Yes, Lesley, I remember you.
The meeting is beginning, the room is almost full, and someone slides in front of me and sits between my acquaintance, a retired professor from the college, and me. I smell a touch of perfume, enough to make me lean away. I see the large, bright fuchsia purse slide past my face, and the clutch of notebooks and a phone. I see butt-length waved black hair that looks like a wig, brown skin, and when the clever sweater of the dress ensemble is shed, the biceps of testosterone fueling.
I’d been warned that my longtime acquaintance, Lesley, seen last at the Black Lives Matter march in mid-summer, was now appearing everywhere in drag –- heavy makeup, wigs, heels, and always –- that marker delineating the women from the boys, clear proof of XX status –- skirts. I’m joking. No, really I’m trying to cover rage. Because the other thing I’d heard was there’s a beloved “transgender” considering getting into politics. I never made the connection to the young, obviously gay man who was so great a volunteer, and so good with those who depended on him.
Why rage? Because the two left-wing political men in that room, the professor who’d run for local government and the one currently running for a top city position, greeted Lesley with bright smiles I’d never seen them give to a woman candidate. And they wouldn’t; this is different: this is a comrade who gets them major brownie points, a “transgender”! And a “transgender” who looks like a pretty, young Black woman. Sort of. Double bonus points! And eye candy, to boot. How can I explain this without being completely crude? They were both, these white men, fairly giddy.
And they will never understand my side of it. They are, after all, supporting a WOMAN! But they’re not. They’re supporting an appropriator, and an attention-seeker, too. Female, woman, girl, she, her, these are my words. These are the only words I have to name my sex, and my sex is the basis for my oppression, so they are the very language of my naming and explaining my oppression, OUR oppression, girls’ and women’s oppression. Steal those words, and our oppression is obliterated, completely. Hand our oppression to someone who has NOT lived as a girl, has NOT been molested and raped as a girl and as a young woman, who has not been chased down a dark country road by drunken teenage boys knowing their bodies are stronger and running away is the only defense … and it erases the hells we have endured.
This “woman,” with his fake hair tossed and fluffed and then grabbed to maintain its attachment, repeatedly, and with his knuckles cracked every several minutes throughout the meeting, and his cutesy little sweater off then on then off, always with a polite “Excuse me,” and his fussing in his purse for phone and notebooks and pen, purse up, purse down, is not a woman. But he is definitely satisfied with remaining the center of attention. In quieter moments he clears his throat –- a somber low tone not at all like his pitched speaking voice.
And I could abide the attention-seeking behavior, the noises, the movement , if this were someone not appropriating my sex, my oppression, and not staking the terrain of my eventual divide with the shallow-thinking political men who pride themselves in pushing this new-found oppression, women be damned, with his heels and mascara. These are the markers of femininity, not womanhood. I AM a woman, clearly so, as I sit there as my real self, short hair, button down shirt and jeans, flat shoes, and as always, makeup free. These are the markers of this authentic woman. But they don’t flatter liberal men, and they don’t titillate –- there is nothing in here that suggests sexual availability or feeds male fantasy, and yet ….
No, I mean this seriously! What does a short skirt say? Possibly access? What effect do high heels have on how someone walks? They cause a sway of the hips –- that is their actual purpose! To be noticed, to distract, to re-focus the male mind. Signalling sexual accessibility –- skin exposure, vulnerability and lack of any real ability to resist — and seeking male attention and approval is femininity.
For a decade I adored this young man, talked him up to others, reveled in his awards and accomplishments. For a decade I never guessed we’d be on the opposite side of the “transgender” issue –- never guessed he’d seek to mutilate his perfectly functional gay-boy and gay-man body, and never guessed the liberal men I knew would applaud his conversion to privileged normality: female-seeks-male instead of remaining gay. (Or is ‘privileged normality’ redundant?)
So as I’m readying to leave he turns to me and says something about, “I wasn’t sure you remembered me.” With the closest thing to a poker face that I can find, I tell him calmly that yes, I remember him. And I leave.
And I’m away from the building, alone, before I begin to swear aloud: JFC, I saw you no more than seven months ago! And while at the podium to address the city government you gave your name. Of course I remember you. I simply want to find the way to say, I liked you better before you appropriated my sex, my oppression, and pondered butchering your healthy body. I suspect your attention-seeking behaviors are clues you’re not really that happy, or perhaps you’re just a narcissist. Either way you’ve drawn a line, drawn me on the other side, in support of the war against women that is “gender.” I can’t wish you anything more than a return to sanity; you’ll always know that I believe your life matters. White privilege means you don’t have to worry about mine, but that male privilege is something else, and it doesn’t go away when you don a skirt, mascara and heels. ….