Female diversity: Everyone who identifies with being a woman, is a woman

Freely adapted from Johanna Dohnal, the vision of feminism is not a female future, but a human future. An inclusive feminism means that the rights of trans* women also belong to feminism and thus to International Women's Day.

On the occasion of International Women's Day on March 8th, we spoke to two young trans* women – Ivy and Thea – about their gender identities and how pop culture creates a public awareness of trans* people. Yet it seems that society still has a long way to go.

Internationaler Frauentag trans* Frauen Ivy und Thea

Transgender is an umbrella term. You are both trans*women – can you briefly describe for us what that means for you individually and self-perceived gender identity?

Thea: Naturally, I can only speak for myself since every person interprets sexuality differently. For me, it means to finally be the owner of my own body and also be able to go on this special journey. It may also be essential to point out that every transgender person who comes out as a woman is a woman or trans* woman. It strongly depends on how you want to frame it. A common misunderstanding is that being *trans comes with the inherent wish to do hormone therapy, sex reassignment surgery, and ending up in a feminine body. But that's individually different. I have constantly asked myself where I want to go – and I'm still in the process of finding myself. This whole process is a journey that never ends.

Ivy: I came out in February last year when I was about to graduate High School. I always felt more like a woman. But I have not been sure what that meant. At first, I thought maybe I was just a more feminine version of man. After all, there are no large-scale information campaigns about gender identity. When I was 13, I came out as a homosexual man, but that was only the first step into my queer identity. Something very essential was missing. As a result, I dealt more intensively with LGBTQ+ topics, and I have also been more present in the queer scene. During this process, I felt the strong urge to experience what it means to be a woman in general and what it means to me personally. Plus, I kept asking myself if I was happy with how I identified myself as a man versus how I presented myself to the world. Before that, I wasn’t able to authentically live as myself. In any case, it's very moving when you can describe yourself what it's like to be a woman. It's just not a binary thing – no woman in the world is the same whether it's a cis woman or a trans* woman.

Internationaler Frauentag, trans* Frau Thea

"We should start a conversation about the fact that trans* women are not men and that their fear is not based on trans* women but on men."

The societal question of what gender is and, in a specific feminist context, how one could combat the dominated gender categories implies that trans* women have the same claim to being women as cis women. Unfortunately, there is a rise of anti-trans* radical feminists. This subset of feminists often claims that trans* women represent a danger for cis women. Their arguments are based on their belief that trans* women would deny cis women in their socialization since trans* women have only experienced male socialization in their previous lives. What kind of discourse should be held to change this narrative?

Ivy: The bottom line is that transphobic women do not fear women ... they fear men. Basically, this whole debate should be based on that. Once we have acknowledged that, we should start a conversation about the fact that trans* women are not men and that their fear is not based on trans* women but on men. My strong appeal is: Open your eyes to realize that you are not the only type of woman in this world. Sometimes part of the problem is that people are generally very reluctant to step out of their own comfort zone – and I kind of get that ... everyone's a little bit like that. But you have to be aware that by refusing to be open and empathic, you will most likely deeply hurt other people's feelings, damage their lives and stand in their way. There are many different kinds of people in this world who all have different experiences. And you have to learn to accept that.

Have you already faced such kind of discrimination?

Ivy: J.K. Rowling argues that women, who are men, try to sneak into women's toilets. When going out, I also experienced that cis women might actually think exactly that way ... and also behave like that. What had happened to me was that have been approached by women who claimed that I must have ended up in the women's toilet by mistake. If I then replied that I was a woman and that I in fact was in the right place, they said: "No, you're not! Get out of my toilet.”

Internationaler Frauentag trans* Frau Ivy

The TERF¹ movement also shows that the faces of discrimination are not just male, white and uneducated. What are your experiences with this?

Thea: Unfortunately, I got very used to being discriminated against by men. I feel like the whole world is being harassed by white men. But yes, I find it even worse to be discriminated against by women. It hurts, even more, to be insulted by a woman ... because at the end of the day, we are all sitting in the same boat. Recently, I walked home from a drag party with a friend – a car stopped, the windows opened and a guy yelled at us: “Hey you trannies, we actually are very much into you.” But there was also a woman sitting in the car who yelled, "You guys, these are drag queens ... they are just fags." You have to imagine, these are people who just take out the right to stop a human being on the street, interrupt, offend and molest them in an irresponsible disgusting way.

"Just as there are hundreds of thousands of versions of cis women in movies, there are also hundreds of thousands of versions of trans* women."

