Book Review: Tomboy Survival Guide

Last weekend I went to the library to browse through the queer books and I came across Tomboy Survival Guide by Ivan Coyote. I’ve heard other people say this book is good so I thought I should check it out. Coyote is an accomplished writer and speaker and a queer Canadian icon. Tomboy Survival Guide is their latest book, published in 2016.

Coyote is a talented storyteller who writes in a vulnerable way, heart exposed, and I was drawn in immediately. By the second chapter I already had tears running down my cheeks. The title suggests that this book is a guide for tomboys, but what it actually is is a memoir that is as much about family as it is about gender. The stories are about growing up as a tomboy, being a butch lesbian, and being a trans person, and they are also about being from a loving family from Whitehorse, Yukon—a family that remains important and valuable throughout the author’s life. Western Canada provides a beautiful backdrop for Coyote’s stories, whether it’s the Yukon or British Columbia.

I have been enjoying the book immensely over the past week while simultaneously struggling with the question of how I can review a book by someone who I support on some levels but who has very different political beliefs from me. Coyote is pro-trans, and is against my kind of feminism. Reading through their twitter account recently told me that Coyote calls women “TERFs.”  I cannot discuss this book without addressing this political divide and I can’t get very far into a discussion of their work without making a decision about pronoun use.

Coyote’s pronouns are “they/them” but I do not agree that a butch lesbian should be called ‘they.’ Calling a female human ‘they’ is supposed to imply that she is not female, but is instead somewhere in between, and it disappears the difference between gender and sex. A butch lesbian is biologically female and has a masculine gender. I don’t believe it’s right to imply that a non-feminine woman is not a woman at all—that reinforces the idea that all women must be feminine or else they aren’t women. The idea that all women must be feminine or else they aren’t women is one of the things that harms all of us. I think that when you agree that a masculine woman isn’t a woman, you are agreeing with the bullies who think she’s not okay the way she is.

I believe with all my heart that the way to support a butch lesbian is to respect her masculine gender and her femaleness, and to appreciate them both as integral parts of her that are both significant in making her who she is, and to maintain that being female and masculine isn’t a contradiction that needs to be resolved but something to honour and respect as it is. I think that calling her “they” to erase her femaleness does the same thing that straight women do when they tell her she doesn’t belong in the women’s washroom: it’s kicking her out of womanhood because she doesn’t fit the feminine standard.

With all that in mind, I know that if I were to support Coyote by calling her “she” it would be taken as me not supporting her because she uses “they.” Therefore I am going to use a mix of pronouns to acknowledge both my position and hers. It is my intention here to promote their work and their voice without letting go of my own perspective.

Whenever I read a book written by a butch, I see my own partner among the pages. Coyote’s book really hit home for me because she is a Canadian lesbian and so are my partner and I. In fact, I know that we have mutual acquaintances and some of my friends have seen her perform.

One of the first stories Coyote told of her tomboy nature was being in swimming lessons as a kid and wearing only the bottom half of her bathing suit and allowing everyone to think she was a boy. My partner did the exact same thing when she was a kid, wearing swim trunks to the community pool because that’s what she felt comfortable in, and she kept doing that until the boys were harassing her and the lifeguard told her she had to put a top on. She was not happy about this.

Near the opening of the book Coyote wrote a wonderful description of being a tomboy. It’s not about consciously rejecting the feminine and trying to be masculine, it’s about having something different about you that exists in your personality and in your very bones that you would not be able to change even if you dressed in women’s clothes.

“I didn’t not want to be a girl because I had been told that they were weaker or somehow lesser than boys. It was never that simple. I didn’t even really actively not want to be like the other girls. I just knew. I just knew that I wasn’t. I couldn’t. I would never be. (p14)”

Later on when they described attending college to learn Electricity and Industrial Electronics I saw my partner in the pages again. One of the only two women among hundreds of men, they endured harassment from their classmates despite being excellent in the program.

