[This is a crosspost from Shakesville where it was originally posted in October of 2007.]
I was standing in front of a full-length mirror with my leg stretched out, modeling at its end for my own consumption the left half of a pair of kelly green steel-toed Doc Martens knee-highs I had just bought, in spite of their outrageous price tag. "Girl, those boots are hot!" came the voice from beside me. This was St. Nate of the Perfectly Shaped Eyebrows, my coworker and friend, who would, one day, find himself at my parents’ house in the suburbs racing through their kitchen as I screeched, "Get the baking soda!" to help put out a fire I’d started on their deck with the grill. But today he was admiring my boots. And admiring me.
"God damn, look at you!" He pulled my shirt from the back so it clung to my form. This was not a look I felt was particularly good for me, even in those thinner days, and I pushed his hands away, squirming and frowning at myself in the mirror. He raised an eyebrow and frowned back, then turned me around by the shoulders, away from the mirror.
"Bitch, be fierce…"
* * *
Nate was one of many people who fall under the "T" in LGBT who have been important to me in one way or another, many of whom have played vital roles in helping me understand and appreciate my queer-brained self, and sort out what it means for me to be a woman. This is, quite obviously, no coincidence. Being myself a person who is, like many non-trans feminists and queers, uncomfortable with, and thusly constantly challenging, the expectations imposed on my sex and gender, I have found it valuable (and, in my personal experience, inevitable) to engage with Ts as part of divining my own self-definition. Which is to say nothing of simple and precious friendships.
The thing about getting together with a group of friends which includes straight, gay, bi, asexual, and trans men and women is that you’re almost guaranteed to have every gender variation in the room and thusly no easily divided gender groups. The group may split into smaller clusters that talk about kids, or sports, or politics, or film, but the divisions aren’t drawn by sex; the ladies-in-the-kitchen, gents-watching-the-game sort of thing is totally, completely, hilariously inoperable. And when you have a group of friends like that, you tend to forget that there are people who don’t believe a man can learn something about being a man from a woman, or a woman can learn something about being a woman from a man—a man who loves men same as you, or a man who used to be a biological woman, or just a man in a dress, like St. Nate.
And when you have a group of friends who—irrespective of individual sex, gender, or sexual orientation—take it as read that all we gender-queer lot are in this together, you tend to forget that there are some people who you’d presume to get that, but don’t.
(Although in this particular case, perhaps we shouldn’t be terribly surprised.)
Realistically, the breadth of allies in a comprehensive challenge to the patriarchy is vast and varied. Though all of us, sans rigorous philosophical exertion, are hapless conduits for every limiting and oppressive archetype upon which the patriarchy depends, conveying the bars of our own cages, very few of us are its unconstrained beneficiaries. Even the average straight, white, middle class American man exchanges privilege for severe limitations on his personal expression and emotional life—and he is encouraged never to examine that devastating trade-off too closely, lest the veneer on the alleged bargain prove thin enough through which to see. We all serve the same callous master, and there’s little to celebrate in being the favored slave—especially compared to a life of freedom.
It is foolish to believe that there is more feminist, gender-queer cisgendered straight women, lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and the Ts don’t all have in common culturally and politically than that which we do, given the particular restraints and prejudices of the patriarchal structure and its rigid notions of sex, gender, and sexuality conveyed in all its aspects. We struggle to achieve and/or maintain, to varying degrees, autonomy over our own bodies, and, crucially, freedom of choice with regard to what we want to do with those bodies. Life- and identity-changing events hang in the balance for us all—parenting, marriage, gender reassignment, being legally able to keep a job in spite of prejudice.
The only question worth asking is how willing any of us are to secure rights for some of us at the expense of rights for the rest. Because we are in this thing together.
We are natural allies. We must be fierce together.
* * *
…Nate stood back and looked at me. "The hair, the fucking indigo eyes—I’d kill for those eyes!—the cheekbones, the tits—my god, those tits!—the ass, the ‘tude…no one brings the ‘tude like you do. Honey, you’ve got it."
So I did. I had a lot of other stuff, too, that Nate left out—things known as "flaws." But fuck it, I thought, as I turned back to the mirror. Since when has darkness meant there’s no such thing as light? I looked at myself again not through a prism of external expectation, but with my eyes alone. The crushing weight of Everyone Else’s Opinion was gone. I felt beautiful—not in a slamming-dress- and-perfectly-executed-hair-and-make-up way, which is itself a distinct kind of allure to which I am particularly ill-suited, being unfit in both manner and form for couture, but in a je ne sais quoi way, compared to no standard or expectation, and offering as its only alternative an absence of the beauty specific to me.
I had what I had, whatever it was, and that was that. Anyone who wanted me to measure up to a measuring stick I hadn’t given them was going to be shit out of luck and sorely disappointed.
And so they are still.