My good friend Joyce, who is navigating a gender transition, writes about her annoyance at having the word “effeminate” applied to her by those who do not yet know she is transgendered:
I guess I had thought of myself as feminine (or at least androgynous) because of my obvious shift in sex and gender, and for some reason the word effeminate grated on me. Although it shouldn’t bother me, it did, and I’m wondering why. Maybe it was my old self sitting up, taking notice, and arguing with whatever macho pride he could muster. That’s plausible and is almost certainly a component of my annoyance, but I think there’s something else going on, if you’ll permit me to explain.
What follows is a wonderful double deconstruction of our culture’s gender norms and Joyce’s own emotional response to them. To make her point, she asks us to consider the significance of two statements:
While Joyce plays on the dichotomy between what is “natural” and “unnatural” inherent in these observations, a different distinction came to my mind. The first statement is value-neutral. In and of itself it does not assign any moral value, positive or negative, to being or becoming feminine. The second, however, clearly assigns a negative moral value to femininity. It implies that taking on feminine traits is ethically questionable, culturally undesirable, or personally unsuitable.
The first statement affirms the value of femininity and of women. The second is patently misogynistic.
I’m with Joyce–when I was still presenting myself to the world as a man, I would have been mortified to be thought of as effeminate. I think, though, that the offense in that kind of statement is not really against the person to whom it is directed. It is against women and womanhood.