Why can’t you just be a feminine man?
Possibly, transition is a hack. Being a feminine or effeminate male was utterly forbidden, through the door marked Death, but I had not picked up that transition was equally forbidden, because it was unimaginable. So when I imagined it, it was my escape. I wanted to follow the rules of my society, and I found there was this path my society barely tolerated.
I think of a boy at school, a year or two older than me, telling me I am “soft as shite”. It stung at the time. It still stings now: I remember the remark with unusual clarity for a conversation at school. He was claiming I was unmasculine, so inadequate, less than others. Now J sees that I am not flexible, able to be a “feminine man”, to contain contradictions which I had found unbearable: so J also judges me as inadequate or less. I am so knocked about by such judgment that I can barely resist, and my “femininity” makes resistance harder. I want reconciliation, not conflict. So my femininity works against me and I judge it too.
But Honor Logan denies femininity exists: it is merely a patriarchal tool of oppression. It is “something given and taken away on man’s whim”. Are we good enough? So I do not share some mythical “femininity” with other women, but I do share the condition of being oppressed.
I felt it excluding that the women’s group talk of bleeding, until I thought, but this is their way of defying taboo and claiming freedom. This is a place for us to claim freedom together however we do it. That is my answer to the suggestion that it is “transphobic” to say 1970s feminism had allowed young women to explore their own vagina and clitoris as intimate companion. Young trans women did not have this experience; but different women have different experiences, and that does not mean any of us are not women. It is anti-feminist, rather than transphobic, to suggest all women have the same experiences. And perhaps I could get to know my vagina as a source of pleasure.
We can split into tiny warring camps, or find a solidarity that celebrates our differences. Women who deny femininity exists must find a way to be with cis women who celebrate it.
I don’t think “femininity” is a coherent concept, either in the culture or as a property of most women and few men. So, what makes me a woman, if not femininity? Two possibilities: my long-standing desire to express myself this way, and the acceptance of others. Everyone relies on the acceptance of others in order to survive, but dependence on it makes us liable to oppression, which we must meet with self-affirmation.
How much do we create ourselves, how much recognise and realise ourselves, how much are we moulded by other people? If I accept what others say I should be like, I allow them to mould me, but it seems to me there is a real me underneath. I am submissive. It feels like recognition. Attempting to suppress it feels like self-abnegation, paradoxically: to self-abnegate by fighting my self-abnegation. It is part of me. If I suppress and deny it, I cannot allow for it and how it affects me, so others see it and use it. It becomes a source of pain for me, so I work harder to suppress it.
I feel that trauma causes me to suppress parts of myself, rather than to alter them. I do not think my submission could have been created by trauma, though the trauma played upon it.
So I will guard my submissive nature as precious. I will protect it. I decide to see it as part of me that can be beautiful for myself and others, a gift, and seek evidence of this. Perhaps my kindness and gentleness are evidence: three qualities fitting together. This is shadow work: I have used words to define a part I can cut off and deny, then projected all my fear and anger onto that shadow part. Liberating my shadow self is liberation from my own judgment.
Days after the question, still stewing on it, I thought of why I could not be a feminine man. Perhaps I’m just a bit second rate. Perhaps I did not see the possibility. Perhaps I was too suicidal and terrified to properly understand what I was doing. Possibly I am a sexual pervert, and therefore a threat to women and children– there are lots of places on the internet you can read that. And, just perhaps, I am trans. James Baldwin: “It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself and half believed before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here.”