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My experience as a trans woman at the Women’s March on Washington

"2017 not 1720" protest sign

I don’t know how much more room there is for takes on Saturday’s Women March (on Washington and elsewhere), as there have been plenty. Some of the best I’ve read have been from women of color—black and native, mostly—that have been thought-provoking and eye-opening. It’s interesting to read the different experiences and compare them to mine. It’s also important to listen to these experiences and adjust my feminism and activism to ensure inclusivity.

Where I was standing, I saw a number of trans-inclusive signs and Black Live Matter signs. There was a fair bit of intersectionality where I was, but this still was vastly outnumbered by the number of signs with uteruses on them. In general, the crowd was quite white. From what I could gather by looking around, most people here were new to protesting. I’m not an experienced protestor myself, but this wasn’t my first time.

While the organizers put together a diverse and inclusive lineup of speakers and performers, the crowd itself suffered from a lot of white feminism. I didn’t personally hear or witness anyone being actively malicious or saying anything problematic—though, I’ve seen a fair number of people who did—but it was also clear that inclusiveness and intersectionality were not concepts many of the people in attendance were familiar with or demonstrated. While this saddens me, it wasn’t the least bit surprising. A group of people this big is going to be far from ideal in many ways and problematic in more than a few.

What I want to touch on is my experience as a trans woman at a women’s march against a man who brags about sexual assault and grabbing women by the pussy.

I had only firmly decided on attending the march in DC a few weeks ago, after a friend of mine offered a place to park and sleeping arrangements for anyone whom I could fit in my car. So I loaded up my car with four coworkers and we made the drive down Friday night. I was prepared to make my voice heard and march. I wanted to be visible and take a stand as a woman, but I wanted to do so with my transness on display. I had planned to wear a rainbow headband and my “Real Live Trans Adult” shirt (which sadly stayed covered under my jacket the entire day).

On the way down, we tried to come up some things to write on the poster board we picked up at at Target on our way down. I wanted to make a sign that said “Black Lives Matter” on one side and “Trans Lives Matter” on the other. I also came up with “2017 not 1720” and “keep your tiny hands off my pussy.” We ended up getting down to my friends house just outside of DC nearly two hours after I had hoped and my one friend may have permanent bladder damage from holding his pee. We were exhausted and just went to bed instead of making our posters.

"2017 not 1720" protest sign

One side of my sign.

Come morning, I wrote my friend’s husband’s cell number on my arm in sharpie and pinned on my Planned Parenthood “don’t fuck with us, don’t fuck without us” button and got ready for some resisting. Making our signs was a last minute affair. I had asked my friend to make mine for me while I was getting dressed. She asked what I wanted on my sign and I quickly said “keep your tiny hands off my pussy.” We didn’t have time to be making multiple signs each so I went with that—and “2017 not 1720” on the back. To be honest, this was the tone I felt like I wanted to hit for the day. Generally, I would go for a something more serious and important to say, but that wasn’t the mood I felt. I felt sisterhood and solidarity. And for me, that’s what the day was ultimately about on a personal level.

Our resistance group

Our resistance group

Our group ended up being 10 people, I think. I’m probably forgetting someone here. Seven of us came from my friends house and the other three met up at the Metro. Of the ten of us, there were three men, six cis women, and one trans woman (me). Of the group, my sign was the only one that mentioned actual body parts. Ironic that it was the transgender woman who wrote “pussy” on her sign. For the record, our group’s best sign was my friend’s “Trump is obviously bad” sign.

Trump is obviously bad.

Trump is obviously bad.

Oh, and we were also handed “pussy power” pins by a couple random women when we got on the Metro. I proudly stuck mine on next to my aforementioned Planned Parenthood pin and the “Fuck Paul Ryan” pin I got from my friend.

The rally and march were a mostly fantastic experience, for me. I felt a part of the collective and never excluded. I felt empowered and I felt hopeful. I felt if that many people could show up to take a stand against this administration, that we might just have a shot at survival.

But!

Yes, there’s a but. The but is much the reason for this post in the first place.

For a trans woman, being in a crowd of women—or even just a small group—shouting about their pussies and uteruses can be a terribly exclusive experience. It’s an environment that says you’re not welcome because you don’t meet the prerequisites for membership. Even if you’re included as a woman on some level, language that equates womanhood to genitals can undo that. I’ve seen many trans women discussing this since Saturday’s march.

