So, last week, in the “Modern Love” section of The New York Times, there was an opinion piece by one Delacey Skinner, who says she “writes and directs ads for progressive causes and candidates in Washington.”
Right away, my guard went up, because if someone has to point out that she’s “progressive,” chances are, she’s not as progressive as she thinks she is. It’s kind of like saying, “some of my best friends are gay,” and then going onto say something horribly homophobic, or starting out a sentence with, “I don’t have anything against Muslims,” and then bashing Muslims.
Anyway, Ms Skinner wrote about meeting her ex-boyfriend’s new lover — which is awkward enough — but she goes onto criticize her ex’s new girlfriend because she’s a woman of transsexual history — in other words, she was born male:
In the guest bedroom, the closet had been given over to her dresses: Dolce & Gabbana, Armani and designer names I didn’t even recognize on garment bags. I didn’t dare touch them for fear of ruining them …
… surrounded by the kinds of feminine dresses I had felt so awkward in, I was envious of the woman who could wear them so well. All I could think was: Is this what it means to be a woman? Because if it is, I’m not even in the ballpark. I don’t paint my nails or accessorize or wear dresses.
Oh, God and goddess, where to begin.
First of all, Delacey Skinner is senior vice president and managing director of GMMB, a major Washington, D.C., public relations and advertising agency. I’m going to bet she’s pulling down $200,000 a year in salary, at least, or about four times what my house is worth.
So the idea that she doesn’t recognize the names on designer labels is a bunch of crap.
Please, Ms Skinner, don’t pretend you’re a poor working-class girl who buys her clothes off of a pipe rack at Gabe’s. I’m not buying it. You are the definition of a “limousine liberal.” (Her clients have included such Bill and Hillary Clinton confidants as Terry McAuliffe and Tim Kaine, both of whom are from the conservative wing of the Democratic Party, which reinforces my belief that Skinner’s not all that “progressive.”)
Second, and I can only speak for myself here, but as a trans woman, I put great effort into passing as cisgender — meaning a woman born and raised female — mainly because I don’t want to be hassled.
It’s not because I so much enjoy torturing myself with shapewear or sticking pencils into my eyes.
After years of being ignored, transgender people are suddenly everywhere in the media, and that’s also made us a tremendous target for haters. The haters have mostly lost in their attempts to block same-sex couples from marrying or adopting, so they’re picking on the next up-and-coming target, which is transgender people.
Now, state legislatures are passing laws to keep transgender people out of bathrooms, and trans women are especially vulnerable, because a lot of us are a little bit too tall, or we have voices a bit too deep, or our shoulders and hands are a bit too wide, for us to fall within the “averages” for cisgender women.
These laws are allowing self-appointed bathroom police to chase women out of bathrooms — and it turns out both trans women and cisgender women are being harassed for not being feminine enough, like this woman in the Detroit area.
So, maybe I overdo it. I never go out without making sure I’m wearing makeup. I make sure my hair is just-so. I squeeze myself into Spanx and make sure all of my body hair is gone.
It’s not because I think that’s what you have to do to be a “real woman.” It’s just because I don’t want someone to beat the hell out of me, or call the cops because I needed to pee.
I’m wondering if the trans woman whose closet Skinner is critiquing feels the same way. (I’m also wondering how she feels about being outed in the New York Times by Delacey Skinner.)
But you can’t win if you’re a trans woman. If you spend too much time on your appearance, then according to people like Delacey Skinner, you’re shallow and reinforcing stereotypes of femininity, and you’re making her feel bad.
On the other hand, if you don’t spend enough time on your appearance, well, you run the risk of making some other women feel uncomfortable, because you look like a “man in a dress.”
And actually, in fairness, you can’t win if you’re a cisgender woman, either, for some of the same reasons!
For instance: I work in a high-tech field with a lot of scientists. Our male scientists, pretty much uniformly, dress in the same clothes every day — polo shirts and khakis. Sometimes, literally, in the same exact polo shirts and khakis, day after day. Some senior scientists show up wearing sweat pants and T-shirts.
But our female scientists, for the most part, can’t get away with that. They are expected to dress “professionally” — meaning “pretty.” On the other hand, they can’t look too “pretty,” because if they look like they spend too much time on their appearance, they’re criticized for being shallow and not “real scientists.”
Hey, that sounds familiar! I’m not a “real woman” if I spend too much time on my appearance, and female scientists who look too “pretty” are not “real scientists.”
Anyway, Skinner’s column reinforces an idea I’ve had for a while — that misogyny, both external and internal, is at the root of a lot of transphobia. And in the end, Skinner’s column amounts to nothing more than one woman being extremely catty about another woman’s appearance.
In general, I think, but we would all be better off if we spent less time critiquing whether or not someone is being a woman in the “right” ways. It does little more than reinforce patriarchy.
But in this case in particular, I really much prefer the open bigotry of someone like Ted Cruz or Franklin Graham to the attitude of a so-called progressive like Delacey Skinner, who, with one hand, pats herself on the back about how progressive she is while, with the other hand, she stabs me and other trans women between the shoulder blades.
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