Saturday, May 14, 2011
I think there's a misconception about trans women that we don't experience body shame as women, except in the sense that we fail to "measure up" to cissexual female phenotypes. Whatever body shame we do have, the thinking goes, surely revolves around the fact that we simply aren't "woman enough" physically and so we spend every waking moment trying to obtain that "woman enough" body. Piece by piece.
It's practically unheard of that a trans woman could feel anything other than gratitude for the ways in which she actually "meets or exceeds" expectations for what women are "supposed" to look like.
In other words, we can't possibly experience plain old misogyny, sexist oppression, and the inevitable internalized shame issues that come with having a readably feminine body.
Well, we can.
As far as "phenotypes" go, I have a fairly curvy figure. I'm told this has everything to do with genetics. Or perhaps I was young enough for my body to respond emphatically to estrogen therapy when I first started. Or perhaps my body just had its own plans from the start. People think that trans women exist in a perpetual state of transition, we are somehow never quite finished "acquiring" our physical womanhood, and we're always ALWAYS trying to obtain ever more feminine features, by any means necessary. So obviously if I have a curvy body, it must be some kind of trophy for me, right? Some kind of collector's item on the mantle of my um...gender 'hobby.' My body couldn't possibly be real in the way a cis woman's body is real.. I couldn't possibly suffer the same consequences a cis woman with a similar body type might? My life inside this body couldn't possibly be a real inner life. Right?
Trans women do tend to spend alot of time fretting about the way their bodies measure up at the start of transition. But what girl isn't preoccupied with the way her body is beginning to change into something that will eventually mark her, forevermore, as --"Woman"--?
Because I'm trans, most people assume I've had plastic surgery to look the way I do. False. The only cosmetic surgery I've ever had was the one between my legs (which, as I have written about earlier, was a cosmetic and functional failure). The rest of me... is all me. Yes really.
I dont say this to make myself out to be superior to anyone who has had plastic surgery. I hate it when I hear trans women bragging about how little surgery they need to pass, etc. It's all transphobic bullshit. Full disclosure tho, and this is very hard for me to admit, I most certainly did once think of myself as "more real" and "better" than other trans women who had had lots of cosmetic surgery in order to pass. My body was "mostly real" theirs was "mostly constructed." (There's a little Janice G. Raymond in us all, it would seem?)
This was during a time when my changing body was still young and callow, tho my mind was pre0colonized with cissexist standards of femaleness; In my desperate bid for survival as a woman on these terms, living in a world that clearly wanted me to fail at being a woman, I was more than willing to apply these standards to other trans girls like myself to see how I "ranked." When I ranked "higher" I congratulated myself (if only inwardly) and tsk tsked at the misfortune of the poor girl being compared to me. When I ranked "lower" I blamed myself and vowed to work harder on my appearance, to "improve" my presentation, my "realness."
Admitting your own privilege and fail is.. fucking hard. I'm ashamed of the lateral transphobic oppression of others I engaged in over my lifetime. I apologize with everything in me. This is a post for another day.
Back to being in my body. My body that for over two decades has both flattered and embarrassed me with it overt femininity. This body that came from a long proud line of full-figured, full bosomed, full buttocked black and brown women who all at different times in their lives, have worn their bodies bravely, resentfully, deliberately, cautiously.
I wanted what I saw as that same strength, that mettle. I was eager to join the ranks of womanhood and become indestructible in the face of certain man-caused doom. I couldn't understand why anyone would dream of discouraging me, let alone my own mother. I didn't understand why she seemed to resent her womanhood. As my body changed, I was soon rewarded with a too-fullness of thighs that begged apologies from my mama's lips: "It's a shame you inherited my legs. I'm sorry." A growing bottom heaviness that furrowed her brow: "You're getting hip-py, miss piggy... better lay off the sweets."
I was even prepared for the ocasional bruises on my ass from being slapped and pinched by strange men in public, just ike my Auntie Lisa had all thru her teens. I was prepared for every woman worry I had witnessed on my mother's face, my aunties face, my grandmothers' faces as they moved guardedly thru the world in their own unmistakeably brown and feminine bodies.
