QUEBEC — Are you a transgender woman or simply a woman?
It was a trick question, of course, and not always put in such a straightforward fashion.
The correct answer, if you wanted to gain entry to a particular government program (a decade or so ago) that would help you gender transition, was the latter: “a woman.” (The opposite in the case of FtM people throughout.)
If they thought you self-identified as anything but a woman and only a woman, you were not admitted to the program. The word “transgender” was not part of the program, though they did use the word “transsexual” sometimes to mean someone who was medically transitioning through therapy, hormones and eventual surgery. “Transsexuals” in their view were people who self-identified as the opposite of their birth sex — none of the in-between stuff. You were one or the other.
And once your transition was complete, you were expected to take your place among women and get on with your life as a woman, and live happily ever after.
And so it has been for many gender-transitioned women who have gone through the process and moved on from the so-called transgender community. They never saw themselves as transgender people, and feel they have nothing in common with the gender-fluid people who make up much of the trans community today.
Still, in my years of writing about LGBT issues, I’ve seen cases where (MtF) people say publicly that they have always self-identified as females, that they are women and nothing but women, then trot out the “transgender” word on occasion, usually for profit. One well-known case involved a gender-transitioned woman, a model, who fought hard and successfully to be able to compete in a beauty pageant with cis women, but also admitted to competing in an earlier pageant for trans women.
And, of course, there’s the more current example of Caitlyn Jenner, who says she always self-identified as a woman but is playing the transgender card in what she claims is an attempt to help transgender people — people who don’t necessarily self-identify as women and nothing but women and who are content to live somewhere between the gender binary.
True, some women who have gender transitioned or are in the process of gender transitioning do stick around and try to help trans people. The question is: can they effectively speak for gender-fluid people, especially the Millennials and Gen Xers? Can they relate to the experience of gender-fluid individuals?
I somehow doubt it. We’re talking about two different realities here. The gender-transitioned woman who takes her place in society as an everyday woman has all the same rights other women have. That was one of her goals of transitioning. Reintegrate within the gender binary. But a gender-fluid person who chooses to live between the binary has unique situations to face, and the laws of even progressive countries like Canada just aren’t fully up to speed yet for them.
I have no conclusion here today. I am simply musing about some of the observations I have made. I am not naming the government program above, because of a potential conflict of interest. But I suspect that many government-sponsored programs around the world have similar criteria: they will pay for your transition, but only if you prove you really are a woman — not a trans woman.