Is He Checking Me Out, Or Just Staring At The Freak? Self-Consciousness And Self-Oppression


Is my shadow showing? Am I wearing too much concealer? It’s not caking, is it? Does this top make my shoulders look broad? Oh fuck, I need to pluck the little hairs on my collarbone. Fuck fuck I shouldn’t have left the house without checking that. I’m such an idiot. My voice just dropped, didn’t it? My Adam’s apple is protruding when I swallow, isn’t it? God everyone can tell. Shit. I shouldn’t be out with another trans person. They’re all staring. I shouldn’t be ashamed of this. I’m so fucking stupid and pathetic for being ashamed of this. I just wish I looked like her. Or her. Or any of them. Anyone but me.

Hi! Welcome to the wonderful world of a trans woman’s interior dialogue!

It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to anyone that trans women lug around a huge and cripplingly heavy amount of self-consciousness. If you find yourself surprised by this, I appreciate your extremely high opinion of us, but you should probably learn a bit more about how human beings tend to feel about things. What often seems lacking, though, is much critical engagement with this fact. It seems to just be taken as a given “well, yeah, of course” without much stepping back to think about what it might actually mean.

Common exchange-

Me: “Ugh. I totally feel shitty about [insert aspect of my body here] today!”

Well-Meaning Friend (Usually Cis): “That’s not personal, that’s just what all women feel!”

No. I know what you’re trying to do, I know you’re trying to reassure me that there’s nothing uniquely wrong with me in feeling bad or self-conscious about my body, and that’s true, such feelings aren’t even remotely unique to me or to trans women, and I also know you want to couple that reassurance to validation of my gender. That’s cool. But I don’t think it’s fair to assume that how self-consciousness operates in a trans woman is simply the same thing that cis women experience.

There is, of course, no possible way for me to know how all women feel. I can only know how I feel. And as such I have no direct observations on which to challenge the claim that this is “just what all women feel like”. But based on what I’ve been able to infer about other women’s feelings from interacting with them, yeah… how self-consciousness plays out in cis women is meaningfully different from how it plays out in trans women, enough so that considering that distinction seems worthwhile.

In fact it’s a bit disappointing that almost no attention or thought has been paid to the self-consciousness and self-hatred of trans women in relation to our bodies and appearance after the fact of transition. Disappointing that it’s so consistently written off as just “normal” female body image issues.

But if we take it as a thing that women’s typically negative and problematic relationship to their body image is deeply connected to socialization, media depictions of women, cultural standards of beauty and so forth… if we take it as more or less established that this is an oppressive phenomenon related to sexism at least (if not patriarchy)… why on Earth would we assume that it operates on the same principle in trans women, who are positioned in a quite distinct socio-cultural location, and typically experience socialization very differently than cis women do?

In other words, if we accept that self-consciousness and negative perceptions in body image for cis women are connected to misogyny, why would we fail to consider the possibility that self-consciousness and negative perceptions in body image for trans women are connected to trans-misogyny and cissexism? We experience unique manifestations of misogyny and sexism, so why would we not experience unique manifestations on the playing field of our self-perception?

In all women, self-consciousness can be a way of getting us to enact our own sexist oppression, do “their” work for them via internalization of their standards. But in trans women, self-consciousness is also a way of getting us to enact our own cissexist and trans-misogynistic oppression, through an internalization of cissexism, cisnormative standards, gender binarism, transphobia, etc.

I’m still flattered every time someone says something suggesting it didn’t occur to them that I was trans.

Every time.

How fucked up is that? That I’ve internalized hatred of what I am so much that despite devoting myself to fighting that hatred in our culture, I still ultimately am just starving for the tiniest hint that someone might see me as something other than the awful, shameful, disgusting, lesser, hateful, ridiculous, pathetic, deceptive thing I am?

How fucked is it that the best my awareness of this as internalized transphobia has accomplished is adding self-hatred of my self-hatred to my self-hatred?

I’ve written before about how deeply flawed it is to try to frame trans women as having experienced a male socialization. We generally experienced what was intended as a male socialization, certainly, and were spared many of the acts of early-life trained-helplessness and subjugation that are driven into cis girls, but our culture is at a saturation point of messages about what a woman is supposed to be, what types of women are or aren’t desirable, beautiful, good, pure, valued, loved, etc. Nobody escapes those messages, whether it’s their identity or their desires that are the intended target. And how these messages are internalized is going to vary considerably between a trans girl and a cis boy. Not to mention which messages do and don’t get internalized. Imagine three children sitting and receiving a lesson from their teacher on “sugar and spice and everything nice” vs. “snips and snails and puppy dog tails” (for the record, I’m personally made of candy snails and spiced puppy dogs). On one side you’ve got a cis girl internalizing the lesson as being about how a good girl is meant to be: sweet, demure, passive. On the other side you’ve got a cis boy interpreting the lesson about what boys are expected to be: rough, down-to-earth, not caught up in frivolous things. In the middle you have the trans girl, currently expected to present as a boy. How do you suppose she internalizes it?

