Beauty and The Beast

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My Tattoo Addiction (Channel 4). The whole series is currently available but this episode piqued my attention.

What’s interesting about (MtF) Joanne’s story from a gender sceptic’s point of view is how ‘she’ is utilizing an art form with traditionally strong masculine connotations to psychologically obliterate her previous life as a man; a past which she clearly looks back on with some degree of regret and shame. In a way, her story reminds me of  this guy’s; Such stories play out, at least in some respects, at odds with the popular Trans* narrative of being ‘a female trapped in the wrong body’, ‘born this way’. Indeed, there’s a certain irony that being emblazoned with what is, at best, a crude ‘beauty and the beast’ fantasy art motif serves to allow Joanne to access ‘her’ feminine side.

Tattooing can be ‘undone’ or rather, covered up rather more easily than gender-reassignment, particularly in the case of FtM treatments, though the long-term effects are, at best, imperfectly-documented; both in terms of the impact to bodily and psychological health resulting from procedures and the success of individuals’ assimilation into society when enacting their ‘new’ gender roles.

In a saner world where the conceit of gender was less-entrenched – or indeed, not cleaved to at all – it would be apparent that there is no ‘female’ or ‘male’ brain; no inherently male or female presentation to be embodied in clothing or mode of behaviour. To falsely equate Brain Type A with karyotype XX, presentation B with karyotype Xy or similar is to fall victim to a confidence trick, to swallow, for the sake of a quiet life a pernicious propaganda with all the requisite political trappings. That said, uncritically-liberal utterings such as this – admittedly rather amusing – wp post, which whilst correct in asserting that gender is ‘made up’ go on to portray it as one big happy-clappy, hippy-dippy love-in create a new kind of confusion all their own. That gender is hierarchical is axiomatic, a fact recognized by the many feminists who make it their business to interrogate it; and it’s we humans’ – and particularly the ‘y’-carrying variety’s – love of hierarchy that got us into this mess in the first place.

If transitioning from male to female is ‘brave’ then it can only be so perceived by a society that tacitly acknowledges said transition as connoting a loss of status. In other words, we admit that, contrary to our best liberal aspirations, we still value women and men rather differently, to the detriment of the former. Joanne deserves sympathy insofar as ‘her’ choices have lead to ill-treatment from purported loved ones and ‘her’ assumed community; but there is also a need for clarity in understanding as to from whence such polarized reactions spring. Whilst the tattoo as an art form has recently enjoyed a measure of popular acceptance the balance between reclamation and gentrification remains ambiguous: witness the proliferation of the lumbar ‘slag tag’: women wear tattoos as proudly as their male peers today but the stigma persists; the whiff of hierarchy transmogrifies but never quite goes away…

‘Her’ chosen mode of expression – thru body art – provides a snapshot of the impulsive, superficial and reactionary nature of those choices, and the reactions of ‘her’ peers.

Sexism affects everybody for sure – thru homophobia, lesbophobia and elsewhere we can see how it impacts negatively on gender-nonconforming men and women, if not alike then to similarly-devastating degrees – but the danger, especially in this liberal, pro-choice age is that its roots in the unassailable biological fact of our animal, binary, reproductive nature can be ever more dimly perceived; much less acknowledged. Until we learn to grapple with this, any utopian vision of an egalitarian gender rainbow is some ways off…

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