How I’m Seen Differently in a Female Body

Joelle Circé, “Waving Pride”

No aspect of my existence, no moment of the day, no contact, no arrangement, no response is not different for men and for women. The very tone of voice in which I was now addressed, the very posture of the person next in the line.

And if others’ responses shifted, so did my own. The more I was treated as a woman, the more woman I became. I adapted willy-nilly. If I was assumed to be incompetent at reversing cars, or opening bottles, oddly incompetent I found myself becoming. If the case was too heavy for me, inexplicably I found it so myself.

Women treated me with a frankness which was one of the happiest discoveries of my metamorphosis. But I also found men treating me more and more as junior. I discovered that even now men prefer women to be less informed, less able, less talkative, and certainly less self-centered than they are themselves; so I generally obliged.

The above lines were penned by a woman who had transitioned from being, bodily, a man. Certainly there is plenty to learn from our sisters, brothers, and others who live in-between, all of whom have transitioned away from the gender they were assigned at birth. One of the most obvious is the difference in how women and men are perceived and treated. Another is the experience of oppression for daring to cross accepted gender lines.

The passage was written in 1975, early in the movement for gender equality, so I wondered if things had changed. And then I came across artist, Joelle Circé, a woman of transsexual origin, and asked her about it. Here’s what she said:

I’ve always felt that I am a woman in my heart and my brain, but after I transitioned everything about my life changed. I noticed a very marked difference in how I was treated in public. The important parts of it are wonderful and beyond great. But some changes have been troubling.

Men are more likely to talk down to me as if I were a child. I get challenged by young male art supply clerks about the materials I want. I have over 20 years experience as an artist but they seem to think they know better, grrrrr.

And when I lived in a male body I seldom gave thought to my personal safety as I walked around, day or night. Now I do. Some aspects of my life have become dangerous and frightening.

At first I thought it was solely due to the transitioning and how I presented to others, especially men, but it didn’t take long to figure out that it was because I now look female that I’m harassed by some men, who look at me as if I were a piece of meat.

I’ve also gained weight due to hormones and eating when stressed, happy or sad. So now, like many other women I have felt yucky about my body’s size. I began thinking about self-loathing and of saying no to the media’s insistence we all have a certain body type. I had a friend of mine pose in our bathtub that was surrounded on three sides by mirrors with a sledge hammer in her hands and making as if to hit at her reflections in the mirrors. I call the piece ‘Smashing Images.’

And only after surgery did I begin to fully appreciate my body and those of other women. As a female born in the wrong body I speak to female eroticism, the beauty I see in my sisters, the joys and power of being a woman.

Being a woman of transsexual experience has permitted me to better understand oppression and prejudice, even as a woman by other women. I am conscious of myself, my sexual identity, my gender and my orientation. I am aware of communicating my hopes and fears, my joy and my anger as well as my sadness, my chaos.

My paintings maintain this constant in that I celebrate women, those who are empowered, those who are downtrodden, those who are invisible and those who are despised, hated, feared and oppressed, beaten and abused.

If anything, my art, is a reflection of my path and I hope it has some impact, brings some pleasure and happiness but also introspection and much questioning.

Thank you, Joelle Circé, for sharing your experience. You can go here to see her gallery.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych, women's psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State University. And I have blogged for Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos.

Posted on June 15, 2012, in feminism, gender, psychology, sexism and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Bravo on your article, well written and I appreciate that you remained true to our communications via email. Would have responded earlier but I’ve been in studio and preparing 2 new shows that open in the coming week in Toronto.

    cheers,

    Joelle

  2. Michelle Gould

    I have gone through a similar life experience since my hormones and going full-time in 2007.

  3. I love this article. I love how a man gets to “step inside” a woman’s world/body and see the challenges that we go through every day as a woman. He notices the inequality and how we are treated like we are to soft and weak to do anything. This statement is very touching to me when he states “but it didn’t take long to figure out that it was because I now look female that I’m harassed by some men, who look at me as if I were a piece of meat.” Now that he is a women he see’s how we are harassed daily like we are sexual objects.

  4. I agree that women are treated differently. That some women allow others to talk down to them. I for one have experienced many different encounters expecially with men. I work for a large company and men are the ones in upper management, in power, and in charge. Women almost never last in upper management sometimes due to family but mostly because of stress and sexism. Women never seem to be strong enough to play the role if a manager for the company i work for.
    I live alone and occasionally date the question always comes up with whom i live with assuming i live at home or with roomates. And i suppose its a shocker when i say alone i rent my own place. Its not rare for men to live alone but for women it is.
    I do believe there are advantages to being a woman sometimes you are treated differently but also pampered. Typically men open the doors, pay for dates, and sometimes women get hired because they are a good looking female.
    There are advantages and disadvantages we just have to be wise on how we use them to inpower ourselves, and not be considered the weakest sex instead an equal.

  1. Pingback: How I’m Seen Differently in a Female Body « Women Born Transsexual

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