The Cotton Ceiling and Transphobia

I’ve just read a blog post on “Femonade”, self-styled as a radical feminist blog. The post is entitled “The Cotton Ceiling? Really?” and can be read here. In fact, I would advise you to read it through to the end before you read the rest of this post, or it won’t make much sense!

Back with me? Great! Now, you’re probably pretty confused right now, so let me summarise Femonade’s blog post for you:

She, as a radical feminist lesbian, has been having an increasingly heated (and bizarre) e-mail dialogue with a radical trans activist. The trans activists believes in the existence of something she calls the “cotton ceiling”. This refers to the difficulty that she feels trans lesbians have in persuading female-born lesbians to have sex and relationships with them (with “cotton” referring to underwear).

I know from my partner’s experience (she is a trans lesbian, in case anyone doesn’t already know this) that there is an awful lot of transphobia in the gay and lesbian community, just as there is in the community at large. I also know that many trans people have great difficulty finding willing sexual partners who are not simply fetishistic, and therefore a long-term relationship can seem to be largely impossible. I myself was very nervous when I first met D. I knew I was attracted to her as a woman, but didn’t know what to expect in the bedroom. I was willing to take that risk, many people aren’t (it was well worth it, by the way!). However, D is a post-operative transwoman, meaning that she has had full gender reassignment surgery. To put it bluntly, she has a vagina, not a penis. This made things a lot easier when it came to having sex with her, as I have never been attracted to the male genitalia.

Going back to that e-mail exchange – it soon becomes apparent that the trans activist who Femonade is talking to is not only talking about post-operative trans lesbians. She is also talking about transwomen who have not had gender reassignment surgery. Suddenly, they are having a completely different conversation. The trans activist feels that female-born lesbians would be quite happy to have sex with pre-operative trans lesbians if only they could get over their general transphobia. She also believes that every transwoman is “female-bodied”, whether they’ve had surgery or not.

By the time I had read this far, I was firmly with Femonade on this one. Pre-operative transwomen are not female-bodied. Surely, this is the whole problem which trans people have to deal with – feeling that they were born trapped in the wrong body.

Now, I really do believe that all trans people should have the choice as to whether to go ahead with gender reassignment surgery or not. Changing your body so radically is a big step and may be too big a risk. Some trans people genuinely feel that they can live life in their chosen gender without needing the surgery and fair play to them. It’s a very brave choice. However, I think to suggest that lesbians who don’t want to have sex with male-bodied trans lesbians are in some way transphobic is simplistic and wrong. As Femonade rightly points out, there are issues such as pregnancy to consider, something which no transwoman has to consider in her sexual relationships unless she wants to. Plus, sexual orientation is a strong impulse (ask anyone who’s ever tried to deny theirs) and for most lesbians, a penis is a complete no-no. It would be for me, and I have been in a relationship with a transwoman for 11 years.

So far, so much in agreement with Femonade, whilst still having some sympathy with the trans activist’s views even though her “female-bodied” argument is, in my opinion, complete crap.

Until I read on, beyond the pie-chart style analysis. Until I came to this line:

“and the spot where orange and pink touch (BUT DONT OVERLAP) is i *think* what redacted trans was talking about in his email, but im not sure.”

Hang on a sec… does that say *his* e-mail? I had to zoom back up to the original e-mail exchange. Yes, the trans activist definitely identifies herself as a trans woman, whether she’s still male-bodied or not.

Now, it is commonly known amongst anyone who has had anything whatsoever to do with trans people that you never, I mean never, refer to a trans person as anything other than his/her chosen gender, whether they are pre- or post-operative. As soon as she has identified to you as trans, you call a transwoman “she” and “her”, no matter how she looks or sounds. If you do make a mistake (which is easy enough, even my partner has been known to do it with other trans people in the past) you apologise and correct yourself immediately.

