Sarah, in her new blog, writes about a woman who left a video on YouTube saying that she was heartbroken by how much her transwoman friends fell into vanity about their appearance.

I wrote a bit questioning if her heartbreak was because her friends betrayed her, or because they had to face a world that demanded certain looks, and if those transwomen failed, they paid a high price.

Yes; deeper is where she needs to go.

Was her heart broken by people who valued appearance more than she did, and therefore, dissapointed her, or was it broken by the pressures transwomen face about personal appearance in the world, the expectations to appear normative or be seen as a freak?

Her friends fell into vanity, which I take to mean concern about their appearance over other issues she believes are more valuable, you know, much like teen girls are vain because they have to both find their own expression and live under a magnifying glass where everyone feels that they have a right to judge.

That broke her heart.  It would be nice, though, if that broken heart lead to a compassionate view of the challenges, rather than feeling to her ex-friends as just more judgment.

A young transwoman was asked about what surprised her most about her emergence into womanhood.

“Women compete!” she said.   “I was amazed at how much women compete for boyfriends and status and everything else.  I thought they were all nice and sweet, but when they get together, well, there’s so much competition!”

Men may fight over imagined slights, but women fight over practical things, competing for the most desirable thing.  That’s one reason my friend Val helped guy friends by acting as if they were sexy & desirable, knowing that when women saw another woman wanting something, they knew it had value.  There is a reason advertisers will jump through hoops to be featured on Oprah; if Oprah wants it it must be fabulous, great, and status giving.

As I break the expectations of gender, the one thing I know I will do is bring up other people’s distress about the expectations of gender placed on them.   Everyone was pressured by the system of gender; that’s the way it works.   They paid the price to fit in, and people who challenge that submission can be challenging, questioning the sacrifices people made to be normatively gendered, to be the copy that has no original, as Butler says.

For women, a big part of those expectations are expectations of beauty.  Pretty is status.  It’s where lots of angst is stored.

I have often heard women say “You look better than me!” believing that someone male bodied shouldn’t look so good.

My response is always the same: “Well, you are naturally beautiful; I have to work hard at it!”

This harkens back to Helena Rubenstein’s quote “There are no ugly women, only lazy ones.”   And that, of course, throws the responsibility for looking good back on the woman who is surprised, which is usually not a responsibility they want to take.

When women feel challenged by me, I can often tell, even if I don’t have the acute sense that I might have if I went through high-school and college as a girl, being fully trained in women’s competitive combat manouveres.

When I hear that a woman is distressed about transwomen’s relationship to appearance in the world, I have to wonder if she has some issues about her own appearance.  After all, when someone speaks up, especially to criticize, it usually tells you more about them than the object of their criticism.

We bring up the issues around gender, especially when we don’t cede our voice, our beauty and our power to the group of women, as women have been trained to do.

Claiming our own individual power, outside of group identity and outside of abjection — being the poor deformed tranny — challenges others to claim their own individual power, outside of group identity and outside of abjection.

And that can force them to bring upstuff.

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