The Power of Silence

Writing this is an act of contradiction. Every act of writing creates an opportunity for betrayal. In letting loose my thoughts, I betray my sense of self and I betray others’ sense of me. I invite criticism, disappointment, scorn, and even anger. Every honest admission comes with a cost. It is a cost I willingly pay, and while never light, it is cheap to the price paid by women. Over time I’ve learned it is easier to watch the world pass and say little.  I’ve learned that in silence I am powerful.  Other transwomen would have you believe their power is in their anger, in victimization, in their non-stop flow of words. They argue everything, confront everything, if there is an argument concerning gender somewhere on the internet they will find it.  They scream at women, they scream at other transwoman, yet rarely scream at men. They recruit others to fight at their sides and bury opposition in an onslaught of verbiage.  I will not add to that raucous indignant fury. Instead, I offer another choice, one more men and transwomen need to embrace, I offer the power of silence.

Male socialization has taught me, and all males, that my opinion is important.  Whether or not that opinion is informed, or welcome, it is perfectly reasonable for me to express it, in any context, at any time. I have been taught that arguments I disagree with are flawed, simply because I disagree with them. I have been taught all I need do is to scoff and dismiss them out of hand. It is my prerogative as a male to do so. My thoughts do not have to be logical or internally consistent. They are simply right. Should someone disagree with me, especially a woman, it is my right, nay my obligation, to talk down to them, to explain to them why they are wrong, even talk over them if necessary.  My sense of absolute right shall not be challenged.

Such bollocks.

A funny thing happened on the road to silence. I stopped to listen. As I progressed further in transition, and started interacting with the “trans community” I encountered questions to which I could not find answers.  I learned that even asking these questions was to risk excommunication.  I stopped talking, took on a cloak of silence and listened.  I listened to women. I read their words and their thoughts. I read conversations from those I followed on twitter. I witnessed the abuse they faced for simply speaking out, and more than anything I realized how women, and feminism, provided answers to the questions I asked. I realized I didn’t stumble upon gender like some lost continent.  There is a thriving community of women, women born into a caste from which they cannot escape.  Women rebelling against the system which trapped them and for whom gender is not a playground.  I realized that no matter what I write, what I think, that a woman somewhere has already thought and written about it with far more brilliance and eloquence than I could ever muster.

I should be content in this silence, to listen, and learn from some truly amazing women. Yet I cannot do so, not yet, probably not ever. I cannot stop because there are males who say they are like me, males who, unlike me, make claims they women, who browbeat, stalk, abuse, and harass women for the crime of speaking their mind. I cannot turn a blind eye to this behavior and it is to these “women” I wish to now speak.

Stop. Just Stop.

Stop believing your words and opinions are wanted, especially about feminism. Do not think you have a better understanding of feminism then women who have lived and understood what it is to be female from birth? Do not think your thoughts matter.  This is not to say that you are not intelligent nor have worthwhile ideas to express. It is simply to say you do not need to express them about everything, at all times.  Just because a thought enters into your mind, does not mean it needs expression. One of the most important things we can do as transwomen is to protect the boundaries women establish from intrusion by other men, and by men I include transwomen.  Men will take over any space open to them. We will seize control of the conversation in mixed environments. We will, by virtue of our presence, silence women.  This is what we are taught to do and what we must guard against.

This isn’t easy, I know. It is in direct contradiction to our socialization, but we can overcome our male socialization. With work, and self-awareness, we can succeed. It is not without difficulty or without cost.  Having broken my silence to write, I have been subject to criticism, both good and bad.  While the good is uplifting, the bad can be really, really bad.  I’ve seen intensely personal things written about me, entire psychological profiles imagined from my words.  I’ve read the rants of those I once called friend.  I witnessed them all, but have said nothing.  One of the most difficult things I’ve ever read about me was an intense discussion, by a group of women, on the first piece I published on this site.  I’ve not said a word about that discussion until now, and this is all I will say: I am glad that my words sparked conversation and I believe it is important for women to discuss it and me in the same manner as any group of men would. They should not have to fear reprisal, or my intrusion into their space, a vigorous defense, or me mansplaining “what they don’t understand.” While I may not agree with all they say, it is important they say it. My words are written. It is out of my hands.

