! 🙂

  15. Hello my name is Renee and I am a Trans Lesbian

    Caution: may contain nuts

    This article touched me deeply, I am an activist for social justice, a local queer comedian, I am not only attracted to only women but I do not feel safe being intimate with men. I would like to share a few personal experiences regarding your point to put a face on the type of trans woman you are describing. in order to show people that read this that you are not just describing a hypothetical group of trans people but rather very real people

    Assumption 1. There exists such thing as a “safe space.”
    Experience 1

    I enter a bathroom at an all woman’s sexual space i shuffle up to the mirror to fix my make up and the woman next to me starts gawking at my breasts. She then proceeds to say “Oh My God your breasts!” “they are fucking nicer than mine, what the fuck!” “that’s no fair” and then grabs me my breasts. I was completely taken by surprise, my breasts are still growing and are extremely tender and puffy and she doesn’t notice me tense up and grit my teeth as she proceeds to fondle them and comment on how they feel so real. I eventually recover from the shock and manage to role my shoulder and shield myself from her.

    Assumption 2. We all have the right to expect to be comfortable in sexual space.
    Experience 2
    I have volunteered to be a floor attendant at an all women’s bath house event, and omg have i seen things that have made me uncomfortable, I wont name any of them because i don’t wanna be adding to anyone’s stigmas.

    Assumption 3. One person having a trigger is a legitimate reason to exclude someone else from an event.
    Experience 3

    When I was young my mom had a sever crack cocaine problem, she would often when extremely high say horrible things about herself and me, she was incredibly self destructive. I had to watch my role model and one of the smartest people I knew turn into a person who couldn’t sit still or hold a conversation longer than 30 seconds, was living on the street, selling her body and stealing to get her fix. and whenever she was high she would play the music of Patsy Cline and Nina Simone. to this day those two artist music send me into a dark funk. i don’t try to stop anyone from listening to it but if I hear it playing i quietly step out for fresh air or to the bathroom to freshen up. if we went around removing everyone’s triggers from a space um what would be left in the space?

    Assumption 4. Trans women have penises, and I will see those penises if they’re at a sex party.
    Experience 4

    I am a submissive and a bottom, and i get really nervous when people touch my groin and have never been able to orgasm while using it sexually. i actually feel much more comfortable using a strap on if i am asked to penetrate which i would only really do if asked or told to as its not really my bag.I have been on hormones for so long now it really doesn’t do anything other than get in the way when i try to ride my bike… ouch

    Assumption 5. Trans women are aggressive in a way that makes people uncomfortable.
    Experience 5

    I have seen many women be extremely aggressive in women’s only sexual spaces, and trans men and even one or two trans women. shouldn’t this be handled with a zero aggression tolerance policy

    Assumption 6. Trans women are all the same.
    Experience 6
    I once met a Trans woman who was a Sarah Palin supporter and against gay marriage….. nuff said

    Assumption 7. The term “woman” or “women” is by definition about cisgendered women.

    I have felt like a woman since as long as I can remember, I took my social ques from women, my politics from women, my priorities, I was lucky enough to have an educated family who understood and supported my gender choices. I really don’t belong in male only spaces or events and am rarely welcomed and never comfortable, I feel safe among women who have been my compatriots, and protectors my entire life. I can’t walk alone at night without sexually driven men approaching me, I am often talked down to by men who are sexist as well as objectified by them, every once in a while my hormones make me bloated and moody my nipples get sore and i feel hideously ugly, I have been cat called by passing cars, I often cant wait to get home to take my horribly painful under wire bra off as well as the dam pantyhose that have been riding down all night, I can never find my favorite items at the store in my size they always seem to have one size too big and one size too small, i get up three hours before work to set my hair do my make up and get ready, i know what its like to run for the bus in hgh heels while desperately clinging to my umbrella as i try to fish exact change out of my purse, i have been groped by a strager on the bus, I call my father daddy, I love it when I find a dress that is extremely flattering, I hate it when other women use femininity as an excuse to be weak and helpless, I hate it even more when men act like anything even remotely feminine is somehow humiliating, I never feel happier than when I’m nurturing another person, I have been the victim of extreme slut shaming, I have been raped, I have gone to the salon with my mum and got my nails and hair done, and i have experienced back pain from having large breasts, but the one thing i have noticed that makes me feel more like a woman than a man is this. I don’t project like a man. it has been my experience that men tend to put themselves in other people shoes whereas women tend to try to see from your eyes within your shoes, I don’t know if I’m making sense to you or not but when you go to a man for advice he will often answer abruptly with a if i were you I’d do this, whereas a woman will often say something like well i know that this is really important to you so perhaps you should think about this. we women tend to actually look at it from your point of view rather than us in your point of view. so i dunno i think i sound like a woman.

