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I'm Not Dead/Life on Venus - Sarah, The Bringer of Tea
12th March, 2008
05:40 pm

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I'm Not Dead/Life on Venus
I suppose it must seem like I've dropped off the face of the planet in the last week and a bit. The last fortnight has felt like millions of years and has, at times, been very surreal.

I've had to wrestle with some major emotional stuff, both in my therapy and in my personal life, I've been mixing with the great and the good of the queer community in London, and listening to Lord Smith, formerly an openly gay cabinet minister. I've picked up an online stalker and been accused of international credit card fraud and a whole host of dastardly deeds. I've talked to various people about a possible new career (perhaps in the CPS, putting away "villains" - that would be nifty) and it feels like I've been living almost exclusively inside railway carriages during this time.

I could write at length about some or all of this, but I'm exhausted at the moment. Instead I'll recount a little experience I had on the Jubilee Line yesterday which has made me think about the myriad ways in which my life has changed in the last few years.

I was sitting in the tube carriage with my bag on my lap and my hands crossed over each other, left hand on top,. Opposite me was a man in his thirties, and he was doing that "undressing with the eyes" thing to me. He sat there and tried to grab and hold my gaze. After a while of catching his eyes and looking away again, wishing he'd stop looking at me like that, I started looking anywhere else in the carriage I could, but the proximity and strength of his glare meant I practically had to look sideways.

This started to irritate me - I felt like I wanted to fade into the seat and become invisible, and then I had an idea. I slowly and deliberately raised my left ring finger a few millimetres, so it was standing proud of the rest of my fingers. I saw him, from the corner of my eyes, move his gaze down to look at this subtle motion. When his attention was focused there, I moved my left thumb under my palm until it rested on my rings, and used it to gently turn the engagement ring so that the gemstones, which had slipped round a little.

I turned the ring into its proper position and then slowly returned my finger to position. He looked thoughtful, if perhaps slightly disappointed, and then although he did keep returning his gaze to me, the spell had been broken and I no longer had to face quite such an unrelenting stare.

I would have thought no more about this, except that it occurred to me that what now seems an entirely ordinary minor hassle of life was a situation that I simply would not have faced three years ago. Similarly, there are things I used to experience and have to think about in public which are no-longer applicable.

Then the injustice of it all annoyed me. This man was blatantly evaluating me the way he might look at a new car he was thinking of buying, or the way he might check out how many SCART sockets there are on some new TV, or the way he might look at a joint of meat in a butcher's shop. Not only that, he only reduced (he didn't stop) this until I signalled that I was the property of someone else.

There were many things I hated about "before", and eventually it was unliveable. I never had to face that kind of situation though - the unspoken understanding that I am potential property when all I was doing was minding my own business, travelling home from visiting a friend. It made me think about my cissexual sisters, raised and conditioned by society to know and expect no different. It made me think about how quickly I have become a naturalised alien, and have come to just accept such things as part of life, because they're unrelenting and trying to fight against them is a sisyphean task.

And it and a thousand little things like it, seemingly inconsequential by themselves, serve to make me righteously angry when some people claim that feminism has nothing left to do.

(28 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
From:snakey
Date:12th March, 2008 06:15 pm (UTC)
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Welcome back to lj. ;)

It made me think about my cissexual sisters, raised and conditioned by society to know and expect no different.

And your transsexual brothers, too.
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From:auntysarah
Date:12th March, 2008 06:18 pm (UTC)
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Welcome back to lj. ;)

Tease - you know I haven't been away - I've just been *peers* busy elsewhere.

And your transsexual brothers, too.

Mea culpa. You're very right, of course.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:12th March, 2008 06:41 pm (UTC)
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It strikes me as a fundamental difference between how male and female sex drives work, and therefore how men and women see ech other. I don't think feminism will ever reprogram men if it is evolutionary imperative at work. That doesn't make it right, or any less annoying of course; I just tend to think how much they act like monkeys (or possibly great apes, but that might be giving them too much credit).
Women, of course as you noticed, don't do this to men, but I suspect that most men wouldn't mind if they did.

