Body Acceptance

Just love your body. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to be disgusted by; you’re beautiful just the way you are.

I like that sentiment. It’s sweet. It’s something that’s stated as an ideal, often in pseudo-spiritual language, and is meant as a reaction to the overwhelming societal pressure to hate yourself and the body you inhabit.

Unwillingly, I might add. That’s an important aspect to this topic: none of us chose the physical form our bodies were programmed to take, or the environment that molded our bodies during childhood. But accept your body. Just the way it is.

There’s a friend who runs a feminist button store called “misandry over misogyny” – a dysphoric female with gender-critical views who blogs as transcynical – and I’m thinking now of a quote off one of the buttons I ordered:

“There is no ethical consumption under capitalism.”

Yet of course, under capitalism your consumption is coerced because no alternatives are provided, which complicates the ethics where individuals are concerned, especially the working class. This got me thinking about how our individual decisions are coerced by the systems we are socialized into, and how many kinds of body modifications are enforced adaptations to an oppressive impulse towards “normalcy.”

Not all body mods, though. Replacement appendages for amputees are an obvious one. Can’t think of anything wrong with that. Corrective surgery for the wide range of variation that we call “deformities” – from those that may impair function, to those which are entirely superficial and are done in order to facilitate a positive social perception – because society judges people, especially women, for things like superficial facial “deformities.” A physical attribute that poses no medical issue may still be modified necessarily because it poses a social issue. It impacts basic stuff like getting a job.

So does dental care, which oddly is not covered by Medicaid. Yep, I live in a society where someone with obviously missing teeth won’t get a job they otherwise would have, yet it’s not seen as a medical necessity for those whose survival likely depends on a job.

Neither are hearing aids or eyeglasses covered. Clearly, being able to see and hear is required in order to function “normally” in this society. The push towards this imagined normalcy is insistent. It takes form in our complacent refusal to adapt to diversity, including those who are disabled, refusing to make efforts to be inclusive of these individuals. Deaf children are often prevented from learning sign language because the impulse towards making them like normal, hearing children is so strong that the caregivers mistake this as helping them. Alongside this recommendation is often the suggestion of surgical intervention in the form of a cochlear implant, a practice which is controversial in the Deaf community and criticized as a form of ethnocide/cultural assimilation. For these reasons, a group of Deaf people protested a symposium of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing for the organization’s support of methods to “normalize” Deaf children.

Even the question “should a deaf child be made to hear” is fraught with ethical problems under this system which values normalcy above all else. But who is “normal”? White, straight, rich, able-bodied men? Products intended to bleach skin are a huge business, especially in Africa and Asia, where the consumers are frequently subjected to toxic levels of mercury (pdf of WHO report on mercury in skin lightening products). This is a massive public health risk that in particular impacts women and girls, caused by the commodification of negative body image. Where is the line between individual choice and social coercion when it comes to body modifications?

The button from above helped me here.

“There is no ethical transhumanism under white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy.” Or something like that.

The act of engaging oneself or another person in transhumanism cannot be entirely separated from the system under which a person is socialized, a system they are dependent upon for survival. Or at least, their relationship with survival inevitably involves that system. But here, as above, application of this principle to an individual’s actions is more complicated than the quote implies.

How does this apply to transition? Adaptation to the overwhelming social pressure regarding one’s role in society based upon reproductive anatomy cannot be ignored as a motivation to transition. A common one. What I’ve heard from so many trans people is the idea that one’s body shouldn’t matter when it comes to you or others’ perception of who you are – and I agree in theory. One’s body shouldn’t mean anything about the person’s personality or social role other than their form and function as a material being, and how that material reality shapes their lived experience.

That’s not the world we live in, unfortunately. Not yet. Social programming is real, and it’s based upon set standards of reproductive anatomy by which we forcibly divide people into those who are expected to give birth, and those who are expected to police those who are expected to give birth. Opting-out of this socialization is not an option. Not wanting to identify with violent men who were clearly intended to be my role models didn’t spare me from the influence of men who saw me as someone meant to be a man like them. They changed me, forced me to adapt to them, based upon a body I had no choice over.

Of course I’m going to despise being male; of course I’m going to want to be female. What other choices are there? Eunuch? Even then, that doesn’t answer the question of self-expression. Body modification isn’t enough for this process to work, which is what raised a red flag for me. Needing a combination of medical transition and social transition eliminated the possibility that this was simply a medical issue – a case of “born into the wrong body” or “sexed brain” is simply insufficient to fully explain transness – namely because the notion of brain sex is controversial (here, here, here) and as an idea is inseparable from sexist notions of biological essentialism. Attention must be paid to gendered expectations of humans based upon reproductive anatomy as a motivation for transition – and as a potential cause for physical dysphoria.

