I was on a crossdresser site where I found an essay called “One Person’s Journey to Womanhood.” The story wasn’t about womanhood, however, it was mostly about passing as being born female.
The essence of this goal of passing as being born female is to prove, somehow, that you are not a man. Passing seeks to erase evidence of your history and biology in a way that doesn’t let anyone challenge your present assertions about your identity.
Personally, I find the challenge of proving the negative — “I am not a man” — just too daunting, so I would rather seek to demonstrate the positive — “I am a woman.”
For people who live in a world of opposites, where everything can be easily judged in an instant, this can be a hard proposition to convey. They believe that man and woman are the same as male and female, rooted only in biological reproductive sex characteristics as identified at birth, usually reduced to “Penis or not?” rather than being gender roles that are based on social behaviour and choices.
People who insist on seeing the world in black and white, on seeing the world as sets of opposites, where everything is one or the other, are the people who cause me the most grief in this complex, nuanced and beautifully diverse world.
This view of the world as a cavalcade of opposites that can be easily judged by just a little inspection is usually buried deep in what we like to call our “common sense.” It is often the basis of anti-intellectualism, where we find the examination of the world to reveal baffling ambiguities which we feel the need to reject based on “common sense.”
Common sense turns out only to be conventional thinking, a set of assumptions and expectations that are designed to over simplify the world for our ease and comfort. The universe is a curious thing, and if all we had to go on was the common sense that people held 150 years ago, most of the technological advances we have today would not exist.
I acknowledge that being a woman who happened to be assigned as male bodied at birth is not a common thing, but just because it isn’t common doesn’t mean it isn’t real. And the fact is that trans is much more common than people would have thought 50 years ago, when the truth of feminine hearts in male bodies was written down to moral failings and mental defectiveness, and through that slight, erased.
Today, though, the medical profession understand that even reproductive sex isn’t as binary as common sense used to have it, that the human body is a lot more nuanced than a simple pair of opposites.
Today, we understand that demanding people suppress their own character and desires to fit into a nice set of oppositional boxes — men who love women or women who love men — just tends to screw people up and lose much of the real human potential we bring to a complex and evolving world.
To try and prove the negative, to erase those parts of yourself that might let people who love to use “common sense” to judge the world is to support the idea that the world should be neatly divided into opposites.
“In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.” That has been my mission statement ever since I first heard an anthropologist utter it in 1993 because I know that seeing the world divided into opposites denies that precious continuous common humanity that we all share.
Passing is the tacit agreement that the only way to be a woman is to be a not a man. It leads us to seek to play small and erase any facets of us that might be seen as masculine in order to be seen as a woman.
Being a woman, though, is not defined by an absence of masculinity.
What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine;
what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine.
— Susan Sontag
“So,” I once asked a crossdresser, “do you think if I had been born female I would have been a ballsy broad?”
He couldn’t disagree. But I know that if I look too ballsy as a transwoman, there is a good chance of my choices being attributed to my being “really a man” by those who are blinded by their own “common sense.”
It is those people who slice up their world trying to decide good from bad, this from that, and us from them who build walls of separation in a world that isn’t just only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.
To me, it is much more important to base my identity on considered and integral positive choices than on choices that seek to conceal what might get others to cut me out of the box. I choose to stand with other women, letting our stories bind us, rather than just assume that making my biology and history invisible will somehow make me fit nicely inside a box.
Owning womanhood demands that we see womanhood as something real, something shared and something present. It is different than opposites which are not based on real separations but rather on light and shadow; what is not this must be that. The world does not reveal its beauty to us when we only see what we value and leave the rest in shadow.
Woman isn’t the same as “not man” in the same way that man isn’t the same as “not woman,” but we won’t see that until we move beyond the “common sense” of binary and opposite thinking. Until we queerly embrace the connectedness of the world, we cannot ever embrace the connectedness inside ourselves.
Shamans walk through walls that people with “common sense” believe are solid because they know the separations are only illusions. Trying to wall off part of ourselves to fit into the boundaries of someone else’s “common sense” just extends the cell they have locked themselves into rather than opening the door to wider, deeper and more human connection.
The privilege of a lifetime is becoming who you are. If who you are is someone who fits neatly in a box, well, then your story will end up in that box along with your body.
The “common sense” that cuts the world into opposites seems to lose that deeper connection, so I live with the uncommon sense that the universe is connected in ways that are both challenging and awesome to me.
And just like I told that therapist in 8th grade, that means if I can be anyone I want to be, well, I want to be me, no matter how uncommon I am.
Doesn’t that make sense?