What changes if men are not the organizing principle of a woman’s life?
The humor site Reductress speaks to the zeitgeist of women in this society. What are the fears and dreams of women, and how can they be parodied to reveal their absurdity?
It’s no surprise that a great deal of those topics centre around finding a keeping a man, while most of the rest feature keeping up your status in the community of women.
Those two themes, though, are deeply intertwined. Being able to hook a good man is a key way to get status in the world of women.
This is a traditional way for women to view the world. Being a man’s property, finding a man to provide for you and your family, was the key challenge of women for millenia. In heterosexist, bi-polar gender systems, reproduction was at the core of social value, leading gender roles to focus on procreation for economic benefit. The aristocracy, the business, the church, the government all had reasons for encouraging breeding at as rapid a rate as possible.
It’s not hard to convince girls that their life is defined by the men they partner with. Every high schooler knows the social pressure to be successful at dating, and most girls feel the inner pull to connect with guys anyway. They are willing and able to do whatever it takes to have a guy at their side, to get what they believe they need to succeed.
But what if men are not the organizing principle of a woman’s life?
There have always been some women who haven’t lived a life focused on men. That isn’t always easy; even celibate women in religious orders, like nuns, have often been subject to the demands, expectations and control of men.
Even feminists usually set men as the organizing principle of their actions, not as objects of desire but as oppressors, as the enemy. They define their cause as against patriarchy, even if they aren’t against men.
As women get older, they find that their relationship with men becomes less and less an organizing principle in their lives. Men, instead of being an opposite to desire and game with, become just other humans, working together in the world. Some have even suggested that for women, getting older involves a kind of sex change, moving from kitten to crone.
For transwomen, though, our relationship with men will always be different than those women who went through puberty as female.
We never had the expectation of mating and breeding imbued into us, starting with the fantasy of a perfect wedding.
We never had to feel the moment where we caught male gaze as a woman, our bodies signalling our budding, pubescent availability.
We never went through the pressure of maintaining status by dating well, learning to compete with other women for the attention of men.
We were never a little princess, never our father’s beautiful daughter.
More than that, our relationship with men is queered, even if we desire them. How does dating someone like us challenge their identity as big straight guys? How can they be proud of being with someone with our history?
Many men see transwomen as fetish objects, only created for play and not for relationships. After all, we can never give them children; why would we be more than a bit of fun on the side? They see us as altered men, not as women.
For some transwomen, being a fetish object, a sissy who worships cock, becomes the entire focus of their feminine expression. It plays out fantasies of trans porn in their minds, blocking out the real challenges of being a trans woman in the world.
Many transwomen, though, never really desired men. While we may be politically bisexual, wanting our loves to embrace all of us, we just never felt our head swivel or our heart pound over the glimpse of some sexy man.
That doesn’t mean we don’t understand the social pressure to be with a man. At SCC, even hardcore “heterosexual crossdressers” valued the Atlanta Gay Men’s Choir as photo props, good looking, sharp dressed men who would pose with you, the ultimate fashion accessory to go with your gown.
There comes a point, though, somewhere in your emergence as a trans woman, where you have to get serious about your identity in relationship. Who the hell are you in the bedroom, in the pairing?
I laughed recently when one formerly devout heterosexual crossdresser, who has been faithfully married for years described themselves to a human sexuality class as a “lesbian.” To them that only means they call themselves a woman and love women. To lesbians, though, being a lesbian means much more, a whole code of social expectations and behaviours, a process of learning and claiming a life inside of a lesbian community and lesbian relationships.
We emerge as transwomen with a whole pile of fantasies still intact, imaginings of what and who we have always wanted to be. From the first moment, we want to believe that every possibility we have considered is open to us, if we just do the right things; get our body changed, for example, or deny our past.
As we drop the armour, though, getting our skin into the game, we start to understand the limits of being a trans woman — a warrant woman — in the world. We have to start letting go of our fantasies if we want to start making the most of our realities.
For most of us, men will never be the organizing principle of our lives.
We will never have the same kind of relationship with men that a woman who went through puberty as female has. We won’t have the experience, the marks from expectations, the ingrained history of social pressure, the tools to deal with men and other women around dating, all that.
Once we acknowledge that our dreams of normative relationships will never easily come true, that we will always queer the relationships we enter unless we make our transness very invisible, we have to change.
How much should we even try to hide who we are if it that is a task we will always fail at? Every transperson has a passing distance (1998), within which people can see all of us, and only letting people inside that distance can offer true intimacy.
For women who still can’t imagine that men have to be the organizing principle of a woman’s life, and for men who assume that their sex should always be the organizing principle of every one’s life, it is hard to think past the cultural habits.
Transwomen, though, can never see men as the kind of mystery that women who have never been embedded in the camp of men might, so men can’t be our organizing principle. We can’t even really see them as other; we know their experience on our skin.
We have walked past gender binaries, needing to find organizing principles for our life that are not rooted in women vs men or even women and men. The simple normative expectations of the dance are queered for us.
The message that men — that gender — may not be the best organizing principle for a woman’s life isn’t something that most find easy to accept. Being yourself as yourself, not as a broken person looking to find your other half in a perfect relationship, is a hard dream to grasp.
Coming together as whole people, though, offers real benefits to all, as early feminists knew.
The gift of a lifetime is becoming yourself.
You are your own organizing principle.