The Vanity of Identity

“Isn’t everything we do and buy about identity?” a friend asked recently. I balked. I was pretty sure that everything I do and buy is about providing enjoyment for myself.

But then I thought about it more. Certainly the clothes I wear exist solely to signal what I am to others: variously, a professional, a bohemian, a hipster, a music lover, an artist. Otherwise I could pare my wardrobe down to the number of items needed for comfortably enduring snow, sunshine and rain, and drastically cut the time I spend doing laundry.

Is this pure vanity? Am I no better than the high school kid who goes through a goth phase, caring way too much about whether he is “misunderstood?”

It could be argued that it is important to signal an identity, that it puts you in touch with what you want and need in life. Wearing a suit to an interview lets the employer know that you clean up nice and will impress customers. Wearing a gay pride bracelet makes you visible to potential dating partners. Wearing a thrifted dress and horn-rimmed glasses helps you find the people at the party who brought the IPAs and have the Bon Iver tickets. Never mind that in a perfect world, we’d talk to everyone, give everyone a chance, and like who we like, regardless of what they’re wearing.

I signal my interests to others, but I recognize it as vanity. And it goes without saying that I would never sacrifice love, family or friendship at its altar.

Most of us, especially women, came to grips long ago with the fact that we don’t look like what we want to look like. We’re chubbier or mousier or hairier or less attractive than we want to be. We mature and we learn that it doesn’t matter. That there’s a grace in living life and not giving a shit what anyone thinks, in being a genuinely interesting person despite a mediocre exterior, in learning that people who won’t get to know you before judging you aren’t worth your time.

My husband’s transgender identity signals that he is a woman. To be more specific, it signals that he has a vagina. Political claims to the contrary notwithstanding. Because let’s be honest, his ultimate goal is to be indistinguishable from a native vagina owner, not to merely be seen as one of those (perfectly legitimate, in his estimation) “women” who has a penis.

But what does signaling that he has a vagina do for him? It’s irrelevant; having a vagina doesn’t say anything about a person except that she has a vagina. It’s also untrue, making the purpose of his signal even more dubious.

It’s not to attract mates, as both men and women preferred him before his transition. It’s not to let someone know he can bear their children. It’s not because he might need to borrow a tampon. It’s not even a sign that he has certain interests.

This particular signal delivers no information of value to those who receive it. It is a signal that is relevant to the sender alone.

The transgender identity literally signals itself: “It’s important that you think this about me, for no other reason than it’s important that you think it.”

And for that, for the mere, meaningless need to convey to strangers an assertion about his anatomy that isn’t true and doesn’t interest them, he was willing to destroy his marriage.


6 thoughts on “The Vanity of Identity

    • That’s a complex question. Generally, no. He was never a porn user, never kinky, I never “caught” him crossdressing in sexual contexts, and he gravitates toward frumpy dresses and jeans and flats, never fishnets and latex. He doesn’t even wear wigs or fake boobs.

      But at the very very beginning of the crossdressing, for no more than a couple of days, he broached the topic in the context of being aroused by it and wanting to look at porn about it. He was soon turned off by how silly and demeaning that genre of porn is.

      He now denounces that that ever happened, saying that he was just looking for examples of people like him to make him feel better about what he is. I countered that when, for example, a young person of color wants a role model they look for someone successful, not someone they can jack off to.

      Thanks to the Anne Lawrence essay I reference in some of my posts, I believe in autogynephilia, and I believe he has it. As the essay points out, sometimes it manifests itself as something that is relaxing, gratifying, etc., instead of intensely sexual. I say all this not to excuse him in any way, but just to paint a picture of what he’s generally like.

      I believe in it because he fits its description, right down to not being able to concentrate on a real woman (me) because of his competing interest in himself. I also believe in it because what else can it be? He is not a homosexual so he isn’t motivated by attracting mates. And he does not know and cannot know what it “feels like” to be a woman, so any idea that he has about what that’s like is necessarily filtered by the male gaze.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. “But what does signaling that he has a vagina do for him?”

    Let’s look at it from the other side: If I could (successfully, without sacrificing my health) signal to people that I DON’T have a vagina, then I would totally do it. (As a matter of fact, in most internet spaces I do exactly that, or at least choose a neutral nick)


    In the internet, my opinion is taken more seriously, I am not sexually harrassed (I made the mistake of outing myself as female on a mainstream page once. I won’t do it again). I highly suspect that, if I could pretend not to have a vagina in real life, there’d be no sexual harrassment, I’d be safe from rape unless I got myself into prison, and I would quite likely earn more money

    I can only conclude that the motivation for signalling that one has a vagina is: To get paid worse, to be sexually harrassed, to be targeted by rapists.

    There must be some sort of masochism involved. Maybe some males just wish they would be treated as condescendingly as women are treated – the most harmless, but also one of the most annoying forms of sexism. Would fit in well with crossdressers wearing girly dresses.

    The only positive thing about being perceived as vagina owner is the fact that one is welcomed into women’s spaces. That’s it. Apparently, that’s a very important part about the whole “signalling vagina ownership” thing, but I don’t really get why. After all, the only reason why women’s spaces are so important to women is the fact that everything else is men’s space.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “I don’t really get why. After all, the only reason why women’s spaces are so important to women is the fact that everything else is men’s space.”

      Exactly. That, and, we need the bathroom that has the tampon machine in it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “I don’t really get why. After all, the only reason why women’s spaces are so important to women is the fact that everything else is men’s space.”

    Because 99% of space has been men’s space for ages, men aren’t used to being denied access, so I can totally understand why it’s important to them to insert themselves into a space more or less explicitly titled “no boys allowed”.

    I’m far from suggesting the above is 1st priority to autogynefiles, though I’m sure it looms large enough. Their 1st priority is validation from the people they’re aping. How so many of them (yes, I’m aware exceptions exist, I know of 3) manage to reconcile craving said validation with the conviction they are superior to us (including at “being women”) is beyond me. I know it happens all the time, and not just to men with that disorder. It’s men, period; what varies is just what they happen to want us to validate this time around. It just fascinates me that their brains can keep doing it over and over, and OVER without going into a bug-induced infinite loop and switching off.

    Liked by 1 person

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