It seems that many young people have realized (in the Western community of values) that gender is to be viewed as a spectrum. Due to the current pop culture movement and the discourse that goes with it, it seems that Gen Z is a little further along here. Do you share this view? What roles play Euphoria or Queer Eye in this?

Thea: I agree. But there is always the question of how trans* women are generally portrayed in series or the media. In Euphoria, they did a really good job by not displaying a stereotypical trans* woman that has nothing to do with reality. Jules (Hunter Schafer) is a trans* woman you want to identify with. Her character was not written by a narrow-minded cis man – Hunter Schafer was able to co-write the script. And that's important because she's just playing a version of a trans woman. Just as there are hundreds of thousands of versions of cis women in movies, there are also hundreds of thousands of versions of trans* women. And that's the beauty of it. Also, in one episode of Euphoria Jules wears a binder² ... I just thought: "Yes! Do that!" She also portrays a trans* woman who is genuinely feeling confident about her gender identity and is not burdened by the trauma that comes with it. It shows that trans* women are strong human beings. That's so important because trans* people need to be able to identify with someone. The media has such strong influence on our society and also has an essential role when it comes to raising awareness and changing something for good.

Ivy: The first time I saw a non-stereotypical trans* woman was in Orange Is The New Black. I then became aware that there is more to being *trans than the media suggests. I understood that it is not about the typical female body, it's more about the idea of just being a woman – what does it mean to be a woman and how do you move as a woman in the world? What bothers me about the media is that only the feminine side of the trans* woman is portrayed. In this context, passing³ always plays a major role.

So did “the media” play a positive role in your transition?

Thea: Not exclusively. The content that can be found on YouTube is sometimes anything but positive – there are many videos with the message "I'm regretting my transition".

Ivy: I think media primarily influences how cis people perceive trans* people. That's why it's so important for me to share my own very personal experiences and above all not to limit my experiences to the trauma, because that's not what defines me as a trans* woman.

Thea: Exactly. We are not victims.

Image / Video / Produkt
Internationaler Frauentag trans* Frau Thea
Internationaler Frauentag trans* Frau Ivy

Psychological strain is definitely the most frequently chosen narrative in media contexts. But transition has many narrative realities, doesn't it?

Thea: Personally, I recently decided on starting hormone therapy. This requires psychological, psychotherapeutic and psychiatric assessments. And that was the most unnecessary thing I've ever done in my life: I went to three different people who had no clue about transgender and did methodologically questionable diagnostic tests. At the end of the day, these measures are intended to protect people from regretting hormone treatment. These tests are not only bad, but also discriminatory – you will be asked whether your self-perceived sexuality is not a fetish.

Anyways, the way things are currently being handled doesn't help anybody. Maybe, when government finally intends to invest in us, I hope that there will also create spaces where young trans* people can go to get information and exchange information in an uncomplicated way. It would be so important in this process to talk to trans* people … people who do or don't do hormone therapy. Trans* people who have had sex reassignment surgery and those who have not. A judgmental-free space. As far as I know, apart from the Villa Vida, such places do not exist in Vienna.

Ivy: What really bothers me is that these assessments and also the whole bureaucratic part such as applying to change legal gender are expensive. In consequence I have an ID card that doesn’t represent me. I am not that person on my ID card.

Thea: We always have to explain ourselves – whenever you want to go to a club, when you have to show your ID for ticket control. This forces trans* people to constantly re-experience their coming out – anxiety can be a daily occurrence.

Are there any books or movies that have supported you in your transition?

Thea: I was born in Upper Austria and for a very long time had no relation to trans* people – except for negative stereotypes. The Netflix documentary "Disclosure - Trans Lives on Screen" takes a completely different glance at the representation of trans* people and therefore really impressed me.

But the moment I realized that I had to come out and that no matter what, I would go my own way, was at a casting in Berlin. I sat in this casting room and the majority of those present were trans* people. That was really crazy … I talked to everyone. Afterwards it was so very clear to me that I want to do this. What I want to say is that being able to exchange ideas with other people is simply the most important thing.

Do you have the impression that Austria and Vienna still have a long way to go in terms of social acceptance and gender-based discrimination? Have you ever seriously considered emigrating to an open metropolis?

Ivy: I wanted to study acting and got through to the final round at NYU – that would have been such an amazing ecperience. A city like New York is much more advanced … in a socio-politically way. Being a trans* woman in New York is definitely easier … even though I love Vienna as a city, I would actually rather go somewhere else.

Internationaler Frauentag trans* Frauen Ivy & Thea

There is this perception today that transness is a ‘trend’ – what do you think about that?

