Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What I Thought

2011-08-24_thought I found this quote by feminist Susan Brownmiller, “Women are all female impersonators to some degree. “

That quote is dangerous because it got me thinking. After thinking, I wondered if it mean what I think it means…

That females have to consciously act femme in order to fit into the gender role that society specifies. And so it goes that males have to consciously act butch in order to fit into the "male" gender role.

Admittedly, over time, females and males become so acclimated to acting femme or butch that they do so automatically without a conscious effort. Nevertheless, if they chose not to consciously act femme or butch, would they end up somewhere in-between femme and butch? And is that in-between state actually their natural gender?

Meanwhile, some people are naturally inclined to be feminine and some masculine.

Everything is hunky dory if a female-bodied person is naturally feminine and a male-bodied person is naturally masculine.

The "problem" occurs when a female-bodied person is naturally masculine or when a male-bodied person is naturally feminine (like me). To meet society’s specifications for female-bodied and male-bodied persons, the problem people must become male or female impersonators to one degree or another.

If they reject society's specifications and embrace their natural gender, they will likely have a difficult time in society. To fix their gender incongruity, they may live their lives as female-bodied men or male-bodied women or they may change their bodies to match their natural gender.

Anyway, that's what I thought.


  1. I believe it is much easier for a female-bodied person to be naturally masculine since that is accepted much more in our society. Look how if a woman wears men's clothing nobody gives it a thought.

    Society is really hard on male-bodied persons who are naturally feminine. If a man wears a dress he is considered a pervert by a lot of people.


  2. And a great thought it is... interesting what we take for granted, and what we accept from one gender, but admonish in the other.

  3. Or maybe Ms Brownmiller is spouting nonsense.

  4. Early on, I had read Ms. Brownmiller's book, "Femininity," published in 1984, from which this quote was taken (page 175), thinking it would be responsible of me to read a feminist work, and to find out, more or less, what it was like to be a woman from that perspective.

    The larger context of the quote you've mentioned is in a passage about transgender people, and I had never read anything that was so personally devastating in my life. Her view of us is completely dismissive, as she describes a female impersonator "as he minces to and fro." She strongly implies that even someone who has had SRS cannot be female: "The penis, I know, has been strapped back with care (or surgically removed)." In the end, she concludes, no matter how striking the effect, it is impossible for anyone of us to ultimately be female or even passable. A transgender person, says she, "relies on a suitcase full of special effects." It's striking to me how she keeps carping on the visual, and denies that the feelings we have can come from within. She never tries to delve into the psyche that generates these outward manifestations.

    In my young mind, I thought that this was how women in general felt about us (already knowing full well what cisgender men think of us), and it specifically led to many, many years of living in utter fear that I would be discovered, and doing every thing possible to hide and deny my identity. I sought out a therapist who could "cure" me, and worked for years with her, both financially and emotionally expensive. Ms. Brownmiller, you have caused me decades of anguish.

    One wonders if her views have attenuated over the years -- she's only seventy-six years old, but at this point, who the hell cares.

  5. Ms Brownmiller is dead on. Femulation and society's reaction to it, has a lot of feminist implications. For an excellent treatment of these topics - along with some very useful guided introspection - you could do a lot worse than work through Kate Bornstein's _my gender workbook_. Frankly I consider it a "must read" for anyone who has to deal with the accepted gender norms (and a "should read" for those who don't understand what the fuss is all about :)

  6. You hit the nail on the head again.
    My take on it is this. All souls in this state of experince will come to know they are truly both male and female and will touch both ends of the gender spectrum. We are for more than we appear to be. At age 75 I am enjoying my girlhood more than ever. When folkd look at me in girl clothes they probably think I am just an eccentric and who cares
    I have finally come to know what other people think of me is none of my business. Also Thanks for all you do for all of us.
    Marilynsturn, and it truly is my turn

  7. I am not sure if Meg was being flippant or serious but I also see Brownmiller's comment as being primarily inane or, at best, merely designed to create a stir. I suspect that you put more thought and analysis into writing this blog note than Brownmiller put into making her original comment.

  8. While I agree with JohannaH about society, I always felt that being mtf simply meant I needed to be more femme than the GGs! I usually did that out of sight or behind closed doors!

  9. @Anonymous - not being familiar with Ms. Brownmiller's larger work, I would like to disclaim approval of anything more than her assessment of the performance aspects of gender. There are plenty of cisgendered folk who enjoy the social role and all that goes with it, so why shouldn't you? There a lot of feminist misogynists out there, and they *really* hate anyone not assigned a feminine role at birth.

    Ms. Brownmiller notwithstanding, @CallMeMeg and @scalesman, the premise that everyone performs gender and no-one really does it "perfectly" is sound - and it provides a really lovely and safe place from which one can deconstruct gender and find a comfortable place for one's own identity. For me, I basically dress butch - that's partly my job and partly habit and partly temperament, but you know there's a very femme corner of my closet which goes with my trans-lesbian femme heart.

    And believe me, the number of people who'd be offended with *that* is very large :)

    So nature, nurture, and torture all go into our notion of gender. You might as well enjoy yourself when you can.