In between rounds of the pub trivia contest, my friend Vanessa told me that sometimes people tell her she thinks like a man.

"I hate it," she said. "It's so sexist."

I knew what she meant; Vanessa has been on several game shows and has an astonishing recall of facts, as well as a killer competitive edge--two things generally considered either "male" or at least "unfeminine."

I wondered if people thought the same thing about me.

In my pretransition days, I'm sure many people saw me as "thinking like a man." I used to be told that I was very logical; I was good at analysis; I was a fierce debater. Yet at the same time, I was always convinced that on some level I was "thinking like a woman"--because part of me was convinced beyond all debate or contrary evidence that I was female.

This isn't that unusual; many other trans people report similar feelings, often from a young age (in my case, I can remember frequently hoping that I had been turned into a girl over night when I was four years old.) Many transgendered people believe in a "brain sex" theory--in fact, it is the theoretical basis of a separatist movement within the transsexual community.

Which isn't to say that the experience of transition hasn't changed me: both my emotions and my experience of them are different, both because of the effects of hormones and the relief from my persistent gender dysphoria. I experience my body in new ways now that I'm not always fighting against it. And I am aware too in countless ways how the expectations of me, of both my body and my brain, have changed. But the only thing that has changed about my inner convictions about my gender identity is that I feel much more comfortable about expressing them.

Whether or not people thought I was "thinking like" a man or a woman, I felt like a woman. Perhaps that's why I find the way that brain sex gets talked about so often to be problematical--because it is difficult to separate it from sexism and transphobia. For example, trans people are often put into a double-bind where if we defy gender stereotypes, we aren't real men or women ("why did you even bother to transition if all you do is wear jeans and tees?"), but if we conform to them, then we're fake men or women, only interested in the trappings of our internal gender. ("Real women don't wear dresses all the time, you know.")

Not that this kind of thing is limited to trans people--take, for example, the comments an editor made on a short story by the writer Bev Vincent:

The editor says: "The story seems far too personal, introspective and emotional for a man . . . It is hard to imagine a fellow from a place like [the setting] uttering the following line." The editor then provides three sentences from my story as examples. He or she continues, "And I can’t think of many guys from [setting] who call home every Sunday afternoon to talk to their family" [Emphasis his or hers]. Another brilliant insight: "Most men don’t think deeply about the dewy greenness of nature." The ultimate conclusion: "She [sic] needs to write more convincing [sic] from a man’s perspective."

The only problem is, of course, that Bev Vincent is a man. I wouldn't dare to presume to speak for the editor, but why do I have the feeling that if his name was Jack Vincent, he would have received praise for writing about a man's inner sensitivity? I mean, last time I checked Henry James hasn't been accused of needing to "write more convincing from a man's perspective."

Vanessa later told me that she can't help but sometimes feel complimented when she's told she "thinks like a man." I wasn't surprised. It is so deeply ingrained in our sexist culture that women aren't supposed to be competitive, aren't supposed to make a lot of money, aren't supposed to be on television for anything other than their looks; I could see how she would feel flattered to be told she transcended that fate.

But not me. Because when Vanessa is told that she thinks like a man, nobody believes that she really is one. But in my case, they would.

transfeminist joins us from The Second Awakening

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