Thea: It's definitely a trend that the film industry wants to represent transgender people more often. But (!): I've had the experience that famous, male screenwriters will misgender trans* people hundreds of times – even when casting them their selves. If you then pointed this out to them, they just replied: “I'm sorry, I probably haven't dealt with this whole issue yet.” But that exact person just wrote a screenplay about a trans* woman. This is really fucked up.

The other thing is that some boomers are shocked by the fact that so many people are coming out as *trans or non-binary. But there is a reason for that – the media is finally opening up.

Ivy: Part of the reason there isn't a big queer representation of older people is because of the HIV epidemic in the 80's. On the one hand, we now live in a time when it is easier to come out – one experiences less social resistance, sometimes because there is more education about HIV. On the other hand, we also live in a time in which we have the opportunity to grow older at all.

As a matter of fact, HIV is still a really sensitive topic. While I have blood group 0 negative, I am not allowed to donate blood to any one at all. Not even after twelve months of abstinence, as is the case with homosexual men. It has been proven several times that hormone therapy has no effect whatsoever on the blood count. And this is how the stigma remains. We trans* people are perceived as a contagious disease.

Do you have any advice for young trans people?

Ivy: It's important to talk to a person about it and to be very open about what you sense and feel. Don't compare yourself to any other trans* person you see online or in a TV show. Just because not all trans people look like Hunter Schafer, doesn't mean they are any less trans* women than she is. You'll get to know yourself and you'll get to know the world around you in a diferent but somehow better way. And it will change you massively.

Thea: Talk about your feelings openly and be generally open to this journey. At the end of the day, a transition is a beautiful journey. If you've been trying to hide your feelings, it will take a load off your mind. Don't be afraid of it, it's not scary at all. No matter what background you come from, no matter how werid life seems to you, it is always worth taking this step.

Both of you have INA KENT bags – what are your first associations?

Thea: For me, my bag is more than just an accessory. It is a constant companion that harbors intimate and personal objects that are intended to support you in everyday life. You have to feel comfortable with a bag, because you spend a lot of time with it. I like my INA KENT bag, it feels great! :)

Ivy: They're simple and elegant ... but there's still something extraordinary about them. Something nice and something new.

One last question: Would you reveal your bag contents to us?

Thea: Airpods, keys, a broken wallet, hormone gel, lipstick and hair band. Also the novel "Dicht" by Steffi Sargnagel and antidepressants - raising awareness is important!

Ivy: Cell phone, charging cable, "Alles Gurgelt" brochure, passport, a broken wallet, glasses, microfiber cloth, lip balm, eyelashes and eyelash glue, two loose Airpods, and a necklace.

Image / Video / Produkt
Internationaler Frauentag trans* Frau Ivy
Internationaler Frauentag trans* Frau Thea

THEA & IVY TRAGEN:

Image / Video / Produkt
Video file
LUELL ed.1 crocodile brown
INA KENT wandelbare Schultertasche aus vegetabil gegerbtem Leder LUELL ed.1 croc brown
Schultertasche aus vegetabil gegerbtem Leder mit Kette LUELL ed.1 croc brown
LUELL crocodile black
Luell ed.1 crocodile brown
LUELL crocodile black
LUELL ed.1 crocodile brown
Ways to Wear – LUELL ed.1
Vegetable-tanned

LUELL ed.1
croc brown
Croc-embossed crossbody bag brown

+1 colour
EUR 315
MOONLIT ed.1 patent black
MOONLIT ed.1 patent black
MOONLIT ed.1 patent black
MOONLIT ed.1 patent black & ball'n'chain
MOONLIT ed.1 patent black
MOONLIT ed.1– Ways 2 Wear

MOONLIT ed.1
patent black
Patent black leather crossbody bag

+20 colours
EUR 165
ina-kent-kettenriemen-ballnchain-ed1-farbe-crackled-purple
BALL'N'CHAIN ed.1crackled purple
BALL'N'CHAIN crackled purple
BALL'N'CHAIN ed.1 Ways to Wear

BALL'N'CHAIN ed.1
crackled purple
Silver keychain / chain strap

+10 colours
EUR 75

Notes:

¹ TERF: Is an acronym for "trans-exclusionary radical feminist"

² Binder: A binder is a kind of undergarment that can be used to reduce the breast size. People who don’t desire a feminine look due to their breasts will often use binder.

³ Passing: Passing refers to a transgender person’s ability to be correctly perceived as the gender they identify as and beyond that, to not be perceived as transgender.

// 
08. March 2022