Yes, I know what you’re thinking. “Yo, fojap! Where’s the sex? You put it right up there in your tag line. Do you think I come here to read about your shockingly banal childhood? You haven’t written anything to make my toes curl.” To which I can only reply, “Give me time.” I’m new to this. I’m a bit like a girl at her first orgy, you know, the one who’s taken off her clothes but is still holding them in front of her. So, if I may mix my metaphors, I’m going to get my feet wet by not talking about sex directly, but by talking about sexual desire, more specifically, the object of that sexual desire, or the bodies of other human beings.
Last week, Natalie Reed published a very insightful post, “‘Ideal Bodies’“, about the idealization of particular body types as it relates to the lives of transwomen. She discusses, from a feminist viewpoint, the “meme that transsexual women are artificially constructed versions of women tailor-made for the desires and fantasies of men.” It’s not necessary to read about the comment, that the “ideal body type” for a woman is that of a “Brazilian transsexual,” that prompted in the post in order to understand her point.
In a culture of media and privilege, who is permitted visibility and voice is not the same thing as who is actually out there. Learning to separate media realities from actual realities isn’t just activism 101, it’s living in the 21st century 101. The trans bodies that appear in media designed for cis (male) consumption are not the reality of trans bodies any more the cis women’s bodies that appear in Maxim or FHM reflect the reality of women’s bodies. Anyone claiming to be a feminist should be able to grasp this incredibly basic shit.
She continues about how trans women’s bodies are policed and shamed, how they are held up to the standard of normative female beauty. She also discusses the diversity of trans women’s bodies, a diversity that is rarely shown in the media.
I want to discuss something related, in fact it could be seen as something of a corollary, which is the policing of desire. Not only are individuals made to feel shame if their bodies don’t conform to a narrow standard, individuals are made to feel shame if they harbor desires for people who do not fit that standard.
She specifically refers to “the male gaze” a subject about which I haven’t given much thought, at least not in those terms, since my undergraduate days in another century. I have some issues with the ideas underlying the concept, coming as it does from psychoanalysis. The gaze, as it is used in this context, is intimately tied up with issues of power. However, the autonomy implied on the part of the people, usually the dominant group in a situation, employing the gaze is illusory.
There is an undeniable pressure for women to conform to our culture’s standards of beauty and forests have been felled in discussing that issue from a variety of angles. However, while women who don’t conform to those standards may be ridiculed, mocked, shamed or pitied, it is generally accepted that they exist. Harboring desires for individuals with non-normative or unconventional bodies is rarely even acknowledged.
I don’t know exactly how it starts with boys, but I can remember shortly after the onset of puberty, when most of the girls were starting to like boys, it wasn’t unusual to play games like truth or dare. A common question was, “What boy do you like?” Squeals of “eww” and mock horror would arise if you didn’t name a boy who conformed to society’s norms. It didn’t take long to learn that there were consequences for not professing an interest in a boy considered by the other students to be cute.
This sort of pressure doesn’t end in high school. One of my sister’s friends in college went on a few dates with a boy from Annapolis until he received an award for the ugliest date. She wasn’t even ugly, just very tall and athletic. All this served to accomplish was to coerce him into prematurely ending a relationship.
A couple of days after reading Reed’s post, I came across this one Androgyny Goes Both Ways. As it happens, the men in those photos don’t look androgynous to me. They just look like guys in dresses.
I’ve always found a wide variety of different people physically attractive. Friends, especially those who like to fix people up, would find it easier if I liked a “type.” I have no idea why we even talk about other human beings in that way. I can never say what it is that will intrigue me about one person or another. Reed’s post reminded me that I have, in fact, found trans people attractive, and that includes some individuals with non-normative bodies, what I might prefer to call unconventional beauty. There is no purpose to be served, to my mind, in enforcing through mockery apparent conformity in the objects of our desire.