It can be a minefield navigating the world as a masculine woman because you never know how people are going to interpret you or treat you. Coyote wrote about times when she was “one of the guys” and times when she was “one of the girls.” Although some of their college classmates harassed them horribly, they recalled a positive memory of one classmate asking their advice on how to do something nice for his wife. In that moment, Coyote was not a failure of a woman but an expert on womanhood.

Although it wasn’t the least bit funny for her at the time, I laughed when she recalled the time when a guy managing a tourist destination, hot springs in a cave, made her wear a women’s swimsuit while calling her “sir.” Sometimes people get hilariously mixed up when they encounter an ambiguous-looking person.

Four years before writing this book, and already in their forties, Coyote had top surgery. They called this decision “the healthy, happy thing for me to do,” (p170) even though it caused them to completely lose feeling in their nipples. They describes the numbness in a very poignant paragraph:

“They are beyond numb. They feel nothing. Sometimes I think I can feel the flesh underneath them, maybe I can feel pressure there, maybe. But I can’t feel her fingertips or her tongue, or her teeth. I can’t feel the cold lake or the warm sun either.” (p151)

Is it really a fair trade, to get the chest you want but lose feeling in your nipples?

It’s interesting that Coyote says the following:

“But my day-to-day struggles are not so much between me and my body. I am not trapped in the wrong body. I am trapped in a world that makes very little space for bodies like mine. (p170–171)”

I fully agree with this. No one is trapped in the wrong body. It’s not their bodies that need to change, it’s the way they are being treated that needs to change. It’s important to locate the problem correctly. Don’t blame something on your body when it’s not your body’s fault.

Throughout much of the book, Coyote doesn’t mention being trans, because in her childhood and young adulthood she didn’t have a trans identity yet. Near the end of the book, the trans issue starts to come up. She wrote about getting hate mail from both conservatives and radical feminists regarding her writing on transgender bathroom use. She reports both groups of people saying the same thing in their hate mail, which is:

“No offense, but, if I had to share a woman’s washroom with someone who looks like you, I would feel…uncomfortable.

And…

“Why don’t you just use the men’s room? (p224)”

Although I am a radical feminist, this quote does not represent my position at all. It’s not what anyone in my own circle of feminists says, either. We don’t want to see butch women kicked out of the women’s washroom, we think all women belong there. We aren’t uncomfortable around butch women. Some of us, like me, love butch women. We also think that single-occupant washrooms are a good idea in order to accommodate gender nonconforming people, or anyone who wants to pee alone. We don’t think that trans people should be kicked out of all the bathrooms. We don’t think women should be forced into the men’s room. I don’t know who emailed her, but they didn’t say anything close to what I would have said. My position is that everyone should be accommodated in washrooms, without forgetting that allowing the entire world into the women’s washroom does not properly accommodate women. Overly-broad gender identity laws that are based on self-declaration and no objective criteria allows anyone to announce they’re a woman and enter the washroom. This is not good policy.

There is another part of the book where Coyote’s pro-trans position bothers me. She printed a letter from a mother whose teenage daughter is transitioning to male. The teen first identified as a lesbian and then identified as trans. Coyote wrote a response to the mother which spoke of her daughter as if she were truly her son and would grow up to be a man. She didn’t leave any room for the fact that this teen could actually be a lesbian. That’s what you do when you believe in transgender politics, is immediately affirm someone’s trans identity and ignore the fact that the person is actually homosexual. Only a so-called “trans exclusive radical feminist” like me can see what is really happening here. An adult lesbian is refusing to call herself a lesbian, preferring to label herself as something other than a woman, and is affirming a younger lesbian who is doing the same. This is absolutely tragic. This is not what I want for the lesbian community. I want lesbians to be able to proudly declare their lesbian identity without falling prey to the ancient homophobic idea that lesbians are really men or that we’re failed women. I want us to carve out space for all different kinds of women to be ourselves without shame, and to show the world that women are diverse and beautiful in our differences. If it were me giving advice, I would have left the door open to this young woman actually being a lesbian and validated what she is probably feeling without jumping right onto the trans train.

