“It was a room full of women talking about relationships,” I told my sister, “so you know what topic came up.”
“What was that?” she replied.
“Why are guys so stupid?”
“Yeah,” she laughed. “That would be a common question.”
One of the theoretical gifts of transgender is the ability to create bridges between genders most people think of as binary and separate. We have the opportunity to speak for continuous common humanity.
The truth is that we are rarely in the position where we can do that work. Most of us never really get to live freely in both worlds, immersed in men’s culture and immersed in women’s culture.
In fact, we often not immersed in either culture, never really assimilating in the gender we were assigned to when they first saw our pee-pee and never really being able to merge into our gender of choice. We often live in no-man’s/no-woman’s land, a place of our own making where the landmarks are few and the battles are frequent.
Any man who has been in awareness raising movements knows his fate, being cast as the projection of fathers, uncles, boyfriends and husbands who have ended up being blamed for the hurt women suffer. He represents the other, the mysterious, the rude and the crude, the worst of what manhood has to offer. Most men are not rapists or abusers, but for ideological purposes, they easily will do as a representation of one.
As a transwoman, bonding over what idiots men are has never really been possible for me. As the transman who watched me try and explain the experience of men in the world to a group of women noted after the meeting, I have lived experience.
After a few decades or so trying to help transpeople born male understand the limits of a manly approach to everything, even, often, to womanhood, I have deep understanding and compassion about the expectations and limits placed on men by the standard heterosexist gender system.
Moving past those demands is hard, even when you start off just trying to claim some androgyny though gender play as I did so many years ago. Men cement themselves into roles for a reason and they start very, very early.
I was with a sexologist who allied with transpeople and was married to a lead doctor at a prominent university medical school. On our way to the cabin, I quoted a Christopher Robin poem from Milne that told me who I was when I was four: “if I ever stopped hopping, I couldn’t go anywhere, wouldn’t go anywhere.”
He immediately recited a complete poem from the same volume, one I knew well. “A solder’s life is terrible hard, says Alice.”
While his wife gaped at me in amazement, not knowing where this came from, I got that even at four, he knew what life expected of a solider, even a soldier of medicine.
Humans, you see, are such idiots. We understand our own context enough to operate within it, but expanding our understanding to more than a theoretical grasp of the choices others make, well, it would break our foundations, crack what we need to hold onto to survive.
I have been reading “England’s Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton” by Kate Williams. It is a rich book, a woman historian looking at the life of an infamous woman in a very feminine context. Hamilton, it should come as no surprise, is best understood as a woman of her time, and not in the context some male historians want to place her in.
The world of women that Williams paints, from maid to prostitute to artiste to courtier is both strikingly different than the world of women today and very much emotionally understandable. Society has changed dramatically, but the nature of women and their relationships has not.
In Hamilton’s time, and especially in the classes she aspired to, the roles of men and women were very separate and very different, heterosexism deeply coded into every social, economic and political structure.
This fixed separation was both constraining and freeing for people, both abusive and protecting. Enforcement of rigid roles obligates everyone to play by a set a rules that can be understood.
In that world, the feminine stood separate and powerful, holding the strength of heirs close. The landscape looked very, very different depending on your gender.
With all the liberation and opportunity that feminism and equality has brought, there is something in women which finds romance in that notion of separate worlds. Like the little girl who wants freedom for herself while boys are held to standards, the notion of having gendered obligations enforced on your potential partners is kind of compelling.
There is heat in difference, a sizzle in separates coming together that doesn’t come when everyone is interchangeable, neutral and well balanced. Drama always demands a bit of conflict.
It’s this tension that always emerges in a roomful of straight women talking about relationships. They know how their men should be, but rarely understand the cost of that role, making demands but not negotiating the prices.
It’s not easy to be a woman in the world, of that, there is no doubt. But it’s not easy to be any kind of a human in this world, which is why, if at all possible, we should always take care of each other with compassion and grace.
And you can take that from the person in the middle.