Doing the irony…

Yep. Someone spotted it. In my story about getting out and about on the town, i mention how i started to find myself being treated, for the first time, in ways i had never really known before.

Being crowded by men, talked down to and, by one senior and older bloke, patted affectionately on the behind.

A poster who identifies themselves as “Primly Stable” commented:

“I can’t decide whether it’s tragic or hilarious that a trans individual can only be sure she’s passing as a woman when she starts getting sexually harrassed – what does that say about society?”

The same thought had occurred as i wrote my blog. I was being treated in a manner that was sexist and patronising. I was being taken that bit less seriously than i used to be.

And – yes – i was actually enjoying it!

Then i felt guilty about enjoying it.

A short conversation with a very sane friend at the weekend helped. She told me how she had gone through much the same sort of thing when she had been 16: how she would be treated in similar ways by grown men; and how she would resent it; and yet at the same time, she would feel validated by it.

Because being treated in a certain way meant she was being accepted as part of the club – being seen as an adult woman and not a child any longer.

And that, i guess, is where i am. There’s a part of me that likes the smallness of how it makes me feel: that’s definitely the girly bit – the me that would always have been happier being not merely female, but female and supportive and behind the scenes.

Confession*: having my hair stroked – or gently pulled – makes me go utterly melty inside!

So i liked the subtle change in status anyway.

And then …and then there is that whole acceptance thing. Yay! I’m being treated like a second-class citizen! I MUST be being seen as that much more female.

I did ask my wise friend what i should do about it. Consensus, from her and from other women present, is that there is no definite answer – and no matter how old or wise you get, you can never quite be sure.

I suppose that feels about right. I’m too gentle to turn round and slap someone’s face. I shall play each situation by ear. Sometimes i shan’t mind: sometimes i will. Keep that in mind – and stay respectful.

jane
xx

* – and that goes double for touching my hair. Melty is when someone does it that i like and want to touch. Not otherwise.

13 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Jennie Kermode said,

    This is one of the things that convinces me I have never really passed as female. People express an interest often enough, but they never dare to put their hands on me. (It’s a sensible precaution – I once swung a friend over my shoulder as a reflex action when he patted me on the arse, and he was gay and only being silly).

    Otoh, this raises the question – is there something in that feeling of validation that shows in your body language and subtly persuades people it’s okay to get physical? In saying this I don’t mean to blame you for it – it’s their responsibility, and I’m sure they _can_ resist if they try – but perhaps you seem not only female but feminine in a way which accords with that social dynamic.

  2. 2

    janefae said,

    think you MAY be right about “something in my body language”. As i’ve said on more than one occasion, the official approach to trans probably suits me quite well, because i am very femme…love girly stuff…much to the despair of the other slightly more down-to-earth habitants of this household.

    On the interaction front, i realise now that a lot of my conduct in meetings, and my approach to getting my own way was quite female…

    I am avoiding blokes…if anything, have found them harder to get on with since coming out, but, at the same time, have found the glimmerings of a way to cope with them that is both different and works better than anything i did before. A friend tells me that this approach sounds suspiciously like flirting….

    …and so on.

    So yes: my rationalising of all this is that i am roughly at the stage a teenage girl is at. Had i grown up as a woman, i’d have worked out what works, what doesn’t. I might well have had some irritating retro habits deemed to let the sisterhood down…but equally, i’d have been better at coping.

    As it is now, i am starting again from scratch at an age when many people are well settled..

    jane
    xx

  3. 3

    Sophia said,

    Some of the conversation stuff can get a bit wearing and last year, in early transition, I was a bit stuck in terms of concern for my social / business role of running my own place and the way that might be affected, ( some patronising thing seemed to be starting ).
    So I worked out a tactic that seems to have helped a little.
    And the next time it was relatively crowded I picked on one old male friend, who I knew wouldn’t take it too hard, to talk to. In a mildly quiet moment I thanked him for the great way he really seemed to be accepting me as female, in a rather loud voice. Pleased, but somewhat puzzled,he asked why I said that. I replied that of course I felt accepted as a woman when men interrupted me all the time and wouldn’t let me get a word in edgeways.
    If you ever need to lay down a limit, it can work well, at least for a while.

  4. 4

    Renee said,

    These are definitely complicated feelings. There’s no way around that. But I have two words of caution:

    1). Behaviors don’t have genders. When you say…

    And that, i guess, is where i am. There’s a part of me that likes the smallness of how it makes me feel: that’s definitely the girly bit – the me that would always have been happier being not merely female, but female and supportive and behind the scenes.

