Friday, December 28, 2007

Between my Thighs

I just finished a very phenomenal essay collection about conscious masculinities.* Self-Organizing Men: Conscious Masculinities in Time and Space, was a random purchase at my local (and incredibly hard to get to) feminist bookstore, Amazon. I am incredibly impressed by this collection as well as a little jealous that I didn't write it first. The first essay, by the editor Jay Sennett, is an incredibly amusing and honest account of his relationship to his body. One section of it focuses primarily on his genitals and specifically his penis. This relationship between transmen and their penises is called upon and discussed in numerous essays, memoirs, movies, novels, TV shows...and I enjoy reading and seeing these creative accounts of the body. But I truly don't relate to that desire. I've written about this before but as I continue to encounter a lack of media that represents my vision of my body I'm going to continue to come back to this.

Elementary to so many readers, but transmen come in a beautiful range of bodies. Our lack or presence of a penis can have nothing or everything to do with what we wish to see between our thighs. Some men wish for penises but cannot afford or access the surgery, some men wish for them but can not attain them because the surgery would affect their health. I've met many transmen who do not want surgery because of the complications, cost, and inability to create a "traditional" penis through surgery. I've met many transmen who love what they have but view it as something different and separate than what women have. I've yet to meet a transman who does not wish for surgery and does not refer to his genitals in a masculine way. I do not believe that my identity is as simple as "My genitals are masculine because I am male", although I understand that this thought process might work for many people. Perhaps I am uncreative, but my genitals simply are. I have no issue with referring to them using traditionally feminine terms: pussy, vagina, cunt, snatch, vulva...etc. but that doesn't make them feel feminine nor does it make it alright for anyone besides my close friends and partner to refer to them with those same words.

There's an almost abashed way that transmen who have had no bottom surgery joke about their genitals. I wonder...are trannybois without penises - transmen with vaginas - more passive in their claims for manhood because of this discombobulation between being a man and loving your vagina? Or is it that, in a manner similar to the invisibility of femmes, transmen who are not writing, lusting, longing, photographing their cocks are simply obscured by a cissexual audience? We're not real men in the way that femmes can never be real dykes?

I'll admit here that I sometimes want a cock. I wish I could feel my partners contractions during the handful of times that I have strapped on a dildo. I wish I had something between my legs when I see men looking there. I wish I could pee at a urinal. But those wants, like sideburns or a deep voice, are secondary cock characteristics. I don't want one because I believe I should have one or that I am incomplete without one. I don't need something hanging down in order to feel masculine, and so far my partner has not been disappointed by my lack of one. I'm not certain exactly what I want to say, just that I want to make audible the voices of transmen who are proud of their cunts. We don't go on about it the way some men and transmen talk about theirs, and maybe we should. A cunt is a wonderful space and transmen should be as proud and as vocal about theirs (and their cunt's right to good health care!) as cissexual and transwomen are about theirs.

*I find it amusing that my spell-check refuses to recognize "masculinities". Even our technology is homogeneous. It also didn't like "vaginas" is there a different plural? Or can there only be one vagina?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Violence against Women at the Movies

Last night I went to see Sweeney Todd with some of my lovely friends who are in town for the holidays. I had never seen the musical but I knew the basic plot thanks to wikipedia. I was disappointed by the movie. Certain aspects were amazing: the cinematography was beautiful, the costuming was gorgeous, Helena Bonham-Carter's and Johnny Depp's performances were stellar (same for the little boy who played Toby). But the movie was ruined for me when Mrs. Lovett tells the story of Sweeney Todd's wife Lucy. In the tradition of musicals, some evil Judge wants Todd's wife Lucy. So the Judge tries Todd under false pretenses and ships him away to Australia so that he is free to woo Lucy. Lucy (golden-haired and blue-eyed) is faithful to Todd (of course) and so the Judge invites her to a party, gets her drunk, and rapes her. Whereupon Lucy takes arsenic in an attempt to kill herself. When Todd arrives in London he finds out that his daughter, Johanna, is now the ward of the Judge and, furthermore, that the Judge is planning on marrying her. When Lucy refuses him, the Judge "gives" Lucy to his cohort the Beadle in a scene that invokes the rape of her mother.

This is an incredibly familiar trope. The rape is not actually necessary to advance the plot, yet it is included and, in the movie, shown. Sweeney Todd is a rather classic 19th Century story. The musical comes from decades of storytelling about this historical/fictional character (depends on whom you read if Todd existed or not) and clearly in that time period, as in this one, women are viewed as property. And for a desirable beauty her worth is completely related to her genitals, so the rape of Lucy (and later Johanna) is tied to a historical reality. The sexual assault of women by men is a way of reinforcing a patriarchy, a reminder of who is in charge and the physicality that defines womanhood as opposed to the intelligence that defines manhood. Rape involves other things as well, and I shouldn't boil it down to these simple points, but I am. That, should this story be true, Johanna and Lucy were raped as a way of bringing-them-down, declaring ownership, punishing them for independence, I have no doubt. But I object to the relaxed way in which their abuse reaches the screen. Why aren't they allowed to have a solo where they sing their defiance? Why aren't they allowed to speak to other women and discuss their own sexual freedom? These meetings may not have any basis in recorded history but then women are neglected from history anyway so their absence doesn't mean that women didn't organize or speak up in 19th Century London. Besides, we're being asked to believe in a man who bakes his victims into pies, surely women organizing is not that discreditable.