This doesn’t mean I think that any amount of therapy can make someone comfortable with their body. Nor is someone obligated to try. Each person knows their limits. Each person is capable of setting their boundaries, and sometimes the only option available is to simply live with being uncomfortable in one’s body. Yet if a body modification has the potential to improve someone’s quality of life, I cannot consider denying someone access. Which is why I think transition can be helpful for some. The problem is, as long as we live in a system where gender norms exist, there is no way a person’s decision to transition can be considered completely separate from the system they are adapting to. This is not meant to diminish the personal nature of transition, but to connect it to a larger context. As long as we live under the gender hierarchy, there will be people who benefit from transition.

Threat of male violence alters you whether you want it to or not. Men know this, because we do it to each other. Fear being yourself. Don’t make yourself a target.

Women know this very well.

I was never socialized into the female sex caste, so my delusion was that “being female” might be an escape from being a man who balked at the thought of being himself in this society. Two years of transition and I realize that the assigned female role is not an improvement over the social problems inherent in being a gender non-conforming gay man with dysphoria, although the nature of the obstacles change. I’m not “normal,” I get that. So what? Neither are a lot of other people. The more privileged you are, the more normal you get to be – and as an able-bodied white man I’m definitely privileged. Many of us try to change ourselves in order to “fit” better with what society orders us to be (I know I have, and still consider), but maybe, just maybe, your individual choice is partially influenced by others.

This doesn’t mean body modification can’t help you. Transition can be a helpful option – as long as alternatives are also being approached. Oh, but there aren’t any alternatives. Just cessation. Not-ness; not-trans.

Tell me again why there aren’t resources for people seeking alternatives to transition? What am I supposed to do with my dysphoria? Psychotherapists are largely just mirrors, but I already have one of those – there’s a second me I talk my issues through with. Yes, a little odd, and yes, this started greatly increasing in frequency about a week ago. Talking to myself at length, about complex subjects. Oh, right – what I did prior to HRT.

I’m starting to dissociate from myself again, but it’s taking a different form this time. More like a rediscovery. Maybe I’m just nervous and hormonal. The conversations do help me clarify ideas, though!

I know transition numbs the dissociation from my body by numbing the body itself, but if I also know my feelings are influenced by social programming in the form of gender norms (which includes norms regarding sexuality), shouldn’t I at least seek alternatives? Really, I’m trying to find a way to be comfortable with my body. If my hypothesis is correct that the gender hierarchy and all its ancillary machinations influenced my body/gender issues, then I feel an obligation to myself to fully explore this possibility as an alternative to both medical transition and self-harm.

From experience, the alternative to transition is “deal with it.” That doesn’t work well for a lot of people. Should we find a therapist and work it out individually, so as not to trouble others with our inconvenient lived experience? Bringing up all sorts of annoying questions like “was I always female when I was a transwoman, but now I’ve always been male?” or “when detransitioners are told they were ‘never trans,’ how is this different from christians telling unbelievers they were ‘never really christian’?” or “how is it possible that medical transition mediated my dysphoria if being a detransitioner means it wasn’t ‘right’ for me?”

Being trans is more complicated than the available narratives allow, especially ones as reductionist as “right/wrong” and “true/not-true trans.” We are trying to adapt to this society, and it’s a society whose currency is the human body. The social and the material are inseparable because the social controls the material. Transness is a social and physical phenomenon, because gender is a social and physical hierarchy. Training retransitioners with individual therapy to adapt well to an abusive system (i.e. not speaking out, being gender conforming) isn’t going to address the causation, and is just the mirror image behavior of what they did before – changing oneself to accommodate the pressures of compulsory normality.

Maybe the misfits can confront the system by expressing who we are, offering our own interpretation of what it means to be owners of certain kinds of bodies. At least, those of us able and willing to do so.

Whether I decide to continue my cessation of HRT or not (funny thing, after that last post where I stated my reproductive anatomy was waiting to bloom, it suddenly did) my perception of self will be male, but I will not alter my self-expression and capitulate to the threat of male violence, nor flee this threat by disappearing into women’s safe spaces. I’m not going to stop seeing myself as a man, complete with socialization and privilege – but I don’t have to be the kind of man they want me to be.

The main thing is, I don’t accept my body, and a good portion of that isn’t my fault. But this doesn’t mean I am powerless. I declared myself non-christian at the age of 15, and it took another decade to fully separate that programming from my perception of the world. From my first years, other people saw me and treated me as male, socialized me male. How long does it take to unravel that type of programming?

If the alternative solution to transition is working through one’s gendered socialization and how that affects your relationship with society, I cannot hold it against anyone who feels that transition is necessary for them. I know first-hand the potential benefits. And who knows, there may be a physical etiology to some transness as well, possibly due to teratogens and endocrine disruptors, random genetic mutations, or some as-yet-undiscovered mechanism. However, I repeat that under this system, there is no ethical transhumanism. As long as the gender hierarchy exists, many people will benefit from transition, but their decision to do so – at least in part – is influenced by gender norms. Coerced.

(Since this is a post about body acceptance, I thought I’d throw a candid picture of myself in here, complete with bags under the eyes. Connect to the readership and all that. My publicist says I need all the positive spin I can get.)

adult human male