The Gender Ternary: Understanding Transmisogyny


A common understanding among gender activists is that most people think of gender as a binary, and that most institutions are built around a fixed concept of two genders.

I suggest that mainstream society actually uses a threefold ‘ternary-gender’ model of gender, dividing people into ‘women’, ‘men’ and ‘freaks’. I use this model to discuss a common area of disagreement between gender activists: male privilege as experienced by transsexual women.

This article also discusses the concepts of transgendering (gendering somebody as trans*) and unpacking ‘male privilege’ into internalised, social and power-over privileges.


The way I talk about gender here is definitely limited by the social models of gender I’ve grown up with, based on the fact that I’m white and live in the UK. I’m aware that many other models of gender exist, but I don’t know enough about them to talk about them in a useful way. Likewise, when I talk about coming into contact with others’ models of gender, I’m talking about the models that I encounter, living here and moving in the circles I do. I suspect that the further the locus of experience is from my own, the less accurate this article will be.

Women, Men And Everybody Else

Anyone who’s ever taken an organisation to task over a form containing only the restrictive options ‘Female’ and ‘Male’ knows the first concession that will be offered (if anything’s offered at all, of course). They will add a box marked ‘Other’ to the form. It seems inclusive. Genderqueer people can now complete the form without having to affirm a lie about their gender. But that’s also the problem; a genderqueer person can now complete the form and access the service it offers. The system sustains itself by manifesting an exceptional category into which it puts the people who don’t fit.

Transsexual people might experience this when around cis folks. As a transsexual woman, I’m treated in broadly three different ways when out and about. There are the people who misgender you as male and interact with you in a male gender register. There are the people who gender you correctly as female and interact with you in a female register. And then there are the people who gender you as trans, or, as I like to say, who transgender you, and, if they interact with you at all, can come out with a wide variety of responses, many of them not very pleasant.

In the Matrix: Revolutions (actually, I kind of liked it, now you ask) the Architect describes the secret to creating a perfect binary system:

You are the eventuality of an anomaly, which despite my sincerest efforts I have been unable to eliminate from what is otherwise a harmony of mathematical precision. While it remains a burden to sedulously avoid it, it is not unexpected, and thus not beyond a measure of control.

In other words: you cheat. The exception is the pressure valve which allows most people to remain within the two primary categories and to conveniently dismiss anything which doesn’t fit. The alternative, when confronted with a person who doesn’t fit the gender binary, is to contemplate gender in its beautiful and breathtaking complexity. And how often have you had that reaction?

While many people, when asked, will tell you that there are two genders, the behaviour of individual and institutions reveals a more nuanced model of gender. Repeatedly, this ‘other’ category emerges, complete with a feeling of pushing away. As a genderqueer person asserts hir gender, sie is eventually told that sie’s, “just weird”. Safely categorised, sie and hir arguments can now be dismissed, rather than hir existence shattering hir interlocutor’s worldview.

The Ternary-Gender Model

In the ternary model of gender, there are three genders. ‘Man’, ‘Woman’ and ‘Freak’. I use that last word deliberately and not without some affection, as in Mia Mingus’ keynote speech at the 2011 Femmes of Color Symposium.

What about those of us who are freaks, in the most powerful sense of the word? Freakery is that piece of disability and ableism where bodies that are deformed, disfigured, scarred and non-normatively physically disabled live. Its roots come out of monsters and goblins and beasts; from the freak shows of the 1800’s where physically disabled folks, trans and gender non-conforming folks, indigenous folks and people of color were displayed side-by-side. It is where “beauty” and “freak” got constructed day in and day out, where “whiteness” and “other” got burned into our brains.

I think that Mingus uses the word in a stronger sense than I’m using it here, and I hope she (please correct me if I’m mistaken about Mingus’ pronoun) doesn’t mind my borrowing it. I hope Mingus would agree that, while the othering of a white, mid-transition, transsexual woman doesn’t really compare to the othering performed on queer disabled women of colour, our bodies are both delegitimised by the concept of ‘freak’. Because of the differences between the way Mingus and I experience ‘freakhood’, I don’t feel as comfortable reclaiming the term as she does, but this piece doesn’t attempt to reclaim it – here, I use ‘freak’ to speak about a worldview used by others over trans* people, without making a claim about the legitimacy of ‘freak’ as an identity.

Like all models, freaks/women/men isn’t actually real. It’s a useful template to apply to people’s thoughts and actions, offering a framework in which to understand, predict and potentially change them. Real people’s thoughts about gender are complicated and individual, and people can often say one thing and think another.

