Monday, June 9, 2014

Transgender Issues, Swimsuits, and Feminism (Part 2)

(This post is a continuation from here).

So, I say again, I think that having restrictions based on sex don't make much sense, except where they are reasonable restrictions based directly on what genitalia a person has (and places where this even matters are going to be extremely rare, I would think). I would even go so far as to call them discriminatory. And the preeminent example of this in my mind - and I hope that it doesn't seem too trivial for you, because it has been causing me no end of anxiety lately - is in the rules and expectations of swim attire and how they differ for men and women in a typical American environment (I hear Europeans are a bit more open-minded about such things, and other cultures are in an even better position not to reflect puritan and sexist American sensibilities).

I love pool culture. Thankfully, most of the time I've spent swimming in recent years has been in a nudist environment, and I feel like a lot of the usual anxiety of being transgender melts away when the clothes come off. I don't have to be overly concerned with what I'm wearing, and the signals it may be giving people, and how they might react when they find out those signals are "mixed". People can simply take a glance at me, see that I have a penis, see that I am also naturally feminine, and simply understand that this is the way I am.

But there may be opportunities where I'll want to go swimming in a non-nudist environment - and certainly I feel as though I've been avoiding said opportunities for all the anxiety that thinking about them causes me. As I said, I love pool culture. Summer is my favorite time of year, and I also enjoy the water. I won't completely write off the possibility that my perspective is biased by my unashamedly perverted nature - and I'm not saying I don't understand all the anxiety that's involved with this for many people - but it seems to me fairly obvious that the pool is an opportunity for people to take off a lot of their clothes - about as much as society will permit, in any given era - and more or less strut their stuff, and appreciate what others have to show.

I know, it's horrible of me, right, treating the pool as some kind of meat market? But it's not that bad. I'm just saying, I appreciate the human body - it's a work of art (and I say that as one genuinely dedicated to art). I'm also kind of an exhibitionist - and again, there are a lot of nasty stereotypes involved with that - but it's not that I have any desire to shove my exposed genitals into a poor and unexpected stranger's face, just for the sheer joy(?) of experiencing their shocked and disgusted reaction. It's just simply a sort of preening behavior. And you can't honestly tell me that all those girls in the fashionably skimpy bikinis (obviously not everyone at the pool is doing this, but you can tell that some of them are) aren't enjoying showing it off, and you definitely can't tell me that many, if not most, of the guys are appreciating the view. It's kind of one of those under-the-radar, not-really-talked-about-but-everybody-accepts-it sort of things.

Of course, there I go, giving a very gendered description of the pool environment. But that's just the thing. It is very gendered, and that's exactly what I have a problem with. The girls are expected to wear skimpy bikinis that emphasize every contour of their bodies (that aren't outright exposed) and be looked at, and the guys are supposed to wear baggy shorts that completely cover up the shape of their body, and do all the looking. I'm in a bit of a quandary, though, because even though I enjoy very much to do the looking, I also, as one who identifies as female, have a particular desire to show off what I've got and be appreciated too. (And feminists will talk to you about how this is patriarchal oppression of women, making them think they want the objectifying gaze of horny men, but the truth, as I see it, is that this is a natural, harmless, and quite enjoyable part of the basic way that the human male and female interact - a form of mating behavior).

Now, I don't want to say that there isn't an opposite element in play, where the girls enjoy looking at the guys, but there is very clearly a different way that men and women preen, and to me it seems quite obvious that there is an imbalance - in terms of how much the women are showing off, and how much the men are showing off. If this were simply a matter of fashion - i.e., "speedos" and other "brief-type" swimwear for men being socially unpopular in American pools - that would be one thing. But to my great distress I am seeing rules explicitly outlawing the wearing of these garments by men! Is my stance really that unreasonable? A "speedo"-type swimsuit (and we're talking about the sort of mainstream swimwear here that is popular in the Olympic games, of all fucking things) seems, to me, to basically be the equivalent of the woman's bikini.

Yes, it's true, that women have to cover their breasts and men don't - and this is an example of inequality between the genders. But whether you think the female breast is indecent, or legitimately considered a sex organ, or not, that is the reasoning behind this gender disparity. And though you may not agree with this opinion, the fact that it is the justification for the rule is at least logical (if not "righteous"). And, honestly, you can't tell me that the little bit of fabric (two modestly-sized triangles in many cases) women are required to wear on the top balances out the yards of fabric that make up the ridiculously long (seriously, mid-shin?) and baggy legs of the "board short" style of swimsuits that are so ubiquitously popular among men these days.

