My Husband Bitchy

Posted by – September 29, 2010

Every once in a while, I will hear that some MTF trans person has vigorously insisted that I am a bitter feminist nightmare and that no married crossdressser or transitioning transsexual should “let” their wives read My Husband Betty.

Really, “let.”

Usually, this charge is on the grounds that I ask people who are MTF trans identified – if they are not living as female & aren’t feminist – to maybe do some research into women’s lives before deciding they will and can live as one (& before expecting absolute, unquestioning acceptance of their trans nature from their female spouse).

Recently I decided to respond:

Asking a trans spouses, especially one born and raised male, to be aware of modern women’s lives isn’t too much to ask, I don’t think, if what the CD/TG is asking for in return is acceptance of their trans nature. In a nutshell, it’s a lot to ask of a spouse or a girlfriend who has just been broadsided by their partner’s trans identity. There is often an expectation that the partner will want to know things, and learn things, and go to support groups, or accompany their spouse to outings. Their gendered feelings may also need to be expressed during sex.

That is, the raised-male spouse is asking his/her wife (depending on how the person identifies) to learn a whole lot about gender variance.

In exchange, I recommend that the person raised male learn something about being a woman, to learn about feminism, discrimination, sexual harassment and violence. Most women know most of these things as a result of living in the world as a woman (and many trans women come to know these things a few years after transition). But while a male-bodied trans person is living in the world as male, they won’t be exposed to these things. (Some MTF trans spectrum individuals, like some males, are feminist and always read about these things. I’m talking about the ones who don’t.)

In a sense, then, you could say I’m asking a lot, if you think asking the trans spouse to learn as much about his/her wife’s experience of life in her body and her gender as s/he is asking her spouse to understand about what it’s like to be trans.

You know, equality, even-steven, a little give and take. It’s a nutty idea, I know.

So crossdressers: read as much about women’s lives as you want your wife to read about crossdressing, and then read some more.

12 Comments on My Husband Bitchy

  1. Renee says:

    Feminism? But isn’t that like super-boring and just going to tell us we shouldn’t be wearing lipstick and stuff?

    Seriously, it’s more than fair. My only quibble is that feminism has been a bit of a hydra over the years – different “waves” with different perspectives and agendas – and a little guidance from someone already acquainted with the academics is pretty helpful when first sorting through it. But yes, an understanding of privilege and the its various intersections should be of interest to anyone transitioning into a new gender. And a little empathy will go a long ways for a spouse who is forced to (usually uncomfortably) re-examine her own femininity/sexuality as part of her partner’s transition.

  2. divadarya says:

    I agree with you wholeheartedly, Helen. In fact, until I began to wrestle with arguments that run through feminism, I was asleep in the Patriarchal nightmare that defines and confines men and women in roles that limit and disable them.
    I think it’s interesting that so many of these comments qualify their feminism in some way(“I like this part, and that part”) which I see as a sign of the success of the Patriarchal machine’s success at demonizing the word itself.

  3. jadecath says:

    Well, and prompting some feminist awareness seems like the most obvious benefit to a partner of having one of us unusual males who wants to partially or fully walk away from manhood. Wanting to opt out of one of the only clear good points seems just crazy.

  4. julia09 says:

    “Every once in a while, I will hear that some MTF trans person has vigorously insisted that I am a bitter feminist nightmare. . .”

    Every once and a while you’ll come across the 5% of the population that is simply crazy. Even more so with the internets. . . :P [shrug] Therefore, I’m not sure this really has anything to do with “feminism” per se. So somebody didn’t like the book and assigned ill fitting words to their opinion. [shrug x 2] I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

    As a woman married to a woman, and not a cross dressing man. . . just hearing “let” and “wife” sounds really foreign. I don’t think I could use the word “let” when talking about my spouse without breaking into laughter. Which. . . I’m no expert, but I’d think that doesn’t have anything to do with feminism. :P

  5. Kimberly Kael says:

    Not only do I think it’s a reasonable request in the name of equanimity, I also think it’s a good idea for anyone who identifies as female to know something substantive about their own identity. Why would you *not* want to be well informed? Or be able to relate meaningfully to other women on common ground? Or know what expectations you’re facing when you step out into society?

    Go get ‘em, Helen!

  6. julia09 says:

    @Kimberly:

    wait. huh? I’m confused. I thought Helen was talking about cross dressers? sigh. These topics are interesting, but i guess I don’t get all the identity lingo. . .

    hmmmm, I guess got this understanding from the last line: “So cross dressers. . . ”

    and cross dressers are men, no?

    fwiw. . . I’d guess anyone wouldn’t want to promote ignorance on any subject, but didn’t think Helen’s point was to suggest women “read-up” more on the lives and complexities of women so they could “relate meaningfully” to other women. Would that be kinda’ presumptuous, and. . . well, sanctimonious, amirite?

    Dang.

    Is there going to be a test someday? Is that why I always have these dreams where I am taking a test and I realize not only did I not study for it, but I never went to any of the classes all semester? ugh. :P

  7. Anastasia says:

    “Let?” Their wives? On 20th (let alone 21st) Century grounds alone this is laughable! Moreover—
    Someone who proposes turning his wife’s life inside out thinks he should control her reading on this very subject??? On the contrary, I thought that My Husband Betty should be required reading for both spouses!

    As for learning about the down-side of being female: aside from the fact that every man (at least every man who is in, has ever been in, or might ever want to be in a relationship with a woman) should know this thoroughly, how in the hell can anyone who plans to transition, or even play seriously at it, not need to know everything that being female in our culture is about, not just the shopping sprees?