In this model, most cis people are gendered as a cis gender almost all of the time. Many trans* people are also either gendered as their correct gender, or misgendered as the ‘wrong’ gender. Occasionally (or not so occasionally for some of us) we are transgendered into ‘freak’ by those around us. Some people and institutions will explicitly maintain an ‘other’ category in their worldview. Others will do so implicitly and reveal its existence through their behaviour. Some people and institutions won’t maintain the category either explicitly or implicitly, but it may exist potentially, in that when confronted with information, or an individual who does not match their gender binary, they may create this category. (I’ve often seen this happen.)

A tool is best explained with a demonstration, so let’s talk about…

Male Privileges

A common theme in radical feminist discourses around transsexuality is the assertion that a transsexual woman retains male privilege and that admitting transsexual women to women-only feminist organising spaces admits male privilege to those spaces, undermining the reason they were set out as women-only.

A quick google will find you any number of articles arguing for or against this point, but predictably, as a radical feminist transsexual woman, I’m going to tackle it a little differently, with the help of our ternary-gender model. We’ll need one existing model as well, which is the privilege knapsack model of male privilege, where male privilege is constructed as a network of multiple privileges.

I loosely categorise these privileges into internalised, social and power-over privileges.

  • Internalised male privileges are about who you are or who you feel yourself to be
  • Social male privileges are about treatment in society or access to institutions
  • Power-over privileges are those which give men influence and control over women

Of course, male privileges interact with each other and also inhabit multiple categories. For example, a man might come to feel his opinion is important (internalised) because he isn’t talked over in a group (social); he’s able to avoid street harassment (social) in part due to a confident body language which becomes part of his self-image (social); and part of the pressure he can place on consent (power-over) comes from his expectations (internalised) and the response society would make to non-consent (social). So it might be more accurate to say that male privileges have elements of internalised, social and power-over to differing extents for each privilege or set of privileges.

Traditional models of transition, based on an understanding of a social gender binary, describe how a transsexual woman gradually loses (or doesn’t lose, according to some arguments) male privileges as she socially transitions, and becomes viewed less as a man and more as a woman.

I’d argue that different types of privilege are given away, suspended or destroyed at different times in transition and that understanding when and how this happens can be done with help from the ternary-gender model.

Loss of Male Privilege via Misogyny and Transphobia in the Ternary-Gender Model

My experience of transition has not been that I’ve moved from ‘male’ to ‘female’ in anything approaching a linear fashion. Over time, elements of my body, presentation and psyche have found themselves moving from ‘male’ to ‘freak’, ‘freak’ to ‘female’ and often back again, as different things take personal priority, and work together to construct gender presentations that cause me to be treated differently in different situations by different people.

As I’ve moved from ‘male’ to ‘freak’, I’ve found that my social male privileges have been largely suspended in that, by people not treating me as male, I’m not offered most social privileges. As I’ve moved from ‘freak’ to ‘female’, most of these haven’t returned. In general, I’ve experienced these privileges as ones which are removed from me by society based on its perception of me. Broadly, I characterise the removal of these privileges as misogyny, i.e. the normal condition of being a woman under patriarchy.

My power-over privileges have felt the most situationally different, in that they’ve been most dependent on how an individual genders me, rather than how I’m gendered by society as a whole or how I experience society. Because I’ve deliberately avoided much interaction with people who transgender me as a ‘freak’, my experience is mostly in being treated as female. If anything, I’ve (unwillingly) retained the most power-over people who have previously experienced me in a male social role; power relations are enduring and take some time to change, if they ever do.

As I’ve moved from ‘male’ to ‘freak’, some of my internalised male privileges have stayed with me and others haven’t. I’ve said before (not on this blog) that, if you had to design a system of social conditioning to strip away self-assurance, the transition process expected by the NHS of a transssexual woman would be a good candidate. Some of us have better experiences than others – mine’s been pretty good, all told, so quite a bit of my internalised privilege has stayed with me. I usually feel that I have a right to an opinion, that my thoughts and choices are valid. But broadly, I characterise this process as experiencing transphobia, the normal condition of being considered trans* under cis supremacy.