For the most part, I loved Tomboy Survival Guide, and I would definitely recommend it. I was very moved by her stories and I thought the book was exquisitely written. I always appreciate hearing about what life is like for little tomboys who grow up to be butch. My criticism is that because of her pro-trans position, her writing is not as lesbian-positive as it could be. What I always hope to see in any book written by a lesbian is a positive lesbian identity and a pro-woman stance.

I went on a ‘gender quest’

I read the first two chapters of the Gender Quest Workbook—A guide for teens & young adults exploring gender identity. It was written by Rylan Testa, PhD, Deborah Coolhart, PhD and Jayme Peta, MA. They haven’t specifically named their gender identities, but judging from their appearance in their photos and the use of pronouns, Testa appears to be a trans man and Peta appears to be a woman who identifies as something other than a woman (I say that because pronouns are entirely avoided for her) and Coolhart appears to be a regular woman with no apparent transgender identity.

I have identified three different ways that The Gender Quest Workbook defines gender.

They explicitly define it on page 5:

“Gender is (1) how you express masculinity, femininity, or for most people, some mix of the two and (2) how your identity, or sense of self, relates to masculinity and femininity.”

I entirely agree with this definition. This is pretty much the same definition of gender that John Money wrote and since he coined the term, his definition can be considered the correct one. I will also add here that I agree with this concept—people do have a natural degree of masculinity or femininity as part of their personalities. Of course, if gender roles were abolished we would no longer describe people’s personalities as masculine or feminine. Personality traits would still exist but we wouldn’t refer to them in terms of these social constructs.

Only a few sentences down, they define gender again, although I’m not sure if they were aware that they were defining it again.

“In our view, there are about as many different gender identities as there are people. The options are infinite.”

What they’ve done here is equated the word gender with personality. The thing that is unique to each individual and exists in infinite possibilities is personality.

If gender is masculinity and femininity, then there are only two genders, which exist along a continuum, with people falling somewhere in between. These points along the continuum are not something altogether different from masculinity and femininity, they are just levels of more masculine or more feminine. If there were actually more than two recognized genders, then they would be listed alongside masculinity and femininty, you know, like:

Masculinity, femininity, zorkulinity, sambalinity, etc.

But no. The reason there are two genders is because there are two sexes, and masculinity and femininity are the social behaviors that we perform to signify to people whether we are male or female, according to cultural beliefs about how males and females look and behave.

Defining gender as masculinity and femininity means acknowledging that there are only two genders, and then going on to say that there are infinite genders contradicts that.

Then they define gender a third time, therefore contradicting themselves even more. This third one was quite unintentional on their part but it remains obvious. On page 20, there is a list of questions that invite readers to explore their gender. The first question goes like this:

“What are some of your earliest memories related to gender? (For example, I remember my dad saying, “Are you sure you don’t want a blue balloon? Blue is for boys.” Or, I remember wanting to be in Boy Scouts like my brother, but my parents said I couldn’t because I was a girl.”

In both of these examples, what is being expressed is sexism. In the first example, a color is being arbitrarily restricted to one sex due to beliefs that the sexes must behave in different ways (having different color preferences). In the second example, a girl is being limited in her opportunities because of her sex. These questions related to sexism are the prompts that invite readers to think back about their experiences of “gender.” Because examples of sexism are being used as a prompt to get people thinking about “gender,” the authors have implicitly defined gender as sexism.

Therefore gender has three definitions so far:

(a) masculinity and femininity
(b) personality
(c) sexism

It seems to me that two PhDs and one MA should have been able to recognize all three of the definitions they have used for gender and seen the contradictions between them and how their text becomes confusing and incoherent because of these contradictory definitions. But they are in the trans cult and one thing about the trans cult is they eschew clear communication and instead embrace ambiguity and confusion.

When I try to answer the above question, my first reaction is “How can I recall an early memory of ‘gender’ if you can’t define gender”? My second reaction is, “According to the prompt, gender clearly means sexism, so I will answer that.”

