As you may know, I am a sometime, rather infrequent, contributor to the Crossdressers.com forum. Two weeks ago, a fellow contributor from the United States posted a funny little anecdote. The anecdote and more particularly, the responses to her situation got me thinking and hence this post.
First off, what happened? I hear you all asking. Well, the transgender person in question was walking on the beach. She was wearing a two piece swimming costume and some kind of beach robe. It was deserted and she felt an urge to be more ‘free’ in nature, so she took off her bikini top and waded a little into the water.
After a short while, a law enforcement official (she called the person a ‘beach ranger’) came up on an all terrain vehicle. They told her that it was illegal to be topless and that they were going to issue an official warning. Our heroine said she was very sorry and gave her official birth (ie male) name when asked. The officer repeated it to her but with a feminised inflection. Our heroine corrected them and again gave her official birth name. The officer was confused and said never mind and left… At which point our heroine enquired as to whether she needed to put her top on again or not!
Now I think this is a very sweet and funny little anecdote and that whilst it is amusing and no doubt deeply affirming for the individual involved (you know you pass when someone who sees you in only the bottom half of a bikini and nothing else still thinks you are a woman… well, RESULT SISTER!) it is really hardly worth remarking upon it. That is until people do remark upon it…
An admittedly small minority of the people passing comment felt that our heroine was trying to ‘have it both ways’. They felt that she should never have taken her top off, that having taken her top off she should have accepted the warning (or fine), that by giving a male name she was deliberately trying to subvert authority and that she was generally in the wrong for having stepped outside of societal gender based norms and behaviours.
I was frankly surprised by this. For starters I am of the opinion that any law that says ‘male’ nipples are acceptable, but that ‘female’ nipples are somehow sexual and shameful is arbitrary, inane and frankly illogical. Additionally, I am always in favour of subverting patriarchal notions of what women should or should not do and I find the idea of using an arbitrary patriarchal rule to subvert the patriarchy a wonderful use of irony. Thirdly, the idea that transgender people, who are heavily discriminated against are in fact ‘privileged’ is a little strange. Yes, those of us part timers do get to enjoy male privilege, yes that is a real thing, but at the same time we know that we stand to lose a lot if we are discovered. We will lose male privilege but we are already discriminated against as transgender people. Having it both ways implies privilege on both sides of the equation. That privilege simply does not exist in any meaningful way. There is no such thing as transgender privilege. Finally, I find it very strange that people who almost universally flaunt gender based norms (by dressing at least partially, some of the time in a manner different to the way society expects them to dress based on the gender they were assigned at birth), should insist on adhering to that same society’s gender based norms. It is frankly illogical.
To recap, the beach was deserted. There were no other people nearby who would be scandalised by the sight of a topless person (man or woman). There were no children whose emergent gender identity could be fractured at the sight of a gender bending topless person and the person in question was dressed ‘appropriately’ for the beach and was doing a pretty good job of blending (until she removed her top and let the girls breathe that is I suppose). So there really was very limited chance of any damage being done to anybody (other than a little bit of sunburn and or maybe some chance of melanoma in later life.
And yet, a number of people adamantly asserted that society was right to expect that people presenting as women should cover their nipples and that our heroine should have taken her punishment (‘like a man’?). I simply cannot accept this position. Firstly, what was our heroine to do? The law enforcement official asked for her name. Had she given an unofficial name then she may have been guilty of deliberately misleading the official (possibly subverting the course of justice) opening herself up to even more charges and possibly creating even more difficulties for herself if the name and address didn’t correspond on official databases etc. Giving her official name was the only reasonable course. Secondly, I am unable to reconcile the surprisingly commonly held belief, in our community, that people identifying and presenting as women need to conform to society’s arbitrary rules as to how women should behave; whilst these people (people born with penises, remember) simultaneously behave in almost the exact opposite way to the way society dictates that people born with penises should behave. The two positions are diametrically opposed, yet passionately adhered to by these people. Cognitive dissonance is real.
It seems to me that most (but by no means all) of these people are ‘older’. The younger generation of transgender people seem more willing to break down gendered roles in society and I can only support them in this. It is high time that we became more than just what people say we are based on our genitals. We are all so much more than a gender role. Yes our gender is an important part of who we are. who we feel ourselves to be and what we want to become. But our gender should never define us. We should never let others define or in any way limit us because of our gender. Once we all realise this we will find natural political allies with the LGBT community as well as the feminist movement and we may find greater societal understanding and acceptance. The alternative would seem to be that all women should wear a veil and robes covering their arms and legs. Men should wear robes covering their arms and legs and be forced to wear beards. Anyone adopting the clothes of the opposite sex should be stoned to death… This would be logically consistent but I think we can all agree that it is simply wrong. So the other route seems preferable, rational and much more fun!
To be clear, I am NOT the heroine in the story:
I have never been to the beach in a bikini
Anyone seeing me topless would NEVER think I ‘pass
I do NOT have the guts to do this
I am NOT in America!
Hmmm – another thought provoking article!
I fully agree on the nipples – why should it be different rules for different genders – #FreeTheNipple I say.
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I find your article very disturbing. .. I know as a Trans Woman going topless is illegal, as do all others . If this person was making any statement I would not be to get away with nipple exposure, it would be to fight they assumption Trans woman are not woman , Cis-Gender can not have it both ways! If I am not a woman then I sure the hell can go topless at the beach!
To be honest, I don’t think any political statement was intended. She simply wanted to be topless at the deserted (a point worth remembering) beach. Some places are more freaked out about female breasts than others. In parts of Europe women are often topless on the beach. The desire to be topless on a beach is simply not trans exclusionary. You are looking for things that simply do not exist here.
The point if the article is that gender defined societal norms are arbitrary.
I’ve not legally changed my name. If I was in that situation would I not be obliged to give my legal name, otherwise would I not be guilty of a potentially more serious crime?
Though yeah, male nipple okay, then female nipples okay. Otherwise it’s just sexist.
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I feel two strong ways about this.
On one hand I do feel that the antiquated laws which are applied to topless women versus topless men are of no use to a modern society. Here in America, We are hardly the puritans we once were, despite the closed-mindedness demonstrates by most of our society. We need to stop shaming women for having breasts and covering them up while men can walk around unfettered. That is discrimination, no matter how those puritanical lawyers and judges feel about it. All they are doing is showing their bias.
My other feeling is that the person in the story WAS trying to assert her male privilege while presenting as female. Which is why I see so many transwomen being critical of crossdressers. They resent the fact that CDs maintain some level of male privilege, and can assert it at Will, while transwomen willingly give it up to enter the unprivileged ranks of womenhood. And it is not a mere assumption that women as a whole, including transwomen, would prefer that women could also assert a similar level of privilege. The “problem” being that once both genders are on equal footing, it’s no longer privilege, it is birthright. Although, Once it is birthright, antiquated laws as mentioned above are no longer valid as what’s good for one is good for all.
It’s just no surprise that men fight tooth and nail to keep women just a few steps behind and below men in the male dominated hierarchy of society.
Ever & Always,
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