First of all, an aching sadness as the rift between her gender assignment and her feelings is stated to be impossibly wide. But more important to my point here: a lesson about what she would need to be in order to ever be herself.

While cis girls, throughout their socialization and lives in our culture, internalize cultural messages about ideal womanhood as a demand of what they need to be in order to be considered valuable, desirable, good women, they have the comparable “advantage” of at least already being girls / women (or at least already having that assignment). Trans girls, though, are subjected to those same messages but internalize them as what is required to manifest womanhood at all. We’re swimming upstream against our gender assignment, and if THAT is what “being a woman is all about”, THAT gets internalized as the standard we need to live up not simply to be loved and valued, but in order to simply be read and perceived as ourselves. In other words, while cis girls internalize it as what they need to be in order to be good girls, trans girls internalize it as what they need to be in order to be.

This ends up creating a whole lot more existential urgency in a trans woman to live up to the cultural standards of womanhood. For us, the question driving our self-hatred and self-consciousness over stupid things like our body not meeting arbitrary-cultural-standard-of-beauty #2677 isn’t as relatively easily conquered as the desire to “fit in” or be “good”. It’s instead driven by the pressing need to exist, to be embodied, to be seen by others and understood as who we are rather than who we aren’t.

So when we’re told that we’re failing to live up to one of those morphological standards, the consequence isn’t a feeling of “Oh shit, I guess I’m not a proper woman”. It hits us much, much more deeply. It undercuts our fundamental sense of being.

All the while its complicated by the presence of the physical dysphoria… that our transitions are, most of the time, driven primarily by a need to bring our bodies into alignment with our sense of self. But where does our sense of self, as self-defined and self-determined, end and the imposed cultural conditioning begin? Does a given trans woman want facial-feminization-surgery or breast-augmentation-surgery because that’s what she needs to feel her body is her own, or does she want it because she’s been told one too many times that her nose is “too big for a girl”, or been exposed to too few images of women with smaller breasts being considered valid and beautiful women?

How many trans women end up choosing their vaginoplasty surgeon on the basis of who produces the most “normal” looking vulva over who produces the most depth and maintains the most sensation? Sacrificing your own capacity for sexual enjoyment so as not to have an atypical vulva (cis women have an immense variety in the appearance of their vulvae) is a pretty scary thing to realize is actually quite common.

And there’s also a HUGE degree to which perceptions of what is or isn’t a “passable”, “beautiful” or “female” body, as perceived within trans communities, is conditioned by racism, ableism, sizeism, ageism and other strong cultural biases. Even the boundary between trying to physically actualize oneself as a woman and self-destructively trying to meet normative standards of white, able-bodied feminine beauty can become blurry.

The end result of all of this is that unpacking and deconstructing those internalized, demeaning messages about what a woman’s body is “supposed” to look like or be, and untangling them from the valid desires for self-determining our morphologies and sex, becomes an intensely difficult process for us, and a process with even higher stakes than are usually involved. We’re committing more than one mode of self-oppression here, on a deeper level, and it’s hard to tell what parts are the self-oppression and what parts are the self-actualization.

So although I really do know you mean well… please don’t tell me this is just what all women go through. Thank you.

Comments

  1. says

    As I mentioned before, and I’ll just summarize. I’m not going to be a petite, feminine little cute girl, but I will very likely be a beautiful, elegant woman. I’m just too tall and with a few too many “man” cues to be cute.

    I don’t let that discourage me from transitioning (anymore.) It still bugs me, but it bugs me in other ways than before.

    • northstargirl says

      That was part of why I wrestled for so long with the thought of transition: knowing how much had been done to my body that could not be undone by medical science, and that I would always be taller and larger-framed compared to the women I wanted to model myself after. (This led to some really awkward moments during the early months of my transition, because some things that work fine on smaller women just did not work well on me at all, and I’ll never forget the teen girls who chased me around a store once giggling away at me.) Later I found some women similar to my build as role models, and met some trans women who completely kicked ass; that helped me make the most of what I have. I really don’t think about it that much now, and in fact I sort of enjoy it. I can do “elegant” and it can be really, really neat and fun.

