We are once again debating whether trans women are really women, becuase it’s a day ending in shrieks and blood-spattered mirrors and cries of damnation. What a delight, to be constantly having this same debate, to be forever encountering new patinas of rot on the same old rotten arguments.
We trans women live for this — or rather, we do this so that we may be allowed to continue living. Same difference, right?
One of the main arguments that’s often brought up to establish some fundamental, essential difference between trans women and our cis counterparts is that trans women were not socialized female as children. And thus, we missed out on all of the experiences of patriarchy and misogyny that cis women have internalized. Sure, you could argue that trans women have our own horrible experiences of abuse and mistreatment, often from a young age, that have left us traumatized at the knobbly hands of patriarchy.
But there’s no denying that all cis women have had certain important, unique experiences — regardless of culture, class, ability status, or other circumstances — that no trans woman has ever undergone:
- A rat-king — a group of rats with their tails knotted together, to form a kind of Rat Asterisk — visits you on your seventh birthday and offers to teach you to play a musical instrument that has never been touched by any human’s hands before. But if you play this music for any other human being, your fingertips will grow rat faces and will bite anyone and anything you ever try to touch.
- A haunted victrola, with its big flower-like speaker canted on one side so you can see the stygian darkness, the bottomless pit, at the center of the brassy crackly sounds, follows you on the sidewalk, playing 1920s music that invites you to do the Charleston, to make glad hands and crooked knees into a celebration of South Carolina.
- The wind stops, and starts again, and then blows from the opposite direction, shrill and whistling and wailing and occasionally playing the theme tune from that 1990s sitcom about girls sharing an apartment together. Some of the detritus carried on the wind looks a bit like tiny corporate logos.
- People’s faces appear to melt, turning into a kind of facial slurry, around your eleventh birthday. In some cases, people might also seem to cry tears of pure milk out of one eye and some sort of fruit juice out of the other. This is a formative, important experience for many cis women, without which womanhood is purely notional.
- A valuable timepiece — perhaps a gold watch, perhaps an old sundial — begins to speak in low tones of the transience of beauty and the inevitability of betrayal.
- As a small child, people were constantly whispering about synonyms and antonyms whenever they thought you couldn’t hear, like are synonyms really sinful, and are antonyms really words in the Ant Lexicon? What if you put a synonym and an antonym together, would you have the true name of something? They would stop saying these things if they realized you were listening in, and you knew you were hearing a Great Secret.
- Until you turned thirteen years old, you were constantly woken up at dawn, at irregular intervals, and you were asked to try on various hats, many of which pinched your scalp, or which were unbearably heavy, containing as they did ornamentation made out of bakelite and chrome and the plundered jewels of a thousand patrimonies. Some of these hats stuck to your head, and indeed are still on your head to this day, but they have receded under the cover of your hair or are invisible to the outside world.
- Adults would speculate in front of you, to your face even, about whether you would be a bicyclist or a knife-thrower, these being the two identities you were bound to choose between when you were old enough. Bicyclist or knife-thrower? Bicyclist or knife-thrower? Which are you going to be? “Oh, she looks like a knife-thrower for sure, look at her clavicle.” “No, no, she’ll be a bicyclist, she has pedaling feet. You can see it!” And so on. A constant rumble of conversation.
If you haven’t had all of the above experiences, you’re most certainly not a real woman, and it’s best you figure this out sooner, before you cause consternation with your false plumage. False plumage is like unto the smoke from patriarchy’s overly phallic smokestack, and must be doused, preferably with the juice/milk from the weeping eyes of the adults around a twelve-year-old girl.
My next book is Never Say You Can’t Survive: How to Get Through Hard Times by Making Up Stories, out August 17. You can pre-order it now, and add it on Goodreads. It’s also on NetGalley. Also out right now: my young adult space fantasy novel Victories Greater Than Death, the first book in the Unstoppable trilogy. Coming in November: my first full-length short story collection, Even Greater Mistakes.