Before you object, I'm not suggesting that every woman wears (or is required or expected to wear) a string bikini. However, the woman who chooses to wear one is fully permitted to do so - and, indeed, you can't go to the pool on a crowded day without expecting to see several women so dressed (and yet, apparently without threatening the "family friendly" atmosphere, which is sometimes the reasoning behind the speedo-ban - on the contrary, you'll not infrequently find young women, sometimes even girls, donning these fashions, and it is not unheard of for young boys in other cultures, probably the European ones, to wear speedos without alarm or incident). The man who chooses to wear a speedo, however, is nonexistent. To what extent this is due to the fact that such a man would presumably be booted from the premises, and to what extent it is due to such garments being worn by men simply being socially unacceptable (around here, a man wearing a speedo would probably be ridiculed into conformity, as sad as that is), I can't say. But either way, the effect is the same.

There is also the ever-important matter of the difference between men and women's genitalia. Men are considered to have "external" genitalia, as opposed to women's more "internal" genitalia. However, though I won't deny there is a considerable difference at play here (as I am painfully aware of, due to all the times I've wanted to wear sleek skirts and dresses, and even women's swimwear, but wasn't able to hide or contain my package), I will again say that I think too much is often made of the difference. It is not impossible for a woman's external "features" to become clearly defined by a certain type of swimsuit, particularly when wet, and the same could be said for the nipples, whose clear outline may also sometimes be considered more or less "indecent". I could reasonably understand how a form-fitting swimsuit that clearly displays the outline of the male genitalia could be considered a little more "risque" than a family-friendly waterpark would be comfortable with (note the importance of being reasonable). But I know from experience (as I own a brand-name Speedo) that some suits are specifically designed to be a bit more "modest" in that sense, but without sacrificing the amount of exposure that a brief-type swimsuit allows.

Again, this is basically the male equivalent of a bikini, and I don't see why a woman should be allowed and (often) expected to wear a swimsuit that exposes as much as possible, and clearly defines the shapes and contours of what it doesn't expose, but a man should not. That is sexual discrimination. A restriction on thong suits, as a counter-example, is both reasonable (I can understand how a thong could be considered "risque") and applies equally to both sexes. There are swimsuits - for both sexes - that go too far, and they are usually obvious, because they are designed to be. "Speedos" and "brief-style" swimwear for men do not fall into this category, in general, and a restriction against them is unreasonable and discriminatory. Am I the only one that thinks this?

I mean, think about some of those bikinis - not even the thong ones, but the regular ones - and how much they emphasize or even expose a woman's ass. The ass is like a middle ground - both sexes have them, and the differences between the sexes are not as great as those between their primary genitalia or their breasts. It's perfectly okay for women to flaunt their asses in such a way. But since "brief-style" swimsuits are not allowed for men, and the only real common fashions that are available (and widely permitted) for men are medium to ultra-long shorts, there's really no option there for a man who wants to flaunt his assets.

What's going on here? Is this some kind of war on men's sexuality? It seems to be a corollary to the patriarchal control of women's sexuality - specifically in the way that women are objectified, and expected to be objectified, by the male gaze. Men, on the other hand, are mocked and criticized for expressing any sex appeal - and this is often a function of homophobia. Which, in turn, reflects the male-dominated nature of public media. If women's perspectives were more widely considered in the media, then an expression of male sexuality wouldn't so commonly be interpreted by other men as homoerotic imagery, so much as heteroerotic imagery, but for women (hard to imagine, right, guys?). Of course, there's nothing wrong with homoerotic imagery, either, and I would hope that continually more accepting attitudes of homosexuality in the culture at large will progressively recognize that.

I think, though, that there's a very real understanding that men aren't really expected to "preen" for women. Which ties into all the sexual stereotypes, about men being the aggressors and women the "prey". There may be a very real biological basis to this behavior - and I don't have the intention to refute that - but I've never been interested in forcing people to conform to the mainstream. That it's not common or expected for men to be the meat doesn't mean that if a man has the right mentality, he shouldn't be allowed to preen, whether for females or other males. And I can't imagine any place where this scenario would be more applicable than in the transgender context - that of individuals who flout the typical gender and sexual stereotypes.

