Sufferance

We live on the sufferance of others. They could withdraw it at any time. How can we cope with that lack of certainty, the nagging knowledge that we are not Safe?

I am a human being who has made particular choices in particular circumstances. Rosie told me she is a woman, who has had a birth defect corrected. That seemed to me to be a useful defence against self-doubt, but not against other people who are hostile.

Germaine Greer gave her speech, without any allusion to trans women, but we came up in the questions after. Being a woman is a bit tricky. If you didn’t find your pants full of blood when you were 13 there’s something important about being a woman you don’t know. It’s not all cake and jam. I know it’s “not all cake and jam” expressing myself female. I have done it for thirteen years, after all. For me, it is better than the alternative.

If menstruating for the first time is traumatic at all, that is the fault of the female carers for the children approaching menarche. Your mother should have told you it was going to happen, Germaine, that it was perfectly natural, and that you could cope with it with simple measures she should have shown you.

Some women are very attractive, and suffer unwanted attention. Some women are not, and are ignored. These are fundamental parts of those women’s experience of being themself as a woman; yet those in the other group do not know them, and may find it difficult to show empathy. It is not one uniform experience that makes someone a woman: they find themselves socialised in different ways, in different families, and they conform or rebel, and the socialisation fits the individual or does not.

I don’t believe a woman is a man without a cock either. I don’t think anyone does, but the people who come closest are the radical feminists who imagine that the only differences which matter are physiological sex characteristics.

Five women approached Dr Greer as she travelled to Cardiff, to thank her for saying what they felt they were not allowed to say. No. It is not that they are not allowed to say these things, but that their conclusion, that they should exclude and denigrate me, evokes disapproval. Most people see inclusion, acceptance and increasing diversity is a good thing.

Now, we are accepted. The journalist Paris Lees appears on Question Time. The pendulum could swing, and Dr Greer’s views could become the norm. Then my life would be considerably more difficult. The debate goes on about whether or not I am a woman. Sometimes it gets impassioned. It continually reminds me I could be rejected at any time. I feel safety is impossible; but I am safe enough. I am still alive, and no-one is safer than that.

Blake, The Ghost of a Flea

10 thoughts on “Sufferance

  1. I live because I do, and I do so regardless of the opinions of others. I always feel safe because I always am safe. (It is not that I disagree with you, but has more to do with the beliefs that serve me.)

    And I can’t help thinking that Dr Greer says what she does because she is used to being controversial and expects to be, (and) because other people expect her to be. She is in this role, and that makes her say things that don’t stand up to scrutiny. Perhaps her remarks are the opening gambit of debate, and she is just being provocative…. In any case, she is simply wrong. It is perfectly possible to empathize.

    XXX 😀

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  2. Nowadays we are all likely to meet people who think they are women, have women’s names, and feminine clothes and lots of eyeshadow, who seem to us to be some kind of ghastly parody, though it isn’t polite to say so.

    I find that a valid point, it is one of the aspects of trans women that concerns me, as a woman, that trans women buy into the gender stereotype while some of us are trying to buy out of it.

    If menstruating for the first time … etc … and that you could cope with it … etc …

    Clare, I am guessing, and may be well wrong, that you are upset by Greer’s somewhat dismissive attitude towards trans women, because that is, in my feeble recollection, the first time I have ever seen you write a patronising condescending comment towards women.

    And, as you’ve said you’ve lived as a woman for 13 years, I can take it you have no experiential knowledge of horrible bloody soggy knickers in your teens, leaking sanitary towels, leaking tampons and people making snide digs when you were ‘on’. Greer is more than ten years older than me and it was bad enough in my youth. Please don’t treat starting periods as a teenager as something that ‘you could cope with’. Or blame female caregivers – what happened to the men? – for inadequate preparation.

    What would you like them to say? You’ll start leaking dirty brown blood but you won’t know quite when? It will stain your clothes and the bed clothes. Here are these nice nappy like things to put between your legs. Alternatively you can stick this packed cotton inside you – and don’t lose the string either. Don’t forget the nausea, backache and stomach pain. Don’t drink too much fluid either the week before you think it might happen as that will result in more pain. But don’t worry, you can cope, here’s a paracetamol. Etc etc

    Seriously Clare, that’s most unlike you to lack empathy. But please don’t treat having periods so lightly. It’s not just the first time. It’s every bloody month.

    Are you a woman? I have no idea. Not in the same way I am I guess. But, to me, primarily, you are Clare. And you express yourself as a woman. Sure you can share a changing room or toilets with me. Those aren’t my issues. Mine are when you tell women and teenagers about their periods. Please, think carefully before you do so again.

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    • I apologise. We should make this easier for girls.

      I am coming round to the idea that Dr Greer should not be allowed a platform. Her dismissive remarks anger me, and might drive a wedge between me and those who are not actively hostile. I have already posted on Turner’s Syndrome: do you think that a better response to her “pants full of blood” remark?

      I don’t “buy into” any gender stereotype. The only way I can define my gender is “Clare”. Gender: Clare. Sexuality: Clare. I express myself as girly-feminine because I am girly-feminine. I recognise that some women try to escape that stereotype. Many manage, and I find their self-expression beautiful. The Urologist who did vaginoplasties in North Wales until her retirement observed we are far more feminine than she is. I express myself through my culture, but as my particular kind of ultra-feminine woman rather than as a woman.

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      • Clare, I’ve been offline for a week so I’ve not done any back reading, yours has been the first post I’ve commented on, so I’m sorry I’ve repeated something you’ve already posted about. It happens.

        I think Greer is like many of us. We all have priorities. Hers are women. Yours are trans women. Both priorities are understandable. I can’t speak for Greer, but I do think women and trans women have different issues to fight. Trans women have transphobia, women have sexual oppression. I don’t want to see a wedge, rather that we all have different POVs. If it’s not exclusionary, or discriminatory, then it’s a start.

        I’m not up on Turner Syndrome, although I did look it up. One of schoolfriends might have had that. Extremely short, no periods, but apparently later had growth hormone injections. However, I don’t think the two are directly comparable.

        If you choose to consider girly feminine is not a gender stereotype, who am I to argue?

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        • When I express myself as girly-feminine, I am being as authentic as I can be. I recognise that it does not fit many, perhaps most, women, and I sympathise, I really do: I too have acted a gender presentation because others seemed to expect it of me, too, because others mocked and denigrated me when I did not so express myself.

          I am girly feminine. I like floral skirts, soft silk blouses, and lots of eyeshadow: make-up in bright colours, pink lipstick and nail varnish, etc. These express my feminine, soft, gentle, peaceful, empathetic self (though you have seen me angry). I recognise that on some women such a way of expression would be uncomfortable; that these women justly resent that my way of expression is valued in women by patriarchy in a way that other ways women express themselves are not; yet, at last, I am not putting on an act.

          I think there is a great deal of overlap in the issues we have to fight. Not all women will experience all the issues in the same way.

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