Still on the subject of internalised privileges, and more problematically, my sense of when to speak up in a group is sometimes still closely matched to the patterns taught to men, which given that I spend increasing amounts of time in women-only organising spaces means that I need to work hard to consciously speak less. As I’ve moved from ‘freak’ to ‘female’, I’ve begun to experience some of the policing mechanisms experienced by women since birth and which act to suppress self-worth and confidence in women under patriarchy. Nowadays I can expect to be censured if I speak in a way that’s perceived to be ‘too confident’ for a woman, in the same way as most people assigned female at birth (AFAB) are censured. Because it hasn’t been happening to me for as long as it has to AFAB women, it hasn’t had as much effect yet. Like with loss of social privilege, I characterise this as misogyny.

Since publishing this article, I notice that it’s been picked up and discussed by Gendercast. In the podcast, Tobi Hill-Meyer disputes the implication here that transsexual women have an entirely “male” privilege prior to transition. I agree with her, and that implication wasn’t intended. I think the situation prior to transition can be complex – complex enough that (along with some other concepts) I’ve since devoted an entire article to discussion of it.

The Double Bind of Transphobia and Misogyny-Recipient-Privilege

Here’s where I think a lot of confusion enters understandings of transsexual women’s experience, and where I hope to dispel it. Not all transsexual women immediately experience the full burden of misogyny upon beginning transition. Paradoxically, the absence of misogynistic treatment can be painful. We learn that normal female experience under patriarchy includes the experience of misogyny. Not receiving misogyny is nice, because misogyny is not nice, but it’s also a sign of not being considered a normal woman – i.e., it is a sign of being transgendered as a ‘freak’.

Sexual objectification is a good example. I’ve been involved in some annoying conversations about street harassment with cis men, which have largely consisted of them arguing that street harassment is a nice thing, because it’s a compliment. Of course, AFAB women’s true experience of street harassment is often very different. The two views are summed up very well in this comic about street harassment (trigger for harassment, rape culture).

When transsexual women speak tentatively of how it feels painful not to receive street harassment, we can be dismissed as holding the view of the man in the comic, who says,

If women on the street said I look nice, it’d make my day!

What we’re actually saying is that one of the ways we know that society considers us freaks is that it treats us differently to the way it treats women, and we know that if we’re not a man, and we’re not a woman, we’re a freak.

In my experience:

  • When I used to be mostly misgendered as male, I tended to receive most forms of male privilege
  • When I am transgendered as a freak, I experience some but not all forms of male privilege and also experience transphobia,which works slowly to break down some forms of male privilege
  • When I am correctly gendered as female, I experience a few lingering forms of male privilege and experience what Julia Serano calls conditional cis privilege, some trans women call passing privilege, and I describe as a combination of conditional relief from transphobia (conditional on not being outed) and misogyny-receipient-privilege, a misogyny which works slowly (as it is designed to work on all women) to strip away confidence, happiness and agency

That last phrase is somewhat sarcastic. It’s a cruel irony that the penultimate (more on this later) stage on a transsexual woman’s journey (if you want to construct it as a journey; I think there’s a certain problematic element to that construction but it’s useful here) involves the crowning achievement of qualifying for misogyny, a kind of treatment society reserves for its sex class, women, a class widely treated as less-than-human, disposable and abusable; and that it still feels like a privilege to reach that stage. As Melissa McEwan writes on Shakesville:

What a choice: Acknowledged but harassed, or ignored and denied recognition of one’s womanhood.

To understand why this stage can be desirable requires the ternary-gender model. Someone who has travelled directly from ‘male’ to ‘female’ (do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred thousand pounds’ debt in electrolysis bills) would immediately comprehend misogyny as an undesirable state. If a magical regendering ray existed which could flip somebody’s sex and gender in an instant, not only would it be a wonderous thing for transsexual people, it would also be the most persuasive tool available for feminism – zap a man, let him live for a month in a woman’s place, zap him back and he’ll be a radical feminist, guaranteed. The disparity between men and women’s conditions is too great, too obvious, that it would immediately be apprehensible.

But transsexual people don’t use the gender ray. We go through the process slowly, and in doing so, we move through a place of disprivilege different to misogyny; the ‘freak’ stage of the ternary-gender model and a stage in which we experience transphobia, which is delegitimisation, violence (mostly but not entirely reserved for trans sex workers and trans women of colour), alienation, sexual isolation and exclusion from even queer spaces.

The ‘privilege’ of experiencing misogyny is (conditional) relief from transphobia. For feminist transsexual women, it can also be a recognition of sisterhood with AFAB women and an experience of legitimacy. It’s no wonder that sometimes we aspire to it, and this doesn’t mean that we deny the harm misogyny does to all women.

