Topless while trans

By , April 5, 2010 2:27 am

One of the questions I’m sometimes asked is whether or not there’s anything I regret about transitioning. Generally I either say “Nope!” or comment on how I missed the testosterone-fueled muscles I had pre-hormones, but not much else.

As summer approaches – and Chicago experiences an unseasonable streak of 70+ degree weather in early April – it made me realize I do miss one other thing: going topless.

It’s definitely true that being a woman in US society makes you more prone to objectification than as a man. And that, in certain situations, being topless as a woman would be extremely uncomfortable, not to mention potentially dangerous. I can think of beaches I’d never want to go to topless, but I probably wouldn’t want to go to them anyway.

But why is this image (topless men) less “appropriate” than this image (topless women)?

I didn’t like my body before I started to transition. I don’t love it now, but I like it a lot more than I did, and I’m working on loving it. So even though I felt uncomfortable with my hairy chest on display for all to see, I did enjoy the sensation of being that much closer to the sun and the sand and the water. And now that my body is significantly less hairy, and I like it a whole lot more, I’m not allowed to enjoy myself?

Legally, I’m still male. My drivers license says “F,” but that’s because I lied to the DMV clerk about the “little mistake” of “M” on my license. My birth certificate says male, and that won’t be changed until either Illinois changes its laws (ha!) or I undergo sex reassignment surgery.

So why can’t I go to the beach topless? Why should i feel awkward and uncomfortable about sunbathing topless on my roof? It’s mostly not because the neighbors can see – although that does creep me out a little bit – but more because I’m afraid one of those neighbors could call the cops, leading me to an almost guaranteed uncomfortable conversation with a cop, and a potential arrest.

This line of reasoning got me curious. As far as I can tell, being topless for a woman is not illegal under Illinois law. Illinois statues state that, in addition to public sex (defined elsewhere, and not specifically singling out nudity) “public indecency” means:

A lewd exposure of the body done with intent to

arouse or to satisfy the sexual desire of the person.
Breast-feeding of infants is not an act of public indecency.

That definition uses intent as a qualification for indecency, and rightly so in my opinion. Whether or not indecency should be illegal, I 100% agree that indecency can only exist if someone is intending to be indecent. Behavior not intended to be indecent may still be offensive, unsafe, or unhealthy, but I think those are different categories.

But what about Chicago? Chicago does say women being topless is indecent:

Any person who shall appear, bathe, sunbathe, walk or be in any public park, playground, beach or the waters adjacent thereto, or any school facility and the area adjacent thereto, or any municipal building and the areas adjacent thereto, or any public way within the City of Chicago in such a manner that the genitals, vulva, pubis, pubic hair, buttocks, perineum, anus, anal region, or pubic hair region of any person, or any portion of the breast at or below the upper edge of the areola thereof of any female person, is exposed to public view or is not covered by an opaque covering, shall be fined not less than $100.00 nor more than $500.00 for each offense
8-8-080  Indecent exposure or dress.

Am I a “female person”? I certainly think so, but the State of Illinois does not. The Illinois DMV does, but presumably they only do because I “tricked” them. Have my areolas magically changed while on hormones? The answer is obviously “yes” (they’ve become much more fun!) but I’m sort of offended by Chicago’s assertion that they’ve become indecent!

It seems like this could be an interesting legal battle:

  1. Attempt to change my birth certificate to ‘F’ without having surgery
  2. Fail
  3. Go topless while legally male
  4. Get fined (it looks like, hopefully, indecent exposure isn’t an arrestable offense in Chicago)
  5. Protest the ticket on the grounds that the State of Illinois says I’m male

At this point, it seems like there could be two possible outcomes. Number one:

  • The City says “Fine, whatever,” and throws out the ticket, exposing their own ridiculous hypocrisy in defining ‘male’ and ‘female.’
  • Upside: I’d get to go topless on the beach
  • Downside: No changes to any sort of law or statute; Chicago says I’m “really” a man

Number two:

  • The City says, “Um, no. Ticket stands.” I could then contest that and/or try going back to the State saying, “Hey, Chicago thinks I’m female. How ’bout changing my birth certificate?”
  • Upside: Chicago acknowledges I’m female and gives me ammo against the state
  • Downside: I can’t go topless

Number two, Chicago agreeing that I’m female, would be considered more of a “win” from my point of view, even though a real win would be throwing out the statute saying women can’t be topless, but men can. That would be a real victory, but seems less likely.

In any event, I don’t know that I have anything approaching the balls (pun possibly intended) to do something like this. And I’m glossing over the big downsides of any of this, which is that I could get arrested, would likely get news attention (and probably not all that positive), and there’s no guarantee of any speedy or respectful outcome.