One memory of sexism that stands out for me is when I was in a grocery store and I saw a woman and her daughter at the check-out. The little girl was playing and rolling around on the floor, and the mother didn’t like that. She snatched her daughter up vigorously by the arm and scolded her “Girls don’t act like that.” I was filled with outrage from head to toe when I heard that. Partially due to the sexism and partially due to the lying. This mother told her daughter a lie. Here was this girl, playing and rolling around on the floor, and the mother said that girls don’t act like that, but clearly they do, because here is a girl acting like that right now! Her words did not reflect reality, they reflected her belief and her wish. I thought that was a poor attitude to have toward girls and I boiled with rage. And that’s my first example of sexism that I remember.

(Disclaimer: Of course it’s a good idea not to let your kid roll around on the floor in a grocery store because the kid could get dirty or stepped on. But this mother didn’t say “Get up before you get dirty or stepped on,” she said “Girls don’t act that way.”)

My answer to this question might change if gender meant masculinity/femininity or personality, but I have answered it the way the prompt suggests to.

The next question in the list is this:

“Were you ever told you looked or acted like a boy? Like a girl? How did you feel when his happened?”

No, people didn’t talk this way around me, because luckily I wasn’t surrounded by people who were overtly sexist. There was plenty of subtle sexism, but nobody said such stupid things as “You do X like a girl/like a boy” around me. I do remember watching a sexist film called The Sandlot (I was a kid in the 90s) and there was a scene where one boy insults another by saying that he plays like a girl. This is after a long list of insults, and the dialogue makes it clear that “You play ball like a girl” is the absolute most insulting thing a boy could ever be told. This scene makes me boil with rage because of the sexism. “You do X like a girl” used as an insult toward a boy is a manifestation of the hatred of women and girls. All girls are likely to feel uncomfortable with this, since it’s harmful to us. Boys whose personalities are more feminine may feel uncomfortable with this sexism too, since they cannot meet the standards of masculinity being set for them.

Once again, a question on “gender” has prompted a response about sexism.

The next question is “How would it or does it feel when people see you as a boy or man.”(p21) This question is followed by a disclaimer about the fear people might feel when thinking about this question.

I only experienced being mistaken for a man once. I was standing in a line and when it was my turn to go to the ticket window the person behind me said “Sir” to indicate for me to move up. I thought this was kinda funny and I was amused that I was now a part of the phenomenon of “misgendering.” I’m not sure why this would be upsetting, if a person accidentally gets it wrong it’s no big deal. There has been no other time when anyone has made this mistake because I look like a typical woman.

I understand that if I was not a typical-looking woman then I would get mistaken for a man more often and it might feel annoying or uncomfortable and it might cause emotional problems (stress, anxiety) over time.

The next question is the opposite situation, “How would it or does it feel when people see you as a girl or woman?”

Well, there is nothing to be amused or annoyed about when people see me as a woman, because I am one.

The next question is a fun one: “How would it or does it feel when people see you as a gender other than girl/woman or boy/man, for example, as androgynous or two-spirit”

First of all, girl/woman and boy/man are not genders, they are sexes. Girl/woman is a human female, and boy/man is a human male. Male and female are biological realities and they are not genders according to any definition used here. I am aware that the transgender community defines “man” and “woman” as social categories, which cannot be defined in any way but which nevertheless people can strongly identify with and live in, and that these social categories are considered by them to be “genders.” However, gender has not been defined as a social category in this book yet. I guess this is their way of introducing another implicit definition of gender? “Gender experts” are surprisingly confusing about gender.

So moving right along to the question, the only way that anyone sees anyone as neither male nor female is if they are going around expecting people to be intersex. I don’t think most people are going around expecting people to be intersex, because the vast majority of people have typical sex characteristics, and even intersex people often look like one or the other, so, I’m gonna have to call bullshit on that.

However, androgynous is a gender. There are two genders, masculinity and femininity, and androgynous is the point in the middle of those. Both males and females can appear androgynous by combining masculinity and femininity in relatively equal portions. Their sex is still apparent.