A Radical TransFeminist

Let’s come back to the word ‘penultimate’. For me, misogyny-recipient-privilege feels like the last-stage-but-one on my so-called journey. The final stage, for me, is a radical feminism which comprehensively rejects every form of misogyny, including trans-misogyny, and every felt entitlement of every other human being and every institutional structure to impose their gender stereotypes on me, whether gendering me as a freak or as a member of the sex class.

That is why I am a radical transsexual feminist, that is why I want radical feminism and transsexual feminism to work together to destroy patriarchy (and its weapon, the gender ternary) and that is why I’m writing here.

Call for Responses

There’s a lot missing from this article. Things I’d like to read about but didn’t have the time, knowledge or experience to write include:

  • One-gender models (such as the medieval sex paradigm), where men are considered the most fully human people, and all other people lesser degrees of human. I think these also describe our current situation very well. Perhaps these intersect better with the ways that, for example, impairments and Whiteness are viewed.
  • Ways in which the othering of trans* people as ‘freaks’ interact with other othering. I’ve experienced only one or two axes of othering – how does the experience of more kinds of marginalisation change the applicability of this model?
  • Your uses of the ternary-gender model to investigate experiences in your own thoughts about gender, or your experiences of others’ treatment of your gender.
  • Uses of the ternary model beyond gender. I think it’s likely that more than one binary out there is really a ternary, sustained by an ‘other’ category. I’m interested to see what other problems this idea can solve.

45 thoughts on “The Gender Ternary: Understanding Transmisogyny

  1. That’s a really interesting article – thank you for writing it 🙂
    I was wondering what your preferred model of gender would be (as opposed to a ternary)?
    There was an interesting discussion about it in the first few comments posted here: [link deleted], just wondering where your opinions fall?

  2. I use gender models for groups, not individuals, to think about how gender does work in society. I think they’re all reductive and hence selectively useful. I think my preferred interpersonal gender model is, “Ok – thank you for telling me about your gender”. 🙂

    I don’t think the gender binary can be smashed without smashing patriarchy…

  3. Interesting article, but there isn’t enough on non-white transwomen, those on the MtF spectrum but aren’t fully transsexual, and there isn’t enough discussion of Class. Obviously the transition experience would be hugely different depending on whether one is an upper-middle-class girl with plenty of money and time to spare or an unemployed working class person.

    Personally I don’t actually agree with radical feminism. I’m more of a socialist feminist. In some areas upper class women (yes, including some transwomen too) actually have more privileges than lower class men.

  4. there isn’t enough on non-white transwomen, those on the MtF spectrum but aren’t fully transsexual, and there isn’t enough discussion of Class

    I completely agree with you that this article doesn’t really tackle these issues. Though, in some ways, the history of transsexual women’s exclusion from women-only organising spaces has been a history of associating transsexual women with privilege. I’ve been talking about the most privileged transsexual women and making an argument for their inclusion, or at least, a better understanding of their privilege. If a transsexual woman is less privileged than that, e.g. along the axes of class, race etc., then there’s even more reason for her inclusion in women-only organising spaces. Not that this means, of course, that women (trans or not) of colour, working-class women etc. haven’t been systematically excluded from feminist discourse for lots of other reasons.

  5. Thank you for linking me – I’m so pleased you are writing about this. I love the article.

    Two things:
    1. I’d be really interested to see a post directly on your experiences of receiving misogyny when gendered correctly, expanding some of the really interesting stuff about the internalised/social/power-over privileges – if you wanted to write it and it it wouldn’t be too personal? I feel as if this is an(other) area where AFAB feminists can really learn from non-AFAB feminists. I don’t think I always pick up on misogyny when directed against me because it’s internalised and I’ve never experienced anything different.

    2. How can conversations between cis and trans* feminists about male privilege in radical feminist spaces go forward? Should they go forward, or is it just a misleading and transphobic way to think about behaviours in women’s-only spaces? I’m very wary of this area, and am worried that if I were to think of trans* women as displaying male privileges (even on your more problematised above model) I would be straying into transphobia.

  6. Thank you for the thought provoking questions. 🙂

    Re: 1, there’s an excellent post by Natalie on Skepchick about that very subject. And if you’re interested in reading an account by a trans man of navigating male privilege in the other direction, Tom Forrister has you covered.

    Re: 2, I’d identify the conversation about male privilege in radical women-only organising spaces as currently broken. Because it’s a broken conversation, it means that most conversations about the subject aren’t actually about the subject at all, but are clashes of ideology based more on the cultures of feminism involved than the actual issues. I’m very interested in doing work to repair that conversation; this post is the first in a series of posts I’m planning to make on the subject. While the conversation is broken, though, I think you’re right to be cautious about discussing the issue.

