Trans-Misogyny: A Grey Zone In Feminist Resistance Against Misogyny
TW: Discussions of transphobia & violence
For many feminists who are active in campaigns and public events, the concept of “misogyny” would not be unfamiliar. In fact, the term has been used so frequently on Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram that it seems like everyone has something to say about it. However, it is also obvious that most of the discussion is settled around cisgender women, or more precisely, middle-class cisgender women. While all of us can wave the trans pride flag and say “trans women are women,” if we don’t include transgender women in the discussion of misogyny and other forms of sexism, we can hardly claim ourselves as such “trans-inclusive” feminists.
What exactly is the misogyny faced by transgender women then? In 2007, Julia Serano, a biologist, performer, author, and a trans-feminist, first raised the idea of “trans-misogyny” in her book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, where she found that transgender women are more likely to be ridiculed, despised and discriminated than transgender men, due to their expression of femininity. As Serano and many other researchers pointed out, the subordinated position of transgender women could result from the intersection of misogyny, transphobia, and cissexism in multiple binary gender-based hierarchies. In traditional and oppositional sexism where gender is simply divided into non-interchangeable male/female binary, a male-centered hierarchy is maintained through making maleness and masculinity more superior than femaleness and femininity. This dismiss and stigmatisation of femaleness and femininity is known as misogyny, which is so common that every feminist, or every woman can immediately think of more than one example in daily life. When coming to transgender women, their own femininity and trans femaleness are even more disdained, because they are perceived as “faking gender” in this cis-normative society. Compared to transgender men who seem to embrace more superior masculinity and manhood, transgender women are mocked and discriminated against for abandoning their privileged “male identity” and “choosing” the more inferior, passive, and sexualised femininity. Therefore, the combination of stigmatisation and devaluation of femininity, as well as the denial of transgender identity in cissexist society intertwined with each other to form multiple layers of oppression on transgender women, making them the most subordinated group in both the feminist and transgender communities. As Serano said, when most of the transgender jokes are about “men wearing dresses” or “chic with a dick”, when most of the sexual assaults and violence committed against the transgender community are directed at trans women, when women can wear men’s clothing but not for men to wear women’s clothing, when feminist and lesbians organisations and events give a hand to trans men but not trans women, it is not only transphobia, it is trans-misogyny, where the expression of femininity from trans women is despised and devalued for “betraying original superior maleness” and “not being female enough” in cis-normative ideology.
One of the most common misunderstandings of misogyny is that women cannot be misogynistic. The same wrongtake could happen in trans-misogyny discourse as well. In Ben Colliver’s research in 2021, he found that many transgender women had experienced trans-misogyny in the LGBTQ+ community and sex-segregated women-only spaces. Since most of the LGBTQ+ communities and spaces are still male-dominant by cisgender men, some of the transgender women in their interviews with Ben disclosed that they have been perceived as “less attractive” after their transition. In those gay bars and other entertainment places, only the mocking type of femininity, such as drag queens, can be accepted and passed. Once you come out as a transgender woman, rather than a cisgender man doing drag for fun, you are no longer included in the LGBTQ+ community dominated by cisgender queer men. The situation could be even worse in many women-only spaces, for example, the notorious debate over restrooms. Trans women are highly likely to feel microaggression and abuse in those spaces by cisgender women. Many participants in Ben’s research talked about their unpleasant experiences in women’s restrooms, where their body figures, facial characters, voices, and clothing had been loudly questioned, confronted, and even result in verbal insults, because they are viewed as “not the right kind of women” who failed to meet the cis-normative expectations of femininity in the binary division of sexism.
From the examples above, we can see that trans-misogyny can not only be applied by both cisgender men and women but also easily result in public harassment, assaults, and abuse, even in daily life. For any self-called trans-inclusive feminist campaign and organisation, it is necessary to keep in mind the existence of trans-misogyny, and how it could have possible implications in movements and actions.
Colliver, B. (2021). ‘Not the right kind of woman’. Misogyny as Hate Crime, pp.213–227. doi:10.4324/9781003023722-11.
Serano, J. (2007). Whipping girl: A transsexual woman on sexism and the scapegoating of femininity. Emery-ville, CA: Seal Press.
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Lijingyi Zhang (she/her)
I am now a student in MA Gender Studies in University of Sussex. As an overseas student stuck in the UK during the pandemic, I am now trying my best to keep up with the "normal life" as my peers. By joining in PSH team, I hope that I can bring in more diverse voices from an East-Asian bisexual young woman's perspective. Anyway, hope you enjoy my writings.