Quote: passing is a product of oppression

I’m still reading Trans Gender Warriors by Leslie Feinberg. I’m working on a post about the roots of trans oppression, but it’s not ready yet. Tonight I’m sharing a quote that I thought was absolutely amazing. Check this out:

“We have not always been forced to pass, to go underground, in order to work and live. We have a right to live openly and proudly. When we are denied those rights, we are the ones who suffer that oppression. But when our lives are suppressed, everyone is denied an understanding of the rich diversity of sex and gender expression and experience that exist in human society.

I have lived as a man because I could not survive openly as a transgendered person. Yes, I am oppressed in this society, but I am not merely a product of oppression. That is a phrase that renders all our trans identities meaningless. Passing means having to hide your identity in fear, in order to live. Being forced to pass is a recent historical development.

It is passing that is a product of oppression.” (p88–89).

This is amazing because this is exactly what I think. It’s okay to be a masculine woman or a feminine man, but people don’t think it’s okay, because they’re bigots. So masculine women have to pretend to be literally male and feminine men have to pretend to be literally female so they will be safe from the bigots who think their gender has to align with their sex. Passing means making people think you literally are the sex that corresponds with your gender expression. Not passing means that people know your sex as well as your gender. If it was okay for anyone to present how they want, then there would be no need to pass. Interestingly, radical feminists do think that anyone should be able to present how they want. The bigots are those who maintain that everyone who is feminine is literally female and everyone who is masculine is literally male. Strangely enough, modern trans activists are promoting this bigoted position toward their own community. I keep waiting for them to notice that they are transphobic, but so far, no luck.

I keep saying that Leslie Feinberg only lived “as a man” because she couldn’t live as a masculine woman. The reasons she couldn’t live as a masculine woman are called sexism and homophobia. Here it is right in her own book: being forced to pass as something you are not is a product of oppression. How refreshing, and surprising, to hear this from a trans activist!

If trans people weren’t discriminated against, then they wouldn’t have to pretend to be literally the opposite sex in order to live their lives. They’d be able to accept both their sex and their gender expression and everyone else would accept it too. There would be no rules that only certain gender expressions go with certain bodies. So, along the path to trans liberation, we need to be honest about sex and gender, rather than trying to hide one or the other. It’s okay to admit that transwomen are biologically male and that transmen are biologically female. No harm done in speaking the truth. Humans come in all types, some of us don’t look the way men or women usually look, and that’s okay! It doesn’t need to be hidden. It’s not bigoted to know who people are and accept them as is.

Also: she talks about not being a product of oppression in the middle paragraph. What she means by that is that she was not “passing as a man” in order to escape women’s oppression, as some people suggested. She was born unusually masculine for a girl, and she didn’t manufacture this deliberately as a strategy to escape women’s oppression. Just in case anybody’s wondering about that paragraph.

Sometimes I very much agree with Feinberg on something, but then other times we disagree. Following this amazing quote she talked about how we can’t define ‘woman’ in any way because defining it would leave people out. *sigh* You can’t win ’em all.

21 thoughts on “Quote: passing is a product of oppression

  1. Oh, fer feck sake. I think there’s a paragraph in here that will look contradictory. When I say she didn’t become masculine to escape women’s oppression, I mean that she didn’t decide to have the physical features and mannerisms that she was born with. She did take hormones and get top surgery, and that was a decision she made. So she didn’t decide to be masculine, but she did decide to pass as a man. I hope this is clear and I don’t get 17 messages saying I’ve contradicted myself!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “If trans people weren’t discriminated against, then they wouldn’t have to pretend to be literally the opposite sex in order to live their lives.”

    I guess this is also why trans activists claim that radfems are putting them in physical danger by saying a trans man is a woman or a trans woman is a man: if people start thinking of trans people as being their birth sex, then trans people will be more likely to be attacked by bigots who oppose gender nonconformity? Or… something like that? The ideal would then be just not drawing attention to trans people’s gender nonconformity at all, which some advocates do (“trans women are just like real women! we just want to live our lives! there is no difference whatsoever, our brains are female!”) but others…. don’t and don’t get any pushback for it (“i’m a queer, kinky, polyamorous, neurodivergent trans d*ke, down with cis! the word ‘uterus’ is transphobic please use ‘baby pouch’ instead”). Or sometimes it’s the exact same trans advocate.

    Idk maybe I’m overthinking this, and they just feel left out by feminism and are also kind of dumb

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, sort of. There’s a minor issue where, if you “out” a passing person, you could be putting them in danger — someone might be an actual bigot and attack them. But of course, painting that as “radfems are violent” is a manipulative lie.

