Paula's Place

Paula's Place

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Dear Jenny

The last few days there has been a lot of fuss in and around the Transgender world about an article written by Dame Jenni Murray for the Sunday Times, I have just read it and I can understand why some trans people are very upset about it.   However I do suspect that they are a lot more upset than the article really warrants.

Just as Jenny starts her article with a clarification

"Let me make something absolutely clear at the outset. I am not transphobic or anti-trans. Not a Terf in other words. That’s trans-exclusionary radical feminist, to use one of the often-confusing expressions that have entered the language in this age of gender revolution."

Maybe I should make it clear that I am a regular listener to her on Woman's Hour and generally enjoy her broadcasts.

This is an opinion piece and there is some question as to whether since Murray is a presenter of BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour she should not be expressing an opinion on topics that the program will cover, and, where she should show, and represent the BBC's, impartiality. Certainly I would now find it difficult to listen to her host a discussion on Trans matters on Woman's hour without assuming that she favoured one side of any argument.   Given that I am a long standing fan and listener to Woman's Hour this is a substantial realisation.

Dame Jenni Murray
It is a well written, considered piece, and some research has clearly been done, just as I would expect from a journalist of Jenni's stature.   The fuss centers around Jenni's assertion that having lived life as a man, it is impossible to transition to become a "Real Woman", indeed it is with this phrase that I (and oh so many others) take issue.   I will agree that as a trans woman there are many of the formative experiences of most women that I have missed out on, some with regret, and some with glee.   Until relatively recently I have had no direct personal experience of misogyny, I have known of it, and indeed seen it, but it is only since my transition in my 50s that I have experienced it.   I have never known what it is to experience child birth (first hand ~ being there and watching is not the same) or indeed menstruation. Quite clearly I have not been through the process of growing up as a woman, and so do not have those formative, shared experiences that many women my age will have.

Having lived as a man I have known male privilege, more than that I have known white middle class, middle aged straight male privilege, and let me assure you Jenni, nothing makes you understand privilege like giving it up!

As it happens I do consider myself a feminist, I became a feminist not when I transitioned, and not when I started to suspect my true identity, no I truly became a feminist (rather than simply a sympathiser), when my daughter was born.   I wanted to be able to tell her to follow her dream, to assure her that she could be anything she wanted to be and not have to keep my fingers crossed behind my back.  I want to live in a society where when I tell my Daughter to be true to herself it is considered to be good advise.

A real woman
So am I a real woman, well the simple answer is that I am a woman (after all that's what it says on my passport!) and I am real. If I were not real I wouldn't have to pay my credit card bills, so there is a down side.   Does that make me a real woman? well in my book it does, but I think that must depend on the definition of a "real woman".   Jenni worries that a couple of the trans women she has interviewed were not aware of feminist principles or history, she worried that these two were unduly concerned about clothes and make up, and cited the example of one of the very rare people who de-transitioned. Considering this as evidence that we are not real women.

Unfortunately many Cis Women are equally ignorant or unaware of feminist history, the battles that have been fought, won, and lost, many are unduly concerned about their clothes, make up and appearance. that makes them no less real.

As far as clothes and make up go maybe I need to explain that these are even more important to trans women than Cis women, especially for those of us who transition later in life. Not because we are brainless Barbies but because we are aware that like any other woman we will be judged by what we choose to wear, every aspect of our appearance will be analysed and criticised, perhaps even more so than our Cis sisters.   Then add to this minefield the two aspects that we have not had the years of practise, development and learning of our sisters, and that we also have more that we choose to cover up, it is perhaps more important to us that our presentation is appropriate and that we, who are so often considered oddities, will fit in.    I have friends who have been women all their lives and they are also concerned about their appearance, that makes their womanhood or their opinions no less valid.

Perhaps the two trans women Jenni spoke with appeared unaware of, or disagreed with some basic feminist principles, this does not apply to all trans women ~ indeed at last year's Mirth Control at the end of the Women Of the World festival I was in the top ten on the feminist quiz!

I cannot forget, and would not want to, my life prior to transition, I cannot put aside all the experiences and people who have made me who I am today.   But once again I ask does all this mean that I am not a real woman?

I consider myself a real woman, my daughter considers me a real woman, my friends consider me a real woman. Maybe the problem is in the wording, to suggest that I am not a real woman, is to suggest that I am acting, playing dress up, not experiencing the reality of womanhood, indeed invalidating my very essence of self.   Well let me assure you Jenni that what I am experiencing is real, very real, and not always comfortable.   True I have not enjoyed all the aspects of growing up a woman, maybe a less offensive expression might be "Complete Woman".   I am real, but I will admit that lack of experience may make me incomplete.

The sooner we can stop this being a debate, and exclude the extreme activists on both sides then maybe we can make this discussion a constructive one rather than giving and taking offense.   I expect Jenni will be at WOW at the festival hall this weekend, I will be there on Sunday as I will once again be playing in the Women Of the World Festival Orchestra, the World's only orchestra made up entirely of real women, if you would like to talk to me between rehearsals and performance I would be happy to explain further just why I feel real, even if maybe not complete.
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