Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Pressures on Women. The Extra Pressures on Transgender Women.

I am blogging this for my own benefit.  Don't any of you feel under pressure to read it.  This was a post on facebook and I decided to post it here so I don't lose it.  It's a picture of some of my thoughts as they are at this time and I find I can look back at these posts and see the developments and changes in my life, generally as related to transgender issues or to spirituality.

There are things here that I could not have written a year ago or even six months ago - things about my own body and the physicality of a "real" woman.  To be challenging the narrative of "I was born in the wrong body" has consequences, not least in that it allows greater freedom and changes the reasons why I choose to do the things I do.  What follows is not the complete picture.  And it's a view that's still in development.  Bear with me but feel free to constructively criticise if there are massive errors.

A couple of days ago I posted this on Facebook:

Laser treatment today for the first time in ages.
So it's a no make-up day, something that can add extra idiot encounters to life followed by an obvious burnt-black stubble ten days which can also add to the level of idiocy encountered in the streets.
Being transgender in public is only easy if you don't look transgender - if you've spent loads of money and time in order to conform to what society says a woman should look like.
And don't any of you say the same pressure is there for all women. It really, really, really isn't. But someone usually says it anyway.

Perhaps that was an over-negative and irrational post.  A post that came from a view that what happened in the past would inevitably happen again.  A throwback to the events of last year and the memories of common abuse.  But last year was different in part because I was different.  I didn't have the confidence and self assurance that I have now and that changes how I walk in the streets and so changes how people react to me.

Of course there were responses from friends.  All of them came from women and they're all women who support me and completely affirm me as Clare.  But the responses were mainly saying the same thing:  "I have to wax/shave/laser too because there is pressure." See, I was right.  Someone says it anyway even though it isn't the same thing.

And so I accidentally wrote this response on the pressures women face in our society and the pressures transwomen face in the same society:

Oh God forgive me! This is long. It was meant to be short. If I didn't need to find food it might have got even longer. You don't need to read it. Nobody needs to read it. Writing these things helps me greatly in working out more of what I think and feel and how I want to live or need to live. It might not help anybody else in the slightest. But at least it ends positively. And all because this isn't just about facial hair. It's about the question "What is a woman?" It's very tempting to delete it all or just stick it as a document only on this machine. Tempting to blog it too in some form and annoy even more people. I wish people would challenge some of the things I've written on that blog - some of them are quite radical if not outrageous. And some may even be ludicrous.

Here it is anyway:

Yes. I agree. Of course I agree. Society pressures women to wax/shave/laser and do much more besides and presents a view of women that everyone knows is illogical and unrealistic but which most women below a certain age and many women above it follow anyway because it's a heck of a lot easier than experiencing the consequences of rebellion. Yes, we live in a society where to be a natural woman with natural hair, skin, fat, wrinkles is portrayed as being some kind of disgusting, horrific freak rather than as being a wonder to be celebrated. "40 year old star has cellulite. The shame! The shame!" We live in a world where every other advert encourages women to eradicate their so called "imperfections" and "blemishes" and where every other photo is photo-shopped into an image of a near impossible creature. A world in which we are told to make that image our aspiration and dream. Is that over-stating the extent of the lunacy?

It's awful really and I hope that one day we'll all wake up and crush this insane system rather than going the other way and starting to incorporate men more and more into the same madness. And I say that as someone whose armpits were lasered this morning which in a way shows the level of my own conformity - although due to a printing error it made the morning cheaper than just having my face zapped and that's my genuine excuse.

But all of that is not the same thing as the pressure on a transgender person.

If you don't wax/shave you don't get people telling you every day that you've forgotten to bring your trousers or get called a tranny bastard or get jeered at as the cissy in a frock. I know what my life was like when, pre-laser and without make up, I began to wear the clothes I like and head out alone dressed pretty much as I still dress. I got abuse pretty much every single time I left the house on my own and wondered how the hell I'd ever be able to get through it all. At no point was I tempted to give up being who I am but the obstacles seemed vast. Thankfully there was much support around me.

The abuse only lessens if you're cis-normative or perhaps if you develop a thick skin, massive self belief, and a far from average style. This is 2014 - such admiration for those who walked this path in previous years when it was so much harder and the abuse more frequent. But we still have that dialogue - in the media, in the NHS, elsewhere - where the transgender person gains social validity and Brownie points by striving to appear cisgender and by how much success they achieve in that quest. Rebels against that inspire me. I'm not such a rebel - but mainly perhaps because I happen to like embracing this look. It's part of who I am - but I've not deeply analysed why.

With or without a bit of facial hair you all still look like what society says is a woman and society treats you accordingly. As a woman. Perhaps as a woman suffering from frequent societal pressure to be hair-free, but still as a woman. My life isn't about being treated as a hairy/non-hairy woman. Me, I'm not wanting to be treated as Kate Moss, not even as a woman of "average" appearance, just as a woman. To never be insulted for not looking like a "real" woman. And never to be congratulated - by friends and allies - for looking like a "real" woman, with the not so friendly implication that I'm not real. To never be called out if I let my genitals hang naturally instead of forcing them into unnatural positions. To never have been told in different ways for 42 years and so come to deeply but erroneously believe not that I have too much facial hair but that I'm in entirely the "wrong" body. Because objectively my body (and of course yours) is not wrong. It's the society that is wrong.

Of course there are pressures in being a woman - that we can either succumb to or ignore depending on how we want to live our lives - but it really, really isn't the same pressure. In the transgender world we call it cisprivilege - something most people only notice when they lose it, and which too many people argue doesn't exist. One day we'll all move beyond that - and much progress has obviously come already - but the day is most definitely not here yet. And I have it much easier than some because I'm so comfortable in one of the binary camps. Much harder for those who don't happen to fit in what is really just an artificial box.

Help! At this rate I'll turn into some kind of gender theorist/activist which has never been the plan for someone who just wants to get on with life as best she can. I never thought I'd be typing anything along the lines of any of the above but then I realised, at least intellectually, that I am not a woman stuck in a man's body. I am a woman in my body, which is thus a woman's body. On other levels I haven't grasped that and perhaps never will because the effects of the last 42 years run so deeply.

But enough moaning - most days now are fine. Such a massive contrast to a year ago. Today was fine.

Actually today was good. And I didn't even have to spend hours repeatedly slapping on the aloe vera post laser. And a possibility of some good laser news for the future. And someone was very apologetic for not stopping for a chat when they passed me on Saturday. No need - I hadn't even spotted them! And a 90p cheese and onion toastie was enough for lunch in town. I've even had a visitor, which is almost an annual occurrence.

Tomorrow will probably be good too. And if there is abuse that's normally fine. Most days I just ignore it now. It's verbal not physical so unless I'm having a bad day it doesn't really wound. Yes, tomorrow will be good.

If you've read all that and are wondering, the next day was good.  Time spent with a friend.  And zero incidents of transphobic idiocy in the three miles walking to and from her house.  Stubble is more obvious today but intellectually I know that I notice it far more than anyone else does.  And I'd forgotten just how sore it can be to shave in the days after a laser treatment and how black the burnt hair under the skin looks.  Ouch. But it's worth it.

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