      And for non-passing transpeople (etc) I think in a basic daily interaction (like the store) it is appropriate to completely ignore their appearance. I mean, it’s just rude otherwise, just as rude as if someone else came in with a crazy outfit or looking like a hot mess or something else you didn’t like. IF that makes sense.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. How about all the trans who are proud of “passing”. Who are proud to be deceivers and liars??? Like the trans that just got knifed to death by a soldier for tricking him into sex??? Wasn’t he just asking for it? (I know, how sexist of me).

    Liked by 1 person

    • How are we supposed to live our lives, to live without being “deceivers and liars”?

      Stepping away from trans issues, consider disability issues. It can be very hard for a disabled minority to explain their or our experiences to the abled majority. I have sensory processing issues. Among other issues, I haven’t had clear-cut seizures, but I have had migraines, and vomiting, when hit by flashing lights such as strobe lights and turn signals, and can lose my sight, balance, and direction, and end up stumbling blindly. Not only do I have an oft-impossible time getting around, I have a hard time getting through to most people, because most people don’t share the same experiences, and the language doesn’t have words intended for these experiences.

      I don’t pass as abled– when I go on errands, I wear ear plugs, ear protectors, an eye patch, and special sunglasses to try to protect myself against the sensory bombardment.

      But if I mention a strobe sensitivity, and someone assumes seizures, and I don’t correct them, do I become a “deceiver and liar”?


      • I don’t think this is a perfect comparison. The problem with hiding one’s biological sex arises when conducting intimate relationships. When you know that someone’s sexual orientation limits them to being interested in only one type of genitals, and you have the oppose type, and you enter a relationship without saying anything ahead of time, that is a serious lie. But it’s different when you don’t fully explain your disability to people.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I don’t actually think trans women are obligated to disclose what their naked bodies look like (nor are men with small penises, nor are humans of any sex with scars or stretch marks), but even if they were… how many trans women have tried to seduce you without telling you that they were trans? I don’t get the impression that there’s a huge social epidemic here. Trans people have excellent selfish reasons to ask about their date’s attitudes toward trans bodies before anybody’s clothes come off, and to avoid sex with people who don’t respect their perspectives or like their bodies.


        • DeviantLogic, you’re back? There are transwomen who comment online who think that they shouldn’t have to disclose their trans status and who fantasize about tricking women. I’m not sure how common it is in real life. Hopefully not common at all!

          Liked by 1 person

  4. OH WHAT BULLSHIT. I said it when I had to read Feinberg’s shit in college & I’m saying it again. Nobody “forced” her to live as a man or a woman or a cat or a dog. It was HER CHOICE. Give me a fucking break already. I have a lower voice than lots of men & I talk plain & butch & I was told since I was a young girl that “ladies” don’t talk like that. My response was always, THIS IS WHO I AM. Fuck this trans boohoo BS.


    • You’ve made a similar comment here before, and I really don’t like what you’re implying here. Saying that something is a woman’s choice aligns with the third-wave watered-down “feminism” that I am against. I look at the structural reasons that influence people’s behavior. Feinberg was severely discriminated against and harassed for her appearance, and she passed as a man to stay safe. You don’t sound at all respectful of the trouble she went through. I don’t agree with all her positions and politics, but I can recognize that she faced discrimination. If we stopped our analysis at “it’s a woman’s choice” then we’d have no problem with any other aspect of women’s oppression just because some women claim to “choose” it. Some women “choose” porn, so should we stop analyzing the reasons why they make that choice and the circumstances surrounding it, and the problems they face within it? Same thing.

      Liked by 4 people

      • Please forgive me. I do not mean to imply any kind of third-wave watered-down “feminism” that focuses on “choice”. And I am not saying that Feinberg did not face discrimination or was not beat up for being who she was. I just question having to “pass” as a “man” to “stay safe”. It seems to me that in our current culture, she wasn’t safe either way.


  5. I think a lot of people understand that gender non-conforming people get beat up, ostracized, stigmatized – you name it – for not conforming. I think that’s the main reason that people who haven’t thought through the implications of the trans agenda, but want to be progressive, to create a humane world, feel sympathetic to trans people and wish to be allies. It’s one of the key reasons, IMO, the trans agenda has been able to advance as quickly as it has.

    I can totally understand why it would be easier, given this f’ed up world, to just pretend you’re the opposite sex. Esp for kids. Who wants to see their kids suffer? This is why I was saying to a trans-sympathetic friend the other day, we don’t need trans indoctrination in schools – the money is better spent on anti-bullying programs that teach kids to reject gender stereotypes.

    But, honestly, I don’t think those are the type of trans that gender critics have a problem with politically. It’s the autogynephiles, who appear to be the most numerous, most vocal, and most powerful in the trans movement. Those sexist males are the danger to women. And they’re the ones who appear to be controlling the agenda.

    I also had to read Feinberg in college (one of my degrees is Women’s Studies – before it became gender studies.) We were required to read Stone Butch Blues and I really, REALLY disliked it. I can’t even remember why now. I read Purple Sage’s commentary on Feinberg b/c I respect her intellect and maybe there’s something I missed. But yeah, not a fan.


