(by Marlena Dahlstrom)
In "My Husband Betty" Helen Boyd makes an asute observation that cross-dressers often are envious of things genetic women take for granted: "They envy the easy friendship between women, the casual way women touch each other when they talk. Imagine a man gently brushing another man's hair out of his eyes while they're chatting! But women do that kind of thing all the time, even ones who aren't especially feminine."
I've always envied the way one my best friends can easily strike up a conversation with another woman she's just met. Obviously, this isn't dependent on gender. My friend is gregarious while I've always been social awkward around strangers. (Yes, despite being raised in California, I'm one of Garrison Keillor's people.) But it does seem like there's a big difference to the way two newly-introduced women interact compared to two guys.
The reverse is also true. I know many genetic women who envy men's freedom to move in safety — something I didn't truly understand until going out en femme.
Maybe this is one reason it's difficult for genetic women to understand why we do it. Partly, I think we're not always able to clearly articulate some of these things precisely because they're so "ordinary." Partly, it's when we do, genetic women have a hard time seeing why these sorts of things might be special to us — I've often heard genetic women express puzzlement about our attraction to make-up. Of course, there's also a big difference wanting to do something — like wearing skirts or make-up — and feeling obligated to do it.
Of course, like any other "grass is greener" feeling, it's envying something that sometimes is illusionary, in part or in whole. My friend can be far cattier about other women — including those she just chatted merrily away with — than I would ever be. Likewise as any guy knows, thugs and bullies will happily beat up on a "weak" guy. And if they really want to prove they're tough, they'll start a fight with the biggest, baddest dude around. Transman Raven Kaldera relates how a fellow transman learned this the hard way. As a butch lesbian, she could get in guys' faces and they'd back off because she was a woman. As a man she got decked immediately.
BTW, I intentionally used the word "envy," which is a complex emotion. It's both a grudging admiration and a painful desire for another's advantages mixed with a simultaneous discontent and resentment at their advantages. In relationships it often involves love/hate. Love for your partner and hate for the power they have over you.
Years ago Nancy Friday wrote in her book "Jealousy" (which really focuses on envy and power relationships): "Today, many women don't need men, either for their money or for their sperm, given society's tolerance of women having children on their own. Men's envy of our new found power may lessen as they get into women's traditional areas of strength, namely beauty and the rearing of the children, but it hasn't happened yet....We don't yet have that new social structure. Returning to Patriarchy is out of the question, but as a new power structure emerges to replace it, we must understand more than ever the furies our dismantling of Patriarchy have released. Our fury at powerlessness — our envy — is stronger than ever, stronger than any feelings of love. The truth is that we cannot love until we understand envy and its relationship to jealousy."
In that light, we crossdressers are at least open about our envies while in other men it often festers beneath the surface unacknowledged, even to themselves. We take those things we envy and make them our own — at least sort of our own, since we're doing them en femme rather than en homme.
Sometimes it's not pretty. As Kaldera says: "Sometimes when you drag out an opposite-sex persona - so to speak - you find that it's been stashed in the same mental closet as all the things that you don't like about the opposite gender, and they've become stuck all over it like barnacles, or growths. They won't flake off until that persona has been exposed to the air for a while, and gotten a chance to rub up against real people and real circumstances. This may mean plowing through years of humiliating stereotypical behavior until that part of you evolves and grows into a fuller human being. I've seen it again and again, especially in people who are just starting to cross-dress or whose CD persona only gets out once in a while. Stereotypes abound: the trashy whore, the catty and manipulative upper-class bitch, the irresponsible little girl, the supported housewife who never has to work or deal with the outside world, the delicately passive - and utterly useless - ornament, and, of course, Mom. In the bedroom, the sexual stereotypes can be even more cartoon-like, from Sweet Gwen the Victim to the Dragon Lady, but is most commonly the passive, receptive do-me-queen that men don't usually get to be. Sometimes their personas are clearly signposts pointing to the issues that they are bravely working through."
"Women are often horrified and offended when men deliberately imitate women, whether it's a female impersonator in a drag performance or a fetishistic cross-dresser in ratty nylons and a bad wig. They feel that these performances of female gender are a bad caricature, and don't actually resemble the real experience of women. While it's true that a performance, or even a persona, is by definition shallower than a person, there's still a grain (or a sackful) of truth to these performances. For every one of these stereotypes being performed by men, I've met the same ones being performed by women, and in larger numbers. I've met the biologically female version of every one of these caricatures, and I'm sure that the women who complain about the guys in dresses probably have, too."
The one silver lining of envy is that by pointing out where we feel inadequate we can choose to address those perceived inadequacies. Instead of coveting the characteristics we wish we had, we can develop them for ourselves. Likewise, we can move from begrudged admiration to respectful appreciation when we see those qualities in others.
So what things taken for granted by the opposite sex do you envy?
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
(by Marlena Dahlstrom)
Posted by Marlena Dahlstrom at 12:52 AM
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