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Sunday, April 22, 2018

"Once you find your center, you are sure to win"

A friend linked to this article yesterday and asked me for my opinion on it.

The impression I got from it was one of self-loathing: "No matter how hard I try, I will never be good enough to consider myself a woman. But maybe, if put them above me, they will allow me to associate with them and that will validate my existence as a second-rate transwoman."

Sigh. It's attitudes like this which make me say that the queer community's worst enemy is itself. Give us enough time, and we'll defeat ourselves more thoroughly than any hyopthetical rightwing transphobe.

The author's main thesis seems to reduce to "transwomen are different from ciswomen biologically and socially." The biology difference is such a big fat duh that I'm unsure why she even feels the need to point this out. I don't think there's anyone on either side of the argument who feels that transwomen benefit from having their Y chromosome ignored in a medical sense. For example, in male-to-female sexual reassignment surgery the prostate is usually not removed due to its proximity to the bladder, important nerves and blood vessels. However, prostate cancer is still a thing that happens to transwomen, and pretending that a transwoman doesn't have a prostate that needs to be checked regularly is medically negligent.

The social difference is debatable, because I can list a half-dozen genetic women on Facebook alone whom I humorously call (and they laugh and agree with my assessment) "gay men with vaginas" because they act more male than female, don't understand other women, and sometimes don't even LIKE other women. So if biological women, who were socialized while growing up to be women, still self-identify as being more masculine than feminine, then maybe there's more to femininity than just estrogen-based puberty... meanwhile, here I am trying like hell to fit in, worried that other women are going to call me out for being a tourist and a fake, doing my best to cram an entire adolescence of figuring out clothing and makeup and movement into as short a time as possible, and (again) actual genetic women are telling me "You're girlier than I ever was."

While there is something to be said for bonding over shared life experiences, I feel like reducing "the female experience" to menstruation and PMS and childbirth and fear of rape and all the other things the writer listed is to reduce womanhood to plumbing and pain, and I find that marginalizing and objectifying and sexist. It's true, I'll never know what it's like to grow up as a girl into a woman... but growing up a certain way doesn't mean I can't assimilate into another culture, and if you believe that it does then I genuinely feel bad for you, because you've just told me that you believe in inescapable fate and that self-improvement isn't possible. After all, you've just said that if you grow up in an environment where no one goes to college, then you can't assimilate into college, so you shouldn't even try.

It's garbage thinking to assert "You can't be X because you don't have these shared experiences." Are you going to tell an immigrant seeking citizenship that she can't be American because she didn't grow up on a steady diet of American pop culture? No, because no one American is identical to another! A Californian is culturally different from a Texan is different from an Illinoian is different from a New Yorker, and while their cultural experiences are different they are all authentically American. Similarly, women can be different on a spectrum from frou-frou femme to butch tomboy, and no one's going to tell that butch tomboy that she can't put on a dress and be authentically feminine because she didn't grow up as a girly-girl. Hell, we have entire industries dedicated to making over women of all sorts, so that kind of transformation is actively encouraged by society.

So this sad author is saying that she can dress as a woman, but she'll never truly be one socially. I call BS on that because my experience says that attitude is absolutely wrong.

When I was in my 20s, I tried so very hard to "be a man": I wanted to join the military, I got a masculine tattoo, I tried to do all the thing "a man does" and I still felt like an imposter. I didn't know at the time that I was transgender; all I knew is that I felt like I didn't belong among the ranks of men and tried to find something, anything, that I could do or be or say that would forever mark me as "a man" that could be seen by all. I was going through all the motions and nothing was working; it was cargo cult manhood based around doing manly things and thinking manly thoughts and the fervent hope that if I just acted like a man I would become one somehow.

I don't think this is a transgender thing, because I remember the popularity of Fight Club and how its message was "You can't let society tell you how to be a man. You have to find it on your own, because it won't be bestowed upon you; manhood must be claimed."



Or maybe that's just what I took away from it. What I know is that watching the movie was very transformative for me, because it showed me that I wasn't alone, I wasn't a freak; there were other people who were having the same existential struggle I was. I just... found a different solution than in the film. But I like to think that Tyler Durden would approve of me being who I am instead of trying to be what I am not.

In the time since I saw that movie, I've known adult males who will never be men, and I've known legal children who were mentally and emotionally men before society said they were. Similarly, I've known adult females (many of whom are mothers) who weren't women but rather post-adolescent girls, and I've known high-schoolers who were women before they were 18.

If I may presume to have any wisdom on the matter, it is this: There is no single objective standard of womanhood, just like there is no single objective standard of manhood. 'Selfhood' is the end result of a long journey of self-discovery, at the end of which an individual says "This is who I am, and it is sufficient. I don't need anyone else to tell me what I am, because I know what I am, and if you don't like it you can go get bent."

You are yourself, and that is more than enough. Don't look to others for validation. Be YOU, as hard as you can, as fearlessly as you can, and don't apologize for it.

Or to be pithy: "If you want to be a woman, man up and be one."

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