There is also another matter that my be involved, which has to do with - wait for it - more stereotypes about how the different genders approach sexual attitudes. This isn't entirely unrelated to what I discussed above. But the corollary to women being expected to preen and be submissively objectified by males is the understanding that males, with all their aggressive testosterone, are horny beasts. If a woman flaunts her body, it's because she's following the dictates of a patriarchal society, and anyway it's not so much a reflection of her sexual agency as it is her submission to the male expectation that she be a sexual object. If a man wants to flaunt his body, on the other hand, it's seen as cocky behavior (pardon the word choice). And if he wears a swimsuit that emphasizes, say, his package, then it's seen as being some kind of threatening sexual behavior. He must be a pervert, and could very well be a danger to women and children.

Note how the female exhibitionist can get by thanks to expectations of women's place in society, and stereotypes of her gender, but the male exhibitionist does not fare so well by the same standards (but applied to his gender). And standing unfortunately in the middle is me, who does not have aggressive, masturbatory intentions in "showing off my body", but simply wants to fit in with the women who are simply flaunting what they've got, in sort of a more submissive - and decidedly less threatening - way. Feminists spend an awful lot of time complaining about how women are objectified and all that, and how unfair it is that they're expected to wear body-baring bikinis and let males gaze at them and whatnot. But, despite all the "power" males are supposed to have, I don't feel like I am able to similarly visit a public pool in a "body-baring" speedo. I don't think that women's choices (e.g., to wear sexy , revealing clothes) should be reduced (no matter the "feminist implications"); only that men's choices should be expanded. Because, the thing is, males only have power insofar as they behave like males are "supposed" to behave. And as a male identifying as female, I'm left out in the cold. I'm too female to play in the boys' club, but too male to run with the girls.

That's why I think we need something of a trans-feminism, or a post-feminism - something that pays more attention to the equality angle of uniting the sexes (including the non-mainstream and non-binary ones), rather than the sex-centric isms (on both sides) that seem to foster nothing but division between the sexes, by postulating the existence of just two sexes - and treating one as the hero, and the other the enemy. But that's yet another issue and this post has gone on way too fricking long already...

Goodness, a simple rule banning speedos shouldn't make a person think this much. But I simply can't accept it. And every time I start to wonder if I'm being biased and unreasonable, I think about those women in bikinis, and I just can't help feeling how incredibly imbalanced it is. If it's indecent for a man to wear a speedo, and if no man would wear one for anything but unacceptably prurient reasons, I just can't see how anyone of that mindset could, at the same time, think it's perfectly justifiable for women to do the same thing. Unless, of course, they've given leave of their reasoning faculties, and that is, unfortunately, far too common an occurrence.


  1. Thank you for writing this! I agree with so much of what you wrote, and I really appreciate the effort you made in thinking about these issues and explaining them so clearly.

    I lost a bet three years ago, which required me to paint my toenails neon pink for a week, and to display them publicly. My toes have not been unpainted since - I discovered that I love nail color, especially in comparison to the way my feet looked from constant entrapment within poorly ventilated steel-toe workboots. (Turns out, Ford started painting his cars to protect the steel bodies from moisture and rust - and paint on my toes provides the same protective function.)

    Anyway, I wrestled with this discovery - what did it mean, what did it say about me, why was I so happy to do something that men aren't supposed to do? I learned about the different definitions of "sex" and "gender" - and I came to realize that I could not place ANYTHING that isn't directly related to anatomy, into either gender category unless I made a sexist statement to justify putting it there. Nail polish has no inherent gender - it isn't a property of the paint or an ingredient in the bottle - instead, nail polish is CONSIDERED "feminine". Skirts are also considered feminine - even though he Roman Army conquered Europe in skirts, and there really has been no time in human history when skirts have not been worn by men somewhere on the planet.

    I realized that "gender" is really defined by sexist assumptions in society, combined with society's expectation that people must conform to the customs it considers "appropriate" for each sex. And, one of society's expectations is that people must identify with a gender and accept a label. I don't know how to do that without reinforcing sexism - so I don't. Instead, I take the view that "masculine" and "feminine" are COMPLIMENTARY opposites - the two sides of one coin, more like Yin & Yang - and a balanced personality requires both elements. Beyond that, anything that is OK for anybody to do, is OK for everyone to do - and the things I do are just trivial things, they do not define me or limit me to any labeled category or type. If I was forced at gunpoint to accept a gender label, I would say that I am "postgendered".

  2. Thanks for commenting, Steve! I'm glad that you found my post insightful. I like that term "postgendered" - I don't think I've really given it much thought before, but its application in this context is very appropriate. I definitely think we should eliminate the taboo on crossing the gender line; and as for the idea of abolishing gender altogether, you've given me some thoughts that I hope to incorporate into a new post. Thank you!