Looks Like Trouble

When I practice aikido, I always wear lipstick.

That probably seems odd. I mean, getting thrown around the floor has nothing to do with my cosmetics--despite advertising claims to the contrary, lipstick won't improve my performance or even distract my partner with my feminine wiles.

Still, I always make sure to wear some lipstick when I practice. Because I want to have something about me that looks feminine.

Normally I don't need to worry about such things. I am a bit of a femme by nature and wear skirts about as often as pants. I've developed sufficient curves over the course of my transition that I don't worry too much about the remaining somewhat-masculine features I possess.

But when I am practicing at the dojo, I find myself much more insecure about my appearance. Squashed into a sports bra and muffled under the heavy layers of my uniform top, my breasts are much less noticeable. Ditto my hips. With my hair pulled back for comfort and convenience, my face reveals a masculine cast. I suddenly become very conscious of how much taller, heavier, and broader I am than most ofthe other female students

So I wear lipstick--because any downtown bohemian might paint his nails, but only a woman would wear makeup while training, right?

I'm not proud about this; it's a symptom of my own profound insecurities and internalized whispers about what a woman should look like (and worse, how I will never make that grade, which ironically seems to indicate I've made it to womanhood after all.) Maybe over time, as my residual panic over using a women's locker room for the first time dissipates, when I feel comfortable and accepted by the other students and teachers--maybe then I'll go au naturel.

Or then again, maybe I won't, lest I end up like Caster Semenya.

As you've probably heard, last week the South African scored a crushing (though not record-setting) victory in the women's 800 meter race at the World Championships in Berlin--and immediately ran into a storm of controversy. Other runners accused her of not "really" being a woman, and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) began an extensive "gender test" (actually, a sex test--she seems to have always identified as a girl/woman) by a team of professionals including geneticists, endocrinologists, and God help me, a psychologist.

What's most interesting (read: laughably sad) is that simply because of what she looks like, people assumed that she cheated by lying about her gender, not by--well, cheating. Had she had long hair, or bigger breasts (or, dare I say it, been white), I have little doubt that people would attribute her meteoric improvement over the last year to doping. After all, a coach of the South African team, Dr. Ekkart Arbeit, was caught up in the steroid scandals that plagued East German athletics in the 1970s and 80s, and reports are surfacing that Ms. Semenya has elevated testosterone levels. (Which proves neither that she is intersex nor cheating: I've known women with polycystic ovary syndrome that had so much testosterone in their body that they took the same drugs to block it that I did when I was transitioning.)

This gender-induced panic is all to familiar to trans people, of course. Having your gender denied (often to your face) is something we live with, a rite of passage we reluctantly go through, sometimes for the rest of our lives. We get attacked with the same words that are being thrown at Ms. Semenya: fraud, liar, cheat, deceiver. It's never about being true to yourself, whether your are trans, intersex, or just don't care about societal gender standards.

It can wear you down, and you can find yourself making little concessions: growing up, I always avoided feminine things even as I craved them; today I wear makeup while working out. Just to avoid one more attack, one more comment, one more uncomprehending stare.

When your gender is different, you see, it belongs to everyone else. And as Caster Semenya knows, they're often not shy about asserting that privilege.

transfeminist (C.L. Minou) joins us from The Second Awakening.

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