Getting With Girls Like Us: A Radical Guide to Dating Trans* Women for Cis Women

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Recently, I went on a dinner date with a cis woman that ended a bit awkwardly. Some of the conversation we shared was nice, we talked about film (fyi – an easy topic to hold my interest, ladies!), our common roots back in the States, and her background in performance art. At one point she shared with me her frustrations over a performance meant to showcase artists from our region in the U.S. The thing is, whoever put together this particular exhibition had invited a number of men from her theatre program to participate — meanwhile she and several of the other women who graduated from the program found out about the event later when one of the guys posted it on facebook.

It’s pretty easy to feel anger over such blatant sexism, and it immediately reminded me of some of my own experiences of feeling ignored at times in my own workplace. But then she said something that struck a really odd chord:

“Yeah, it’s supposed to represent artists from the South, but it turns out it’s just a total sausage fest.”

Okay, we all get the basic intended meaning here. But is she really implying that the men who were invited to exhibit their work were asked to do so on the basis of their genitalia? As a woman I have to say that having a penis never got me special treatment in the academic world. And given that she was aware of my body configuration I have to think that is a strange comment to make to me on a date.

Sadly, the situation only further deteriorated with the appearance of the word “ladyboy,” and the fact that somehow the subject kept getting changed when I tried to discuss these things. After the point that she referred to me as a “trans woman” as opposed to a “woman woman,” I found it difficult to bring myself to even say much for the last few minutes of our little disaster date.

Okay ladies, let’s stop right here and get our game together. One point is that this isn’t just a matter of grossing out a trans woman over dinner; it’s also a matter of a cis woman making herself look like kind of an ass. And beyond that, this kind of ignorant cissexism just gets in the way of us getting closer and having fun together.

Now, if your response is to start worrying over having to figure out all this ‘complicated trans stuff,’ then I would emphasize a lot of this boils down to respecting us as women just as much as you would want to be respected yourself. And the fact is that trans women are a component of queer women’s communities, so a lack of respect amongst us just means more devaluing of women, when society dishes out plenty of that for all of us already.

Not to mention that this results in some probably well-intentioned cis women missing out on connecting with lots of beautiful, amazing trans women. So with that in mind, I have put together some suggestions for cis women on thinking through some basic trans issues, including ideas on approaching trans women in a romantic or intimate context. And I want to be clear that working through this stuff applies the same in the context of a casual hookup as it does a romantic date.

I also want to be clear that the following represents only my own perspectives; I don’t speak for all trans women. Most importantly, whether you agree with every single point or not, the main thing is if you just think through some of these issues a bit you’ll probably be in a better place to come off as a well-intentioned friend rather than a jerk who doesn’t know any better. And you’ll be in a better place to have more fun.

Community Inclusion

In the last few years this situation has improved in some respects at least in some parts of the U.S. and Canada. But the fact is that there are still parties held in some places in which admittance is “women OR trans” only, meaning in this case that one should be either woman or trans, but not both. But even at parties, clubs or women’s spaces where we are included, many trans women have at times expressed feeling more tolerated than accepted.

As a further point, our inclusion in much of queer women’s culture is still nominal at best. As a nearby example, I’ve gotten some laughs out of some of the serial lesbian content on the sidebar here at Autostraddle, but I’m still waiting for a woman like me to show up on screen and join in the fun. Also, it’s rather cliché at this point that mainstream lesbian-oriented content tends to show more interest in trans men’s stories (who are, after all, not women) than ours (The L Word being the most obvious example).

Look, I get that it takes some time to work some of these things out, but part of my point is just that making it clear you believe trans women should be included is a good step towards developing meaningful friendship with us. On the contrary, referring to a bunch of dudes as a “sausage fest” might not be such a cool/sexy/romantic thing to do (regardless of anyone’s actual genital status… after all, some men have a vagina).

Recognize Our Perspectives

I realize there are a wide variety of trans narratives out there, and maybe it could seem like a lot to work through. But the basic script isn’t that difficult: respect our identities and our bodily autonomy, and when you’re not sure, find a gentle way to ask that doesn’t put anybody on the spot. (And if it’s just not your business to know something in the first place, then don’t ask.)

Another good idea is to understand that many trans people (including a number of trans-feminists) have come up with language to describe the cissexist world they see around them, and to challenge society to do better. Please respect our way of describing the world.

Sadly, a small group of aggressive anti-trans activists have gone far out of their way to introduce a lot of confusion about words like “cis,” claiming that it has some type of anti-woman meaning. This is completely false (and it makes no sense considering the word describes cis men just as it does cis women).

The word “cis” means “not trans” and it has no other meaning in this context. The point of using the word is to acknowledge that trans identities are equally valid and that cis privilege exists in our world and should be challenged.

It also conveniently provides you with the opportunity to refer to a “cis woman” instead of a “woman woman” and avoid wrecking our hang out session.

Please adopt this language, even when trans people are not around.

Cut Out Trans-misogynistic Language

This should go without saying, but referring to trans women as “trannies” or “shemales” is not only ignorant, it’s adopting language that is associated with social stigmatization and even violence against trans women. And having one of those words appear in the middle of our dinner-date is, um, anti-climatic in just about every sense of the word.

And from a trans-feminist perspective, I would emphasize that what underlies trans-misogyny is nothing more than misogyny itself. Remember ladies; you can’t buy into hateful language specifically directed against trans women without chipping in on hatred against women in general.

Dating Us On The Side

There are lots of wonderful, workable approaches to relationships out there, and different things work for different people. One of the awesome things about the queer women’s communities is that I think we tend to be much more open about possibilities for intimate relationships. Some women are poly, some are looking for an exclusive partnership, and there’s everything in between. Personally, I don’t even know if I have a strong preference; I think I’m more open to just working out the dynamics between individuals when the time comes.

I happen to have had a couple of awesome relationships with cis women who were already in long-term, (explicitly) non-monogamous relationships. That said, I can’t help but notice there seems to be a pattern in which I am invited to be someone’s “thing on the side.” While I can’t know for a fact if this is because I’m trans, I have heard other trans women relate similar things. In principle, I have no problem entering into such relationships with someone I trust and with whom I feel genuinely close. I’m just saying I know I’m not the only trans woman who feels a bit frustrated when this kind of thing seems to be on constant replay.

Fetishizing Trans Women

Again I’d like to think this goes without saying, but sadly I see it happen plenty. Look, I get that drawing the boundary between healthy, affectionate sexual curiosity and fetishization might not always be an exact science (and it might be a little different with different women). Personally I think I’m pretty relaxed and I can work with you as long as it doesn’t all reduce down to one thing (*cough*). However, if you’re on a date with a trans woman and your thoughts about her body are constantly distracting you from the conversation, just stop yourself and think: what if I was interacting with a guy and he kept having these kinds of thoughts about my body instead of listening to what I was saying? Would I feel comfortable around him?

Don’t reduce us to our genitals

Obviously this follows pretty strongly from the don’t-fetishize-us thing. A big part of this is what should be a pretty obvious hard rule: don’t put us on the spot with questions about our genitals.

Personally, I happen to be pretty open about this stuff (you might even notice a subtle dick joke appears in the previous sentence), but even if you know something about my body from reading one of my articles, that doesn’t make it cool to randomly bring my junk into the conversation if you meet me in real life.

Just the same, if you meet a trans woman who is a sex worker or if you’ve seen pornography in which a trans woman appears, that doesn’t give you some special right to ask her questions about her body anymore than it would if you met a cis woman who was involved in sex work.

Then there is the other side of the coin: some cis women might have an issue or feel uncertain about hooking up with a woman who has different genitalia than her own. First of all, you should never feel pressured to do anything you don’t want to do or that you’re even unsure about. If you aren’t comfortable or you just aren’t into it, say no.

That having been said, if genitalia is the one and only reason for not being into someone, I do think it is worth thinking through that. The result of your thinking could very well be “no, that’s not for me,” and that’s fine! We definitely don’t want to be with anybody who doesn’t want to be with us. But responding to one of the claims that some have made, I would emphatically state that nobody’s physical body is a representation of patriarchy. Such a statement is not only somewhat cruel to inflict on someone who herself is oppressed by patriarchy, it is also pretty defeatist from a feminist perspective (if we were really to buy into the idea that penises are the source of patriarchy, rather than socially constructed male privilege, aren’t we pretty much saying that patriarchy is a permanent fixture of human society? Eek).

Talk With Us

Beyond all these more detailed considerations, another key point is simply communication. Of course there are a myriad of situations that could arise that I’ve never even thought of, but if two people really care about developing a positive friendship or intimate relationship (whether for one evening or a committed partnership) then they will be willing to sit down together and talk through these things.

I have written previously about some of the alienation I have experienced as a trans woman dating in the queer women’s community. Now, I want to emphasize here again that no one is obligated to touch a woman’s penis if they aren’t into that. However it’s also important to emphasize:

1) Not every trans woman has a penis.
2) No general means exist to distinguish trans women from cis women.

The implications of these two points together are that statements such as “I am attracted to cis women but not trans women” simply do not make sense and are rooted in social prejudice.

(As a side comment, before moving on let me briefly address something that appears in the previous piece that I linked above. My article from about a year ago contains a reference to the concept of the so-called “cotton ceiling,” which deserves a brief comment here. While several trans woman-hating “radical feminists” have intentionally misconstrued this concept in rather bizarre ways, there are also a few trans people who have made statements in relation to this idea that I think are problematic. Hence, after having some time to reflect on the previous debates about this I have come to the conclusion that the “cotton ceiling” should be considered an unhelpful concept for this type of discussion and should be set aside by trans activists moving forward.)

Hooking Up

Awesome! Glad we made it this far. I would say, “now comes the fun part,” but actually the whole process of getting to know one another should be fun. And the fact is that respecting your potential partner and vice versa is really sexy, and it’s actually not that hard… err, difficult, to do.

At this point, again, the key is communication. There are trans women who like being touched in certain places or in certain ways, but not in others, just as a similar statement applies for many cis women. Those boundaries must be respected throughout by everyone involved. The key is to keep the channels of communication open throughout, and to rely on active consent as the model for sexual intimacy at every moment.

Underlining all of this of course is the opportunity for new experiences of friendship, solidarity and more.

About the author: Savannah is a queer trans woman and physicist originally from the great state of Carolina (that alone should tell you which one).  She also writes on trans feminism and other social justice issues on her blog leftytgirl, preferably while listening to metal.  Savannah presently lives in Tokyo where her principle hobbies include singing at karaoke clubs and getting lost on the subway.

Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.

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Savannah is a queer trans woman and physicist who was unleashed into the cosmos from the great state of North Carolina. She has been active on LGBT diversity issues in physics and also writes on trans feminism and other social justice issues on her blog leftytgirl, preferably while listening to metal. Savannah presently works at a university in Osaka from where she misses her amazing cat Zinfandel back in North Carolina very much. Follow her on Twitter.

Savannah has written 12 articles for us.


  1. This is a really fantastic article. Bookmark’d!

    Also, this line:

    “What if I was interacting with a guy and he kept having these kinds of thoughts about my body instead of listening to what I was saying? Would I feel comfortable around him?”

    Yes. So much yes. And what a wonderful way to think about any interaction, actually.

  2. This comment has been flagged as it is a violation of Autostraddle’s comment policy.

    [S]tatements such as “I am attracted to cis women but not trans women” simply do not make sense and are rooted in social prejudice.

    You have this exactly wrong. It’s social prejudice against LESBIANS to suggest that we are bigots because we don’t want to date people who have penises. Not wanting to have sex with people born with penises is what defines lesbians from bisexual and straight women. There is no difference between what you are saying and what the reparative therapy are trying to do to gay men and lesbians.

    • Would you, as a lesbian, date a trans man?

      Are you implying that trans women who have not gone through GRS cannot identify themselves as lesbian?

      Are you reducing people’s genders to their genitalia?

      • Honestly at the end of the day when it comes to people like that, I’m not even mad anymore because I would hate for someone to date anyone to be “politically correct.” *hard wink*

        However in a discussion like this, ugh, this again…

        No one has to date anyone, however one’s approach to the “why” should always be examined.

      • What is so difficult for you to understand about biologically female lesbians having a preference for penis-free women? It is neither complex nor bigoted, it is simply a preference. Why are M2T’s entitled to their preferences without challenge while biologically female lesbians are not? So, yes, it is about genitalia.

        Just for clarification:
        female = sex = biology
        woman = gender = social construct

        Biology is a reality. Gender is an idea.

        • Biology is certainly real, however the definitions of its meanings are artificially constructed.

          I do agree however that preferences are something people have and should have. I don’t like smokers, and I couldn’t date a far right conservative due to ideological issues. But I wouldn’t ever say they aren’t a lesbian, or a human due to those preferences.

          A lesbian (or anyone!) could have a preference for a person that is Penis free, or a redhead, or something else but that is not the sole definition of lesbian. That’s just the definition of a person who isn’t keen on Penises. And that’s perfectly ok.

          No really, it is. Like I said, I am not to keen on the damn things either.

          Also, you may want to stop saying Biologically female Lesbians as a class that is all inclusive to your ideal. As many, if not the great majority of Lesbians on this thread are not exactly in agreement. They are not saying your aren’t a lesbian, but you are indicating they aren’t?

          • Wow! Is any of your thinking based in reality? 1) Biology is not artificially constructed, it’s SCIENCE. Learn the difference. 2) Lesbian actually really does refer specifically to biological females who prefer emotional/sexual relationships only with other biological females- read a dictionary or history book.

            I’m fine with calling you a woman, if that’s your preference. Hell, call yourself a lesbian, too, but the truth is you’ll never really be a lesbian because you are not, nor will you ever be, biologically female. And, in the end, that’s what really pisses you off- being told NO to something.

            When did they stop teaching critical thinking in school because you are clearly lacking in that area.

          • Thank you for clearly outing yourself as a troll, we all appreciate the clarification.

          • I’d like to interrupt this insulting shit show to plug Amy Dentata’s chatbook BITE. I just wrote up the amazon review and reading this reminded me that hateful ciswomen with chips on their shoulders get too much air time anyway, and excellent publications like Amy’s are all too easily swept aside.

            If this cissexist display makes you as nauseus as it does me, here is a lovely and empowering distraction:

          • When I started reading these comments I thought I had read them already on a previous visit, but checking the date I know I didn’t. So it was just the usual radfem discussion repeating itself. It’s not really worth listening to.

          • Biology is not artificial, nope.
            But the meanings of it are.
            XX, XY? Or the more than a dozen other combinations?

            SCIENCE – as you paint it, would point out that being a Lesbian, or anything other than hetero, as a flawed form of biology so there we go.
            You can have your idea of Biology when it suits your exclusionary position, but gosh if that self same Science! as presented ends up pointing out some ugly questions, like why aren’t you having babies right now? I mean if biology is the end all be all, we should stick with it to it’s full essentialist conclusion.

            Critical thinking doesn’t mean only finding that which traditional agrees with you. It means considering the information at hand and examining it in the light of the full view of facts. And there are plenty that say your limited explanation of sex is wrong.

            I’m not mad, but I am a lesbian.

            Interesting you aren’t arguing with the rather larger gathering of vagina bearing lesbians who disagree with you? Or, are they merely not Lesbians either because they don’t believe your point either? So is this a sexual orientation or a religion you’re going for here?

          • Thanks for making this comment Shelby. I’ll probably make a comment to a similar effect in a moment, but you’ve made the argument really well here.

            The fact is that gender and sex are both social constructs according to the meanings that they are generally assigned in common usage. It’s more obvious in the case of gender, but it’s also the fact for “biological” sex as well.

          • Thanks for using the term “M2T”. It really makes it clear that you don’t think trans women are women, and that you can be safely ignored.

          • But… According to biology, there are multiple other combinations of sex chromosomes than XX and XY. Also, some people who are chromosomaly binary do not have sexual parts that match their chromosomes due to hormonal or brain variations. It is pointless to try and reduce science to a simplified black and white. Who and what we are is forever a combination of our bodies, our minds, or culture and our biochemicals.

            Many of women in these comment threads are cis-gender women- assigned female at birth. They, like me, and like the women you are attacking, define lesbian as female identified who loves/fucks/dates other female identified. I am not sure why you find this to be so upsetting. No one is asking you to sleep with a person who has a penis, we are just asking that you respect our identities, of trans women and cis women alike.

          • This piece is educational well written and really really useful. I have been with my wife for a long time now, and I still struggle sometimes, mostly with taking shared experience in the world for granted.

            Thank you for sharing.

          • no biology isn’t socially constructed, but you know what is? the meaning we attach to that biology is whats socially constructed. that includes the meaning your attaching to these biological aspects. nature dictates that there is no tautological definition for female, or male. it is impossible to create one without constantly adding exceptions and rules to rules to rules to exceptions. there is no prime male or female. it does not exist. that’s biology. society others and marginalizes people with XXX, XXY, X0, etc chromosomes , society others people who were born with vagina’s and XY chromosomes and men born with XX chromosomes (yes they do exist). why? because they shine a light through the flimsy and highly flawed binarical heteronormative standard belief. it’s like when the catholic church claimed the sun revolved around the earth. it sounds fitting at first, but it does not hold up to scientific scrutiny.

          • Thank you! I am a scientist and gender/sex are not nearly as simple as people make them out to be.

          • a small comment- personally I’m not big on this phrase “radscum”… my view is we should win these arguments in the realm of ideas, not in the realm of put-downs… but in any case, thanks for reading… xo

          • In contrast with Savannah, I’d like to say: fuck radscum very much, and I will gladly continue to call them that, because I have given up on reconciliation. They’re aware of our arguments already, and they don’t/won’t listen to them, because they are essentially fanatics. Bigots don’t tend to change in the face of reason.

          • Kennedy, it’s not about reconciliation or trying to convince them of anything. I honestly don’t care what they think.

            It’s about changing the minds of people who are undecided on these issues. One of the radfems tactics is just to be so outrageous that the entire conversation sounds ridiculous and a lot of people who are in the middle just give up on trying to figure it out. Throwing insults at them in that context just plays into their game, it helps them out.

            Instead, by responding to their bigotry with thoughtful, persuasive arguments, we can win the argument by gradually winning the people in the middle who are presently undecided on some of these issues.

          • Actually, the notion of there being two completely distinct biological sexes IS rooted in social constructs. Scientists have cultural biases like the rest of us. If you actually study biological sex, you’ll see that there are many more possibilities (in many, many species–including human) than just male or female. Biological variation is normal–it is us humans who have termed variation an aberration.

            I urge *you* to think critically as well. And perhaps actually do some research before making blanket statements that are factually incorrect.

          • “Actually, the notion of there being two completely distinct biological sexes IS rooted in social constructs”

            It’s true. The idea of two sexes is not an eternal one in biology: they used to think of humans as one sex, with females as the inverted, incomplete, inferior males.

          • If you don’t want to date trans* people, don’t do it. Whatever. I’m sure they don’t want to date transphobic folks either. But why are you even reading and commenting on this article? It’s a GUIDE for people who WANT approach, date, love and be with trans’ women. So why do you feel the need to voice your opinion about something that is clearly not about you or aimed at you? Why, why, why?

            And I know that you are not interested in real science but just the one you made up in you head, but I#m gonna leave this link anyway:
            Maybe someone else appreciates the info.

          • THIS. is the problem with the comments in this thread.

            “If you don’t want to date trans* people, don’t do it. Whatever. I’m sure they don’t want to date transphobic folks either.”

            Ew ew ew. Not wanting to date trans people = transphobic is so gross and wrong. Congrats, you’re transradscum! Oh, oops, this might only be okay when it’s just radscum. The double standards here are pathetic.

          • Except I wrote this as a response to Maria B’s awfully transphobic comment. So your argument is not really valid.

          • “If you don’t want to date trans* people, don’t do it. Whatever. I’m sure they don’t want to date transphobic folks either.”

            Thanks for saying this because,complicated arguments about science and biology aside, as a lesbian I LOVE women so why wouldn’t I want to expand the pool of women to date with MORE women! Seems like such a no-brainer to me! Thanks for this comment and thanks for the guide!

          • gah!!! everything you say makes sense…

            except I hate when people use the word ‘real’ like that… I’m a trans woman, by my own definition, I do not feel that weakens me as one of the girls or whatever, it is MY identification. I am not saying everyone here should adopt it, just don’t say one size/title etc fits all…
            and what is wrong with people having their own preferences of physical attraction?
            me, I’m pansexual… but why can’t some women just like women who have whatever genitalia they are comfortable dealing with?
            just as some bi guys I know like women with whatever genitalia they have but sexually dislike guys who have vaginas? human desires come in as many shapes and orintations and preferences as exists, don’t have a go at someone for their preferences unless they are hating on you or trying to get in your knickers…

          • Lemme break it down for ya. The chromosomes are only the coding for the rest of our bodies. And while our bodies might be coded to have penises, the trans brain is also wired to be female. Therefore, when you say that a transwoman can never be female or a lesbian you are pretty much wrong, or getting really hung up on sematics.

