If you haven’t noticed, there’s been a lot of trans love lately. Laverne Cox, who stars in Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black,” served as a Grand Marshal in the New York City Pride Parade, appeared on the cover of TIME magazine and in a John Legend video, and earned an historic Emmy nomination. Janet Mock, the trans activist, journalist, and author, joined the San Francisco Pride Parade as a Celebrity Grand Marshal. A new documentary film about Kate Bornstein, the trans activist and legend, and self-described “gender outlaw,” is making its way around the international film festival circuit. Finally, deservedly— if only for a moment — the public is acknowledging an oft-neglected part of the LGBTQ community.
Despite their growing fame, though, these and other women are still subjected to constant identity-policing. In the documentary “Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger,” and in her memoir “A Queer and Pleasant Danger,”Bornstein discusses how she never felt like a man, but also wasn’t a woman, either, according to her women friends. They said that because she had a different genetic makeup and hadn’t been socialized from birth as a woman, her gender identity didn’t count. Similarly, Janet Mock was referred to on CNN as “a boy until age 18,” even though Mock has repeatedly said she was not born a boy and has never identified as a man. While interviewing Laverne Cox and the model Carmen Carrera, who’s also transgender, Katie Couric probed her guests about their genitalia and transitions.
Gender is wonderfully and terribly complicated, but respecting another person is not. If someone says they are a woman, whether or not they fit the precise cutout of your idea of “woman,” you should accept their gender identity. They are who they say they are. As women, we’re subjected to fat-shaming, slut-shaming, and mansplaining about being too much of one thing or not enough of another. It echoes through the chambers of the Supreme Court down to our living rooms and out our friends’ and lovers’ mouths. Why, when we contend with so much outside criticism, would we waste energy asking invasive questions and drawing boundaries around the definition of woman?
More importantly, though, we shouldn't exclude anyone who shares our burdens and fights our battles. Whenever you find yourself tempted to ask someone what kind of genitalia they have (in case you were never taught, that’s none of your business) or side-eyeing a fat woman for wearing a bikini, remember: she is not the enemy. She’s part of your struggle.
Contents of this blog constitute the opinion of the author, and the author alone; they do not represent the reviews and opinions of Women's Fund of Rhode Island.