Monday, June 9, 2014

Transgender Issues, Swimsuits, and Feminism (Part 1)

Preamble: I sincerely apologize for the length of this post (in fact, I'm splitting it in two). But this is what it's like to be me. Welcome to the inside of my mind. I've been sitting here at this computer typing for... well over two hours, quite nearly nonstop. I've been told (often) that I think too much. It's a blessing, but it can also be a curse. Certainly, I believe it has much to do with the pervasive anxiety I feel that limits much of what I am possible of doing. But I am taken to understand that I am fairly smart, and I've been told that I am fairly eloquent (when I have the time to choose my words), so it's my hope that maybe I can apply my overworking mind to the occasional issue of social significance, and maybe, hopefully, make some valuable insights now and then. Let's begin.

I still have no clear idea exactly what criteria must be met for a person to be considered "transgender". It's strange, given how comfortable I am thinking of myself as female, and how frequently I dress as such, and how often I "pass" in public situations where strangers often refer to me (usually in the company of my BFF) as "ladies" (although the doubting part of me in the back of my mind questions whether I am actually passing, or if the people speaking to me are just so forward-thinking as to pick up on the fact that though I may be a man, I'm "trying" to be a woman - even though the passing angle is by far the simpler and probably more likely scenario), but I still have times when I question whether I truly get to label my identity and experience as "transgender".

But - and this is all related - to the extent that I do consider myself transgender, I guess I have something of a unique perspective because, like in so many things, I don't fit the stereotype. I didn't grow up knowing I was born with the wrong body. Even now, and even to the extent that I regret the parts of me that are masculine (like my deep voice, and my broad shoulders), I don't have any real strong desire to fuck with my body chemistry, or go under the knife and endure radical surgery (say what you want, but I can't envision taking a penis and a pair of testicles and fashioning it into a vagina being anything short of "radical") to force my body to align with my mental gender.

In any case, I'm already a very feminine male. Indeed, it's the fact that I'm already so feminine that has largely encouraged me to reconsider my gender identity in the first place. I don't so much need chemicals and surgery to make me more feminine - I already am feminine. I just happen to have a penis, and maybe some other masculine qualities. But choosing to present as female - rehauling my wardrobe, and making certain preparations, like shaving excess facial/body hair - has gone a long way in changing the way I present. I mean, that's one of those confusing things about being transgender. What parts of it are mental and what parts physical? Is it possible to have a male body that nevertheless possesses many feminine traits, and what impact does that have on your gender identity? Do many transgender people (of the MtF variety, only because that's what I have personal experience with), on the other hand, have very masculine bodies, but know inside that they are female, and are thus driven more strongly to turn to science to right their physiological situation?

I don't have the answers to these questions. But another thing that makes my situation a my sexual orientation. I don't want to generalize, and I bring this up precisely because it is a stereotype, but it seems to me that a lot of people make presumptions about transpersons' sexuality, and the stereotype is that they're sexually attracted to their own pre-op gender, so in the case of MtF, the male transitions to female, to end up in ostensibly "straight" relationships with males, or in the case of those insensitive individuals who consider them "still male", they're basically gay but with the added complication of the sex change. On the contrary, in my case, my sexual orientation yields no pressure to transition, since I am sexually attracted to the gender I identify with. Indeed, if anything, it makes me want to keep my penis because it makes it so much easier for me to pair up, sexually, with females (the majority of which are probably predominantly straight). In that sense, without transitioning, I am a normal straight male. But with transition, I would become a lesbian female - although I imagine there would be some number of "true" lesbians who don't consider "transwomen" "real women", and feel that I am just a man trying to infiltrate one of the purest "women's spaces" - that of genetic women sexually attracted to other genetic women.

