The Paradoxical Duality of Cat-calling as a Trans Woman

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It doesn’t happen often but last night I got cat-called. I was walking back to my car at a gas station and there was a group of guys standing around outside. Already on edge, one of them calls out “Hey sweetheart, how’s it going?” Many feelings rushed through my head as I answered back “I’m good” and tried to get in my car as fast as possible.

One of the feelings I felt was fear. I was afraid that my response “I’m good” would clock me cuz of my voice and that the man, having clocked me, would feel his masculinity is threatened and then proceed to beat the shit out of me, hence getting in my car as fast as possible.

Another feeling was disgust. I was disgusted at how piggish men can be towards women and felt a twinge of injustice in solidarity with other woman-identified people who get cat-called.

But here is the paradoxical feeling: In addition to fear and disgust, I also felt a boost to my self-esteem because being cat-called is an indication that hormones and my presentation are working such that people perceive me to be female. That is my goal, and it feels good to get positive evidence of getting closer to that goal.

I have seen TERFs talk about this as another example of why trans women have male privilege and don’t understand what it’s like to be a woman: according to them we like being cat-called. But that’s not true at all. The response is paradoxical because it contains within itself competing elements of fear/disgust and a positive feeling of gender euphoria at evidence of “passing” as your identified gender. It’s not that I liked being cat-called – I was afraid of being beat-up or worse and my deep feminist intuitions scream at the horribleness of cat-calling as a phenomenon that negatively affects women. It’s not so simple as either liking it or not liking it. But I would be lying if I said that I had zero positive feelings at being cat-called – the negative feelings were mixed into the positive feeling of gender euphoria, at feeling like I am passing and attractive.

I would be curious to know if cis women ever feel this paradoxical feeling as well e.g. feeling like your outfit and hair must be killing it today because you got cat-called which is unusual for you but also feeling disgusted at the misogyny on display while also feeling fear. I’ve never asked a cis woman about this so I don’t know for sure but I would wager that some cis women do in fact feel the paradox as well.

But I would also wager that for trans women the paradox is felt to a greater extent. For many trans woman, including myself, passing is of great importance and sometimes it’s difficult to garner “objective” evidence that you are passing. Cat-calling is a form of evidence and thus brings with it a positive feeling associated with feeling like you are passing. Nevertheless, we need to do a better job of raising young men to also feel disgust at the practice of cat-calling and call-out and shame fellow men for doing it when they see it.

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6 Comments

Filed under feminism, Gender studies, My life, Trans life

6 responses to “The Paradoxical Duality of Cat-calling as a Trans Woman

  1. Thank you for sharing your personal insight into this complicated phenomenon. As a cis woman, I also feel the mix of emotions. Targeted, annoyed at the interruption, scared of getting attacked or whatever else could happen now that their attention is on me, pissed off, and a little flattered (yay! I’m pretty!) The last of these comes with its own package of weirdness and shame and feminist fury at noticing that I’m complicit in categorizing women into a twisted matrix of attractiveness/sexiness. I hadn’t considered before the added layers that trans women experience when cat-called. Thank you for sharing!

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  2. Kel Griffiths

    Before I transitioned I was cat called by women,so I don’t see why men get the blame for it all, misogyny is the ape like call that all of us feel when we need to feel accepted by those we call peers.
    It is also the fact that we are not over looked, we are notable.
    Own it flash them some arse!

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  3. Victoria in London.

    I get this from all sorts of men in different degrees of extremity, sometimes it is quite yobbish but other times seems to be a very clumsy way of trying to spark up a conversation with a stranger. What frightens me most about this sort of behaviour is not the being shouted at nor that they might work out I’m transgender if I reply. I worry that if I give it any attention at all then word might get around that I can be approached in this way. And the thing about it that scares me most is that any slight sign that I’m happy or listening to it may lead to a more physical approach – someone following me home, trying to grab me in a quiet spot, a sexual assault, rape.
    Data shows sexual assaults and rape / attempted rape happens to more trans women than cis women and so I try to be careful and come across as cold and unapproachable. I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do or not.

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  4. I always feel this duality. I’m Trans and the oddest thing is when I pass to some people and for others I don’t.

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  5. Beth

    Hello, I found this blog, while doing research for a paper on catcalling as a feminine rite of passage. I’ve got to tell you this paradox has been reported by all kinds of cis women as well, if that answers your question. It may not function on the same level, but the idea that your attractiveness or femininity is affirmed by the catcalling while still feeling objectified and threatened is pretty pervasive even in cis women. As a fat cis woman I know it sometimes feels like a recognition of being femme enough (because fat women are often seen as asexual and genderless), even though I also feel really gross about it. Reading this and working on the subject has made me realize just how deeply harassment forms a part of feminine identity and what it means to be a woman, whether its young cis girls realizing the world sees them as women the first time a grown man catcalls them, or my trans friend who said she felt affirmed the first time, even as she felt the threat in that action.

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  6. Ms. ReDress

    I get it sometimes and at this point I’m still pretty much flattered and pleased. But I do believe that’s a result of my former male privilege. I’m naive and unused to being a woman in society. I don’t perceive the threat and anxiety that someone socialized since birth as a female might perceive. I had a guy cruise me while I was driving down the freeway once. I was quite delighted until I put it together that it was a very unsafe situation and I breathed a sigh of relief when he took his exit. A man came up to my table at dinner once and gave me his phone number, bold as could be, which was quite a boost on the “passing” scale. Out of curiosity I followed up later and asked what prompted this. He said he wasn’t sure if I was trans, but I had given him a warm smile and made eye contact, which he took as a sign of my interest in him. Well, one of my coping strategies in public is to be very direct with people and smile and look them in the eye as a way of saying I am happy, proud and unapologetic to be who I am. I suppose cis women don’t do that as much because it opens you up to all sorts of uninvited attention. Part of the learning process. I need to be more careful.

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