            The reality is is that most lesbian women date women, not genitalia. We’re with women because we enjoy what a female to female relationship has to offer. I have met many “lesbians that like c*ck”, and self-pronounced at that. This is the kind of anti-feminist bigotry that divides, not unites. Way to set us back 50 years.

          • So if a lesbian is a biologically female person attracted to other biologically female people, then what do you call a woman who is attracted to other women?? That’s the definition of “lesbian” I was always taught. And it has nothing to do with being biologically anything.

            It’s true that some people are not attracted to anyone with a penis– but that’s just a personal preference. It’s not because they’re lesbians, because that’s just not what lesbian means.

        • Sex is also a social construct with no single, consistent definition. Again, nobody is forcing you to do anything you don’t want. Your comments are mischaracterizing the article. They are also off-topic and detracting from the main conversation.

          • Sex is SCIENCE, not a social construct. Learn what a social construct actually is, please.

          • Not a troll. Just trying to educate you in the error of your flawed thinking.

            I’ll await you rape and death threats now, as that’s what happens when a lesbian speaks out.

          • You’re not even that good at trolling. Also, as a rape survivor, I laugh in your general direction.

          • Slightly off topic, but as a fellow survivor I’d just like to say I applaud your bravery in owning it so publicly, sadly there’s an awful lot of us about and if we all stood up to rape culture whenever it showed up (you stay classy, TERF troll) then it would go a long way to stemming the flow.

            Also for those who are saying “but BIOLOGY!!”, can I point out how many other chromosomal arrangements are found in humans, YYX, XXY, XXX, XO etc, and that the gene expression of each individual is different, and that the effects on the body in each individual is different, etc. Are we just bags of chemicals labeling each other or does the ability to think and function at a higher level free us from biological determinism? We are more than our DNA.

          • Ah, but Kali, things like facts and science and other such nonsense are of no consequence to fundamentalists of any sort.

          • Wow. Ok, so, biology is kinda a social construct. Up until the 17th century there was only one sex: male. Women were just flawed males with inverted male genitalia (so the thinking went). Check out the book Making Sex by Thomas Laquer. Your transphobia is showing.

          • Wow. What a super disgusting thing to say inside a safe space full of queer women like Autostraddle. I would wager that the women responding to you are at least queer if not lesbians themselves, and no one is silencing you here, just trying to let you check yourself before you wreck yourself. Remove the giant chip from your shoulder and learn something about intersectionality. You are NOT winning the oppression olympics on this page.

          • Maria: I would like to note the complete lack of “rape and death threats” on this comment thread.

            If you have experienced that elsewhere, I am very sorry – no matter how you treat others, you deserve to be treated with basic human decency. What I love about autostraddle is that it is a safe space – even on threads like this where there are a number of trolls, most people have taken the time to respond thoughtfully. The worst you will get called here is “radscum” (a term I personally dislike and would not use, but one is not threatening). I love how you look at all of these respectful and exceedingly patient comments, and expect to get threatened. This is not that kind of community – we try to support each other, not tear each other down.

          • Seconded. Not only are threats over the Intartubez as pointless as they are juvenile, they do not belong in a space like this.

            Maria B, get your head out of your butt and smell the fresh air – it might seem scary to get out of your comfort zone but it will do you some good.

        • So Maria I am a post-op trans woman. Where do I fit in your world view? I withdrew from my so-called male existence as quickly as I could (stupid laws do not allow surgery until one is 18). Are you saying my life is contaminated by that time I was forced to endure having a penis!! If I could have I would have had my birth defect removed when I was 3 or 4!! And I am a female, now in body as well as mind!!

          • You still have a Y chromosome so you are biologically male but I consider you a woman because you have had genital reconstructive surgery. But, for 18 years, you were male and cannot unlearn that socialization.

          • if you can’t unlearn socialization then there isn’t much point in fighting the patriarchy is there? that’s a big part of how the patriarchy continues on through the ages after all….

          • It goes even deeper than that. Socialization isn’t just what you’re told, it’s what you listen to. A lot of trans women pick up on the gendered messages sent to girls, and dismiss messages directed at boys, because we know who we are. The ways we conform to masculinity pre-transition are for survival purposes, not because we identify with men and consider ourselves part of that group.

          • also a Y chromosome does not necessarily make you male, and an two x’s don’t necessarily make you female. there are many mammals in the animal kingdom where males and females have no differentiation in chromosomal make up (both XX, XY, or even XXX). The second x and the y some people have in human populations really don’t do very much biologically. Up until recently biologists were in fact convinced that the y chromosome would completely disappear eventually. It generally trigger’s an onslaught of androgen’s in the womb during pregnancy. But this doesn’t always happen. It doesn’t do anything else. Just as the second x doesn’t really do much. In essence we are really all X and only X because that’s the only chromosome that serves much purpose in both males and females.

          • I love this point! It really encapsulates the rottenness of the logic behind why trans women can never be “real” women.

          • Thanks for this comment kazzy… it’s sad to see these kind of arguments that patriarchy is an unconquerable force presented as some twisted version of feminism. Male socialization MUST be unlearned: after all, that is one of the primary goals of feminism!

          • Maria, you are assuming that as a young trans person I was accepted and did the normal guy things!! However if you are somewhat feminine looking and act feminine or even androgynous you are ostracized and not accepted in the male society!!Even if you project a male persona to protect yourself, in your mind you are female and know that what you are living is not the real you!!

          • How are you defining socialisation here? Because having been a child of migrants, and myself a migrant across multiple cultures, I can safely say that there’s no consistent universal gender-based socialisation.

          • Oh cool! You have a super power that allows you to define other people’s identities for them!? I’m on the cusp of Gemini/cancer and I’m not really sure which one suits me better? Which one should I identify as Maria? Oh also I was doing my tax refund and I’m not really sure if I still count as a dependent to my parents? Which box should I check Maria? Also I’m a vegetarian but I’m lactose intolerant so am I a ovo-vegetarian or a vegan or what? Also if I eat carrots or bananas or other phallicly shaped foods do I still count as a lesbian or what? I’m not sure. Pls use you super power to help me, thanks heaaaaaaapppppssss Maria!

          • So, ah, socialisation is based on genitals huh? So a trans girl who asserts her identity at like the age of 4, is accepted by her family, is allowed to present herself to the world as female, and grows up being viewed and viewing herself as female, would be socialised male? Because, according to your comment, it’s the surgery that ends the socialisation. Even though all trans people have to spend at least a year, and frequently spend a lot more time than that, living as their identified gender, and being viewed by the world as such. But, we are to believe that none of this matters until they have some surgery, that not everyone can either afford or is capable of undergoing? Your understanding of how socialisation works is rather poor, both for the reasons I’ve pointed out, as well as socialisation hinges far more on the messages a person receives, than what they are told. So the media, and parents, and family members, and teacher, and strangers, and society as a whole, tells “boys” one thing, and “girls” another, do you really think things are as simple as someone who is viewed as a boys only receives boys messages, and vice versa? Nothing is ever that simple. We take in the messages we feel are for us, and this, as with all psychological processes, is at least partially, possibly mostly, unconscious. If someone believes they are, or should be female, then which messages do you really think would be more significant to them? Or… do you think that the penis is some kind of receiving antenna for male socialisation, and that such cannot possibly be ignored, even if the person in question feels no connection with maleness or being a “boy” whatsoever? The world is never this black and white.

          • Millions of women the world over have Y chromosomes–fortunately, the simplistic and unscientific view that a Y chromosome makes one male has long been disproved by the existence of such women born with vaginas and fully normal external genitalia, who grow hips and breasts at puberty, are raised (socialized) as girls, and may never even be told the reason they cannot conceive and carry a baby. But they are XY females. There are also “born” XX males. If you’d care to look it up, there’s a medical journal article out there on a study of FERTILE women with XY chromosomes who got pregnant across generations without medical intervention, gave birth, and passed on their female fertility to their daughters who are also XY.

            Depending on many other genetic factors, a Y just means male most of the time. It doesn’t define any sex.

          • I’m familiar with chromosomal XY individuals who are raised as women from birth, however, my understanding was that they were always infertile– typically having a vagina, but only in rare cases having a (non-functional) uterus. If you know of actual cases of XY women who are capable of child-bearing, I would be really interested to know more… could I ask that you please link to that here for the rest of us?

        • Trans women are biological females. Genitals are a secondary sex characteristic. Sex is all in the brain.

          “Heterosexual Woman have smaller BSTc regions than Heterosexual Men. (p<.005: there is a 1/2 a percent chance this finding is a fluke)
          Homosexual males and heterosexual males do not differ in BSTc size (p=.26; there is a 26% chance that the difference found was a fluke; that's such a high chance we say the groups are really the same)
          Male to female transsexuals have smaller BSTc regions than both heterosexual and homosexual men. (p<.005: there is a 1/2 a percent chance this finding is a fluke)
          Though male to female transsexuals in the sample have somewhat smaller BSTc regions than the woman sample, male-to-female transseuxals and other woman have BSTc regions of the same size (P=0.13; there is a 13% chance that the difference found was a fluke; that's still a high level of chance so we say the groups are really the same)"

          Being picky about genitals is like having a preference for boob size. It is still a thing (I am not saying people are not allowed to have preferences) but I bet you would dislike it if a women did not want to go out with you if your boobs were not big/small/whatever enough.

          • Genitals are not secondary sex characteristics but part of the reproductive system- a biological system. You need to re-take biology. An example of a secondary sex characteristic would be the ENLARGEMENT of female breasts, not the breasts themselves. Again, time for a biology class.

            Can’t you even Google. It’s all right there. Technology has made you lazy and easily swayed by any glittery idea that hits the internet. Your arguments are circular and false.

          • It’s true that genitalia is a primary sex characteristic, not secondary. That having been said, the definitions of sex that you yourself (Maria) seem to be working with are inaccurate.

            ‘Gender’ is a social construct, that is true. But ‘sex’ as it is generally applied in day-to-day use in our society is also a social construct. The fact is that our society on a regular basis takes individuals who do not fit the XX chromosomal/reproductively female model and nevertheless assigns them such designation and further interacts with them and socializes with that person following a script based on those female sex/gender constructs. A similar statement holds for many individuals who do not fir the XY chromosomal/reproductively male model.

            The fact is that sex is difficult to define according to any single consistent workable model in our society. Rather than rejecting or attempting to erase that scientific reality, I think that our society will be better off trying to learn and embrace that human beings come in all types of different shapes, sizes and body configurations.

            From that perspective, I view bodily autonomy and body acceptance as one of the core principles of both feminism and trans activism.

            And yes, bodily autonomy means that you absolutely have the right to reject sexual relations with any person who has a penis if you are not comfortable sharing such relations. However, it also means that when you put forward false scientific hypotheses of what womanhood is (especially with those hypotheses follow a script that was obviously prepared for you by patriarchy itself), I think you will find it increasingly likely that you will be called out on that.

          • True, genitals are a primary sex characteristic, and cis women with XY chromosomes usually have incomplete reproductive systems and resulting infertility. Of course a few XY cis women have been born with more than just vaginas and vulvas–a handful are known to have been born with functional uteruses and ovaries too. These all, fertile or not, are biological women who had full or partial female reproductive systems from birth, yet have Y chromosomes. Y chromosomes do NOT define sex any more than they do gender; they are a fallible indicator of likely maleness, but other genetic and environmental factors cannot override them from the womb.

            I will concede one tiny point to you. If you love a woman not for who she is but what she has between her legs, I can empathize to an extent–I have trouble imagining a scenario in which a man could seduce me into bed if I knew he had a penis, although a man without one would still have some difficulty simply because I’m only attracted to women (whatever is between their legs). It’s mainly whether he’s a guy that determines my lack of attraction, but having a penis makes me even less likely (if there can be such a thing as degrees of no interest) to give in.

          • Before you laugh and say YES–that “cannot” at the end of my first paragraph was a TYPO, since the presence of a Y and a working uterus would undermine the point of that sentence.

            I’m annoyed we cannot edit posts after submission. :(

          • OMG, it happened again. Let us edit, please! “since the presence of a Y and a working uterus would undermine the point of that sentence if I had intended to use the word ‘cannot’.” *sigh*

        • Maria B, why is it so difficult for you to understand that the way we conceptualize biological difference IS socially constructed?

          Individuals are sexed according to several different biological factors, including chromosomes, genitalia, secondary sex characteristics, hormone proportions, etc. Individuals are first sexed (in certain cases) by the way genitalia appears on the grainy ultrasound, which may change based on an individual’s chromosomal make-up (i.e., socially constructed).

          As so many other people have written eloquently, your ignorance and prejudice are quite appalling.

        • Maria B – Gender is a construct, identity is bilological. If a woman refers to herself as a woman, it doesn’t matter what her genitals are.

          Where do people such as Hida Villoria and myself fit in to your world? Not being a hater, just reducing it to biology, well, physiology, which is how you apparently see things..

        • Personally I think both “M2Ts” and “biologically female lesbians” (as you call them, Maria) can have their preferences. But that doesn’t mean that some of those preferences aren’t potentially bigoted. If a white trans woman says she doesn’t want to date people of color, for example, she is expressing a bigoted preference. If a “biologically female lesbian” says she doesn’t want to date trans women, she is also expressing a bigoted preference. That doesn’t mean these bigoted folks should be pressured to date people against their preferences. . .after all, a person of color would hardly benefit from dating a racist anyway, and a trans woman would hardly benefit from dating a transphobe. All it means is that these folks are expressing bigotry and their words should be critiqued as bigotry by people concerned about social justice.

          • MtT? really? That is a slur most often used by TERF radfems. I am not sure if you are aware of that or not but it is very offensive to trans WOMEN.

          • Lana, I’m pretty certain that Becca is responding to Maria B and quoting the fact that *Maria B* used the dehumanizing term “M2T” elsewhere on this thread; she’s not actually using it herself. I realize it’s all a bit confusing at this point to keep up with who is responding to who in this massive convo, but probably it’s good to trace the convo back a little on these things (in fact, I believe that Becca identifies herself as a trans woman elsewhere in another comment).

          • Yes, I am a trans woman, and I recognize that “M2T” is offensive (I also don’t even like to identify as an “MTF,” but that’s a tangent). I was simply quoting Maria. Sorry if I caused you consternation, Lana.

      • Hi Savannah, I really enjoyed your article. Good job :) I am a trans-woman, I wasn’t going to comment on this but I suddenly feel the need to.

        It’s kind of sad to see some the negativity and exclusive gender-binary roles people are trying to reduce everyone to, it’s a very old argument and it really needs to stop,. Gender is a continuum some people identify as being female and some as male, and other folks all the way along the continuum. Similarly, sexuality is also a continuum some identify as being very gay and some very straight and other folks all the way along in between (eg. bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual, etc.) There is nothing wrong with preferring vaginas, or preferring penises, or both. Everyone comes from different places and everyone identifies with and prefers whatever is most comfortable to them. For example, how I identify myself: I am a woman , regardless of what is or isn’t between my legs. PERIOD, I consider myself a gay woman, because I prefer other women* trans or otherwise. Other people identify themselves for what feels right to them, and that’s awesome. It doesn’t make anyone any less of a woman or man, trans or cis.

        Again great article, keep it up! :D

      • Would I, as a lesbian, date a trans man? No. I’m attracted to women, with female bodies. I’m not attracted to either the male gender nor the male genitalia.

    • What differentiates lesbians from people of other orientation is that they identify as women and are attracted to women. Would you change that definition to “women who are attracted to vaginas?” It’s just ludicrous to imply that it’s what’s in someone’s pants (or under their skirt) that makes you attracted to them. I’m attracted to my trans woman partner for who she is as a person; I could care less about her genitals.

      • As *everyone* knows, if the woman in question who is attracted to the vagina has a penis, she is a man and therefore can’t be a lesbian. Perhaps ‘vaginas that are attracted to other vaginas’ would be a more appropriate definition. In the future, we will all be disembodied genitalia. The vaginas will float around on butterfly wings giving candy to kittens while the raptor-winged penises soar overhead eager to dive-bomb the hapless, unsuspecting vaginas.

        What so many people seem to miss is the largest biological organ: our brains. Most of what makes up who I am is between my ears and what attracts me to other people is what is between theirs.

        Trans-exclusionary radical feminists seem to want to enforce rape culture and patriarchy in so much that they say. Sorry, I’m not drinking the kool aid.

      • Genitals might not have anything to do with your attractions (and that’s awesome for you), but for many of us, they play a huge part in our sexual satisfaction and there is nothing wrong with that either. I love, love, love, love, love vaginas. For many of us, we would not have a satisfying sexual experience if we couldn’t smell, taste, lick, and touch a vagina. I know I wouldn’t. And plenty of people feel the same about penises. And plenty of people don’t care and would have a satisfying sexual experience with either (or without either).

        There is nothing wrong with not caring about the genitals of the persoyou’re having sex with, but it’s not ludicrous that some of us are only turned on by certain genitals. Some of us are extremely physically turned on by certain genitals and would not be able to be aroused by others. And that’s okay. I don’t judge your attractions, so don’t judge mine.

        • What we’re judging is not the preference for vagina over penis. What we’re judging is the blanket statement of not being a “real lesbian” if you’re dating trans women.

          And honestly? Isn’t the whole “real lesbian” thing a red herring? Why are we assuming this guide is solely for lesbians – when not everyone here identifies that way? There’s queer women, bisexual women, pansexual women, fuck-labels women…

          • I said nothing about trans women being real women or real lesbians. I believe trans women are women and that someone who is dating a trans women is a lesbian (if she identifies that way). I was simply responding to Dharmagrrlie assertion that it’s “ludicrous” that what is in someone’s pants is what makes you attracted to them. Genitals might hold no part of attraction for some people, but for some of us genitals are a big part of attraction.

          • Thanks fr ths comment. For me, it s really true and upsetting that the s often thought of as anti trans

          • Actually, Dharmagrrlie wrote, “It’s just ludicrous to imply that it’s what’s in someone’s pants (or under their skirt) that makes you attracted to them.”

            What you are saying, however, is: that genitals are the major deciding factor of whether or not you are attracted to a person; you love your partners for what is in their pants and everything else that might be attractive about them is a bonus.

            That’s a shitty thing to say about anybody and reflects badly on you.

          • No, what I clearly said was that I would not have a sexually satisfying experience with someone who does not have a vagina, because interacting with a vagina is a big part of my sexual satisfaction. I am attracted to or not attracted to a woman based on many characteristics, but I only have sex in long term relationships and I would not have a long term relationship with someone with whom I know sex will not be satisfying to me. I also would not have sex with a stone butch, because they would not let me touch their vagina, because it would not be a good sexual experience for me.

            It’s reflects badly on you that you think it’s okay to scold a woman for wanting to have only satisfying sex.

          • So you can only be satisfied by vagina, even unsatisfying vagina. This is because you have tried all the vaginas in the world and all of the penises and know this to be true.

            I reiterate: a shitty thing to say and reflects badly on you.

          • That is not what I said at all, but, by all means, please continue to insist that a woman could never possibly know her own sexual desires and that it’s my job to have unsatisfying sex for the sake of other people lest I be accused of being a bad person. You’re completely right that women should be scolded and called shitty people if we insist on having only the types of sex we actually find sexual fulfilling. As you said, how could a silly woman possibly even fathom what she finds sexually fulfilling or what turns her on unless she’s had sex with every single person in the world?

            Thank you parroting exactly the same things that patriarchal society pushes on women (all women, both cis and trans) every single day of our lives!

          • Yeah FTR I agree with pac at this point in the conversation. It totally is not an individual woman’s job to constantly answer or account for her sexual desires, and I have never once argued for that or anything like it.

            I think that asking some questions at the macro-community level makes sense, but that doesn’t channel into asking an individual cis woman into having to account for her sexual desires to any individual person that might be attracted to her, and such a claim would be contrary to my article above.

          • Thank you, Savannah. I also want to thank you for this article which gave me for the insight into trans women’s struggles and for fighting for the respect of all women.

          • pac, clearly I misread something yesterday. I had raised my hackles over the appearance of comments by radfem creeps and by some oversight I saw your comment as yet another cissexist attack on trans*women. I had been triggered and did not stop to check how I was expressing my anger or on whom.

            I have re-read your comments. I was wrong and I am sorry for the hurtful things I wrote. I feel quite wretched and I hope you are okay.

          • Thank you for that response, Evil Empress. I know how easy it is to get upset when feeling attacked. It happens to me often! I’m glad for this dialogue between lesbians and queer women of all kinds.