Before I continue, I want to be clear that what follows are my personal experience and feelings and they are mine alone. This should not be applied universally to all trans women.

Genitals have always been a tough subject for me. I rarely hated having a penis, but I certainly hated that I didn’t have a vagina. If those two things seem at odds with each other, think about it like this, what was difficult for me wasn’t what I had, it was what I didn’t have. I remember growing up wishing I had a literal detachable penis—even before the song came out.

When I transitioned, I felt different from other women because of my genitals, but my experience wasn’t one of exclusion. I attribute this to privilege and luck. I’m lucky enough to surround myself with inclusive and supportive women and live in one of the most progressive places in the country. Additionally, while I rarely try to hide my transness, I look enough like a cisgender woman that most other women seem to see me as one of them. I’m not seen or treated as an outsider. The only people who question that I’m a real woman are internet trolls.

This inclusion always eased my dysphoria around my genitals. It was there and I would feel it when I would look at other women or look at myself in the mirror, but it felt like an internal pressure rather than an external exclusion.

Last year, after years of going back and forth with myself about whether I should or even wanted to get surgery, I went ahead and just did it. Thanks to my privilege of having transgender inclusive health insurance, I was able to have a vagina. I’ve written much about this already and I’m due for a follow up as my vagina’s one year anniversary is coming up this weekend, but suffice to say that it’s been life-changing. It hasn’t fixed all that I struggle with, but it’s done a lot.

Now, this vagina did not come with a uterus. I do not have a period or menstrual cycle at all. I can’t get pregnant. But I do have a vagina and it’s done wonders for my internal feeling of adequacy as a woman. Despite gender not being defined by genitals, I feel like more of a woman. I want to note here that this is personal and how I feel about my body, it’s not something I would extend to anyone else.

It’s been a year with this vagina, but I’m still sort of obsessed with the idea that I have proper body parts now. I love my pussy because it is mine. However, when we talk about reproductive rights for women, I feel excluded because it’s really less a “woman’s issue” and more a “uterus-haver’s issue.” I wish we’d frame it a little better. Yet, at the same time, when we talk about people with vaginas, these feel like my people. I am a person with a vagina. I’m a vagina person now. When we heard those words “grab them by the pussy,” this didn’t feel abstract to me. I felt this personally. It could be my pussy that is being grabbed. This is a different viewpoint and framing than I previously had. My perspective changed when my anatomy changed.

So let’s get back to the march a little, shall we?

A lot of pink hats.

At the march, I proudly held my pussy sign up in the air. I was literally talking about my pussy. This was empowering as fuck to me. I could talk about my genitals and not be ashamed of them. I wasn’t that weird transsexual making jokes about her dick as a poor coping mechanism to hide how much she hated herself. I was a woman with a vagina proudly taking ownership of her vagina. This was a huge moment for me.

The pink pussy hats only made me feel excluded because I didn’t have one to wear myself.

As I looked around, I saw signs and shirts with uteruses on them and was reminded how much I wish I was a cis woman, that I was born put together properly. While the reality is I wouldn’t give up being trans for anything, I still struggle with the remaining ways in which my body is different. Women talking about their periods and uteruses is a reminder of that. But it’s a reminder that I can live with. My body is different, but I’m lucky to have people in my life who don’t make me feel excluded. I have a lot of privilege that allows me to feel included and only slightly different.

The reality for many trans women is different from this, though. Many—likely most—are excluded and treated as different. One group’s language of empowerment and reclamation can be the language of oppression to another. I don’t know where the exact line is between the two, especially given that it can vary from individual to individual. People with vaginas should be able to talk about their bodies and take ownership of them. However, at the same time, it is important to consider your overall message. Is your language equating your vagina to your womanhood? Does it exclude trans women? Does it exclude trans men? Does it exclude anyone? Does it ignore the oppression of women of color? Cis women, you are more than your vagina. Your existence goes beyond your vagina. Trump brags about grabbing women by the pussy and those of us with pussies should absolutely stand up and fight back against this, but we must remember that the fight is for equality and bodily autonomy for all women, trans people, and non-binary people.