I wish white transgenderists would stop appropriating Native culture to try to prop up their gender cult. Two spirit identity is not the gender nonsense that modern day transgenderists are promoting.

I am happy when people recognize my level of androgyny. On any given day I might range between moderately feminine and androgynous in presentation. I am never at the extreme end of femininity and I’m never very masculine either. When people understand that I don’t want to go shop for cosmetics or shoes with them because I’m not into that sort of thing, that’s great. When people assume that I am into that, it’s just because they don’t know me well and I can simply explain I’m not into that feminine stuff. Mildly annoying, but not a big deal.

“Who are your gender role models? In other words, if you could be like anyone in terms of gender, who would you be like? (p22)”

In this question, gender could mean either degree of masculinity/femininity or personality, I assume. So, whose personality do I want to emulate, in terms of how masculine or feminine they are?

Well, the first person who comes to mind is Joan of Arc. Let’s see who else comes to mind. Hermione Granger, Xena: Warrior Princess, Dana Scully, the femme characters in Stone Butch Blues (especially Theresa), all the characters from the new Ghostbusters film, especially Kate McKinnon’s character, Melissa McCarthy’s character in the film The Heat…okay I guess I’m just making a list of Strong Female Characters from film and TV shows that I like. When I generalize about all these characters I guess what I come up with is “strong woman.” These women are somewhat feminine but also smart, strong, and tough. I could name my gender “strong woman,” or maybe “fierce femme.” Okay, this exercise was actually really fun lol. Regardless of what my personality or degree of femininity is though, my sex is still female.

The following chapter talks about gender expression, and I have some observations to make about this section. The book makes it sound like it’s a really big deal to change your gender expression. Changing your gender expression simply means wearing a different style of clothing or changing your hairstyle or makeup, but the book asks you to plan how/where/with whom you can safely try out your new expression, and mentions personal safety multiple times. This makes me wonder why people find it to be such a big deal for people to change their outfit or haircut. I’ve changed my style of clothing many times, and no one has ever given a shit. In grade nine I wore nothing but baggy jeans and my dad’s old t-shirts that I found in storage, with a sports bra underneath. In late high school I dyed my hair with blond highlights and wore dresses. In university I wore the same jeans every day again, this time with a blue hooded sweatshirt. These days I generally wear women’s blouses and dress pants to work, and comfortable androgynous clothes at home. I’ve worn a bit of men’s clothing sometimes too just for fun. My hair has been long, short, long, short, etc, and is currently short. At no point has anyone cared what I was wearing or whether it was different from what I wore before. No one has ever been like, “Hey, that outfit is totally different from what you wore yesterday, I’m gonna harass you now!”

When I read this book I begin to wonder if I have just been lucky and if there are all sorts of people out there in the world who are super serious about making other people’s clothing and hairstyles their business? If there are, those are really shallow and superficial people with really small lives. If they have nothing better to do than to have an issue with someone’s new haircut, they should be told to fuck off and they definitely should not be taken seriously. Get a hobby, people!

If people are seriously frightened that they might be unsafe because they’re wearing a certain outfit, that is an indication that they are surrounded by assholes. Instead of putting people on hormones, maybe we should be educating people to stop losing their shit over a simple article of clothing? It’s the bullies that need to change, not the victims of the bullying.

If you analyze specific instances of people being harassed for what clothes they’re wearing, I’m telling you right now that what you’re going to find is sexism and homophobia. The reason a teen boy can’t just show up at school with makeup on is because people will police his masculinity (sexism) and people will direct homophobic harassment at him because they will perceive, either rightly or wrongly, that he is gay. The solution is not to put the boy on hormones and call him a girl so that he can wear makeup without getting bullied, the solution is to punish the bullies so that the boy will be safe wearing makeup. Putting the boy on hormones and calling him a girl is letting the bullies win and it’s punishing the victim and it’s reinforcing the harmful rules of gender. It’s reinforcing the idea that only girls can wear makeup, therefore if you wear makeup, you must become a “girl.” This ideology harms women primarily, because we are the ones having to wear most of the makeup, but it harms men too since it limits their expression.