    Assumption 8. Trans women aren’t really women, because they weren’t socialized as women
    Experience 8

    um i was raised by my grandmother and my 8 aunts with no men in the house other than my grandfather who worked 14 hour shifts in a coal mine and was never around. Until i was five, i wore dresses played dress up had hair down to my ass, was taught how to act by women, how to be a bitch by women, and was treated no different than any of my aunts the youngest of which was three when I was born i was more often than not dressed in their hand me downs and when i was finally old enough to go to school i was taken to the barber shop had my long hair cut off and was forced to wear coarse boy clothes that itched, at school my feminine behavior got me beaten up often by the other boys and it was the girls that took me in protected me, it was the girls I bonded with, whenever my body couldn’t allow me to experience girlhood I lived vicariously through my friends. whenever one of my friends went through a bad break up I was there to listen and comfort and since none of them were male I am much better at empathizing and understanding the female perspective. back then i was very much into boys but the way in which men have treated me throughout my life as well as repeated sexual assault has made it impossible for me to be intimate with men.

    Assumption 9. The “cotton ceiling” is a way for trans women to bully cis women into having sex with them.

    Experience 9

    I cant speak for other trans women but i myself when in a women’s only sexual space never make the first move, I like to feel desired and kinda need it to be turned on. My only real issues with the cotton ceiling that has upset me was when someone who wanted to be with me didn’t want to be open about it as she was worried what “People” would think and once i had a girl text message break up me because of her friends reaction to us together

    Assumption 10. Trans men are a lot like women.
    Experience 10

    I have never in my life met a group of people who have treated me more like a princess than bye the trans male community. i have never felt more cherished and loved than i have around a clouded room full of trans men and drag kings. That being said they are a pack of horny teenage boys for the first three years of Testosterone use, i have seen them grunt, fart, crush beer cans on their head, head butt each other and basically act more stereo typically male then i ever have.

    in conclusion let me say if you made it this far thank you for your time and most of all thanks for writing this if it wasn’t for women like you women like me would be out in the cold still protesting the michigan’s women’s festival

  16. Thank you for talking about women as rapists and assaulters. The person who raped me was a cis woman, at an all-women’s play party. For so long I felt alienated from all sorts of sexual assault survivor resources because my case felt like such an anomaly – the poster child of She Asked For It with a side helping of Women Can’t Rape. When TERF types talk about the presence of trans women being a trigger for rape and therefore we need “women’s” only spaces for ultimate safety I think: women’s only spaces by their definition would be UTTERLY unsafe for me. Another woman. As you said, the focus on safety is mistargeted.

    1. Wow, Tiara, thank you for sharing that. An awful illustration of just how skewed our understanding of these realities can be. I am so sorry that happened to you, both the rape and your ensuing alienation. You deserve so much better. So do all of us.

  17. I cried in several places while reading this article. It was sent to my by a friend to read. I have been both involved in similar events and am a woman that has had a trans experience.

    I used to give classes and talk very regularly about being a trans woman and what it means. I have since gone, “stealth”, since my life became being Jessica the Trans woman rather than just Jessica, the person. I am fortunate to pass and this have given me a certain level of acceptance that other trans women are not afforded. It’s an actually very interesting dynamic.

    How silly is that we judge people on the bits between their legs. I have asked countless people to define what a man or a woman would be. So few people will ever say, “Penis” or “Vagina”. But when it comes to a transgender person that is our definition, the bits they were given at birth. In my outreach and speeches, I always found it interesting that I had the most push back from women and especially lesbians. They are the demographic that seemed the most resistant. That some how I was some sort of tourist in the female experience. I have fought and clawed my way to this space and I am not giving it up for any narrow mindedness.