    I’d like to see more work by radical cis feminists which acknowledges the complex experiences of transsexual women, and more work by transsexual women which acknowledges the pressing need for women-only organising and the lifesaving track record of radical feminist methods in fighting the effects of patriarchy. I’d like to see more radical cis feminists reading Serano and more transsexual women reading Dworkin, and all of them talking about it.

    And I would like to see everybody working hard to comprehend more points of view, even conflicting points of view, because there are a lot of ragged edges to pull together before we can mend this and that means minds willing to bridge the gaps. For a long time, I felt both that radical feminism was essential but transphobic, and that trans* liberation and zero-tolerance for transphobia was essential but at-times hurtful to cis women on the survival line against patriarchy. It was only through holding both those views and sitting with them that I felt the edges slowly beginning to close together and a coherent viewpoint emerging; it takes time – time I acknowledge that some women don’t have.

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  8. As I’ve posted elsewhere and was suggested to post as a direct reply here:

    The thing with the special case category is that it isn’t treated as a real category – not as a ternary, but as a binary* where the asterisk means: see the footnote where we make enough of a third category to blunt the dissonance without actually treating it like a real category. Like Australia having an X for “sex indeterminate” on passports – but how many other official, unofficial and societal settings honor that X? They just patched one document. It means “here, have a cookie and quit bothering us”.

  9. This is the first article on the intersection of radical feminism and transmisogyny that I can fully get behind. I love it and I’m sharing with everyone.

  10. @Heather: Aw, thanks! I read your blog post on reddit a while back, btw, and thought it was awesome too. Sorry for never commenting – I’ll go do that now!

  11. Thank you for writing. Just for the record: I think that this *SRSLY* needs to be anthologized somewhere. And I mean: SRSLY!!!1

    If you want to read about other gender models throughout history, seek out The Sexing of the Body by Anne Fausto-Sterling, and especially the first chapter. One single-gender model that she mentions is an 18th century model which conceptualizes males as the standard, while females are perceived as defected since their internal sex organs haven’t “fallen out” (as in, made external) like those of men. (I don’t remember whether or not this model accounts for intersexualities). It’s interesting and worth checking out.

    As to where else this model might apply – I’m thinking (how surprising) about whether it could apply to sexuality, wherein heterosexuality and homosexuality would be the intelligible binaries, and bisexualities would occupy the unintelligible, “freak” position. It sounds palatable, though I’m still not sure how it might pan out. However, some of what you said about passing really resonated with what I’ve been writing in my recent book chapter. Let’s talk more about this when I’m done 🙂

    By the way, I’m using “unintelligible” here as borrowed from Riki Wilchins’ Read My Lips – she talks about trans bodies being “unintelligible” in terms of sex and sexuality, and about the desexualization of transgender people. Your use of “freak” really echoed this for me.

  12. Thank you again! 🙂 I’d love to see it anthologised, but I’ve no idea where to start with that. I think I’ll just keep writing, and if the blog gains profile, maybe I’ll do something with that idea then.

    Yey medieval sex paradigm! I first found out about it from someone I met recently who blogged about the idea on their tumblr.

    “Unintelligible” – I like that. Perhaps unintelligibility is the (sometimes/typical) cis experience of trans bodies and accounts, and ‘freak’ is the category which contains unintelligible (to them) bodies. I think I’d be wary of using the language of “unintelligibility” in a lot of settings because I don’t want to ascribe it to trans bodies as an intrinsic property of those bodies, though I’m sure you agree there anyway!

    I’m looking forward to more conversations about all of this. 🙂

  13. Hey Lisa,

    So happy this was my introduction to your blog! I’ve been looking for a conversation/article like this for a long long time. The biggest thing that it’s pinging in my brain is Bruno Latour’s book “We have never been modern”. In it, Latour details the ways in which modernity’s fundamental principle is (a) the proliferation of hybrids (freaks) while (b) denying hybridization and their products (freak shaming and privilege denying). Also, just a word on use of freaks and quoting Mingus, I really appreciate this and relate to this though again not t suppose in the same way Mingus does. Latour’s theories, I digress, make sense in your tertiary gender system and also explain the experiences of freaks. This also goes to show that modernity isn’t a singular force but rather it exists in multiplicity as evidenced by the imposed experience of freaks and the self liberating declarations of Queers and Trans people. Anyway I’m going into theoretical oblivion. I suggest you check out the first (and maybe second) chapter of the book as I think it will ring some bells. Would love to hear your thoughts on Latour. Thanks again for writing this!