          • I get her point to an extent. I can only have a satisfactory sexual experience licking, tasting, smelling and touching a vagina (but I concede that might change if I’ve fallen in love with a woman who didn’t have one, but it’s purely hypothetical because it hasn’t happened to me so far)–more accurately, the entire vulva. But I also sit out the long wait in torment for my own so that I can provide that to my future partners, as I do not believe I can have a satisfactory sexual experience if my partner isn’t licking, tasting, smelling and touching the vulva and vagina I don’t have yet. And even though I’m only soft butch at best, in bed I’d be stone because I won’t be touched there until I have there what I’m meant to. So to that extent, I get it.

            If I met a hot, sweet, smart, funny pre-op trans woman and we clicked, I’d give it a shot. I’d be a little more hesitant if she were simply non-op, but my feelings for her would be the deciding factor. But a hookup? Then no, because I wouldn’t be interested in any sex below the belt–I’d need love to overcome that, because lust wouldn’t be there.

          • Thank you for being so graceful about it, pac. It feels like GSD folks are never – never – respected just as people and that really hurts, every single damned time I see it happen. As a subject very close to my heart it bothers me deeply to see the vilification of GSD people to seemingly bolster everybody else – I get very riled up, probably even hostile, towards any attitudes and opinions that could perceivably be cissexist/cis-supremacist in nature.

            Again, very sorry.

        • I’m a trans woman myself and I’m 100% in agreement with Pac on this. I just don’t find penises arousing in the slightest, but I’m very thankful that my cis girlfriend doesn’t feel the same way. It’s not ludicrous at all to have a desire for one one of the two broad categories of genitalia. While I could be attracted to a woman with a penis and form an emotional connection with her, the sexual component of a relationship wouldn’t be there and that’s not enough for me in a relationship. Hell, that’s why I’m divorced from my first wife. We were best friends, still completely in love with each other, but she’s as straight as can be and couldn’t be sexually attracted to a woman. Satisfying sex has to be part of a relationship for me, and for that, I need a partner with a vulva.

        • You’re right, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a gynophile. Unfortunately, practically no one self-identifies this way, instead pretending to the “lesbian” and “straight man” bandwagons and patching up the gap in that logic with transmisogynistic bigotry.

        • I believe the phrase “identifying as a woman” means that a given person IS a woman, and that person also RECOGNIZES the fact that she is a woman (though that fact may not be recognized by others). The phrase was mainly created by trans people in a (not entirely successfully) attempt to water down the actual truth about our gender to soothe the feelings of transphobic bigots. For example, I am trans and I also a woman, but because I’m trans. . .some people choose to dispute the fact that I’m a woman. So I might use the phrase “I identify as a woman” rather than “I am a woman” in the hopes of incurring less backlash from bigots who believe I’m really a man. Unfortunately, there’s no way to win for losing, and the most hardcore bigots also have a problem with me saying “I identify as a woman.”

    • Your definition of “lesbian” assumes that “cisgender” is automatically part of the equation. There are many cis lesbians who disagree with your definition, and many trans women lesbians who disagree as well.

      Comparing social activism to reparative therapy is an insult to people who have gone through reparative therapy. You aren’t being given shock treatments, locked away in a room until you behave properly, or any of the other forms of literal torture that people are put through in reparative therapy. Nobody is forcing you to do anything.

    • This is ridiculous.
      Lesbian means loving women.
      Not liking Penis means … not liking penis.
      I don’t blame you, not a fan of penises myself really.
      Liking vagina means LIKING (I almost wrote licking. Wee) Vagina.

      Neither the vagina thing, nor the Penis thing are relevant to your status as a lesbian. It is the gender of the person those particular bits are attached to.
      If attached to male id’d person? (Whether vagina or penis)
      If attached to female id’d person? (Whether vagina or penis)
      If attached to Genderqueer or otherwise Non-Binary id’d person?

      But if, at the end of the day, you are talking about defining what a woman is by her genitals, you aren’t discussing Lesbians, you’re talking about biological essentialism and that’s, well, bullshit. :)

      • This MUST get a comment award!

        Does anyone else want a t-shirt that says “Welcome to happy happy Tegan and Sara lesbian Land”…or we could just go for boxer-briefs…

        • OMG I want those boxer briefs! Also the “may contain nuts” shirt from Shelby’s otehr comment.

      • Nah, I have listened to them a bit, and like the stuff I have heard but I was going for some proto-typical Queer Gal music and while more Traditional artists like Melissa Etheridge would work it didn’t have the same bouncy rhythm as Tegan and Sara. :)

    • We can FIX these constant arguments with new terms!
      People can and will and should have preferences.
      If your preference is only to have sex with people who have Vaginas, such as ….umm anyone with a vagina? (Trans*Male, Woman, Man, etc)
      You can identified this preference by saying: I AM VAGINIAN!
      This also works with Penises attached to (Trans*females, Women, Men, etc) I AM A PENORIAN!
      It works like Vegetarian. It’s something you may have to mention to your server, partner or playmate. Or maybe like allergies? Careful: May contain Nuts.

      • I’ve wanted to get a shirt with “Warning: May Contain Nuts” on it forever!!!

      • Although I don’t discriminate based on genitalia with my partners, I *am* a fan of the term “vagitarian”.

          • That shirt is on my Amazon universal wish list! Along with the poignant (and for me, optimistic) “Just let me love her and we’ll be fine” and “Some chicks marry chicks. Get over it!”

      • But in the name of non-monosexual people I need to say this: We don’t have enough space for all the shirts that we are going to need ;)

      • Ok, this seems to happen a lot (at least to me), when all of this is brought up and a cis lesbian says she doesn’t like the D and would not date/sleep with someone who had it. “Just call yourself a vagitarian, then!”
        For one, I don’t like anyone telling me I should change my label…I’m a lesbian. Plain and simple. I have preferences, but that’s not my sexual orientation. My sexual orientation is homosexual. Lesbian. Gay as fuck.
        That being said, I would only date a woman with a vagina. Post-op trans woman, cis women. No strap-ons, no penises. Penises are INTENSELY triggering for me, for a number of reasons. It doesn’t matter whether or not the person who has it calls it a penis, or whether they are used in sex, I’ll just end up having a panic attack and it’ll be a shitshow. And for the record, I was raped by two girls at one point in addition to all the things that guys have done. They used a dildo. Fun times.
        I’m not saying that I wouldn’t be attracted to a trans woman with a penis. That could totally happen. But I know me, I know what I’m comfortable with, and enduring unnecessary trauma just isn’t something I’m willing to sacrifice for her sexual satisfaction.
        But anyway, no, I’m not going to call myself a vagitarian, because I don’t like trans guys or, generally, genderqueer individuals. I like women. She pronouns. I am in LOVE with she pronouns. And it’s not like I worship the vagina. I don’t. I think it’s pretty powerful and amazing and I respect it, but it’s not something I crave. I’m actually not all that sexual, anyway. If I hadn’t had so much penis-related trauma, I’m sure I’d be okay with sleeping with a woman with a penis. But that’s not my fault. I didn’t ask to be raped.
        I guess, for me, it’s like this family I knew when I was little. The parents wouldn’t let their daughter come to my house because we had guns, and the dad’s brother had died as a result of an accidental shooting when he was a kid and he had witnessed it. Did it suck for me, because I wanted this kid to come play with me? Yeah, and it was really upsetting because I didn’t do anything, I didn’t choose for the guns to be in my house, it wasn’t my fault the dad’s brother died. But it made sense and the dad had every right to be cautious about it. Guns ARE used for violence, all the damn time. And something absolutely horrific and horrible had happened to him as a result of one. And so he had the right to stay away from them. He didn’t need to “work through it.” His reasoning was pretty solid.
        And the cotton ceiling thing is gross. You push through the glass ceiling, not through my underwear, please and thank you. No matter the intention, that’s what it sounds like, and it’s pretty damn rapey.

        Sorry. Feelings. So many feelings. Frustrated feelings.

        • Hi Sela,

          I read this comment and just wanted to say thank you for having the courage to share your feelings. You’re feelings are valid and real and I for one accept what you are saying with no hesitation.

          I think the “vagitarian” thing was purely a joke. I for one laughed a little but I wouldn’t go any further with such a concept than that.

          Kind of an odd coincidence you used guns as your analogy, but as someone who has experienced gun-related psychological trauma, I can relate to someone else who might choose to never be around them if possible.

          I want to affirm that you have no obligation to be physical with anyone who has a penis if you’re not comfortable with that. At the same time, I just ask that you don’t project interpretations of ‘pure evil’ or something like that onto my body. (Not saying you did, just asking that you please never do).

          And as I stated in my article, the cotton ceiling just wasn’t the best analogy, and I apologize that those of us who promoted it at one point (and I am guilty of that) made you feel uncomfortable.

        • I agree with you on this completely, people can and should have preferences, and yours is one that you don’t align with the definition of other people but specific to your definition of what makes acceptable and comfortable intimacy. I love that.

          And the vagitarian, and my Vaginian comment were more to try and point out that no, we don’t NEED these silly terms, because Lesbian works just fine when not used as a link to genitals, but to identity. Lesbians who like penetrative sex are out there, as well as those who cannot or do not ever wish to experience it, for some many reasons. I would never tell either that they aren’t authentic of a Lesbian.

      • We already have gynophile for people who like vaginas. dunno about penis. these terms are underused so use them!

    • Uh, no. Being attracted to/wanting to date/wanting to have sex with* only WOMEN is what makes us lesbians. What genitalia the women involved have is irrelevant. They’re women. Full stop. End of story.

      If anyone deserves to be equated with abusive reparative therapy here, it’s you and your transmisogyny!

      (* also sometimes ladies who identify as lesbians are asexual and this is also ok!)

    • I did not say that you or any other woman is under any type of obligation to date anyone with whom you are not comfortable. This is clearly stated in the article. If you aren’t attracted to women with penises, you have zero obligation to date those women.

      What I said was that any claim that one is “attracted to cis women but not trans women” is non-sensical because there does not exist any clear means to separate the two populations in the first place (you’re own comment below hints at that fact itself).

      You could very well be unaware that a woman to whom you are attracted is trans. That doesn’t mean you’re obligated to be physical with her, it just means you’re not entitled to your own where you get to pretend such attraction does not exist.

      • “you’re not entitled to your own *universe* where you get to pretend such attraction does not exist”

    • The author specifically stated, multiple times, that no one has any obligation to be attracted to penises. No one should ever feel pressured to do something sexually that they’re not comfortable with (also noted in the article).

      Stating “I’m only attracted to cis women” doesn’t make sense because trans* women don’t look any specific way – every person, trans* or cis, is unique. Depending on when/if someone began hormone therapy, and whether or not they’ve had SRS, you may be completely unable to tell if someone is trans* unless they choose to disclose it.

      In addition, who are you to tell someone that she isn’t a a real lesbian because she’s attracted to her trans* partner? Everyone is different, and they have the right to identify as they choose. For some people, what genitals someone has play a large role in attraction, for some (myself included) it makes little to no difference.

      As am cis, and I don’t understand why so many other cis women get defensive about this. You should only date people you’re interested in – but don’t make unwarranted assumption about people.

    • Surely what defines a lesbian is a female who is singularly attracted to females.

      – ‘Female’, or ‘woman’ is a gender
      – A person can identify as any gender regardless of what physical parts they possess or do not possess. Simply put; gender is between the ears, not between the legs. If you do not agree with that, you need informing.
      – All together now: Trans*women are female. Following this thought in a nice, logical way; the ones that are attracted to persons of the female gender would fall under the category of ‘lesbian’

    • So, for you, it’s all about the cock? In a negative way, sure, but you’re still crediting the phallus with far more cultural and determinative power than it ever deserved. You actually do reduce people to their genitals!

    • Well put, and seems self-evident. The article’s assertion that there’s no way to tell the difference between M2T and women is laughable. Lesbians can clock them a mile away, and shouldn’t be pressured to entertain these people with dicks as possible romantic/sexual partners. Don’t they hear how ludicrous they sound when talking about “a woman’s dick”, etc.? Lesbians are attracted to women who were born with vaginas, not people born with dicks.

      And BTW, having a negative reaction to one dick based on a trauma caused by another dick is not uncommon or to be disparaged. It’s called PTSD, and is not the fault of the woman who experiences it.

      By all means, let us hope and work for progress against patriarchy, but don’t expect lesbians to consider M2T as sisters or lovers. People who have/had dicks ARE the patriarchy.

      • No.

        Firstly, stop using “M2T” as a term. It’s insulting. Use the terms that people identify as; wouldn’t you want people to identify you using the same language with which you describe yourself?

        Also, I have PTSD. It’s a horrible thing. But it doesn’t make me reduce people to their genitals and make assumptions about them. I cannot change my history of trauma, but I CAN control whether I use that history as a weapon against people who seem somewhat different from me. Contrary to your assumption, many trans* women look indistinguishable from cis women. We are ALL women.

        Trans* women are generally oppressed by the patriarchy, not part of it. “The patriarchy” is not having a penis. It’s about having power.

        • Miri: “do you think that the penis is some kind of receiving antenna for male socialisation, and that such cannot possibly be ignored”

          Yes. I do. People with penises are showered with privilege, entitlement, and power. M2T people have already been steeped in same, and it shows in every word they speak or write, and certainly in their interactions in the world. They do not exhibit a woman’s way of being with those around her. I re-assert that it is possible, even easy to spot a M2T, no matter how “feminine” they have convinced themselves they are.

          Face it folks, you can’t always get what you want. Me, I really want to be an offensive lineman for the Redskins, but even dressing up in uniform won’t transform me into one. Most folks would spot me as not-a-Redskin even if I were fully dressed out.

          • And here I thought I might find an answer to the question that really bugs me– how does one reconcile being a “woman” with having a dick? I get drag queens; they call themselves girls, but it’s all in fun. Dealing with the dick is just part of representing, part of the illusion. I don’t get how M2T convince themselves that a dick is part of female anatomy.

            How’s that for apples and oranges?

          • Re: “I don’t get how M2T convince themselves that a dick is part of female anatomy.”

            For my part – and I speak for nobody else but myself here – I can’t and don’t.

            No disrespect intended to those who can, but for me, it an alien thing that my brain doesn’t even recognise as being there unless I consciously think about it (leading to all my life having hurt myself multiple times a day, often whilst standing up, by virtue of simply forgetting that this thing is there).

            So no, you can’t say that all trans women convince themselves that it is part of female anatomy; I certainly can’t, and I can’t recognise it as part of my own anatomy, either.

            Saying this might not win me many popularity points, but it’s true for me, so.

          • Here you thought you might troll a little more, not find answers. Drag queens call themselves girls but it is not all in fun – it is more often than not a mere parody of gender used to further the patriarchy, not to challenge it. (Are you learning yet?)

            M2T is still derogatory but then I suspect that so are you. There is nothing to “get” there. Ask an able-bodied person to specifically relate to somebody who is not as able-bodied – the connection is just not there. Similarly, you cannot relate as you do not have that connection. The mind is what the mind is.

            Lastly, some people can find peace with their bodies and some cannot. (Which I mean in more ways than one – it is just obvious.) Body shaming is really messed up so just quit it already.

          • Oh there is something that I forgot re: drag queens. It is an act. Once the performance is over, the persona comes off with the clothes, the wigs and the make up.

            Trans* people have no such luxury because the persona is not an act. At the end of the day, irrespective of what they are wearing, their gender identity (and personality traits) remains the same.

          • For me, the answer is simple: surgery. Up until that point, I can only identify as “tormented, tortured, anguished every moment of every day with that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach woman,” not “woman.” Imagine every time you look in the mirror is an experience of horror and disgust. So no, I don’t reconcile the two except by eliminating the only one that can ever be changed.

            Because I want the same consideration for my own situation, I accept self-identified trans women who are non-op–and pre-ops who have no problem having and using their penises while they still have them. On a gut level, though, I don’t get it. All I want is this thing off me, and to have the clitoris, labia and vagina that suit me. I can only wait because I have to–the minute I’m even close to having the money, my deposit will be in the surgeon’s hands to hold the date for my real birth.

            There are women here who do and would accept me as a woman, even in bed, but I cannot accept myself until I am as I should be. Not much longer. :)

          • I think it’s just something you come to realize. For example, me? I’m actually a cat, specifically a trans-cat. And people who try to insist that I’m a human instead of a cat are obviously transphobic.

          • That might make sense if there was an arbitrary biological distinction between what constitutes a human and what constitutes a cat. But that isn’t true and you’re actually not a cat, you’re just bad at making rational arguments.

      • Farish Cunning: “Don’t they hear how ludicrous they sound when talking about “a woman’s dick”, etc.?”

        Every homophobic bigot in the history of homophobic bigotry: “Don’t they hear how ludicrous they sound when talking about “a woman’s wife”, etc.?”

        • Chandra, comparing “a woman’s wife” with “a woman’s dick” just doesn’t hold up. One is a relationship, one is a (male) body part. Relationships may be had among various people; male body parts are found only on males.

          • The point being that you have chosen to define the word “male” according to arbitrary standards that suit your biases, just as homophobes have done with the word “marriage”.

            And before you object, yes, they ARE arbitrary standards even from a scientific perspective – see the multitude of comments above that have already addressed this.

          • I wouldn’t be too sure about that, you’re doing a fine job of being a dick.
            So sorry it appears that you’ve lost again in the larger women’s community.
            It must be tragic when one figures out the world is leaving you behind.

            If you try abandoning the master’s tools and open up a real dialogue, we will try to hear you, but not as long as you can’t stop acting like a dick.
            I don’t put up with it from little boys either.
            If you can’t change, please do keep posting,
            you help form new allies with every crude, hurtful, foolish lie you speak.

        • Exactly, Chandra. Heterosexism and cissexism follow the same logic of patriarchal domination through misogynistic tactics IMO. Both justified through public appeals to male privilege and male and white “respectable” ideals (and their ideal resources to exploit).

      • Farish Cunning, every time the word ‘lesbian’ appears in your comments, please remove it and replace with ‘I’ or ‘me’ (as grammatically correct). You are free to have your feelings/opinions etc but I don’t recall that global lesbian vote when we all elected you to speak exclusively for us.

        • Flove, please replace it with “every lesbian I’ve ever known”. And for that matter, most straight people I’ve ever known. My point is, M2T are extremely easy to spot, no matter how much they like to think otherwise. Just like me in my Redskins jersey.

          • Farish Cunning – I think like most variations of humans on the planet, some trans*women may in fact be more or less visible than others. I would hazard a guess though that depending on any number of variables such as treatment choice and stage, what age it was started, natural appearance including bone structure, ethnicity and age, there would in fact be trans*women you could NOT pick from a mile away.

            I think broad generalisations benefit nobody, ever.

            Also, apologies for the ambiguity, but my original comment above wasn’t aimed so much at your assertion that ‘Lesbians can clock them a mile away’ but more at your comment that ‘Lesbians are attracted to women who were born with vaginas, not people born with dicks’.

            While that may be true in a general, simplistic sense, the fact is that gender and sexual orientation are both such sliding scales that I don’t think anyone has the right to judge what a ‘lesbian’ is or isn’t, especially in such specifics. Logically in my mind this kind of reasoning leads on to ‘you’re not a real lesbian if you’ve EVER slept with a guy/trans*woman/trans*man/anyone other than a cis woman’ etc. The fact is that absolutes don’t exist and trying to exclude a group of people based on arbitrary absolutes is, well, simplistic and baseless.

            Finally, in regards to your general gist that lesbians “shouldn’t be pressured to entertain these people with dicks as possible romantic/sexual partners”, I would agree totally with that sentiment, with the minor addition of “but they’re free to if they wish, and still self identify as lesbian if they choose”.

            Just to refresh your memory of the original article, the author did state that “[cis Lesbians]should never feel pressured to do anything you don’t want to do or that you’re even unsure about. If you aren’t comfortable or you just aren’t into it, say no”. I’m therefore not sure if you are responding more to the comments than the actual article with your reaction to all this perceived ‘pressure’?

          • Flove, bottom line is I disagree with the attitudes expressed here re: who’s a woman/lesbian and what body parts those people have. I had hoped for some insight as to how on earth one can seriously refer to “a woman’s dick”; alas, it appears that is not forthcoming.

            So, since it seems my posts are considered trolling, I’ll bid you all adieu. Congratulate yourselves–the big butch dyke is gone. :-)

    • As a teenager uncertain of her sexuality I am deeply disturbed by your comment. When you clearly define a lesbian as someone who cannot be attracted to a person with a penis, you are tearing down what I value most about the queer community. For me, being queer is looking beyond the male/female and man/woman binaries and embracing the true complexity of sex, gender, and sexuality. The beautiful and terrifying reality is that gender, and even sex, is far more complex than having a penis or vagina. Labels are helpful devices that we use to simplify our infinitely complex identities, but they are very limiting. Some lesbians would gladly date a woman with a penis while others would not. Some lesbians like women who wear dresses and some like women who wear suits. People evaluate potential partners on so many different levels that no label could adequately describe an individual’s sexual preferences (and all of the exceptions they’re willing to make). Your limited view of what it means to be a lesbian is disheartening, as I would hope individuals in a queer community would understand and embrace people’s fragmented, postmodern identities.

