A guest writer explains why accusations of privilege leveled at assigned female at birth (afab) non binary people are rooted in misogyny and transphobia. This writer has asked to remain anonymous.
Even before writing a word here, I wonder if I should. When you belong to a marginalised group the desire to present a united front is strong, especially when there is always a risk of your words being used against you. So you resort to self censorship, back channels. DM’s where you vent, whilst smiling sweetly in public. However, this means that toxicity is allowed to fester, idea’s never challenged. Behind closed doors has historically been a justification for abuse to be ignored, and it feels important to change that narrative.
I am angry, angry that instead of using my energy to fight for better representation of non binary people and all gender diverse people I am having to deal with the emotions brought up by the attitudes of some other non binary people. Angry that the trope of assigned female at birth non binary people living in some wonderful paradise where everything is perfect has reared it’s head again. It is a harmful, misogynist, erasive idea, and it needs to end. So here are my five reasons you hurt all gender diverse people when you perpetuate it.
Number 1. Having a vagina doesn’t make me less valid.
Historically women, and those assumed to be women because of their assignment at birth have been assumed to be less intellectually able than cis men. Serious ideas are male, female means to be concerned with the trivial and the mundane. It is rarely asked why Judith Shakespeare is not well known, instead it is assumed women are incapable of producing masterpieces. A lot of the accusations thrown at afab non binary people seem to carry the idea that we are less serious than those assigned male at birth (amab). They have serious thoughts about gender, we have a fashion trend we saw on tumblr. This is misogyny plain and simple. Which brings me to;
Number 2: My dysphoria is as real as your dysphoria
We all inherit cissexism and a lot of us internalise ideas about what trans should look like. This leads us to make assumptions about what a trans body should look like. However, these are just that, assumptions and it is up to all of us to work on our own stuff before projecting it onto other people. So I cannot wear a binder for medical reasons, that does not mean I am somehow less trans than you. Nor is it a compliment to say I “suit breasts” or even worse “have attractive breasts”. These are genuine comments that have been said to me more than once. Being non consensually sexualised as female, because my body shape matches a cis norm of female attractiveness is pretty damn dysphoria inducing. Or to put it another way, you finding me sexually attractive, and preferring to then read me as female is transphobic as fuck and needs to stop.
Number 3: Women are not privileged in our society
It feels so tiring to even have to write that line. I am not a woman, but I have been perceived to be a woman for most of my life. Being seen to be a woman in our society is not a place of privilege. I do have many privileges, I am white, not physically disabled, I live in a country which in law at least respects my sexuality, and will not arrest or imprison me for my gender. I am not a migrant or a refugee, I know tonight I can sleep in a safe bed, after eating healthy food of my choosing. I am acutely aware of all the privileges I have, however within the intersections of those privileges being perceived as a woman means I am more likely to be raped, to be a victim of domestic violence (especially as a bisexual). It means I will be paid less, and see those perceived to be male promoted ahead of me. If I am in pain I am less likely to receive adequate pain medication, and if I marry I will be expected to put my father’s name on the “transfer of ownership” documents we call a marriage certificate. Should a cis woman, or trans person assumed to be a woman, exercise their reproductive rights, laws will be placed on them. Their control over their own body is seen to be less important than male decisions about their body, to the extent they are forced to give birth against their will.
When amab non binary people tell me that being perceived as female is a privilege not only are they erasing my gender identity but they are erasing the very real oppression women (cis and trans) face. Which brings me to:
Number 4: Can we ditch the trans misogyny?
If you argue that it is an advantage for trans people to be perceived as female, then presumably you extend this to binary trans people too? If you do then you are erasing the very real violence that binary trans women face. In some ways this is linked to the previous point, although we have to do the linking very carefully, since the oppression binary trans women and trans feminine people in general face are separate things. Trans misogyny is a complex interplay of different affects, often rooted in ideas around the feminine being lesser in our society, so there being something wrong with “choosing” to be feminine. Not that gender is a choice, but, trans women are often treated as if their way of expressing their gender is selfish. Just today the Guardian ran a piece saying how transition is self centered and selfish. To be a trans woman is to be on the receiving end of hate, abuse, and violence. To therefore say that being trans and feminine is a privilege is either erasing these women, or their gender. Both are wrong.
Number 5; Cis privilege is a thing, passing privilege not so much
Part of the argument around afab non binary people having privilege seems to rest on the idea people see us as cis. It is true this might protect some of us from violence aimed at gender non conforming people (although not from violence aimed at those assumed to be women) The thing is when someone assumes I am cis, they are misgendering me. Misgendering is never nice, it can be immensely triggering, and it is never ever a privilege, if you think it is, then you have to go away and work on your internalised transphobia. The idea of passing is a cisnormative one, based on ideas of how someone should express their gender. It carries within it the ideas of deception, which are heavily charged, and dangerous. I should not have to carry a big sign saying “Not a woman” to have my gender respected. When it is disrespected I should not be told that this is a privilege. Yes, I accept that the more gender non conforming someone appears, the more at risk of abuse they are, but this does not mean that it is OK when my gender is wrongly assumed, or that it does not hurt.
I wish I did not have to write this, it is a sunny afternoon, there are things I would much rather be doing. If we do not do better, as a non binary community though, we risk simply perpetuating the privileges and oppression of cis culture, and that idea saddens me immensely.