  14. @Lindsay: Wow, I think you’re much better-read on your anth than I am! Thank you for the comment. I haven’t read Latour’s book, though I’ll see if I can borrow it some time from somebody with academic library access.

    I’m sure it’s not easy to summarise it, so sorry if I’ve got the wrong end of the stick, but the words “hybrid” and “freak” don’t sit very well next to each other for me. If there is hybridisation, it doesn’t live in the body of the freak, it lives in the mind of the person naming us “freak” because their (potentially misconceived) atomic concepts (for example “man”, “woman”) must be intermingled in order to conceptualise us.

    I don’t know, not having read it, maybe that’s what Latour’s writing about, though? I’m also interested in your mention of “imposed experience of freaks” – could you say more about that?

  15. I’m very glad you have started this conversation in such a coherent way. I too feel the conversation between Radical &/or Trans* feminists is broken and I’m doing some work on (mostly) with Radical non-Trans*/ Cis feminists.

    Self naming/ framing: I identify as non-Trans* as opposed to cis – I was AFAB but was a mainly gender nonconforming person till puberty – since then I have identified as a woman – but my experience of coming into feminism at this time means I have only ever felt female-as-feminist i.e. that my gender is a social construction and my presentation is often non-patriarchy-approved [although sometimes I pass]. I feel that many queer ‘cis’ people are non-Trans* because although experiencing some access to target transphobia at others we are gendered as freaks via out gendercrime of homosexuality in a heterosexist world. I believe all queers &/or all feminists &/or all trans* people share common cause – and have hirstorically given much mutual aid and had our homes in mutual imagined communities. This is not to deny the wounds we have inflicted on each other.

    I wish to unbreak especially the Radical/Trans*Feminist conversation as I think patriarchy cannot end while we are still conflicted in this way.

    Thanks for your words – although I have no idea about what we will agree on I know we both read Dworkin and Serano: lets talk

    in Sisterhood, with love
    Rachel Feminista [Any Wave Will Do]

  16. @Rachel: This comment made me happy; thank you. Yes, let’s talk! Email me?

    About cis/non-trans*/trans* identity: I find this a very tricky area. Tangent alert!

    I absolutely agree with you that all gendercriminals such as feminist women (actually, all women, since every woman is sometimes not a virgin and sometimes not a whore), gay, lesbian, bi and queer folks and many others can be understood as “people for whom their behaviour/nature doesn’t perfectly match the gender role they’re assigned in society” (since those roles are bullshit), and that we are all targeted for gender enforcement based on our gendercrime.

    So I think sometimes it’s useful to think of cis/trans* as a spectrum on which nobody is 100% cis (well, maybe some straight white dudes livin’ the patriarchal dream), because it can help us understand the ways in which gender hurts us all, and to find common cause.

    At other times, I think it can help to make a distinction between who is and isn’t on the front line of the gender enforcement targeted at everyone who steps outside of gender roles. We can do that by calling those who are on the front line trans*, and those who aren’t cis.

    When I say that self-identified trans* folks are on that front line, that’s not to say that others aren’t targeted for gender enforcement as well. I hope the meaning’s clear. One distinction between “front” and “not quite front”, of course, is that the people behind you can stab you in the back – this is what I understand you to mean by “access to target transphobia at others”.

    This trans*/cis classification is a political system of classification created and owned by trans* people to structure the oppression we face on the cis-trans* axis. It’s an important tool when used alongside concepts of intersectionality and allied struggles.

    As a result, I assign less importance to self-identifications as “non-trans*” than I do to self-identifications as trans*. Sometimes the self-identified non-trans* people need to understand that they are recipients of cis privilege and perpetrators of transphobia. Sometimes they don’t understand that, and it’s necessary for a trans* person to tell a person that this is what’s going on. When doing that, I don’t have a problem with framing somebody’s identity as cis even if they use the phrase “non-trans*”.

    Self-identified non-trans* people who understand that are valuable allies. Those who don’t… ah. It makes me twitchy. I’m sure you get all this, but I wanted to type it out, because that phrase is so politically dangerous, as well as fraught with potential for points of common ground. 🙂

  17. Hi Lisa, well your reply has made me happy too – I’m feeling my way in this conversation and I’m very happy you are willing to talk about this stuff at all. I think that trans* people have maybe been hurt by cis-rad-feminists in the way that I call ‘hurt by your own’ i.e. hurt in a way that was bitter because we ‘should’ have been allies … and that kind of hurt is hard to shift.

