My boss jokingly calls my cubicle the "gender studies department," but that's more or less accurate. Lining my desk are books by Kate Bornstein and Eileen Myles, and (unfortunately) Hanna Rosin, who may have replaced evolutionary psychologists and taken the throne as my arch-nemesis. (For more on that, follow me on Twitter -- my review of her gender essentialist The End of Men is forthcoming).
So because I'm transgender, I care about gender -- but I don't just care about being transgender. I'm not even clear on how a trans man such as myself could end up not a feminist -- sexism is certainly the poison at the root of transphobia and a big, gross part of the mix when it comes to classism and racism too (if you don't know what I'm talking about, set up a Google news alert for "transgender" and take note of who is most often victimized by violence in the trans community. Hint: usually not us straightish, white, passing trans guys).
Though the effects more directly impact feminine-spectrum folks, sexism hurts us all. When the War on Women was at its most recent height, my partner and I had a conversation about the ways the dialogue was being framed as a "woman's issue" -- even among progressives and radicals. How distressing, she said, to think that an attack on bodies only harms women, to be cordoned off in the corner, a "special interest" like Big Oil.
Trans folks know what it is to have our bodies legislated, ignored, policed; we know what it is to have access to even our most basic care blocked. And cisgender people know its insidiousness, too: Even the awesome dad who lets his son wear a skirt (and wears his own in support) got so much crap from the Internet he felt the need to explain himself. Though I'm sure some tomboys' moms have been questioned, I'm betting the reaction was way less violent.
This week, a story made the rounds that illustrated the web of intersections that is transphobia and sexism (with some xenophobia thrown in for good measure). It all started when some dude wrote "I'm not sure what to conclude from this" in reference to a photo he posted on Reddit of a Sikh woman with facial hair.
What to make of what? If this is the question you are asking yourself, congratulations. You are not a transphobic, sexist jerk.
People love what happened next: The guy got a flood of negative feedback and the woman herself wrote in this message, according to Jezebel:
Hey, guys. This is Balpreet Kaur, the girl from the picture. I actually didn't know about this until one of my friends told on Facebook. If the OP wanted a picture, they could have just asked and I could have smiled :) However, I'm not embarrased or even humiliated by the attention [negative and positve] that this picture is getting because, it's who I am. Yes, I'm a baptized Sikh woman with facial hair. Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women. However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body -- it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being [which is genderless, actually] and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will.
Just as a child doesn't reject the gift of his/her parents, Sikhs do not reject the body that has been given to us. By crying 'mine, mine' and changing this body-tool, we are essentially living in ego and creating a seperateness between ourselves and the divinity within us. By transcending societal views of beauty, I believe that I can focus more on my actions. My attitude and thoughts and actions have more value in them than my body because I recognize that this body is just going to become ash in the end, so why fuss about it? When I die, no one is going to remember what I looked like, heck, my kids will forget my voice, and slowly, all physical memory will fade away. However, my impact and legacy will remain: and, by not focusing on the physical beauty, I have time to cultivate those inner virtues and hopefully, focus my life on creating change and progress for this world in any way I can.
So, to me, my face isn't important but the smile and the happiness that lie behind the face are. :-) So, if anyone sees me at OSU, please come up and say hello. I appreciate all of the comments here, both positive and less positive because I've gotten a better understanding of myself and others from this. Also, the yoga pants are quite comfortable and the Better Together tshirt is actually from Interfaith Youth Core, an organization that focuses on storytelling and engagement between different faiths. :) I hope this explains everything a bit more, and I apologize for causing such confusion and uttering anything that hurt anyone.
I mean, first of all, wow to this lady! With compassion and a beautiful confidence in her faith and herself, she basically says: You can't touch this. (In a surprising turn of events, the original poster actually apologized: "Balpreet I'm sorry for being a close minded individual. You are a much better person than I am").
I get why this is a real heartwarmer, but also its circulation has troubled me for what's not being said. The initial "joke" was about conflating beauty standards (sexist) with a body troubling gender (transphobic), and yet the latter aspect is strangely not addressed. It's beautiful that Balpreet finds her faith a comfort, and accepts herself as a woman just as she is, but of course many of us with "troubling" genders aren't so lucky: The way we are born is trans, and changing our body is, often, our only path to the divine (whatever that means for any of us). For some trans folks who don't "pass," the implication in his critique ("I don't know what to make of this") is particularly painful.
Is "this" a man or a woman? It's so confusing!
Binary policing of (strangers! In line at the airport!) gender hurts everyone -- to borrow a phrase from Kate Bornstein: "men, women, and the rest of us." The pressure to "measure up" to models of hypermasculinity and hyperfemininity is an oppressive system that few truly benefit from. A recent report on trans folks in the military makes this point dishearteningly clear, as many individuals apparently said they joined to prove that they are "real men." It's a devastating comment on the culture we are all creating if people feel better off risking death as someone they're not than being themselves.
What's a "real man"? I care about the answer, and so should you, no matter your gender. New science suggests
that we can be primed to think of gender in binary ways, and culture is
the biggest primer of all. A "war on women" is a war on all of us,
bodies and their genders shouldn't be policed, and a parent who allows
his son to wear a dress should never have to tell us why. It's all or
nothing; all of us are none.