Building a trans-inclusive body positivity movement

Body positive movements, lovely as they are, more often than not center only the experiences of cisgender folks. For folks who trouble the cultural lines drawn between sex and gender, finding space within body positive movements can be especially challenging.

As a nonbinary trans person, I often wonder what potential a body positive movement might have for transgender communities. Too often, transgender people find their bodies removed from their own experiences, needs, and understandings, and placed into narratives that are unfamiliar, pathologizing, and violent. When most folks understand transgender people as “born in the wrong body,” or share sticky gossip about genitalia, anatomy, and transition, building a trans-inclusive body positive movement seems not only an especially steep hill, but also an absolutely necessary climb.

Certainly, in the history of many body positive movements, reclaiming bodies and parts of our bodies that have been labeled “gross,” “excessive,” or “offensive” has been a revolutionary goal. For some transgender and gender non-conforming folks, reclamation is not only a fight for correct and validating language (to name your body as you know it), but also a struggle to quite literally reclaim physical bodies that are controlled by external and cisnormative forces, such as health insurance and medicine, dress codes in educational and professional settings, and bathroom/locker room policies, to name a few. Transgender people also face criticism that their bodies and their gender identities are inauthentic, incomplete, and inadequate because they do not conform to dominant ideas of how bodies should reproduce, desire, or look. When transgender people are denied the power to name, dress, or alter their bodies as they need, we become all the more susceptible to further physical, interpersonal, and internal violence.

Arguably, building a trans-inclusive body movement hinges on a fundamental idea: bodies and parts of bodies must be allowed to exist, become, and thrive no matter their birth assignment or perceived gendered purpose. By challenging and rewriting how we think about how our bodies exist in and interact with society, we create space for more authentic and loving ways to engage with ourselves and others. For cisgender and transgender folks alike, learning to love our bodies outside of the things they’re supposed to do or outside of how they should appear, feel, enjoy, desire, or function is an act of radical self-love and care.

With this idea in mind, here are some ideas for how both transgender and cisgender folks can build trans-inclusive body positivity:

1) Gender your body only and no one else’s. Our bodies are gendered (understood by others as either man or woman) by how we perceive their sex (male/female); this means that telling someone to love their shape (their curves or their angles), their size, their height carries with it a deeply engrained idea about what kind of person those characteristics should belong to.

Thus, when talking to someone whose gender supposedly “shouldn’t” exist in their body, saying something like “love your curves” can pack an extra punch. If those curves are associated with a gender that is not yours, and those are afforded to you because of the sex you were assigned at birth, or your hormones or your chromosomes or your access to medical care or what have you, then not only am I trying to accept a rhetoric for a gender that is not mine, but I’m also trying to convince myself that those curves do, indeed, belong to me.

2) Support other people in how they gender (or don’t gender) their bodies. While concepts of masculinity and femininity are not useful to everyone, they can be very useful and validating tools for folks of many different gender identities and expressions. Similarly, even folks who identify with the same gender identity can present and name themselves in very different ways. Trans-inclusive body positivity not only encourages folks with all gender identities and bodies to gender themselves as they please, but also finds support and validation from others.

3) Challenge other practices that exclude or harm our bodies. White supremacy, ableism, classism, and sizeism tell folks of all bodies that their difference makes them undesirable, unintelligent, unlovable, or without value. As we build a trans-inclusive body positive movement, we must remember that the things that tell us that transgender bodies are less than cisgender bodies are the same ones that tell us that people of color, disabled folks, poor folks, and fat folks are in excess for our society.

Led by acts of self-love, care, and reclamation, trans-inclusive body positive movements challenge what it means to move through a world that both creates and ridicules excessive bodies.

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6 thoughts on “Building a trans-inclusive body positivity movement

  1. Great article! There can be such a negative attitude in society about nonbinary gender but it’s important to be able to love your body without feeling the negativity. I love the support points for building trans-inclusive body positivity

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  2. I enjoyed reading this article! It was interesting to get a perspective from someone who had been subject to the described criticism, and I think the article as a whole really shows the importance of being sensitive on a new level. Actions and words are powerful things, and this article really makes me want to be more mindful and consider all angles (even with supposedly benign comments like “love your curves”). Definitely opened my mind up to the wide range of issues involved in our view as a society of the body.

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  3. Something interesting about this article was that I could really relate to it, even though I’m not transgender myself. I think the thing that we have to really keep in mind as a society before we jump to judgements about someone is that we’re all criticized, we all have enormous amounts of social pressure placed on ourselves, and most importantly, we’re all entitled to live in a way that makes us happy. We as a whole need to be more accepting of others’ idiosyncrasies, and luckily are moving towards it.

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  4. I enjoyed reading the article because it brought forth a perspective on an issue that I never really thought about much. All people are criticized, some more than others. Just because an idea is new doesn’t mean that it should be condemned or criticized. Luckily, our society as a whole is moving in a direction that is more accepting of new ideas.

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  5. Thank you for posting this article, because I know that one day I will be approached by someone who may identify themselves as a different gender. I would hope that on that day, I would not be judging them based on their body or choice of identification but instead their character and their attitude towards others. This article reminded me of what the WRC on campus is starting to do when people come to events: they give people the option to add a gender identification sticker on their name tags just for others to know how to speak to each other. The article also made me want to work hard on being more open and welcoming to new ideas and unique ways that people identify themselves. I believe that it’s important to remember that everyone in the world should be happy about how they look, and it’s our responsibility to let others have the freedom/feel liberated to accepted and love and find happiness in themselves being who they truly are. Thank you again for the eye-opening article. I enjoyed it.

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  6. Great way to get the word out about a very important issue in a way that can relate to anyone. Love the part about “reclaiming” your body from not only the emotional but physical side of things as well. In a society where most people have an opinion and want to comment on everything I like how you proposed to only “gender” your own body with a reasoning that I wouldn’t have expected but makes total sense.

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