This was my first thought walking out of Julie Serano’s lecture last week “Putting the Femme back into Feminism.” Serano, the author of Whipping Girl , identifies as “transsexual woman on the femme spectrum.” Ok, sure, I’m cool with that… unless I think harder about it.
NOTE: I would like to premise this piece with the disclaimer that I am NOT a WAGS major, and this is probably one of the more conservative views that I have. I’ve spent a decent amount of time thinking about this issue, reading about it, and this is the conclusion I’ve come to. It is not a conclusion in line with my homo-normative upbringing, so I feel pretty uncomfortable about it. However, I think I have an opinion that needs to be voiced, and people rarely feel comfortable, in my experience, saying anything critical about the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Trans-Queer/Questioning-Intersex-Asexual (who has ever spelled that out?) community.
I don’t GET transsexual. I don’t get it as a choice, no matter how I look at it.
The weaker argument: Sometimes I am religious. When I’m religious I feel like my body and my life has been granted to me, temporarily, by god. I have divine spark, etc blah blah. If I fuck with my body, I’m also messing with god… Even though sometimes I don’t go to the gym, I eat something unhealthy, I would never alter my body in any permanent way. I have no piercing or tattoos. I have a scar on my forehead and even though, according to the settlement with the hotel (long story) I have a right to plastic surgery, which they would pay for, I have refused it. I don’t understand body altercations that aren’t necessary for health. There you go. I just got a little weird- conservative on you, didn’t I?
The stronger argument: My roommate, who is also not a WAGS major, wanted to go to the Julie Serano lecture because she said it was about fashion. I insisted that it was about feminism. Turns out, my roommate was right. The lecture was all about how you’re treated because of your “gender identity expression” – aka, how you dress. “Femininity,” in Serano’s eyes, was girly-ness. Gender expression and identity seemed to boil down to clothing and anachronistic stereotypes.
I don’t understand why a culture that’s supposedly so open-minded and accepting of the gender spectrum (meaning queer culture) would consistently have trouble with the full range of woman and man. If you are biologically a woman who dresses “like a man,” in my mind that just makes you a female bodied person in clothing that is socially accepted as male-bodied clothing. In other words, why are you less of a woman because you would rather tape your breasts than wear a bra? Why are you less of a woman because you would rather remove your breasts all together? To me it seems that then you’re still a woman, you’ve just expanded the definition of woman.
I get being gay/queer. I find the argument that you cant choose who you love to be compelling. I get androgyny too, blurring gender boundaries because no one has all “female” or all “male” traits, either physically or emotionally. Plus, androgyny is sexy as hell in my book. However, in order to choose your gender you must opt for expensive, invasive surgery. These two things do not seem equivalent to me.
If this is a naïve thought/comment on transsexuality – tell me now. It totally could be. I’ve been around transsexual, gay, and queer people all my life, though, and no one has been able to answer these questions.
As for Serano herself… it basically seemed to me that other than responding the feminists arguments from the 1970s (Brownmiller? Really?) instead of this century’s thinkers, the solution to all her socially anti-femme problems was that people should care less about what other people are doing with their gender identity and expression. True. But I was disappointed that she didn’t have a more activist inclination than that, considering how involved she clearly is in the transsexual femme spectrum community.
As a fairly feminine looking woman, I feel like there is so much to be said about femme culture, especially within the gay/lesbian community and the ways it mirrors the straight community (TBW – my new acronym which means “to be written”). I wish she had spoken about that. Serano spoke about how uncomfortable she felt wearing a dress because she worried about being catcalled. Well, try being 14 on the F train in Brooklyn. I grew up with this body and I haven’t changed it, and it doesn’t really matter what I wear, or what time it is, I get the same shit on the train every morning. I think that the way I dress, as a native to my body, has to be so radically different from hers. I wish she had spoken about her experience, so that I could actually compare them. I guess what bothered me most about this part is her assumption that just because the single interaction (namely, catcalling) is the same, our personal historiographies and relationships to those interactions would also be there same. I don’t believe that they are.
She reminded me why I’m not a Jewish Studies major, too. This woman has spent her whole life studying… herself… healthy? It just doesn’t seem to me like her concepts of herself have very powerful implications in the wider world. While being able to speak from the position of insider is sometimes crucial to give voice to your niche population in an academic setting, it is necessary to create some distance between yourself and that community in order to say anything useful. Serano doesn’t seem to have distance necessary to actually impact anyone, in any way other than validating and reaffirming people who would already agree with her.
So there it is. Some stuff that I don’t really get. Please, educate me.