    …you’re not being girly, you’re being submissive. They are different. Lots of men are submissive and lots of women aren’t. And if women are, it’s not because we’re born that way, it’s because there’s tons of social pressure for us to be that way, which isn’t good. Trust me, your transition will be easier if you relinquish seeing certain behaviors as male and certain behaviors as female; we all have lease to be however we want.

    2). Your friend went through this when she was 16. And while transition is often described as being like a second adolescence for us, we are not teenagers. We have a lifetime of experience behind us, and we have a responsibility to temper our new feelings and behaviors with the adult knowledge we have of right and wrong. Sexual harassment and sexual assault are wrong.

    I work with sexual assault and domestic abuse survivors and both of these things – the cultural perception that women should be submissive and that they can be spoken to our touched at whim by men – do irreparable damage to many, many women (25%, at least…closer to 50% or more in the trans community).

    It’s not that I don’t relate to what you’re saying…I remember going through some of this myself. But when men started approaching me at work and asking for my phone number and I had to start worrying about them possibly stalking me in the parking lot, or even more graphically, when I survived a near-rape of my own, it all came crashing down me how bad this stuff really is. This isn’t fun and games. It’s sexism and misogyny, and it’s this same devaluing of women as inferior that informs transphobia…which will get you killed if it’s the wrong place, wrong time.

  5. 5

    Khyri said,

    Reading this post, and then later, Renee’s comment made me recall this blog post from a few days ago:

    http://britisshameless.com/2010/07/its-my-body/

    Not only is the post itself relevant to this discussion, but also Britni’s later post addressing some of the negative comments she got on the original one.

    • 6

      janefae said,

      I’m going to stay mostly quiet on this, beyond wondering if there is a distinctly different cultural perspective on these issues in the UK as opposed to US. Like, i get what you’re getting at…but i’m not sure it translates to a Brit context.

      Would be interested in the views of other Brits on this…whether i’m being too wishy-washy…or whether others, too, think there is difference.

      jane

      • 7

        Renee said,

        Why stay silent? Let’s have a completely uproarious discussion about it! 🙂

        There are cultural differences everywhere, about what constitutes okay behavior with women’s bodies.

        In certain cultures, men have the right to have sex with their wives any time they want it. The wife can not say no. If she does, it’s okay to beat her. And then have sex with her anyway.

        In certain cultures, women’s clitorises are surgically removed so they can’t enjoy sex.

        In certain cultures, if a married woman is raped, it’s considered infidelity. The punishments for infidelity are extreme…beatings or even death.

        I doubt we would disagree that those things are wrong?

        So my question, and although I certainly have an opinion about the answer but I’m being genuine in asking it, is this: When is “culture” an acceptable excuse for certain behaviors and when isn’t it?

      • 8

        janefae said,

        Tut! I am not totally silent on stuff… tactful, rather than tacit.

        You have picked up on some fairly extreme examples and i am hardly going to naysay you on the ones you picked.

        But touching and personal space? Is that universal? And should the rules that apply to that be set from just the one cultural perspective.

        I’ve just said this to you in private memo, but maybe it bears re-saying out here. The impression i get (which may be wrong, so feel free to correct) is that the US view is much more absolute, much more antipathetic toward touch.

        Something you said to me suggested maybe you just see touch as…well, intrusive unless sought.

        Whereas i think i recognise an intermediate category.

        There’s erotic touch between lovers. There’s abusive unwanted touch: and there’s something in-between which many europeans tend to negotiate more readily on a day-to-day basis.

      • 9

        Renee said,

        @ Jane

        Like I said in our ongoing FB conversation, I’m a touchy person. I hug people all the time…and not only my close friends. And I don’t always ask if it’s okay! But in listening to my own argument, now I’m starting to question myself…because I know there are some people who would not be okay with that.

        So yeah, it’s confusing, for sure. And I don’t know if it’s so much an American thing as a Counselor-of-Rape-Survivors thing. I live a large chunk of my life with these discussions.

        In general, I don’t disagree. I don’t think all touch is meant to be intrusive, nor do I think all women will find innocent touching to be intrusive. But just because most people are comfortable with it, should we disregard the feelings of those few people who are not, and who may actually find such things really traumatizing? Would that just never happen in Britain?

        How do people negotiate such things with any degree of reliability – in Britain or America or anywhere else – without actually asking “is this okay?”. I know that’s kind of a loaded question…again, not trying to be snarky…like I said elsewhere, I know there are customs in other countries that help people know “okay” and “not okay”, but by talking about negotiating, I don’t think we’re talking about observance of custom.

      • 10

        Khyri said,

        Like, i get what you’re getting at…but i’m not sure it translates to a Brit context.

