You make me feel like a …

27 March, 2011 (13:25) | Book/article reviews

The words of Aretha Franklin are swirling around in my head as I write this post… 


Oh baby what you done to me!
You make me feel so good inside
And I just wanna be
Close to you
You make me feel so alive


You make me feel
You make me feel
You make me feel like a natural woman

The Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Gender series is promoted as a “debate-style reader designed to introduce students to controversies in gender”. These books have a number of these “controversies” and include readings from published authors that take (supposedly) opposing views. The latest edition of this book, authored by Jacquelyn W. White, tackles the “controversy” “should transgendered women be considered ‘real’ women?” My 2008 paper published in Archives of Sexual Behavior is used to take the “no” position on this: “Jaimie Veale…compared the sexuality of male-to-female transsexuals to biological females and found a number of differences that distinguish the groups in terms of sexual attraction to males…suggesting, at least when it comes to sexual attraction, this group really is different from women born as women”.

First of all, while I did find some group differences, when you look more closely at the paper, it was found that a group that consisted of the majority of the transsexuals (70%) reported sexual attraction patterns that were rather similar to birth-assigned females.

Nowhere in the article do I try to argue whether or not transsexual women should be considered “real” women (whatever that is actually supposed to mean). The author perhaps gets a bit closer to the question when discussing Caster Semenya at the end of the section, but if she is looking for answers in my research, she is looking in the wrong place. First of all, given our different upbringing, it might not be out of the question to expect transsexual womens’ sexuality to differ on average to birth-assigned females in some way and that wouldn’t make them any more or less a “real” woman. Really, despite what Aretha Franklin might think, it would be foolish to think that a person’s sexuality is what makes them a “real” woman. Should lesbians be considered “real” women? Should a group of female-identified people recruited from an S&M gathering be considered “real” women because they might differ from a group of other women on an aspect of sexuality that I measured in this research?

Clearly, there are debates still going on about about the access transsexual women should have to some spaces, and the author mentions the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and women’s competitive sport as examples. It looks like a good resource on these matters is the article that is arguing for transgendered inclusion, portrayed as being pitted against my article, taking the “yes” position in the book. If you are looking for resources about these sorts of issues, then there is absolutely no point in reading any of my current research that basically has nothing to do with the topic.


Comment from Shannon
Date: March 27, 2011, 1:43 pm

This is really interesting, Jaimie. I agree with you that it’s such a struggle to imagine what a “real” woman or a “real” man are like, given that gender is certainly not a binary and the process of “doing gender” is approached and manifested in so many unique ways throughout societies all over the world. I do sometimes struggle also with the idea of transsexuals as “real” men or women, not because I think they are somehow “less than real,” but because as you say, the truth of the matter is that, generally, transsexual women and men were little boys and little girls. They also (may) retain some body parts and aspects of their sexuality, socialisation, and worldview that originates from their upbringing as the “opposite” gender.

But far from believing that this should mean that they are not considered “woman or man enough,” I actually tend to believe that it is unfortunate when we deny that unique history and the unique framework of womanhood and manhood that they each exist within. Transsexual women are women, and transsexual men are men, but I think the real mistake in this kind of thinking is believing that they need to deny their pasts and their differences in order to be labelled “real.” All women and men, whether they were born that way or not, are different in some ways from other women and men, and I think hiding those differences only works against the establishment of a culture that fosters diversity and embraces change in our attitudes and understandings of the world, including our perception of the gender continuum.

Comment from Hannah Rossiter
Date: November 16, 2011, 10:48 pm

I disagree. Only certain transwomen are women and certain transmen are men. One has to meet an unwritten criteria in order to be acknowledged or accepted as a woman or man. That these rules are fluid in there application, those that do not meet this unwritten standard find there is little or no place for them in the wider trans community.

Write a comment