Big Question: Body Feelings

In the reading “The Whipping Girl” by Julia Serano, one of the things that she talks about in relation to deciding to physically transition, and one of her reasons for being able to comfortably come to identify as a woman, were what she called “body feelings.” The feelings that one has towards ones body are largely shaped by society, but also by societal expectations of what a particular sex is supposed to be based on visual representations of primary, secondary, and tertiary sex characteristics.  It is definitely possible for there to be a trans* person who does not experience negative body feelings towards the body that they have.  There are people that are very comfortable identifying as being a woman without undergoing hormone replacement therapy, top surgery, or bottom surgery.  There are people who are genderfluid whose gender feelings (and body feelings) vary day-to-day.  The question is, how much are the body feelings that people feel rooted in societal sex expectations? Is there so much internalized cissexism intrinsic in society that there is an assumption that a woman cannot truly “feel like a woman” without having a physical transition?

2 thoughts on “Big Question: Body Feelings

  1. jessmcphillips

    I think it’s true that society puts pressure on people to look a certain way. The stereotypical “masculinity” and “femininity” in our society idealizes cis males as masculine and cis females as feminine, and any variations of those “norms” leaves room for insecurity, alienation, and in some cases bullying. I think that how strongly society influences someone’s “body feelings,” however, varies from person to person. For example, as a cis female, I feared getting my hair cut short because I was afraid I wouldn’t look “pretty” (both in societal terms and my own opinion of myself, which yes, is sometimes influenced by society). It turns out, however, that I love my hair cut short. I’ve heard from some people I know that they think cis females shouldn’t cut their hair short because it’ll make them “look like a boy,” yet I’ve heard from others that they think short hair on cis females looks fantastic. So I think that while the majority of society may push for certain stereotypes, it really depends on the individual-how they were raised (maybe their family isn’t big on gender roles), who their friends are, what their school environment was like-how they feel about their body.

  2. xenoparadox

    Society also enforces gender stereotypes much more strongly towards trans* people than cis people (see the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care, where trans* people would be barred from access to hormones and surgery unless they conformed entirely to the dominant trans narrative – i.e. were straight, conforming to most of the gender stereotypes of the gender they identify with, “knew” they were trans* from birth or early childhood, etc). For example, we might praise a cis man for breaking gender stereotypes by wearing a dress but make fun of and misgender a trans man doing the same thing, yet why shouldn’t a trans* person have as much freedom in their expression of their gender as a cis person is allowed? Both cis and (binary, post-transition or planning to transition) trans* people sometimes invalidate the genders of those trans* people who chose to not physically transition, claiming that they aren’t “trans* enough” or the right kind of trans*. Also there’s the enormous issue of safety, even more pertinent for trans* women than trans* men, around choosing to be out or “stealth” as trans* (of which physical transition is obviously a part). Not to mention that many people who desire to transition simply don’t have the access or resources to do so, either due to their nonbinary or nontraditional narrative/identity/presentation, or their economic status and healthcare access.


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