There is often debate about whether Trans Women like myself are real women. It focuses partly on our supposed lack of shared experiences. Together with other women, I’ve been aware the past few weeks have been very much about powerful men and sex, objectification and sexual harassment. Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine died at the end of September. In the last few days Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of The Weinstein Company has been constantly in the news. The public outcry over Weinstein’s alleged sexual harassment of women has featured on just about every media channel. Objectification and sexual harassment are closely linked. The first dehumanises us by focusing solely on our body parts, the second takes that focus and assumes an entitlement to sexual gratification from us. I’m not here to comment on Hefner or Weinstein; others have done so ad infinitum in recent days. Celebrities have been very vocal in making accusations and giving opinions but what about ordinary women or Trans women for that matter?
Most women I suspect have endured their share of objectification; ass grouping; skirt lifting; breast touching and being felt up. In spite of those who mistakenly argue we enjoy male privilege; objectification, harassment and abuse are a regular occurrence for Trans women too. Most of us suffer in silence. I grew up gender non-conforming in a world where these things were everyday. It scared me a good deal then, and even more now. An ambivalent, sensitive child I attracted the wrong type of attention. I didn’t exactly come out but I was hardly in either. I borrowed my Mum’s clothes, generally with her knowledge. I dressed attractively and was brave enough to be myself; a teen girl who happened to have a boy’s birth certificate. I was all too aware of things adult men shouldn’t do to girls but when a Gay friend of my parent’s groped me I said nothing. I felt like a freak and as such I didn’t expect to be protected. It happened frequently and often. I came to dread meeting him and I grew to hate men. By the time I was 13 it had become sexual abuse. That abuse was dehumanising. It left me with a depressing feeling that my sex parts were all that mattered to others, even if they were the wrong ones. I couldn’t begin to discuss my gender identity with adults let alone my abuse. When I grew up I promised myself that things would change.
When I came out again and began transitioning I thought the world had indeed altered. It was a new millennium after all. The Gay community had secured a greater acceptance. I took a low paid job, a flat in a seaside town and got on with the job of raising my 11 year old daughter and being myself. I was grateful to get a replacement birth certificate showing the right gender this time but now objectification took on a new guise. The first time someone quizzes you about your body parts you respond politely. The request is usually prefaced with ‘I hope you don’t think I’m being intrusive but…’ At work, complaints were made about which toilets I used and the changing facilities. The focus was always on my genitals. It was as though being Trans, this was the only important thing about me. I lost count of the number of times I was touched down there or asked if my breasts or hair were real. It was the men who touched me. It was the women who asked me. Was it to find out what sex I was or to have the novelty of touching a Transsexual woman? The male response was at least familiar, that from other women floored me and sent me home in tears. I had expected support from most but I got it from only a small group of my female colleagues. I desperately needed a job to pay my rent and bring up my daughter. I didn’t dare complain. Not for the first time I was given the impression that as a Trans female I had brought all this on myself.
Belatedly now I’m speaking out, fortunately from a better place in life. I’m married to a really understanding guy. I run my own business and I’m positive about my gender identity and sexual expression. When I was a girl I had no inspirational stories to read that helped me understand who I was. I had a choice; either become stealth and keep quiet or write and inspire others. As an adult therefore, I chose being out and writing about my experiences. Fortunately I now have supportive friends who don’t ask about my genitalia and who accept that I’m just another woman. They do this by, surprise surprise, treating me like everyone else. My breasts, my hair, my figure, my bum and my vagina are all my own but more importantly they are just one aspect of a person with a life, feelings and a mind of her own. I freely admit that I’m an erotic model but that’s just a job. It doesn’t give strangers the entitlement to sexually touch or harass me. I still get groped and touched in clubs these days but I don’t remain silent anymore. Women have the right to reject objectification and abuse. It is time to reinforce that right applies to ALL women including those of us who happen to be Trans or who work in the Sex Industry.
Huggs, Jane xx