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.