Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ain't I A Woman?

Ms. Sojourner Truth
We read the classic speech "Ain't I A Woman?" by Sojourner Truth in my women's studies class today.  It's not the first time I've read it, and I suspect it won't be the last, but it gives me goosebumps every time I do.  If you haven't read or heard it, I put a link in the title for you.  I don't have the same background as Ms. Truth, but I've also had my experiences as a woman devalued because of the genetic hand I was dealt. 

My experience as a transsexual woman makes me see some things very differently from my cissexual sisters.  My experience as a bisexual woman makes me see some things very differently from my heterosexual and homosexual sisters.  And time and time again, I've seen the media, academia, society and classmates devalue the experience of transsexual women.

I have struggled and fought to have a competent doctor assist me so my basic biological hormones and sex characteristics match my gender.  And ain't I a woman?  I have been told the surgery that can help my physical body match my gender is "cosmetic" and "frivolous".  And ain't I a woman?  I have had my gender dismissed because of presumed chromosomes, genetics, genitals, or social upbringing.  And ain't I a woman?  I have been ridiculed and humiliated by others because my legal documentation doesn't properly represent who I am.  And ain't I a woman?  My womanhood is denied, disputed, and debated because it doesn't match society's false ideas about gender.  And ain't I a woman?  I've been told my presence will upset women-only spaces because of my "male energy".  And ain't I a woman?  The legal needs of my trans brothers and sisters have been used as a bargaining chip to advance gay and lesbian rights.  And ain't I a woman?

There is a very narrow box of what a woman is and what she isn't according to societal norms.  While my list of injustices are unique to my experience as a trans woman, we all have experiences of having our womanhood denied because some part of our identity doesn't "fit" what a woman is supposed to be.  Sojourner Truth was not white, wealthy, a free citizen, or considered "attractive" by the narrow confines of society, and the anger of having her experience dismissed made her get up and say something.  That's what we all need to do. 

There is no such thing as "all women" and when you claim there is, you are inevitably excluding someone else's experience.  You can never say "All X's are Y" because there is no such thing as an X.  There is no statement you can make about "all women" that will hold true 100% of the time.  Not all women menstruate.  Not all women are born with vaginas.  Not all women have breasts.  Not all women have long hair.  Not all women have the ability to conceive and give birth.  Not all women are mothers.  The only true statement you could make about "all women" is that all women are affected in some way by the fact that they are women.  We all have something important to contribute to the movement.  So let's stop policing womanhood and gender and listen to what our sisters have to say.

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