      It’s the doubting voices inside my head that I’m forever trying to fight. I can have moments when the self-confidence is there, and I can look people straight in the eye and handle myself with confidence and carry myself with pride, and it doesn’t matter what I’m wearing or if my voice is in tune that day or what, I always come across as female to others. Never have a problem. It’s a wonderful thing. But more often than not I’m having to fend off the hyper-critical eye I put on myself, trying to shush the memories of growing up the youngest in a very masculine family and constantly being shamed into hewing to the gender roles they wanted me to have, a family that a decade and a half after I outed myself is still obstinate about the thing, stubbornly giving me men’s toiletries at Christmas and things like that. (Before anyone asks, I love my family very much, and I have reasons why I remain in contact with them in spite of their inability to accept this-but I do keep them at arm’s length.)

      There are times when I’ll look in the mirror and tell myself, “You are a beautiful woman, and don’t you ever let yourself think otherwise, and anybody who doesn’t think you are a beautiful woman is an idiot.” But, wow…all those years of having a gender role imposed on you, and of being shamed and ridiculed if you didn’t fulfill the role, aren’t that easy to undo. All those years of trying to scream to people that I knew the answer and that I knew I knew the answer, only to have their self-assured but uninformed responses that I didn’t know what I wanted or that I didn’t want to do that or it would be a sin or whatever…all those years of that crap really takes a chainsaw to your self-confidence.

      • says

        Oh yes it certainly does. Although I’m currently in a position of having not only awesome self-confidence, but better self-confidence than I’ve had in a long time. Most of my self-doubt and lack of self-worth came from the repressed feelings about who I was. I’ve known I was trans for years, I just refused to acknowledge it. That’s where my doubt came from.

        I’ve not started transitioning yet, but I still catch glimpses of myself in the mirror every so often (especially when wearing my breastforms) that I can see feminine traits and qualities. A little “softness” in some of those areas and I could certainly pass as a woman. Even if I don’t pass though, I’m not bothered.

    • says

      Well, as a man who loves men, I feel the need to point out that many (cis) men are “cute”, so if a cis man can be cute, surely a woman who has some of what some people might call “man cues” can be at least as cute, if not more. Of course, not everybody wants to be cute, and no one should feel they have to be cute. But thinking “man” = “not cute” is just part of structural misogyny, because part of woman-hating is contempt for people who find men (of any shape) attractive.

      • Dalillama says

        Granted, although ‘cute’ usually has implication beyond attractive. Cute often means a particular subtype of attractiveness characterized by a small frame and often certain collections of facial features. Some people,male and female, cis and trans, have a body type that meets other subsets of attractiveness, but wouldn’t ordinarily be called cute. For instance, I consider both Gina Torres and Sean Bean to be very attractive, but I wouldn’t define either of them as cute the way I might Elijah Wood or Jewel Staite.

  2. Crystal Walters says

    Bravo! Ive become a huge fan of your blog because you seem to so eloquently be able to elucidate on the things that ive never been able to properly explain to others, and many thing i havent even been able to figure out for myself! This issue is one of them. At least its nice to know that im not the only one who has these issues…. As fucked up as that sounds.

  3. says

    The timing of this article is nice, considering the mire of self-disgust I’ve been in all day… All of this makes sense… but what I really want to know (and I know you can’t answer this) is “how can I stop thinking like this?”

  4. Emily says

    As usual, your best pieces combine plain-spoken conceptual understandings with deeply felt personal experience.

    I can’t add much other than ‘the sense of being stared at’ that trans people experience is often dismissed as paranoia and transition jitters. I’d like to think this is so, to a certain extent: I can honestly say that I haven’t received as *many* stares as I thought I would . . vilification by the hoi polloi being a major reason I discounted transition for ages (sigh) . . . and that the xp/confidence gained through transition actually makes those stares nowhere near as harmful as I had anticipated. (No external cruelty will ever measure up to that which I inflicted on myself from within).

    But so often well meaning cis friends (I almost just wrote cis-meaning well friends) look dubious when I do pick up on the low-level transphobia that those of us in the know do know. I’m being too sensitive, hyper-acute in my gendar, allowing a bad day to make me paranoid, etc.

