What does it mean to be a woman?
When I worked for a surgeon years ago, we had a patient who was an absolute spitfire. She was a single mom, worked two jobs, early fifties and rocked a pinup girl's body. A knockout. She really had that Suicide Girl look. She was quick witted, sassy as hell and exuded strength, independence and womanhood. During her early visits, she'd talk so much shit to me and had me laughing so hard, she came across as bulletproof. As her tests came back for the lump in her breast, she didn't change her tone. She was scheduled for a biopsy, still full of piss and vinegar. Then the surgery came and she rolled into the operating room giving the doctor ultimatums about doing things right. She was so confident and strong.
Three days later, I helped dress her out for her first post op exam. As I emptied the drains, she started to sob about how she looked and it took me off guard. For her, the dual mastectomy took a connection to her femininity. As she cried, I cried and just held her. What do you say? My heart broke for her and she was, in her mind, less of a woman. I felt that it was unfair. She was every bit the strong titan of a woman, but in the moment, she struggled to see it. Are breasts the defining point of femininity? I've railed against that bullshit for years now and it directly links to how I feel about the women incarcerated here. Breasts don't make a woman. She's in the soul. She's in the attitude. She's inside the heart and mind...
Recently, I watched a commercial for Dove soap. "It's good for all your parts," they say. Then they cut to the final image of a topless, cancer surviving, mastectomy patient. The intent was notable, but I take issue with it. If television won't show women's breasts as a matter of virtue and decency over womanhood, what are you telling those other survivors who feel that their femininity is tied to their bodies. Show them because the rules of womanhood don't apply anymore? It's bullshit to me. But what do I know? I'm a man...
What I do know is that I've watched a few women be born here in prison with me. They struggle with body image issues like other women and rush to make the look match the soul. But their femininity is real and their beauty profound. Who they are is as complex and puzzling to me as any woman. They struggle through the marginalization like other women, often times more because of this place. Their bodies aren't the cornerstone of their femininity and I wish I could get them to see that. But, sometimes having held a woman who felt like she lost it all gives me a different perspective. All I can do is tell these women that they are beautiful, feminine, and embody what real women are. Inside and out...
by Rory Andes
Transgendered women are just women. They're just born uniquely packaged.
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