I believe that he has gender dysphoria. I believe that when he looks in the mirror he sees a man and expects to see a woman, and I believe that this situation is extremely uncomfortable. I believe that his decision to live as a woman was not easy nor casual nor malicious.
However, I also believe that he has a responsibility to be kind and empathetic and honest, to women and especially to his wife. I married a person I thought had these qualities. I yoked myself to a person I thought would think as much of me as he thinks of himself.
Because his dysphoria is so uncomfortable, he feels that he has no choice but to live as a woman and no choice but to accept every line of the transgender political movement. How can I expect him to do otherwise, he asks?
The following is what I expect of a partner who is intelligent and empathetic and who wants to have a loving, equal relationship with me. I believe that it’s reasonable. What is this condition if it is not compatible with empathy and the ability to think of a partner as well as oneself? What is it if it is incompatible with truth? If it is inherently that antisocial, then the problem doesn’t lie with me and can’t be fixed by me.
I expect him to see the misogyny in his community. I expect him to notice the men around him: the stripper names, the five-inch heels, the giddy references to each other with the diminutive “girls,” the obsession with appearance. I expect him to look around at his female friends, to notice their jeans and t-shirts, to notice that they don’t exhibit or condone this behavior and are often made uncomfortable by it, to see how masculine this behavior is, how informed by porn it is.
I expect him to understand how the gender binary harms women. I expect him to notice that the roles and behaviors assigned to women are not equal to (or even merely different from) the roles and behaviors assigned to men, but are specifically designed to extract women’s service for the benefit of men. I expect him to recoil from this ugly, male-supremacist system, not to internalize it with the belief that everyone has a “gender identity,” and that some, including “cis” women and himself, feel an inner alignment with the sexualized, vain, subservient role created for women.
To do otherwise is to directly subjugate me and my people (natal women), to agree that we are those things patriarchy has said we are: that we are fuck objects, that we are vain, that we are stupid, that we are more interested in looking pretty than pursuing careers, that we are worthless when we become old and unattractive, that it is our job to serve and worship men, that it is our lot to accept the subservient life men have chosen for us.
I expect him to hold his fellow males accountable for the untruth of these gender roles, as only another man can, by admitting to himself and to them that he is an exception to them. By instead choosing one of two contrived and harmful gender roles, he legitimizes those roles, he condones them as so obviously and naturally true that he can’t imagine legitimate deviation from them.
I expect him to understand that when he agrees that his personality is unfit for the male role, and thus declares himself a woman, he capitulates to male supremacy and its troubling gender prescriptions. He legitimizes the very violence that he claims to experience at the hands of men when he does not “pass” and is read as stepping outside his appropriate gender role. If even he does not accept his gender nonconformity, then how would they? And if he continues to honor their hierarchy as correct, why should they stop their violence against him or us?
I expect him to realize that a woman is unique: a person with two X chromosomes and ovaries, a person who was socialized female and shares the experience of female oppression, a person who grapples with menstruation, fertility, a hampered ability to fully participate in society as a whole person, the ever-present specter of sexual abuse, and the male gaze. I expect him to realize that this is not a position that a man can imitate or colonize or purchase via clothing and cosmetic procedures, just as it is not a position that women can escape by wishing to be someone else. Women are a separate category from men, not merely non-men or neutered men; as Germaine Greer put it, women are not “defective males.”
In a world where young, gender non-conforming children are increasingly designated transgender and funneled into irreversible medical procedures, in part due to his activism, I expect him to remember that 80% of them will change their minds (by his community’s own statistics). I expect him to consider not making children the casualty of his personal quest for self-understanding however challenging that quest may be.
I expect him to think about who is most harmed by the transgendering of children: gay and lesbian kids. I expect him to think about how very retrograde this idea is — that homosexuality is not acceptable, that it should be cured by castration, that parents can and should sacrifice their children’s future fertility and sex lives in service of heteronormativity. It’s a way for the mainstream to correct the deviant, just as other conversion therapies that have come and gone.
I expect him to think about how politically conservative his views are, in general. Men must be men. Women must be women. Deviance must be corrected. That it’s easier to imagine that outliers are defective than it is to imagine that male superiority isn’t natural and correct.
I expect him to recognize that men commit nearly 80% of the country’s violent crime and 98% of its sexual crime. I expect him to understand that protecting women from male violence was originally the goal of sex-segregated restrooms, and that India’s lack of sex-segregated restrooms keeps women constantly at such risk today, with the end result of restricting their participation in public life. I expect him to care about this.
I expect him to realize that “cis” men can and will exploit the transgender bathroom policies that he fights for, and that even post-op MtFs “[retain] a male pattern regarding criminality.” I expect him to drop the politically convenient lie that these policies pose no threat to women, because the safety of women and children depends upon it.
I expect him to put aside his own indignation and pride for long enough to plainly consider the list of people whom he fights for at the cost of that safety: not just transwomen, but men with no intention of transitioning, part-time crossdressers, fetishists, criminals, and the mentally ill.
I expect him to stop pretending that it’s any safer for women to pee next to men than it is for transwomen to pee next to men. Who is larger and has a fighting chance in a conflict? Why must women be endangered in the service of combating a male-on-male violence problem?
I expect him to stop defending the transwomen who turn down gender-neutral facilities, because these transwomen are seeking not safety, which they have been offered, but validation. I expect my husband to consider my safety more important than a stranger’s validation.
I expect him to recognize his male privilege, as a person who was born into the dominant sex class, was socialized in it, and has been a beneficiary of it for over 40 years. I expect him to understand what an abuse of that privilege it is to claim to be the same as women, to invade our spaces, to join a political cause that will see our voices erased and our safety compromised. I expect him to abandon the lie that allowed this man to legally beat this woman senseless, allowed this child molester to prey upon women in women’s shelters, and let this murderer sexually assault inmates in a women’s prison.
I expect him to prioritize the lived experience of the oppressed sex class, of which he is not a part, and to listen to what we have to say. I expect him to understand his privilege as an individual whose oppression, such as it is, is easily avoided at will with a change of clothes, a situation not analogous to that of women or people of color.
When natal women point out that “womanhood cannot be put on like a pair of shoes,” and that appropriating womanhood is like appropriating race, I expect him to listen and care, just as he’d listen or care if a person of color told him his presentation was racist. I expect him to understand that this analysis is not about whether he is creepy and gross, as he has been quick to complain, but about whether women are being made to feel creepy and gross by it.
I expect him to be honest, especially with me. And I expect that an honest assessment of the claim that transwomen are women can yield only one conclusion, however uncomfortable that conclusion may be.
And because I know he’s intelligent, I expect this analysis of gender and its troubling, violent implications to cause him to reject it. And if he accepts it solely because of his own strong and uncomfortable feelings, I expect him to recognize this as internalized patriarchy caused by reinforcement of the gender binary he upholds, the very one that punishes him.
And though that may prove difficult to reconcile with his dysphoria, I expect him to rise to the challenge in the interest of half the world’s population, that half that has suffered in ways he can never understand.