How Internalized Misogyny Contributed to My Transition

Introduction (Childhood): Admiring Women as a Girl, and Enjoying Masculinity and Femininity Without Judgement

When I was a little girl, all of my idols were women. Movie characters such as Disney’s Fa Mulan and Alien’s Ellen Ripley, video game favourites such as Street Fighters Chun Li and Tomb Raiders Lara Croft, and the character I loved most: Xena, the warrior princess. These were the women I wanted to be when I grew up.

I was neither pressured nor encouraged to be more masculine or feminine as a child. My parents took the approach of “kids will be kids” and let me freely engage in whatever play or dress-up that took my fancy. Sometimes I wore “boys clothes” and climbed tress, other times I wore “girls clothes” and played with Barbies. That was, as far as everyone in my life was concerned, perfectly normal and healthy behaviour for a young child – and I whole heartedly agree. Thanks, mum and dad, for not pushing me either way. 

When we finally got the internet in the house I was in my early teens. I discovered fandoms and anime, and made the mistake of identifying myself as a teenaged girl online. After being bombarded with more propositions, dick-pics and rape threats than you’d think possible in such a short period of time, I quickly deleted my existing accounts and remade them under the name “Nate.” I think that was when it all really started.

Part One (Teens): Being Betrayed by Women and Wanting to Be “One of the Lads” to Avoid Being “Just Like the Other Girls”

I did not have any internalised misogyny prior to my teens. It started off innocent enough; I was your average “not like the other girls” girl in high school. A tomboy who liked wrestling, video games and anime but turned my nose up at romantic stories, fashion and anything “girly.” I liked heavy mental and looked down on pop and girl bands.

I reached a point in my teens when I decided I wasn’t like the Other Girls. A tale as old as time for many, to be sure. My fellow tomboys and I looked down on “girly” things, until my fellow tomboys outgrew it. I did eventually outgrow my “girl-power” brand of tomboy and migrated to the land of One of The Lads. This was pivotal, as it was at this stage in my life when I stopped wanting to be friends with other girls (tomboys, to be precise) and started wanting to be friends with boys.

I thought of myself as asexual. It wasn’t “cool” to be asexual then, or if it was I was ignorant to it at the time, so I didn’t “come out.” I did, however, confide in a friend of mine while we were on holiday in Spain that I felt no sexual desire for others whatsoever, and that I had never orgasmed with a partner, male or female. My friend, a gay man, looked me straight in the eye and told me to go see my doctor – because that wasn’t normal. Something must be wrong with me.

These house parties became a staple in my life between the ages of 17-20. Every weekend for almost three years we were either at nightclubs in Glasgow or taking a party to someone’s house. At some point in the night, almost without exception, our group would split: the men would migrate into the kitchen to chat amongst themselves while the women remained in the living room to chat amongst themselves. The women would talk about their boyfriends, who they fancied, what “some bitch” at work had said or what make-up they’d bought and where from. I could have fallen asleep on my feet from boredom.

And the men? They spoke about wrestling and played drinking games. I found myself sneaking off to the kitchen more than once to join the men instead – which quickly identified me as a “pick me” girl to the other women who seemed to be under the impression that I must want to sleep with every man in the house. By 17 I had slept with one man, an encounter I barely remember because I was so drunk I could neither speak nor stand without assistance. The experience had, unsurprisingly, put me off sex completely. To be accused by these women of being a slut who wanted to bed every man I hung out with hurt me. A lot. I hated those women for that.

I wanted to be one of the lads because to me, the lads were so much better than the ladies in every possible way. When I realised I was never one of the lads – they had merely been humouring me because their friend wanted to sleep with me – I realised that no matter how much I wanted it, it was an impossible objective. I wanted to be a lad in a way that would unsexualise me, but that simply isn’t possible when you’re a young woman. Even when I was known as a lesbian I was still seen as a potential sexual achievement to some men, and the disgust this arose in me turned me into a very angry, bitter young woman.

During this time, a friend of mine had been assaulted while unconscious in her pyjamas – and it was the other women in the house blaming her for having the audacity to wear shorts to bed. She was, to these other women, “leading on” her attacker and thus, really, “she wanted it.” That really was a turning point for me. These were women I had spent hours upon hours talking and drinking with, opening to, and trusting. And yet, here they were blaming their own “friend” for being assaulted in her sleep. It snapped something inside me. Suffice to say, I never attended another house party after that. My parting gift? An even stronger hatred for other women.

If I had a pound for every time another woman told me I was only pretending to enjoy my hobbies for male attention, I’d never want for anything again. It was never men, but other women, who voiced scepticism towards my interests.

The betrayal of these women hurt far more than the non-consensual touch of their men.

Part Two (Pre-Trans): Misogyny Starts Truly Developing

If I had to put a firm finger on when the seed of misogyny was truly planted, I would say it was in my mid-teens. And it was women, not men, that planted it.

“You can’t come – it’s a lads night.” But I knew the truth. Stevie wasn’t there, and if he wasn’t there to try to get me into bed at the end of the night then why would they want me to tag along? Those men were never my friends and it took me an embarrassingly long time to understand that.

The early to mid-2010s on YouTube was awash with anti-feminist content and I became an avid viewer. Feminist take-downs and reaction videos were huge – channels like that of The Amazing Atheist, Sargon of Akkad and a plethora of similar channels were putting out anti-feminist videos almost daily.