    • If you think only cis women qualify for the group “lesbians” and trans women are some kind of intruders, you’re definitely a bigot. Into the vat!

      • To clarify – that was how i visualized the exclusionary radfems being lost to history; not meant to actually be threatening, though frankly if you oppress someone with PTSD with a patriarchal script and then interpret their every overexcited and impossible mental image as a personal threat, it says a lot about you. Just getting this disclaimer out there before anyone claims their feathers were irreparably ruffled.

    • Avery for the most part you have this very wrong.

      However I do need to note that if you as an individual in your own sexuality feel uncomfortable having sex with someone due to them having a penise is ok. No one is allowed to force you to have sex with someone. You are able to have sex though without involving the penis if you really try though, there are numerous ways around it if you are uncomfortable having sex with a penis.

      If you do not want to have sex with someone due to fact they are trans, this is transphobic. Being trans should not be the deciding factor and all elements relating to sex and what you are comfortable with should be discussed with your partner beforehand.

      I talk about sex in this comment, because someone having a penis should not affect be a deciding factor at all in other aspects of the relationships.

      A very please in future consider the feelings of woman who has the penis, because she could also be quite uncomfortable with it.

  3. And for the cis women like us who are reading this article and think “oh yeah, I already know all this, I’m totally down with trans women”…

    Be prepared to be appalled at yourself.

    oiiiiii the amount of internalised transmisogyny I had to grapple with when I started dating Phia. Things I didn’t even realise were utterly fucked up, things that I only belatedly realised as fucked up but couldn’t see another way out at the time, things that showed me just how much I had to learn and unlearn.

    Thankfully Phia’s been so patient with me that we’re still together (great communication skills HELP), but it would be totally understandable for her to be tired of my BS. It’s a constant work in progress. Those of us who aren’t trans women need to be willing to call ourselves out and work on our assumptions, even – and especially – if we think we’ve got it all right already.

    • Yes, When I dated someone with trans* herstory I WAS A HOT ASS MESS! Luckily I got over it quickly and since then I have become a fierce ass ally since then.

    • I’d love to hear more about this! I mean, the subject of this post is extremely relevant to my interests right now, but most of it does sound obvious to me. Savannah and Tiara, what are the next steps to finding out those deeper buried things we need to learn and unlearn, and becoming appalled at ourselves so we don’t appall others first?

      • Honestly, I don’t think it’s really something you can predict. I know for me it was random shit that came up that triggered my transmisogyny. I’d be halfway through saying something and realising how STUPID it was. I’d only just properly come out as gay and was going through a breakup with a straight cis guy, which didn’t help matters. It’s not a thing you can prepare for, beyond getting as educated as possible – it’s more about recognising what comes up and checking yourself.

      • Hey MB, don’t beat yourself up, it can happen to trans women too. As a transwoman who had only slept with cisgender women, when I started dating another trans woman I was really nervous that I’d mess it up somehow…that despite finding her really cute and sexually attractive, that when things started happening in the bedroom I’d somehow ‘react’ to the leftover markers of her adolescence. I really didn’t want to do anything that would offend her – including not being an enthusiastic bedmate.

        Luckily I found my fears were totally unwarranted. All those little details just added to her – like soft shoulders that just continued on an inch further. :)

    • Oh man, Shell and I have been together 7 years now, together through transition, and even having known her when she was still presenting male I STILL sometimes make stupid assumptions about shared experiences sometimes. Its intense and amazing, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but being able to cope with embarrassment and feeling like an awful person sometimes was definitely part of my emotional journey.

  4. THANK YOU!! i want to copy this and hand it out at every queer women’s event i go to. (actually, i am going to be moderating a discussion on trans-misogyny at a queer conference in a few weeks and definitely will add this to our reading list!)

  5. Cis is a term that is used to connote privelege. As in “biological females have privilege that trans women do not.” I believe this is false. First of all, there are many bio female people who do not conform to gender stereotypes. My own spouse gets questioning looks and comments all the time when she enters a public restroom. Why? Because she has short hair and wears jeans and comfortable shoes. She does not benefit from so-called “cis privilege.” (conversely, there are plenty of trans women who completely conform to gender stereotypes down to the breast implants, laser hair removal, etc., who do not experience that kind of treatment because they are read as female). Women who don’t shave and refuse to capitulate to gender stereotypes face discrimination and rejection. In fact, no woman benefits from cis privilege because females AS A CLASS are still second class, sexually objectified, abused, and humiliated throughout the world, based on their SEX (not their gender). Females are systemically raped in war because of their sex, not their gender. Females are oppressed and controlled by their reproductive capacity. Having a uteris is downright dangerous for women in many societies. Women die from fistulas, are forced into prostitution, and other atrocities around the world, because of their SEX, not their gender. Cis is a made up term that effectively denies female reality, and places gender at the center of the universe.

    • Cis privilege is more than just the looks you get (or don’t get) in the bathroom. There are numerous resources online that explain cisgender privilege (such as, feel free to Google them and read up.

      You are presenting a false dichotomy. Trans rights and women’s rights are not mutually exclusive—in fact they strongly support each other. Nobody is denying the issues faced by people with uteri. Many trans women (and the cis women who love them) are vocal supporters of the right to choose and fight to end rape culture.

      Trans acceptance simply means understanding that not all women have uteri (which is true for cis women as well), and that not all people with uteri are men. Trans men also deserve the right to choose, trans men also die from fistulas. Recognizing that simple fact doesn’t mean the fight for equality has to end, it is instead adding another layer of understanding to what the fight for equality is all about.

      This expands beyond trans issues; not everyone assigned female at birth has “typical” female anatomy. The experience of cis women isn’t the same across lines of class, race, or ability. There are a wide range of experiences among women. Recognizing that there is more than one way to be a woman does not obstruct the cause of feminism. It strengthens it.

      Finally, as a feminist with a clear understanding of what is meant by “social construct”, you should realize that the phrase “made-up term” is essentially meaningless. All terms are made up. They still hold meaning.



    • oh no this was supposed to be a reply to Avery it was going to be sassy

      instead i failed to use the reply option correctly and it’s just sitting here awkwardly, a testament to my lack of technical prowess


  7. Welcome to queer theory. Also, how funny it is that there’s so much inflammation in the lesbian blogosphere about trans women getting mad that “cis” women won’t sleep with them, and yet you would never hear about trans men demanding that gay men sleep with them. Male socialization, anyone?

    • “and yet you would never hear about trans men demanding that gay men sleep with them”

      This is actually a *huge* issue among gay trans men. You haven’t been paying attention.

    • Uh. Many gay trans dudes *do* want to have sex with gay cis dudes. Because (shocker!) they’re gay! And most of the dating pool is cis! And yes, they do get hurt and upset and angry when gay cis dudes – not just, you know, one gay guy, but every single one they meet – dismiss their identity and refuse to even consider them as possible sexual partners. Because, another shocker, that is CISSEXIST BULLSHIT and it HURTS.

      No one is demanding that anyone sleep with them. Savannah is (very politely!) asking that cis ladies who are already interested in being with trans ladies be aware of the cissexist baggage they’ve accrued, and take steps to manage that so they don’t accidentally hurt anyone.

    • Oh no you didn’t.

      As a (mostly) gay trans dude (why do I love this website so much?), I can tell you that I absolutely want gay cis men to sleep with gay trans men. I mean, I would never DEMAND that *anyone* sleep with me – that’s rape, y’all – but I would *certainly* encourage any gay or bi cis guy to think twice about being turned off by vaginas. I’m not saying not liking vaginas on a man is transphobic! You don’t have to! But even if the individual gay cis man (and his desires) isn’t (aren’t) transphobic, the culture of gay cis men may be.

      Actual thing that a gay cis man has said to me: “I’m fine with bisexuals – I even consider myself a little bit bisexual because I’ve been attracted to trans men before.”

      Well, good for you, well-meaning cis dude. But that comment still resulted in me having to leave the room for a bit to freak out over the sudden certainty that no one was ever going to simultaneously find me attractive and also consider me a man.

      (Someday I’ll be able to let that go. I bring up that anecdote too much these days.)

      Obviously, all this stuff applies for trans* women and the cis lesbian community, in that, while the individual lesbian may not be transphobic in not wanting to date a trans woman, the culture as a whole may be.

  8. Thank you! I find myself tripping all over my language whenever I’m around transwomen for fear of coming off as cissexist and transmisogynistic, so I really appreciate this! It’s like I become hyper-aware and self-conscious and end up with egg on my face. Or at least, that’s how I feel.

    • Cissexism is everywhere, even trans women have to unlearn it. Just as all women have to unlearn misogyny. As long as you learn from it, apologize, and keep going, it’s ok to make mistakes! We all do.

    • I was trying to find a good way to say that I’d try to remember to make sure to call you on your shit no matter how drunk we were at the time without sounding like I represent anyone other than myself or without sounding like trans people in general should go spend time doing outreach. But I guess what I’m really trying to say is that you’ve got friends. And friends don’t tend to let friends say stupid shit without realizing it. If someone’s going to insult me, we’re gonna make sure it’s intentional, you know?

      So, hey, hi. Heads up on the keeping it real thing, deal?

  9. Gender non-conformativity and cis/trans gender identites are not the same thing, and I think you’re confusing them. Someone who has a masculine gender presentation but identifies as a woman and was declared a woman at birth can be cisgendered (my partner falls into this category, for example) but such a person might also identify somewhere on the trans masculine spectrum. These are very complicated issues that you’re really reducing.

    The dichotomy of sex versus gender that you’re using is also very complicated and you’re reducing that as well–the idea that women are oppressed only because of physiological sex (something that itself is quite complicated, as a recent article on autostraddle by a woman who’s intersex showed) and not gender is absurd. The line between what is ‘sex’ and what is ‘gender’ is very complex and fuzzy.

    Also, the idea that because we live in sexist society that women (you imply this only includes cis women) do not experience any privilege is ricidulous. All different kinds of women experience privilege based on a multitude of other factors–sexual orientation, race, class, ability, and also–whether they are cis or transgender. Trans women can also be privileged in certain categories, such as class/financial status.

    Can you please pick up Julia Serano’s book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity because she will say all this and more more eloquently than I am right now because I’m so mad.

    Also check out this cisgender privilege list:

    • Let me quote the section of Whipping Girl where Serano argues that ‘male privilege’ does not exist because cis as well as trans men suffer from ‘oppositional sexism’ and we all suffer from gender(ed) oppression in equal measure,

      ‘The concept of “male privilege” emerged out of an incorrect assumption that sexism functions as a unilateral form of oppression. According to this model, men unilaterally oppress women, and thus they reap all of the benefits, while women bear all of the hardships. This, however, is a gross oversimplification of sexism for a numerous reasons. First, the concept of unilateral sexism denies other important factors, such as racism, classism, ableism, etc, that contribute to discrimination. After all, it’s difficult to make the case that a rich white woman is more oppressed than a poor black man in our culture. Second, it ignores oppositional sexism, which favors those with typical gender inclinations over those with exceptional ones, regardless of sex. For example, if you happen to be attracted to men, then your life will certainly be easier in many respects if you happen to be female rather than male. And if you happen to be feminine, you will surely be less marginalized for your gender expression if you are a woman rather than a man. While some cissexual women assume that men have a monopoly on gender privilege, this is not the case. Many trans men have written at length about both the male privileges they gained post-transition, as well as the numerous ways their lives became more difficult, complex, or even dangerous once they were regularly perceived as male. Their comments have been echoed by Norah Vincent, a cissexual woman who spent over a year and a half socially “passing” as a man as part of an investigative journalism project. These perspectives, which all come from people who were born and socialized as female, help demonstrate how oppositional sexism ensures that both maleness and femaleness come with their own very different sets of privileges, restrictions, expectations and assumptions.’

      I’m amazed by the fact that people keep recommending this book as a good resources on trans issues / something that accurately describes reality – I picked it up thinking it would be great, but was horrified by how inaccurate it is pretty quickly. I think it’s not that hard to come up with a way of thinking about gendered / sexed oppressions without claiming that ~we all suffer equally under patriarchy~. I feel tempted to say that it would be useful to remember that the sex/gender oppression(s) system is very old and it originated when we had non-binary models of gender, when the (white & able-bodied) cis / straight / gender-conforming man was the universal (think, Vitruvian Man) and everybody else was failed versions of him (this had a huge influence even on how medical treaties were written / how people understood the anatomy of FAABs). It sounds a bit weird because we no longer think about gender / sex that way, but doesn’t it make so much sense to think about oppression as (kind of) radiating away from cis maleness because bodies / lives which present as failed versions of cis maleness are assigned different degrees of worth / liveability? this way of thinking would also account for the ways in which ‘sex / gender’ itself is highly raced (because in the West ideal cis maleness is white) which means that rather than racial oppression somehow magically ‘cancelling out’ gender(ed) privilege(s), gender(ed) privilege(s) are modified by race.

      • I don’t agree with everything Julia says, just as I don’t agree with everything any other feminist says. However, just because her writing may have a few holes (true of every academic, ever) doesn’t mean we should throw the baby out with the bath water. There are still a lot of solid points in Whipping Girl, moreso than 99.9% of cis academic writing on trans issues.

        • She consistently tries to set up a system of understanding gendered / sexed oppressions in which cis women are the most privileged because they’re granted access to ‘traditional femininity’ most easily, it’s not really a minor hole in her argument?

          I sort of feel like we can’t even start to be having these conversations about ‘femininity’, traditional or otherwise, without figuring out a better way of understanding gender and agency, and the varying degrees to which different people have agency over their gender(ed) self-perception and (self)presentation. By which I mean, I wish we could find a way to talk about our genders without collapsing everything into two comfortable narratives, either our gender self-perception is 100% authentic (inborn, ‘in our brains’) or it’s completely manufactured by ‘the patriarchy’ as a tool of subjugation. I feel like both narratives are false as well as oppressive – while also accounting only for gender self-perception in the white west – we have no gendered self before we gender other people and the act of gendering other people, that is, deciding the degree of authenticity their gender presentation has without their permission (without, e.g. asking them for their pronouns) is inherently oppressive / part of systematic oppression so our gender(ed) self-perception is also inherently very very complicated and problematic because it arises from or, at least at the same time, as we oppress others, you know? things make so much sense intuitively but they’re so complicated to explain blaahhh ry56trhfhvd

          • You know, I went back to look that Serano’s writing, because it didn’t recall her denying male privileged when I read it. Guess what – she doesn’t. She just explains any time you talk about privilege you have to talk about intentionality. Here is a quote from an article she wrote:

            “Of course, male privilege is a real phenomenon. In my book Whipping Girl, I discuss my own experience with male privilege—and losing it post-transition—at great length. However, trans people’s experiences of male privilege vary greatly depending upon the direction of one’s gender transgression or transition, the age one transitions (during early childhood, as a teenager or at various points in adulthood), one’s sexual orientation, whether one “passes” as cisgender, one’s race and so on. It’s impossible to talk accurately about male privilege—or any aspect of sexism—without framing it in terms of intersectionality.”


          • Oh, I failed to mention a book page reference, I’m sorry – the bit I quoted is from pages 307-308, it’s definitely in the book, I didn’t make it up. I never said that she experienced male privilege, just that she consistently tries to suggest that cis women are privileged over cis men whom they oppress through ‘oppositional sexism’ because of their access to ‘traditional femininity’.

            Defining heterosexism as a ‘variation’ of sexism somehow equivalent or parallel to or derivative of ‘traditional’ sexism (in which women are oppressed by men) is puzzling and troubling, especially since Serano’s point throughout (like in her book) is prove that sexism as a men-oppress-women-end-of-story system doesn’t *really* exist. As a queer woman I don’t feel like straight women have the cultural power / influence to drive my oppression heterosexist although they are complicit to it – well, it’s not just a feeling, I know this to be true, heterosexual institutions like marriage are used to oppress heterosexual women (by hiding rape / domestic abuse) – so even within heterosexism, in my view / experience (including that of receiving homophobic abuse almost always only from men), it kind of is men-oppress-women-end-of-story. But then she says that heterosexism’s main mechanism of oppression is viewing heterosexuals are ‘more legitimate’ than homosexuals which is strange – especially since she goes on to say that monosexism is viewing people attracted exclusively to members of one sex are more legitimate than bi/pan folk – it’s like??? did you really say that not considering bi/pan people ‘legitimate’ is oppressive right after you defined heterosexism as a system of oppression made up of only ‘heterosexuals’ and ‘homosexuals’??? where does heterosexism as ‘heterosexuals are more legitimate than homosexuals’ leave people who are neither heterosexual nor homosexual?

            I kind of side-eye white people who constantly invoke ~intersectionality~ then go on to theorize the ways in which racial oppression works as if it’s not fundamentally not okay for white people to create the theoretical frameworks through which we understand how racism works. But I’m not sure if it’s entirely appropriate for me to be uncomfortable with this? I am white(-passing?), but I’m an Eastern European immigrant in the UK – I am uncomfortable with white ‘natural born’ citizens trying to explain how xenophobia works, so I disbelieve everything white westerners say about what oppressions they cause and benefit from. If I think of the ways in which Eastern European male immigrants are positioned next to a ‘natural born’ citizen white British or USian woman, I never conclude that they don’t have ‘male privilege’. Does a ‘natural born’ citizen have (more) voting rights, earn more money, is a lot less likely to be arrested by the police? yes. but does she have all those privileges over me as well? yes. are we both a lot more likely to be raped than male immigrants? again, yes although my risk of sexual violence is a lot higher. Clearly, immigrants hold little cultural power / influence, but a male immigrant still benefits from male privilege because he’s male – because our society / culture is set up to privilege men. And I mean, all of that is kind of irrelevant because I have so many issues with saying men in racially / ethnically underprivileged groups don’t have ‘male privilege’ when they clearly have privilege within their own communities / when compared to their female counterparts – e.g. horrific amounts of domestic violence are ignored / tolerated in Eastern European immigrant communities precisely because the perpetrators are men.

            Oh wow, okay this ended up being a very long and increasingly irrelevant post which clogs up the page with irrelevancy, I’m just really suspicious of Serano’s repeated attempts to excuse cis men’s privileges, I wish she’d stop doing this, it’s just entirely unnecessary and self-defeating – and I don’t like the fact that this understanding of how sexism works seems to be popular in trans feminist circles. Also I wanted to try to give you as complete / coherent an answer as possible.

      • I personally loved Whipping Girl, and really liked that it had a different take on privilege than most academic work. I also don’t agree with everything she says (true of any author), and I would not go so far as to say that male privilege does not exist. However, it is much more complicated than many people appreciate.

        Serano picks up on a lot of aspects of privilege that are often overlooked – for example, that people often react very negatively to traditional femininity in men (and anyone read as male) – for an overtly feminine man, his sex, in combination with his behavior, puts him at high risk of harassment, even violence.

        Privilege is very complex, and I think she captures that fact better than most. I, as a middle-class white woman, am in a very privileged position relative to a poor, uneducated Black man living in the ghetto. And it isn’t just that my white privilege outweighs his male privileged – the intersection of being black and male comes with its own set of serious issues (e.g. being profiled by the police, being viewed as dangerous/aggressive, etc.).

        I did not get the impression AT ALL that Serano was saying that we are all equally effected by the patriarchy – at least not in the sense that there aren’t specific problems that women face. You don’t have to like the book of course – just wanted to defend it because it’s one of my favorites.

      • “Male privilege” is IMO a shorthand for not-misogyny-recipient privilege, because it’s mostly men who benefit by it. Even so it’s clear it exists on a sliding scale where less feminine women receive a little less misogyny, all the way up to masculine men having their privilege lightly dented by feminine associations (Beckham’s skirt).

        • The idea that less feminine women receive less misogyny is such a shrieking pile of nonsense that I don’t even know what to say. Talk to a butch lesbian- an adult, not a teenager or someone in her early twenties- about the misogyny she has been dealing with every day for decades for being unfeminine.

          • Smits, you are so right. As butch dykes, we are the targets of huge heaping helpings of misogyny, because we are not the dollies straight males require for their viewing pleasure. Being masculine-of-center does not garner us any privilege. On the contrary,we are hated for being perceived as not-quite-female, but not-quite-male.