PS, good luck with the SuperSarah™ crime fighting stuff, sounds great.
Take care,
Maz.
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From:auntysarah
Date:12th March, 2008 06:43 pm (UTC)
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PS, good luck with the SuperSarah™ crime fighting stuff, sounds great.

Thanks - it was an entertaining notion for a few moments, but I suspect it's probably not really me.
From:snakey
Date:12th March, 2008 06:49 pm (UTC)
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Speaking as someone who's had both male and female sex drives, I take issue with this. ;) Sheer offensive rudeness is not an evolutionary imperative. I've been on the other end of that gaze, and would never do it to someone else.

And I *would* mind if a woman did it to me. And I know queer guys who complain about other guys doing it to them.
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From:auntysarah
Date:12th March, 2008 06:51 pm (UTC)
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Sheer offensive rudeness is not an evolutionary imperative

*applause*
From:snakey
Date:12th March, 2008 06:52 pm (UTC)
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And attributing this kind of behaviour to an "evolutionary imperative" absolves the person doing it of responsibility for their behaviour - oh, the poor dears can't *help* it. Ugh.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:12th March, 2008 07:10 pm (UTC)
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I've had both drives too; I didn't do it either. But I do know that a lot do, and I do know that, given other apes' nature, it's evolutionary.
Being able to go beyond evolution seems to be purely in the realm of humans, hence why I mentioned how they act like non-human creatures.
I do not absolve anyone of any act they have a choice of performing; that's what personal responsibiliy is for, but I stand by my assertion that, as a generalisation, it IS in men's nature to do that, because of their brains, hormones or whatever.
Sorry if I upset anyone, that was not my intention.
Maz.
From:snakey
Date:12th March, 2008 07:13 pm (UTC)
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and I do know that, given other apes' nature, it's evolutionary.

How do you know that?

From:(Anonymous)
Date:12th March, 2008 07:32 pm (UTC)
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The way other apes exhibit sexual behavior and the comparison of human behavior; the fact that I accept the evidence that we are apes too, and on average behave like 'apes with a bit more thinking ability'.
Humans have sex drives, and that has to manifest itself somehow; the fact that it seems to be a common thing to be stared at leads me to decide that the sex drive is involved; the man on that train wasn't staring at another man, but at a woman, and the reaction to Sarah's ring also adds evidence to that.
Men seem to do this a lot; not all of them, and not all the time, but it happens a lot; I suspect testosterone is to blame, I certainly felt my sexual urge drop when I started taking blockers years ago, and both men and women are sometimes prescribed it to increase sex drive.

Once again, I hope I'm clear that I do not absolve anyone of blame for anything they do, desires can be controlled, I was simply trying to provide my opinion regarding what causes that desire and how it manifests.

Take care,
Maz.
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From:auntysarah
Date:12th March, 2008 07:36 pm (UTC)
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The way other apes exhibit sexual behavior and the comparison of human behavior; the fact that I accept the evidence that we are apes too, and on average behave like 'apes with a bit more thinking ability'.

I understand chimpanzees pick up their dung and fling it at individuals who are annoying them. I've yet to observe a human doing that.

We're the product of our nature, our upbringing, and thousands of years of development of the society in which we live (and societies are subject to evolution too). ISTM that anyone claiming that something in such a complex system is a result of any one factor (biological imperative, for example), needs to do a very good job of showing their working (and I make the same argument when someone tells me that "gender is entirely socially constructed" - prove it).
From:(Anonymous)
Date:12th March, 2008 07:46 pm (UTC)
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Ok, fair enough, it's just my opinion based on what I've observed, and how testosterone made me feel, nothing more.
What do you think made that man stare at you? I made the assumption that it was the same motivation that, in general compared to women, makes men look at women and other visual stimuli like porn; I also suspected that if that man had been previously castrated he wouldn't have stared at you like that. I might be totally wrong, and I meant no upset to anyone, I'd take it back if I could.

Take care,
Maz.
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From:auntysarah
Date:12th March, 2008 07:52 pm (UTC)
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What do you think made that man stare at you?

I suspect he's never thought about it. He did it because it's one of the things that growing up in this society has conditioned him to understand is part of the normal range of behaviour open to him. He probably thinks about it as much as he thinks about why women tend to have longer hair than men.

