Mannequin Desires and Luxurious Liminal Lives

With Heart and Teeth is a radical trans* punk lady’s exploration of embodied selfhood wherein she takes voyages through the permeable boundaries of self and the ever shifting sea of identity. She claims investigation of self as a worthy venture and critiques social construction with the compassion and fierceness that inhabit her heart and teeth.


feature image via shutterstock

I have a mad fetish for mannequins.

I’m not talking about the mainstream (Freudian) definition of a fetish, wherein the fetish is explicitly erotic; I mean the hip, obscure (Marxist) form, wherein some value, beyond “use value,” is ascribed to an object/idea/whatever.

For as long as I can remember I have absolutely adored mannequins. Specifically, I’m left in gape-jawed, jewel-eyed awe of lady mannequins. Whenever I see mannequins with tits and angled postures my lungs expand quickly and retain my breath. Instantly, I start fantasizing about embodying the advertised outfit, living the suggested life.

This used to be the most frequent and doleful outlet for my trans* experience. Before transitioning the first time (yup, I’ve done it twice… three times if you count both directions), when I was too nervous to enter into a women’s clothing section for fear of discovery, I would consciously work to not pause too long when passing fabulous mannequins. Breezing past summer dresses, I would often find myself in the bittersweet position of being glad for the chance to bask but sad for the lack of opportunity to live. One of my favorite hobbies became shopping with the more feminine folks in my life, living vicariously through them.

But after transitioning and detransitioning to avoid violence, when I was hyper-aware of my transness and acutely afraid, I went mannequin shopping alone. I’d pick up a pack of Pall Malls — because what the fuck else are sad kids supposed to smoke — and get on a bus from my pretentiously punk west side apartment to a shopping district. I’d shamelessly window shop with sticky, sad smoke dripping from my intentionally chapped lips—girl, I did masculinity right.

Mannequins were living gorgeous, liminal lives that I wasn’t able to achieve. Ignoring the reflection of my beard in the large panes of glass, I’d stare. Unfortunately, I’d experienced a stark constellation of violence that left me feeling as if I could not live in a body that was visibly queer. So I’d chain-smoke cigarettes and pretend to be living whatever life the mannequin was living.

Eventually my pretending transcended outfits and fake lives. Their bodies were perfect – perfectly impossible. They were smooth in a way that I was not, and I don’t mean their skin, I mean their genitals. Their bodies were a perfect expression of how I imagined mine would be in some vague, impossible future.

When I was a young person being raised as a boy I was afforded the luxury of a Barbie – a Belle from Beauty and the Beast Barbie, to be precise. She, perhaps more than anyone/thing else, shaped my bodily desire. I would tuck back my dick in the shower as a child (a practice that continued until I no longer had a dick), wishing upon the brightest star that my body would be like hers someday. After being mocked by an older family member and packing my Belle Barbie into a trunk forever, mannequins became my only access point to this latent desire to have nullified genitalia. This desire, dripping hot wax, stuck to me, stinging my skin.

Later, or maybe always, who cares, this desire materialized, linked to an explicitly trans* desire. Like anyone else in Western society, my desires are shaped by an over-the-top capitalist consumer culture… desires are produced and sold, blah blah blah. When linked with sexism and homophobia, this capitalist creation of personal aesthetic needs inadvertently created some very difficult terrain for me.

Not only could I not live my life as a woman (at least not without the massive amount of harassment and violence that I endure to express myself in a way that feels comfortable), there was no way to achieve my bodily desires. This is true for most women, let’s be real, mannequin bodies are not readily attainable realities. They are a sexist fantasy that inscribes impossible ideals onto women’s’ bodies. But my experience is more pronounced than that.

Because these bodies were so long the stand-in for living my life in a way that felt good, they unintentionally constructed a truly impossible desire. Sure, if I found access to a veritable shit-ton of money, I could get genital reconstruction surgery, but I’d still be left with a body that only came closer to my personal ideal. Now that I’ve miraculously had that very surgery, I’m living with the reality of having a body that’s more near my desires but still not quite right.

I think that part of coming to terms with that reality is to recognize my desire as being located and produced in a particular social context. So often trans* folk are told that our desires are wrong, by the very same culture that enforces and creates gender. If and when we are “accepted” we’re told that our bodies should conform to a very narrow set of parameters. But the cultural construction of my gender was not so neat as all that, leaving me with a set of desires that mapped more easily onto the genital region of mannequins than of archetypal men or women. But, like all trans women, my genitalia are not the end of my experience.

The first time I wrote about this I was afraid to say what I’m about to say for fear of how it may be read: spending so much intense time fantasizing about becoming a mannequin left me wanting to embody myself in ways that are only tangentially related to my trans* status. The limitations of expression and marginal existence that I expressed via mannequins for so long left me wanting even more changes to my body.

I not only wanted a smooth, flat genital region, I often found myself wishing I didn’t have arms. Although this desire was/is experienced to a much lesser degree than my desire for bottom surgery, it was/is a parallel desire. When I look in the mirror I will frequently yearn for armlessness in the same way I used to earn to cut off my dick. I’ll hold my arms behind my back and feel the same relief that I used to feel when I tucked my dick between my legs. Somehow, this image is easier for me to interpret as “self.”

This desire may at first seem ridiculous, but I believe that’s because there is not a template for it to be understood. There is a specific, transnormative narrative that my desire for a nulloplasty maps onto, at least in some rough sense. People seem to understand my desire, because they’ve heard something vaguely like it before.

But this other desire is more marginalized. In fact, I’ve more often heard things similar to this desire from conservative humans who don’t think that trans* folk should have access to surgical care. It’s an “extreme example” that is tossed at us by people who believe we are doing nothing but “maiming” our bodies. This infuriating discourse is used to delegitimize trans* desires.

But this conservative argument is right about one thing: these two experiences are not dissimilar from one another, at least for me. They were both shaped by a particular culture. They are both desires that could only have been imposed onto my body. I am hyper-aware of where these desires join with material objects. I had been afraid to speak of this for fear of playing into a discourse that so often inhibits trans* peoples access to care.

But why could one be more legitimate than the other? Neither is based in any sort of “biological reality” (another conservative discourse that needs deconstructed). Just as the hyperbolization of height/weight/etc. in mannequins creates aesthetic desires that are difficult-to-impossible for all women, cisgender women notwithstanding; both of the desires I’ve gleaned from mannequins are similarly out of reach. Most women will never have Barbie’s proportions and I will probably never have a total nullo and will probably have my arms for quite some time.

Again, I worry about the implications of conclusions people could draw from this line of thinking. None of this is to say that trans* desires are wrong, or even that we need to create aesthetics based on “real bodies.” This would be a simple feminist solution that is so often gestured toward by activist communities. I do indeed want to cut against the top-down construction and imposition of corporeal desires while simultaneously celebrating desires to achieve the impossible.

My body would not exist without a history of people reaching for the impossible. All of the trans* women who came before me helped to create a world in which I was able to have the surgery I had, and although it is not exactly what I wanted, it has created more space for me to breathe in. I’m incredibly thankful to these women, exactly for their culturally constructed desires, because they made space for me to exist as I am. I only hope that the impossibility of my desire helps to make room for someone else to breathe a little on down the line.