    • “But, honestly, I don’t think those are the type of trans that gender critics have a problem with politically.”

      In my experience, this isn’t true either, unfortunately. It’s being masked by a greater hatred for (perceived) AGP-types. But extremely gender-nonconforming homosexuals are frequently treated like shit in the LBGT community, and I have have seen many feminists claim butch/femmes are “doing it on purpose” to “mimic straight gender roles”, and have even seen butches called “traitors” for supposedly not embracing their supposed femininity.

      When I read how un-moved by Stone Butch Blues so many people are, it is a very chilling reminder of how much I am hated, and how little compassion feminists and other lesbians have for me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • When people say they didn’t like Stone Butch Blues I react with anger. I’ve read it several times and I’ve fallen in love with Jess, I’ve recognized my own community in the pages, I’ve witnessed the tragedy of sexism and homophobia at its worst when directed at butch lesbians, and I’ve wept for the harm done to women. I can understand not liking the book on the basis that it’s upsetting and hard to read, but when people just lash out at Feinberg because she made choices they don’t agree with, it comes across as insensitive and dismissive of what lesbians go through.


        • Lol, you can see that I sort of, uh…have some kind of trauma issue about it, because I feel like I’m “not allowed” to say I’m angry. Because if I do, I’ve found, I’m lashed-out at by people who are supposed to be my community.

          Something revealing though: I had a brief interaction with someone who didn’t like the book on FB, and her reason was that it “wasn’t feminist”. I think this sheds a lot of light on the different interpretations. To me, the book isn’t even intended to be feminist, and it shouldn’t be read as feminist literature. It’s a fictionalized memoir. The wrote it to ask the audience to have a little compassion for butch women and gnc people.

          In my experience, the people who don’t like it are “academic feminists” or middle-class lesbians. If that makes sense. Very reflective of all my lesbian community experiences. The insensitivity is baffling, there is always an underlying class issue, and the still-problematic issue of gender-nonconformity’s links to homosexuality rears its head.

          Liked by 1 person

        • I agree, it wasn’t intended to be a work of feminist theory. However, feminists should be concerned about the mistreatment of butch lesbians, so it should be relevant to feminists.
          Also, why dislike a book “because it isn’t feminist”? Lots of works of art might not be explicitly feminist but are still worth engaging with?


        • Lol. Yeah, it made me chuckle – apparently you can’t ever appreciate a book about lesbians unless it’s “feminist”. I think this is really exemplary of the “disconnect” from lived reality I’m seeing in a lot of current feminist discourse. Class analysis is great, but it needs to be applicable to life, or it’s useless. Feinberg “accepting her body” or whatever wouldn’t have done shit for her; she still would have had her head beat in.

          (Technically any work written by a woman can be read in a feminist context. But that doesn’t mean it *is* a feminist text. Lit majors do this all the time. I think the individual I spoke to made this mistake.)


        • When people say they didn’t like Stone Butch Blues I react with anger.

          When people want to overlook Feinberg’s contribution to ushering in the current trans insanity, I react with anger. Saying I don’t care for Feinberg’s book is not saying I don’t care about the suffering of butch lesbians. And BTW, there are plenty of lesbians critical of Feinberg.

          There’s an interesting thread on gendertrender about Feinberg here: https://gendertrender.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/leslie-feinberg-dead-at-65/ Bev Jo writes that she initially loved SBB because of the way Feinberg wrote about the butch lesbian experience, yet in retrospect realized the book was “horribly dangerous.”

          Bev Jo makes a further point I hadn’t thought about: She observes that Feinberg went trans at a time in history when lesbian culture was flourishing like never before. Someone else in the thread points out that Feinberg could have made the choice to join that culture. Instead she helped pave the way for, and normalize, dangerous medical practices.

          In that thread, it’s also pointed out that Feinberg did a stint at Camp Trans in ’95 and lectured Michfesters on how they should let men in.

          Empathy with what Feinberg wrote about so eloquently diminishes when one considers her full legacy.


  6. Passing or not passing as our assigned sexes can be a problem before transition too, which can be important to trans socialization as well as some detransitioners’.

    Disclosing before meeting someone shouldn’t be an issue either, but right now, it can be.

    Sexual orientation is kinda personal, but not everyone’s works the same way. I’m attracted to women, including other trans women, and I don’t think I’ve been attracted to men.

    And what is an autogynephile? A trans woman who’s not available to men, or not only available to men? A trans woman who hates her body? Or one who likes her body? Or one who fantasizes to cope with body issues and/or dysphoria? Is that just trans-specific issues, or do disabilities and chronic illnesses count too? Lawrence and Bailey insisted most respondents, from all orientations, to one study which contradicted their theory, must have been “autogynephilic” and “even more autogynephilic.”

    Liked by 1 person

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