    On the cis/non-trans* issue – I like the frontline meme. I think I want to reserve non-trans* for naming my personal experience of gender to distinguish my internal self from people unaware of their genderness i.e. I’m aware of my gender in problematic ways because I am fish-not-in-water [analogy being how heterosexuals do not feel they have a ‘sexuality’ in heteronormative societies]. I think your knapsack of levels/ realms of oppression might be useful here – I must have a think – and yes, I’m aware that as someone who is ‘transgendered’ only rarely I’m often fully equiped with cisgender priviledge.

    looking forward to more dialogue here or by email
    again in Sisterhood,
    p.s. I too am dyslexic – I think dyslexics are often ideal people to unravel and re-ravel such multi-dimentional and multi-tangental conversations

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  19. I just discovered your blog at work today, and I’d like to inform you that you are seriously one of my new favorite people for this post and for the recent post(s) about consent. I know I’m going to write responses to all of that stuff on my own blog very soon, hopefully tonight, and then as far as this post goes, you’ll have a reply from someone on the essentially-transmasculine spectrum whose “passing privilege” is extremely limited, who’s been feeling out the possibilities of being nonbinary instead of binary-male, and who thus has had a LOT of thoughts about this kind of thing. It is so awesome that this dialogue is going on, and to see that your blog exists when there is so much common ground between radical feminism and trans feminism (while both categories are often quick to exclude the other by name).

  20. @Faxe: Thanks! I love seeing all the thoughtful responses to this, and seeing people incorporate these ideas into their own arguments. That’s part of what I want to achieve with this blog; to set out ideas in such a way that other people can reuse them and so that we can build up theory that, like you say, incorporates trans* understandings and radical feminism.

  21. Pingback: My life as a semi-freak. « Witty in the Morning

  22. Super late in commenting on this but…I’m super grateful for this article. I identify as bigendered, specifically both as a man and a woman. I felt like the ternary was especially applicable to my situation, in that I feel somewhat permanently stuck in category three, freak. My feminine gender expression would never pass, and expressing myself as entirely masculine all the time is excruciating. Just thought I’d offer my perspective as another facet on the transgender diamond.

  23. Oh also I just realized it was a bit of an assumption to co-identify you with myself as a transgender person, since from what I’ve read you consistently identify as transsexual. Apologies there if inaccurate.

  24. @Wesley: I’m really glad the article is helpful! Thanks for letting me know. I’m pleased with how many people have shared their different perspectives. In its use as “trans umbrella” term, I’m happy enough to be identified under “transgender”, though not in its sense as “someone with a gender different to my assigned gender” since I reject some of the basic assumptions in that construction. That’s why nowadays I tend towards using “trans*” if I need a catch-all, though I’m increasingly finding that using catch-alls can be misleading. It’s rare to find someone aware enough of the issues to make the distinction, so thank you – I appreciate that. 🙂

  25. No problem. I generally feel particularly sensitive to exclusive labeling since I tend to get a lot of “you’re not a real transperson because X” whether it be that I haven’t made permanent anatomy changes specifically related to passing, or the fact that I simultaneously identify as a man. And that whole attitude seems so horizontally divisive to our community. But…being regularly told that I’m really just a cross-dresser, despite all evidence and identification to the opposite, I didn’t want to identify you as a label you felt inadequately described yourself. Not that any label doesn’t do that, but you know what I mean:)

  26. Pingback: On the Need for Women Only Spaces « Random musings

  27. Pingback: End the Patriarchy – My experience of male privilege « Reneta Xian

  28. Pingback: Let’s talk about Trans Rights, And That Means You « STATIC

  29. Hi,

    I just saw this. And yes, I have to agree. My experiences during transition didn’t always line up with what I’d been warned to expect. I think that until several months into transition, people treated me as a freak.

    I was bullied and beaten in school. I was mocked as a girl at 8, as a ‘fag’ at 10, and as a ‘tranny’ at 12. I was kicked out of my first high school, perhaps because it was easier to get rid of one victim than several bullies. I started getting hips and a beard at the same time, among the other stresses of puberty. Sometimes people took me for a boy, sometimes for a girl, sometimes for a ‘freak.’

    It got even harder early in transition.

    It started getting easier after that though. I once had someone yell ‘bra burner!’ at me; I hardly ever wear them, but that still seems surreal. I am almost always visibly butch-of-center, but I don’t encounter nearly as much harassment and violence as I did for being visibly trans. And the estrogen definitely helps when I’m triggered.