About the authorEllie June Navidson is a blogger, poet, workshop facilitator, dressmaker, and all around crafty radical. Last year, in 2012, Ellie was name as a Windy City Times 30 under 30 Honoree; this year, in 2013, she was named a Trans 100 Honoree. More essays and contact information can be found at her personal blog:invisiblyqueer.tumblr.com.

Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.

ellie has written 2 articles for us.

91 Comments

  1. Nullification concept isn’t something I can say I’ve experienced. I went through bottom surgery to have a vagina/vulva which was one step towards regaining my womanhood, not to get rid of something (I know, the two aren’t totally disconnected). Maybe my concern about comparing nullification to trans lives is that so much of the discussion of trans bottom surgery is about “cutting off a dick” or, as many second wave old school feminists love to put it… ‘mutilation,’ as though that’s the entire point of it. But I don’t want to judge those for whom that is the major point of it either, it’s their bodies.

    Even as a child, Barbie (or baby dolls) had no appeal to me… they just seemed scary, I didn’t like plastic and I preferred stuffed animals who were fuzzy, squishy and soft and I could anthropomorphize as I wished. Barbies’ lack of genitalia just made me dehumanize them more, and I wasn’t especially upset when I saw Kathy, the older girl who lived around the corner, mercilessly decapitate, burn and hammer her Barbies. Heh, not saying that didn’t have its own creepy undertones. But anywho, this was an interesting article which thoughtfully brought up some discomforting points. I know I’ve always been very defensive when people somehow compare forms of Acrotomophilia and trans-related surgeries, but I think that has more to do with my own judgments and assumptions.

  2. I’m not 100% sure of what this article was supposed to achieve or communicate, and I feel bad for saying that.

    To be honest, to equate female gentalia with a nullity, bothers me immensely, but perhaps I am misunderstanding you.

  3. “So often trans* folk are told that our desires are wrong, by the very same culture that enforces and creates gender.” “My body would not exist without a history of people reaching for the impossible.” Oh my goodness thank you for being so totally awesome and brave

  4. Hi, so people have been referring to vaginas as being an absent body part for a really long time and it keys into the ways in which sexism operates and helps to make women without sexual agency–folks for whom sex is something that can only be done to them. That’s something to respond to for sure.

    i was not equating vaginas and nullos; i was trying to convey that my desire for a nullo was different than a desire for a vagina although also culturally produced. The problem for me was that this is not something that surgeons offer as a possibility, and my desire, because it is one that is disregarded, was not attainable.

    That said, once surgery became a possibility in my life, i did a lot of work to cultivate a desire for a vagina and am happy with my surgical choice, i just wish that we as a culture allowed more room for people to want more things with their bodies.

  5. I, too, don’t really understand what you’re trying to say.
    I am pretty disappointed that you failed to mention society’s disgust at female genitalia. Hence, the “c word” being such a bad word, women shamed for daring to touch themselves, going down on a woman seen as gross, etc. Despite O’Keefe and the power of the vulva and vagina in general, the vulva/vaginas’s not really seen as something beautiful or anything. I wonder if that had anything to do with your feelings about genitalia? It certainly has a lot to do with my feelings about my own.

  6. this is kinda weird for me bc i do actually possess the theoretical vocabulary required to understand what youre getting at, altho i admit i dunno why you’d try to wield it here when probably most of your potential audience don’t. and i know exactly what you’re talking about wrt idealizations and inscriptions and, implicitly, the recording of identity being an act of violence upon the body. but you’re making a casual (i mean to say casual here, that’s not a typo for ‘causal’) equivalence between the experience of transness and the experience of what tbh sounds a lot more like biid, and that’s Kinda Fucked Up. biid shares some accidental similarities with, cripes, there needs to be a decent noun for ‘that whole damn trans thing’, but the comparison doesnt really hold up and plays into exactly that narrative of mutilation that we’ve been trying to work against for so long now.

    & past that, the construction of aesthetic and of identity centered on the body, on what might have been, on the possible, is central to trans discourse. it’s what legitimizes trans experiences and makes us not freaking otherkin. and that’s kind of important.

    what you feel is not your fault in the slightest — im not attacking you for that at all, i’m right there with you in accepting that we are all the products of our environments, of uncountable social pressures and semioses — but you’re going some kinda shitty places theorywise.

    • “I do actually possess the theoretical vocabulary required to understand what you’re getting at.”
      Okay, let’s maybe not be so pretentious and offensive, shall we? My IQ is actually quite high, and I am actually pretty educated, and I still think this piece isn’t incredibly well written. I think parts of what Ellie is trying to convey are actually conveyed, and other parts are just lost. Then again, it’s hard to speak to anything all that well in such short space.

      • i have also been highly rated in my performance on iq tests, and furthermore, i skipped kindergarten and ALSO, in point of fact, brush my teeth every morning with a copy of anti-oedipus (i save 1000 plateaus for the evening)

        but seriously tho, are you thinking my post there is a response to yours? i was addressing the article, not your comment

    • It seems as if Ellie forgot she was writing for a lay audience and skimmed over points that she takes for granted, but most people do not, in order to get to the more personal and densely academic points, which has had the ironic effect of readers unable to access the points she intended to focus on, lacking the groundwork of assumptions, and so commenting almost exclusively requesting an explanation of those assumptions.

      On a side note, obviously it’s a separate issue from being trans, but I don’t see why otherkin and people with BIID shouldn’t have surgery either, under the general rule of “if it makes you happy and it’s not hurting anyone, go ahead”.

      • If we were to proceed following your vision of things, anorexic people (like I once was) would be left to die. They long to be thin, and feel unable to accept their bodies as they are. Anorexics are ‘not hurting anyone,’ after all. Except themselves. But I guess you think that having their arms cut off wouldn’t harm someone in the least?

  7. It is truly horrifying what you have posted here. Do you not understand that more than 100 million women around the world have forcibly had their genitalia mutilated? Perhaps this fascination is ‘hip’ to you, and that is so incredibly callous that it is difficult to put into words.

    A mannequin has nothing to do with being a woman. Wanting to be a mannequin is not wanting to be a woman. Little girls dream of being writers, authors, leaders, teachers, artists, athletes. They don’t dream about being a lifeless, faceless thing. It’s slightly amazing to me that you would dare to post this without a thought to how disturbing it would be to people with actual female anatomy. I guess I just don’t get it, what with my cis privilege and all.

    • i have, i think, a little more sympathy for her on that particular point seeing as how the question ‘what is woman, that thou art mindful of her?’ has been successively more and more loaded with patriarchal expectations not all that dissimilar from those expectations made regarding statues and mannequins: silence, beauty, utter lack of thought, of agency, of independence. it’s not just we trans women who get screwed up by that being so effectively pushed as How To Woman — altho i think it is fair to say we have less time to react and unlearn those patterns — but it is a good point, snarky asides aside.

      • It is absolutely true that many women (all, to some degree) have internalized that message of ‘how to woman’.

        But who created that message for women to internalize?

        I think there is a difference when you’re coming from a group of people who are literally creating those expectations, (as transwomen are, as male human beings) and then claiming oppression for it while simultaneously supporting it, even fetishizing it.

        And it wasn’t me that brought the word fetish into the discussion. Ellie used that word in the post.

