Last week, the famous second wave feminist Germaine Greer made headlines when she trolled the transgender community on Newsnight by telling the world, trans women are ‘not women’ because we do not ‘look like, sound like or behave like women.’ On Monday, she reiterated her point in classier, more eloquent terms: ‘Just because you lop off your d—k and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a f—king woman. I’ve asked my doctor to give me long ears and liver spots and I’m going to wear a brown coat but that won’t turn me into a f----king cocker spaniel,’ she said in a statement to the Victoria Derbyshire show. She then softened it (but only slightly), adding, ‘I do understand that some people are born intersex and they deserve support in coming to terms with their gender but it’s not the same thing.’
When I heard this, I thought, ‘Here we go again.’ We’ve heard these arguments before. And Germaine has made these kinds of statements in the past. She’s entitled to her opinion. It doesn’t anger me, I can separate myself from her words. But as a trans woman, I feel compelled to write this reply because Germaine’s comments appear to come from a place of willful ignorance. She will never know or understand what it feels like to be transgender, because she isn’t one. So let me try to enlighten her.
I don’t know why I’m transgendered. I don’t know why I feel more comfortable in a female identity. I don’t know why after 30 years of living as a man I knew I had to transition. I’ve explored all of these questions and have yet to come up with an answer. It just is. I’ve felt more female than male since I was very young.
That’s why my passport says ‘female’ and I choose the label ‘woman’. It’s true, I will never know what it feels like to grow up as a girl, to menstruate, or give birth to a child. But then again, not all genetically born women do either. I can't comment on that experience, or Germaine's experience as a sixtysomething woman, for that matter. And she can't comment on mine.
If a pre-op trans woman decides she wants to have gender reassignment surgery to suit her gender identity, she is not performing an act of violence on her body, as Greer notoriously said on Newsnight. Rather, that woman would be doing what she feels is necessary to bring her body in line with how she feels. I dare anyone to try living for 60 years as the opposite gender from which you are, as Caitlyn Jenner did. I did this for 30 years, and it was torture, the kind of trauma from which I’m still recovering.
There was a period in the second year of my transition when life felt especially tough. My family had stopped talking to me. My ex-boyfriend broke up with me. And I hadn’t heard from the Gender Identity Clinic about when I could start my hormone treatments. I was devastated to have lost all my relationships and didn’t know what to do. So for about two months, I went back to being the male I was born as, Ryan Styles.
Only this made things more complicated because it confused all my friends who had only just gotten used to calling me Rhyannon and referring to me as ‘she’. I slowly stopped wearing make-up and padded bras. I even went to JJB Sports and bought trackie bottoms. I felt like the only way to get some semblance of security and love back in my life was to be a boy again and give it another try.
But predictably, that put me back at square one. I was still depressed and hated myself because the reflection in the mirror didn’t match who I was inside. It was wrong and I knew it.
So with the help of a Buddhist meditation retreat, I took myself away from my reality and spent 10 days with complete strangers in mostly silence. There, I was able to re-examine my life, as Ryan and Rhyannon. When I returned home, I began to wear make-up again and took pride in my appearance. I was ready to commit to being the woman I really was. And I was happy.
Why am I telling you all of this? To communicate that the decision to transition is much deeper and more complicated than 'misogyny' or wanting to put down women as Greer claims. Her words: 'a man who goes to these lengths thinks he will be a better woman.' But I’m not trying to compete or be better than anyone, I’m just trying to be true to myself, my own woman. Transitioning is not about wanting to take away from womanhood, but rather about an individual learning to navigate the world in a way that he or she feels comfortable with.
In the days since her quote went viral, a petition to stop Greer from giving an upcoming talk at Cardiff University has been circulating. But I don’t think censoring her is necessarily the best thing to do. It’s not about trans women vs. cis gender women. It’s about listening to each other and acknowledging our differences of opinion, because it’s from these disagreements that we ultimately learn from one another. We all have a voice. And as Greer needs to recognize, there’s room for all them.