I’ve noticed that a bunch of radfem types have been reblogging my posts where I call out trans women for male socialization and I can’t help but wonder if my opinion on this matter is clear. I wonder this because it has been my experience that when people read a political piece, they tend to either identify with a couple of points they agree with, after which the whole piece becomes about those points, or they find a couple points they abhor, and the piece becomes a place to focus their anger. Given that no rants followed these essays, I figure the most likely scenario is the identify with/agree with one, so allow me to clarify in full detail what my opinion is on gendered socialization.
First, I think that socialization—even gendered socialization—varies from town to town and household to household, so the most anyone can say about it is to identify trends which people follow to varying degrees. There are certain trends in male and female socialization. This is fact. People socialize their babies based on genitalia. This is also a fact. Ergo most trans women, save ones who grew up in Sandra Bem-style gender bubble experienced some amount of male socialization. I’ve described the effects of that in the post above.
That said, I don’t think that’s the end of gendered socialization story as it applies to trans women. The most obvious aspect is that once a trans woman starts passing, any continuing male socialization stops, and female socialization commences. A passing trans woman will at any given point after transition, have been subject to some male socialization and some female socialization. This is also a fact. Some trans women stumble through it, some glide into it, some just don’t care, but they all experience it, to deny that is no more rational a position than saying trans women don’t experience male socialization.
To back up my claim, I will share what my experience has been. If there were literature that was unbiased, I would have you read it, but I know of none. When I completed my transition, and was being consistently treated as a woman, I noticed quite a few things were different. For one, I noticed how much I was judged on how I dress. It took me a while to find a style that wasn’t ridiculous, and the whole time I was given a lot of sneers and snide comments. I became invisible to people in a way I hadn’t been before.
After a long, arduous time spent learning how to dress, hoping that in doing so I’d go back to being what I perceived as “normal” but was in fact male privileged, I noticed that I didn’t go back. I merely replaced one set of problems with another. In stead of being invisible, I suddenly got noticed to a degree I hadn’t felt since during the transition (a fascinating discussion for another time). But the nature of the stare wasn’t the overtly hostile one I had experienced then coming from everyone, it was intent and sexual in nature and it was coming mostly from men. It only felt mildly better in comparison to the during-transition stare. Nobody was sneering, people were smiling. But it wasn’t a genuine smile. It was a butter-you-up smile. I recognized it from my upper class socialization: the look of someone who wants something, and will be as nice as it takes to get it.
There are many more, deeper, more constricting, and aggressive examples, and if people are interested, I will write more, but I think it’s safe to say that that kind of staring and expectation-laden interest is pretty solidly in the female-socialization category. It’s part of my life, every bit as much as my male-socialized kung-fu mastery is. To deny either is to miss a fundamental part of my life—both have shaped my behavior.
I can’t write much about the other alternative: trans women who don’t pass. I can’t because I only experienced it briefly during transition, and I think due to how often I was mistaken for a woman even beforehand, and how most of the time during transition I was seen as a woman, I can’t give a full first person experience for not passing. What I can say is that from what I’ve observed, the way I’ve seen people treat visible trans women and the stories my non-passing friends have told me, there’s a special gender-socialized level of hell for trans women who don’t pass. It’s beyond homophobia or sexism, and in some ways even transphobia. I’ve seen people treat animals better than I’ve seen them treat non-passing trans women, and culturally they’re held up as the standard for failing to be physically attractive while simultaneously being disposable, and that is fucked up.
Almost all trans women have male socialization, except for a tiny edge case, but upon transition all trans women are then subject to either female or trans woman socialization depending on whether they pass. It may not be simple. It may not fit easily into radical feminist or trans* theory, but it is the truth