        • that’s a really badly simplistic view of the situation imo, to say nothing of the fact that transitioning pretty well puts a stop to any hand a trans woman may have had in impressing patriarchal expectations *from a position of power* — women, both cis and trans, frequently do their part to reinforce them; and what of trans men? all too frequently they can become just as complicit in reinforcing and promoting them.

          i don’t think it’s as straightforward as transitioning and leaving absolutely everything behind and starting a new life or whatever (god, i *wish*). it’s a process, and sometimes a long complicated one with a lot of fits and false starts. but i can safely say from my own experience and those of others that the moment you make some decent headway you’re basically fucked as far as membership in the patriarchy goes, and all attendant rights and privileges.

          that some women (trans or not) have a screwy relationship with how women as a group are perceived and how they themselves act out femininity is hardly surprising, however tragic. but it is emphatically not due to any sort of residual double-agent status.

        • Um, we all know that the patriarchy ≠ men, right? Many, many women actively participate in it, and there are feminist men do their best not to. Going along with the patriarchy has absolutely nothing to with being male or female or cis or trans. Can we please just stop with the whole double agent accusation already? Seriously.

        • Ellie said the bad word first so I can twist her explicitly explained usage of the word around to paint the scarlet letter of feminism on her: Patriarchy. Ellie still has phantom penis privilege power!

          Lolwut?

        • @Mira

          Patriarchy literally means “the rule of men” (fathers, specifically – pater means father and arxo mean to rule) – it is and always has been men. I don’t understand how supposedly “progressive” people can understand that other types of oppression don’t necessarily translate in the privileged class having a 100% happy, problem and oppressionfree existence, but when it comes to sexism, it’s a complete faux pas to dare to suggest in any way that men are actually responsible for the systematic oppression of women and that they actually benefit from it – that men /actively/ and /consciously/ inflict violence upon women in systematic ways not just “go along with it”, and that even when they are underprivileged on other axes of oppression they still retain male privilege.

          With all the fuss and attention give to to male politicians’ increasingly successful attempts to bar us access from reproductive health services in the last few weeks, it’s shocking to see people still denying the extend to which men (all men, even nice, enlightened, feminist men) encourage the oppression of women? if these blatant and widely publicized examples of how women’s oppression works cannot convince people that it is indeed real, will anything, ever????

        • “I think there is a difference when you’re coming from a group of people who are literally creating those expectations, (as transwomen are, as male human beings)”

          Did everyone miss this or something? This is pure radscum bullshit, pretending trans women are empowered by patriarchy, when we’re actually the ones most strictly targeted and judged by patriarchal beauty standards. Fuck this victim-blaming bile.

        • Nope, Taylor, nope. Trans* women aren’t male, trans* women are women. This is not up for discussion because transphobia isn’t welcome in queer spaces.

          ok thanks bye see you if you grow out of being a TERF.

        • @marika well i mean. i am the not-particularly-proud owner of a y chromosome, and that *is* what terms for sex refer to. not that it’s gonna stop me from putting an ‘f’ down on every form i fill out til the day i die, but that’s more a matter of convenience than of ontology imo

          that said, lol, taylor’s fulla shit

      • @morgan, i can’t seem to reply to the correct comment, but to your point

        ” i am the not-particularly-proud owner of a y chromosome, and that *is* what terms for sex refer to”

        actually, not quite.

        in a strict biological and academic sense, sex doesn’t refer to chromosomes, nor is it explicitly defined by them. rather, it’s defined by gametic production (as in, what gametes does your body make…eggs, sperm, or both?). and yes, it is possible for a human to have a Y chromosome and make eggs or to not have a Y chromosome and make sperm. nature’s pretty cool like that.

        but in a less strict sense (which is what pretty much anyone ever cares about), like “on a form”, sex is really used interchangeably with gender, as in “which of the two socially constructed boxes should i put you into?” not “what gametes do you make?”.

        • look i know it’s not strictly determined by chromosomes alright, i know that sex itself isnt a, lol, straight binary; im not clueless here, i’m just not doing the 100% superclinical nitpickzone madame professor schtick because this is a freakin internet comments section not a lecture and i’ve long, long since grown out of my scorekeeping pedant phase.

          the thing is: there are situations where it’s extremely useful to know that i don’t menstruate, can’t bear children, don’t produce endogenous estrogens in standard human female (see what i did there?) quantities. you know? that is what that terminology reflects and it’s a damn good thing there’s *something* there with those assigned meanings, howevermuch it sucks that they get conflated with terms for gender. or how about you socially construct my risk for prostate cancer?

    • I think this attitude of ignoring a lifetime of socialization as one gender has got to stop. I am trans. I know I was not raised as a boy. My experience, who I am now, is drastically different to my cis male peers and there is literally nothing to be gained by ignoring that. Pretending everyone is the same, pretending our experiences are identical and no-one requires any further examination of their beliefs or feelings, literally gets no-one anywhere.
      I am not saying anyone is not the gender they identify as. Lives being different does not make them less valid, it just makes them different.

    • @ Taylor – Do you really think that trans* women are somehow protected from violence against women? Well guess what, no one tests your chromosomes before they rape you. Beyond that, trans* women face specific risks. Patriarchal culture is particularly vicious towards anyone that steps out of line and violates their assigned gender role, whether they were assigned male or female at birth. What does Ellie’s experience have to do with FGM? Attacking her will not make things better for other women, but banding together to create a stronger feminist community just might.

      @Andreea – Women can support the patriarchy and often do. Similarly, some men do their best to fight against it. The patriarchy is an oppressive system that privileges traditional masculinity over traditional femininity. It’s far more complicated than simply privileging male bodied over female bodied people. After all, effeminate men and boys (and trans* women who are read as such) are regularly targets of violence. Women bear the brunt patriarchal oppression, but men are effected as well. It limits all of our options and makes it harder to express our true selves.

      • Ugh, no, patriarchy does not privilege “traditional masculinity” over “traditional femininity” – oppression systems do not privilege or oppress general human characteristics as if these could exists independent of human beings in some kind of vacuum – they privilege or oppress /human beings/. While “feminine” men do face violence more violence than gender conforming men, “masculine” women do as well – the only difference is that gender non-conforming women is systematically under-reported in ways which violence targeting gender non-conforming men is not, e.g. most anti-LGB suicide campaigns only feature boys as victims although several studies show LB teenage girls have higher risks of suicide, this discussion etc.

    • I really liked your piece and I’m just frustrated that people would take what you say, your personal and INDIVIDUAL experiences about this part of your life and make it about something that is just not there. What you want to do, what you want for your womanhood does not take away from anyone else, I took your voice to speak for yourself and it is remarkable.

    • Like most of the rest of the internet, Autostraddle has a bad case of “we-had-this-ridiculous-and-offensive-discussion-already-itis” whenever any article even tangentially related to trans* people or bi/pan/etc folks comes up (probably a couple other topics too, but these are the ones I’ve seen). I’d just like to add my voice to the chorus opposing the nasty things a couple commenters have said here, and I’m sorry you have to put up with that kind of bullshit.

      • To me it points up how, while Autostraddle is a site that’s made huge positive efforts for trans inclusion, is still ultimately a fairly pop-oriented queer woman’s space largely for cis people (but interested in giving them some kind of trans connection/perspective). Remember that, up until less than a year ago, the main trans spokeswoman on the site was Annika, who mostly did warm and fuzzy trans 101 “I’m a queer woman like you” pieces. (which is probably exactly what the site needed at that time).

