I read an article in the Sunday Times magazine today (05/03/17 Sunday Times). The long-time host of Women’s Hour Jenni Murray has written ‘Be trans, be proud – but don’t call yourself a “real woman”’. Her concern is that those who transition bring their privilege from a male upbringing with them.
I am a firm believer in free speech and the arguments were presented reasonably. However, as I read it again, the urge to point out a basic flaw in the reasoning became compelling.
There is a fairy story called the Princess and the Pea. A bride-hunting prince rejects lots of apparently eligible women because they are not ‘real princesses’. In the middle of a stormy night, a knock comes on the castle gates and in walks a bedraggled creature. For a reason that is never explained, the prince’s mother senses something about the wretch and gives her a luxurious bed of multiple mattresses. In the morning, the guest is asked how she slept and she complains she could not get comfortable because of a lump in the bed. The Queen admits she placed a pea under the bottom mattress. The guest is revealed as a Real Princess because of her extreme sensitivity, cue royal wedding bells.
Even as a child, I had a number of problems with this story, which can be summed up by the feeling that anyone who was that precious about a tiny pea must have been a real pain to have around (and that she and the picky prince deserved each other). And yet here we are arguing about the concept of a real woman. I will say that I am not sure anyone can call truly themselves a “real woman” because I don’t believe such a creature exists. Or, as another way of looking at it, there is no single version – instead, there are infinite varieties of “real woman” to match the different perceptions of the role of women through time. If you take a snapshot from any one of these realities, you could exclude lots of people from being “real women” – to pick a few examples, those working; lesbians; people without children, there are lots of possible reasons.
Looking at myself, I have the obvious external biological markers of a woman but these can be put in place by surgery. If you discount these elements (which most critics of trans people do), exactly what is it that makes me so sure I am a woman? To help, I can look at examples of the women that are celebrated by the media but I certainly don’t look or act like them. What that leaves me with is just my own conviction that I am a woman. Whether I am “real” or not seems academic, another excuse to label people into ever-smaller boxes. I’m going to continue being me and I will celebrate the diversity of life with anyone who wants to be themselves, whatever you call yourself.