I wrote a piece a few days ago in which I explored gender, gender identity, gender based societal norms and societal concerns regarding nudity and the sexualisation of the female form. I was amused to found out that it was being referred to on social media as my ‘nipple post’. It is interesting how people have a knack of reducing things down to their essence, even sub-consciously.
I was also interested to see the responses to the post. In the broader social media world, the responses followed almost exactly the responses on the original website. Most people were supportive of our heroine, some were scandalised. I even got one comment that as far as I can tell suggested that our heroine was negating the fact that transgender women were women by giving her official birth name and thus avoiding sanction. I remained troubled by the incongruous nature of these positions. How can someone who advocates the individual’s ability to transcend society’s notions in relation to their own gender, deny another person’s right to subvert societal notions of how a person should behave based on their gender?
Then I read this interview with author Jenny Boylan and suddenly some cogs started slipping into place in my brain. One of the points made by Jenny Boylan, and I am paraphrasing here, is that it sometimes seems like everyone is a gender theorist these days. People in the transgender community are perhaps particularly wrapped up in the theory of gender. We are always analysing what some or other set of actions, article or speech means for our gender identity, how it affects transgender rights etc. This is exacerbated by the fact that many of us ‘part timers’ spend much of our time in an abstract world. We do not move around in the world as women everyday. This means that we look at things in a very abstract way. Obviously I am excluding full time and fully transitioned people from this.
Perhaps if we all spent more time looking at the world in a less abstract way we would be less concerned with the minutiae of difference between us, less concerned that a person’s perfectly reasonable acts, thoughts and words may possibly be read as ‘transphobic’ and more concerned with the commonality of experience, more concerned with the practicalities of being a women, whether trans- or cis- gender. Perhaps then we would see that our concerns are very similar to those of cisgender women?
We may even find that instead of consistently finding ourselves at odds with (for example) radical feminists over issues such as the dreaded bathroom bills in the USA, by acknowledging the true diversity of all individuals and seeing that we all have legitimate concerns, that we may find solutions to these problems that work for all of us. We may find ways of making public toilets safe for all women. But this is only possible when we set aside our own prejudices and look at each other as unique individuals. When we do that we stop looking at people as either ‘friends’ or ‘enemies’ and start seeing possible common ground.
To relate this back to my ‘nipple post’ we would see that sexualising a women’s breasts is arbitrary and nonsensical. We would see that the trans person in the story was just another woman being oppressed by a patriarchal society intent on imposing its own arbitrary notions of how a person should behave based on societal notions of how that gender (as a class) should or should not behave.
This could lead to greater understanding of the feminist movement by the transgender community at large and in turn a greater understanding of the legitimate concerns of transgender women by the totality of the feminist movement. When that happens we will stop arguing about who is a ‘woman’, what being a ‘woman’ means and who qualifies as such and instead we could all start working together. However, as long as we are all wrapped up in the theory, the abstract sense of who and what we are, we will continue to reduce people to their essentials, as we subjectively experience them. We will continue to judge their actions through our own filters and close down debate and acceptance. This will mean that we see the world in a fallacious monochromatic view and will close ourselves off to the amazing possibility presented to us when we see people in all their different hues. When we fully realise the amazing complexity that each individual represents and thus the incredible possibilities for growth that lie dormant until we unleash that potential.
If we all spent more time dealing with the real world as it is, not as we wished it to be, we would also, I believe, create a more just world for all. We would all be concerned with real lived experiences and ensuring that our lives could be lived in a fair and just fashion, instead of theorising about how to better reflect an idyllic or utopian existence.