        Ellie’s is a more challenging and confessional piece which might be better presented in a safer trans/queer space like PrettyQueer.com (which seems to be fairly dormant these days) where irrelevant and even transphobic derailments wouldn’t be happening.That doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong at AS—just that the chances of getting a thoughtful and respectful discussion around the complex and highly personal issues it brings up are less likely to happen here.

        • True, although I seem to recall that the trans* 101 type articles got just as much offensive derailment as this one did.

          I think a large part of the problem is that you have a relatively stable AS community, who are (usually) interested in engaging on the actual topic of the article, and people who just show up to talk about an article who have Things to Say that they think are on topic but aren’t, and don’t realize that we’ve all heard them before 298474 times. And one person like that can sour a whole comment thread.

          Would you be interested in tossing around out-of-the-box ideas on how to increase the proportion of thoughtful and respectful discussions around here? Maybe over PM so we don’t derail this even more? If so, shoot me a line; if not, no worries.

        • hibiscus,

          I very much agree with what you’ve said is part of the problem. Yes, there are a lot of non-trans people bringing up Trans 101 or generalized cluelessness where it probably doesn’t belong… but that’s a no biggie, I can deal with genuine well-intended inquisitiveness.

          The issue IMO not just being off topic… it’s feeling entitled to inject highly dismissive discussions of trans people’s lives, bodies and identities or making complaints about “how it wasn’t a well written/thought out piece.” Hey, if someone wants to complain about poorly written, senseless pieces, why not go onto the idiotic “Comment Awards” threads and talk about that waste of pixels. No, they have to display their Gender Studies 1A-honed skills on the trans threads and explain it all to us. Those people will be attracted to AS just as trans people and their genuine allies will. That’s why Autostraddle is still probably not a good match for confessional, highly personal trans pieces even if some of the editors think the boundaries of the site’s limitations need to be stretched. All sites can’t be everything to all parts of their potential constituencies.

        • Ah, didn’t mean to sound like I was conflating people who show up w/ general cluelessness with people who show up w/ an ax to grind that involves saying offensive things. Clarification.

  8. It seems like you are saying, ellie, that it is like the process of “transitioning” itself has been so structured by what “counts” as woman that it does not leave any room for someone who wants to both (1) identify as a woman, and, (2) break some of those boxes of what “counts” as a woman. I grieve that loss, too. It is as if the process of transitioning forces a set definition upon people who want to transition. Is that what you mean? You’re courageous for putting out these vulnerable thoughts. You are a woman, as much as I or the next person is.

    • kind of.where i take an issue is seeing our (i don’t necessarily have to be a woman with a trans background to have my share of artifact nature, ref Cyborg Manifesto) higher, machine nature as silent, superficial and immobile – and the bioessentialist animal part as the active, doer element, the agency. While in reality it is the other way around.

      • Interesting point!

        It’s times like this I always consider where one’s body being occupied in time a space. Reading her piece and thinking what she has to say and comments after, I’m left with, “damn can a woman live!?!”

  9. Reading the comments here is basically really super sad and infuriating to me, with people implying that the author’s not a woman, or flat-out saying that the author’s feelings here about her own woman’s body are invalid are disrespectful to women. Our awful world erases enough of our own feelings about our bodies, tells us we’re sick and gross and wrong, ESPECIALLY us trans women. I haven’t experienced what Ellie’s experienced, (though I think I feel you a little on mannequins, specifically, I used to think they were really lovely) I’ve got a lot of desires of my own that seem kinda parallel that were super strong especially as a kid (it was really strong with robots for me, which I feel dumb and scared to say b/c of the association between robots and little-boy toys).

    Trans women have basically zero space in this world to talk honestly about their own bodies, and comments like these are so not helping, this is why I never feel like I can exist in any spaces supposedly designated for women or queer women. Ellie, you are great for writing this. <3

  10. Responding to some specific points in the comments: At no point does Ellie equate vaginas and nulls here, nor does she claim to be representative of what it is to be a woman or even a trans* woman. In many ways this piece is explicitly the opposite. Furthermore, the insistence by the readers that she is doing so points to an internal homogenization of what it means to be a woman. There’s more than just one way!
    As for this being too theoretically dense to post on autostraddle – first of all, I disagree. With a desire that is not a mainstream desire, part of what is so oppressive about it is that there isn’t the language in “everyday” speech to express it. It is linguistically written out of existence. If the concepts seem out of the norm, it is because the norm is a means of enforcing what concepts can be thought. On top of that though, I think Ellie does an excellent job of making what to many people is a concept they haven’t thought of very accessible.
    Does Ellie mention general social hatred of female genetalia? No – but she doesn’t need to retell the whole history of every problem surrounding the regulation of cis women’s and trans people of all stripes’ bodies every time she tells a personal narrative. On top of that, she does say that her desires are in some ways culturally produced. Picking out the exact reasons a desire was shaped is, as far as I’m concerned, impossible. To begin with, no one can quite place the particular mechanics of how desires are formed. The same circumstances will create different desires in different people. On top of that though, overdetermination makes figuring out what particular cultural negativity did exactly what when dealing with cis female and trans bodies damn near impossible. Negative and conflicting messages come from everywhere. Picking out just one is a joke.
    Thanks Ellie for posting this! I think the backlash against this article just shows how much we need to see pieces like this!

    • since i think you addressed a couple of those toward me, what i was reacting against is fairly well summed up in this:

      —-
      But this conservative argument is right about one thing: these two experiences are not dissimilar from one another, at least for me. They were both shaped by a particular culture. They are both desires that could only have been imposed onto my body…

      …But why could one be more legitimate than the other? Neither is based in any sort of “biological reality” (another conservative discourse that needs deconstructed). Just as the hyperbolization of height/weight/etc. in mannequins creates aesthetic desires that are difficult-to-impossible for all women, cisgender women notwithstanding; both of the desires I’ve gleaned from mannequins are similarly out of reach.
      —-

      which is pretty clearly an equivalence being drawn, not between genitals (i honestly, truly, do not give a single shit what anyone else has or wants between their legs) but between experiences. i won’t reiterate what i’ve already said, but i do think it’s critically important to distinguish those instead of lumping them together — not just for trans people, but for biid sufferers who don’t need all *our* baggage and the weirdass clinicalization we have to deal with either.

      and where she writes about there not being any basis in biological reality for trans stuff (i know much less about biid, not having any personal interest in it) she’s flatout wrong: there’s been a decent body of work built up in the last twentyish years showing that many brain structures correspond to gender rather than physical sex. i dont doubt that there’s a *lot* about gender that’s socially constructed, but much as i love poststructuralism sometimes you do have to go back to biology for a bit.

      bottom line, it is not that ellie is not a woman or that she genericizes femininity: she is a woman, and she does not present herself as a single model of womanhood. the problem is that she makes a very different experience with some incidental similarities to that of being trans out to be of a kind with being trans, and that is neither justified nor harmless.