        I spent the first 33 years of my life in Britain, and the next 16 in the U.S. so I feel I can give some perspective on this. I don’t have strong opinions on either side, though I find it intellectually interesting. I know that as a young female engineer at Rover, I was asked to limit my time on the shop floor as just by my stepping out there, the men on the assembly line would be “distracted”, down tools and whistle at me – leading to those infamous badly-put-together vehicles that were the hallmark of the British auto industry at the time. I know (now) that that was not a good thing, that the workers should have behaved better, had more self-control, been educated/trained by those in charge to eliminate anything like that occurring. I remember a foreman telling the group I ate lunch with not to swear around me (and they stopped), but he knew that trying to tell the whole factory to cease their traditional reaction to women was fighting an uphill battle. But, that was the culture of the time. I don’t know if it’s still the same.

        Did I feel validated or desired by that attention? Not in the least. I felt scared, nervous, self-conscious. It affected my ability to do my job effectively. I was submissive in the workplace. I will add that as far as I recall, things never went further than catcalls and wolf whistles. The only two times I was ever the recipient of a physical overture from co-workers happened outside of work, and were ones that I welcomed. (okay, one was in France, but I don’t want to drag the French into this!!) I don’t know the answer to Renee’s question: How do people negotiate such things with any degree of reliability – in Britain or America or anywhere else – without actually asking “is this okay?”. but my naive early twenties self must have managed it somehow, or I was just incredibly lucky. Unlike Britni and Renee, I have come this far in life without having suffered inappropriate and unwelcome groping from strangers, and I fully accept their different perspective and experience in this area.

        The impression i get (which may be wrong, so feel free to correct) is that the US view is much more absolute, much more antipathetic toward touch.

        We must have encountered different social circles then, because I can tell you that since moving to the U.S. I have been hugged, patted and otherwise touched by non-partners ten times more than I ever was in Britain. Perhaps it’s regional within each country, rather than national?

  6. 11

    kerri said,

    Renee is so right here, when is culture an acceptable excuse for certain behaviours, and when isnt it,,,,you are coming across as being submissive and thats strange as when i knew you as a male you showed respect for women and i never felt as a former girlfriend (sorry andrea no disrepect to you),,violated,
    funny thing i went back to aussieland after you over packed my luggage with food!….and met my curent partner who on our first date came up to me and slapped me on my backside…..i turned around and said touch me again arsehole and i will kick u fair in your googlies….well from then on poor chap knew where he stood with me, NO-ONE has any right to touch you with out your permission..maybe it has something do with how you are brought up , and i know that my son will be brought up to have respect for women trans or otherwise…..sorry jane hope u dont mind me commenting, but hate to see u get your self treated less than you should be, as you have to be careful of the mixed messages you maybe sending out….it is a very interesting topic though…

  7. 12

    janefae said,

    Very glad, in the end, that this seems to be spiralling towards some sort of consensus. We seem to be agreeing (i think) that there is touching that is allowed and touching that is not.

    Some of the stuff that is not allowed is demeaning, abusive, even. But we also would not like to live without the general intimacy that we experience with friends and acquaintances. I really revel in the newfound touchy-feeliness with female friends, and i don’t exactly stop to work out what their sexual orientation is before i permit it.

    I don’t regard it as intrusive or a try-on…and in many cases, i am not sure that applies to male acquaintances either. It didn’t apply to the touch whilst out socially: to be honest, the thing i found far more oppressive was the narrowing of body space and the slight talking down to.

    I don’t know if the US is more or less touchy-feely: I’ll bow to khyri’s direct experience (cause i don’t have such experience) and add only that i was reacting to what was written on the subject.

    Last comment…which maybe sets up why i come at this from the other side: was recently a participant at Onscenity, a conference hosted by an international academic network looking at issues of sex and sexuality in the new interconnected world. One recurrent theme, by many contributors whose own feminist creds are fairly clear cut, was that as a society we have over-used and abused terms such as “sexualisation” and “objectification” to the point where they become meaningless.

    It is ridiculously easy to label images (and activities) as “sexual” or “erotic” – and once the label is applied, almost impossible to discuss their significance rationally. This is mostly an accusation aimed at media and politicians – but i can see its relevance to other parts of life too.

    I am not saying that IS what is going on here: rather that my current sensitivity, my alignment, let us say, is to thinking about that particular issue.

    jane
    xx

    • 13

      Renee said,

      Yeah, that’s a whole different topic, but a really good one. A Godwin’s Law of sort, only aimed at “objectification”. I sometimes feel that way about the word “abuse”…we use it to describe so many things that it doesn’t have necessary impact it should when suddenly we have to talk about people who have suffered real abuse.


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