  10. savannah, thank you! you know how sometimes you think(know) you’re awesome but then you get hit with some kind of new situation and suddenly you’re stepping all over your feet and doing stupid things you would never do because you are cool as a cucumber? that would be me. so basically i’m saying thank you for this 101 so that i can worry less about stumbling and more about impressing my date with my domestic prowess and knowledge of linguistics (or whatever) if and when i find myself on a date with a trans* lady.

  11. I really don’t buy into words like masculine and feminine. They refer to stereotypes that are particularly harmful to women.

  12. thanks for the great article!

    I have a general question about an issue that was briefly raised and I apologise if it is hijacking or taking the discussion away from the main issues. please also let me know if I’ve said anything wrong/inappropriate.

    in the representation of trans * people in the mainstream lesbian media I understand and agree that trans men’s stories are much more prominent than those of trans women and that this needs to change. however I have heard the ‘but trans men aren’t women’ phrase in other forums as well (most recently at a femme conference) and have to ask why this very rigid definition? particularly when it comes to social definitions and spaces e.g. women only spaces. do trans men’s histories of (most likely) having lived as/been read as/assigned female and all the consequences of that in our botp world just disappear after transition is complete? what about those people who consider transition and who waver around that point, are they supposed to leave or rejoin the female community depending on how they identify on the day? I am genuinely curious.

    • “I apologise if it is hijacking or taking the discussion away from the main issues”

      I think that is an accurate assessment.


        We have a discussion about trans*women and somehow “what about the menz!!!! (trans* version)” pops up.

        It’s like trans*women can never have a discussion directed FOR THEM FOR FUCKS SAKES without some usually fucking it up.


        Amy and all of you beautiful women identifying people have sooooo much more patience than me in dealing with this because I feel worn out just reading this comment thread. I guess I’m just so frustrated with the lesbian trans*women erasure in these discussions and it makes me angry!

        Again I want to say that you are doing great work here in educating and I just wish one day this would happen less.

        I’m going to rage bake now and think of all of you wonderful people so my baking comes out edible and filled with all the les(bi)an trans*women love.

        • Rage Baking is now my new favorite term. :) This is such a good idea.

          I WILL BAKE THESE COOKIES WITH THE FIRE OF MY RAGE! for 8 to 10 minutes.

          • Unrelated, but I’ve been drinking (open bar!)

            Shelby did I see you in the Chicagostraddlers group and do you believe in gluten free rage baking because if you do we should bake together sometime because you seem neat.


        • given the amount of vitriol I would like to apologise again. I am very aware of these kinds of threads being hijacked by trans men issues when it is a trans women focused article. I just thought that I would seek some education about trans* issues in general, given that the source of my question was in fact mentioned (perhaps in a short throwaway statement) in the original post. in fact I would have been interested in the views of trans women on this point as I have primarily heard it from other trans women. I accept that this may have not been the most ideal forum, but don’t discussions and conversations arise out of side issues? thank you for your time.

          • This is a really good example of acknowledging where you went wrong, apologizing, and moving on without getting defensive. Good job.

          • I noticed no one had to bake their asses off to handle it when (some) of those same people posted earlier on this thread on the same issue (the menzzzzzzz) that later had ovens turning on around the world:

            “This is actually a *huge* issue among gay trans men. You haven’t been paying attention” and:
            “Uh. Many gay trans dudes *do* want to have sex with gay cis dudes. Because (shocker!) they’re gay! And most of the dating pool is cis! And yes, they do get hurt and upset and angry when gay cis dudes – not just, you know, one gay guy, but every single one they meet – dismiss their identity and refuse to even consider them as possible sexual partners. Because, another shocker, that is CISSEXIST BULLSHIT and it HURTS.”

            But later mon’s post, which she even started out by apologizing if it was not right to include, clearly was not setting out to derail anything, was respectful, yet was attacked with such fury and scorn:

            “It’s like trans*women can never have a discussion directed FOR THEM FOR FUCKS SAKES without some usually fucking it up” and “I think that is an accurate assessment” and “I WILL BAKE THESE COOKIES WITH THE FIRE OF MY RAGE.”

            Despite this, she has the courtesy to apologize again and posts a rational and appropriate post that clearly shows maturity and intelligence yet gets a response so condescending that of all the comments about wanting to hurl, that one did it for me.

            The comment policy also is a one way street today–I get it directed toward the one it was–but the unbelievably rude, cruel and mocking comments by so many supporting this article, (and yes, quite a few by those not liking this article/thread) without anything said surprised me. I have seen editors step in way, way, earlier and for far less on other posts when comments get to this point. Yet today, nothing.

            Usually I am the first to have to bake cookies when people are edited/checked. But this thread left unchecked did not do it any favors.

          • yeah there’s a lot on this thread i feel really unpleasant feelings about. like i said below i have been on the road all day and am just catching up with this post now. we have our amazing moderators but i don’t think i’ve been giving them consistent guidance because i don’t feel consistent about what to do… i feel like the concept of what gets moderated seems SO subjective that i don’t know how to possibly begin making a fair one. even the basic concept of “moderating” an enormous conversation is really tricky and feels like not something that my brain was made to do. i mean, it would be official rules, but driven by my own opinion. i am really looking forward to the redesign when we can collapse arguments so they don’t visually derail my entire brain, and i think that will help some but that’s some months off, and i don’t know what to do in the meantime. i want to have a flag on everybody’s comment that i can check off when i think they’re being meanies. [ETA: by “meanies” i meant people who are being unnecessarily bitchy on all threads on all posts on this site. i was not referring to the trans misogynist assholes, who are simply trans misogynist assholes and deserve much worse than a “little flag i can check off,” such as being deleted.] The terrible thing is when we start moderating comments, we get tons of comments complaining about the moderation that we have to moderate. it’s basically like starting a virus.

          • “redesign where we can collapse arguments”

            I want to gay marry this idea so hard. seriously, that is going to be amazing, and worth waiting for.

          • hahahaha violent transmisists = meanies

            playing lip service to inclusivity as always 10/10

          • obviously that was meant to say transmisogynists, which is exactly what is going on the comment section here but apparently they’re just meanies, cos that’s all vile and often violent bigotry is right? folks being mean?

          • no i said “meanies” to refer to people who are mean on a variety of topics and posts across the site.

            violent transmisogynists are gross assholes, not meanies, and obviously deserve treatment far harsher than a little button i can check off.

          • Looking up I see that my Rage Baking comment could be seen as a Massive OMG THE MENZZ thing. I loved that Mon discussed that and the way everyone spoke about it eventually.

            I was more amused by the term “RAGE BAKING” than the psuedo-derail and correction. The ability to see a problem, discuss it and correct it is a wonderful thing. I apologize to Mon, because I was far more for Rage Baking, than angry at the comment that inspired what I thought was a hilarious image in my head. :P

          • yeah! you guys don’t yell at mon! these are accusations of bad faith and it’s not fair. can everybody please be kind? don’t jump on people like this unless they really deserve it, please!

            (also, i was in a car on the road for seven hours today with an almost-dead phone that was out of service, so i’m just now seeing the thread)

          • Yea….

            Like when someone says “maybe I might be hijacking/derailing/un-p.c./offensive” in a space is not really about you or the topic really want to bring up just not do it? Look, I could have expressed my frustration with “what about the menz” in a way that did not read as “vitriol” or should have “more respect” because mon is a good person (I am seriously not being sarcastic about this). It’s just so frustrating when having these conversations online and in real life it keeps happening or anything similar to the derailing that goes on in trans*women issues. We all make mistakes and I do really appreciate mon was not defensive given my response was taken to be vitriol/too much/whatever. I do the same thing too (not being so defensive, correct myself all that jazz) when I mess up and feel like the response was too much.

            All is good here I made cookies out of this discussion!

          • Clarification:

            “Like when someone says “maybe I might be hijacking/derailing/un-p.c./offensive” in a space is not really about you or the topic really want to bring up just not do it? ”

            I just want to make sure that statement is meant for how *I* go about these discussions when topics are not about me and I want to learn and be a better ally.

            Again I like thank those in this community who have more patience than me (trust I am working on it :D) to educate those while being respectful. I seriously want to give all these people my rage bake cookies, they came out great!

          • no worries bra.

            i personally am learning a lot from this whole series of articles and i’m still at the information absorption stage. i am not at all challenging the viewpoints or experiences of the writers, in fact i very much appreciate their sharing.

            i definitely understood your criticism and didn’t take your tone super seriously. but again i want to reiterate that my question was the result of a series of thoughts in my head, that i had after reading a particular small phrase in the article. and so i thought i would ask it although it was not really related to the main issues of the article. perhaps i didn’t make this clear enough. i don’t have much to say about the rest of the article other than it is greatly appreciated, as per above.

            my intention was definitively NOT to indicate any preferential focus on trans*men issues over trans*women issues and i’m sorry it was interpreted that way. i was just aiming to widen the discussion from a brief point in the article i picked up on, NOT to replace it with other issues. to be honest neither trans*women or trans*men spaces are for me and i want everyone ever to be equal and also i want to know everything about everything! however i understand why people are upset so i will wait for a better opportunity to ask the question again.

          • The discussion you were interested in is actually a super interesting and odder part of some deep trans community dynamics. I hope it’s something you can get exposed to at some point and I’m glad you’re interested, even if this isn’t the place that’s necessarily a great one for it. I have some mixed feelings about some of it and so I’m not sure exactly where I’d recommend someone start if they were interested in those issues, but if you started going through writing by trans women you’ll probably stumble on some good discussion in this area at some point. I know Imogen Binnie often has interesting things to say about this type of stuff and Natalie Reed and those she references and links to probably serve as another good jumping off point to explore writings by trans women.

    • mon! i think everybody jumped on you a bit here. i feel like this thread is so heated right now because there’s these really terrible things being said and you kinda got caught in the crossfire. anyhow, thank you for the measured and humble response to the corrections, regardless of how i feel about their tone, i probably would’ve been really defensive if i were you and you weren’t. so, props. there’s a lot that we all have to learn but let’s respect when somebody has good intentions!

    • Just FTR- I thought this was a perfectly acceptable question and did not deserve the brush-off that it received. I admit, I don’t quite have the energy to address the original commentator’s question at this point after reading through all that, but come one, let’s cut each other some slack and kinda lean towards being friends with one another rather than look for constant reasons to call each other out. Thanks.

      • thank you. and i’ll cut you some slack on not answering (though you should not feel obliged!) as i’m sure you have your hands full! :)

  13. To add to the constructive dialogue here, regarding sex:

    One important thing to remember when getting intimate with trans women is that we often use different words to describe our bodies, especially our genitalia if pre-op/non-op. It’s a pretty good idea to discuss beforehand what language works and what doesn’t. If you’ve been dating awhile already you may have already learned some of this; if you’re having a casual encounter you may want to discuss it up-front to avoid awkwardness later. It can be as simple as “Are there any words you like? Any words I should avoid?”

    A lot of pre-op/non-op trans women also don’t like to be touched in ways we’re trained to associate with that anatomy. Not everyone with a penis likes erections or likes to penetrate. This is pretty easy to navigate using basic communication you’d use during sex with anyone: “Is this ok? Do you like this? Show me how you like to be touched.”

    In both instances above, the trans woman you’re with may not *know* the answers. Many of us are still in the process of unlearning what society teaches us about bodies, and learning what we *actually* like. We may also still be going through hormonal changes, which can completely change sexual response in unanticipated ways. In those situations, experimentation and communication is the key! Along with overt displays of support and validation.

    • Thank you for the additional info, Amy. I appreciate it. Especially the part about how hormones might change things is something that I wasn´t even aware of.

      — — — — — —

      Also – and that is something that I want to say to all trans* girls – the way you handle this conversation and the way you carry yourself and the world around you is impressive. You are amazing and strong and incredible! Every. single. one. of. you.

    • Great article, I am really glad that Autostraddle is a safe place for us trans* women despite the obvious malcontentedness from some folks.

      It is a difficult world to maneuver in when not everyone is exactly like what we expect. I’m definitely one of those people who isn’t comfortable being sexual with other people until I have surgical intervention. But I still want the romantic parts of a relationship. For the most part, I’m fine being alone since I’m content with a low libido and am quite a introvert.

  14. This comment has been flagged as it is a violation of Autostraddle’s comment policy.

    Jeez. I didn’t even get past the introduction without needing to hurl. But, with dedication to the WBW cause, I read on, gagging and crying out in a combination of disbelief and rage all the way.

    Talk about narcissistic personality disorder – on top of the autogynephilia this poor sop suffers from (although that may be a question of chicken and egg…)

    No, this article isn’t for us “real” lesbians and “old-skool” feminists who still believe that gender is a tool for partiarchy to keep females in their place (subordinate to men). No, this is for the queer gals. the the fun feminists, the sex-poz feminists, the “into-kink” straight women… Lesbians are NOT INTO DICK. And as long as DICK is attached to a body = Male.

    And no, I’m not missing out on any “super sexy fun”, and neither are my “born and raised as girls and women” lesbian sisters. Good Lord in Heaven.

    • Emma, that is the most revolting comment I have ever had the displeasure of reading on Autostraddle. I am so angry that I am shaking right now.

      Who the *hell* do you think you are? You are being transphobic, and using genitals as a tool of oppression against another human being. Sounds kind of like you are The Man, as you “old-skool” lesbians like to say.

      I’m a lesbian, I identify as a woman who loves other women. Your comment is transphobic, and makes identifying as a “lesbian” an exclusive club where sex-positive feminists are not welcome.

      There’s nothing I can write that hasn’t already been stated, but I would suggest you read through the comments above discussing bio-essentialism, cis privilege and how to not be an asshole before posting.

    • Nobody is asking you to like dick Emma. We are just asking you to STFU and step off of our identities. Take your old school essentialist white washed privileged feminism and troll somewhere else.

    • Wow, this whole comment…just gross. If a trans man hasn’t had surgery due to lack of money or desire (especially given that surgery for them is less advanced in terms of results), does that make them still a woman? I’ve noticed that the sort of people espousing the bullpucky you’re dishing tend to assume that trans men are just women who are so addled that they think they want to be men. Would you agree with that statement?

    • For what it’s worth, I’m a “born and raised as a girl/woman” lesbian and I didn’t even get past the first sentence of your comment without needing to hurl. Your transphobic garbage holds no weight with me and many other cis ladies here.

      Plus, I’d rather be part of this so called “fun feminists” group anyway, so if you could point me in their direction, that would be grrrreeeeaaaattt.

    • For those who don’t know, “autogynophilia” is the idea that trans lesbians are actually cisgendered men who get so powerfully aroused by imagining themselves as women that they gladly go through the process of hormonal and surgical transition, all for the sake of getting off. Needless to say, there’s very little evidence for this theory, and many trans lesbians, including myself, find the idea highly offensive.

      So, Emma, while I don’t doubt that, as an “old-school” feminist, you did a lot to fight the patriarchy back in the day, I think these words are the ones that best express how I feel about transphobic people like you:

      “Come mothers and fathers
      Throughout the land
      And don’t criticize
      What you can’t understand
      Your sons and your daughters
      Are beyond your command
      Your old road is
      Rapidly agin’
      Please get out of the new one
      If you can’t lend your hand
      For the times they are a-changin’.”

    • Emma – comments like this are not only rude, they are down right irresponsible. If someone talked about you that way, how do you think you would feel? If people in the LGBT community – people you hoped were your allies – told you that just thinking about you made them want to vomit? Think about what that would do to your self-esteem and sense of self-worth. The rate of attempted suicide in the trans* community is staggeringly high, and seeing how cruel people can be I’m very sad, but not surprised. I have a close friend who is trans and I have seen her hurt over and over again by people like you – often enough for the hatred to be internalized. It is not OK to talk about other human beings like that.

      Date whoever you want, but keep your hate to yourself. And please, think before you speak: words can cut as deeply as any weapon.

    • I actually almost feel sorry for you. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be filled with so much hate. It must be very lonely.

    • Jinkies! I didn’t even get past your fourth comma without needing to hurl. But, with dedication to masochism and 20mg of domperidone, I read on, shoving sewing needles under my toenails in a combination of boredom and hematolagnia all the way.

      Talk about masochistic personality traits – on top of the vegan gyro the poor sap that I am just consumed (although that may be a question of duck, duck and grey duck (or goose if you prefer (it’s good for the gander (grey or otherwise)))…) Tzatziki! I have found it.

      No, this article isn’t for trans-exclusionary lesbians and “old-skool” feminists who still believe that transgender people are tools to keep throwing under the bus (subordinate to the L in the LGBT). No, this is for the queer gals. The the fun feminists, the sex-poz feminists, the “into-kink” straight women… and the lesbians, though they may NOT BE INTO DICK. And as long as a DICK is attached to a brain = dickbrain.

      And yes, I’m missing out on “super sexy fun”, and so are my “born and raised as girls and women” lesbian sisters. Good Lord in Heaven, I need a date.

  15. I really don’t know where to stick this into the conversation, but I feel it needs to be said.

    Trans women and Cis women are both “biologically female.” Genitals, hormones, the body overall may change, but a brain’s sex is pretty static for most people.

    “But Quinn, brains are gender, not sex.”

    I’m getting to that! Introducing phantom genitals (in a research study):
    Uh-oh? What can this mean? Many transwomen have brainmaps for female bodies, not male ones. What about the 30% who do? In that case I’d point you to two things: 1) There’s plenty of people who don’t fit in the gender binary whose maps could dictate all sorts of things, so it makes sense that brainmaps in women may vary. 2) If you pay attention to studies done on the way the brain works, or if you’ve seen some recent documentaries on scientific research you may recall a few tests that got someone used to thinking a hand that is not their own is actually connected to them and the fake hand was smashed and the person reacts. The brain is capable of redrawing something over time.

    “But doesn’t that disprove what you were saying?”

    No, because there’s still the matter of the chemical washes one undergoes in the womb and how they dictate one’s development. Some washes will effect the brain’s sex some the genitals, and still others to effect different other things and the body may not be receptive to certain washes anyway!

    So can we stick to cis and trans if we feel the need to differentiate?

    (I got other issues with stuff that was said, but what needed saying got said in those cases)

    [Enjoyed your article btw and the recent amendment in regards to sex. Some transwomen like to use the penis, but this girl can’t wait to get the plumbing reworked and has not intention of utilizing the current fixtures in traditional fashion].

    • Acccctually, the science says that the brain in fact doesn’t really have links to biological ‘sex’. As in – there’s really no such thing as a female brain or male brain. Aaand if there were – as everyone has already pointed out – there would be way more than just two variations.

      Also! The brain is hardly static. In fact, the science (seeing as everyone is so intent on it!) seems to suggest that the brain is really quite malleable. The hormones in our bodies change depending on the situations that we’re in and the chemicals in our brains adapt to our social situations. If you tell someone to think of themselves as feminine (regardless of sex), it changes the way they function.

      Most recent studies tend to show that our social environments have just as much of if not more of an effect on our bodies than the other way around. Also, I don’t think there’s very much in the way of reliable methodology for the testing of in womb chemical washes.

      Not that I think we should ‘sex’ people based on genitals (haha!), I just don’t think we should need to find biological reasons for the way that people experience or identify their embodiment. There’s no way to look at any of the biology outside of cultural discourse anyways.

      • “I just don’t think we should need to find biological reasons for the way that people experience or identify their embodiment. There’s no way to look at any of the biology outside of cultural discourse anyways.”

        Yes, I’m a bit uncomfortable with all the brainsex talk going on here, given how sexist and problematic I find most brainsex science. I don’t for a moment believe that trans* women are not women, with or without penises, but I’m skeptical about the idea that women have different brains from men and that having a “female brain” is what makes trans* women and cis women women. Brainsex “differences” can often be explained by socialisation and, as you say, the cultural discourse from which they are inseparable. See Cordelia Fine’s “Delusions of Gender” for more!

        • FTR- I for one more or less agree with this statement. I’m skeptical that there is a basis for considering there to be a “female brain” that is fundamentally different from a “male brain.” Personally, I rely on “gender identity” to decide who is a woman and who is a man not necessarily because I think it provides a perfect answer to the question, but more because I just don’t know of any better, more reliable system.

      • The way I look at it. . .I’m female and a woman (and trans) and, therefore, my body is female, my biology is female, my brain is female, my genitals are female, and so on. I’m not female because I have a female brain. . .I have a female brain BECAUSE I AM FEMALE. Female/woman is the best word to fully describe the sex/gender aspects of who I am. And because I am a whole person and can’t be split up into different disjointed parts. . .all the parts of me are by definition also female. And I see the question “why am I a female?” as similar to the question “why am I a person?” The answer is complicated and is more philosophical, linguistic, and political than it is scientific. So ultimately, I think science has very little to do with who is female and who is male (and who is something else entirely). It boils down to this: either we want to live in a world where we believe the self-descriptions people have for themselves or we want to live in a world where we believe the descriptions oppressors place on the people they are oppressing. I know which world I want to live in.


