At eighteen, I was required to register for Selective Service, more commonly known as the draft. The draft hasn’t been active for decades, and no one has been charged for refusing to register for almost as long, but – legally – I was still required to register. The consequences for refusal weren’t jail time or hard labor or even fines, but did include the inability to apply for federal college loans. So, after much discussion and deliberation and arguing with my parents, I registered for the draft. I even received a draft card, which I still have in a drawer somewhere.
Needless to say, the US Military probably wouldn’t want me, should they reinstate the draft. I’ve transitioned since turning eighteen: gotten hair removal, grown my hair own, grown breasts, legally changed my name from Jared to Rebecca. Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell means gays can legally serve in the military, but being transgender is still considered cause for medical discharge, under the same clause which forbids servicemen and women from sexually abusing children. Which, not surprisingly, doesn’t prevent transgender people from existing in the military. There’s a slowly growing lobbying effort by trans veterans for better treatment while in the military and better healthcare once out. Transgender people are everywhere. Even a Miss Universe pageant.
I don’t follow pageant culture. My attitude about the trans woman attempting to compete in Miss Universe is pretty simple: good for her, and how silly to forbid her from doing so. I can even imagine the allure of competing in a pageant, particularly for someone who might feel themselves as less than a “real” man or woman. Winning a pageant, or a beauty contest, or ILM (International Leather Man), or the like would give the winner a sense of validation: See? I am real. This panel of judges just proved it.
And yet, forbidding trans people from beauty pageants seems particularly odd to me. Few people pretend that pageants are an examination of “natural” beauty. Even without considering plastic surgery, pageant beauty still consists of plucking and waxing and primping and curling and painting and suck in here and lift up there and twirl now and there that’s better. Plastic surgery simply extends that effort at beautification beneath the skin. When considered in pursuit of the ideal of beauty, what’s the difference between a dress which hides fat and a surgeon who removes it?
But to be trans is, apparently, to go too far. Because – as the presidential primaries have brought to light – being a real woman is about one thing: The ability to bear children, whether you want to or not. Or, at least, the hypothetical ability to do so – no one is seriously proposing that a woman loses her womanhood after her childbearing years are over, or whether a woman rendered barren by genetics or medical necessity becomes neuter. But for trans women, there is no hypothetical – it was never in the cards for me to give birth, and so I must not be a real woman.
There’s a joke among gender reassignment surgeons, that one of the standards for surgery is for the new vagina to look so good “not even your gyno will be able to tell.” Some even go further, saying, “not even god will be able to tell.” Because aesthetics is all they offer. It’s no small offer, to be sure: aesthetics and sensation and orgasms and a cherry on top. But can it be imbued with whatever essence converts fantasy to reality?
Once upon a time, it was thought that there was a life force which separated life from that which didn’t live: the dirt and rocks and water and sky. When you died, your life force left. Tales ranging from golems to Pinocchio to Frankenstein’s monster dream of giving life to that which is not living. What’s to say my surgically constructed vagina, if and when I have one sculpted from the flesh between my legs, won’t need the same thing? What makes an elbow an elbow, and not a knee? Function? Aesthetics? Or its life force?
One of the things which has been frustrating for me is the knowledge that my life force, my pure force of will, has not been enough to reshape my body. No amount of wishing or hoping or pleading or crying was able to do what pills and lasers have done. And so I consider going under the knife. Not for bigger breasts or a firmer ass, not for a reshaped jawline or to pin back my ears. I consider going under the knife for something most people will never see. It won’t grant me better vision, a stronger heart, not even the ability to store spare change in my cleavage. Common English even puts its use as a passive one: to be penetrated, fucked, taken, won, defiled.
Perhaps common English is wrong. Perhaps I won’t give birth to new life, kicking and screaming and bloody from between my legs, but to a new self, kicking and screaming and bloody all the same.