At the end of this section, I have come to the conclusion that there is an epidemic of people being so shallow, superficial, and sexist that they are seriously harming the people around them, and we need a widespread movement to combat sexism.

Luckily, there is already a widespread movement to combat sexism underway. It’s called feminism. Transgenderism reinforces sexism, making it an ideology that harms the very people it purports to help.

These first two chapters really do confirm what I always say about transgenderism—that people are modifying their bodies in order to match their bodies to their degree of masculininity/femininity or their personalities, and that there is sexism underlying this whole thing. I always maintain that anyone, male or female, can have any personality or degree of masculinity/femininity and that this is okay and doesn’t need to be fixed. Because anyone can have any personality, there is no such thing as a personality not matching one’s body.

There are transgender people who comment here who tell me that transgenderism is not about matching your body to your degree of masculinity/femininity, and that it’s more along the lines of correcting an inborn neurological disorder. It’s not that they are trying to fix a mismatch between their body and their social gender role, is what they explain, it’s that they have an inborn gender identity that persists no matter what and isn’t rooted in social causes like notions of masculinity/femininity or sexism. So I really gotta ask, if transgenderism is simply about correcting an inborn neurological disorder and is not about trying to fit into social ideas of masculinity/femininity, why have a group of three gender experts, at least one of whom is actually trans, written a book in which they guide young people to discover their gender by considering their degree of masculinity/femininity, their personality, and sexism, if transgenderism is not about these things? If transgenderism is about correcting a neurological disorder, why isn’t that what they talk about here?

When you listen carefully to what gender experts and transgender activists actually say about transition, the majority of them make it quite obvious that this is about “fixing” people who are gender nonconforming so that they fit better into social ideas of what men and women are, by turning feminine men into “women” and by turning masculine women into “men.” The reason I keep believing this is because they keep saying it. And what I’m going to keep saying, until forever and ever, is that “fixing” feminine men and masculine women is sexism and homophobia.

Identifying as something versus identifying what you are

Let’s talk about the difference between identifying as something and identifying what you actually are, because transgenderists like to think that it’s totally legit for anyone to identify as anything and they also think that everyone constructs identities for themselves. Nope!

I don’t “identify as” a woman or a lesbian, I just am a woman and a lesbian. I did not construct an identity of myself as a woman out of a desire to be one, I just know that I am one because I know what a woman is (an adult human female) and I am an adult human female. Before I was an adult, I was a female child, also called a girl. This is not because I had an “identity” as a girl, it’s because I was a girl.

Sometimes I want to ask transgenderists if they even believe in material reality. Do you know that there is a physical world that exists outside of our imaginations and that there are things in it that we can touch and see and measure and observe and study?

Humans come in two sexes, male and female, and that’s how we reproduce. Male refers to the sex that produces the smaller gametes, which in humans are called sperm, and female refers to the sex that produces the larger gametes, which in humans are called ova. This is something that we can observe about human beings because we exist in material reality. If you choose not to believe the facts that are right in front of you, then that is just denial and/or lying.

When I call myself a woman, that’s because I am of the sex that produces ova, and no, I haven’t cut myself open to see if there are ova in there, I just know there are because the only reason I could have been born with a vagina that began to pass blood at puberty is because I have ova and a uterus inside my body. That’s the only way that could happen.

Transgenderists will claim that so-called “TERFs” have created an identity out of our biology and that it threatens our identity when others identify outside their biology. No, it doesn’t, because we haven’t created “identities” out of our biology, we are just naming our biology. It is just there. It’s not an identity, it’s a reality. Saying “I’m a woman” is naming the reality that I have a female body. Nothing that transgenderists do or say can threaten to change the fact that I am female. My body is not an idea or a feeling, it is something real and no idea or feeling can change that.

