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). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on June 15, 2012, in feminism, gender, psychology, sexism and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 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.

  5. Vlada Eregina

    This story really touched me. I never had anybody around me, who was a transgender or a transexual, so for me it was always an interest to meet and talk with one of them. I want to know what do they feel when they turn to another gender, how society look at them and how they look at society. One of the main questions is that what changed and what remained the same as soon as they made their choice. I’m somehow jealous of them because they tried to be both genders, they were treated in life as women and as men and they can say a lot about that difference. As I see on the experience of that woman, it is still not so easy to change. It took her some time to realize that now she will be treated differently by men and women; she will get some new problems with her appearance that she never had before changing. As you state in one of your posts: men can be flabby; women must be fit and that’s true in our society. Also she met sexism in a new life that she probably never seen before. Many men argue that sexism is gone because they don’t see that, but as soon as he became she sexist problem suddenly arose.
    For example, sometime ago a read about Kim Petras who is a German singer and songwriter. She has been the subject of extensive worldwide news media reporting of her gender transition medical history in the context of her young age. Kim Petras was born Tim Petras. Her parents, have said that from the age of two, he began insisting he was a girl. Mother saw him try to cut off his penis with a pair of scissors that she understood his inclination towards being a girl wasn’t temporary. By the time he was 11, Tim was already known to everyone as Kim and, by age 12, she was taking hormones to prevent the onset of male puberty. At 16 she had an operation already.
    When I first saw the article and pictures, I assumed that the article will be about a teenage girl and somehow it was pretty obvious for me; however, the girl on the picture was sometime ago biologically a boy and there were no even a small sign that she could be he. Then I questioned myself what gender is. People are born with the range of characteristics pertaining to, and differentiating between masculinity and femininity. Before we couldn’t choose to be either a boy or a girl, nature already had chosen it for us. However, it is not unchangeable nowadays, and some people can choose to find a different role for themselves in this life. For many years it was not only biologically impossible, but also society would never accept those people. They would be freaks and would hardly find a place where people will accept them. Even today in many countries with traditional and conservative counties this is not acceptable, but i have a question “why?” Why can’t we choose who we want to be in this life like we choose our career? Kim Petras could never be happy in her life as Tim Petras. She doesn’t like anything what is associated with masculine things. She could be unhappy just because of society stereotypes. In our society people sometimes cannot be who they really want to be. In many places people like Kim Petras still are not fully accepted. She had two choices either to be unhappy as a boy but accepted in society or to be a girl but sometimes be judged by close-minded people. I think she is a very brave person and one day based on her story and every other person, society is going to change its mind about it and accept it as natural will of each one who wants it.

  6. Lerma Hernandez

    Now if we can only dress up the rest of the men and have them do their usual tasks in a woman’s shoes. Maybe then they would understand how it feels to be harassed but also have life made a little bit more simple. I mean being a women isn’t always about fear and being harassed by creepy men. I think the good and bad of being a female are 50/50. I say 50/50 because of the small “perks” you get by being a women. Most guys will bend over backgrounds for a girl, especially if she’s attractive. It feels like you don’t have to work as hard because guys are willing to do things for you and you can’t get away with certain things. I’ve had coworkers tell me I only got my job because I’m a “pretty girl”. Though I’m all for women equality, I do not mind having things made a bit easier for me. And it’s not because I am lazy, I guess I see it as a way of it making up for the constant harassment we endure on the daily. The most exasperating part of being a women is the cat-calling. It’s annoying going down the street and having to walk along side a car that has purposely slowed down, filled with a group of men, making comments about you. I don’t believe men will ever fully understand why women fight for equality. Or at least anytime soon..

  7. This was a very powerful and moving article. I lived through her experiences and felt her pain while I was reading about how she was treated differently as a female but still continued to believe hoe beautiful and empowered she is. We cannot fully understand how it feels unless we are given the opportunity to feel the fear, hatred, judgment of men. We as women know and are aware that we are treated differently and we feel the judgment but not all men sit down and think about how it makes us feel and how it changes our views of not only men but ourselves as well. We continue to stay quiet about prejudice we face as women just so we won’t be put down more but I think this is such a beautiful thing that she shared her story and her history just so other people can live through this experience, feel, know, and relate.

  8. Sophie Topping Zimmerman

    This is really a perspective I had never even considered. Of course, I have read articles about the difficulties of transitioning and have heard about the judgment that is often received by those transitioning. Of course, I have read about women being treated differently from men and have been told from a young age about the fact that if a woman works just as hard as a man and does the same work as a man she will make 75 cents for his dollar. However, I had never considered the fact that there is a group of people who have not just witnessed from one side or the other this inequity but instead have seen the way they are viewed in society change. Something I found striking was from the 1975 passage by the woman who had been born male and “oddly incompetent I found myself being”. The idea that as men begin speaking down to you and people begin assuming that something is too heavy for you to carry, you too think less of yourself and the object feels heavier. I think that this development is certainly something to make note of and both reflect and question as Joelle Circe does in her art. It would be interesting to see the changes in Circe’s art and representations compared to the changes in her life and experiences.

  9. Thank you for your piece, Joelle. While I have no experience as a trans* person, I so appreciate the truth this speaks to and how it highlights the fear of living inside a body that is looked upon as “less than”. This spoke to me even more powerfully than it normally would have, as I had a just had moment of pure terror in my white female body as I shared the car with my Asian, male partner.

    We were just leaving a show, laughing, and looking forward to returning to our dog and a quick bedtime. The parking garage was packed, and we had just entered the line that was slowly making its way out the gates. Suddenly, a small, white man stepped out in front of my partner’s car, held up his hand, and started gesturing for a massive suburban to back out where there was zero space. We didn’t really believe it at first as we’d been sitting in the line for roughly ten minute before this guy got here. But when he started gesturing to get his car out, my partner got angry and started yelling through the car:

    “What?! Are you SERIOUS, man!?”

    The man looked him dead in the eye and said:

    “Ohhh yeah, you bet your ASS, I’m serious. Don’t even TRY anything”

    In that instant, I froze. I told my partner to lock the car. He refused. He, my wonderful partner who was born and raised in the South Bay, has rarely experienced prejudice or overt racism. But I’d experienced that tone. I knew the danger. And I also knew my responsibility. Do I, as a white woman, stand up to this prick of a white man? Would he be speaking in the same tone if my partner were white? Did he have a gun? Was the risk worth the confrontation? There were far more questions than answers, and I just sat in shock, waiting for his audacious self to leave. It pissed off my partner, but it shook me to the core.

    The bodies that we live in are so much more than just bodies. They are political, social, and radical entities, and we face so much danger and responsibility when we realize the full potential of them. I don’t know if I made the right choice. But I know I will be thinking about those tense minutes for a long time yet.

  10. I greatly appreciated that the first part of the post did not right away tell us that the passage was from 1975. Reading it I completely believed it to be a modern day experience. The candidly honest piece offers a very unique perspective from a person who has been viewed by society as both male and female. I have seen lots of pieces recently about transitioning and the experience of living life as a transgender person. I had never come across how unique of an experience it is to understand just how men and women are treated differently. Hearing a modern day perspective added to the posting, demonstrating similar sentiments decades later. Thank you for including the link the ‘Smashing Images’ art piece. My curiosity kicked in as soon as the piece was described. Actually seeing it was a wonderful add.

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

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