But there’s a part of me that wants to cry “Fair is fair!” and throw a wrench into the system. Tilting at windmills isn’t usually effective, but it’s fun!

It seems like I should try to get my birth certificate changed anyway, so it’ll have my legal name on it. But with the “25 to 30 weeks” it takes for a correction, it looks like I should have my birth certificate ready for action just in time for… October.

Well, maybe this isn’t such a good plan, after all.

15 Responses to “Topless while trans”

  1. Gabrielle says:

    [22 year old trans woman, US citizen living in UK]

    I’ve also considered doing something like this. Again I’m not sure I’d be willing to risk arrest for it though.

    I have a similar one which I am planning on putting into place at some point in the future. The requirements for having legal gender change in the UK are significantly more liberal than the US (living two years in the gender role). Though the UK doesn’t have same sex marriage now it seems likely it will do within the next few years. I intend to get UK citizenship, which will by that point reflect my legal gender. Next I would get married to my (cis) girlfriend. Then I try to file a joint return with the IRS. They then either have to:

    1) reject my joint filing because the federal government doesn’t recognise same sex marriages, which is what it would be in UK law. Upside – ammunition to get my US legal gender changed.

    2) accept my joint filing. Upside, gives ammunition to same sex marriage recognition advocates.

    I love messing with the government. I wonder which of their bigotries will win out?

    • Rebecca says:

      Thanks for chiming in, Gabrielle! I love your plan, and want to hear how it turns out. The big speed bump I can imagine with my (or your, or any similar) plan is that government agencies don’t have to listen to each other: it seems totally possible that Chicago would say, “Nope, you’re a woman. Don’t care what Illinois says.” And Illinois would say, “Nope, you’re a man. Don’t care what Chicago says.” That seems like lawsuit-worthy difficulties, but do I have the time and resources to go that far?

      That said, I love messing with the government, too. Hmm. 🙂

  2. I’m really grateful bare breasts aren’t considered indecent exposure in NY. Not that I’ve been able to convince myself to avail myself of that right in public spaces, since a) I doubt my local cops (let alone my neighbors) are familiar with that bit of caselaw, and b) the idea that for most people my exposed chest may as well be a flashing neon sign saying WOMAN! is pretty gross for me. But I’m still incredibly glad it’s not illegal, since at least that bit of fucked up body-gendering not being officially enshrined in that way gives me a chance of getting over my hangups and finding out what it’s like to be topless in the sun!

    I like your legal trap idea quite a bit. Too bad it’s such a pain in the ass to do as anything other than a thought experiment.

    • Rebecca says:

      I agree, it’s awesome that there are equal topless rights in New York City. You should get some friends together and go to a park or something to sunbath! Or even someone’s roof, which might feel a bit more secure.

      And I’m really entertained by the possibility of actually doing this… We’ll see, as the weather gets warmer.

  3. Rebecca says:

    A friend of mine emailed me this link from a Portland paper about a group of women marching for equal topless rights. Interesting stuff.

  4. Jonah says:

    Go to a beach outside Chicago, maybe?
    The legal fantasy is interesting but presumably not worth the hassle of fighting alone- maybe the HRC or Lambda or some other legal group would be interested.

  5. queerunity says:

    We are so backwards as a country it’s ridiculous. Have you heard of the National Go Topless Day? Women need to fight back and get rid of these archaic laws.

  6. […] been thinking a lot about my post on being topless while trans. The more I consider the idea of intentionally getting a ticket to call attention to the stupidity […]

  7. Hannah says:

    Aside from the appallingly ignorant tone of this article (did they really use the term ‘boy-girl’ in the title, and ‘trans men’ thereafter???) I immediately thought of this entry when I read it. Who knew a bunch of people were about to actually try this out?

    Sadly, it looks like, were you to do this, you would probably win the lesser of the two battles (being allowed to go topless, rather that being recognized by Chicago as female). Which sucks.

    • Rebecca says:

      Thanks for the link, Hannah. You’re absolutely right – the article is really poorly written, and the whole situation reinforces the absurdity of an imposed gender binary.

  8. […] talked before about being topless while trans, and a follow-up conversation I had with my dad. I’m still seriously thinking about going […]

  9. Cedar says:

    Try to imagine how Fox News would cover it if someone did this. Or imagine this bullshit logic applied to it.

    That’s what the court would say, if they bothered to hear the case. They wouldn’t care about legal dilemmas, they’d see your body, say [sexist, trans misogynistic stuff], and fail to confront the fact that they lie to themselves about how they see your body.

    • Rebecca says:

      I think I’m either more optimistic than you, or potentially more naive. I realize those are distinct possibilities, but I’d like to think more of Evanston and Chicago.

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