The reproductive sex of a human body defines the experience of a person in the world.
This is what feminists separatists want us to know.
They are not wrong.
Every person who went through puberty with a female body remembers moments when, after their body matured, they were challenged by the gaze, the lust and the aggression of male bodied people who saw them as objects of desire.
That shared experience, combined with the shared possibility and call of being a mother, is wrapped in the cultural training and expectations that society has created for being female in the world.
Every transperson has to find a way to engage this truth. I have heard transwomen claim that they were always female, always women, even though they didn’t share the experience of going through puberty as a woman. I have heard others dismiss the whole concept of gender, calling the difference in experience irrelevant.
My own assertion is that sex & culturalization counts, but that who we are inside, the shape of our heart, counts more. It is the content of our character, not the shape of our skin that defines us. I am male, went through puberty as a male, but that doesn’t mean I am culturally a man. Gender roles are based in choices, in cultural training, not simply on biological difference. Showing myself as a woman is a more honest expression of my nature, a reflection of my heart, my vision and my choices.
Biological sex counts, though. There is a reason that transwomen dream of being femaled, of being seen and understood as female. We may want to be femaled only for the night, like a crossdresser or drag queen, or femaled forever, like a transsexual woman.
Being sexy is, I have found, rooted in our sex.
The experience of being sexed in the world is at the heart of being sexy for female bodied people, be that experience scary, offputting or lovely. That sense of being seen as sexed is at the core of being seen as sexy, where we add attitude and accoutrements to the display of our body.
Because sex is an embodied experience, so is sexiness. Without embodiment, sex is just a hypothetical idea, be that a teeny-bopper’s crush or a crossdresser’s fantasies. Even romance novels seek to convey the embodied experience of perfected sensuality, from high heels & tight bodices to the eventual crashing of the surf inside our heart.
Our bodies determine much of our experience in the world. Pretty is embodied. Sexy is embodied. When you ask students if they thought their life would be better if their body was better shaped for their sex, they almost always say yes, whatever they perceive that ideal shape to be.
We become typecast by our appearance as we learn what choices work for us. It may be difficult for a petite blonde to pull off intimidating, impossible for a burly brunette to be effectively cute. The boundaries on our expression become the bounds of our identity as we learn to work what we have got and hide what we find queers the deal.
Being cast in the sexual fantasies of another person, expected to play the role that they find hot while never surfacing anything that challenges their identity requires walking a narrow line. The world is full of pushy bottoms wanting to keep control while transferring responsibility onto another person, demanding that their own ego be fed at any cost.
Yet every truly intimate relationship is built on creating a safe space to get naked, naked physically, emotionally, mentally and creatively. This is why all transpeople are politically bisexual even if we have well defined desires, because we want, we need our partners to embrace all of us, even the bits where our biology and history cross conventional assumptions.
The fear of failing to meet the expectations of others who desire us when we show another facet of ourselves is common to all women, but especially terrifying for transwomen who lack the basic training that comes from being seen as a girl amongst the boys. We are constantly reminded of the dire possibilities that exist, even if considered statistics show us to be no more vulnerable to violence than other women. (2006)
Being sexy is far from simple for transpeople. For we older transpeople, who grew up in a far less understanding and accepting world, one where we had to struggle even to find our own limited awareness, sexy isn’t something we can go back and pick up from out of the ashes.
Without a clear and consistent sex, having the kind of clear and consistent sexuality which gives you the standing to find the power in flirting is almost impossible. This is why the dream of passing as the sex more associated with our choices will never go away, even if we understand that the cost of that passing is losing the strength of our multi-faceted stories as we struggle to police our choices and conceal our biology & history.
It’s hard to be sexy without standing, but without being sexy we can be denied the shadow of sex: love.
Unless people find us desirable in a way that they want to have physical intimacy with, how can we bond in deep ways?
Even if they find our shimmering titillating on some level, until they identify that intimacy as something they can be proud of, sharing it with friends and family, how will we ever be received as loved and lovable?
Sex is the basis of sexy, yes, but sex is also the flip side of love.
Our bodies shape much of the way that people respond to us, for good and for bad. In a culture where breeding is paramount — a heterosexist culture — creating a primary and deep rooted division based around reproductive biology serves the economy and the power structure.
It also, though, attempts to deny non-breedstock the power of sexiness, a kind of eugenic force to erase marginal beauty.
That denial, laced in the narrative of deceit and panic, has not only denied us the power of sexy, of public and affirmed sexy beyond being erotic freaks, it has also denied us intimate and loving relationships.
Being sexy without love, starting with the love of your own sexuality, is impossible.