I also suspected that if that man had been previously castrated he wouldn't have stared at you like that.

Well, as many readers know, I am quite a convert to the benefits of neutering.

I meant no upset to anyone, I'd take it back if I could.

It's OK hon, *hugs*. A bit of robust debate doesn't mean we can't all be friends, I hope?
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From:aki_no_kaze
Date:12th March, 2008 07:40 pm (UTC)
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ive never seen any study or whatnot that shows any ape (great or otherwise) where the male ogles the female like humans do. I would be very interested in where you found that out.
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From:cyberspice
Date:12th March, 2008 07:05 pm (UTC)
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I remember in the early days when I thought everyone was reading me all the time and my Mum came out shopping with me. I told her afterwards how I felt and she said no, they're seeing a talk good looking girl and the guys are eyeing you up and the girls are checking out the competition. A decade later I still find it uncomfortable. They're always so obvious. There's no pretence of hiding the action.

But yes a lot of the traditional marriage conventions are all to do with ownership and the fact that a woman has been considered property in the past and still is. The dowry paid by the father to take the 'useless' female child of his hands. The wife taking the husband's surname. The wife being referred to as Mrs His Name. And so on. It's all to do with females being chattels.

It is changing, but too slowly for my liking.

From:snakey
Date:12th March, 2008 07:10 pm (UTC)
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The father giving the daughter away at the wedding... *face*
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From:capybyra
Date:13th March, 2008 03:08 am (UTC)

It's a lack of couth at base then we can enter other motivators.

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Some persons are simply uncouth and crudely vulgar creeps.
Then there are those who have a shred of redemption possible for them.
Clearly, what you encountered was arguable as to his redemption potential.
Is their malfunction a character flaw of willful intent or simply a poor upbringing? Actually it matters less what their motivation is compared to your right of NOT needing to fear them. Social contracts et all.

You found an admirable and gracious way to reset an off the beam sod.

Good show!
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From:auntysarah
Date:13th March, 2008 04:15 pm (UTC)

Re: It's a lack of couth at base then we can enter other motivators.

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You found an admirable and gracious way to reset an off the beam sod.

Good show!


Thank you! Thank you! I'll be here all week...
From:vyvyan
Date:13th March, 2008 03:34 am (UTC)
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There's a relevant (public!) discussion on the ftm community today too. I thought it was interesting, especially in light of your post. (Title "Being treated as male / female".) TBH, I agree with some of it, and not other parts, but feel reluctant to comment, because some people seem so bad-tempered there.

I think I had a weird series of social interactions with people during my life. At my (girls only, private) school I had almost no interaction with my peers except being bullied. I certainly didn't receive anything like a "normal" female upbringing. At my (mostly male) college, as a student, I had almost no interaction with anyone except male geeks who were friendly to me. Now I am starting to pass as male to strangers, who suddenly treat me in a more friendly way than before (whether they are male or female), which is just perplexing :-) I suppose in the past I did have experiences like you describe above, but they seemed less hostile than my time at school (people undressing me with their eyes was preferable to people killing me with their eyes) so I glossed over them. What you say is quite true though; it isn't something anyone should have to get used to.
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From:auntysarah
Date:13th March, 2008 04:18 pm (UTC)
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feel reluctant to comment, because some people seem so bad-tempered there.

You and snakey might benefit from chatting, if you haven't already. I suspect you may find much in common...

What you say is quite true though; it isn't something anyone should have to get used to.

Indeed not. Any society where 50% of the population are insidiously raised in an environment which is constantly telling them they're basically property/second class citizens is one that has much to change, I think.
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From:zoefruitcake
Date:13th March, 2008 09:53 am (UTC)
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Nice move
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From:auntysarah
Date:13th March, 2008 04:18 pm (UTC)
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Ta!
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From:pinkdormouse
Date:14th March, 2008 10:38 pm (UTC)
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I don't expect men to fancy me on appearance alone, hence I tend not to notice when someone is looking at me unless I'm looking at them as well. On the other hand, I tend to get nervous of new people talking to me until we've established the ground rules.
From:mxbutch
Date:15th March, 2008 03:26 pm (UTC)
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Hey there,
I saw your posts in the lez_sex_community, and you seem like an interesting person. I'm a cis dyke, but I read up on trans issues and consider myself a raging bull feminist with trans women as an integral part of feminism. (I really enjoyed Whipping Girl, for example.)
So, I hope this isn't too creepy, but I added you as an LJ friend.