    Savannah, it takes a lot of grit to post an article like this. Thank you for reaching out and seeking to educate/help others.

    Over the past year I have been trying to learn how my language can be taken as transphobic, when that is not my intention.

    This piece is wonderful-love the dry wit. Thank you for submitting it.

  17. This was quite nice. Thank you for contributing an important piece, Savannah. I particularly like this statement from the Reddit article you linked to which tied in nicely:

    “Saying you’re “not attracted to trans women” as a blanket statement cannot have a basis in empirical reality, but purely in prejudice. It’s not like not being attracted to redheads or blondes or butches, it’s like not being attracted to immigrants, children of blue-collar workers or survivors of cancer. “Trans” is, for the numerical majority of trans women, a history which says nothing about the person.”

    • Thank you, and yes, I got a lot out of that (relatively short, but insightful) reddit piece as well… helped me get me thoughts straight on how to approach the wording on a couple of things in this article. xo

  18. Lawd the amount of radscum I’m seeing in these comments makes me want to hurl things in their general directions. Fuck y’all.

    I had to get that out of the way first.

    But more importantly, thank you, Savannah, for publishing this. I don’t want to derail this discussion with my cis guilt and lesbian identity confusion, so I’ll just keep it short and sweet: thanks. This has helped me immensely sort through some issues I’ve been dealing with. <3

    • Yes, yes, yes. Jenn has articulated my thoughts precisely.

      “Thank you Savannah” cannot be said loud enough.

    • Thank you for your sweet comment, glad if you felt a connection with :)


      p.s. I’m not a big fan of this phrase “radscum” as I think it pollutes what should be an intellectual conversation that has love and respect for one another as its starting point… even when dealing with others who clearly do not share such principles.

  19. As the cis-female partner of a trans woman, I enjoyed and appreciated this article. It’s important to acknowledge and expand the acceptance of transwomen within the lesbian community. But I do have a bone to pick with you. Your privilege denial is extremely offensive.

    “I have to say that having a penis never got me special treatment in the academic world.”

    This is akin to a white person saying that they have never had economic privilege because they’ve worked for everything they have. You were, however unfairly, socialized as a male. That means that, unlike cisgender women, you were not instilled since toddlerhood with the idea that you would never be good at math or engineering. You were not given Barbies to dress while your brothers were given chemistry sets and microscropes to play with. Your teachers likely presumed that you would be good at math and science, and you weren’t given weird looks as a kid if you said that you wanted to grow up to be a technician or an astrophysicist.

    I in no way deny that you are a woman. However, to deny that you were raised and steeped in male privilege is to deny that sexism exists. You are a feminist, and that means being willing to acknowledge privilege–any kind of privilege– when you have it.

    • I think this part of the article could use some clarification, particularly because I think this sentence is vague, and non-specific to the period of time the author is referring to. She writes:

      “As a woman I have to say that having a penis never got me special treatment in the academic world”

      and I think where the confusion lies in this sentence is between “”As a woman” and the use of the word “never.” I am inclined to read this as the author stating that In her lived experience as a woman, while she has been presenting as a her authentic self, her penis has never gotten her special treatment, NOT to say that she has – NEVER – in her life received academic privileges.

      Again, this part is the only part of this essay I take issue with, and my only issue is that I think it needs clarification – I think my reading of it makes sense within the context of the questioning of body parts – not presentation – giving privilege in the specific context of the ‘sausage fest’ comment. But, I’d rather let the author speak to her intent with this line!

      Great article. Much needed. Thank you so much, Savannah!

      • I had the same gut reaction as Genevra, but then when I read it again, I took the same stance as you, fuj

      • I see what you’re saying and that may have been Savannah’s intended meaning. To me, though, the modifier “as a woman” read as irrelevant because she has always been a woman. I didn’t interpret it as meaning “post-transition” or “after publicly identifying myself as a woman.”

        I think only someone who is transphobic would presume that the phrase “as a woman” means that she was referring to the time period after she transitioned. (Not that I’m saying you’re transphobic– you’re clearly not– but the use of that “before/after” language is usually restricted to transphobes, and that’s why I assumed that couldn’t be what she meant.)

        Maybe Savannah herself can clarify what she intended to say here.

        • Totally! It’s quite ambiguous and I think could be read a number of different ways.

          Regarding the positioning as inherently transphobic, I’d like to offer an alternative perspective on this, (not, though, to say you are wrong – just to offer a different facet to the conversation) I’d like to refer to Ellie Navidson’s blog, (In)visibly Queer, where she wrote an entry (essay? thought?) called “I used to be a boy” that talks about her take on trans-normative narratives and why she talks about a time that she ‘used to be a boy’

          Just food for thought :)

          • That particular frame of mind might also have to do with trying to work with the words and frames and things that society gives us. I hear it time and again “woman trapped in a man’s body.” But the reality of it, at least insofar as I’m concerned, is that I’ve always been a girl. And this is a woman’s body, it just happens to have a penis. I like to think I’m right about this, but I can by no means speak for everybody.

          • There are definitely major limitations within our language in how we’re able to express pre- and post-transition differences without resorting to transphobic or trans-denialist language.

            I’ve definitely struggled a little bit with phrasing in that my (trans) partner and I are treated differently and given different degrees of privilege depending on whether we’re presenting/passing as straight or not. So I think (especially after reading her response below) that Savannah’s statement about her lack of privilege “as a woman” is analogous to when I say things like, “We don’t have trouble with harassment as a straight couple, but as a queer couple we’ve run into some problems.”

            We’re never actually a straight couple, but how we present affects how we’re treated, so the distinction is important to make. It’s just difficult to make it concisely without it sounding like either a failure to acknowledge privilege or a failure to acknowledge gender identity.

            However, I admit that I flinch and grit my teeth whenever I hear cis people say things like “He used to be a lesbian” or “She used to be a man.” Unless that’s how the trans*person specifically refers to his or her own experience, I think that language is pretty much inherently cissexist.

    • Before I begin, I want to clarify that I am not speaking for Savannah and am instead approaching your comment in a more general sense, because “male socialization” is used as a derail tactic so often against trans women.

      “unlike cisgender women, you were not instilled since toddlerhood with the idea that you would never be good at math or engineering.”

      Actually, no, you can’t assume that. Not everyone’s upbringing is the same. Gendered messages are all over the place, and trans women who have always seen themselves as female listen to the messages directed at girls. When you don’t identify as a boy, you don’t identify with the messages directed *at* boys. And not all discouragement is gender-based, especially not in the home.

      Just because someone is assigned a sex at birth, does not mean they follow along and identify with it. That’s a cisgender conception of how gender identity and socialization works.

      As Creatrix Tiara brought up above, it’s a fallacy to assume that even all cis women receive the same messages growing up. There is no universal female experience.

      “You were not given Barbies to dress while your brothers were given chemistry sets and microscropes to play with.”

      Many trans women, however, are shamed and attacked (physically and sexually) for inborn feminine behavior and interests. We were often denied the toys we actually *wanted* to play with.

      I myself had a barren room as a child, because none of my interests were allowed and nothing I was allowed I found interesting, with the only exception being computers. I was unable to play with other children how I wanted and unable to connect with other girls because of how I was perceived and the restrictions placed on me. This resulted in total social isolation and ostracization. I do not consider that a form of privilege.

      “Your teachers likely presumed that you would be good at math and science, and you weren’t given weird looks as a kid if you said that you wanted to grow up to be a technician or an astrophysicist.”

      These aren’t the goals and desires of every cis woman, nor are they the goals and desires of every trans woman. Also, once again, someone who identifies as female is going to identify with messages directed *toward* females. Which includes all those negative messages about being terrible at math and science.

      “I in no way deny that you are a woman. However, to deny that you were raised and steeped in male privilege is to deny that sexism exists.”

      To deny that trans people internalize gendered messages differently than cis people assigned the same sex is to deny that cissexism exists.

      “You are a feminist, and that means being willing to acknowledge privilege–any kind of privilege– when you have it.”

      Exactly. So please recognize your cis privilege in this conversation, and the resulting blind spots when it comes to socialization.

      Now to elaborate further: There are some trans women who *do* spend time identifying as male, who *do* identify with the messages directed at boys. However, it is up to THEM to determine how male socialization has affected them. You may disagree with that assessment, but you are not in a place to make that call.

      Some trans women transition early in life (as early as 4 years old), some transition later in life. These differences can affect the degree we are affected by male privilege. I would argue that even in the most extreme cases of a trans woman benefiting from male privilege, this comes at a great cost to self-esteem. There is no clear-cut impact here.

      Even though many trans women internalize the messages directed at girls growing up, some (but not all) still experience a degree of privilege due to being perceived by others as male. This privilege, however, is conditional and often comes at a great cost to one’s security and identity. Countless trans women have committed suicide because the world refused to perceive them as anything but men. Maybe you see that as a privilege, but I don’t.

      Dismissing trans women’s critique of male socialization by saying her view is a result of male privilege is just another way transmisogyny is used to silence trans women’s voices and invalidate our experiences as women. There is a wide range of how male socialization and male privilege can affect a trans woman’s life, from no influence at all (very early transitioners) to quite a great deal (that still comes at great cost).

      Bottom line: Don’t generalize about trans women when it comes to “male socialization” or male privilege. You don’t know the details.

      • I love this. Yes, being mis gendered and having suicidal ideation is not my idea of male priv either.

      • I’m a trans women who for roughly 15 years, from around age 12 to around age 27, lived as an (outwardly) gender conforming “male.” And I did experience a lot of male privilege because of this. When I was walking around on the sidewalk or riding the bus, I didn’t have to worry about the sort of harassment and violence that is always a risk for women and for visibly queer folks of all genders. I was able to get good grades in school for quite a while, and I usually talked a lot in class (which was encouraged and valued by my teachers). I’m sure my male appearance played a big role in these academic advantages. I could list a lot of other examples, too.

        At the same time, my “male privilege” was complicated in a way it usually is not for most actual men. Though I often had friends who were male and sometimes outwardly appeared to be “one of the guys,” whenever I was around them I was in a constant state of terror. I went to extreme lengths to cover up any thought or feeling or mannerism that I thought might “reveal” who I really was. . .the littlest things. . .I was careful not to blink “too much,” for example, because I thought this was a sign of weakness and femininity (and I actually had been made fun of when I was younger for “blinking too much,” believe it or not!) Every sexist remark my male “friends” would make felt like a stab directly into my heart, but generally I was too scared to challenge them. So basically, I was walking around for more than a decade in a sort of disassociative haze, absolutely terrified of everyone around me, never able to truly relax, and never having a genuine friend (although I was often around other people). I wasn’t able to keep everything completely under wraps, however, and desperately needed an outlet for my true self. . .so when I was alone I would go on the internet and “pretend” to be a girl and chat with people online. But even this didn’t provide me an opportunity for real friends. . .I would compulsively chat online for a week, not sleeping, not eating, skipping school or work, and then in a fit of shame and self-loathing I would delete my female email account and all my contacts and swear I would never indulge such “sick” and “dishonest” behaviors again. . .only to restart months later and have to build a new social network from scratch. I was so ashamed of my life online, so unable to control it, that I didn’t take care of my real life in the most basic way. I got fired from jobs for skipping work to stay home and talk online. . .I never had an intimate sexual relationship because of an inability to genuinely relate to people in real life, and on and on.

        In short, though male privilege was offered to me, the offer was extremely horrible and traumatizing. As a result of this constant traumatization, I was not able to take advantage of male privilege in the way most actual men are. It did provide me with certain unambiguous benefits (increased physical safety, for example), but I was not able to use it to translate into the intended result in many other areas (a FEELING of safety, enhanced self-esteem, higher socioeconomic status, and so on). Now that I am openly living as a woman and am generally recognized as such, I am offered considerably less privilege by society. But the nightmare of my upbringing is over and my life is radically better now–I have self-esteem, actual friends, an ability to focus at work, the capability to express myself, the possibility of sexual satisfaction, and more. So I think cis people should be careful with throwing around the assertion that trans woman prior to transition significantly benefited from “male privilege” in some across the board sort of way.

    • Hi Genevra,

      Sorry it took me a while to get back to this important point, I’m glad you raised it. I think fuj already did a good job of reading into my intended meaning, but you’re right that statement could have been worded better and I just wanted to follow-up and try to clarify a bit further… although I will say, please notice the article that I linked in that statement, as it’s very key to my intended meaning.

      Indeed, what I meant in that statement was that *since I began transition* having a penis has not gotten me any benefits in academia. In the linked article I detail some of my experiences during a stay in France at an earlier point in my career. It was after I began transition, and I was placed sometimes as a woman, sometimes as a man, and the response I got in that ranged from public ridicule and abuse to workplace harassment. It was pretty bad at one point, enough so that I considered leaving physics… there’s more to be said, but some of it’s still difficult for me to speak about all of it in public.

      That having been said, I *did* have access to male privilege growing up, and I do not want to deny that for a second. So while I was sometimes picked on and felt coercively gendered, I was always encouraged when it came to science and other academic pursuits, and there is not question that my history with male privilege has played a role in where I am today.

      It’s a complex picture and I don’t want to over-simplify that either way. Some trans women have significant access to male privilege at some point in their lives, and some have very limited access to that. I would be closer to the former category, and I do think it is important to acknowledge that.

      btw- sorry for the delayed response to this important question (I’m on Tokyo time these days!)

      • Savannah, just a short comment to say I thought your response to Ginevra’s question was great – very open and thoughtful. It’s nice to find respectful exchanges like this, especially when so many others have chosen to respond to your original post with incendiary comments.

      • Hi Savannah-

        It didn’t take you long to respond at all– no worries on that. Thank you for clarifying your intended meaning. I’m also a writer and I know how crappy it can be when you end up with your foot in your mouth (err, on your keyboard) because you’ve phrased something awkwardly or in a way that could be misinterpreted, especially if the phrasing could come across as offensive. I appreciate you taking the time to respond and clarify the intended meaning.

        Again, I loved the article and I’m glad to see it published here. Thanks for sharing your insights and for explaining your intention behind your statement about privilege.

      • Savannah. . .I hope what I’m about say doesn’t come off as dismissive of your experience. That’s the last thing I want to do. I just want to question and perhaps challenge some ideas of yours. I think that we trans women have been so deeply brainwashed to think of ourselves as men and as being horrible people for wanting to differentiate ourselves at all from men that it can be hard for us to stand up to this internalized oppressor in our own minds.

        I know many trans women (including you) will say that they benefited from male privilege growing up. I just have a hard time imagining how this is possible (not saying it isn’t possible). In my opinion, the erroneous idea that we are male is the crux of our ENTIRE oppression. . .from the violent straight men who murder us to the insurance companies that deny us medical care to the TERFs who hate us and ostracize us to the internalized self-loathing we often feel. I simply don’t see how us being brainwashed to accept this erroneous and hurtful cis-created idea about ourselves (that we were male) and then act in accordance with it (by allowing people to incorrectly gender us as male) could be beneficial to somebody. In my experience, it certainly wasn’t beneficial. It was a living nightmare. And I don’t see why trans women would even transition if it were so advantageous for us to be perceived as male. Surely we aren’t fools for wishing to transition. Yes, we are seeking to be more comfortable with our own bodies. But we are also generally trying to let the REAL US out socially, have that recognized, be able to have deeper relationships with the people around us, and so on. Being invisible to everyone around you, feeling like you are a horrible freak, and all the other things most of us experience prior to transition are hardly privileges. And I don’t think trans women necessarily even benefited economically from living as men. A lot of people will claim this. . .I would like to see someone provide some statistics or evidence sometime to bolster this claim (because it is counter-intuitive to me). I was downwardly economically mobile well prior to transitioning, and the same thing applies to most trans women I know or read about. So perhaps the benefits that you personally received growing up that you believe you received due to male privilege were actually a result of race, class, ability, neurotypicality, or something else? Not saying that this IS the case; I’m just wondering whether you’ve considered that.

  20. Also, to all the transphobic radfem assholes commenting here… STFU. Seriously. All of you. I could rehash everything that every other sane person here has said to you, but please just piss off. Go hang out on [name has been removed]‘s blog or something. I don’t think anyone with half a brain wants you HERE.

  21. Is anybody else just sitting back and refreshing the page to read the new comments?

    I don’t feel like I have anything of merit to add to the discussion other than upvoting the non-transmisogynist comments!

  22. Radfem, radscum, troll??? I expressed a dissenting opinion, that I genuinely believe in, in a respectful manner. I am a lesbian. I have worked for civil and human rights throughout my life and career. I disagree with certain aspects of gender ideology because I believe it’s harmful to the rights of women as a class. I really don’t think it’s necessary to call me names.

    • How hard are you working for civil and human rights if you’re so dead-set on denying rights to a severely underprivileged and oppressed group of women? You did not simply express a dissenting opinion; you expressed an offensive opinion with the intention of hurting, insulting, and degrading other individuals. Don’t want to be called scum? Don’t act like scum.

    • How can you be an advocate for the marginalized while simultaneously undermining the identities of an entire group of marginalized people? You didn’t voice a dissenting opinion, you voiced an opinion putting down the behaviours of people that don’t effect you. Since you are obviously trans*phobic, you will likely not find yourself at a date with a trans*women and this article wasn’t directed at you.

      Even if you worked your whole life for ‘equality’ for yourself, if you slam that door behind you as soon as you get through you are still a jerk

    • You’ve been trying to discount trans women’s experiences due to their (presumed, or historical) genitalia. You’ve also been denying cis privilege. That’s hardly a respectful manner.

    • “I have worked for civil and human rights throughout my life and career.”

      This is called showing your resume, and has nothing to do with whether your behavior is bigoted or not. You don’t collect activist points and use them to cancel out the things you’ve screwed up. Activism isn’t a videogame achievement that renders any criticism moot. Don’t show your resume. Respond to the criticism at hand.

    • the thing is, avery, if you think a woman’s physical body is yours to judge and condemn, you don’t belong here. autostraddle isn’t for you. your outdated ideas are worthless to us. and i mean all of us — the queers, the bis, the gay, lesbian, questioning, trans*, intersex, cis, genderqueer, agender, poly, omni, asexual, pansexual, label-free, butch, dyke, femme, boi, andro, ag, stud, grrrl, old, young, every shade, every race, every ability, every background and foreground and literally everything in between — we ALL repudiate you and your kind.

      it will never be our job to make you feel comfortable or represented here, because this space is not for you.

      • Oh my god. I just.. DAYAM! I heard like, some kind of badass background music swelling as Laneia laid that down. Like, BOOM! :)

      • hot damn. this was one of the best things I have ever read on the entire internet. nice, Laneia!

      • I think a really common and pervasive feeling many people who go through transition struggle with is a sense that we are alone and that we are isolated. Even when we know logically that isn’t true, it can often feel like it is.

        So thank you, not just for your stance, but for being part of what’s happening here. It’s more than just acceptance, it’s supporting the idea that our concerns are not solely something written in a margin. That our concerns aren’t just special trans issues, but come from societal bullshit whose root tries to undermine us all.

        It is rare that bit of decently accepted theory actually manages to find it’s way to practice.

        That’s why your comment felt important to me. Thanks.

        (Though for whatever it’s worth, I wish engaging effectively was less exhausting, time consuming and thankless. I don’t think it’s problematic to acknowledge that people are often engaged in a way that’s less effective than it could be in an ideal world where people had sufficient time, energy and security to engage in conversation over our very legitimacy in a calm, rational, engaging and serene way.)

    • You know what, I agree with you on this one point. I firmly disagree with your positions, and I don’t think that you presented them in a respectful way. However, I also don’t think that name-calling is remotely productive. That said, I understand the impulse to do it – especially when one’s identity is under attack. Still, I think that rather than responding to disrespect with more disrespect, it is better to educate and inform (which is what the majority of people on this comment thread have done). I hope you can ignore the few unproductive comments and learn something from the discussion.

    • That’s what they do instead of having a civil conversation. They abuse women who question the narrative.

  23. Okay Real Talk. I totally live in a queer/intersectional/liberal bubble and sometimes I forget that a lot of people in our communities still have a lot of learning to do (including me! I have so much learning to do!) and the comments on these articles plus that whole Julie Burchill/Suzanne Moore fiasco have made me realize that we REALLY REALLY need to have these conversations more often, and within our own queer and feminist communities we REALLY REALLY need to hold each other accountable and call each other out for trans*phobia and biological essentialism and similar bullshit, and like that Le Tigre song says “We refuse to be embarrassed by the mistakes and faults of our past and choose to move forward with a political agenda bent on the freedom of all”

    So FOUR FOR YOU Autostraddle for being brave and hosting this trans*scribe series.