      as to the density, i could very well be wrong! but looking at the first round of responses being mostly people going ‘…huh?’ i’m not so sure i am. her text isn’t nearly as abstruse as diving headfirst into deleuze or anything no, but it’s… not all that accessible either, it’s still kinda heavy on the pomo/poststrux jargon and i dont think it’s fair to expect a general readership to be familiar with that. altho you are right that it’s very difficult to speak on topics like this without invoking that kind of jargon so i dunno

      • Just to make a minor point: “there’s been a decent body of work built up in the last twentyish years showing that many brain structures correspond to gender rather than physical sex. i dont doubt that there’s a *lot* about gender that’s socially constructed, but much as i love poststructuralism sometimes you do have to go back to biology for a bit”

        There has been just as much research showing that especially in the very young (where identity, roles, etc. have not yet been firmly established), society and outside influences and experiences have a lot of direct influence on brain structure. This is why babies learn so quickly. Their little brains are perfectly suited to build and connect quickly, allowing them to develop what they need in their particular culture and surroundings, and those parts of the brain that are used more or less or differently in this period of time do directly affect the structure of the brain. When science looks at brain structure and compares it to gender vs sex, these brains are of older individuals that have already sustained years of social influence and usually have established identities. This is not to say its all social and not biological, that’s obviously not the case. But, in a species that by its very nature is highly social, we are biologically wired to be highly susceptible to social influence. Its a mix of both in most cases.

        I’m ill suited to do any more than listen and learn regarding the rest of these conversations, but I had to point out the science part since, well, that’s what I do.

        • *feint* I couldn’t agree more about brain structure’s ability to adjust to social influence. A fascinating and terrifying topic, this one is.

          *iai, by the book* That’s why it is especially remarkable – for the fickle, malleable neural architecture of the poor lady to hold solid against the pressure of 6 gigs of autonomous sources concertedly and endlessly spamming that stuff.

          🙂

        • Siobhan Somerville has this brilliant (though a bit old) essay on scientific racism and sexual orientation in which she argues that contemporary “born this way” narratives about sexual orientations are built on extremely racist theories about comparative anatomy which came about in the 18th-20th centuries. Most significantly, she says:

          Highly publicized new studies have purported to locate indicators of sexual orientation in discrete niches of the human body, ranging from a particular gene on the X chromosome to the hypothalamus, a structure of the brain. In an updated and more technologically sophisticated form, comparative anatomy is being granted a peculiar cultural authority in the study of sexuality. These studies, of course, have not gone uncontested, arriving as they have within a moment characterized not only by the development of social constructionist theories of sexuality but also, in the face of AIDS, by a profound and aching skepticism towards prevailing scientific methods and institutions. At the same time, some see political efficacy in these new scientific studies, arguing that gay man and lesbians might gain access to greater rights if sexual orientation could be proven an immutable biological difference. Such arguments make an analogy, whether explicit or unspoken, to earlier understandings of race as immutable difference. Reverberating through these arguments are echoes of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century medical models of sexuality and race, whose earlier interdependence suggests a need to understand the complex relationships between constructions of race and sexuality during our own very different historical moment. How does the current effort to rebiologize sexual orientation and to invoke the vocabulary of immutable difference reflect or influence existing cultural anxieties and desires about racialized bodies? To what extent does the political deployment of these new scientific “facts” about sexuality depend upon reinscribing biologized racial categories? (These questions, as I have tried to show for an earlier period, require a shift in the attention and practices of queer reading and lesbian and gay studies, one that locates questions of race as inextricable from the study of sexuality, rather than as a part of our peripheral vision.)

          You can read all of it here – http://ericastanleydotnet.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/somerville-scientific-racism.pdf (most of the essay is on how race affected the process of the “invention of the homosexual” in the 19th century, I came across it due to my interest in this)

          but the tl;dr is that studies which aim to prove “brain sex” or “brain gender” are super shoddy for a wide variety of reasons

        • but to clarify, since I have no begun to worry this is misleading, I’m not saying that experiences of how people generally or trans people specifically feel our / their bodies to be gendered are exclusively the result of specific environmental circumstances, or (lbr, this is what people mean when they talk about gender as “social construction”) socialization into (harmful) gender stereotypes (which very clever cis theorists have managed to see through).

          what I’m saying is that a) using methodologies like comparative anatomy to prove inherent “biological” gender differences when comparative anatomy has proven to be highly unreliable and vulnerable to cultural bias (since it’s been used to justify everything from the Holocaust to excluding women from STEM programmes) and b) demanding “acceptance” for trans people or non-het people or [white] women primarily by drawing (implicit or explicit) comparisons with race as an inherent “biological” difference based on which it’s not okay to discriminate (as if it’s okay to discriminate based on “non-biological” criteria, such as religion or political affiliation?) are both really, r e a l l y bad ideas.

      • Morgan, I like what you’ve written here and it clarified what some of my issues were with Ellie’s post. Whenever I have people explaining to me how my need for any part of my transition is a culturally constructed desire, and then to go further and start making side by side comparisons with other disparate desires, it feels as if my experience is being packaged up and labeled, and I suspect that’s the very thing Ellie wouldn’t want for herself.

      • Regarding dense or specialized language: I do not think there is a single topic about which it is completely impossible to communicate using a standard vocabulary. You just have to use more words to do it, it takes longer, and sometimes you have to get creative with metaphors. (example: rocket science! http://xkcd.com/1133/)
        But it circles around to the point of the written word. Language is about communication, with a heavy emphasis on the part of communication that is other people understanding you. Sometimes you only care about certain types or groups of people understanding you, though. Language can also be art, as a secondary function, wherein it’s less important that people understand you.
        So when we use a specialized vocabulary, especially one so extensive that you can’t really just look up individual words, we have to be rock-solid sure of our audience. This isn’t to say that Ellie wasn’t: in fact, I’d be more likely to assume that she was, if I assumed anything; that she wrote this piece only for the people with the philosophy background necessary to fully grasp it without misunderstandings (i.e. not me, but that’s fine). Sometimes AS posts articles with specialty content that may not be equally clear to everyone (example: music or TV-show related), so I don’t think it’s safe to assume that the audience was the entire AS community.

  11. thankyou thankyou, ellie, for writing this. our narratives might not share all the specifics, but i feel you on a lot of this.

    i don’t think many cis people what this really means for lots of trans people:

    “If and when we are “accepted” we’re told that our bodies should conform to a very narrow set of parameters. But the cultural construction of my gender was not so neat as all that…”

    i don’t really have the words to explain it well yet, but there’s something about how gender policing is applied to trans people in particular that is really fucked up. i mean, gender policing in general is bad, obv., but it is weirdly more fucked up (in my opinion and experience) when you are being policed OUT of your self-identified gender compared to being policed IN to it.

    and as a fellow trans woman whose gender does not fit into a neat cultural narrative, i learned a lot from this piece. thank you for sharing, creating this space, and giving me language.

    i love you, boo.

  12. This is so different and interesting. I guess being cis i’ve never really given any thought regarding ideal bodies or surgeries, but this puts thing into a really different perspective. It’s definitely different than most of the articles on here, but i think that’s why i enjoyed it. Thanks.

  13. I found this post illuminating and it gave me a lot of thoughts on how we see our bodies as women-identified people. I’m cis and when I think of femininity what it means to be a woman, a *desirable, wanted woman* there are so many thoughts that run through my head. In the context of your post Ellie, I took it as *your* story because “First Person,” tag-line and it was wonderful.