    Assumption 8 was most poignant for me personally. I think because I didn’t feel right in my skin before. It was a less than awesome experience. I was moments away from suicide and reached out to my therapist that talked me through. I grew up in Texas. Boys do not act like girls in Texas, you just don’t. My family is a very country family. Men hunted and did uber manly stuff while women folk stayed in the house and did their housework. Learning socialization while in an active manner growing up was difficult, but I learned so much passively. I would just observe and make mental notes of behavior, which has served me well post transition.

    To have that experience waived off with the flick of a wrist is pretty insulting. I don’t care what type of woman you are, we share a common ground in some aspect of our respective journey. Common ground is usually a good place to start building bridges.

    Anywho, I could write and comment about so much on your wonderful article. I really do appreciate you taking the stand you have on it. And, while it may be obvious, if it doesn’t include Trans Women, it does not include me.



  18. Thank you so much for this incredible article.
    It articulated many of the issues surrounding ‘safe spaces’ and ‘women only’ that felt wrong but can be so difficult to argue against.
    I was especially moved because I have attended several Queer events where people would speak as if they were speaking for all queer/trans/non-heterosexual people as if we all shared the same experiences, difficulties and intersecting identities eg: class, ethnicity, socialized body.
    It is my belief that a person is multiple identities, and connection and ability to represent should be based on listening, shared experiences, and speaking of diversity of experience rather than universals. As your beliefs, family, childhood, experience of illness, ethnicity, class all make up who you are and how you act as a person.
    I am also a cis-gender female, and understand your struggle with the label, as myself I know I am privileged based on my physical gender appearance but I feel in struggle and conflict with the body/gender I was born into.
    As a person who is poly and Queer I think that this intersection of invisible identity and privilege can be quite complicated as my sexuality means I can ‘pass’ as ‘normal’ heterosexual/or lesbian, but my identity is also excluded, invisible or demonised as ethically wrong, ‘not real’, and non-lasting.
    People’s experiences are vastly different than the labels applied to them invoke, and diversity makes life beautiful, meaningful, and also difficult. While it can be important to have a unified identity ( for community/safety/shared experiences ) basing on exclusion of people or labels is often cruel and not what I want to support at all.

  19. Really liked the point on safe spaces. I’ve often felt unsure about the whole concept but couldn’t articulate exactly why. A place is made safe(safer) by the rules people abide by not by limiting admission to the people who are assumed to “get it” because of their perceived identity.

    Also learned what “cotton ceiling” is. Really useful in a wide context. I mean I’m a cis guy who looks across the street at the androgynous looking girl & when I see their actually a guy with an interesting haircut immediately lose interest. Why? I don’t know, I have no good reason, but its a question worth asking myself. 🙂

  20. Very interesting post and arguments against these questions. I liked it!
    Although I don’t know how many queer women actually use strap-ons on other queer women? I know a LOT of gay women (cis or not) for example, that think the idea of using a dildo/strap-on is really gross because to them it’s similar to the penis in general. So they would never use it, or want any woman to use it on them. I know many gay women who would also never want to watch gay male porn because, well, they’re gay. Watching MEN have sex is also something they find a bit icky. So sure there might be some gay women who like to use strap-ons and watch gay male porn, but I can’t imagine a whole lot of them doing that. But whatever, to each his/her own.
    Are there any gay men who like to watch lesbian porn?

    1. I have no idea what the numbers are on this stuff, though I bet someone somewhere has done a study! 🙂 All I can do is reflect on what I commonly see in the circles in which I travel. Clearly they are not the same as yours. In mine, strap-ons and gay porn are commonplace. And the gay porn thing is enough of a common thing for dykes that they referenced it in the movie “The Kids Are All Right” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NooZclTKDAs – which was so mainstream it almost hurt, so I don’t think it’s just the pervy poly dykes who are into it, but again, we’d need some hard research to know for sure. Sounds like a fun study for some lucky PhD student…
      Oh, and I haven’t the faintest clue about gay men and lesbian porn, though that too is an interesting question!

    2. RE: queer women who like watching gay male porn.

      I have friends who have commented that gay porn is more real/raw than het or “lesbian” porn is. Yet I kinda disagree with that comment. A lot of gay porn is highly produced sex, airbrushed, and other forms of making it less “real”. What I think is actually the reason has more to do with how gender expressions are valued and understood.