Perhaps this was a single slip-up by Femonade in a heated moment, I thought, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. Then I came to the last paragraph, which I am re-producing here in its entirety, just to make things clear:

“these are all serious questions, and i dont think they are answerable, while still holding fast to the trans-ideology that is displayed in the above email exchange, where trans lesbians are supposed to be the same as lesbian women, and a lesbian woman could be in a same-sex relationship with someone who identified as a trans lesbian.  (ie.   both are female, and not male).  so instead of answering, this would probably be the part where the transactivist tells me to shut up.  or, is this where he threatens to kill me?  im kinda rusty, as i havent done this in awhile.  im sure i will find out soon enough.”

There is so much wrong with this relatively short paragraph, I really don’t know where to begin. Femonade doesn’t hold with the idea that “trans lesbians are…the same as lesbian women” or that “a lesbian woman could be in a same-sex relationship with someone who [identifies] as a trans lesbian”. As if this is not bad enough, she then fully expects the trans activist (who she again refers to as “he”) to threaten to kill her!

I’m sorry, Femonade, but with that one paragraph you just invalidated your whole argument. You are transphobic. Horribly so. Not only do you not consider transwomen to be women at all (hence your use of the wrong pronouns), you don’t believe that a female-born lesbian such as myself could possibly consider herself to be in a same-sex relationship if she’s dating a transwoman. That’s classic transphobia, and it completely invalidates the very good points you make in the rest of your post.

This is a terrible shame, as the sort of double-thinking argument which the trans activist is using really should be called out for what it is – total rubbish. But she’s not spouting this nonsense because she’s a transwoman. She’s spouting it because she believes it. There is a big difference. Just because you (and I) believe that she is wrong, that is no excuse for attacking her gender identity.


About Liz Terry

I love to write, and have had quite a few articles published over the years. I write non-fiction on all sorts of subjects, including my own life and what matters to me. I write a blog, called "My Random Ramblings", which you can access by clicking to view my complete profile and then clicking on the link at the bottom. I've also wrote a new blog in 2013 called "The 365 Project - a photo diary in words". Intrigued? Then you need to click to view my complete profile and click on the relevant link at the bottom.
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18 Responses to The Cotton Ceiling and Transphobia

  1. bugbrennan says:

    You do realize that trans activists have threatened to kill feminists, right?

  2. bugbrennan says:

    Also “This made things a lot easier when it came to having sex with her, as I have never been attracted to the male genitalia.” – ok, so Morgan Page would suggest you are a bigot for feeling that way. What do you think of that?

    • Liz Terry says:

      Hi bugbrennan, thanks for your comments. I’m replying to both here, just to make things a little easier.

      Yes, I do know that some trans activists have threatened to kill feminists, and of course this is not in any way acceptable. Anyone who is personally threatened in this way should report it, and anyone who threatens people in this way should be punished and preferably blocked.

      However, nowhere in the e-mail exchange between Femonade and the trans activist does anyone threaten anybody with violence. Tarring all trans activists as potentially likely to threaten you because of a few who have done so in the past is ridiculous. However, I can see that Femonade’s comment might well have been a joke, so I apologise for my comments if it was.

      As far as Morgan Page thinking I’m a bigot for not wanting to sleep with a woman who has a penis, she’s entitled to her view. Maybe I am. I’m also entitled to my feelings. I’m not disagreeing with Femonade on this one. I don’t think it’s acceptable to label a lesbian (or anyone) as transphobic simply because they don’t want to sleep with a woman who still has a penis. For the record, all I said was that it made it a lot easier to sleep with my partner because she didn’t have a penis, not that I wouldn’t have slept with her if she did. I don’t know whether I would have or not, as the situation didn’t arise. I just know it would have made things more difficult for me to get my head around.

      What I am objecting to is the rather more general transphobic comments which Femonade makes in the last couple of paragraphs of her blog, and I am arguing that, for me, this somewhat invalidates her argument.

      • bugbrennan says:

        Thanks for the response. Query why the misogyny and lesbophobia inherent in the idea that a lesbian is a bigot for not wanting to have sex with a cock is not enough to invalidate Morgan page’s argument. Thoughts?

      • Liz Terry says:

        I’m a bit confused. Is Morgan Page the name of the trans activist who Femonade has been having the e-mail exchange with? If so, I am not aware that I ever said her argument was valid. It’s not. As I wrote in my post, I don’t believe a lesbian who is not attracted to a trans lesbian who still has male genitalia should be labelled as transphobic.

