A conversation with my six-year-old son:
“Mama, why do you have hair under your arms?”
“Why do you think I might have hair under my arms?”
“Oh, because you’re trans.”
“Nope. I have hair under my arms because hair grows under my arms.”
“You didn’t have it before.”
“That’s because for most of my life I was trying to fit into what other people thought I should look like. In our culture most people believe that women shouldn’t have hair on their bodies. But hair grows on women’s bodies, just like on men’s bodies. So, if it grows there, why shouldn’t it belong there?”
“Oh, we have hair to keep us warm! Like winter foxes, and bears!”
“I mean, sure.”
For the record, I have never told my son that I am trans. I’m not trans. He knows about it because of my former partner, who is non-binary, and because of a character in one of his favorite graphic novel series, The Backstagers (which you should all read regardless of if you have kids or not). He knows his grandpa wears women’s clothing sometimes, but I think he thinks it’s because Grandpa “likes to disguise himself as a woman sometimes.” I think Monty understands “trans” more than “crossdresser.” Now that I think about it, he’s not alone there. As unaccepting as our culture is of transgender people, I think it’s an easier concept to grasp than crossdressing. GENERALLY SPEAKING, transgender people tend fit more neatly within the gender binary than cis-gender or gender-fluid people who choose to wear clothing more typical of the “opposite” sex, or who don’t bind their chests, or shave their beards, or mask whatever secondary sex characteristics they might have. As for gender-fluid people, I don’t even know how my son tries to fit that in his head. It’s easier for him to understand that someone might have been born with the wrong body parts than it is for him to understand that someone might be comfortable with their body parts and also not fully identify with the gender assigned to them at birth, or even just refuse to accept the gender norms placed on them by our puritanical culture. Even I have trouble with that concept, and I am one of those people.
I’m very proud that my six-year-old has a concept of what “trans” means, but I also know it would never occur to him to ask his dad why he has hair under his arms. And he’s being raised in a household with a parent who is gender nonconforming, who has friends and family who are gender nonconforming, and who make sure that the media he consumes includes gender nonconforming and trans people. This is how absolutely insidious misogyny and sexism are.
Just a quick thought on a very complex subject. Happy Thursday!
Trigger warning: Rape
When I was 16 or 17 I was in college at a school that catered to younger students. Ostensibly we were intellectually done with high school. I don’t know how many of us really were ready for college, either academically or socially. I think their main criteria for acceptance was whether students could pay tuition or not. Most freshmen were 16 or 17. I turned 16 in my freshman year.
There was a small group of boys whose parents were low-level somebodies; one of their fathers was Slim Goodbody. They were wealthy, white, NYC prep school kids, complete with the privileged attitudes, blaring-loud rap music, and baggy pants. They were snotty shits. They were also not attractive. By any stretch. But they had a facebook (an actual facebook) that they used as a catalogue for girls. They put stars next to the girls they wanted to fuck. I have no idea what their stats were. I don’t care. But I would bet that they didn’t get much action.
One night I ended up in one of these kids’ dorm rooms with a friend of mine. I’m not going to use his name, but I will say he had no neck. Like, his head ended and his shoulders just began. I can’t remember if this was in my first or second year. I feel like it was in my second year, but I’m just not sure. For some reason the three of us were watching porn. I was really uncomfortable. I didn’t understand the point of watching porn with people you weren’t planning on immediately sleeping with and I wasn’t planning on sleeping with of either of them immediately or, ever. When the, ahem, film was over, my friend said she was heading back to her dorm. I got up to go with her and the No-neck asked me to stay. I said no. I looked around for my shoes and could only find one. He told me he’d hidden the other one. My friend laughed and left. I’m going to repeat that. My friend laughed and left. She heard me say I wanted to leave, heard No-neck say he hid my shoe, and she left me there with him. She’s a therapist now.
No-neck came on to me. I said no. What proceeded was an hour or so of him talking me into having sex and me saying no and asking for my shoe. Maybe it was less than an hour. I have no idea how long I stood there telling him I really didn’t want to have sex with him and I really wanted to go home. It felt like forever.
I finally gave in. I said, “Fine,” and sat down on his bed. Then he asked me for a blowjob. And the whole thing began again: me saying no and him begging. My old roommate and I had bragged the semester before about how good we were at giving head. He said I needed to prove it. I held firm and refused. I guess he decided to quit while he was ahead and take what I was extremely reluctantly giving him.
He humped me for a few minutes and came. I felt filthy and small and filled with shame. He got up, dumped the condom in the trash, walked over to his stereo, and said, “Hold on,” and stared into space for about 10 or 15 seconds, and then said, “I was farting that entire time.” He turned his music on full blast, walked out of the room, came back with my shoe, and tossed it at me.
“It was in the freezer,” he said.
I got dressed, put my freezing shoe on, and walked back to my dorm alone.
I dropped out of school shortly thereafter, had a nervous breakdown a few weeks after that, and ended up in a psych ward. That was not all a result of the rape, there were a lot of factors, but it was definitely one of the final straws.
It took me many years to come to terms with what happened that night and admit that it was rape. I have carried around the shame of this. Even now, 20 years later, I hear myself thinking, “You could have walked home without your shoe,” “You shouldn’t have been watching porn with him,” “You shouldn’t have bragged about blow jobs,” “You shouldn’t have said yes.” I said yes. Well, I said “fine.” And even if I had eventually said yes, it would have come after many, many “nos.” No one should have to say no twice.
I can not imagine wanting to have sex with someone who says “fine” after I’ve coerced them. I can not imagine coercing someone into having sex with me. Recently I was with a woman who said she didn’t like doing a particular thing and it never occurred to me to ask her again. Why would you want someone to do something to you or with you that they weren’t totally enthusiastic about?
No-neck is not alone. Hell, he’s not even the only person who sexually assaulted me. This is common. I have an ex who’s entire m.o. was “getting women” to sleep with him. Some men think coercion is foreplay. Listening to some of the stories coming out about Harvey Weinstein, I’m not at all surprised, though it is traumatizing and deeply triggering. Listening to him beg Ambra Guiterrez to come into his hotel room and to not “embarrass” him is sickening. I started shaking when I heard it. I’ve heard those words. I’ve heard that tone. I have been Ambra. So many of us have.
Coercion is rape. Coercion is rape. Coercion is rape.
To anyone who has experienced sexual assault (and there are billions of us), I love you and I stand with you. You are not alone. It was not your fault. It doesn’t define you. You have nothing to be ashamed of.
We are strong. We are beautiful. We are warriors.