Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Double Standards, Part 1

I, like many trans folk, went a little overboard when I first came out and started living "full-time".  My wardrobe was almost exclusively skirts and dresses and I don't know that I even owned a t-shirt.  I wore full makeup every day because I was worried I wouldn't pass otherwise.  I (briefly) convinced myself I was only attracted to men and flat-out refused to have anything to do with LGBT gatherings or rights.  I was terrified of being mistaken for a gay man rather than a woman, and thus I did and said things I'm not proud of, now that I look back.  Nearly every experience I had was like experiencing it for the first time, and in some ways it was, but I'm sure it got a little irritating to others after a while.  I resented the accusations that my hormones made me "emotional", but they did change how I felt and expressed my emotions and, if I'm completely honest with myself, there was some "relearning" involved when it came to controlling my emotions rather than letting them control me.  In short, if you had only seen me my first six months or so of transition, it would probably have left a bad taste in your mouth about transsexual women.  But I was only experiencing what nearly all teenage women do, albeit at an accelerated pace and in my early twenties.  The only strange thing about what I went through then was my age.  Had I been between the ages 12 and 16 or so, no one would have blinked an eye at my behavior.

While I went through all this self-discovery I was forced to deal with many double standards that, intellectually, I had known to be true but were very different once directly experienced.  The "Madonna-Whore Complex" was (and still is) the most baffling to me, as my feminist mother had always raised us to be unashamed about sex or our bodies, and yet society seemed to say that as a woman I was expected to be sexy, but not too sexy.  I was supposed to be a sexual object, but not a sexual being.  I was expected to be ashamed or disgusted about every aspect of my body, yet put it on display for men.  And the worst part, for me, was realizing that many women are enforcing these harmful standards on other women.  My breasts grew very quickly when I started hormones and a friend at the time, who had a tall and slender body type, seemed obsessed with what I did with my boobs.  I still remember one particularly confounding coversation:

"So, now that I've been on hormones for three months I'm going to see my doctor next week so he can look at my bloodwork again and adjust for what my full dosage should be."

"Do you really need to be on more estrogen?  Your boobs have already grown into B-cups."

"You know the amount of estrogen has nothing to do which my cup size, right?  My hormone levels are going to be about the same as any other woman's.  It's all a matter of genetics.  My mom has Double-Ds, what were you expecting?"

"I don't know.  You just seem to be flaunting them around lately."

"In what way?  It's not like I'm walking around topless or anything."

"No, but you shouldn't wear low-cut tops.  People might get the wrong idea."

"There's nothing wrong with a little bit of cleavage.  I like my boobs.  I had to fight like hell in order to get them.  And it's not like my boobs are constantly threatening to fall out.  Hell, my mom wears lower-cut shirts than I do."

"Fine.  I don't care.  Do whatever you want."

What truly amazed me was the implication that, as a trans woman, I shouldn't be allowed to have larger breasts than her.  It was this same friend who taught me another painful lesson: women can be extremely petty to each other.  We ultimately lost our friendship over something as stupid as breast size.

There's are unique double standards for trans women that seems breath-takingly cruel, especially because they are often enforced by other women, be they cis or trans.  I'll call the first one the "Permission Paradox".  When coming out as trans, many of us constantly ask for permission to be trans.  We ask the women in our lives if we can join their ranks.  We ask our employers if it would be okay to transition.  We ask if we're allowed to use the women's restroom.  The problem with asking for permission is that people can, and often do, refuse to give it.  This puts you, the trans woman, in an awkward position.  Do you directly defy the people you asked for permission and come across as a selfish bitch?  Or do you become a doormat and hope that maybe, someday, they might reconsider?  I fell victim to this double standard early on when I asked my employer permission to transition and was told to go for it, follow the women's dress code, but don't wear any skirts or dresses.  At first, I thought this was a fair compromise and didn't push things.  But as my self-confidence grew I began to ask questions like, "What the fuck does it matter if I wear a skirt or not?" and "Why should I have my own special dress code just because I'm trans?"  I wore a dress to work the first week of my transition and was prepared to fight over it, but nobody said a damn thing.  It was my first lesson that you can not ask for your rights.  You have to take them.  This is advice I give to every young trans person or anyone else that is facing discrimination.  Don't ask if you can use the women's restroom.  No other woman has to do that, so why the fuck should you?  Just walk in there, do your business and go on about your day.  You have just as much right to be there as anyone else.  Yes, you might be seen as a bitch, but that's a price worth paying for your self-respect and dignity.

Check back on Thursday for Part 2.  Thanks for reading!

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