I follow Annika’s Tumblr, but I hadn’t seen this article, written nearly a year ago, until last night. Here’s some of my thoughts, which I had posted to my Facebook Timeline last night:
I find Autostraddle problematic for a number of reasons, but I suppose Annika is pretty OK. If nothing else, she’s living the life, walking the walk, and talking the talk. So much of this resonates with me. I hope that you will read it, thinking about how it is for some of us in this world.
“It wasn’t always this way…I never needed to be as aware of my surroundings as I do now. I didn’t have to think twice before walking by myself at night. I could go out to a bar without worrying about unwanted advances from strangers.”
“I’m not always subjected to overt sexual advances, but there’s never a day where I don’t get stared at…I’m learning from first-hand experience that women in our society, in particular those whose presentation is femme, are much more visible in public…It’s especially unnerving when I’m feeling anxious and I can’t determine what the stares mean.”
“What really bothers me, however, is how much of an effect that male attention has on my mood and self-esteem, especially because I’m not even attracted to men. I dress and present the way I do because it feels comfortable and comes naturally to me. I certainly don’t do it to seek the approval of the male gaze. But I’d be lying if I said that I don’t feel flattered when guys hit on me. I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s a case of internalized heterosexism. It could be that it feels validating on some level, after years of hating my body and watching the boys my age obsess over the girls who I wanted so desperately to be.”
That last part that I quoted resonates, I suspect, with many other femme trans lesbian women beside myself. Two years after starting transition-related cross-sex hormone replacement therapy, I find myself having taken a quantum leap in how often I am subjected to male scrutiny as an object of desire or criticism. It is the times when we are being viewed as objects of desire that are so difficult, especially when the rampant cissexism in the lesbian community means that we often receive little or no attention from those with whom we would wish to partner, so male attention becomes like a subtly effective, but poisonous, temporary balm.
I have reached the point where it is obvious that at least half of the men who now approach me, and at least half of the women with whom I strike up conversations, or who strike up conversations with me, are reading me as cis, and it is validating in some ways to be treated no differently than my cis girlfriends when we are out on the town of an evening. Of course, my height means that strange people are always going out of their way to interact with me, if for no other reason than to marvel over my stature.
The very concept of the “male gaze” is one that is difficult for me to engage, because to at least some extent, I was indoctrinated to behave similarly, while simultaneously going to great lengths to avoid partaking in such behavior, yet drawn to look at that which I both desired and never thought I could truly be.
You can imagine this is quite difficult for a person who is both a trans and lesbian woman struggling to remain unscrutinised for all the parts of her behavior that would cause others to question her gender identity or expression as an ostensible male, and who furthermore never imagined that transition could be both possible and successful for her and had resigned herself to a long slog of concealed misery until an eventual death at some unspecified point in the future.
I wonder if you can imagine the self-loathing I experience to think that any woman might ever have felt discomfited by my behavior and to think that there certainly have been women in my life who may have felt this way about me, and declined to mention it.
But, I do know this—now that I am more fully aware of who I am, and disinclined to pretend otherwise any longer, the disgust I feel when I witness instances of men presuming that women’s bodies, indeed that *women*, exist solely for their enjoyment is palpable. And I also know that having lived on both sides of that fence, men, by and large, are completely oblivious to the origins and consequences of their behavior.