    The Mannequin struck me as a interesting model where you would look at this creation of what it is to have like a female form. It the layers of our physical being that we try as trans* and cis women to become what we think we should be. When I read stories about this I personally try to frame it by space, time and means of technology for this realization to become true or possible given the resources that are available.

    I also deeply empathize on how we can better use language to properly set a base when it comes to trans* women issues that could be understood by everyone and that others groups don’t feel like the language that is usually for *them* is being “hijacked” for the sake of creating a ground for these conversations. I find these narrative important and I wish that *all* women reading these narratives just sit back and just listen without the gender-policing.

    • More thoughts:

      I personally agree that a lot of the trans* narrative of transitioning is too narrow and limiting that I can understand why someone would try to transition multiple times. Sometimes it not an either or, point A to point, a spectrum but it just a plane of existence. These narratives do not have to compete or invalidate each other but sadly these conversations always seem like a zero-sum game. There is room for all.

  14. This article made me uncomfortable, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The thought of my trans* friends’ desires being equated with not wanting arms is frightening. I know how hard their journeys have been, and how hard trans* people in general have fought for basic rights and recognition. I want my friends to be respected, I want them to safe, and I fear that such ideas will only add fuel to the fires of transphobia. That fear makes me want to distance myself from the ideas expressed here.

    Still, how different is that from gay activists wanting to distance themselves from trans* activists? Or mainstream straight, white feminism from a feminism inclusive of queer women and women of color? Just because I don’t understand Ellie’s desires doesn’t give me the right to judge them, or to judge her. This article has a very unique and interesting perspective, and I want to thank the author for being brave enough to share it. Her story differs from the typical trans* narrative, but why shouldn’t it? It is her own, and should be respected.

  15. Ellie, thank you for this post and for sharing your desires. Sorry about the TERFs.

    I think people need to realize that this is a personal narrative and obviously doesn’t apply to all trans* women, that your desire for what your ideal body/genitalia/what have you looks like doesn’t have to be directly linked to your gender identity, etc. For many people, gender and bodies are not cut and dry, even people who are in transition–agender people, genderqueer people, etc.

    I just think we all need to respect everyone’s experiences ok? okay thanks.

  16. I think this is an absolutely brave and vulnerable post, and I for one love it. We DO need to have more autonomy over how we see our bodies, and confessing a desire that does not fit within the gender binary or status quo is commendable. Body dysmorphia comes in many, varied forms, and I love that you were willing to expose yours. Powerful, sister!

  17. Your article really struck a chord with me. Though I myself am a Cis woman, and don’t know how it feels to grow up in a body that doesn’t reflect my gender, as a plus size woman, I do know how it feels to grow up in a body that society says is not the right kind of body. When I read the section in which you talk about your desire to not have arms and the relief you feel when you tuck them behind your back, I was so deeply saddened. It distinctly reminds me of being 14 years old, standing in front of the bathroom mirror, and wishing so desperately for my body to somehow shrink before my eyes. It reminds me of the hours I would spend trying to take perfectly angled photos of myself in the hopes of somehow creating the illusion that my body was thinner than it actually was. I remember locking myself in my bedroom trying to wrap my torso as taughtly as possible with fabric scraps, saran wrap, duct tape– anything to give me the momentary relief of having a “skinny” body.
    Even though over time I have since stopped doing those things, and have instead started to learn to love myself and my body the way it is, despite having discovered ways in which to dress my body that make it far easier for me to see it’s beauty, and even though I now consider myself to be a proud plus- sized woman, I think there will always be the this little glimmer of sadness deep down inside of me about the way I look, because it has been so deeply ingrained in me since I was born that my body is inherently “wrong”
    It saddens me that you too have to know that kind of pain. Not to project my feelings and experiences on to you or anything, I just feel that there is a certain degree of kinship in this area.
    But I am so happy that you are brave enough to talk about it.

  18. To the person who said that trans-women are most affected by patriarchy, please check your privilege. The people most affected by patriarchy are the more than 500,000 women who DIE every YEAR from pregnancy related complications. you know, complications resulting from their female-ness. Please tell me about the 500,000 trans women who are dying from being female. I am waiting.

    • Firstly: [citation needed]

      Secondly: http://www.transgenderdor.org/statistics

      Thirdly: if we’re starting to make this a numbers game – as though there is any acceptable number of ‘people affected by patriarchy’ or that death by pregnancy is the only way people are affected by it, I would like stats for:

      1. Those killed in acts of war, whether as military or as civilians
      2. Female children killed or mutilated
      3. Those killed for not conforming to gender or sexual orientation standards
      4. Honor killings
      5. Forced sterilisation
      etc
      etc
      etc

      point being, pregnancy does not define a woman, and the idea of being able to designate a group of people – in this case, pregnant woman – as being “most affected” while ignoring all the other ways of being female that *especially* don’t include pregnancy is disgusting.

      • Believe me this is no ‘game’ to me, I get no joy from this discussion at all. We’re discussing tragic, horrible things that I don’t like thinking of, but it’s important to mention them.

        I absolutely agree with you that it is HORRIBLE that women, and men, die from those things you mentioned. In some of them though, such as acts of war, and not conforming to gender standards, men are killed as well.

        I mention pregnancy related deaths because ONLY women suffer from them, thus it was the best example I could think of to demonstrate patriarchy. It is a female specific harm and it is far from insignificant.

    • You are not being nearly as clever as you think, and in your attempt to be clever you have said things that do a disservice to other women. Yes, even other cis women. To say nothing of certain basic and extremely serviceable conventions regarding inference and deduction.

      I think that you should check your own bottom, and then I think that you should go boil it.

    • I agree that saying “trans women are the most affected by the patriarchy” is harmful, dismissive, and inaccurate, but I don’t necessarily think that pregnancy related deaths are due to the patriarchy? Deaths of pregnant women due to honor killings, domestic violence, unsafe abortions, lack of abortions, THOSE are due to the patriarchy, as are deaths due to female genital mutilation, other honor killings, rape, domestic violence, sex-selective abortions of female fetuses, killing of sex workers, abandonment of female children, femicide, a huge percentage of serial killers’ MOs, etc etc etc etc.

      • Hi Sela. I can see why you might think that. What I keep in mind though, is that even in the United States, 49% of pregnancies are unwanted. In other countries, the statistics are most likely much worse.

        But I’ll be conservative and say that the United States statistics apply to the rest of the world, regarding unwanted pregnancy. Even if that is the case, 250,000 women are dying every year from pregnancies they did not want. In my lifetime, (I’m 22) that is 5,500,000 million women so far, dead. These are not just statistics. These are human beings dying because men impregnated them against THEIR wishes.

        To me, this is a prime example of sexism and misogyny’s devastating effects. But of course there are endless ways that sexism harms women. I just gave an example of one way, the ‘best’ I could think of. It’s all incredibly sad.

        citation: http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/FB-Unintended-Pregnancy-US.html

  19. Taylor, if you are going to use statistics at least try to do it right. My uterus and ovaries not created by the patriarchy, and if I got pregnant I’d have a risk of pregnancy related complications no matter how egalitarian my society. Women’s choices to get or stay pregnant can be effected by patriarchal culture, but blaming patriarchy for every death related to having a cis female body is like blaming feminism for testicular and prostate cancer. It makes no sense.

