By: Lauren Ferguson
Every summer since the mid 1970’s, Michigan has been home to the Womyn’s Music Festival, or Michfest, a huge musical event exclusively for women. In theory, the idea is excellent. The festival is a place of healing and female exploration, creating a safe place to reconnoiter womanhood in a musical setting. However, the festival is facing heavy criticism for its major flaw: it actively excludes trans women.
Although society’s view on transsexuality is improving, it still hasn’t been able to get over calling trans women “men.” Michfest is a prime example of society’s attitude that trans women aren’t ‘really’ women, but rather just men with a changed appearance. Not only is this idea wrong, it’s dangerous and problematic. It attacks the identities of trans women, discrediting their self-identification and claims that their personhood is invalid. So, what defines womanhood? To explore this question, I talked to my trans sister, Wayne.
Wayne has known for years she was a girl, but it wasn’t until early this summer that she finally acknowledged and embraced it. The change of recognizing her gender and true identity has had a dramatically positive affect on Wayne. “Accepting [my gender] stopped all my self-destructive behavior and allowed me to finally function as a person,” said Wayne. As her sister and an external eye, watching her embrace herself over these past few months has been incredible. For the first time, Wayne seems genuinely happy. She’s creating art again, she’s ended her self-destructive habits, and her overall health has improved significantly. It’s hard to see how anyone could view coming out negatively, for as Wayne puts it, “it allows one to truly be yourself.”
Wayne defines her womanhood as simply the “internal knowing of your own gender,” and that “no external sources” could define it
Although being a woman has previously been defined by simply the presence of a vagina, for some transgendered women, that is not the case. In fact, as information about the trans movement rises, it has become clear that having a vagina or a penis doesn’t dictate gender at all. Wayne defines her womanhood as simply the “internal knowing of your own gender,” and that “no external sources” could define it. She explained that the societal views on what defines a woman have always been changing throughout history, thus making a concrete definition of an ideal woman is a bit of a futile pursuit. During the Renaissance, beauty and womanhood meant a plucked back hairline and wide stomach, while in the 1920’s it was heavy makeup and bobbed hair, and in modern times women feel pressured to be extraordinarily skinny. “What it means to be a woman changes,” Wayne observed, so relying on external sources to define gender will ultimately prove to be a fruitless.
As for the media’s perspective on transgendered people, there is a ton of work still needed. When I asked Wayne about it, her eyes widened and she just laughed. “It’s not good at all,” she sighed. “They focus only on before and after pictures. Society gets a kick out of the change and that’s all they allow trans people to be.” The media’s fixation on the change shrinks the identity of the person. They “don’t try to understand the unknown,” Wayne continued, but rather use well-worn tropes, such as the surprise man in the dress, as a way of making a joke out of being trans.
They focus only on before and after pictures. Society gets a kick out of the change and that’s all they allow trans people to be.” The media’s fixation on the change shrinks the identity of the person. They “don’t try to understand the unknown,” Wayne continued, but rather use well-worn tropes, such as the surprise man in the dress, as a way of making a joke out of being trans.
However, positive changes are being portrayed of the transgendered, with Laverne Cox’s recent role in the series Orange is the New Black coming to mind. Wayne enjoyed her portrayal as a trans woman, Sophia, where the focus is on the mentality of the change and how it affected her family rather than focusing on just the shock of the transition. Sophia is always portrayed as a woman, and other characters that mock her or disagree are seen in a negative light. Laverne Cox isn’t a confused man – she’s a woman. And Wayne says that’s something everyone needs to understand.
As for feminism, while Wayne embraces it, she says there are still strides that third wave feminists needs to make for the transgender movement. Although it’s better than second wave feminism and the homophobic Feminine Mystique – a book credited for its spark of second wave feminism but criticized for its anti-gay sentiments – the politics of third wave feminism can still be problematic at times. Issues such as Michfest’s discriminatory practices need to be completely eradicated before feminism can appear a completely safe place for trans women, Wayne says. “Trans women can bring so much to feminism because of their varied experiences from cis-gendered women,” Wayne explained, “but some extremists still reject trans women because they weren’t born cis-gendered.” Although the rise of LGBTQ rights and third wave feminism has helped the trans movement, the politics of both movements must be negotiated before they are safe places for all women.
“nothing external can define gender fluidity or gender. They are all in different spheres, and one doesn’t influence the other.”
According to Wayne, “nothing external can define gender fluidity or gender. They are all in different spheres, and one doesn’t influence the other.” As feminists, it’s time to embrace all ladies, no matter what their sex is or was. Feminism is a wonderful and safe place for most women, but unfortunately at the present, not all. The media fuels an outdated perception of gender, and as a consequence trans women are often left out of the women’s rights movement—this is a feminist issue. Sex does not constitute gender, and it is a feminist’s duty to help all women, no matter who they are, were, or one day will be.
1| All artwork courtesy of Wayne Ferguson. Check out Wayne's work at:
https://www.etsy.com/shop/WayneArt | http://instagram.com/wayneferg513/ | http://waynefergie.tumblr.com/