    FOUR FOR YOU for all the beautiful, inspiring, intelligent and brave women and others who contributed to this series

    FOUR FOR YOU all the commenters in this community who won’t stand for hate and respond to ignorant bullshit in intelligent and productive (and sometimes fucking hilarious) ways

    Keep on keeping on, beautiful humans.


  24. Just wanted to say this is one of my favorite Autostraddle articles. As a science major I didn’t take many courses in the humanities. Autostraddle is like the online class in queer / gender theory / women’s history / general getting-a-clue-about-these-issues that I never took in college, and I’m grateful for the education from the writers and commenters (commentators?).

  25. Am I the only one who read

    1) Not every trans woman has a penis.
    2) No general means exist to distinguish trans women from cis women.
    The implications of these two points together are that statements such as “I am attracted to cis women but not trans women” simply do not make sense and are rooted in social prejudice.

    and interpreted
    “you know, it is very possible you have been attracted to a trans woman and have assumed she was cis” ?

    Seems fairly simple.

    • I was actually hoping for some clarification of what the writer meant by “No general means to distinguish between cis and trans women.” Maybe I’m being too analytical but it seems to me that trans women would be those who disagree with being ‘Male assigned at birth.’ So is the intent that a passer-by can’t tell from a general impression of someone’s cis/trans status, or a different meaning?

    • Yep. Even trans folks who are pretty casual and vocal about letting people know they’re trans can’t possibly hope to let everyone know just because they likes how we look in a bar, on a street, in a club or anywhere else.

      I know some friends with some stories about how much people just assume they’re cis even when they thought they told them rather explicitly otherwise. I think one of the more striking was:

      Them: “Want to come over and join me in a hot tub?”
      Her: “Sure, are you cool with trans women?”
      Them: “Bring who you like!”

      A lot of people have a lot of assumptions about what trans women look like.

      • ‘A lot of people have a lot of assumptions about what trans women look like.’


        Absolutely. Is akin to stereotypical iconography for what a queer cis woman looks like that is lodged in their brains. On a side note, it always sets me off when someone introduces the backhanded compliment ‘passable’ into a conversation which reeks of privilege and is used as a way to further commodify and exert influence over the bodies (and self worth) of trans women. As if we go through the often traumatic experience of transitioning for the approval of a cis hetero guy and his completely arbitrary criteria of what he deems to be feminine. Your observation just triggered that in my mind. :) *End rant.*

        Even though the various segments of the spectrum of women represented here have their own unique challenges we are collectively strengthened via the commonalities we share and the points at which the movements intersect. To see such ecumenical understanding and support is truly heart warming and gives me hope for trans women going forward.

        Much love.

  26. I saw this referenced on Facebook and know that I am intruding but after having read this post and all the comments, I want to thank the vast majority of you!

    I am a non-op transgender person so I don’t dare call myself a woman nor a lesbian. I’m old too. :-) I read so many of these open-minded, thoughtful comments and I can’t help but thinking what a great world this is becoming! If only I could be 20 something now!

    Best to you all! (and sorry for the intrusion!)

    • Your age and genitals don’t matter. Please don’t let other people’s bigotry stop you from calling yourself a woman or a lesbian. I’m glad that you found the article and comments encouraging and I’m sorry that (at least to your perception) it’s too late for you to transition, but that doesn’t mean you can’t self-identify as a woman.

    • I am far from a spring chicken. You do you!
      You are what you live, are what your feel and how you see things.

      You are not intruding at all.

  27. All I really have to add to this is that this was an article I REALLY needed at this particular time, and that I love my trans girlfriend dearly. That is all.

  28. As a post-op (just wanted to define myself) trans-woman I must say I have appreciated all the comments here is support of my community.
    I actually belong to many communities, I am trans, a lesbian and a woman!! I am not one those trans-women who feel the need to have on a dress, makeup and coiffured hair. I mostly wear pants, very little or no makeup and just brush my hair out. My point is that even us trans have many shades of how we present ourselves. But when I am told I am not a woman because of the accident of having been born with a birth defect it makes me sad!! But not for long because in my heart I know who and what I am, A WOMAN!!

  29. I really love this post. And unfortunately, I don’t have any close trans women to talk to so I appreciate these posts a lot. When I think about the trans community, and trans men I know, I often find myself questioning my inherent (or ingrained) preference to a gender binary. And this discussion leads me to see, that for myself and probably other lesbians, THE Penis stands as this symbol of maleness that I’ve chosen to disassociate myself from via my sexuality. When thinking outside a gender binary, I can understand I’d probably enjoy the cis male genitalia sexually speaking, but it’s connotations I and my society have constructed around IT make me uncomfortable. It’s almost a ‘trigger,’ if you will, for negative experiences I’ve had with cis males my entire life. And I’m sad to see this figurative wall within myself–that objectively I probably wouldn’t care if a woman had a penis, but that my inherent association with male genitalia makes me want to run away, so to speak. I’m very picky when it comes to my cis male friendships. A lot of men disappoint me through expressions of chauvinism and general sexual aggressiveness and dominance. As of right now, I haven’t been able to see these cis men’s personalities as separate from their genitalia….I’ve never needed to really TRY and separate genitalia from gender since I have such a significant physical preference to women, and can therefore ignore the issue. And then I’m lead to how much I take for granted my comfortability in my gender. If I weren’t comfortable with my gender identity, I’d have had to confront these issues much more seriously. So I feel like a hypocrite for taking such interest in my sexuality while ignoring the struggles of gender-differing people. It’s hard. It’s scary to question what you worked so hard to establish and figure out (your sexuality) only to realize that maybe that struggle was less about genitalia preference and more just a denial of a hetero-normative ideal. As a lesbian, it’s hard to face that truth. But I need to, and I need to understand and I need to actually TRY.


    • Thanks Amanda for being willing to learn and understand!! That is so hearting for me to read!!

    • This was a really genuine, open and honest comment. I’m not sure I can say much in response, in part cause a lot of it feels like it must be really personal, but I thank you for having the courage to share your honest feelings with the rest of us <3

    • I love this replay more than a “Me too!” because you are the good people learning out there Amanda.

      Thank you so much. We can try to make the world better.

  30. Thank you for this awesome article!

    And to all the commenters throwing it down with their amazing intelligence and wit for all our human siblings!

    Love this series so much.

  31. It’s not just genetalia … females have a whole reproductive system that distinguishes them from males. You can call me names for stating that fact, but it doesn’t change the truth. But whatever you want to call me: troll, jerk, radscum, transphobe, whatever, is nothing compared to the shitstorm of oppression that females endure in this world as a result of biology. Not gender, but sex. Sex is not a construct, it is biology. Gender is a construct. It is a hierarchical set of stereotypes that oppress of women. The very concepts of masculinity and femininity are sets of generalizations that are false and harmful. If you are offended by my opinion, that’s a shame. But I’m not a “troll.” I am a lesbian who happens to disagree with the prevailing gender ideology of this group, but I do have many other interests that are aligned here.

    • Avery my understanding of being female was when I was 3 or 4 years old. So no concepts of masculinity and femininity had been impressed on me as yet!! I was born this way I did not decide one day that I was female!! I can accept your preference as to who you date that is your prerogative!! But I do not accept your judgement of me, when you do not even know me or who I am!!

    • And trans women don’t endure a shitstorm of oppression on a daily basis simply because of their mere existence…


    • Androgen insensitivity syndrome is a condition where the bodies of people with XY chromosomes don’t respond to the male hormones produced by their testes. Externally they look exactly like cisgendered women, but they don’t have any internal female reproductive organs, and they have internal testes. Look at the women on this Wikipedia page:

      I’m sure they’d be thrilled to learn that they’re not female.

    • Really because my aunt had a hysterectomy because of her ovarian cancer so I guess she’s not a woman anymore???

    • Yes, because every time a woman is ever discriminated against, they are first confirmed to have a womb. That is absolutely ridiculous. Misogyny doesn’t get magnetically attracted to ovaries. When women get catcalled on the street, the don’t get chromosomal tests first. When women get a lower wage, it isn’t compared with their birth certificate to first make sure they’re receiving the proper discrimination. Trans women experience misogyny. Besides, exactly how are you fighting sexism by further entrenching that men and women are worlds apart with biology that dictates their spot in life and men and women are just different fundamentally and completely? How is that revolutionary? How is that not the same tired old line for oppressing women? That women’s wombs dictate their identities.

    • actually, biological sex is made up of several physical characteristics and the majority of people don’t fulfill every single one for their assigned sex, so there’s that which is y’know, scientific fact. Also I hope you die in a fire.

      • “I hope you die in a fire” = idiot

        I actually don’t care what side of the argument you are on or how horrible the thing the radfem said was.

  32. A lesbian, I will add, who doesn’t appreciate being told that I am a bigot for not wanting to date people who have penises. That kind of lesbian. (who in this group is subject to all manner of name calling and ridicule, apparently)

    • No one is telling you to date someone with a penis. Nope.
      People are calling you a bigot for the actions of attempting to define and marginalize a group of women, yes women, by a specific biological attribute.

      People, specifically other Lesbians, are irritated because you are defining Lesbian as Bio-essentialist, and Trans* folks with the same non-supported medical concepts.

      It is clear that this view is not shared here in the majority, but I never would wish to have a place where everyone is all happy flowers and kittens (actually that would kinda rock, unless you’re allergic to cats) to the exclusion of dissenting views.

      However, positioning yourself as a worker for social change, and a defender of women while attacking a type of women defined by a specific history or background is not going to fly.

      If you cannot and will not accept a trans* women as a woman, even when transition occurs at incredibly young ages, or at later date, then there is little we can really discuss. Which is disappointing.
      Denying the self identification of female is as egregious as someone telling you you’re not a lesbian, or that you just think you are because (insert tired ass hetero horrible sayings here-we all know them)etc.

      I am not saying you are the same as a homophobe, but the drives may be similar. Homophobes believe they know better. I believe you have a huge history of work and struggle and experience that drives you to these concepts and that perhaps trans* people represent the worst kind of late 60’s Patriarchal secret agents, but hopefully we can find something to discuss in the light of sharing and not in hate.

  33. This is such a fabulous article! I think this, next to “how to own it” is my new favorite Autostraddle series.

    P.S. I shit on trans-misogynistic rad scum forever. (I would say fuck them but fucking is a fun thing and I don’t wanna be sex negative, and that seems kinda like a rape culture thing, but shit smells so there)

  34. I’m all for empowering trans women and I know that they are every bit as ‘woman’ as FAM (female assigned at birth) women are, but I identify as a lesbian. I’ve been raped by men in the past, and I seriously could not ever be turned on by or sleep with someone who has a penis. I don’t think it’s transphobic not to be attracted to a certain form of genitalia – it’s not really something that can be helped. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide “hm I think I’ll limit my attractions by not liking penis”. That’s just the way I am. No matter how beautiful and perfect a trans woman is, if she still has a penis I just couldn’t go there. I really wish this wasn’t the case (it would be wonderful if genitalia just didn’t factor into my sexual attractions at all) but unfortunately human attraction is just not that simple.

    • M I thank you for being up front with your feelings! I can understand them, but I think the point here and was made in the article we are not asking you to date pre/nom-op tran-women just accept them as women!!

    • I think you might have missed the point. There is absolutely nothing wrong with personally not wanting to have sex with someone who has a penis. There are certain traits and features in people that I find unattractive. Although I’m pansexual, I’ve got a big long list of traits in people who I simply can’t and won’t have sex with. That’s not because I’m a bigot; it’s because everyone has their own sexual preferences, and we’re all entitled to making choices about who we will and will not sleep with.

      Transwomen don’t fall into the “I’m not having sex with that person” category for me, but if they do for you, that’s okay. No one in their right mind is judging you for that. As long as you accept transwomen as women, no rational person could consider you to be a bad person for not personally wanting to date or sleep with them.

    • There is nothing wrong with that at all M. Seriously. The fact is you are triggered by that type of genitalia, and that’s something I think can be respected. You aren’t stating anything as to the inclusion or ideas of being female, but a preference based on trauma and or personal need. Its not a generalization. Its a preference. Big difference between saying “I am not fond of the penis.” and “Anyone with a penis is male.”

      In the most broad sense its the same as saying you wouldn’t date a woman with one arm due to some horrible event in your past. If you KNOW that it is a reaction to a generalization but you cannot work through it, or even wish to for painful reasons, that’s your path to take and something I am sure would cause stress and be seen as something to work on. It can be attacked as not the most enlightened, but that’s not fair to your lived experience. As long as someone doesn’t assume that ANY woman with one arm (or having a penis) is the same way, your actions would not be bigoted.

      Would they be optimal and fair and all rainbows and happy? No, but that’s not realistic. There is a massive difference between “I am not comfortable with dating you because of a specific issue.” and “You are a part of a group I am defining, so go away.” Its about point of identification.

      To many people on this thread are missing the core of this, it is not the insistence that people must like the penis, but that the penis (or the vagina) is not the sole arbiter of woman or man.

    • *shrugs* Don’t date ’em, then. I’m a trans woman who’s attracted to women who was raped by a woman, but I didn’t let that stop me. I just had to work through a couple few many things.

  35. “I am attracted to cis women but not trans women”

    According to this article, if I am a lesbian who is only attracted to cis women as dating/romance/sexing partners, I am a trans-mysoginist. Does it also mean I am a misandrist because I exclude men from my dating/romance/sexing activities? No. No it does not.

    I really enjoyed this article but I don’t appreciate the implication of that I am any “-ist” just because I can say out loud my personal desires in terms of who I want to date/have sex with and who I do not.

    • I am curious, if you were dating a woman, and found her attractive and interesting and you got along wonderfully for sometimes, but then found that she had a penis, would this feel like a betrayal to you?

      I am honestly and openly curious. If this was triggering to you then I understand that it is the sole bit of flesh that is upsetting, or is it the idea that this felt like the woman you were speaking to and attracted to was somehow being disingenuous?

      • I identify with what Jane is saying, so I’ll offer a response myself: Yes, I would feel betrayed. I want nothing to do with penises. And I’m not interested in dating someone whose genitals I can’t touch (which has nothing to do with trans*, more with libido and type of sexual desire). (I want to be able to fuck *you*, in addition to you fucking me). If I’m in a relationship, I want to be having sex. And I’m pretty clear about what I’m interested in to potential partners.

        So it’s kind of a combination of both. I would feel like she had withheld some truth from me. And I would feel like I had developed some attachment to someone I couldn’t have a relationship with. I would feel the same way if I was dating someone who was hiding that she was asexual.

        • I’m sorry then, but because of PSTD and disability, my genitals can’t be touched either, even though I am a cis woman, would you deny someone like me a relationship because of my history and disability?

          • All I’m talking about is if I personally would want to date a woman whose genitals I couldn’t touch. And no, I wouldn’t want to be in a relationship with you. It sounds really harsh, but I wouldn’t be interested. I certainly want you to be happy in a relationship with someone else.

            And I know I sound like an asshole, but that’s just my honest truth.

        • I completely agree with you, I would like to think that people would feel more “disappointed” than “betrayed” because one seems more about learning an annoying thing and the other assuming deception. And the whole deception thing is at the core of a LOT of transphobic ideals and responses. Although I am NOT saying you are implying that. Nope!

          But you’re right in that there is the problem with ‘passing’ (UGH I hate this concept)that if you are perceived as a vagina bearer and you don’t have one, and you reach a point in a relationship that it may come up, its a good idea to try and have a calm and decent discussion about it. Much like any sexual preference or action.

          So many things about sex are so inherently private and personal that it always seems irresponsible to wait until Zero-Hero to see if things work out. If I was to find myself with someone who said “Oh.. you have that umm.. I can’t.” Well, ok. This is no different than getting to the same point and someone saying “Oh, I umm.. am not in the mood now.” I don’t have to be thrilled, but consent is consent. Period. Will it be a relationship that can continue? Maybe, but as you said (and I agree) sex is important, and fun, and something that is cooperative.

          I mean, it’s kinda like a entire team of athletes showing up on the field and hoping to hell they are all there for the same kind of game without talking first. When the three guys on Hockey skates meet the two marathon running gals and that other person is carrying a football..its going to be annoying because everyone thought they were on the same playing field. (OY! That is one beat up analogy)

          But the point is, while they don’t play the same game, they are all still athletes.

          • Woah, your metaphor is a little crazy, but I like it.

            And I think you’re right. I would be majorly, majorly disappointed, not betrayed.

            It’s hard to think about dating without being 100% explicit about your sexual desires beforehand. (I’m in a relationship now.) Because like, should I have to try dating again, I would want to exchange fully completed yes/no/maybe checklists on the first date, alone with a proposed rate of sex. Why not find out early on if you’re fundamentally incompatible?

            (To fit it into your metaphor, why not just advertise for a specific sport at a particular time, with a certain set of rules? Feels easier.)

            Also, I’m not 100% serious about the yes/no/maybes, but I’m not 100% kidding either.

          • My wife knows folks that have those checklists literally. It’s something that is a valid strategy and if people are cool with it, I think it would sure cut down on a lot of stress and confusion. :)

    • To expand further on what Shelby was saying, would you feel betrayed if you were attracted to someone and then found that they were post-op trans? If it’s just that you aren’t attracted to penises, I can understand that-neither am I! However, if you are categorically excluding trans women even in cases where you would be attracted to them if they were cis, where the simple fact that they are trans and that fact alone (not broader shoulders, or personality differences, or whatever else may exist in the vast topography of human experience), then that is the part that sounds a lot like bigotry. I’m not saying it necessarily is, just that it walks like a duck and sounds like a duck.

    • I did not say that you are obligated to date trans women. If you don’t want to date trans women you have every right to that and you every right to state that up front with your partners to make sure they know that you aren’t comfortable with trans women in a romantic context.

      What I said was that no general means exist to categorically separate cis women from trans women on the whole. So it’s very possible that you have been attracted to a trans woman at some point, just without realizing it. Obviously you don’t have any obligation to actually date that person, but I have I also have a right to acknowledge the reality that trans women and cis women are all just women.

  36. there are some interesting (and expected) attacks going on here. i would never deny a trans* woman her identity as a woman, or a lesbian for that matter. that being said, personally, i don’t think i would date a trans woman, directly because of her genitalia. i like women, yes. but i also like vagina. like the actual vagina. if a trans man had a vagina, would i date him? no, because i like women. and vaginas. therefore i am attracted to women who have vaginas. this is what i like! this is what a lot of lesbians like. some lesbians just like women. and other people like other things. can we just respect all of this?

        • a trans woman with a vagina? is a woman with a vagina. what wasn’t clear about my post?

          @amy: wow, what a shitty thing to say. cool.

          • “some lesbians just like women. and other people like other things. can we just respect all of this?”

            Implication: women without vaginas aren’t women.

          • to quote you: “that being said, personally, i don’t think i would date a trans woman, directly because of her genitalia.” then said “i am attracted to women who have vaginas.” Thats what was unclear about your post. Or actually you made it very clear what kind of assumptions you were making about what kind of genitalia trans women have. Thus Amy’s response about revealing your true motives.

          • You said you wouldn’t date trans women because you like vaginas. This implied that trans women don’t ever have vaginas. Plenty of trans women have vaginas, so your post made no sense.

        • Hi Amy, let’s try not to question everyone’s motives here. Personally, I think Janest’s original statement was perfectly fine.

    • @janesth – funny, we posted the same idea/premise right after each other and have the same name too! For the record to everyone else reading, we are two different people!

    • Well, in the original article, Savannah specifically said that nobody has to date anyone they don’t want to. Those people in the comments who say that refusing to date someone with a penis is transmisogyny are off base. As has been shown above, there are plenty of valid reasons, including history and personal preference, not to want to be in a romantic encounter with someone who is bepenised. However! Saying that penis=man and that someone who has a penis isn’t and cannot be a woman is wrong. It sounds like you agree that that’s wrong so I don’t think there’s any issue. There are people on both sides who are going too far, however.

  37. If a subset of entitled, penis wielding individuals would stop proselytizing that women who are not attracted to said penises are bigots, we might be able to get along a little better. A straight man who accepts a gay male friend for who he is gets called a hero, and when he draws the line at sucking his gay friend’s cock, no one calls him homophobic. It’s expected that he isn’t attracted to people with penises. He’s a man and so nobody questions him. If you think you are a woman, fine, feel free, but it is twisted and megalomaniacal to keep your cock and expect lesbians to prove you’re a woman by suddenly finding your cock – a male vestige of ever there was one – irresistible. Sorry, but no. I’m so sad for the women who are going along with this to keep the peace. They’re being oppressed.

    • NO ONE IS SAYING THAT! I hate when people comment on things that they clearly haven’t read carefully. Here are two direct quotes from the article:

      1. “First of all, you should never feel pressured to do anything you don’t want to do or that you’re even unsure about. If you aren’t comfortable or you just aren’t into it, say no.”