This anger I feel goes much wider than this film, Sweeney Todd just ignited the flame that's been smouldering away for a while. As I said earlier, many films have this as a trope. Multiple novels and songs do as well but there's something about the visualization of the rape that bothers me more. Many people were involved in this. Director, producer, actors, lighting assistants, etc...what conversations did they have about the rape? How did they discuss the costuming, the cinematography, the lights of that exact scene? Did they argue about her expression or her screams? And why is rape or sexual violence never included in the reason for a movie rating? Why just "scenes of sexuality"? Surely violent non-consensual sexuality should receive a worse rating, but I never see it mentioned. The sexual assault of Keira Knightley's character is hinted at throughout the entirety of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy yet I have yet to read a major review that found these jokes, insinuations, or threats degrading and unnecessary. The film is not realistic so we don't need to include the realistic violence against women within the film.

I realize that I'm on the edge of suggesting censorship. But I don't think that censoring is the answer to my anger. I think discussion is one of many answers. When film producers - male, transgender, and female - understand the incredible pervasive reality of sexual harassment against women (and against men and gender-bending peoples but here I'm focusing on women) then scenes like these will be more explored. Sexual harassment can be jokes and touching, it can be assault and aggression, it can be rape, it takes many many forms and it dominates the lives of many women. Seeing it suggested at and glibly brushed aside is insulting to survivors, and it allows the continuation of a rape culture. When this is more generally understood I believe we will have better films. Films where the women will have more of a voice even if it is in a private monologue or among a group of survivors. There will be a response to this violence. If we can veer away from the plot to make a joke about rape then we can veer away again to show a woman retaliating.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Bit on Loss

There have been a lot of tears in my life recently. They started in August, around the time that I registered for therapy and received a series of nasty letters from my parents. My therapist suggested that this is the grieving period for the girl that I was raised and the boy that was suppressed. It's odd to take advise from someone who's diagnosing me with a condition I refuse to recognize. But her suggestion makes sense. I sometimes try and remember the girl, and I waver between feeling immense sorrow that I could not be her (that I failed), and a great deal of joy that she is no longer unhappy.

Being a woman, being a queer woman in this world often necessitates covering up any emotional weakness. I once tried explaining to my partner the difference between going out as a woman and going out as a man. As a woman, as a queer woman, protection and caution are vital parts of identity, especially in the queer world where misogyny and patriarchy still dictate so much of the entertainment scene. Women had to be twice as tough and swallow their pain.

Now, though. Now the pain and the tears are running rampant, and it's scary. The most mundane things can break me in two, leaving me without any strength to continue. The strangest thing about being in pieces on the floor is that eventually you have to get up and continue on your day. The question is simply for how long can you stay curled up bawling on the carpet? One hour...two? When you start trying to remember where the tissues are you begin to think the last hours were spent rather badly. Many transmen write about losing the ability to cry easily as they take hormones. I'm not on hormones so the analogy fails...but through my transition I have found my tears.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Masculinity in Winter

I'm back! I had a harrowing weekend of computer shut-downs and malfunctions, but now I'm back online. My panic about the health of my computer is similar to the panics I feel when i begin to get ill. I only have health coverage for another 20 days, I only have computer coverage until June...after those run out I'm not sure what's going to happen. Hopefully I'll be employed with good pay by then but who knows?

While I was offline winter came to Minnesota...and with that the opportunity to put on as many layers as possible and to try not to freeze while waiting for the consistently late buses. My current winter jacket is a leather motorcycle-style jacket which if you look closely reveals how I am petite compared to most men. However, and this is something I recall as a woman, when you're worried that some dude in a leather jacket is standing too close to you you're not looking for signs that he might not be biologically male.* I constantly look behind myself as I walk home at night, I'm aware when someone is too close or is quickening their step...I'm very conscious of my own safety. Now, however, I am not only cognizant of my own safety I'm also becoming aware of changes I have to make in order to not be seen as a potential mugger or rapist. Last night I opened the door to my apartment building too quickly and startled the girl who had come in before. I smiled and said "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to startle you" and showed her my keys to try and smooth things out.

Winter can be a good time for transmen, all of these layers hide what remains of our curves and bulk us to look more like the men we know we are. Often these reminders are simple like being "sirred" in a restaurant or on the bus, going into a men's room with no heads turning, standing in line and not feeling the inquiring eyes of the person behind me trying to figure out my sex. Others, what i was discussing above, are not so pleasant. At first, I'm a little bit happy because I associate the fear of bodies at night with a fear of men, and in the twisted passages of my brain that means I'm being gendered as male. But of course this also makes me very worried. i try to walk slower, to be aware of how close I am to other bodies, to never purposefully scare someone else walking home. It frightens me that so many despicable activities are associated with men. Beyond the seriousness of men's crimes against women, there is the space that men take up. The other night I was bullied into serving food after our kitchen was closed because of the way the man lurched over the counter space, raised his voice, and managed to take up space. It wasn't really that it was difficult to do, the problem was that the kitchen had closed and he thought that by physically intimidating me he could get whatever it was he wanted. And, well, he did.

I want people to see me as man, but i don't want to achieve this through violence and intimidation. There are non-scary aspects to masculinity, and a lot of these are shared with women, being a good man looks a lot like being a good woman, being a good person. If i refuse to use aggressive techniques, will I never be a man? I could live with never being a man more easily than being a supreme asshole who was without a doubt a man.

*OK, transmen, transwomen, cisexual women...everyone can be a potentially violent person and I don't mean to suggest that women-on-women crime doesn't happen or that trans people don't commit crimes too, but as a woman I remember thinking that I could probably fight of a similarly-sized woman, but not a man.