        However, if I’ve got this wrong and Morgan Page (I know who she is) has written something else somewhere else, please could you tell me where and I’ll read what she wrote and then decide if her argument is valid or not, in my opinion, based on her calling lesbians bigots when it comes to this specific subject.

        Just to clarify – the reason why I think Femonade has invalidated her argument is that she is arguing that she is not transphobic (for not wanting to sleep with a trans lesbian who is still male-bodied) but then goes on to be personally extremely transphobic in the last two paras of her post, thereby showing that she is, in fact, transphobic. Invalidate may be too strong a word, but it’s certainly not going to get her taken seriously by trans activists (on her very serious and valid point) if she displays such blatant transphobia in general immediately afterwards.

      • bugbrennan says:

        That’s silly. An argument is valid or not. It doesn’t become “invalid” because you think the speaker is “not nice.”

      • Liz Terry says:

        Fair enough! “Invalid” was perhaps the wrong word to use, as I said in my last reply. I see your point. However, transphobia is not simply “not nice”. In fact, Femonade’s transphobic comments were pretty horrible and could be very damaging. That’s like saying that homophobia is “not nice”, and we both know it’s far more than that.

      • bugbrennan says:

        I disagree. Pro-trans folks will often cry “transphobia” to shut down trans-critical feminists. There is much about trans that is oppressive for females. It’s one thing to just be an asshole, it’s quite another to be an asshole with a good point.

      • Liz Terry says:

        I may be pro-trans, but I am not crying transphobia simply to shut Femonade down. In fact, I don’t want to shut her down. As you say, she has a good point!

        I think it’s very important for people to criticise each other, it’s how we change things. I also think that trans people can be just as bigotted, ignorant and just plain wrong as the next person.

        Calling someone transphobic just because she/he says something to challenge a trans person’s views (as Femonade has done by challenging the trans activist on her belief that lesbians are transphobic if they aren’t attracted to male-bodied trans women) is ridiculous. She/he is entitled to their opinion, in particular when the issue is as serious as this.

        The reason why I am calling Femonade transphobic is a) because she repeatedly refers to the (female-identified) trans person as “he” in her post, meaning that she is being personally offensive to her rather than simply challenging her on her views; and b) because she then states her view that it’s not possible to have a same-sex relationship between a female-born lesbian and a trans lesbian, and in fact that trans women can’t be lesbians at all. These are all highly transphobic statements.

        Ok, so she’s an asshole with a good point, I guess. I was just pointing out the asshole part! I accept that my argument that this invalidates her good point is perhaps not strictly true. However, as I’ve already said, I do believe it makes it less likely that any trans activists will take her concerns seriously.

      • bugbrennan says:

        Trans activists don’t take our concerns when we use nice language. We have been uber nice and respectful, and we get death threats. Fact.

      • Liz Terry says:

        You’re not getting it! I’m not saying you have to be nice. You can call them all the names under the sun as long as it pertains to what you are arguing with them about. I would be the first to say that this particular trans activist is delusional and an idiot if she really thinks a trans woman is female-bodied just because she “feels like a woman”. However, I would never call her “he” in order to make my point. If she identifies as female, whatever her deluded views might be about her body and how other people “should” react to it, I will refer to her using female pronouns. It’s about respect.

        It’s also about not tarring every trans person with the same brush. By saying, essentially, that there is no such thing as a trans lesbian, then you are being transphobic towards all trans people who identify as lesbian, many of whom (like deerobot below) agree with you about the whole male-bodied versus female-bodied argument. This then alienates the very people who are best placed to help you with your fight to end this kind of nonsense thinking.

        Also, just because being nice doesn’t always work, it doesn’t make it right to be nasty.

      • bugbrennan says:

        No, I get it. I think you don’t get it. That’s cool.

      • Liz Terry says:

        LOL! Ok, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree. Thanks for the discussion though, it’s been great, and is the main reason I started this blog.

