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Methodologies in Gender Studies 2017

Bart Bloem Herraiz

Reading Reflection Seminar 10: Autoethnography

Navigating the male changing rooms as a trans masculine person

As a trans masculine person, at some point I decided to transition hormonally, and with that I
had to take another decision. People on the streets were reading now my gender as male, and
that meant that I also couldn't go in the female changing rooms (or WC) anymore, but then
another question arose, when to start going to the other one? An architectonical place, that
was thought as a place for a natural necessity is being converted into a place of gender
vigilance (Preciado). They are a public inspection system that evaluates the adequacy of
each body to the current masculinity and femininity codes, as if we were going to the
bathroom to re-make our gender instead of getting rid of the urine and shit (Preciado). For
me, the turning point was the mastectomy. I remember when going to the women's changing
room, I was already taking my T-shirt off while I was still crossing the door, as shouting
Look, I have tits! I'm not in the wrong place. I knew all the women in there were ready to
check if my body passed their gender verification test. I considered my tits as my gender
proof to be properly gendered, which means be intelligible as either a man or a woman.
Halberstam refers to this as the cardinal rule of gender: one must be readable at a glance.
Thus, a docile body will not only be identified as either man or woman but also be easily
read as such by others. (Bender-Baird)
And then there's the day when you start going to the other changing room, and you
notice that you have to re-learn the codes. The one that you knew, are not valid anymore. I
did the same, I took my T-shirt off as soon as possible in a way to shout Look, I have no
tits! But they weren't looking at me. The way you move here is different, the way you look,
what you look at, is important. Because, above all, you feel that fear of not wanting to be
perceived as the queer in the changing room, they do not only perform masculinity, but a
straight masculinity. They talk loud, about football, about their jobs, but they don't look at
each other bodies, or dicks. And there I am, I need to shower, but I don't want them to notice
that I'm trans, I don't feel it as a safe place to be out. But, will they look at my body,
scrutinize it as in the women's changing room? As feminist scholars have been saying,
public space is not a neutral space, rather it is where power is enacted (Bender-Baird), and
changing rooms and public WCs are not an exception. To survive in that place, a public place
that, as Halberstam says, is a representation, or a parody, of the domestic order outside of
the house, in the exterior world (cited in Preciado), I also start performing, not to be too
hiddy, but also not too noticeable. All these are actions of performativity, which Butler
defines as a process which consists in a reiteration of norms which precede, constrain, and
exceed the performer and in that sense cannot be taken as the fabrication of the performer's
'will' or 'choice' (p. 234). I think where to put my bag, how I hold my towel in my way to the
shower, where to put my underwear in order to be able to pick it afterwards without nobody
noticing, how to put my body in the shower, everything is thought through, carefully. Now,
after over 4 years doing this a few times a week, without never having any trouble, I still
think through it each time. Will it be different today? Will they notice that there's no bulk
under my underwear? Will they see my chest scars?
As an autoethnographer, sometimes I'm not sure if I'm an observant participant, or
rather a participant who's being observed. I can recall the day in which a guy was staring at
my chest, after I had showered and was putting on my clothes on. I noticed him, and I was
afraid, what is he looking at? I didn't feel safe. Can I ask you a question? I could feel my
heart beating, but I answered: Yes. Which are those mountains? (I have a tattoo on one side
of the chest) Relief. He wasn't scrutinizing my gender, nor my gendered body.
Outside each changing room, as the only sign, there is a gendered image: male or
female, lady or gentleman, mustache or flower (Preciado); sometimes it's so hard to know
what the image is supposed to refer to. Are changing rooms about your sex or your gender? If
as Butler says, sex as a category is gendered itself , there's really no difference, and changing
rooms are just about your gender presentation. Meanwhile, here I am again today, holding my
towel in front of my hips on my way to the shower.

Butler, Judith. (1993). Bodies that Matter. NY and London: Routledge.

Bender-Baird, Kyla. (2015). Peeing under surveillance: bathrooms, gender policing, and hate
violence. Gender, Place & Culture. A Journal of Feminist Geography.

Halberstam, Jack/Judith. (1998). Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke University Press.

Preciado, Paul/Beatriz (2006). Basura y gnero. Mear/cagar. Masculino/femenino. 2 Dec.

2017. <http://www.hartza.com/basura.htm>.

*Note: In the literature, the author Preciado was called Beatriz when they wrote the article,
but now they go by Paul. I'm not sure how the rules for citing are in these cases, so I put both
names, and the current one in first position. Idem with Halberstam.

Personal note: I am aware that with time, I could have done a better autoethnography piece,
this is more like a draft.