In the past, I was open to viewing the words “man” and “woman” as social categories that weren’t always connected to biology. However, after a lot of thought and study, I found that there was no way to define the words “man” and “woman” when you disconnect them from their actual meanings of adult human male and adult human female. Transgenderists who attempt to define these words just provide a word salad that does not make a clear distinction between man, woman, and human. If man and woman mean whatever the speaker wants them to mean, then there can be no coherent meaning assigned to them. The reason words exist is to communicate ideas; if a word communicates nothing then it’s useless as a communication device.

There is a social category of “man” and a social category of “woman” that exist. For example, a female who is living in the social category of “man” is doing so based on making body modifications so that she resembles a human male and also performing the behaviors that people expect from males, based on our culture. I understand perfectly the way this social category operates; however I disagree that people should reinforce stereotypes about how men and women behave and I disagree that people should make radical body modifications that can cause physical harm and I disagree that we should have to lie about what sex someone is. I don’t think that the whole world needs to pretend we don’t understand human reproductive anatomy in order to protect the feelings of people experiencing gender dysphoria. If someone is a female with dysphoria, then the reality of her situation is that she is a female with dysphoria, not a male. Same vice versa.

Why do I feel this way? Because (1) the stereotypes about men and women are harmful and must be abolished, (2) radical body modification is harmful and doesn’t even necessarily help, therefore it is a bad strategy, and (3) people should not lie about their sex because it is significant what sex someone is in many social situations such as when dating or conducting intimate relationships, when giving medical care, when collecting demographic statistics, etc.

Even someone who chooses to make body modifications in order to alleviate gender dysphoria should be capable of naming reality; there is no reason why he or she should pretend that his or her birth sex never existed or why other people need to pretend so.

So getting back to “identifying as” something, I don’t agree that anyone should “identify as” anything. You should only name what you actually are. Identifying as something other than what you are is lying. I wouldn’t really care whether a complete stranger is lying about themselves–people have a right to talk nonsense if they want—but when they start legislating lies and using lies to take away women’s rights I’m gonna be pissed.

Related to this discussion is the question that I sometimes get asked which can take any of the following forms: ‘Why can’t other people have their identities and you have yours’? or ‘Why can’t you respect everyone in the LGBT community’ or ‘how can you expect people to respect your identity if you don’t respect theirs’? So let’s jump right into this one.

No one has to validate my “identity” as a lesbian, because this isn’t an identity I have constructed for myself. I am female and attracted to females; this is actually located in material reality and can be directly observed. The word “lesbian” only exists to describe my actual situation, it’s not a concept that exists outside of me that I aspire to be. My female biology is an observable fact. The fact that I live in an apartment with another human with female biology is an observable fact. The fact that we have one bedroom and one bed, which we both sleep in, is an observable fact. So is the fact that we kiss each other, say “I love you”, leave each other loves notes, spend holidays together and file our taxes as a common-law couple. If someone chooses to look at the facts and conclude that I am not a female homosexual then that person is simply a liar.

If someone is male and calling himself female, I don’t have to take that identity seriously because that is not true. Someone male cannot be female, it is scientifically impossible. He may have an ‘identity’ as the social category ‘woman,’ but I am allowed to disagree with the way that the social category of ‘woman’ is constructed because it harms me as an actual female.

The man who “identifies as” a woman is dependent on other people playing along for his “identity” to be real. He cannot realistically be said to be “living as a woman” if everyone around him acknowledges he is male. No one should be forced to play a game of “let’s pretend” if they don’t want to play. We should not have to validate things about other people that aren’t true. You can identify as anything you want, but if I can see that you’re talking nonsense, I’m not going to take you seriously.

In a certain manner of speaking, I do respect all the members of LGBT. I respect the rights of homosexuals to live their lives as homosexuals, I respect the rights of bisexuals to live their lives as bisexuals, and I respect the rights of gender nonconforming people to wear the outfits they want to wear without losing their civil rights. I do not agree to call a man a woman but if a man wants to wear a dress he still has the right to housing, education, employment and health care free of discrimination. I wish I could say the same thing about the trans community’s attitude toward lesbians. I wish that the trans community could disagree with our theories on gender without denying us the right to assemble, to speak and to organize. It’s plain to see where the disrespect actually is.

