There is lots of talk about what “woman” means. It’s practically a cliche feminist topic! But the debate takes on new meaning in light of transsexuality’s destructive “gender” conservatism. Post-modern anti-essentialism seeks to dismiss the experience of womanhood by claiming that anyone can choose to be a woman and, in any case, we are too diverse to be generalized about. This is not true. Women are all subject to the tyranny of compulsory heterosexuality that dictates the sexual-ized behavior of humans according to the mutually exclusive classifications of “man” and “woman.” Women have shared life experiences as “girls” and as “women.” Radical feminist theory seeks to expose the ways in which trans theory, like patriarchal reality, denies female self-determination and imposes upon women their own false (read: male-serving) definition OF “woman.”
It’s one thing to change the spelling of a word in protest of its etymological implications; it’s quite another to have to qualify a term that has been co-opted by your oppressor to mean something that better serves his purposes. For example, WOMYN or WIMMIN is used by radfems to indicate that wo-men are not merely a variation on the default “man.” Women have distinctive experiences; our existence constitutes something entirely separate from that of “man” or “men’s experiences.” Women are not merely the inverse of men, nor their compliment. The feminist re-spelling of “woman” reflects a recenter-ing of the subject towards herself. By contrast, I am incredibly tired of having to say woman-born-woman or natal woman or FAAB in order to satisfy those who repurpose “woman” to serve themselves.
In my experience, as a woman mind you, common usage dictates that “woman” is a synonym for mature female human. Girl, another synonym for female, is also commonly used in conversational speech. To be sure, this is how we identify the sex of human infants: girl or boy.
By hijacking the word “woman,” trans ideology seeks to erase or invisibilize the presumption of female-ness that constitutes the core criteria informing the word itself. Trans reduce the word WOMAN to a social construct and identity — one that they can appropriate at will, have socially and politically supported merely on their word, and then legitimized legally in a relatively short time (usually just 2 years). For trans, it is not a contradiction for a MAAB to adopt the term “woman” and the often-repeated mantra of the community is “trans women ARE women.”
In this sense, gendered signs have a kind of performative quality. They make the vagina into a she, and they make a person who executes the gender cues correctly and articulately into a woman. This social fact is evidenced by a cultural phenomenology in which one’s true sex is merely evidenced, not constituted, by the genital that is physically present, and a legal rule of evidence by which the genital is regarded as probative, but by no means dispositive or irrebuttable evidence of one’s true sex. It is the cultural genital, the metaphoric “something extra,” the presence of which is proven by the signs of gender, that makes a woman and makes a man and that cannot be rebutted by physical facts to the contrary.
If gender performativity creates “man” and “woman,” then it can also taketh away. So what does this mean about butch women? What does it mean about non-feminine or even anti-feminine women? Apparently, they are “men” despite physical facts to the contrary. This implicitly denies the both possibility and current reality of non-feminine women and explicitly erases their experience. These women no longer exist! Obviously, such a framing is both false and misogynistic.
Let’s return now to the “woman who is intersexed” that I mentioned above. Because she is not reproductively “female,” she may initially seem to present a problem analogous to that of the so-called “trans woman.” However, despite the intersexed person’s reproductive capacity or specific genital configuration, the tyranny of compulsory heterosexuality prescribes female-assigned social development from infancy. If anything can create the state of being a “woman,” it is the process of being groomed from birth to make oneself sexually and socially compatible with males/men. This definition of “woman” is inclusive of both intersexed and feminine-non-conforming females. So to the extent that “woman” is not strictly synonymous with a specific normative physical state, intersexed humans treated as a female from birth present a distinctly separate situation from that of “trans women.”
Trans women are simply MAABs who have volunteered to adopt the mask of femininity through performativity, then demanded use of the social labels associated with the experiences of the female-assigned-at-birth humans. Born-women have no choice about their role in the play of compulsory heterosexuality; it is simply expected of us. Further, the so-called “trans woman’s” life experience is fundamentally distinct from natal women’s experiences in both breadth and depth. To refuse the relevancy and legitimacy of these specific experiential differences between women and “trans women” is to redefine “womanhood” to better serve male purposes. It shows blatant disregard and disrespect for the experiences and realities women who have lived as women and girls from their first breaths. It is misogyny, pure and simple.