    But the truth is that when you are being dehumanized *you know*. ‘Thanks guys!” can easily be a generic non-gendered farewell. And “Thanks guys!” can be marred with a tone quite independent of the words actually be spoken. A stare may not be accompanied by a grimace — but when you’ve been clocked, and thus the clocker feels entitled to gossip/gawk/gaze all within ear and eye shot of you, it’s obvious when on some level, subtle or not, you’re being dehumanized. More often than not, when the person is confronted, they feign surprise and even indignation: “What makes you think I would stare at something, er, someone, like you?” And they will in fact invalidate the prior sensation of exposure by shaming you for having experienced it in the first place. “You really need to like CHILL. Humph!”

    I’ve learned to read cis people like tarot cards in terms of picking out when my gender identity is being subtly undermined. I’m pretty good at it right now. The fears and worries Natalie describes above are not simply a product of generalized female anxiety. A patch of laser resistant whiskers, a bulging apple, a wobbly voice — these can mean that the hotel is suddenly all booked up, that the dress you had put on hold seems to have gone missing, and the toilet you were about to walk into is now blocked. The quality of the worry is entirely different above and beyond the already present internalized dread of not being pretty enough — cis or trans versions of it. I think Natalie put this very effectively when she elegantly assesses that “internalize it as what they [trans girls] need to be in order to be.” This is it exactly. The trans girl concern is first and foremost about attaining recognition — perfection in whatever states, however yearned, are distant second prizes to that fundamental fight for the most basic of social courtesies. Yes, we have our fair share of worry on this point.

    (And I’ve found I love hanging out with other trans women a great deal. Aside from the incredible conversations and sisterhood, the power in numbers bit is amazing.)

    • Emily says

      I’m reminded of Woody Allen’s character in /Manhattan/ (I think it was) when he’s concerned about an anti-semitic grimace whilst he is coming out of the tennis club. His WASPy friend dismisses it as stereotypical paranoia. The thing is — neither the audience, nor Woody, know for *sure* whether he just experienced softcore anti-semitism or not. We just don’t know. The only one who knows for ‘sure’ is the WASP friend, who has never experienced a day of prejudice in his life, just *assuming* it’s all in the post-holocaust anxiousness of the Jew. So he just dismisses it out of hand. There *can’t* be anti-semitism in this day and age, he asserts. (You jest at scars without ever having felt the wound.)

      • says

        “Not ‘did you eat?’, but ‘d’you eat?’ ‘jew eat?’ Get it!”
        “You’re paranoid, Max, you see conspiracies in everything”
        “The other day I went into the classical record store on Lexington and the cashier, this big, blonde, crew-cutted guy, he looks over, smiles and says ‘we’re having a sale on Wagner’ Wagner, Max, Wagner!”

        That’s in Annie Hall, though. In that one, he only gets anxious on his way INTO tennis (something about the rest of the states seeing NYC as “atheist communist homosexuals”). On the way out, we’re treated to Annie and his adorably awkward attempt to “subtly” ask eachother out under the paper-thin pretense of a ride home “But I thought you were going uptown?”.

      • sisu says

        just to continue the Annie Hall tangent, i don’t think of Tony Roberts as particularly WASPy looking.

        • Emily says

          Yes, it was /Annie Hall/, my second guess. Should have checked that. It’s clear that his friend is marked as generic New Yorker foil to Allen’s ethnicity. Even his name ‘Rob’ conjures up the status quo. We never even find out his last name, the great typifier of heritage and cultural lineage. So I stand by that point. He’s intend to be a refractive opposite.

          What’s intriguing about Max’s character is that it can’t be certain that his fear of anti-semitism is just ‘imagined’. And I’m trying to draw the analogy to trans people who are accused of being ‘too sensitive’. (1) It’s easy to dismiss if you’re not the one who has to be vigilant against it and (2) ha not experienced a person history of being directed against you.

          • says

            Oh, he’s not actually Max. He’s Alvie. But Rob calls Alvie Max and Alvie calls Rob Max. Hence “You’re paranoid Max” / “Wagner, Max, Wagner!”. It’s one of my favourite jokes in the movie, because it’s SO subtle. In the “conspiracies” convo, Rob says “You should be named MAX” and then from that point on, they just proceed to call each other that like it’s the most natural thing in the world.

  5. natashayar-routh says

    Oh yeah I do so know the feelings. Ageism is a big thing for me as I didn’t start to transition untill I was 60. I was so old, how could I ever be read as female? Why was I even bothering to transition, I’m too old! You know the drill. Also all the thoughts of is this realy my authentic expression of self ot am I just trying to meet social expectations? Of course the constant self doubt and second guessing has been part of my life since I was a kid. I was always worried if I had said or done the right thing. What sucked most is I had so buried who I realy was I didn’t even know why I was doing this. Internalized trans misogyny sucks, is it any wonder so many of us are suicidal?