Identity politics can be a useful thing or a pointless thing. Accurately naming your location in a system of oppression is useful in demographic research, in social sciences, in social work, in discussions of human sexuality, etc. But pretending to be something you are not is another story altogether.

Video: Anti-feminist protesters in Vancouver

Did everyone watch this video? Women from the Vancouver Women’s Library documented the harassment from anti-feminists when they opened their library. I snorted with laughter when a fully-intact male not even trying to pretend to be female insisted he was a woman. WTF, dude? I have compassion for people with gender dysphoria, but I have zero compassion for asshole MRAs who use “I’m a woman!” as a bullshit trolling tactic when harassing feminists. Also: make sure to read the Feminist Current article about this event, it’s excellent.

Video: Cari’s advice

I just discovered this video after posting those three videos in my last post. This is detransitioner Cari of Guide on Raging Stars and her advice for both females who wish to transition and their parents. I love how she wants people to remain critical and to consider the reasons behind their dysphoria rather than just accepting the popular “I just feel this way.” She doesn’t want to dictate to people whether they should or shouldn’t transition, but rather she thinks we should be open to considering the underlying reasons for our feelings and the best solutions for our situations. This is how I feel and Cari explains it so well!

Guardian article: “I regret transitioning”

Journalist Moya Sarner interviewed a detransitioning woman, who remained anonymous, who reports transitioning without considering beforehand the reasons why she was uncomfortable with her female body. She later regretted the decision.

After months of waiting and appointments, none of which included counselling, I finally started on testosterone gel, later switching to injections. It was a huge thing when, at university, my voice broke, and my figure started changing: my hips narrowed, my shoulders broadened. It felt right. Passing as a man, I felt safer in public places, I was taken more seriously when I spoke, and I felt more confident.

Then I had chest surgery. It was botched and I was left with terrible scarring; I was traumatised. For the first time, I asked myself, “What am I doing?” I delayed the next steps of hysterectomy and lower surgery, after looking into phalloplasty and realising that I was going to need an operation every 10 years to replace the erectile device. Trans issues were starting to be written about in the media, and I understood that people would always be able to recognise me as having transitioned. I just wanted to be male, but I was always going to be trans.

At the same time, there was a significant change in how I felt about my gender. Reflecting on the difference in how I was treated when people saw me as a man, I realised other women were also held back by this. I had assumed the problem was in my body. Now I saw that it wasn’t being female that was stopping me from being myself; it was society’s perpetual oppression of women. Once I realised this, I gradually came to the conclusion that I had to detransition.

Detransitioners don’t necessarily regret their transitions, even if they reconcile with being female, but this woman did. It’s interesting that she mentioned not being given any counselling. Women who wish to take testosterone and get surgeries in order to look more like men really should examine their motivations for this, and consider the health incomes of these medical interventions, before proceeding. There are many reasons not to transition, some of which are mentioned here. Surgery is risky and can leave scarring or pain and can be its own traumatic event. Women who transition don’t become biologically male, they become masculine-looking women, with all the health outcomes of being a woman who takes testosterone. They may find that people don’t always see them as male or they may find they don’t feel comfortable being seen as male.

At least some women who transition are trying to escape misogyny and are mistakenly treating their body as the source of their problems instead of placing the blame on society’s treatment of women. The number of female detransitioners is growing because they are finding that transgenderism isn’t helping them with what is actually wrong.

Transsexualism should be a last resort for people whose dysphoria doesn’t respond to anything else, not the first option to jump into. As with any other illness, dysphoria should be treated with the least invasive option first, especially since the most invasive option doesn’t work for everyone. Women deserve a chance to receive proper therapy first before resorting to making drastic changes to their bodies, because for many, therapy is the more helpful option.