I’m a few days late talking about this, but oh well.
Just, really please, Stop.
Earlier this week, I stood up in an online forum (okay, I was still sitting, but that’s beside the point) to talk about how very bad it was for me to be judged harshly for using the term “feminist” to describe myself, just because someone once hear/read another feminist say/write something they found offensive.
There are many branches of Feminism, I pointed out. I include myself in but one, and to say that “generally” all feminists are man-hating, man-bashing, cock-smashing Amazons is to say that I am that without paying attention to how I actually speak to and of men or behave. I pointed out that telling me I should not call myself Feminist if I did not behave that way was the equivalent of telling me I should refrain from calling myself a Christian (I actually am one. I know. Strange to be talking about BDSM and writing porn and say that, but there you go. Toss that one around in your brain a while until it melts) because Pat Robertson is a bigot. I pointed out that we have no problem saying “not all Christians” or “not all Muslims” but when it comes to Feminists, heaven help you if you attempt to say “not all Feminists.”
Suddenly what someone you don’t know and have no control over matters again.
When someone attempted to point out to me that I need to show some “personal responsibility” because I still refused to accept or excuse the generalizations of her and others that feminism was bad and that by implication of the use of terms like “in general” I was as well (words have meanings, boys and girls. Always remember that) I did so. I pointed out that I am responsible for me and my actions. I welcomed any example where I demonstrated or stated the belief that women were superior to men or showed disrespect to a man on the basis that he was a man alone. That does not happen, of course.
I will happily take responsibility for my own actions. I am not responsible for the words and actions of others.
That does not mean, however, that I am going to sit idly by and watch people do something that I feel is wrong.
Choice and Agency
Feminism has a lot of faces and colors, but there are two things that attracted me to it, and still keep me a part of it: Choice and Agency. I don’t mean choice as in the topic that we will not discuss because few people stay civil about it, though yes, that is part of it. I mean choice in a much broader sense.
Choice is about being able to choose your destiny and your expression. It is about choosing to be a homemaker, choosing to be a business professional, choosing to mix them, or whatever suits your goals, your desires, and your life. It is about not following a mode of being simply because you were socialized into it.
Agency is about having the power to make that choice. Agency is empowering when you use it, whether you use it to say “I will not be a sex symbol for you” or “I am going to own the fact that you think I’m sexy.” Giving oneself over to objectification is not wrong, as long as you are the one making that decision for yourself, and not because of coercion or deceit. BDSM has a lot of objectification that happens. It is a big part of Humiliation. Agency is making that active decision to participate or not participate, of your own will and your own needs and desires.
When Caitlyn Jenner presented, she decided to do so in a very glamorous way, and many people had many things to say about it. A lot of people focused on how beautiful she was. Some decided to hone in on how brave she was to come out at all, and most especially on the cover of Vanity Fair.
It did not take long, as I demonstrated above, for feminists to proclaim a problem with this coming out. She was fitting into the “male cis-gender normative of femininity.” While I understand the concerns about setting an example for other transgendered women and the need to not simply have women conform to ideas outside of themselves – that was not what was happening here. Caitlyn chose present this way for a variety of reasons, some of which we can only speculate at, a few of which were shared with us.
What matters is that it was her Choice and she acted on her Agency. While many of us look at the Vanity Fair cover and see a very sexy woman, there is more to that cover than that. As Jessica Diehl put it,
“There was a stripped-down idea there that sort of felt like underneath all of this excitement and newsworthiness is the soul of a woman. And that didn’t need a lot of covering up. It was not meant to be risqué in any way. It was really meant to sort of show with all honesty and purity, ‘This is what is going on. Here I am.'”
Now those who turn their eye to the media machine to launch criticism, I have no problem with them.
There is a lot more to the Vanity Fair shoot than an attractive woman, as Ms. Diehl pointed out about her wardrobe choices.
That being said, when that criticism is launched at Caitlyn herself, I have a problem with it. Caitlyn can choose to present in pants and a t-shirt or sexy lingerie. That does not matter. It is her choice and it is her right as a woman to do so. It is our responsibility to be open to there being more to her than just the breasts and curves.
When we talk about cis-gender normative femininity, we have to understand something. We have to understand and respect what Caitlyn wanted.
The Ideal Woman?
My first commission piece was a story called Facade. It is one of my favorite stories because it took me out of my comfort zone. I am a cis-gendered woman, so I had no idea what it was like internally to feel a gender other than my own. I could imagine it, but I needed to be in the mind of the character. Now I had guidelines from my buyer to work with, and I have my own experiences knowing both transgenders and transvestites. I was working with a character that was somewhere in between the two, wanting to experience the life of his alter ego, but not wanting to take the full step over and giving up his male identity.
One of the things that I discovered both in personal experience and in researching the story is that yes, there is an idealized view of femininity. Whether you call it an idealized male idea of femininity or a heightened sense of natural (or socialized even if you wish) femininity, it does not matter. For those who hold onto it, it is what they feel inside them and what they want to express.
To tell Caitlyn she is wrong to present this way – to reveal to the world a woman who whether she was projecting it or not has a great deal of sexual energy around her – is to invalidate her.
That is wrong.
Will every transgender woman look the way Caitlyn does? No. Will they all be beautiful? Yes. They will be beautiful for the same reason Caitlyn is beautiful. Once you take away glamor and sexy attire, Caitlyn is someone who understood who she was, that she was not that person before, and made a change to be the person she knew she really was. Every transgendered man and woman, no matter their physical appearance and physical beauty, has that inner beauty. That was what the Vanity Fair shoot was meant to show, and that is what we should be talking about and encouraging in others.
We should not be belittling her or discouraging her. Why? Because people are watching. If we’re willing to say this about an Olympian, a sports legend, what will we say about them?