It becomes that much more complicated when I opt to keep my male genitalia - although if you think that makes it easy for me to simply remain a "straight male", how many women, honestly, do you know are sexually attracted to men who identify, present, and pass as women? Certainly, there are some - I've had the good fortune to meet one - but I don't think it's the norm. In spite of what women might say about wishing men were more like them, the cold, hard truth is that women are biologically attracted to certain features men have that make them distinct from women - otherwise wouldn't they just be attracted to other women? Truthfully, I often wonder if I should play up some more of my masculine qualities (or potential qualities), for the sake of attracting more women - seeing as I get way more attention from straight men (who think I'm a woman) and gay men (who "realize" I'm a "man", but still appreciate me for my feminine qualities) - in both cases men, who I am not sexually attracted to (leastwise - being true to Kinsey's findings on the vast spectrum of sexualities - not enough to consider pursuing anything). But the problem with that is that I don't truly feel like myself when I'm presenting as a man. Although there are a lot of anxieties that go along with presenting as a woman (chiefly among them the fear of being found out by someone who doesn't think kindly of those who flout the rules about gender stereotypes), the fact that I still do it and gain some significant measure of satisfaction from doing it ought to mean something.

But that's not even the whole story, because, at this point, we're still beholden to a binary framework for the sexes (or to the legitimacy of gender stereotypes). There's a bit of logical confusion that settles in here, depending on how you define how sex relates to gender. If the genitalia determines the gender, then a person with a penis who wears a frilly dress to the prom is a man. And if the gender stereotypes determine gender, then it's enough for a man to wear a frilly dress to the prom (because he feels right in it, and not for any trivial reason, like to fulfill a dare) to be considered a woman. But the truth is, both of these views are held simultaneously by modern society (see how the "man who wears a skirt" is treated on the basketball court, and then see how contrarily the same "woman with a penis" is treated when he goes to the ladies' restroom - is he a woman, or a man? - he is treated as either and both, but depending only on which one allows the rest of society to mock and ridicule him, not on which allows him to feel more comfortable and accepted), yet if the genitalia and the gender stereotypes determine gender, then there's this whole swath of people whose genitalia don't match the gender stereotypes they are expressing who are being ignored and made invisible, and treated expectedly with confusion and incredulity whenever and wherever they make themselves known (whether intentionally or not).

The point I am trying laboriously to whittle toward is this: does it even matter if I am a man or a woman or a transperson of any stripe? Should it matter? If I have a problem with my physiology it's one thing. But if my problem is primarily with the social construction of gender - what I wear, how I look, to some extent my mannerisms and personality traits - does it even matter? If I want to wear a skirt on the basketball court, why does it matter whether I have a penis or a vagina under that skirt? And is it anyone's business in the first place? Restrooms may be a thornier matter, because they do have some direct relation to what kind of plumbing a person has (although, honestly, I think too much is made of the differences between the way men and women use the bathroom - I sit down to pee 99% of the time anyway). But you can make reasonable restrictions based on a person's genitalia that don't bring gender into play at all.

Another thing that complicates matters, which is getting back to the limitations of the gender binary, is - why do people even have to be male or female, man or woman, in the first place? What about those people who are androgynous, or gender fluid, who either exist in some place between (treating gender as a spectrum), or who freely move between either of the end points? If a person is presenting as male today, does he have to adhere to male-based restrictions when he is presenting as a female tomorrow? Why does anyone have to pick just one or the other? This kind of thinking really brings into question the merit of any kind of restrictions that are based on rigid gender stereotypes, and the idea that there are two distinct kinds of people in this world - male, and female - and that every person is either one or the other and never changes throughout the course of their life, or if they do, as in the case of the stereotypical transperson, it is this one momentous change that is supposed to "fix" an "error" of birth that happens at one particular point in their life (usually during the time of surgery), before which they are the one sex/gender, and after which they are the other. This picture just doesn't adequately reflect the reality of the matter, and, as I suggested before, marginalizes, if not completely ignores, a wide swath (even if they do only constitute a minority) of very unique and fabulous people.

(This post continues here).

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