"God damn, look at you!" He pulled my shirt from the back so it clung to my form. This was not a look I felt was particularly good for me, even in those thinner days, and I pushed his hands away, squirming and frowning at myself in the mirror. He raised an eyebrow and frowned back, then turned me around by the shoulders, away from the mirror.
"Bitch, be fierce…"
Nate was one of many people who fall under the "T" in LGBT who have been important to me in one way or another, many of whom have played vital roles in helping me understand and appreciate my queer-brained self, and sort out what it means for me to be a woman. This is, quite obviously, no coincidence. Being myself a person who is, like many non-trans feminists and queers, uncomfortable with, and thusly constantly challenging, the expectations imposed on my sex and gender, I have found it valuable (and, in my personal experience, inevitable) to engage with Ts as part of divining my own self-definition. Which is to say nothing of simple and precious friendships.
The thing about getting together with a group of friends which includes straight, gay, bi, asexual, and trans men and women is that you're almost guaranteed to have every gender variation in the room and thusly no easily divided gender groups. The group may split into smaller clusters that talk about kids, or sports, or politics, or film, but the divisions aren't drawn by sex; the ladies-in-the-kitchen, gents-watching-the-game sort of thing is totally, completely, hilariously inoperable. And when you have a group of friends like that, you tend to forget that there are people who don't believe a man can learn something about being a man from a woman, or a woman can learn something about being a woman from a man—a man who loves men same as you, or a man who used to be a biological woman, or just a man in a dress, like St. Nate.
It was with deep dismay and sadness that I read on various blogs (Piny has a good round-up) that a comments thread at I Blame the Patriarchy had disintegrated into a rather nasty referendum on transgenderism.
"You want to know how men can hurt women? **chuckle** You’re joking, right? Oh wait. I’m supposed to believe men in drag are women. And if you put on a werewolf mask, will you also expect me to believe you’re a werewolf?"Et cetera. Ugh and ick and blech. I would pity such ignorant twits if they weren't also so disgracefully hateful. (Twisty responds here and here.)
"This is about what all this nonsense amounts to. In short, trans are nutjobs. The bathroom is about the last place I want to be alone with a male nutjob. These unfortunate, but seriously disturbed individuals belong on the 5th floor in a straight jacket. Not in a women’s bathroom."
"I’d like to take a piss in a public can knowing for a fact there are no boys in there whining 'I was born in the wrong body' for fucksake, insisting I refer to him as 'she.' Phobic? Hardly. Resentful that women lose yet another space of their own? You betcha big time."
Amp has an excellent post Responding To The Feminist Anti-Transsexual Arguments, to which I have nothing theoretical to add, though I will reiterate my estimation that rejection of pluralism veers dangerously close to the inflexible dictates of the dominant culture feminism means to change, and express my personal regret that there are feminists who have yet to see transgendered women and men as the natural allies they quite rightly ought to be.
Realistically, the breadth of allies in a comprehensive challenge to the patriarchy is vast and varied. Though all of us, sans rigorous philosophical exertion, are hapless conduits for every limiting and oppressive archetype upon which the patriarchy depends, conveying the bars of our own cages, very few of us are its unconstrained beneficiaries. Even the average straight, white, middle class American man exchanges privilege for severe limitations on his personal expression and emotional life—and he is encouraged never to examine that devastating trade-off too closely, lest the veneer on the alleged bargain prove thin enough through which to see. We all serve the same callous master, and there's little to celebrate in being the favored slave—especially compared to a life of freedom.
It is foolish to believe that there is more feminist non-trans women and the Ts don't have in common than that which we do. The universalism of experience as a woman just falls all to pieces when I think of, say, Barbara "Mother O'Pearls" Bush—like me, a straight white married woman, but with whom I have approximately nothing else in common—and then, say, Brynn Craffey, who is both FTM tranny and friend. Babs and Brynn are also both mothers, but I daresay Brynn won't contradict me if I presume to guess that doesn't make him feel a particular kinship with Babs. The world is just a crazy place like that. And in my small corner of it, I will never understand by what measure, truly, I or any feminist woman interested in expanding the scope of Who We Are Allowed To Be should not be an ally to Ts. There is none that I can conjure.
…Nate stood back and looked at me. "The hair, the fucking indigo eyes—I'd kill for those eyes!—the cheekbones, the tits—my god, those tits!—the ass, the 'tude…no one brings the 'tude like you do. Honey, you've got it."
So I did. I had a lot of other stuff, too, that Nate left out—things known as "flaws." But fuck it, I thought, as I turned back to the mirror. Since when has darkness meant there's no such thing as light? I looked at myself again not through a prism of external expectation, but with my eyes alone. The crushing weight of Everyone Else's Opinion was gone. I felt beautiful—not in a slamming-dress-and-perfectly-executed-hair-and-make-up way, which is itself a distinct kind of allure to which I am particularly ill-suited, being unfit in both manner and form for couture, but in a je ne sais quoi way, compared to no standard or expectation, and offering as its only alternative an absence of the beauty specific to me.
I had what I had, whatever it was, and that was that. Anyone who wanted me to measure up to a measuring stick I hadn't given them was going to be shit out of luck and sorely disappointed.
And so they are still.