      Masculinity is more often understood as sexier than femininity. It’s understood as powerful and all sorts of positive terms. See: patriarchy for more information.

      This is why I also think that transfeminine bodies (such as my own) face issues of undesirability and fetishization. Girls can look like a boy but for a boy to look like a girl is degrading because being a girl is degrading.

      So to answer that last question, no. I don’t know very many gay men who enjoy watching lesbian porn.

      1. The simplest explination I was given by a lesbian as to why she liked gay porn was that girl on girl porn is mainly produced for heterosexuals & so she preferres gay pron as its more homosexual in …”tone” I suppose is the right word.

  21. Wow. Just, wow! As a sex positive, kink positive, poly, professional trans woman who identifies with her penis and will actually use her penis like a penis on those rare occasions when it acts like a penis, I really appreciate your article! I’ve been in transition for almost three years and pass very well. What I have realized is that as I transition, so do my challenges, which you have so eloquently outlined here. I no longer worry so much about being taken seriously because I may be clocked as trans, but worry now about being taken seriously as an intelligent, confident, attractive woman.
    Thank you for taking the time and having the consideration to write this and put it out there. I vote you for president! 😉

  22. Hi Andrea,

    Thanks for this article. It took me a while to get around to reading it through in its entirety just because work gives me very little free time these days, but I’m glad I bookmarked it because, while I could nitpick with a couple of points here and there, I think overall it is one of the better pieces on this topic, certainly among the best I’ve read from a cis woman’s perspective.

    (Although I’ll make one comment that I do think it would be good to include more links to what trans women have themselves said about the topic in the future.)

    1. “…certainly among the best I’ve read from someone who is generally read as cis woman” or something similar is what I should have said. I realized after the fact that my phrasing there didn’t speak to your comments about your own identity you made above, and that was a mistake on my part. My apologies.

      1. Thanks for both of your comments, leftygirl. 🙂 Absolutely agree on the idea of linking to more writing by trans women. Unfortunately (?) most of the trans women’s writing I know well is in book form – not quite as easy to link to, at least not in the same direct way as other blogs or what have you. Still, it is a project for a future set of amendments. Stay tuned!

      2. Hi again Andrea, thanks for your response. There are a number of articles around the internet on this subject written by trans women… although I will admit that some I agree with more than others (a few out there I strongly disagree with). After a lot of time reading through those and thinking about these issues, I’ve encapsulated my thoughts on the subject here:


        I thought you might be interested to take a look.

  23. Thank you so much.
    This is what I have been telling people for years, esp the stuff about “safe space” and triggers. I’m ftm and gay, so I dated straight men in the past and now gay men and I got involved with “queer” events and lesbian/ feminist /trans spaces through friends and activism. I was shocked to see that these so-called safe spaces were some of the most unsafe I’ve ever been to (which is saying something as I’ve been a punk in the past..).

    There is a lot of woman-on-woman assault going on that almost never gets reported to the police or even the organizers. Or if it gets reported to the organizers, the victims are pressured to keep their mouths shut.
    In these spaces, several women behaved a lot more sexually obtrusive towards me and others than any straight man in similar circumstances could dare to.

    I have done some research and also written about this (not in English), and it’s interesting that the “safe space” mentality is pretty close to what sociologists call the “the boat is full” group dynamic that is characteristic for all-female spaces. (restricted spaces were some people (“the group”) decide who is allowed in or not, depending how well you follow the (ever changing) party line. Regular, ritualized kicking out of some people, so that nobody ever feels fully relaxed, etc)

  24. I especially liked this part:

    There are lots of trans men who never felt like women in the first place, for whom existing in a female-assigned body was a horrific experience of dysphoria and disconnection, for whom being raised and socialized as female was deeply damaging to the point of leading them to depression and suicidality, or for whom the lack of a penis (for those who don’t get bottom surgery) is an ongoing source of trauma, not a free pass into women’s space.

    if only for the reason that it’s identical to the section for trans women. It’s good to see that someone really *understands* dysphoria and that it can affect everyone.

    I just found your blog and so far, am really loving it! Thank you for sharing your thoughtful and thought-provoking work!

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