A Mere Question of Attraction?


Very thoughtful piece about trans women and their (male) partners. I share its underlying purpose and point of view and thought it offers many opportunities to discuss problematic issues. I’d have many things to say about various points discussed in this article, but one statement that stayed with me particularly was:

“When I asked Alex how important it is that a girl is able to pass well, he responded, ‘I’m attracted to femininity, not masculinity. It’s that simple.'”

No, sweetheart. Unfortunately it is not ‘that simple’. Or, better still. It might be ‘that simple’ for you because it’s easier to reduce a very complex phenomenon to a mere question of attraction which – as everyone knows – is exempt from any form of judgement because it’s a matter of ‘personal taste’. Being ‘passable’ (and I know a part of me cringes whenever I evoke this concept) as a cisgender woman has only partially to do with femininity. Otherwise logic would want that we would be unable to find even the slightest trace of femininity in anyone but cisgender females who identify as women and exhibit a conventionally feminine gender expression; which is patently not the case if we look at the reality of things. Our hegemonic cultural formation, that strives to represent male and female as opposite, complementary but mutually exclusive categories, each with a set of non-overlapping characteristics, may well encourage and validate that view, but a look at the complexity of our gender expressions and identities very easily disproves this assumption. So I just happen to wonder: if we are able to dissociate the concept of being ‘passable’ as a cisgender woman, for a trans woman, from an idea of intrinsic femininity, what does the statement above really say about our culture? I’d say it reveals a lot more than mere personal taste – as the interviewee was probably keen to get across. It reveals the profound stigma that still surrounds transgender individuals – and even more trans-feminine people because of the sexist bias of our culture which I have explored in other posts – and reflects on anyone who more or less genuinely has an attraction to them. I am convinced that a trans woman can forgo ‘passability’ and still be feminine and beautiful, and therefore attractive to anyone who likes femininity. But I am willing to bet that that same trans woman, by virtue of her forgoing passability, would have less of a chance to date a straight man than a ‘passable’ one, who might be equally attractive and feminine, or even less so, in our cultural formation. And that has little to do with attraction, and all to do with societal expectation, and social pressure to appear to be ‘normal’. As the piece beautifully concludes.

What this ultimately says to me is that we need to strive towards a goal of gender and sexual inclusivity in society, making room for the essential fluidity not just of gender identity and expression, but also – quite logically – of sexual preference and orientation. Until we do this, we can challenge models, call paradigms into question, accuse this or that (hetero)sexist/racist/genderist regime of thought, but we will never be free of their dominant influence in shaping and making sense of human relations.

A Short Post on Sexist Beauty Standards (again)

What I find interesting about this project is not so much the exposure of what our tyrannical beauty standards drive us to consider ‘beautiful’ or not – which is nonetheless a very important aspect to investigate. What really strikes me is how the project shows the impossible double-bind in which women, all individuals along the m-to-f spectrum, and all otherwise feminine-identifying people constantly find themselves. Or, to put it more bluntly, the maxim according to which whatever you do, if you happen to be one of the individuals mentioned above, you’re doing something wrong. And this has less to do with normative perceptions of beauty than with plain old traditional sexism, whereby anything female/feminine (and there is a difference between the two albeit lumped together in sexist views) is systematically devalued and represented as inferior, contrived, artificial and so on.

For anyone interested in reading more about how traditional sexism (mixed with cissexism and heterosexism) affects the lives of everyone who identifies along a feminine spectrum (which does not only include women, but also people who identify as a different gender identity but whose gender presentation is predominantly feminine), I suggest Julia Serano’s book: Whipping Girl. You can read more about it here. It’s a book whose rigour and lucidity have inspired me to think further on this issue, and it’s full of wonderful insights from a specifically trans* perspective, which we are always desperately in need of.

