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Monday, February 14, 2005

Screwed by Gender and Charging for It

NYC Indymedia
by Darby Hickey

What does sexual self-determination mean? It begins with respect for the integrity of your own body, and your decisions about what to do with it. Further, it includes not being harassed, assaulted or raped.

A friend and I are engaging in dialogue online regarding another kind of self-determination: self-representation in the sexual realm. For her, a young Filipina woman, expressing her own identity and self while battling suffocating stereotypes about “Asian” women is a constant effort.

Our discussion was started by her incisive analysis of an instance of serious sexual harassment of her by a new Asian male housemate. While obviously our experiences are different, I saw a lot in her writing that I could identify with – being considered exotic (or freaky in an erotic way, as in my case); finding oneself stereotyped as sexually available; wondering how one’s own internalized oppression affects responses to problematic situations.

As a transgender person, sex is almost immediately connected to anything I do because public conceptions of transpeople have so thoroughly equated us exclusively with sex. Men hit on me because they think I’d be “wild” to have sex with. Others harass me, sometimes to the point of violence, because of how my gendered body interacts with their sexual desires.

For some, a logical resistance to this would be to forego or dislike being sexed up. But for me, as someone who both likes sex and uses sex to make a living, that is not an option that I consider possible, or of interest. Although I dislike my body and its sexualized and gendered parts, I still want to have sex – on my own terms.

My situation is not unique. Not only are there many other trans people in the world trying to navigate similar terrain, I know from discussions like the one I mentioned above, that many, perhaps most, people struggle with similar issues around sex and sexuality. Which is a weakness of the stream of “sex-positive” thought that is becoming more accepted in some circles: In its unequivocal celebration of sex (which is good), it sometimes fails to account for the many tumultuous sexual relationships people have, particularly those of marginalized communities.

Nonetheless, even those of us who experience sex interwoven with problematic dynamics keep doing it, and do it, and do it well. What does that look like? For me, it means I exploit my freakish/curiosity/exotic status in order to sleep with men who pay me large wads of cash. Am I playing into stereotypes of transgender women as sexually available and whorish? Yes. Am I exercising my sexual self regardless of stereotypes and social mores? Yes.

So if you are having an underwear party and I don’t participate, it’s not because I’m not sex positive. It could be that I’m not comfortable with my body and how it is gendered. But most likely it’s that I know I could get naked for someone else and get paid for it.

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