Photo by / JessicaGirvan

A Woman is a Body Policed

I would like to preface what I am about to say with the very firm statement that there is nothing I find valuable about TERF logic, and I very explicitly denounce TERFism as nothing more than dangerous, violently transphobic rhetoric. We all have a very real responsibility to protect the trans community, and I take that very seriously. TERFs are not welcome here, no exceptions.

The single thing that TERFs and I agree on, though, is that being a cis woman is painful, through and through. Living on a cycle of pain is, without a hint of dramatism, torture. No matter where in my cycle I am, it feels like my body and mind are waging a war on me. Having a reproductive body sucks.

That experience only makes up a fraction of what womanhood actually is, though. The “woman experience” does intersect with the “reproductive experience” at times. Yes, being a woman sucks because of periods, childbirth, and all the bullshit that comes with a vagina and a body forcibly labeled “female” (although, that’s not even a universal experience for all cis women, but I digress). But it would be reductive to pretend that accurately captures the entire picture of womanhood.

When TERFs reduce womanhood to our biology, not only is that just a thorough misunderstanding of the social phenomenon of gender to serve transphobic ends, it diminishes the truth about what being a woman (even a cis woman) actually means.

Womanhood is an ideal into which nobody fits. It is a strict and ever-changing fantasy of perfection that is at its core, by its very design, alienating. To be a woman is to be reduced and policed into objectivity against impossible standards: Dress the right way — but not too feminine or you’ll be disregarded or assaulted, and not too masculine or you’ll be … disregarded or assaulted. Be the right size (the less space you take up, the better, but this body ideal changes on a dime, so keep up with dieting and cosmetic surgery to make sure you’re worth looking at and, therefore, existing). Look pretty always. Don’t get old, and if you must, do so “gracefully” (adopt a strict skin care regimen and get cosmetic surgery to make you look decades younger than you actually are — this is easier to do preventatively, so start before your youth runs out).

Being a woman isn’t bleeding out of your vagina. Being a woman is feeling like you could never be a woman correctly, no matter how hard you try. There is no one who understands this, who knows the darkest impact bodily policing has, like trans women do.

For many trans women, looking feminine enough is literally a matter of life and death. While TERFs want to pretend that trans women are infiltrating and bastardizing womanhood, trans womanhood is actually womanhood amplified (in the same way that misogynoir is misogyny amplified). It is because the bodies of women are so policed that it is both more difficult and more important when it comes to safety for trans women to pass; as noted in a TIME article by Charlotte Alter, “a 6’2″ woman is often more conspicuous than a 5’4″ man.”

As trans activist Julia Serano said, “Women’s appearances get more attention, women’s actions are commented on and critiqued more than men, so in that world it just makes sense that people will focus more on trans women than trans men.”

In my editorial for this issue last year, I said the thing that ties all women together is oppression. I stand by this, but would like to expand: the thing that ties all of us together is the oppression of women. Ask any gay man — or man who grew up exhibiting any characteristic deviating from the masculine norm — and they will tell you that the way they have been policed is through feminization.

All of this is to say that the plight of women is the plight of all of us — and yes, that is all women. It doesn’t matter if our bodies bleed or not. We are all subjected to the policing of gender. The further we are in the margins, the stricter the policing becomes. So, the next time you want to police who you let into the woman club in the name of “women’s rights,” just shut the hell up.