  3. deerobot says:

    What this is really all about is the definition of “woman”.

    I am a woman. I am also a trans woman. I am a lesbian trans woman. I am a post-operative trans lesbian woman. All of these are subsets of woman. Some people think I am not a woman of any sort. Most accept me as I what I appear to be in public… a woman who happens to be lesbian and (if I care to tell them) also a transsexual.

    Forgive me if I’m teaching grandma how to suck eggs but surely the whole thing about being trans is that your psychology does not correspond to your physical body. In m to f trans people they have a male body as classified by science. i.e. they have male reproductive organs and all the consequences in physical appearance and psychology which the male hormones bring. Obviously the opposite is true of f to m’s. As long as you have the working paraphernalia of a male body it is a male body and so on. Anyone who thinks this is not true is deluded. All trans people can do is decide how far they wish to go down the sex reassignment route.

    No matter what you, the trans person thinks, it is still a male body if the workings of that sex are all still intact. Just saying that you have a female body with a penis does not make it so.

    Now about acceptance of lesbian trans women by lesbian born women.The vast majority of lesbians were born physically female and are brought up for the early years at least in the hetero normal world. (Do we still say born women? The jargon changes from place to place and I am in a quiet backwater of the UK.). The fact that they are lesbian does not make them any less the results of their upbringing and no matter how hard we struggle against that we still have lots of ideas and prejudices which may not be popular with other groups of people and of which we are hardly aware. The male/female norm is at last being questioned in many parts of the world, but for most of us our sexual preference is still defined by the hetero norm which is based largely in the first instance on the physical body not the psyche. If you are not attracted to the male body it does not matter how many times someone tells you that they are female with a penis and you should be attracted to it, it isn’t going to make any difference… you aren’t going to be attracted to it. This all goes on at the subconscious level and is going to take a lot of generations before it can be changed, if ever.

    I admire and am in awe of the bravery and the ideas of many trans activists around the world, but I often feel that some of them are not going to get their way, especially here in the UK. If you tell people what to think and call them bigots they are more likely to react with anger and feel that their prejudices have been confirmed. It was the quiet determination of organizations such as Press for Change that got trans people a whole range legal rights over here. If you seriously want lesbians to be attracted to you it’s going to take a long time and an awful lot more understanding on both sides.

    Here ends the lesson by an older trans lesbian woman. I wonder if I’m a bigot????

  4. Liz Terry says:

    In the last 24 hours I’ve received a couple of transphobic comments on this post. I’m not approving them because I refuse to allow such comments on my personal blog.

  5. Isabella says:

    In fact, femonade e-mail exchange was transphobic and reprehensible for calling a non / pre op trans woman a man, he, disrespecting her feminine gender identity. Genitalia doesn’t define gender as chromosomes don’t as well. I agree with you, Liz, when you say that no one have to be attracted to a trans woman body having a penis. But calling her using masculine pronouns is a so great violence, I think it would be less agressive and hurtful if femonade had threatened her. I don’t get why trans activists make a so big case about been attractive to Kinsey-scale number 6 lesbians. There’re also non exclusive lesbians, bisexual and “heteroflex” women, people who could date or to feel attracted to non/pre op trans lesbians. Invalidate someone’s self identification / gender identity is a vicious violence, no matter if a trans woman is pre, post or non op.

  6. I couldn’t read all the comments on the original article because it all got way too much and I intensely dislike the levels of bullying shown in this debate. I’m also pretty clear that I don’t want to sleep with people with penises and I identify as a radical lesbian feminist. (I did when I was younger but it was just a phase.)

    I was struck, though, in the week of Rodger Elliott’s misogynist mass murder, by the first comment: ‘only men who have become incredibly WAY too male privileged would ever feel that they’re being “discriminated against” because certain women don’t want to fuck them’. I find that some people in this debate still behave in some very male-entitled ways in terms of airspace/physical space/sense of entitlement. The question of how we behave in political debate (IRL and online), who sets the tone and how, when twitter storms descend on moderate dissent seems to me fundamental and at least as much about constructed gender as equal pay, reproductive rights and – yes – trans rights.

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