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Davis, California

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Column: Can only cispeople be womyn?

It seems like every time I sit down to write this column, I’m planning on writing one thing only to change my mind.

Originally, I was going to write about my relationship with my father. A conservative-Creationist-anti-abortion-Palin-loving Republican to my liberal-atheist-pro-choice-socialist-leaning feminist, my dad and I can always find something to argue about. Despite our good relationship, these arguments tend to end badly, usually with someone yelling that the other one hates America.

The plan was to write about an argument that ended well over Thanksgiving break. It was heartwarming; I wish you had been there. The column was going to finish with my dad and I discovering our similarities and learning to celebrate our differences, and maybe even hugging it out.

And then I heard about the “womyn born womyn” movement.

Although not very strong currently, “womyn born womyn” is a “feminist” reasoning that excludes transwomen (people who are born male but identify as female) from women’s-only spaces. The issue hit it big (as big as an issue in the world of feminism can be) when the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival made it clear since its inception in the 1980’s that guests were only to be “womyn born womyn.” This meant that transwomen and intersex people were not welcome to attend.

So, lucky readers, instead of hearing about my dad and I bonding over our mutual distrust of the government (and our love of deep-fried turkey), you’re going to hear more about injustices within a community that ostensibly does not tolerate them. At the 1991 festival, a transwoman named Nancy Burkholder was told to leave because security considered her to be “still a man.”

Ah, yes. Exclusion: the foundation of feminism. Instead of taking the opportunity provided by the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival to encourage sisterhood, the “feminists” running the show instead built a whole new hierarchy by reducing other women down to their sexual organs. Because if anyone knows what it’s like to be reduced to genitalia, it’s feminists, amirite?

While the current state of “womyn born womyn” is definitely in the minority, it can’t be ignored that many people, including feminists, still harbor prejudices against members of the transgender and intersex communities.

Maybe you disagree with me. Really, what is wrong with saying that only people with the “womyn” experience can attend a concert, or receive services specifically for women? And maybe you’re right to disagree because, as we all know, there is only one female experience, and only people born with vaginas know what it’s like.

Sarcasm aside, this issue boils down to gender and what that means. As a feminist, I was always under the impression that the characteristics attributed it was the basis for the women’s rights movement.

Are women inherently lesser than men because of their anatomy? I think we can all say that no, we aren’t. So, then, is a transwoman, or an intersex person who identifies as a woman, any less than a person born with the equipment?

Cisgendered people (those whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth) may have a difficult time understanding trans issues and the trans condition – I know I did, at first. But this is no excuse not to try. Think of the people in your life who have been born into gendered ambiguity – would you deny them their identity because of their junk?

HALEY DAVIS thinks being a feminist means not being an asshole. She can be reached at hrdavis@ucdavis.edu.


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