Should trans men be allowed into women’s colleges?

It would be an understatement to say I was pretty bothered by some of the views expressed in The New York Times Magazine’s article “When Women Become Men at Wellesley”. Despite the sensationalist title, the article was a well-rounded read, discussing diverse attitudes towards the inclusion of trans men at women-only college Wellesley in the US. I’m not going to descontruct some of the opinions expressed by the trans men in the article, because that has been done so brilliantly elsewhere. However, I do want to examine why we, as women and/or queers, welcome trans men into women-only spaces. And why don’t we welcome trans women?

My knee jerk reaction to the article’s implied question ‘Should trans men be allowed to attend women’s only colleges’ is ‘no.’ I don’t think a women-only space should be coopted by men, no matter whether trans or cis. I have always found the common inclusion of trans men in women-only spaces highly problematic. In the left-wing dyke queer scene, this inclusion usually simultaneously excludes trans women, whether explicitly or by sheer numbers. I feel this dynamic is offensive to both trans men and trans women.

When we say trans men are welcome in women-only/dyke-only spaces, aren’t we effectively saying that we don’t see them as men? That their female-assigned-at-birth status trumps their identification as men? When trans men participate in this inclusion, I also wonder why. Maybe they don’t want to give up a space they were formerly a member of. Maybe they simply haven’t examined the problematic dynamic of men taking up women’s space.

I just didn't want the first pic to be Cathy Puke Brennan
I just didn’t want the first pic to be Cathy Brennan

Although it may be bittersweet, transitioning means you do have to give up some things. For a trans man, he may have to give up the openness of women around those they perceive as other women. He may have to give up access to a dyke club, to a sisterhood. But, this is part of being a man. Sad as it is, the sexism inherent in our world means that women are mistrustful of men. Whether or not it is sad, women-only spaces are necessary and demanding to inhabit that space, as a man, is ignorant at best and misogynist at worse. It is clear that having been female assigned at birth does not give trans men ‘special insight woman powers,’ otherwise trans men might realize how women are routinely pushed out of physical, financial, institutional space. They then might realize how they are participating in that exclusion and cede the space to women.

It is also tragic that the inclusion of trans men in many women-only spaces often goes hand-in-hand with the exclusion of trans women. It’s weird to me that trans men would want to participate in this dynamic because it so obviously stems from seeing trans men and women as the gender they were assigned at birth, rather than the gender they actually are. Trans men are allowed in women’s spaces because they are perceived to not really be men, and trans women aren’t allowed in because they are perceived to be men. That feminist spaces perpetuate this transphobic dynamic saddens me.

Are we being transphobic jerks like Cathy Brennan when we exclude trans women from women's spaces?
Are we being transphobic jerks like Cathy Brennan when we exclude trans women from women’s spaces?

However, the exclusion of trans men from women’s colleges isn’t as clear cut as we might like to think. Although trans men shouldn’t attend a women’s college, what about students who as FAB (female-assigned-at-birth) and gender queer? If gender is a spectrum, where should the cut off line be drawn? Although a butch woman should undeniably be allowed to attend a women’s college, what about a FAB trans gender queer person who takes testosterone but doesn’t identify as a trans man? As the New York Times article posits, you could say that, by challenging gender norms, gender queer folk and masculine women are being true to the spirit of women-only colleges.

I don’t have the answer to this last question, so I would appreciate any of your insights. What do you think about this debate? Should any lines be drawn?

Here’s some food for thought by the great thinker, Julia Serano:

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Trans-misogyny: the (mini) round-up

Trans-misogyny is “the unique and particular form of misogyny that targets trans women” – Natalie Reed

So, I have been doing a lot of research on trans-misogyny and have found out that I am not the only person out there who thinks that some of the privileges trans men have need to be examined.

After I tentatively dipped my toes into the murky pool that is trans-misogyny, I wanted to share some of my reading with you.

I have selected a couple of the articles that I found the most thought-provoking and well-written. I especially like the videos, which are kinda tongue-in-cheek.

1. Funkyfest On Trans Men and the Word “Tranny,” or: Cut Your Entitled Bullshit Out.’

“Just because you’re trans does not exempt you from the patriarchal binary gender system. You’re still a dude in a very dude-positive/lady-negative culture, and the queer community is no more immune to that than you are.”

However, I wasn’t sure about this:

“Generally speaking, for a body marked as female to embody masculinity is less shameful than for a body marked as male to have a feminine or embodiment.”

What do you guys think about this statement? Can we really quantify oppression (say minority 1 + minority 2 = more oppressed body)? And how useful is this argument? Things are so complicated, I am not sure we can calculate such things. However, I do strongly believe that bodies read as male are privileged over bodies that are read as female. But can we really say that one type of trans gender identity experiences more oppression than another?

2. Hands up if you have ever downplayed your femininity to get laid more?

Morgan M. Page, a Canadian trans activist, really struck home with me when she said this:

“I’ve recently been seriously talking about changing my identity to trans man, because it makes way more sense in terms of who I hang out with and the politics I have and it also gets me hit on more.”

Yup, my hand’s up. I’ve totally changed my gender presentation to less feminine in order to be seen more in the queer community in Berlin. It’s pretty sad.

She also made this hilarious performance which highlights our collective adulation of trans guys. To be viewed with a pinch of salt.

3. Jack Radish has noticed that he gets a lot more cred as a trans man for saying exactly the same thing that trans women have been saying for, like, EVER. However, I can’t help but thank him for saying this:

“When the same people start saying, “our group is open to trans women, but I guess there are just no trans women who want to come,” I have to get up, walk away … and join the ranks of the trans women who don’t want to come to their stupid events. I leave them scratching their heads, still wondering (but not too hard) why everyone who comes to their events looks just like they do.”

Sound familiar Berliners? Oh, yeah.

4. Lastly, let’s finish this with a bit of man-hating. Red Durkin, vlogger extraordinaire, tells us all why she just HATES men. I think this is half-joking, kinda, sorta…