  6. Peter says

    What should someone who wants to reassure you and has no negative attitudes (about you specifically or transgender people generally) say in the context you mention? Speaking as a straight cis guy, if you’re feeling shitty about some aspect of yourself, is there anything I could do or say to reassure you and be supportive? Or is it safest to just shut up?
    It’s clear that a trans woman has a lot of things to think about that I don’t, and a lot of baggage that I’ll never carry, but one can at least try to learn.

    • Sarah says

      The concluding sentence raised exactly this same question for me. Being familiar with some of these same anxieties myself may make it more apparent to me when a friend is contending with them, but it doesn’t give me any special insight into how to help. If anything, it often leaves me feeling even more paralyzed, because, obviously, I should know better than to say X or Y.

  7. Vigs says

    Have you considered putting trigger warnings on some of your posts? A lot of trans people follow you, and we aren’t all far enough along and confident enough to be able to read stuff like this without some serious problems.

    I love this blog and I don’t want to have to stop reading it, but some of your posts have taken me out of commission for hours if not days, and the beginning of this one gave my girlfriend a panic attack.

    • says

      Sorry… I think as a general rule, my whole blog would technically fall under a trigger warning. I tend to focus on examining and discussing oppression and how it operates, and that entails that more often than not my posts are going to be triggering for at least some readers. SNR should generally be understood as “potentially triggering space”. I’ll try to think of a way to make that clear to newcomers.

      • Vigs says

        I get what you’re saying, but it’d be nice if you could at least avoid having really triggering things above the “Read More,” and especially having them first thing. If someone tries to look at just the title to see if the post is going to be especially triggering or not, and they can’t help but see something super-triggering right under it, that’s tough to deal with.

  8. authorizedpants says

    Thanks for this and for your blog in general. It’s a great comfort to see someone talk about trans* issues with personal insight and clarity.
    I’m an male-assigned-at-birth and socialized male human who is over 35, married to a cis women for 15 years, and only two months on hormones and will probably never, ever be able to present en femme or share my status with any but the closest family and friends. I’ll have to be content with androgyny or probably have a mental breakdown from stress (I don’t handle personal stress well; medication only helps so much).
    And, yeah, I hate the facial hair (getting laser, two treatments so far), I hate the hair on the top of my feet and toes, I hate the hair on the back of my hands, I hate the hair on my chest (all 50 of them), I hate the fact that I trained my voice to be lower as I grew up to distance myself from my femininity. Even more, I understand that many cis women have the same problems with unwanted hair or un-womanly voices. But it feels like such an invalidation of who I think I am when I see it on myself. It makes me question it and wonder if maybe I’m wrong about the whole trans* thing. Maybe I’m just a metrosexual dude or maybe I lacked strong masculine role models so I gravitated toward the feminine.
    My therapist seems to think I’m trans* and, granted, it does make sense when I look at the totality of my life. But have you ever wanted it to *not* be trans*? Because that would totally be easier.
    Anyway, thanks for your blogs. Seeing someone on the other side of transition who is still questioning makes me realize that my doubts probably aren’t that unusual.

    Holy crap that’s long. Sorry about that but I wanted you to know that I appreciate you and relate to your posts.

    • natashayar-routh says

      No your doubts are not at all unusual. They have most of the late transitiong people I know. Am I trans? Am I trans enough? I’ll never be able to pass so why am I even trying? Been there done that and am not sure it ever gets easier.

      What I do know is that every time I tired to go back and live as just a man I went into a deep depression. So for me despite all the doubts I know it’s transition or self destruct. What has helped me through this is my therapist and a support group of trans friends. Do your best to create such a support group for yourself, it will help.

    • Sarah says

      “probably never, ever be able to present en femme or share my status with any but the closest family and friends. I’ll have to be content with androgyny”

      There might be any number of reasons you would think this, but if one of them is that you feel constrained by concerns about passing or appearance in general, then it may be helpful to realize that it is totally possible to be happy and out as a trans woman, even if you don’t pass. And if you wish, it is also possible to be a very attractive woman (who may be visibly trans). It’s natural to feel some fear and trepidation, but if you project a positive attitude about who you are and what you’re doing, people will respond well to you, and you will gain respect and acceptance, and as that happens, the fear fades away. If your fear is great now, then so much greater will be your joy.

  9. William says

    One can clearly see that you are still a man (a rather weird looking one, admitedly). So when somebody is looking at you, this person is staring at the freak that you are.

