Woman Choices

A woman is someone who makes the choices of a woman.

If you believe that we are what we choose, then that definition is clear and perfect.    If, on the other hand, you believe that woman and female means the same thing, it will sound stupid to you, but gender is about much more than sex roles, it is about complex, human communication. (1998)

Woman choices aren’t fundamental, they are essential.   Both men and women can cook a meal, for example, but women do it in a womanly way.

Gender isn’t in the prose of what we do in the world — get up, use the loo, eat breakfast, go to work, lead a meeting, meet friends, change a tire and so on — rather it is in the poetry of how we do those things, the style, focus and flair we give to what we do.

A woman is someone who makes the choices of a woman.

For people outside the role, it is easy to think that those choices are only about clothing, about the uniform we wear, but if you have ever seen a man in a dress you know that the way we wear clothes is much more important than what we wear.   Anyone can wear a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers, but women wear them differently, and not just because they are mostly female bodied.

In the new film Hurricane Bianca, Roy Haylock brings his creation of Bianca DelRio into a wider world, fighting for queer dignity.   Ms. DelRio and her associates are clearly drag queens, gay men in dresses, glamorous clowns.

As Karma Johnstone, though, Bianca Leigh plays fairy godmother, encouraging and informing.   Ms Leigh is a transwoman who emerged some thirty years ago, also a performer in Manhattan but very clearly not a gay boy underneath.   She makes the choices of a woman and does so with grace, elegance, dignity, style and wit.

Instead of just playing to his own understanding about what a transwoman is, a problem that a film about drag queens could easily have, Matt Kugelman, who exists in the celebration of diversity that is NYC, just chose to be inclusive.   This is a lesson many other filmmakers could benefit from.

One of the most depressing books I have ever read is “No One Understands You and What To Do About It” by Heidi Grant Halvorson.  It is a lecture on how people stereotype others, projecting their own expectations and assumptions onto others.

One of her examples is that people who are seen as creative are also seen as being untalented for management, as proven by experiments.    The actual success of creatives in management has no effect on these judgments.

Women can be as smart, intense, mouthy, compeditive and strong as a man, but those attributes are seen differently when they are wrapped in the choices of a woman.   The underlying stereotypes both empower and constrain.

Ms. Halvorson struggles to find a silver lining in this by encouraging her readers to use those quickly identified stereotypes to their own advantage, creating a presentation of self that will manipulate the short thinking of others to their advantage.   In other words, she sells you some of the skills of a con artist.

My most inspiring book of the year, “The End of Average” by L. Todd Rose explains why those stereotypes are just wrong and wrong headed, why they do not model the real characteristics and capacities of people.   As gamely as Mr. Rose argues the point, though, Ms. Halvorson is happy to tell us that most people aren’t listening, using emotional cues rather than conscious ones.

When Bianca Leigh makes the choices of a woman, they work well for her because she has been effectively femaled.  “I would never have clocked you!” says Haylock’s character in the film.   I may have read her instantly, but then again, I am in the habit of looking beyond.

For many transwomen, though, that kind of presentation just isn’t possible.  This is what I decided in the mid 1980s when I looked at my body, shaped by the male puberty it went through, and decided that trying to be effectively femaled was just out of the possibility for me.

I wrote about this contrast between Jhana Steele and Kymberleigh Richards in the authoritative “Guy-In-A-Dress Line.” (1999)  Since then, Ms Richards, in her role as LA transportation advocate has been shut down by Fox News when her trans nature became obvious on-air.   Her choices were deemed to be disquieting to their audience who wanted emotional ease.

As much as Ms. Halvorson tells us that we need to use stereotyping to get our message across, when our message is about the jagged nature of humans that Mr. Rose speaks of, well, the cognitive dissonance just causes heads to explode.

A woman is someone who makes the choices of a woman.   I have been doing that for decades now, in my own way.   Letting go of the manly choices I tried to make, the defences I created in an attempt to hide my feminine heart, my trans nature was hard, but the immersion in woman culture was crucial.

You cannot embrace woman perspective and choices while still holding on to man thinking.   You cannot own the feminine in a masculine way.  Transvestism is about changing your clothes, transsexualism is about changing your body, transgender is about changing your mind.

My choices, though, are yet read against the stereotyping of my body.  The awareness of that clash threads all through my own actions, how free and safe I am to show my choices in public.

All my millions of words, all my sharp rationality, all my deep therapy, all my lucid elucidation, well, they are the fruit of a tree I planted when I came out back in the mid-1980s and I decided that trying to feel safe & seen as a woman was just never, ever going to work for me.

Instead of blossoming as a woman I blossomed as a theologian, and that cerebral journey took me to a place where I don’t fit easily into everyday human interactions.

This path took the dissonance of society and buried it deeply in me, having to police simple choices, like what I want to wear, replacing them with the  considered, disciplined and constrained choices of æsthetic denial.   The separation between myself and the assumptions & expectations of others got wider and wider until it became a gulf that none of us could cross.

My choices were smart, aware and kind, but they were never the simple, emotional and instinctual choices of a woman.   The heart of a woman was at the basis of all of them, but they all had to be filtered out past a comb of androgyny,  always considering the stereotypes written onto my big, male body.

A woman is someone who makes the choices of a woman.    These choices are informed by heart and by training, by having learned what has worked in the past to be powerful in the world.

“Men and women take power in very different ways.   As your gender has shifted, how has the way you take power in the world also changed?”
— Callan, Southern Comfort Conference, 1993

Bianca Leigh makes the choices of a woman — a woman of transgender history — in the world.   She looks amazing doing it.

My vital permission to make those choices, though, has never been easy or secure.  Instead, I keep writing the same stuff over and over again, going deeper and farther away from the sweet momentum of an everyday human life.

The choices of a woman shape a life, an entire life from girlhood to goddess time.  The choice to have to hide, deny and fear your own womanly heart also shape a life; you can even hear that in the stories that Ms. Leigh tells.

That choice has shaped my life differently, watching it move past me as I was unable to claim myself in it.

I hear myself speak about the experience of a lifetime and feel the slippery separation as others need to slide away from my tale, returning to what they already know, holding on to what they need to hang on to.   If I had been able to claim a life, though, well, that would have different in some unseeable, unknowable way.

A woman is someone who makes the choices of a woman.

If making woman choices isn’t effective in the outside world for me, and making man choices is false role play, then what choices can I make?  It is the challenge I identified twenty years ago: tell the truth and be called a liar, lie and be seen as truthful.  The Guy-In-A-Dress Line still cuts through.

In my world, I know who I am and my choices are always grounded in that truth.

In your world, though, well, walls, boxes, assumptions & stereotypes abound.