    And trans feminism definitely needs radical feminisms: anarchafeminism, socialist feminism, orthodox and unorthodox radical feminism, and a healing and rediscovering feminism as so many of us cope with trauma.

  30. Pingback: Δεν είμαι μια μήτρα με πόδια « Attack Of The Quasars

  31. Pingback: Gender, Sex and Intersex: A Primer | Queering the Church

  32. Pingback: On the Need for Women Only Spaces | Second Council House of Virgo

  33. Lisa – I love this post so much and your blog is so thought provoking for me. As a lesbian radical feminist I really want to see the work happen over my time to explore women’s only spaces and begin the conversations that need to happen as you put so well in this blog.

    Like any wave will do, I reject the ‘cis’ label for myself – I have issues with it for all women as I do not believe that women have a privileged role as a sex class in the hierarchy of gender however I recognise its usefulness from a political viewpoint for trans* activists. One of the issues I do find myself negotiating in my communities is how a very crude binary is constructed where one can co-opt trans* oppression through speech acts.

    One example I would give is that after each large LGBT gathering in my community, various people will say things like “I have seen the light. Gender is an oppressive construct. I now identify as trans* and my preferred pronoun is ‘they'”. Some of these people are gender non conforming, others receive large amounts of cis privilege and, especially those who are AMAB, continue to move through life presenting in normative ways, retaining this power over and receiving social privilege. The act of self identification however places them in a position to criticise and hold women in our community to account due to their “cis privilege”. There is a lack of structural political analysis and in turn it is replaced with quite an individualistic model which I feel is anchored on class privilege as well as cultural capital. I have been called transphobic for being offended by someone who was AMAB, identifies as genderqueer and identifies as male, demanding access to lesbian space “because I can”. I think these are some slithers of the fundamental issues that we have to begin unpacking as sisters in communities that are rife with misogyny.

    Your ‘journey’ model is so interesting to me and something I identify with in my own gender struggles. As a non gender conforming butch presenting lesbian, entirely rejecting my categorisation as woman only to find strength in it through “female-as-feminist”, I have been told I am trans*, or that if I were to identify as trans* I would have a case for being oppressed due to my gender. I genuinely feel that “woman” as a received gender is being reconstituted to be a privileged class by some in my community. I don’t know how we move forward but I really want to see that happen, as I feel that it is trans* women who are hardest hit by these ‘terf wars’ over women’s spaces.

  34. Pingback: My life as a semi-freak | dark november

  35. Pingback: Λίγα λόγια για τα πρόσφατα τρανσφοβικά γεγονότα γύρω και μέσα στο Pride Athens –

  36. Pingback: Perceptions and Transgressions: CAMAB non-binary people and male privilege | Feminist Halestorm

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  38. Pingback: Trans People and the Dialectics of Sex and Gender: Against Radical and Liberal Feminism |

  39. This explains why I as a non binary person have sometimes felt better when strangers have looked at me weird, because being transgendered as a “freak” is as close to having most strangers understand my gender as I can get.

  40. This post really resonated with me as an androgyne who often keeps their facial hair and dresses pretty feminine.

    When I don’t shave, I’m either treated as an (eccentric or “girly”) man or a freak (and only considered to be a woman very rarely in the dark or in trans groups where people assume I’m just a woman who hasn’t come out yet).

    When I do shave, I’m at times treated as a woman or as a man (due to my low voice, larger shoulders, and protruding Adam’s apple) or as a freak, but a new interpretation of freak develops where some people (especially straight dudes, although some women are included in this) think I’m trying to trick them.

    People might be mad at me (and violently approach me) for being gender non-conforming with or without the facial hair, but the moment a straight dude checks me out thinking I’m a cis woman and then thinking that maybe I’m not, a new type of anger is revealed, one based in homophobia and the need to protect their own interpretation of straight masculinity.

    I kind of feel I get more stares when I look like I might be a woman–wait, maybe I’m not–as opposed to when it’s like, “Oh, there’s a bearded cross-dresser. What is this world coming to?” It’s a different type of freak experience. But I could be wrong. I try to surround myself with supportive people and tend to hang out in mostly queer friendly environments, so thoroughly testing what forms of gender expression makes unsafe people in unsafe spaces more or less aggressive isn’t really something I’m completely dedicated to.

    I’m going to keep thinking about that spectrum of male to female and the freak in between and how that spectrum is interpreted differently with age, race, disability, etc.

  41. Pingback: Friday Links (bathroom patrol edition) | Font Folly

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