    • Emily says

      Well, that’s just as patently ridiculously. Seriously. I know Natalie. And I can cleanly conscienced claim that she is hawt, gorgeous, and totally unmale. Really. I certify it.

      If you want to be an asshole troll and project your psychopathologies all over the place, at least try to have a bit of wit about it.

    • Rasmus says

      Hey, assho…

      Uh. Wait. You’re just trolling. There’s no way you could have clocked her based on the picture she posted yesterday if it didn’t say right here on the blog that she’s trans.

      Can we jump straight to the part where you say that everyone here is a meanie and then play that precious little victim card of yours? Whatever it is. I’m sure you have one. Dying to hear about it.

      Predictable troll.

      • says

        If I were identifying as male, I am 99.7% certain guys like this would insult me for “looking like a chick”.

        Actually, make that 100% certain, because when I was living as male, guys like him DID insult me for “looking like a chick”.

        Pro-tip: If you really want to hurt me, talk PLAUSIBLE shit. Make fun of isolated characteristics. Talk about my nose or adam’s apple or how I look obviously trans or say I’m unattractive and no one will ever actually love me or I’ll never be anything other than a novelty fuck or whatever. But just saying I “look like a man” is just absurd. It doesn’t even break skin.

        Everyone is doing a lousy job of hurting my feelings this week. It’s hilarious. Especially since hurting my feelings really isn’t that hard.

        • Dalillama says

          Talk about my nose or…

          Well,I wasn’t going to bring this up, but since you mention it, I have to say that on my view your nose is perfect.

          • Mym says

            I like her nose as well, but I know *she* doesn’t, and it’s hers, not mine… so I feel weird commenting? A part of me wants to try to convince her that it’s cute, but that’s potentially problematic… and this isn’t an uncommon thing with so many people’s body issues, and I never know what to do.

    • says

      Wow, this fits the original definition of “trolling”; it is completely obvious that you are only saying that because you hope your words will have power to hurt, and/or get you attention. Fuck off.

    • says

      One can clearly see that you are still a man

      [BZZT] You have been fined $200 for a violation of the Privilege Failure Statute.

      (a rather weird looking one, admitedly)

      [BZZT] You have been fined $100 for a violation of the Obviously Bad Trolling Statute.

      So when somebody is looking at you, this person is staring at the freak that you are.

      [BZZT] You have been fined $500 for a violation of the Anti-Dehumanization Statute.

      Your repeated violations of the Social Justice Code have forced me to notify the Star Chamber Enforcement Bureau. Please wait where you are; officers will be on scene shortly to arrest you.

  10. says

    I just wanted to take the time to thank you, Natalie, for giving us insights into your life and explaining things in a way that makes your struggles, joys, hopes and dreams not only easy to understand, but is also informative and addresses many of the misunderstandings that a lot of people have about trans-gen.

    You’re a beautiful person, and your blog is usually one of the first ones I read when I log on to the FtBorg.

    • julian says

      ^This

      Thank you for giving me a little glimpse into your life and what you deal with, Natalie. It’s helped me see just how badly I was not helping.

  11. TiG says

    Cis female here. Thank you for explaining that more, and I’m sorry. I have felt like women’s baggage is so huge a load that it hasn’t been downplaying trans issues to say rude things like welcome to the club, it’s what being female is about. But I’m starting to get it. So again, thank you. I’m thick, but you’re helping me get a clue.

    • says

      And another reason why “welcome to the club” is othering is that a trans woman is already in the club and has been in it possibly longer than you have (if she’s older than you are, anyway!)

    • Tizzy says

      Saying “welcome to the club” is my biggest pet peeve. It always comes across so consecending and it’s never in a positive light.

    • Elena says

      The only time I don’t get a lil ticked by the welcome to the club stuff is when it relates to things like sore boobs or other such that I didn’t experience pre transition. Then again my ex will typically say, “Welcome to Our World.” But in such a manner that it is obvious I am being included. She uses the same phrase when cis friends rants to her about whatever the latest misogynistic jerkoff has done. So it’s just one of her quirky phrases.

      All told I think I have the weirdest relationship with my ex. She divorced me because of my dressing. But we get along better than ever since I started transition…go figure.

  12. says

    I don’t get this about body parts, per se, so much as I get it about experiences. For example, when I express my restroom paranoias, some of my cis friends suggest that my fears are groundless and all women have some kinds of paranoias about their restroom experiences.

    Yeah. Right. All women live under threat of being forcibly ejected from restrooms, of being beaten and harassed for using them. All women have these kinds of threats behind their paranoias. Sure they do.

