taking abuse for not being “ladylike” enough

I expect that many women receive abuse from their loved ones for not being “feminine” enough, by which these loved ones mean not being “ladylike” enough.

I received such abuse for the first time in my life last night, from a mentor and dear friend. He is a keen observer of woman and generally a wise man, so I rely on him for advice about my presentation. He also loves me greatly.

Something masculine in my behavior really lit a fuse with him yesterday though, and he sent an extremely abusive e-mail detailing his dissatisfaction. I won’t post it here. He obviously holds some deep insecurity that came out in that moment.

But I will post my response; it demonstrates how I’ve learned not to accept abuse but still can reach out with complete love, forgiveness, and compassion. I’m setting an example for others.

The lesson in this for me is that I need to refrain from oppressing myself. I place a lot of pressure on myself to become the “perfect lady”, but to me this is fun. As long as I maintain that perspective, and keep things real, things are alright. In my response (below), I observe how it is far more important for me to exhibit stereotypically feminine characteristics of empathy and kindness than, for example, manage how I walk or gesture.

And why do I consider the pressure I place on myself to become the “perfect lady” fun?  Because I am claiming the oppression and re-spinning it for my own ends. I accepted this oppression upon becoming a woman and decided to make a game out of it. This is punk.

And the fact that I’m now receiving the oppression from someone else shows how successful at feminine assimilation I’ve become.

Two days ago at a restaurant I observed a woman with the perfect presentation: Elegant gestures, graceful stance, etc. Then she slapped her kid. Disgusting. Poise without compassion is meaningless.

Anyway, here is my reply to my mentor:

——,

I am a lady, and therefore expect better treatment than you presented in your last e-mail to me. I expect an apology. I forgive you whether or not you give that apology.

I also know you wrote this out of both love and frustration. I am empathic to that. But ask yourself: Why the insecurity?

In my recent feminization work, I’ve pursued becoming a great “woman” over becoming the perfect “lady” (for now). So I’ve been maximizing my empathy and kindness.

I’ve also asked you before never to bring up my weight. Never do that again!

While I’m not perfect, please remember how far I’ve come! When one is acculturated as a man (think guzzling beer for instance), one cannot expect to change habits overnight.

Again, I’m focusing on the “woman” side of the coin right now, versus the “lady” side. So I’m studying fundamental examples of Christian women. Perhaps you noticed that the last time you were angry around me (about the PBS series on Viet Nam), I gently comforted you. That is the femininity I am concentrating on building right now.

I value your coaching tremendously, and appreciate stern correction. But your last e-mail was abusive. You are better than that.

With absolute love and complete forgiveness,

Emily

Update One Minute After Publishing This

About 1.5 years after my public transition, an emerging transwoman leaned on me for support. We had coffee together.

She is extremely tall, and carried a purse not much larger than her hand. I advised her that having a large purse would prove more appropriate to her body frame. Really stressed this when she resisted. (She likely resisted due to anxiety about having to spend money or anxiety about shopping as a woman).

I told her it would make a difference in how well she passed.

The thing is:  Saying it once was fine. But the fact that I persisted reveals some anxiety I was carrying at the moment. I fake nobility and rationalize that I was concerned for her safety, but I was actually really anxious because her look was incongruent. As if it reflected on me. As if it “outed” me.

I’m sure my mentor feels the same way, that my incongruencies reflect badly on him. As if it “outs” him as trans-friendly.

 

publishing a cry for relief

Here is a letter I wrote about four weeks ago. I’m publishing it now because these stories must be made public for the world to become a better place:

———–,

I’m sorry but I’m extremely suicidal and need (and wholeheartedly trust) your intervention. You know I’m no drama queen, you know I struggle with mental illness, and you know I’ve always been 100% honest with you. So please take me seriously. I’m not trying to manipulate, but I am trying to alert you to a serious problem. I’m putting this matter on your conscience—a sin of omission on your part could prove fatal.

First, know that I do everything I can to manage my bipolar disorder to the best of my ability. I take my medication and limit my vices. I see two counselors, one weekly and one monthly. I practice deep faith. But as you’ve noticed my best management is sometimes not enough and I’ve had to take multiple leave of absences from work.

Second, please do not call 911. A psychiatric hospital is not a safe place for a transgender person. (I know this from experience). It is also not a safe place for someone like me who fights tool-and-nail to preserve their life, as that environment is full of folks who have completely given up. (Again, I know this from experience). If you insist that I go to the hospital, I’ll go, but we need to talk about it first because a hospitalization also will have serious consequences regarding my access to transgender-related medical care.

Its the “fighting tool-and-nail” bit that prompts me to contact you—I will never quit on life while I can think of new approaches to survival.

The driving factor behind my suicidality is that I cannot handle your hostility toward me, your antipathy toward me, your complete dismissal of me. If you happen to find me a threat, I can’t handle that either (I’m harmless). I’d simply “write you off” if I could, but you know I value you too much to achieve that.

I just can’t handle how you treat me. So please stop!

I don’t need the relationship with you that I envisioned two years ago, but I do need you to talk with me. I need us to create a better outcome than the one we currently share. I need you to demonstrate some understanding and kindness toward me.

Please act on this information. The situation is really fucking dangerous.

Please also understand that I try my absolute best to show respect for you at all times. The proof is that I managed to shut up completely about my feelings for 1.5 years, despite intense angst. But in this case my urgency for survival trumps your request for silence. You know my character—you know my decency—you know I wouldn’t draw you into this crisis if I felt there was any other option.

Silence equals death. Please allow me to request your help.

With humility,

Emily