I was unprepared for that silent inner world of woman shame I couldn't yet know or see. The way my own body would one day leave me feeling sexually harassed just to look at myself, because it was.. just too much with the daaaayum! and the pow! sometimes.
I was unprepared for the relentless self-consciousness about having curves, at having a "figure" that could be commented on at all.... utterly unprepared for the way "slut" would echo in my head everytime I got dressed in a mirror and I had the gall to admire me..."slut slut slut!! who do you think you are??"
Soon, just the fact that my breasts were the size they were and my butt the size it was made me feel ...pornographic. Like I had turned into some kind of deliberate sex object. I felt silly, like somebody would think I had listened to a Sir Mix Alot album one day and thought, hey what a great idea! I didn't think anybody could possibly take me seriously looking like this. Because the only thing a body like this was any good for was looking at, right?
And of course feeling confused, because in some respects, I had deliberately turned myself into an object. Not for the sake of male attention, but because I didn't know how else to survive in a world dominated by men who seemed to have one of two reactions to me: abject hatred or confused lust. Since the former too often resulted in my ass getting kicked or threatened, I felt that the latter at least gave me a little bit of a chance to protect myself. Maybe. But oh what a price I paid for that protection. The price of having a body that so loudly called attention to itself. Attention I both craved, simply to know I existed, and feared, knowing what it would bring.
But this body shame went much deeper than mere intent could take me. It was a shame that seemed to pre-exist me altogether. An embarrassment in my physical predicament that came to greet me instead of my own image in the mirror. After a lifetime of avoiding mirrors because I didn't like the body I saw there... I learned to avoid mirrors... all over again. I had acclimated to the white noise of woman shame that surrounded me.
The shame worked its way deeper in to my psyche, and I began to slowly believe I was "asking for it" just because of the way I looked. And of course, too many men responded to my body in kind, and I let them. The attention they paid me left me feeling both flattered and utterly mortified at the same time.
Even today I still cringe when I look down at my 38G's (by my last count) and think "Gross!" Then I stop and scold myself, but it's too late. Somehow I always feel like I did something wrong, like I went too far, growing boobs this big... As if I'd had any control over how my body would turn out.
But that really isn't the point.. the point is being made to feel bad about your body no matter what; because you're a woman, your body is but an absurd distraction from the business of being ... what? Human? You feel a bit chastised, like you should have picked more wisely.. a body that was more discreet, more modest, more... gender neutral? Whatever it is you should have done, look at you now! You should feel ashamed of yourself, young lady.
And so you do.
So. If you haven't gathered already, I struggle with hella body issues. Not all of them trans related, or disability related, or size related. Some of them are just female related believe it or not. And sometimes it's all of the above.
For instance I have major ambivalence with my wanting and possibly needing breast reduction one day. The part of me that is exhuasted from the shoulder, neck and back pain from dragging around this damn shelf just wants it all over with, especially since I deal with chronic pain elsewhere. Then the part of me that fought tooth and nail to be able to have breasts at all thinks I'm a fool and should just count my blessings. The part of me that is of this woman-hating, transphobic world thinks that it's all my own damn fault... that that's what I get for being a woman... Cuz if you didn't want the womanheat you should have stayed out of the kitchen.
And then there's the part of me that just longs to feel comfortable in my own body... someday. It wants to look like what I think of myself looking like whenever I picture me in my mind. This part of me is always shocked everytime I look in the mirror, because yes indeed I look nothing like I think I do. Oh sure i no longer look like the wrong damn gender... but after all these years you'd think I'd bear more than just a passing resemblance to the woman I am in my mind... yanno?
And then there is the society that feels the need to dogpile on, just because I'm a woman, and/or just because I have this body. Patriarchy privileges men with the freedom to dissect and evaluate my body piece by piece, perpetually appraising its/my worth as a potential receptacle for their unsolicited interest. It's an outrage to go from feeling trapped in my body to trapped BY my body. An outrage to feel, after a lifetime, that even after working so hard to get as far away from the "wrong body" as possible, my body still leaves me open to endless commentary, hateful critique and even physical attack from MEN i don't know and don't care to.
Then again, such is life as a woman in a society that hates women. Yes, I know, I am in alot of company. Bring me a choir and I'll preach to it, Sister.