What Your Partner Probably Means When They Say You’re Treating Their Body Like It’s Female: one transmasculine person’s guide to hir chest
I’ve been writing anecdotally about my relationship with my chest for a class that I’m in, and I think I’ve come up with something.
This is a difficult line. As someone who is not male and does not try in any particular way to pass as male, and has an identity that is apparently very difficult for others to understand, and is assigned female, and is highly androgynous in appearance, I have no idea how individuals in my life understand my physical being. I actually have pretty little idea about how I understand my physical being, I guess I mentally blur some things and it all works out in the end. My relationship with my chest is especially complex.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it here: I’m pretty satisfied with my chest, not only does it generally cooperate with my binding, it works very nicely with my genderfuck style, and is kinda pretty. As I become more and more settled in my trans identity (three years and change, ya’ll!), I learn more and more about my body and the way it’s shaped and how to fit (or not fit) that reality into my conception of myself. Lots of hours in front of my mirror have helped me come to view my chest as masculine in the moments I need it to be and feminine in the moments I need it to be. It’s very rarely flat or male, and it’s also pretty much never female. Its size doesn’t detract from its androgyny for me. But that’s when I’m alone.
I’ve dated a lot of people (in all honestly, everyone I’ve dated for the part of my life that is relevant to this discussion has been female-assigned, and almost all have been women) of various sexual identities, some of them have been queer from long before they knew me and had dated other transmasculine folk, some have queer histories and had never dated any other transmasculine people, and some had, queer identified or not, never dated a female-assigned person before. Some had even never dated anyone before. To partners who are confused or concerned about how to treat my body (and more specifically my chest), I usually say that I’m working on recognizing the physical realities of my body and that they should do the same; work with what’s there. My intent is to help partners understand that they’re unlikely to set any dysphoria off through their comfortable and enthusiastically consented-to treatment of my body.
I’m not sure this is the best advice I can give. If I could get people to either see what I see when I look at myself or help me understand what they see when they look at me, we might find ways to bridge the discrepancies. My body is certainly viewable as feminine and female, and I’ve had experiences with partners who clearly viewed it as such and relished the opportunity to discover that “reality” under the clothing I use to imply otherwise. Seeing my chest’s nudity as a somehow important revelation sexualizes that part of me in a way that I am not comfortable with. That is one way of interacting with my chest that will make me feel as though you’re treating my body or my chest as female.
Perhaps it’s sexist to have that sense, perhaps the real route of my trouble (and other people’s trouble as well?) is that we play right into the sexist idea that it’s ok to sexualize a woman’s chest and not sexualize a man’s chest to the same extent. In my own life and practices I don’t really sexualize anybody’s chest until they make it clear to me that they’re interested in me doing that, but I guess subliminally I’m adhering to an idea that sexualized chests are always female.
So, with that new understanding in mind (seriously, I came to that just now, as I was writing this), I think I become uncomfortable with my partners’ treatment of my chest when it becomes sexual for them in a way that it is not sexual for me. And that’s good to know because it doesn’t only happen with people who are clearly lacking in their understanding of my body; it’s happened with people I have felt certain see me well, and it hasn’t happened with some people who have admitted to me that they have trouble conceptualizing my identity, and it hasn’t happened with some people for whom my identity was just a thing we took at face value and didn’t discuss a whole lot.
As a transperson, I am taught to be wary of people not affirming my gender identity properly, and I am taught to attribute any discomfort I feel to the carelessness of others. Sometimes I get too caught up in that and don’t look for the real source, which in this case comes down to a difficulty communicating my understanding of the sexuality of my chest, not to my partners’ lack of effort to support my embodiment of my gender.
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- queerinsurrection said:Thanks for posting! This is a really interesting way to look at body dysphoria and the sexualization / fetishization of body parts that signal gender. Not being trans myself, it gives me a new way to view bodies. <3
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