Also, I really hate the 'piece of meat' thing. I am androgynous enough that I can pass as a guy, and when I go on trains, planes, etc, I try to pass as a guy. I lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, all summer last year (Utah is one of THE most conservative states in the US) and passed as a guy the entire time. I really do get a lot less shit from men, except for the time that I was called "faggot!" when walking about with a feminine guy friend of mine... but that is different.
My girlfriend, on the other hand, can't leave the house in her hometown because men WILL hassle her. I really hate how women are treated in mainstream society.
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From:auntysarah
Date:15th March, 2008 04:13 pm (UTC)
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Hiya! Thanks for the kind words. Not creepy at all, and yeah, isn't Whipping Girl fantastic? We need more books like that.

I lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, all summer last year (Utah is one of THE most conservative states in the US)

I've visited Utah a few times, pre-transition (love the scenery and the hiking - amazing place), but yeah, a lot of it did have a bit of a "stepford wives" feel to it.

I got the impression my late pre-transition appearance was something many of the locals found a little unsettling (especially given my tendency to wear a black T-shirt with pictures of snakes on it - I guess I looked a bit like a satanist)...

My girlfriend, on the other hand, can't leave the house in her hometown because men WILL hassle her. I really hate how women are treated in mainstream society.

That really sucks. :-(

What really caught me off guard, I think, was that I took for granted the idea that before, if I was minding my own business, sat at a table in a cafe, walking down the street carrying shopping bags, or whatever, people would not try to interrupt me. Now I must admit to missing that luxury, especially when so many of them can be so persistent, especially when anything other than being immediately rude to them is treated as a sign that they might get sex out of the encounter.
From:mxbutch
Date:15th March, 2008 08:10 pm (UTC)
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Any time :)
I dearly love Whipping Girl and I have a copy of it. I also use it in my academic writing (I'm a sophomore at an Ivy League school) to support my opinions about trans women. For example, I wrote about how the film I Shot Andy Warhol twists history and puts in trans misogyny.
Ja, we need more books like that.

I love Utah's scenery as well. I'm from Utah, actually.
Hmm... what part of Utah were you in? I mean, the person in the photo would not fit into Utah by any means (which is pretty unfortunate) but would find an uneasy fit in the subculture of Salt Lake City. Ach, but I won't bore you with politics...

Yeah... that sucks about men. I've found that it also is effective if I just assume my normal "big butch dyke" appearance instead of a male appearance. (In some ways, that's better because then I don't attract chicken hawks.)
I think the world just sucks as it is, so we need to teach teenage boys to get some fucking manners.
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From:auntysarah
Date:15th March, 2008 09:06 pm (UTC)
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I love Utah's scenery as well. I'm from Utah, actually.

The whole state is a geology demo! I love it!

Where abouts did you grow up?

Hmm... what part of Utah were you in?

Spent time in St George and Springdale (for Zion - one of my favourite places in the world, although Angels' Landing is not the best place to discover one has a fear of heights), Bryce, Moab (rather different in outlook to much of Utah, it seemed), Escalante (felt like what I imagine Moab was like a few decades ago), and Salt Lake City as well.

the person in the photo would not fit into Utah by any means (which is pretty unfortunate) but would find an uneasy fit in the subculture of Salt Lake City.

I was OK in Moab, but the poor LDS family who were running a restaurant at Green River when we stopped there seemed more than a little perturbed by me!
From:mxbutch
Date:16th March, 2008 03:43 pm (UTC)
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I grew up in Park City... but I feel more at home in Salt Lake City. Mostly because if I ever moved back to Utah, I could never in a billion years afford to live in Park City. Heh.

Oh, wow, you went to so many gorgeous places. Bryce is actually my favorite park in Utah. Moab is different from most of Utah, yes -- I think it has to do with the high number of tourists that it gets.
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