    Many women have died for reasons related to their trans* status. Simply comparing numbers would be illogical, considering that trans* women are estimated to make up about one percent of the population, while cis women are about 50 percent. I will provide some links (see below) about the struggles trans* people face, but it isn’t a competition. There is nothing about trans* women that threatens my womanhood, just like there is nothing about gay marriage that threatens straight marriage. Trans* or cis, we face struggles as women and need a supportive community that welcomes all of us.

    * http://www.glaad.org/blog/ncavp-report-2012-hate-violence-disproportionately-target-transgender-women-color

    http://endtransdiscrimination.org/PDFs/NTDS_Exec_Summary.pdf

    • Dialethia, there is a basic problem with your argument. Women do not give men prostate cancer or testicular cancer by penetrating their bodies. Pregnancy related deaths are caused by men, directly.

      It’s true trans people are not a threat to womanhood. But it seems that, according to this thread at least, cis women’s struggles are a threat to trans people.

      Apparently mentioning female genital mutilation and maternal death is now ‘transphobic’. Would anyone like to explain why this is?

      • Men are involved in pregnancy related deaths in that sperm are needed to create a child – that doesn’t mean men are murdering women by impregnating them, or that women cannot choose to have sex or become pregnant! That women die from pregnancy related causes is tragic, but not generally the result of patriarchy. It sounds like you are equating sex and rape, which is disturbing to say the least.

        And please, no one is saying that discussing FGM or maternal death is transphobic. Discussing them is hugely important. What people are responding to is your comment that someone must not share their personal experience because FGM exists. That was a total non-secquitur and had nothing to do with the article.

        The trans* women I know personally are strong advocates of reproductive rights and certainly against FGM. I realize this is anecdotal, but don’t assume that trans* women don’t care about these issues. The need and desire for agency over our own bodies is something that affects all of us.

        • I understand your confusion about me offering pregnancy related deaths as an example of patriarchy. I’ll just repeat myself here to explain:

          “I can see why you might think that. What I keep in mind though, is that even in the United States, 49% of pregnancies are unwanted. In other countries, the statistics are most likely much worse.

          But I’ll be conservative and say that the United States statistics apply to the rest of the world, regarding unwanted pregnancy. Even if that is the case, 250,000 women are dying every year from pregnancies they did not want. In my lifetime, (I’m 22) that is 5,500,000 million women so far, dead. These are not just statistics. These are human beings dying because men impregnated them against THEIR wishes.

          To me, this is a prime example of sexism and misogyny’s devastating effects. But of course there are endless ways that sexism harms women. I just gave an example of one way, the ‘best’ I could think of. It’s all incredibly sad.”

          citation: http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/FB-Unintended-Pregnancy-US.html

        • It’s telling that you simply cut and pasted your previous comment instead of actually engaging with mine. As we are no longer having an actual conversation, this will be my last comment.

          Most unplanned pregnancies are the result of consensual sex. Most of those women chose to have sex: they are human beings with their own desires, not voiceless victims acted upon by men. No one disputes that patriarchy can effect availability of birth control and abortion and influence women’s sense of sexual empowerment. However, there are so many other factors that play into this (religion, race, socio-economic status, etc. – as your own link points out).

          The reasons why women have or don’t have access to family planning services is a complex topic worthy of it’s own article. Distorting it into an issue about forced impregnation is both ridiculous and appropriatve of the experiences of actual rape victims.

          In any event, what is your point? Yes, cis women have issues that only or primarily effect them (pregnancy/childbirth, FGM in some cultures, female socialization, etc.). Trans* women have their own set of problems (e.g. elevated risk of homelessness, employment and housing discrimination, suicide/attempted suicide, family rejection, harassment/violence due to being read as trans*).

          Of course, elevated risk of rape, harassment, and the general devaluation of our beings are risks inherent in being female in a sexist culture, regardless of sex assigned at birth. Why are you fighting so hard for the bottom rung of the ladder? Isn’t it enough to recognize that we all have our own challenges to to support one another?

  20. Also other Taylor, Since I am a fat, biracial, lesbian of color, I can pretty much guarantee you that you don’t need to have been pregnant at some point to be drastically effected by the patriarchy. Some of the people in this world who have been most severely effected by the patriarchy are not effected because of their femaleness, but because of their poorness, their non-whiteness, their non- gender conforming-ness, their largeness, their noncomplacent- ness… I think you’re forgetting that the goal of the patriarchy is to oppress not just cis women, but anyone who is not an upper middle class, rich, white, straight, cis man, and anyone who seeks to defy that pecking order.

    • When I refer to patriarchy I am referring to male oppression of women. I’m not referring to racism, which I agree is another male invention that is equally horrible.

      And I agree that you don’t have to be pregnant or a woman to be affected by the patriarchy. I’ve never been pregnant either, and I have certainly been affected. By rape, and incest, etc.

      Oppression of any kind of horrific. What I am trying to say however, is that cis women’s oppression is often denied in discussions involving trans people. This discussion has done nothing to convince me otherwise, except for one comment by Morgan, who I thought handled my concerns pretty nicely and at least acknowledged the point that oppression for having typical female biology (born with vagina, uteri, etc) is FAR from insignificant.

      It’s very important that this not be forgotten, especially recently with the attack on abortion being launched in this country.

      • I’m late to the party, but…

        “I’m not referring to racism, which I agree is another male invention”

        WHITE WOMEN DO BENEFIT FROM RACISM! Therefore it is nothing that you can blame on men alone! Yes, men benefit more but white women did benefit from racism in the past and they still benefit from it now!
        Example: The wage gap – while white man in US earn more than white women, white women earn more than black and latino men.

        “What I am trying to say however, is that cis women’s oppression is often denied in discussions involving trans people”

        Oh, like, when cis people disrupt a trans* specific topic and discussion and insist, that cis issues must be made the center of it? Because cis needs to be front and center of everything – all the time?

        Seems like someone is drunk on privilege.

  21. please don’t twist this around and make it seem as though your statement that maternal death and female genital mutilation is what’s being found as transphobic. What is transphobic is that you are saying that the problems faced by trans women are less than that of cis women. In your statement you said “when has a trans woman ever been affected by her femaleness?” that’s what’s offensive here. what has been said is “trans women can’t be effected by the patriarchy because of their femaleness because their bodies can not do all of the things that cis women’s bodies can do.” Which is basically like saying they aren’t “true women”, or are “less of a woman” than cis women, which is totally and completely inexcusable.

    • Yes, I am claiming that cis women face more oppression than transwomen. Elsewhere in this thread, transwomen claimed their oppression is worse than cis-women. Why is my statement offensive, and theirs is not?

      I reach my conclusion based on female genital mutilation, maternal death, abortion restrictions, rape statistics, honor killings, acid attacks, etc. I think these things are worse than the oppression transwomen face. I wouldn’t even have mentioned it if the claim had not been made that transwomen have it worse.

  22. i tend to be a habitual lurker, so when i thought about commenting the other day, it was easy enough to decide, “naahhhh.” i regret not speaking up, though, even if all my brain originally suggested was an inarticulate “dude, this was so good.”

    so, dude, this was so good. i really enjoyed the writing, and it left me with a lot to think about. it also left me really glad that this is gonna be a regular feature and lookin’ forward to what you share with us next.

