In his 2007 article The Emperor’s New Words: Language and Colonization, David Gonzales Nieto discusses colonization, defined by Oxford dictionary as either 1) The action or process of settling among and establishing control over the indigenous people of an area or 1a) The action of appropriating a place or domain for one’s own use. Gonzales Nieto discusses the role colonizers’ usurpation of native languages plays in the domination and oppression of native cultures. Citing psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary and writer Franz Fanon, Gonzalez Nieto writes, “as part of the process of colonization, the colonizer endeavours to redefine the world and present it as a fixed reality to which the oppressed must adapt. ‘The colonized is elevated above his jungle status in proportion to his adoption of the mother country’s cultural standards’” (p. 231). The colonizers’ views of native people as inherently inferior, and of themselves as inherently superior, meant that they saw their worldview as the only real one; thus, if a native should accept their inferiority by adopting the colonizers’ view, they would prove themselves better than their fellow natives.
How does this relate to the issue of gender identity you wonder? Well, up until recently, humanity seemed to have agreed on the Oxford definition of a woman: adult human female. However, lately, it is seen as transphobic- and self-hating if said by a trans person– to say that a biological male/transwoman cannot be a woman. We are told that “transwomen are women”, and if we do not repeat the lie, we are branded bigots. Women are now told that we must call ourselves, and accept being called, “cis”; short for cisgender, cis was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2015, and refers to “a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex. Compare with transgender”. We should refer to ourselves as cis-women to denote that we are not trans, instead of transwomen simply referring to themselves as trans, which would automatically denote they are not biological women, and leave females to the words we have always used to describe ourselves: woman/women.
Not only do female humans no longer have a claim to the word woman, we apparently should also refrain from discussing menstruation, pregnancy and abortion as women’s issues, because to do so makes females who identify as transmen uncomfortable and excludes males who identify as transwomen because they will never have those experiences. Further, because females no longer have a claim to the word woman, we have also lost ownership of the word mother. We all know that it is not only women who physically give birth to children who can be mothers, but, prior to recently, being female was a requirement for the title. No longer. Not only can a male be a mother, he can beat out thousands of other hardworking females for the title of working mother of the year. To point out the fact that never in the known history of humanity has a male human given birth, menstruated or needed an abortion is deemed transphobic and exclusionary. Instead, we are instructed to feed this dissociation from reality by offering tips on how transmen can feel more manly on their periods or validating that transwomen can also have period symptoms.
Losing the word woman also meant the word lesbian was up for grabs, since a lesbian is a homosexual woman, and all things woman are co-optable. But wait. Doesn’t “homosexual” mean attracted to the same biological sex? Yes, it does. One is typically not a homo or heterogenderal, attracted only to the superficial gender presentation of a person. In intimate relationships, biology matters to most people, but it does not seem to matter to many trans individuals and their allies who believe that when a lesbian does not want to date a transwoman who still has a penis, or a transwoman at all, she is being transphobic. So oppressive is it that females would refuse the advances of these males, that transwomen coined the term “cotton ceiling” to draw parallels between the glass ceiling, which refers to the struggles women have to overcome to be equal participants in the workforce, and their own struggles at getting into the underwear of lesbians. After all, remember, “transwomen are women”. They were born girls, just like natal women, and therefore, if they identify as lesbians, they should be allowed and welcomed into lesbian spaces, including beds. Some go so far as to say that transwomen actually “are biologically or born female.”
If one can make the mental leap that males who identify as transwomen are, in fact, biological females because they say so, it is probably also not hard to leap further (directly off the language cliff) and be okay with how the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), in its guide Safer Sex for Trans Bodies, even changed the meaning of vagina. In its guide, the HRC takes the word vagina away from females, and gives it to males, using vagina “to talk about the genitals of trans women who have had bottom surgery.” Instead of females/women having vaginas, the HRC uses the term “front hole” to “talk about internal genitals, sometimes referred to as a vagina” and inform that “A front hole may self-lubricate, depending on age and hormones.” It apparently occurred to no one at the HRC that reducing either females or the purpose-serving vagina to mere holes is age-old misogyny.
Where Does This Leave Women?
Such invasion of the human spirit, such painful process of forced adherence and identification with the oppressor’s version of the world, causes two indelible marks in the spirits of the colonised according to Fanon (1967). On the one hand, the feeling of inferiority, for the reason that even once assimilated, the colonized are never considered equals, and they are continuously reminded of their lack of capabilities; on the other hand, the dependency complex, which assaults those who have traded all their values in the attempt to treasure proof of their humanity, those who have learnt to despise their origins, and later find themselves without a home (Gonzales Nieto, pp. 232-233).
Many women are willingly giving away our language and adopting the nonsensical and degrading language of our colonizers, while forgetting “The fundamental role of language in the development of human identity has been sufficiently documented” (Gonzales Nieto, p. 231). Without a language, a people cannot develop or maintain an identity. So where does that leave little girls? Additionally, those who have bought into the line that “transwomen are women” may find themselves, as Fanon predicted, feeling inadequate because, as colonizers, transwomen get to also determine what real femininity is and should look like, thus tailoring the idea to themselves, which will leave real women falling short. Further, those women who have capitulated to the language and identity demands of transwomen and who are willing to deny what they know to be true of language and biology will later find themselves without the home of womanhood, because it is being bulldozed into a prison of inclusiveness while they supply gas for the dozers.
Women, we are being colonized, and we cannot continue to roll out the red carpet for our colonizers. We must recognize them for what they are. They want into our shelters, restrooms, locker rooms, dorms, even prisons, and have forced themselves into women’s only colleges and shut down women’s festivals. Those who resist this colonization even slightly are punished, while those who comply are seen as the real supporters of women. Still resist we must, and not slightly. If you are a woman who values womanhood and the collective language and experiences it entails, help fight these Orwellian dictations of language. Begin by refusing the label cis. Don’t be afraid to say the word woman or acknowledge truths like only females are women, and only women have babies/periods/vaginas. Do not let them reduce your vagina to a front hole! Challenge those who say “transwomen are women” to define woman without using stereotypes. Thankfully, some women are beginning to recognize the colonization for what it is; I hope you’re one of them!