    Or consider the plight of the poor trans woman trying to find a partner through, say, a dating site or a bar situation. All women have to put up with vulgar come-ons, including strange men showing them their genitals. Okay. I can actually believe that. But not all women have prospective partners telling them how they’re so attractive because they’re so much more “feminine” than “real” girls (that they hew to some kind of hyperfeminine fantasy that promises submission in the bedroom, in other words), or that they’re so attractive because they have the “best of both worlds,” or whatever bullshit invalidation of identity sounds flattering. Until cis women have their very identities called into question on a regular basis by men who are chatting them up, I don’t want to fucking hear about how “all women” go through this.

    Anyway, good post.

  13. Mr. Mattir, MQ MRA Chick says

    It is true that many cis women go through such experiences – I have high testosterone levels, which give me a whole lotta facial hair, of the stiff beardy variety, a ridiculously deep voice, and a couple of other things that lead people, especially children, to sometimes assume that I’m male – which is pretty weird given the boobs, but there you go. It is NOT true that we all have the same history with respect to those experiences or the same risk of injury for violating the norms. I have learned a lot about my own experience as a cis woman from reading your experiences as a trans woman. Some of that has been about how I’m privileged as a cis woman, and some of it is about how ridiculously complicated (and even impossible) it is to follow the damn rules so as to measure up as a “real” woman, regardless of one’s assigned at birth status. My level of pain is mine and different from yours. This ought to be freaking obvious, but given the recent blowup about Scalzi’s gaming analogy, I’ve realized that there are always going to be areas where I’ll discover some new sort of privilege/disadvantage continuum and have to suss out how I fit onto that curriculum.

    • says

      There was a blow-up over that? It seemed like such a nice, simple, harmless analogy to make, that did a pretty good job of explaining the basic concept of privilege. That anyone is going to look at that, especially given all the qualificatons he included anticipating the counter-arguments (“but my life is hard too!”/”but it would be even harder if you weren’t white/het/cis/male/whatevs”), and STILL be all pissed off is pretty disappointing. But so it goes, I guess. Sadly, it seems we’re hardwired to believe we deserve/earned all the good in our lives, and that all the bad is unfair, and to believe the reverse is true of everyone else: if they have it harder than us, they deserve it, if they have it better than us, they just got lucky. There’s just so many psychological rewards to that line of reasoning, and so many costs to moving past it, that it’s almost impossible for most people to look at their own privilege in a critical, thoughtful, open-minded way.

      • Mr. Mattir, MQ MRA Chick says

        I think it’s that people want others to recognize the pain in their lives and feel like if they admit that other people have it worse/different, then it means that they are undeserving and will not receive any compassion at all. It’s bullshit, of course, but it’s a line of reasoning I’ve recognized in myself all too often… It’s also a variation of Oppression Olympics, and one that even the people on the less-privileged end of the spectrum can play.

        I’ve found that I can, get this, recognize suffering in straight white guys/rich people/whatever even when they have more privilege in whatever the metric is. Mourning, disappointment, abuse, illness, gender craziness, etc. are universally painful. It took decades to be able to admit that things that are painful for me as a cis woman (or white person, or person of comparatively high SES or whatever) ARE different from the things that hurt people with less privilege and that I should STFU and stop it with the Oppression Olympic but-but-but-I-have-this-hangnail!!!! whining when they talk about their pain. It’s probably not coincidental that I became a lot more tolerant of and caring towards the suffering of those with more privileges than me at the same time.

        • Dalillama says

          While it’s certainly not the only cause of Oppression Olympics, I suspect that a strong aggravating factor is the paucity of help available to compensate for/ameliorate the negative effects of oppression. There’s a limited amount of [room at the shelter/slots in the detox program/doctors who work with gender dysphoria/financial assistance for people who are out of work and on the streets through no fault of their own/whatever] and always too many people needing it, so those who get it think “why am I deserving of help when they aren’t, they have so many problems” and the ones who don’t think “Why have they got help and I don’t? What makes them so special? I need help too dammit.”

  14. Mr. Mattir, MQ MRA Chick says

    (Also, figured I should tag my nym – it comes from some particularly lovely insults I got from Greg Laden for disagreeing with him.) I’m a cis female, but since I disagreed with him, I’m also an MRA chick.

