Trans women respond to ‘What Makes a Woman?’

Daniel Wren

In an open letter to The New York Times, trans women have addressed the apparent transphobia in a recent opinion piece by Elinor Burkett.

In her article ‘What Makes a Woman?’, Burkett misgenders Caitlyn Jenner and writes, ‘People who haven’t lived their whole lives as women, whether Ms. Jenner or Mr. Summers, shouldn’t get to define us.’

In response, the letter, penned by Jane Aitch and signed by trans women and their allies around the world, says:

‘The argument that trans women are inherently socialized differently than other women ignores the vast differences between the ways that individual women are socialized, and does not only privilege cisgender women but also the American-born, heterosexual, affluent, white women that often becomes the default metric of womanhood. We join other minority women, especially because many of us are intersectional and belong to other minority groups, in asserting that any model that attempts to unify all women’s experiences automatically imposes one dominant model of that experience over others. This devalues the experiences of all women but especially of minorities.’

In another article at, trans writer Scarlet Tatro describes Burkett’s article as like ‘a knife in the back’. She is critical of how, in relation to discussions of trans women, publications like The New York Times seem to give more precedence to the views of cis women over those of trans women and writes of the effect this has on trans women.

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‘The reality is that while Burkett, the New York Times, and far too many other mainstream media outlets profit from continuing to question the validity and right to exist of trans people,’ she writes, ‘we are left to pick up the pieces left behind in the form of depression, anger, hopelessness, and continued oppression.’

Others have also been critical of the article. In the readers’ letters section of The New York Times, Allison H. Steinberg responded to the article by writing, ‘Ms. Jenner has every right to be as beautiful and superficial as she wants, regardless of the male privilege she benefited from previously, or the feminine beauty ideal she conforms to now, because that’s the culture we want to live in — one in which we’re all free to express our individual truths.’

Likewise, Dana Beyer writes, ‘Elinor Burkett, my truth is not yours, nor my female identity yours, either. But I have my truth and my female identity, and all I ask is that you respect mine as I respect yours.’

You can read the letter in full (and add your name) at

About Daniel Wren

Vada Magazine staff writer. Interested in travel, news, politics and dating.