There’s a concept in linguistics of “marked” categories. Someone might say “female doctor” but they’re unlikely to say “male doctor” because that sounds redundant — people are assumed to be male unless otherwise noted. “Male” is the default or unmarked category. “Female” is the marked one.
If you find a t-shirt shop that sells women’s t-shirts and unisex t-shirts, guess what? The unisex t-shirts aren’t made of a magical fabric that stretches or shrinks to fit the wearer. The unisex t-shirts are men’s sizes. “Unisex” in this context means nothing but “these t-shirts are sized for men, but we’ll still take your money if you’re not a man.” Since male is default and unmarked, unisex and male are the same thing. Men are the people who matter. Women are the other people.
It’s no coincidence that words and phrases like “mankind,” “manpower,” “man-hours,” “man the booth,” and “all men are created equal” contain the word “man,” the default sex, instead of “woman,” the other sex. Can you imagine a world in which men are asked to “woman a booth” or “put in some woman-hours on the project this weekend”?
The restroom sign for men is a stick figure. The restroom sign for women is a stick figure in a dress. Can you imagine a world in which a featureless stick figure stands for woman, and only the stick figure with the bow tie stands for man?
It’s no coincidence that the Green Party labeled women (and “nonbinary” people) “non-men” instead of naming men (and “nonbinary” people) “non-women.” Only in a world where women are considered significant members of society, default members, can other people be defined in relation to us.
In language and in popular conception, man equals human and human equals man. But woman equals human (or synonym: man) plus or minus something else. A marked man/human. An other man/human.
It’s an idea with a rich and long history. Eve was made from Adam’s rib. She is male, with modifications.
Heat is a positive, cold is a negative (the absence of heat). Light is a positive, dark is a negative (the absence of light). Theism is a positive, atheism a negative (the absence of theism).
But despite societal attitudes, women are a positive, not a mere negative quantity of maleness.
Women are people who have vaginas and labia, not Freud’s people-who-lack-penises. Women have XX chromosomes, not XY chromosomes awash in estrogen or differently clothed. Women have ovaries, which produce ova, not modified or missing testicles that have been prevented from producing sperm.
To be explicit: the idea that women are marked men is incorrect.
It is against this backdrop of woman conceived as man/human altered in which so many find the idea “trans women are women” familiar and compelling.
If societal attitudes are correct, you should be able to make a woman by altering a man. Remove his beard. Remove his penis and testicles. Add estrogen. Add clothing. Make him marked. Make him woman.
But in reality, a man who removes his beard or even his penis becomes less manly, not more womanly — because womanly is a thing, not an absence of a thing.
And that means that men and women who are attracted to women aren’t equally attracted to emasculated men. Because they’re attracted to a positive, not a negative.
Those who know me know that I am very much not a straight woman. My only other long term relationship was with a woman and I have had sex with more women than men. I am not an experimenter or a pillow princess, and my interest in women does not amount to a desire to run from men. I love women. Women are ultra hot.
So this post is inspired by the (all transgender, as far as I can tell) commenters, here and on other social media, who in their discussion of me reveal that they cannot wrap their heads around the fact that I am not straight. Those who have called me “het,” “heterosexual,” “heteroromantic,” and “straight.” Those who have said that I only date women to “piss off my ex,” that I “forget” about bisexuality, and that am “only attracted to male characteristics.”
I thought they simply weren’t reading carefully. I have only recently started to understand where they’re coming from.
My existence challenges two myths of the transgender narrative:
- That most marriages to trans women fail because the female partner is straight.
This myth is easy to rely on and hard to argue with, and works because most women are straight. Of course straight women can’t stay married to trans women, because straight women only want men.
Without this myth, we’re forced to consider the possibility that trans women bring other problems into their marriages, besides a simple challenge to their straight partners’ sexuality — big, insurmountable problems. Perhaps that their personalities change to the point of unrecognizability. That their obsessed self-focus precludes their ability to care for a partner. That their beliefs and habits and interests are hostile to marriage.
Relatedly, and more importantly:
- That trans women are women.
Though many aren’t at all surprised, I can (and do) say with certainty that being with a trans woman is in no way similar to being with a woman. For me, somewhat uniquely, this is a lived experience and not a guess or supposition or political claim.
My desire for women is not tantamount to an interest in reduced manliness, or lipstick, or clothing. A lesbian acquaintance said it well: “I can no more control who arouses me than I can control sneezing or my startle response.”
Sexual orientation is real and physical, not ideological. The desire for woman is not satisfied by a marked man. That fact forces us to reevaluate, again, the claim that trans women are women. What is the nature of this womanhood, exactly, if it is irrelevant to sexuality, in addition to the many other ways in which it is seemingly irrelevant?