Do transwomen who choose to engage, use, or even profit from their own erotic appeal, their own desirability “invite fetishistic exploitation of trans women?”
Should they be judged as part of the problem we face as transpeople, playing the oppressor’s game and making life more difficult for transpeople?
If they stand up and make comments about their own transgender experience and perspective, should they be shunned as bad role models making an attempt to lead transpeople in a bad way?
The women’s movement had to deal with this challenge, of course. Who is a real woman, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor or Porn Star Jenna Jamison?
It was easy for many activists to decide that porn stars were part of the problem, not part of the solution, inviting sexualization and diminishment of women.
It was also easy for many activists to decide that Justice O’Connor was part of the problem, a republican appointee who didn’t back every action that they felt would benefit women as a group.
Once these women were identified as traitors, identity politics let activists try and strip them of their standing as women, try and use social pressure to bang them into what a group decided to be normative.
Both Ms. O’Connor and Ms. Jamison were strong individuals, though, and stood up to the oppression, still claiming their own choices in life. Would they have made the choice the other one made? Probably not, but I like to think they would have supported each others right to make those choices.
In fact, it’s my guess that Ms. Jamison was smarter than her public image suggested and that Ms. O’Connor was sexier than her public image suggested. Women are much more than what you see on their surface.
Today, the world of sexuality and politics is still tough for women. Desirability is a hot button issue for most women, the challenge of finding that line between being hot and being taken seriously without sacrificing either. We want to be valued for our smarts, but we also want to be someone’s girl now and then, to have a partner who looks at us that way.
How do women affirm sexuality while also confronting exploitation and abuse? To me, as a queer, that line is around mature consent, but I know that can be fuzzy. It is possible to both be coerced and to like it, having people exploit our own neediness, but that is another topic.
There is some movement to resist the easy solution of “slut shaming,” blaming women’s personal expression for the actions of others. Wearing a mini-skirt is not the same as giving consent to be raped.
Being shamed because we choose to be sexual is oppressive, even if it is done in the hallowed name of political correctness.
To me, the trans journey is an individual one, past social convention to personal, unique expression. Announcing that another transperson is doing it wrong diminishes all of us, though you always have the power to make your own choices, to express your views through your own actions.
Trans is also always based in desire, in our own desires, in the power of Eros in our lives and in the world.
If you don’t approve of porn because you find it “fetishizes people like you” don’t make porn. Find ways to talk about how transpeople can create a sexual life that doesn’t simply objectify them but opens them up as full people. (Personally, I believe that those who do porn are full people.)
If you don’t like what someone says, don’t shoot at their standing to say it. Find ways to speak up and offer your positive views, offering an alternative point of view that people find more balanced, useful and compelling.
Transpeople have a big challenge in front of us, trying to find ways to mainstream and normalize our own sexuality. We have been sold as only sex toys for too long, not as full people who have a wide range of capabilities and desires, of which sex is only one small piece.
We do have to get out of the dark spaces and become the kind of people you can take home to meet mom, have to be seen as real people who want real relationships, not just as cartoon characters. We have to exist in three dimensions in the world.
I just don’t think we do that by shaming desire, by making us less sexual. Instead we have to become more “real” in the world, just like women who can both be hot and smart, competent and sexy.
In the end, what changed the view of women in the world was not less erotic context but rather much more visibility of women as capable humans, able to do anything.
That’s what transpeople need too, I think.
These comments were stimulated by a Facebook post that included an image Bailey Jay posted on her Twitter — http://twitter.com/BaileyJayTweets/status/451171869702754304 . People felt the need to diminish her for speaking in her underwear, not something “most women would do.” Having listened to her podcast — http://www.riotcast.com/baileyjay — I know that Bailey Jay is a smart young woman with a rich range of interests, as many of those who engage sexuality are.
I respect her choice to use her beauty and desirability in the world, even if the choices she makes are not choices I would make for myself. I admit, though, that I don’t know what choices I would make if I were as beautiful and fresh as she is.