I just recently finished reading Sexed Up: How Society Sexualizes Us, And How We Can Fight Back” by transgender writer and activist Julia Serano. When it comes to being a woman, I am still extremely naïve. You might even say that I am still in my infancy having transitioned only a little over six years ago. I am also so open and honest, especially in my poetry, that I am unaware or ignorant, or maybe just indifferent, to the potential consequences. I really need to start being much more cognizant.
I lived a substantial part of my life as a man before transitioning to living full-time as a woman at the age of sixty-three. I found it interesting when Julia stated that, when she transitioned, “***what she found most fascinating was the way the rest of the world seemed to change. Small exchanges and mundane interactions at the grocery store, in restaurants, on public transit, and elsewhere suddenly shifted as people began to see me differently.” I have experienced the same shift in people’s attitudes toward me, especially on social media. I also share Julia’s concern whether “*** it [is] safe for us to hold hands or express affection in public?” My wife and I always have to be vigilant and aware of our surroundings, especially in the world in which we now find ourselves where violence aimed at the LGBTQ+ population is so commonplace and seemingly accepted.
In her book, Julia talks about a number of different concepts, two of which are Marked/Unmarked and Predator/Prey. Julia explains, “Predator/Prey also draws heavily on the Unmarked/Marked mindset, with woman being marked as sexual objects (a kind of ‘public spectacle’) that men (who are unmarked sexual subjects) are free to admire and pursue.” The most marked and sexualized people in our society are women and those in marginalized groups. As Julia explains, “***sexualization is a more general tactic to delegitimize and dehumanize people.”
Individuals who are marked or considered prey receive unwanted attention, often of a sexual nature. Julia explains the most dramatic disparity that she received upon transitioning: “As soon as the world began perceiving me as female, I begin receiving an exorbitant amount of unwanted attention.” She describes some of this unwanted attention as catcalls and wolf-whistles from construction workers as she walked down the street, comments about her appearance or body, and demands for her attention. When she refused to acknowledge the advances that were made to her, she was placed in the role of the villain, and the aggressor the victim, or was called names like “tease,” “bitch,” or “slut.”
At first, I dismissed Julia’s comments as not being applicable to me. Admittedly, I have lived a pretty sheltered and protected life, even after my transition. Then, I got to thinking. I may not have had catcalls or wolf-whistles directed at me as I walked down the street, but I have received such comments virtually. Social media has created an avenue for individuals (since I am a trans lesbian this applies to both men and women) to freely comment on my appearance or call me “beautiful,” “babe,” “honey,” “beautiful friend,” or expressing their love for me or commenting on my beautiful smile. One woman referred to me “as my beloved queen,” and a man said, “your beauty so exciting and producing always effects on my body.” It is as if they are taking ownership of me, or to put in more crudely, what they are really saying is that I am someone that they want to f**k.
I get a lot of friend requests on social media from men, often claiming to be doctors or generals, which I find laughable. A recent message from an “orthopedic surgeon” working with “the U.S. army in here in Syria” said that I was “stunning, gorgeous actually” and that my profile “caused and [sic] unusual impact.” I can only guess what that impact may have been.
Some of these men have even offered to be my “sugar daddy.” One recent message request on Instagram said, “Hello beautiful. How are you doing?...Sorry if this offends you honey but I find you real attractive and I would love you to be my sugar baby….” A message from a woman who claimed to work for the “International Criminal Organization INTERPOL” inquired if I have “been contacted by any suspicious account or are you in contact with any?” Only you.
Lately, the messages have gotten more explicit. On man wants to spank me, eat my pu**y until it is wet and juicy (boy would he be in for a surprise), and shove his c**k in all of my different orifices. Another man even attempted to call me when I did not respond to his repeated messages. I have been called “stuck up” and other names, becoming the villain just as Julia described in her book, when I ignore or delete the entreaties that I receive from men and some women.
If you want to genuinely interact with me, say something substantive other than just “hello” or some variation thereof such as hello followed by “honey,” “babe,” or “beautiful.” I am not any of those things to strangers on Facebook, Instagram, or my website.
Trans women are particular marked targets of both sexual and physical violence, as well as being “fetishized.” While we may be able to fully pass as women (although we are often attacked from both the radical right and the radical left when we identify as women), we are also subject to being called “deceivers” when it is discovered that we are trans.
Of course, we have to change the way that we think about sexualization and marginalized people in our society, and that includes me as well. Also, as Julia points out, “If we truly wish to eliminate anti-LGBTQIA+ prejudice, then our activism must confront sexualization head-on. Rather than attempting to appease the mainstream by keeping our sexual desires, relationships, and bodies out of sight and out of mind, we should instead challenge their tendency to relentlessly reduce us to these attributes.”
This may seem like a contradiction but speaking only for myself as a queer person in a long-term relationship with a woman, my solution is to both embrace and protect our sexuality treating it as something sacred and divine.
Barbara Marie Minney is a transgender woman, award-winning poet, writer, speaker, and quiet activist. She is a retired attorney and a seventh generation Appalachian. Now based in Tallmadge, Ohio, her first collection of poetry entitled “If There’s No Heaven” was the winner of the 2020 Poetry Is Life Book Award and the Akron Beacon Journal Best Northeast Ohio Books 2020. It is available through this website at www.poetryislifepublishing.com. Barbara is also the author of the "Poetic Memoir Chapbook Challenge." Follow her at www.barbaramarieminneypoetry.com.