One of the oft-made criticisms of trans-women made by radical feminists is that they grow up experiencing all the benefits of male privilege, evading the discrimination that marks the lives of many women. These are complex issues. Perhaps the most foundational question is, does male privilege exist? In a very interesting interview on the BBC web site, Vivienne Ming, a tech industry entrepreneur, describes how she experienced the removal of her privilege after transitioning in her 30s. “Overnight, people stopped asking me maths questions”, she says, and she places the value of those male privileges at around a quarter of a million dollars. It’s an intriguing insight. One can accept, intellectually, that discrimination on the grounds of gender is an ill, and something to be resisted, but to hear a first-hand account of the outworking of people’s unconscious prejudice is shocking and illuminating.
For Dr Ming, male privilege evaporated as she transitioned. There is no doubt she has entered into the discrimination that all women suffer. But does that deal with the complaints of the radical feminists? The answer to that is complex. Caitlin Jenner, who has become the media-appointed poster-girl for transgendered people, presents a rather different case. Having made fame as an athlete, and fortune as a celebrity, she transitioned as only rich girls can, with expensive reconstructive surgery in an effort to realise a vision of feminine glamour that many women feel to be a straight-jacket. As a wealthy celebrity, every piece of publicity could only increase the value of the stock first accumulated as a privileged male. Its a very different story, and it underlines how problematic it can be to take a single celebrity and make them a representative for a broad and diverse community of human beings.