If I can endure this criticism, if I can read words which challenge my thoughts and beliefs and not collapse into a gibbering puddle of tears, then so can all transwomen.  Listening is hard. As we listen, we open ourselves to words we may not want to hear. By listening, and understanding, we can move toward cooperation.  We can listen to and accommodate the concerns of women and work together to find solutions which don’t ignore them entirely. In short we can stop acting like the men we were raised to be.  If for some reason you believe yourself immune to male socialization, think about this. The way you attack women online, the way you argue with them, dismiss them, tell them they’re wrong, is no different than any other man.  Those who claim to be our allies do it.  Those whose misogynistic righteousness leads them to be MRAs do it.  You call yourself a women, yet claim to be different? Think how your behavior matches those you claim most to despise, and consider what that says about you.

If you’ve made it this far, and are willing to challenge yourself, I have a homework assignment.  There is a book I would like you to read: Pornography by Andrea Dworkin. It is available for free, here. Pornography is probably the most difficult book I’ve ever read. It is not the prose or the syntax which makes it difficult, but the ideas which cleave to the very heart of your being.  It is a difficult read for men and women alike, but I believe it is important.  Dworkin pummeled me into silence.  Every critical argument I wanted to raise, every time my mind cried out “Yeah, but…” I was defeated by her brilliance.  It is a transformative book. It will change the way you look at sex, porn, and gender forever.  It will change the way you view women and the world. It will teach you silence, if you’re willing to submit. Open your mind to Dworkin’s ideas, and you will understand.

Silence is difficult, but I want to believe in a world without gender.  A world in which people can be who they want and say what they want without fear of repercussion. I want to live in a world where the thoughts and ideas of women are recognized and disseminated as widely as those of men. Yet I understand we still live in a patriarchal world, and I’m aware of my place in it. My socialization says my opinions matter.  I say they do not.  My socialization says I should speak up.  I say I should not.  I rebel in silence. It is a simple, yet powerful act.  I do not have the answers, but someone else may, and when she speaks, I want to be certain she is heard.



4 Comments on “The Power of Silence

  1. Everyone has a right to express their opinion, though no-one has the automatic right to have it believed or acted upon. Silence, listening, and simple humility are certainly underestimated traits, yet that young and improverished transwoman of colour you mentioned before has as much right to be heard as anyone ( Probably rather more so than her famous equivalents…

    Trans activism has its place. Not in forcing trans-critical feminist groups, rape crisis centres, or women’s prisons to uncritically accept trans women as equals, I grant you. As long as equivalent social facilities exist, as well as reasonable access to medical / transition care, one should have the fairness and sensitivity to accept that compromise is in everyone’s best interests.

    But that is easy for me to say, as UK law demands that I do indeed have access to transition care and safe social facilities. As long as that transwoman on the bench exists, and others like her (such as my courageous friend in South Carolina, who has no such privileges, nor the ability to fund her own care since no-one will employ her), there will be a need for some form of trans activism.

    Radical Feminism is not its proper target though, I admit. Radfem opinion ranges from the very supportive ( to the wildly vituperative (, but on the whole I doubt it has all that much influence on the rotten policies that have put transwomen of colour on park benches and kept them there. But they, at least, ought to be heard.

  2. Thank you for the Andrea Dworkin link, by the way. Just dusted off “Woman Hating”, now getting into “Pornography” (figuratively speaking). Some really quite surprising passages in there. Not what I was expecting. Quite a revelation. May have to write about it myself.

  3. “Pornography” certainly was a sobering read. I’ve never actually been able to bring myself to read the Marquis de Sade in spite of my PhD advisor repeatedly telling me I should. On the strength of Andrea Dworkin’s summaries, I’m very glad I ignored that advice… As for Georges Bataille, he seems to have built a surprisingly impressive literary reputation off the back of a disturbingly obsessive egg fetish. I do love Dworkin’s utterly deadpan synopsis, though:

    “She was weak. She insisted that he throw hard-boiled eggs into the toilet. She would watch the eggs. He would suck out the insides in varying degrees so that they would sink to varying depths. Simone would sit on the toilet and watch the eggs under her cunt. Then Simone would have him flush the toilet. He would crack fresh eggs on the edge of the bidet and empty them under her. She would piss on them or swallow them from the bottom of the bidet. They imagined Marcelle. They wanted to put her in a bathtub full of fresh eggs. They wanted Marcelle to pee while crushing the eggs.”

    Part of me feels very sorry for the man that he not only had this bizarre egg fixation but apparently felt the need to communicate it with the literary world, though my husband informs me that I am painfully naive, and egg fetish is surprisingly common. Who’d have thought it?

    I can only imagine this book must have been a truly nauseating project for Dworkin to research. The tone is sometimes polemic rather than academic, but anger seems a perfectly legitimate and healthy response to having to sift through such a mountain of sleaze and snuff with a fine-toothed comb.

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