  23. Hi Ellie.

    I thought your article was fascinating in the sense that it prompted me to think about what kinds of body-altering surgeries are possible and acceptable, and which ones are considered “unhinged” by social standards. I understand that your non-sexual fetish has nothing to do with being a woman or being trans, and it’s interesting to read your struggles in being able to achieve only parts of your desirable body.

    I’m sincerely sorry that your article confused and enraged anyone, especially Faceless Taylor. People do not seem to understand that your experience as a trans* woman is not the only story in you to share. I’m looking forward to your next invitation to your thoughts. Thank you.

    • The article didn’t confuse me. It also didn’t surprise me. But it is upsetting.

      Ellie says that the desire for nullification was linked to being trans. When Ellie links the desire for nullification with a desire to be female, it’s really scary and problematic.

      As I said, more than 100 million women around the world suffered from fgm. From having their vaginas sewn up, their labia cut, and clitorises removed. They get the nice smooth nothingness that makes Ellie so excited. Lucky them right Ellie? Unfortunately, the practice is SPREADING rather than abating. Normalizing nullification in association with being a woman is dangerous for all women. To the extreme.

      By the way, the reason I didn’t have an avatar of my face is because I have been sexually assaulted and I have major issues with putting my face out there on the internet for anyone to see, especially in an environment where I knew people would be hostile and potentially hateful toward me.

      But if it makes people think about my points more if they see a face, attached to them, I’ll do it. This is no fun for me at all. There is no winning. I’m just trying to stand up for women with cis-bodies, and point out that our oppression is FAR from harmless.

      Those 500,000 women dying from pregnancy every year apparently don’t mean much to some people here. Please do not deny that those deaths are linked with women’s oppression. The victim blaming I’ve seen here ‘even if women didn’t want to get pregnant, they chose to have that sex’ is SAD. IT IS EXTREMELY SAD.

      • What is also extremely sad is your usage of non-western women victimized by FGM to delegitimize Ellie’s experience and privilege your declaration of what Being A Woman means; don’t get it twisted, this is some fucking COLONIALISM right here.

        • What the hell? Are you saying that these women wouldn’t appreciate me speaking out about the horrors that happen to them? They lack the privilege to speak out. I don’t. That’s the entire point.

      • I said I wouldn’t comment again, but these are important issues to me, and I feel compelled to try one last time to clarify.

        1. Everyone here cares about FGM and reproductive rights. I care deeply. They are not, however, the subject of this article. You brought it up in a way that accused Ellie of endangering cis women simply by sharing her personal feelings. She never once suggests that anyone else should feel the way she feels. Rather, she spoke of desiring autonomy over her own body – the exact thing that victims of FGM and rape have ripped away from them.

        2. I am categorically opposed to victim blaming. I am also opposed to denying that women are sexual beings with the capacity to make choices for ourselves. Sometimes we choose sex. Sometimes we choose not to use birth control, or our birth control fails. Sometimes we choose to give birth despite access to abortion. This doesn’t mean that any woman should be shamed or denied access to needed services – I would NEVER suggest that. I simply object to the incredibly extreme suggestion that every unplanned pregnancy was forcibly imposed.

        3. I am so sorry about what happened to you. Sexual assault is a horrific experience that absolutely no one should have to go through. While I cannot speak for everyone, I have disputed your ideas not out of hatred but out of the desire to make this a safe space for all women. I vehemently disagree with you, but I respect you as a person, a woman, and a survivor. I care this much because my best friend is trans*, and she doesn’t even feel comfortable reading these articles anymore because the comments are too painful and triggering. She is also a survivor and it is incredibly hurtful when people suggest she is somehow an agent of patriarchal oppression simply by accident of birth. She’s been molested, physically assaulted, harassed, called t****, f*****, and worse – but it is the suggestion that her female identity threatens other women that is the most painful (you are not the first person to suggest that). I hate seeing people I love hurt, and that’s why I’ve responded the way I have. I hope you can see where I’m coming from.

        • I absolutely can see where you are coming from Dialethia. Thank you for your sympathetic response.

          I want to make myself clear as well. I feel hatred for no one. I feel angry at Ellie because I read the words “this desire materialized, linked to an explicitly trans* desire.” Ellie says clearly and explicitly that the desire for nullification is linked to the desire for womanhood. I found this extremely upsetting.

          I am so sorry for what your friend has suffered. I don’t see your friend as an agent of the patriarchy, but as a victim as well. Your friend was punished for stepping out of the role we all are forced into, and that’s tragic.

          I believe that a man can never be a woman, and a woman can never be a man. I believe that people feel trapped in their bodies BECAUSE of patriarchy, because there is such a narrow definition of what woman and man means that people feel THEY must change, rather than try to change society. I can’t blame them for this. Society may never change. but I don’t believe that surgeries are ever the answer for not feeling good about your body.

          I’m saying this because I once thought I was trans. After I was assaulted, I wanted to escape womanhood any way that I could. I feel only compassion for anyone that feels this way, but I also think that doctors are taking advantage of people who are struggling with being different.

        • Thank you for your response – I will answer, but I don’t expect to change your mind. I will not be responding further (for real this time). I appreciated the opportunity to speak with you, though the conversation hasn’t been easy. I have listened to your thoughts, and I hope I’ve given you something to think about as well.

          I understand how you feel – unless you’ve felt it yourself or know someone who has gender dysphoria, it’s a hard concept to grasp.

          The thing is, as much shit as people get for being feminine men and masculine women, it is nowhere near as stigmatized as the choice to physically transition. Trans* people are asked all the time why they cannot just be more feminine or masculine presenting in their birth sex: the answer is usually that they tried and it wasn’t right for them.

          If someone feels like they want to be a man because men are stronger and more powerful or a woman because they get to wear dresses, that is something entirely different. Many trans* women, including my friend, are not girly. Some are butch. It’s not about gender presentation, it’s about how you feel inside.

          The word “woman” was created by people and encompasses so much more than chromosomes or reproductive organs. It is certainly flexible enough to apply to someone with a male body but a female identity. Denying someone the right to their own deeply felt identity does nothing but cause unnecessary pain.

          That said, I do feel like everyone should take some time to explore who they are before making any serious decisions. There are certainly those, like yourself, that have considered transition for other reasons – e.g. wanting to escape from a body that felt vulnerable and unsafe, or simply desiring the trappings of masculinity or femininity. That’s why I think it is critically important for everyone to have access to quality mental health services to aid in this self-exploration.

          However, just because you realized transition wasn’t right for you, doesn’t mean that is true for everyone. That is your story. This article was Ellie’s.

  24. I really have to doubt Autostraddle’s commitment to being an inclusive space for trans women. Whenever trans women’s articles come up, the conversation is so quickly derailed and dominated by transmisogynists like Taylor. Can we have conversations beyond just trans women are males/The Patriarchy? Can there be a comment section here about trans women that doesn’t make me feel like I’m being punched in the gut?

    I don’t know. But for real, it’s good that so many of you all are standing up against transmisogynists. But we aren’t moving forward as long as people like Taylor are not being banned from the comment section. Seriously autostraddle, get on that. You should know by now how shady the comments get for trans lady articles real quick when they are unmoderated.

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