(Trans)Women, diversity & the impossible beauty standard

Just a few weeks back this image was ragingly popular across social media, mostly accompanied by thousands of likes and positive, light-hearted comments. I absolutely don’t mean to spoil the party but, I found it interesting that my immediate reaction to it was not one of similar joy or cheerfulness.

So I asked myself why. And got to these conclusions.

If I can say something about this is that I am not sure whether messages like this do trans women justice or not. Of course I appreciate the positive message this is supposed to convey, but I can’t help reflecting on how this is being conveyed.

These women are all incredibly beautiful, they are all to different extents in the mediatic spotlight and many of them are models or actors. These photographs are clearly taken from professional photoshoots which have been created with the help of stylists, make-up artists, professional photographers and digital enhancement programmes. What I’m trying to get at is that the reality for most trans women (just like for most women as they are represented in the media) is that we do not look like this, and many of us, added to the impossible beauty standards imposed upon women in general, also feel the additional burden of having to ‘erase’ our masculine/androgynous features (when we do have them), in order to better fit in and ‘be beautiful’. What all these very beautiful women have, regardless of their open status as trans women, is a form of ‘passing privilege’ for their adherence to western hegemonic beauty standards, which are misleading, restricting and cause a lot of suffering and feelings of inadequacy.

And I am not interested in debating – at least not in this post – whether ‘passing’ is a thing, whether it should be relevant or not to trans people – and trans women in particular. The truth is that ‘passing’, whether one likes the concept or not, affects us ALL (and by us I mean people within the transgender community) in very tangible ways. And we are still judged upon the same old aesthetic standards, with the added burden that, if we fail to pass, we can incur in all sorts of discriminations and it does make our lives harder. What I would like to see would be the real diversity that is present in the community of trans women, because we are all different. I would like to see more pictures of us, not only our ‘public’, ‘media-palatable’ face. And I would like to see a message of positive inclusion or appreciation next to these diverse pictures, which include a wide range of us, with all of us being encouraged to feel confident in our beauty, or that we are somehow desirable, or even just likeable. (discussion on how our perceptions of our own beauty are linked to social appreciation and to the number of people who would potentially date us is sadly material for a different discussion)

And I am saying all of this from a very privileged position myself, which has come after years of painful discrimination as a gender-variant individual. But in my mind, and in my heart, are the looks and hopes of many of my friends who really suffer because of this, who are haunted by feelings of inadequacy all the time.
And I am sick of messages that impose impossible standards on us, intentionally or unintentionally implying that, in order to be accepted, successful or desirable, we need to be flawless, above average, ‘perfect’. This is so damaging on so many levels, this can literally break you. Personally, I’ve been broken by this, and I am still in the process of finding the bits and splinters and trying, with a little patience, to glue it all together again. I really want this to change.

A Conversational Poem Dedicated to R.T. (long due)

And then there’s us – the true misogynists of the lot.
We like to disassociate ourselves
rather disdainfully
from those “delusional men who think they’re women just by gobbling
down a handful of NHS pills”.
We’ve had an expensive education. And they’re so hopelessly pathetic.
We’re not like that.
Not at all. We’re better than that.
To us, femininity is the ultimate patriarchal luxury.
A nip here, a tuck there.

Shave this naughty jutting bone back to front,
pump in that lovely dodgy silicone I want.

Much like when we dreamt we’d one day be able to afford that (rigorously red) Ferrari, a villa with terraced gardens on the French Riviera and that tiny, cute, sexy, eternally compliant wife of 24 and… oops, we must have got too carried away with the brutal fantasy at some point – for we have become our total body fetish.

And now what
us of that disappointing reverie?
The ever promising, elusive pleasure to scalpel through others’ self-esteem.

Gabriella, or gender nonconformity revealed

Q: How did you become aware you had a different sexual orientation or gender identity?

A: Well, it wasn’t that hard.