  15. valeriekeefe says

    1. Spot on when it comes to existential anxiety.

    2. Actually sort of surprised that you mention suboptimal vaginoplasty and breast augmentation and FFS as at times possibly being products of internalized cissexism and yet do not mention vaginoplasty itself. The amount of explicit and implicit genital essentialism that swirls around discussions of vaginoplasty, in the trans community of all places, is frequently overwhelming. I’ve had someone explain their intended operative status as, “So I can use the women’s lockerroom.” At that point it strikes me that cissexism where approval is conditional is often more toxic than blanket cissexism, as it encourages kapoism and assimilation.

  16. geocatherder says

    Natalie,
    please consider doing a future post on how we cis women can be *helpful*. I, for one, would read it eagerly!

    • TiG says

      Yes please, Natalie!

      And as an aside to the OP – it must really SUCK to be told there’s a norm with regard to vaginoplasty. I’ve had straight dudes tell me my ladybusiness is “weird” and I thought they were just being jerks who watched too much pron, since this is what I was born with…!
      I guess I never figured out what the “optimal-est, bestest vagina” was supposed to be. My response was always “well you’re trying really hard to keep getting in there, so it must not be too weird for ya!”
      The one trans woman I got down with had no hangups about my ladybusiness. ;-)

  17. Sinead says

    I wish I could tell if a girl was looking at me because she’s attracted to me, versus that’s she’s just looking at the freak (or assumes I’m a gay male).

    Ah yes, the existential stare of otherness, “l’enfer, c’est les autres.”

    I often write about “identity” as a phenomenological existence. I am mostly concerned by how we are treated by others as to how our identities form.

  18. Christine Martins says

    All I know is that I feel far, FAR worse about my mannish qualities when I’m around trans-women than I do when I’m around cis-women. I find the morphological standards are much more rigidly enforced in trans milieus. I know there are many trans women for example, who actively avoid other trans women are too mannish. I’ve experienced it several times myself. Like having a beard shadow or a mannish voice. Or, having an abundance of male characteristics due to bad luck or late transition.

    To have any peace at all w/myself I sought community w/queer identified women and where I can be around other women like myself who are seeking to escape the rigid standards of beauty of heteronormative society into a broader, more-authentic standard of beauty.

  19. StevoR says

    Imagine three children sitting and receiving a lesson from their teacher on “sugar and spice and everything nice” vs. “snips and snails and puppy dog tails” (for the record, I’m personally made of candy snails and spiced puppy dogs).

    That bit in brackets made me smile.

    Awesome post Natalie Reed – thankyou.

    If its any consolation, most people, I think, usually think mostly of themselves and their own lives. They could well be wondering, if anything what *you’re* thinking of them!

    That seems to be human nature to me from what little I know of it. Maybe?

    (Pretty sure you already know that but just in case not.)

    One small point, isn’t it “slugs and snails” in the rhyme? Or is that just the Aussie version of it?

  20. Rachel says

    I’m a MTF transsexual (full-time female 14 years) and I worry about my appearance for one reason–I want to be taken seriously. The image of “Uncle Miltie in drag” is still strong in cisgendered people’s minds: for centuries, they’ve been conditioned to laugh at biological males who cross gender lines, and every comedian from Charlie Chaplin to John Leguizamo has done drag. Every MTF transperson is forced to fight against this image–that of the cross-dressing clown–and it can be quite an uphill climb.

    And of course, I’m not immune to being affected by those media images myself, so there are days when *I* feel like a buffoon dressing for laughs.

    I’m glad you mentioned “ableism.” I’m disabled myself (in a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy) and I have a rather severe spinal curvature. There seems to be this idea of “disabled need not apply” when it comes to transitioning–that if you have any kind of neurological condition or physical disfigurement, this path is not for you.

    But there are cis women with cerebral palsy, and with spinal curvatures. For some reason, however, I’m expected to not only pass as female, but pass as able-bodied as well. (Which for me is, of course, impossible).

    My own mother fell into this trap–when I told her I wanted to transition, the first thing she said was, “But you have curvature of the spine,” as if that somehow made a difference. Why should something like that prevent people from transitioning if they choose to? Trans women are held to a higher standard of beauty than cis women, and disabled transwomen are held to a higher standard than either. It’s crazy.

Trackbacks

  1. […] An introduction to Trans Misogyny by Natalie Reed, who is my favorite trans feminist writer–actually my favorite feminist writer–of all time. It’s not just that she has laid things out very well across many posts; it’s that she fosters a great environment for discussion on her blog, where people who disagree with each other manage to converse with a remarkable lack of hostility (compared to most places), and that her incisive analysis has led to a lot of people (mostly trans women, but other queer folks as well) feeling better able to be their authentic selves. For an example of the latter, just look at the awesome comments on this post. […]

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