    You’re not being a bitchy feminist, you’re throwing a healthy pail of cold water on some who think they’re living in Trans-Disneyland.

  8. Renee says:

    @ Julie

    The last line does specify crossdressers, but my interpretation of the whole – given that Helen references MtF and transition multiple times – is that she’s really talking about anyone on the MtF spectrum who isn’t necessarily living as a female yet.

    FWIW, I don’t think it’s presumptuous in the way that you mean. I often plead with other trans women, regardless of where they are in their lives, to engage in feminism more actively. Feminism provides a structure and framework for talking about women’s experiences and deconstructing the prejudices we live with. It might be presumptuous to believe that it’s the only or best way to look at things (although feminism itself is engaged in that conversation too…look at the multiplicity of viewpoints over the years) but I really do think the way to achieve cultural parity and understanding is to discuss the stuff that’s important to us at a high level and as a group. Feminism, to a degree, is activism, and it’s not something everyone does.

    (that also wasn’t the point of Helen’s blog, I realize…so I’m hijacking it a bit with that statement.)

  9. julia09 says:

    @ Renee

    Thanks for your response. . . to my response. . . to what Kimberly wrote. :P

    It sounds like some are suggesting (sorta and not really, but for argument’s sake) a “finishing school” concept or a “naturalization test” in order to be, understand and relate to. . . their own womanhood? (In the case of what you’re calling “MTF spectrum, but not living as a female yet.” not sure I actually know what that means, actually.)

    so, yeah I am thinking it’s all well intended, but kinda’. . . um. . . yeah presumptuous. I think I feel this way because it suggests to me that others are determining for someone:

    1.who is, and isn’t a woman. . . or a woman just yet.
    2.when they will or will not become a woman.
    3.if they do “become” a woman, they need to be schooled in “real” women’s histories, struggles, and political issues that doesn’t include, and sometimes invalidates their own histories – as a female that was assigned male at birth.

    Like there’s a “correct” way to be, ya know?

    IDK, I think ALL women’s histories and experiences are valid. Even women that were assigned male at birth. While others may have raised them “male” they navigated the world as “male” WITH a gender incongruence. They never really understood, interpreted or navigated the world as “male.”

    I have a hard time not seeing a double standard being applied to this kind of woman. . . IF Helen’s response to the cross dresser was intended to include women that were assigned male at birth and not to include the Snookies and Kardashians of the world. . . well.

    . . . and yeah, I don’t think Helen was going there. She just wanted to vent on a cross dresser who used the word “feminist” while acting like a shit. Which happens. . . there are plenty of people out there that don’t get it. . . so, yeah.

  10. Corinna V says:

    I am a married crossdresser and I really want my feminist spouse to read about crossdressing. I recommended MHB to her. She hates the subject and does not want to read about it. So what should I do?

    I’d rather be a woman in my next life. Women are an example to me in every respect. I would like to consider myself a feminist man but that does not mean I know how to identify as a feminist woman. I hope to have the change to learn that in this life and if it helps to read about women’s lives, I will do some more.

  11. Renee says:

    @ Julia

    First, sorry for misspelling your name!

    Secondly, I agree 100%. The idea that there is a right and wrong way to do “womanhood” is appalling and, well, pretty anti-feminist if you ask me (you should see me rail against “passing”). I absolutely don’t think cisgender women should act as gatekeepers in any regard. Ironically, my feminism has helped me come to terms with that by allowing me to deflate the cis privilege that leads to it. It’s really encouraging to me these days to see 20-something feminists dissecting their own cissexism…it was like a breath of fresh air when I realized some people were finally policing themselves.

    And I do agree that every woman’s experience is valid and valuable, even if they are living as a “man” in the eyes of the rest of the world. But, to bring it back to what Helen is talking about, if that’s the way you live, no matter how involuntary it is, you are still benefiting from male privilege (example: when being perceived as male, the chances of you being drugged and raped at a social gathering plunge dramatically). And male privilege can lead to all sorts of atrocious behaviors (like thinking you can dictate what your spouse does and not read). Suggesting to someone that they should brush up on their feminism isn’t so much intended to invalidate their own experience, but to help them not trample upon the experiences of other women (and to perhaps give them some insight into what’s in store for them when that male privilege comes tumbling down).

    But you’re right too, any discussion like this that frames trans women and cis women as different is going to be a struggle, and probably a doomed one, because it ignores the diversity common among all women. Is any woman a perfect arbiter of fairness and justice? No. Does every woman identify as feminist, or even among those of us who do, do we all agree as to what feminism even is? Not even close. There’s got to be room for all of us under the umbrella, no matter where we stand or what our experience.

    (although it’s also fair to say, some positions I’ll always take exception with…I’ll always disagree with Sharron Angle about reproductive rights, for instance :p )

  12. annagranfors says:

    This piece actually takes me back to My Confused Years in the 80s, when I thought I was a CD. I went to one of the few local trans nightclubs (The Queen Mary [!] in Los Angeles) and found out otherwise really quickly. There was a strong element of CDs who made no attempt whatsoever to alter their personalities from garden-variety male (“Hey, Vern–‘dja see the Raiders game yesterday?” in basso profundo), and I won’t criticize them–they were simply men who felt more comfortable in drag. But I quickly realized “um, you probably don’t fit in here, either”, coincidentally discovered Kate Bornstein, and my bookshelves started getting filled with the likes of Brownmiller, De Beauvoir, and younger feminists like Inga Muscio and Jennifer Baumgardner and bunches of others. (Along with all the requisite trans books of the day.) Probably needless to say, I’d discovered that, yep, I was TS, and I *wanted* to do my homework. I think there’ll always be CDs that wanna talk football in distinctly non-feminine tones, though.

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