At three I walked past the gates of my nursery school for the first time and saw the girls and the boys. They looked so different to me, and I thought ‘Who am I going to play with now?’ I went back home and asked my grandmother for a doll (which would shortly afterwards become the first victim of innumerable and unforgiven doll kidnappings) to go and play with the girls – I was incredibly popular among them, a true Princess and heartbreaker.

When I was five I used to spend my days planning extravagant fashion shows using towels and scarves I would find at home. My favourite act was ‘the Bride’. Total white, très chic.

At six I would jump all around on the sitting room sofas twittering to the astonishment of casual guests: ‘Oh, please, call me Gabriella, Gabriella!’ An inexorable doll by my side – Maria, my Caribbean doll.

I was a tall, skinny boy with matchstick legs, pale, freckled skin and shiny black hair trimmed in a bowl haircut. But I liked my name that way, Gabriella.

#ddl405 (draft bill 405) to support of trans* and intersex rights in Italy

In occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphbia and Transphobia, we are launching this video to support a new draft bill (ddl405) for the rights of transgender and intersex people in Italy.

follow us!
Blog: http://disegnodilegge405.blogspot.it
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ddl405
Twitter: http://twitter.com/ddl405

sign the petition now! http://goo.gl/HINmWI

Ddl 405 to support the rights of transgender and intersex people
We are campaigning to:
– stop forced surgery for transgender people to enable them to legally change their name and gender;
– ease off the bureaucracy and relieve the expenses of transition;
– prevent the unconstitutional annulment of marriage in case one of the spouses changes their legal gender;
– end mutilating surgeries on intersex infants.

What ddl405 entails in a nutshell:
– easing off the bureaucracy of transition, making the whole judicial procedure for the legal gender and name change unnecessary. Submitting an official document certifying the condition of gender dysphoria to the local authority will be sufficient to allow a legal change;
– providing a guardian for transgender minors to support them in the necessary legal procedures to obtain access to surgery and legal gender/name change. A guardian would also be provided in case parents oppose the minor’s stated intention to transition;
– ruling that the legal gender change will no longer entail the immediate annulment of an existing marriage, which will happen only according to the will of the spouses;
– banning mutilating surgeries on infants born with atypical genitals (intersex infants);
– making transition cost-free and launch a programme to raise awareness on gender identity issues among providers of public health services.

Currently transgender people in Italy are forced to undergo surgical sterilisation to obtain a legal change of gender and name. Many married transgender people are denied the right to remain married to their partners after they get legal recognition of their new gender. Hundreds of Italian intersex babies undergo mutilating surgeries each year, to conform the appearance of their genitals to society’s binary gender expectations. We are campaigning to stop all these violation of our rights. Help us by raising awareness, and supporting our petition http://goo.gl/HINmWI

Late conversations on Tomboy

I’m not surprised in the least that such a film might be considered troublesome, even more than other openly “political” or militant films. It is the truthfulness of its story, that reaches beyond any superimposed ideology of gender/sexuality, that makes it so dangerous; a sheer narrative, free from mystification, of what might be anyone’s childhood, with its endless experiments, its desires and ambitions regularly censored by adults, its need to “fit in” through cherished games and pastimes. All these aspects of childhood merely shown for what they are, in their beauty, complexity and sometimes even their contradictions. This why I think critics of the film who reclaim it as an “identity politics” story, trying to determibe who or what Laure/Mikaël is, might be or would become as an adult, completely miss the point. And this film is most dangerous precisely because of its blithe disregard of any form of identity politics, in that it suggests that our identities are fluid – and are validated both through what we feel “inside” of us and through the recognition we get from others. This fluidity, I believe, is what most unsettles certain heterosexist premises that aim to convince people that identity is monolithic, immutable, preordained and suggesting the contrary is perversion, sin, aberration… epithets vary according to the censor’s ideology. In truth, these heterosexist premises push people to give up their individuality and conform to expectations (from holding certain beliefs to buying certain products), stop wondering and asking questions, giving up to others the power to decide who we are, and who we wish to be.