Long before I had any desire to transition I privately thought of myself as having a “male-leaning brain.” This was “proven” to me when I started fancying other women – like men do (as it would turn out, I battled with internalised homophobia as well.)

In 2013 I got myself a girlfriend. Tall, fashionable and highly feminine, those who knew me well were surprised I was dating someone who may as well have been from another planet from me. It felt good to show her off “look how attractive my girlfriend is,” was the line of thought. “Look what I’m sleeping with.” It was selfish. Cruel.

Part Three (Trans): Full Blown Misogyny, Being a “Man,” and Gender Dysphoria

Typing, deleting and retyping multiple times, this part of the essay was the most difficult to formulate. The reason being, I still can’t understand how I could have been so irrational between the ages of 23 and 27. The contradictions and mental gymnastics I engaged with to justify my “man-ess” was truly out of this world. Anything to not be a woman.

I shouldn’t have to explain that women are, obviously, more than just our female bodily functions. But the reality is those functions can and do impact our lives in massive ways – ways men will simply never understand. Ways that I developed an intense loathing for once transition reared its head as a possibility.

When I transitioned, I went by the name Sean. And I will put this as bluntly as I can – Sean was a misogynist. In my effort to become something, anything, other than Sinéad, I became the very thing that had hurt me.

Women. Women I trusted. Women I loved. Time and time again when they had to choose between me or their men, they picked their men. Sisterhood? That was a myth as far as I was concerned.

Despite the fact I myself had been assaulted and disbelieved, I found myself disbelieving other women when they came forward. The coveted role of the female anti-feminist essentially became the new “Not Like the Other Girls” and I bought into it entirely. A particular memory, and great source of shame, that regularly pops into my head in the wee hours of the morning: I read a news story about a young woman who had been assaulted in Glasgow central late at night. My first thought? Well, what was she doing out by herself at that time? What did she expect? I had become that which had hurt me time and time again: a victim blamer.

Even now – right this very second – I find my fingers pausing over the keys of my laptop as I wonder, “is molest too strong a word? He only groped me a little bit – is that bad enough to earn the title of molestation? Probably not, I should pick another less victim-y word.” After everything that I’ve been through I am still battling my own mind, which absolutely loathes the thought of crying “woe is me.”

Part Four (Post Trans): No Longer “One of the Lads” but Still Feeling Betrayed and Working On It

I wish I could say I’m completely over my internalised misogyny, but the painful truth is, I’m not; not completely anyway. The difference is that now I mentally call myself out on it when I engage in it. For example, the other day I was looking for an interesting TED talk to listen to while on my way to work. I found myself thinking “that’s an interesting topic,” only to scroll past when seeing the talker was a woman. Why did I do that? I have watched dozens of female TED speakers and enjoyed most of them – so why the desire to skip other female speakers in favour of a male one? I still have a lot to work on and I fully realise that.

I find myself realising just how much I lied to my younger self. “I’m not an emotional person, I never cry, I don’t care what other people think of me etc.” These were all objective lies that I parroted religiously throughout my twenties because I thought it would impress people. “Oh! She’s so cool! She’s not like the Other Girls!” But I was like the other girls. The question I’ve been asking myself lately is why did I see being like the other girls as a bad thing? The conclusion I’ve arrived at is quite simple: I resented other women too much to be comfortable identifying with them.

Even though I had no sexual desire for men at the time, I still felt obliged to look stereotypically attractive to them. The notion that being desirable is just a part of being a woman had been drilled into me – princesses were beautiful before anything else, the most common compliment I heard directed as the women in my life was “beautiful” or “pretty” or “hot” while men were applauded for their intellectual achievements “he’s a clever guy” or “he’s a smart one – he’ll go far.”

Conclusion

Femininity was inferior to masculinity. There was nothing cooler than a masculine woman (but not too masculine, otherwise she’d stop being hot and that was really all that mattered), and nothing less cool and open to mockery than a feminine man.

Today, even many of my own friends who refer to themselves as “gender critical” have been guilty of this – accusing other women who enjoy make-up and revealing clothing of purposefully “appealing to the male gaze” and thereby betraying other women by being “dick-panderers.”

When I was groped, I forced a smile, as I’d been conditioned to do, and shyly pulled away so as not to appear aggressive or confrontational again, as I’d been conditioned to. For this, I was branded a “tease.” If I dared not smile, I was being a “bitch” – why can’t I just take a compliment? Girls love compliments, didn’t I know? What was wrong with me? He was just being nice.

Having my sister’s then-boyfriend assure me when I was 16 that he had “warned” his friends, who were all in their 20s, to “keep their hands to themselves.” Then standing there expectantly as if waiting for me to thank him.

“Look at the size of those tits.” Said the man who’d held me as a baby and watched me grow up. To my mum’s credit she did punch him for that comment, but that didn’t stop him from coming over every other weekend to drink with my parents – only now he’d learned he’d have to be more careful in his creepiness. And so, it continued, until I moved out of my parents flat years later.

I wish my mother had sat me down when I was 12 or 13 and explained all this to me, because I was oblivious to it for far longer than I’m comfortable admitting.

Well, I beg to differ. Sisterhood is not universal. There will always be women, whatever their reasons, who reject the sentiment. If they will choose their men over their “sisters,” is the honourable title of “sister” even earned? I would say not.

Sinéad Watson is a 30-year-old detransitioned woman from Scotland who underwent medical transition between 2015-2019. Her personal experience of having been evaluated, diagnosed and treated at a gender clinic has given her some insights into the process that others may not have.

Sinéad Watson
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