      2. “Now, I want to emphasize here again that no one is obligated to touch a woman’s penis if they aren’t into that” (she goes on to note that not all trans women have penises).

      If you take issue with a point the Savannah made, that’s fine – everyone’s entitled to there opinions. But don’t put words in her mouth.

    • 1) The man with the gay friend who wouldn’t suck his cock, isn’t saying his gay friend isn’t a guy.
      2) No one is saying you have to be attracted to the penis. I’m not actually. Saying that I mean. Or attracted to penis either. I feel like this is something I will be repeating through this thread. Nope. No one has to like penis. No. Nope.
      3)”If you think you’re a woman…” Nice, that’s a subtle bit of the ole passive-aggressive non-committal you have going there. THIS is what the discussion is about. Penis = Not female is the issue.

      Because hey, if you’re going to spring for the thousands upon thousands of dollars for poor or low SES folks to be able to qualify for your Finance-For-Femme qualifications as female, I will be sure to let them know. Until then, realize that many woman who happen to have penises, can neither have the surgery or every be privileged enough to manage it.


      i love all kinds of cocks on all kinds of dykes, what does that make me?
      i think the only correct answer here is awesommmmmmme

      • Congratulations! You have won “Best comment of the year” award, and your comment has been entered into the running for “Best Comment of the Decade”!

      • Savannah rocked it!

        also who ever wrote:

        “i love all kinds of cocks on all kinds of dykes, what does that make me?
        i think the only correct answer here is awesommmmmmme”

        also the folks putting themselves out their even when this thread is overly trolled.

    • Yeah, Wyeth Bailey, you just totally misinterpreted the entire article with this comment.

  38. It was mentioned several times here and elsewhere that it’s ok for a cis lesbian to not want to be sexually intimate with someone who has a penis, as long as her reason isn’t because she thinks the person isn’t “really” a woman. But I also notice that one of the most common ‘tips’ cis women get on how to not be cissexist is to not ask a trans woman about her genitalia. It makes me wonder what lesbians with an aversion to penises, possibly as a result of severe trauma, should do when they find themselves attracted to a woman they discover is trans*. How can it be ok for them to avoid penises but not ok for them to ask if a woman they may be sexually interested in has one?

    • That’s a damn good question. Seriously.
      The whole “disclose or not” thing is constantly being talked about and considered by Trans* folks for many of those reasons.

      There has to be a way to find respect for the personal past and possibilities of negative reactions while maintaining a semblance of respect for Trans* woman as well. Balancing these two things without it being done at the cost of anyone else begins to appear near impossible without very open dialog or understanding.

    • “one of the most common ‘tips’ cis women get on how to not be cissexist is to not ask a trans woman about her genitalia”

      Upon first meeting her. While she is a casual acquaintance. If she’s just a friend. In a non-sexual situation. These are inappropriate times to ask ANYONE about their genitalia. Context is key.

      If you’re about to sleep with someone, and you have a serious trigger re: penises? It’s totally ok to bring that up. It’s entirely likely, before you reach that point, you will have already brought it up in some capacity. You can even address it without asking someone about their junk. “I have a serious trigger with penises… will that be a problem?” “Because of my past, I am triggered by penises. Nothing personal, but it’s a deal-breaker for me.”

      However, if you’re using an aversion to penis as an excuse to avoid being around trans women entirely, regardless of whether you’re dating them or not? And/or if you use it to categorically exclude *all* trans women regardless of what genitalia they have? Then your motives are not sincere, and you should examine whether this is really about triggers or not.

      • Hi Amy, I am interested by the language you have chosen about being ‘triggered’ by penises. My understanding of a trigger is that it is something which may cause a strong and distressing emotional response, especially where that is linked to past trauma. The words you have used about a person saying they were triggered by penises because of their past.

        However, this is not how I would generally understand people who do not wish to be sexual with someone with a penis. Being sexually uninterested in penises as part of one’s sexual orientation would seem to me to be quite different from being ‘triggered’ by them. So I am just curious about why you are using this language about triggering?

        I myself am quite fond of penises, on whomever they come (sorry), but the things I find triggering are quite different from things I am just not turned on by. I find a partner touching my neck to be triggering, because someone once tried to strangle me. In contrast, I’m not interested in certain sex acts with a partner, not because they trigger memories a trauma response but because I’m just… not.

        • The last sentence of the first paragraph is meant to read “The words you have used about a person saying they were triggered by penises because of their past would seem to reflect this understanding”.

        • Hi Autostraddle powers that be, I am just wondering if someone could edit my comment to delete what I put in about a specific act of violence that triggers me. I re-read it and realised that while I may have come to accept that experience, others may find it triggering and I don’t wish that for them. Thanks, and sorry.

      • “If you’re about to sleep with someone, and you have a serious trigger re: penises? It’s totally ok to bring that up. It’s entirely likely, before you reach that point, you will have already brought it up in some capacity. You can even address it without asking someone about their junk. “I have a serious trigger with penises… will that be a problem?” “Because of my past, I am triggered by penises. Nothing personal, but it’s a deal-breaker for me.”

        If you ‘pass’ so well then why on earth would I think to bring that up. Let’s be honest, no lesbian is going to sit down and have a conversation about not being okay with penises unless they suspect the person they’re with might have one. In that situation you would KNOW you had one and you would know the other person DIDN’T KNOW you had one – so it’s your responsibility to tell her and then see her response. Kind of seems like you’re acting oblivious. I understand that rejection doesn’t feel great but it doesn’t feel great for anyone, if you don’t tell that person that you have a penis until you’re in a sexual situation then I think you’re in the wrong.

        • “in the wrong”… what exactly does that mean? Morally culpable?

          Many trans women have been attacked, raped or murdered and their attackers have gotten off with reduced jail sentences (or gotten off completely) using a variation of the argument that you are using right now.

          In fact, in some cases it has turned out that the attacker probably knew she was trans all along, decided to kill her after he had gotten what he wanted out of her, then pretended he didn’t know in court as a legal defense.

          Of course, that is largely cis men that are culpable for such attacks, but I am extremely uncomfortable with this idea that people are obligated to know something about someone’s body type at whatever point. Having a penis and not telling someone about it isn’t a crime (nor should it be). Even when making out or intimate contact is involved, if you realize someone has a body that you aren’t comfortable you are free to exit the encounter, but they haven’t morally wronged you by not telling about your genitalia.

          I generally *do* tell my partners about this kind of thing in advance, just for the record, but nevertheless I’m not going to buy into any aspect of these types of victim-blaming arguments. No way.

          • I’m not victim blaming, not once did I say anyone deserved to be hurt because of it and not once did I say someone should react violently when they find out. I mean you’re in the wrong as in yes, you should’ve told that person that information. You’re possibly KNOWINGLY putting them into a situation they aren’t comfortable with. If you respected them and their comfort zones then you would’ve told them.

            Surely you realize that something is a little wrong if you get into a sexual situation and you haven’t told that person that you don’t have the body that they presume you have – otherwise you wouldn’t tell your own partners beforehand!

          • I didn’t accuse you of *explicitly* endorsing victim-blaming, I think clearly what I meant was implicitly endorsing it.

            There are plenty of situations that trans women get into where they actually have basically no chance or no moment in which they could possibly relate that information and be safe. There have been times when men sexually assaulted trans women, then discovered she had a penis, took that as an act of ‘deception’ (despite the fact that she explicitly refused his advances in the first place) then attacked her on that basis.

            I’m sorry but the picture is just more complex and nuanced than the one you are imagining. Yes, I agree that in most ordinary circumstances it is a better course of action to have that discussion beforehand. As I stated above that is my own approach. That having been said, given the vulnerabilities that trans women face to sexualized violence and the particular victim-blaming narratives that surround that, trying to paint a simplified picture of these dynamics as the basic truth of “HOW IT SHOULD ALWAYS GO DOWN” in big capital letters is extremely harmful and trans-misogynistic in the larger picture of things.

            Sorry, again while I agree with you on the better course of things when possible, I’m not in any scenario going to pretend that things are always that simple. They aren’t.

          • I’m not endorsing violence towards trans people at all. I myself am not all that comfortable with male bodies, I do not want to be in a sexual situation with anyone who has one. Yes I understand that trans people can not always be sure that they can disclose their sex status safely (although I would like to point out that these attacks very often come from cis men, not from lesbians) but I still think when it can be disclosed, it should be disclosed. I can say that it’s wrong when someone does not tell the other person they’re trans AND not support people using violence if they find out the person they’re with is trans.

          • Sure Amy, you can hold both positions at once but here’s the thing: the scenario you are talking about that you seem so concerned about (a trans woman not disclosing that she has a penis to a cis woman before engaging in sexual relations) is actually pretty damn rare. It doesn’t happen all that often to start with so I just don’t get why you are so concerned about it.

            On the other hand, violence against trans women and victim-blaming narratives are very common. It’s a bit like the endless tangled narratives around rape: so much concern is raised over false rape allegations that it tends to cast a cloud of doubt over very real victims of rape when the come forward to tell their stories.

            Given how rarely the issue of challenging violence against trans women is discussed in society at large, are you really so comfortable making this unlikely “she didn’t tell me about her penis!!” scenario the front-and-center issue?

            And finally it’s almost always trans *women* who are vulnerable to this type of violence, not “trans people.”

          • “It doesn’t happen all that often to start with so I just don’t get why you are so concerned about it.”

            Similarly, if it doesn’t happen all that often why have you (and others) defended it so much? (To be fair, I didn’t actually think it did happen all that often which is why I was surprised to see people defending it to start off with)

            I don’t really understand why you’ve changed this into a discussion about violence against trans people (or trans women as you say) when I didn’t actually say anything about violence. Of course violently attacking someone because they didn’t tell you about their genitals isn’t ok, but I didn’t say it was.

            And if you can make the point that most of the violence is aimed at trans women, i’ll again make the point that most of the violence comes from cis men – not other women.

          • The reason this became a conversation about violence against trans women is because with your words you stepped directly into that (pre-existing and often vastly misunderstood) conversation without realizing it.

            First of all, yes, the vast majority of that violence comes from cis men, of course that’s true. But think about this: when a woman (cis, trans, whoever) repeats the common victim blaming narratives about rape (e.g. imagine a woman responding, “Oh, well what was she wearing?”), doesn’t that just help to excuse it when men say the same things?

            By a similar token, when you as a cis woman are repeating talking points that are commonly used to justify male violence against trans women, you are chipping in on the validity of those arguments here in the public domain.

            And again, I will emphasize, this conversation probably has no impact on you in any case. Think about it, this scenario that a non-op trans woman meets a cis woman at a club or whatever, then goes home with her and intentionally never mentions her genital configuration, have you ever actually heard of that happening? I never have, and I would be surprised if your answer to that were ‘yes.’

            (There are possibilities like a trans woman could assume that someone else realizes they are trans, when in fact they didn’t, but okay you know I still don’t think that’s the end of the world or anything).

            I have however seen a couple times when a trans woman has deliberately kept something back with a cis man btw… I think it’s still quite uncommon, but slightly more likely for some reasons that are a bit immaterial to this conversation. Maybe it’s not super-smart to do that in a trans-misogynistic society, but she doesn’t deserve or violence or to be called a ‘rapist’ because of it (which has happened).

            And then like I said, there are instances where a dude knew all along, and then pretends not to know for the sake of getting off for anti-woman violence both in court and in the popular opinion.

            So my point here is that when you talk about this scenario, even if you are a cis woman you’re not actually speaking about something that generally happens between cis women and trans women. Knowingly or not, you’re stepping your foot into a conversation about male violence against trans women. And yes, in that context I’m going to ask you to please speak responsibly and refrain from making statements that amount to victim-blaming against trans women in real world circumstances.

          • I didn’t accuse you of *explicitly* endorsing victim-blaming, I think clearly what I meant was implicitly endorsing it.

            There are plenty of situations that trans women get into where they actually have basically no chance or no moment in which they could possibly relate that information and be safe. There have been times when men sexually assaulted trans women, then discovered she had a penis, took that as an act of ‘deception’ (despite the fact that she explicitly refused his advances in the first place) then attacked her on that basis.

            I’m sorry but the picture is just more complex and nuanced than the one you are imagining. Yes, I agree that in most ordinary circumstances it is a better course of action to have that discussion beforehand. As I stated above that is my own approach. That having been said, given the vulnerabilities that trans women face to sexualized violence and the particular victim-blaming narratives that surround that, trying to paint a simplified picture of these dynamics as the basic truth of “HOW IT SHOULD ALWAYS GO DOWN” in big capital letters is extremely harmful and trans-misogynistic in the larger picture of things.

            Sorry, again while I agree with you on the better course of things when possible, I’m not in any scenario going to pretend that things are always that simple. They aren’t.

        • Maybe you shouldn’t assume that people you hook up with are cis just because they don’t look obviously trans?

          “People are obligated to inform me if they have an inobvious medical condition I find triggering,” seems to be your argument.

    • Unrelated, but it feels a little uncomfortable to see someone else posting with the same handle as me! :P Funny how internet handles can feel like an identity.

    • Being honest about your feelings doesn’t mean you have to quiz her on her body! You should totally tell potential partners about discomforts you may have and give people heads up about issues you might face! Open the conversation with *your* thoughts and *your* feelings about *your* preferences and how *you* navigate sex and give her the information she needs so she can help! Maybe she just lets you know she doesn’t have a penis and that makes a lot of things easier, maybe it starts a large conversation about what your comfort level with it all means for you two, or maybe that’s just where you two decide that it’s not a great match and go from there.

      Communication is great and the best way to communicate is for each person to talk about the part they actually know: their own feelings and issues. All of that can take place without you asking someone about their genitals.

      • Exactly. I believe that two women can be open with each other and are capable of working out their sexual boundaries together in a way that is open and honest. People can be up-front about their deal-breakers and where they are coming from, and that needs to be respected by all parties all times. And yes, we can work these things out amongst ourselves in individual situations.

        Communication is the key.

    • This IS a really good and really important question. As a cis woman with a trans partner (who has dated other trans people in the past) I can say that this isn’t generally usually as big of a deal as you might expect. Asking someone you just met what her genitals look like is clearly rude and offensive, but, in my experience, every healthy sexual encounter includes a beforehand discussion. Stuff like, “When were you last tested for STDs?” and “Are you seeing anyone else?” and “Are there any triggers or strong preferences that I need to know about before we have sex?” and “Do we need to use a dental dam or some other kind of protection?”

      In the context of talking to a trans woman who you are seriously considering sleeping with (and who is seriously considering sleeping with you, of course), questions like “Have you had SRS?” and (if applicable) “Are you comfortable using your penis during sex?” and “Have you been on HRT and are you still fertile?” are completely acceptable questions, and I personally don’t think that most trans women would be offended by you asking.

      But then again, I’m the kind of person who has a sit-down talk with anyone I sleep with, and I know that’s not something everyone does because it feels awkward to a lot of people. I think these kinds of beforehand discussions, regardless of the person’s orientation, are healthy for everyone.

  39. The focus on one body part – the penis – is transphobia disguised as ‘preference’, nothing else. ANYTHING can be a trigger or in general a turn off for a person. It’s also TOTALLY possible to have a sexual relationship with a person who has a penis, while communicating boundaries, turn ons, turn offs, triggers, etc., and this can include deciding not to have sexual touching involving that part (or their feet, or hands, or tongue, or certain words, or certain places, or a specific position, a facial expression, a sound, …you get it). The same goes for all of our million body and mind parts. The thinking that a body part in and of itself is triggering is problematic, when this argument ONLY ever applies to trans women.

    I am not writing this to disregard the narratives of survivors, but instead widen the conversation around sexual assault and triggers, and how these factors seems to surface in conversations around trans women’s bodies. Like the author wrote, there is no way to distinguish who is or isn’t trans, and if we strive for a standard of communication and consent in all of our sexual relationships it’s totally possible to work with what we all got!

    Trans women as a whole population are not responsible for rape culture, and in fact experience higher rates of sexual violence in general (from the stats I’ve read). We need to consider how appealing to arguments that “trans bodies trigger me” uphold transmisogny and wrongly demonize women in our communities.

    • I’m a trans woman and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, which happened at the hands of cis men and cis women. I’m perfectly capable of navigating my triggers while dating without using them to invalidate someone else’s lived experience or identity. It’s not that hard.

      The way these anti-trans attacks are often phrase, the implication is that trans women are never raped and have no inkling about rape culture or violence towards women. This shows a fundamental understanding of trans women and what we experience. As you said, yes, trans women are even more prone to sexual assault and rape, and have fewer support resources available to us. We are no stranger to triggers or sexual assault.

      The focus on penises by anti-trans types uses the language of triggers, but tends to come down to one thing: They (falsely) symbolize the penis as the very incarnation of patriarchy, and then use this association to attack trans women.

      If you’re triggered by penises, you’re triggered by penises. That is no excuse to treat trans women like crap. Guess what? We don’t all have penises. And if you’re upset by penises? Those of us that have them don’t *want* to date you.

      Because of my history, I’m often triggered by cis women who look like my abusers. I don’t ask those women to leave women’s spaces because of it. I navigate my triggers as needed, take responsibility for managing them myself, and communicate my needs to others when appropriate. I *don’t* use my triggers to demonize other people or exclude them from their own communities.

    • I fully believe that trans* women are women. Plain and simple. That said, it is not the job of ANY woman to have sex with someone they don’t want to have sex with or to have sex that they are not comfortable having. You don’t have a right to judge their reasons, to tell them they should create all kinds of boundaries, to have conversations they may not want to have, and then call them transphobic if they don’t bend over backward to have sex with someone who clearly doesn’t make them feel comfortable sexually. If a penis in bed with them triggers their sexual assault, it’s not their job to work through it so that they can have sex with someone they don’t feel comfortable having sex with so that they won’t be judged as transphobic. That’s absolutely horrifying logic.

      In fact, it’s even okay if for people who haven’t been sexually assaulted to just exclusively be into sex with those who have vaginas, because all women (trans* and cis) should only have sex with those they are fully turned on by and enthusiastically into having sex with. Don’t women have enough people trying to pressure us into sexual acts?

    • “For the record I would have a relationship with a penis possessor as long as I never had to touch or see said penis in a sexual context.”

      And there are a lot of pre op/non op women (like myself) who could ‘prolly be quite happy with that, as there are a lot of us who (for obvious reasons) don’t/can’t deal with our junk in sexual (or any other) situations. I don’t know about most trans* women, but for me and my girl engaging in any way with our genitals as they exist right now would be a huge emotional struggle. It’s just not worth it to me, that’s why I’ve been so stone for much of my life.

      p.s. Thanks for the goodness, being seen by a butch always makes me melt a bit.

  40. “The thinking that a body part in and of itself is triggering is problematic, when this argument ONLY ever applies to trans women.”

    What. in. the. fuck? I can’t even continue reading after this total bullshit of a line…an absolute insult to all rape survivors as well as just totally wrong (“ONLY applies to trans woman? *rolls eyes*.) Shameful.

  41. I hate that this has become such a problem with “cis”-women. (I put that in quotation marks because I don’t normally use the terms trans/cis. We’re just women for goodness sake.) What’s even more frustrating is that when I’m in a long-term, very serious relationship with my girlfriend, and people question my sexuality along with her gender identity, and I end up fighting two battles. YES I’m a lesbian, YES she’s a woman. She doesn’t wear make-up/heels/skirts as she would like, or as people might expect (frequently, but does when in a safe environment), and suddenly people correct my pronoun usage. THAT’S sexist in my opinion. So, another tip might be simply because a woman isn’t wearing clothes that allow her to “pass” (a term I hate) doesn’t take away from her being a woman.

    Also, being genuinely interested in a woman and then realizing she hasn’t fully transitioned and then loosing interest because you’re solely focused on someone’s genitals is not only shallow, but cruel. It’s not as if transwomen asked to have it, so why you does that determine your willingness to date them? I’m baffled by women that separate cis/transwomen like their two entirely different genders. (Genders, no sexes, there’s a difference)

  42. “The focus on one body part – the penis – is transphobia disguised as ‘preference’, nothing else. ANYTHING can be a trigger or in general a turn off for a person. It’s also TOTALLY possible to have a sexual relationship with a person who has a penis, while communicating boundaries, turn ons, turn offs, triggers, etc., and this can include deciding not to have sexual touching involving that part (or their feet, or hands, or tongue, or certain words, or certain places, or a specific position, a facial expression, a sound, …you get it). The same goes for all of our million body and mind parts. The thinking that a body part in and of itself is triggering is problematic, when this argument ONLY ever applies to trans women.”

    Oh boy. There is so much wrong with this. Also, genitals are different than our other “million body parts”.

    Great to know that lesbians can have sexual relationships with men as long as they have boundaries!

    This whole thing is ludicrous.