strong like bull

Miss Gastrocnemius

I walked down the empty corridor, the modest heels of my pumps clicking satisfyingly on the tiles. After a three-hour night class, I couldn’t wait to get home for dinner and an icy drink, so the clicks echoed quickly, pertly.

As I passed one of the the Auto Body classrooms, I caught sight of my reflection in a full-length glass window. I tend to wear dresses when teaching my night class; we only meet once a week, which is infrequently enough that I can convince the students I’m a pulled-together adult. If we saw each other more often, that jig would be up. However, with the controlled circumstances of a single weekly meeting, I can put my best foot and face forward, and just when I start to melt into creased and rumpled–my normal state–it’s time to head home, whereupon I scrub off the slap, peel off the tights, clip up the hair, and don knee socks, shalwars, and a hoodie. By the end of this transformation, I look like a 4 a.m. Walmart shopper, hopelessly confused in Aisle 23 because where do they keep the deodorant?

Hence, it was unusual to catch a glimpse of myself dressed like a real person who pays taxes and knows where the deodorant is. What I saw in that quick reflection was huge.

I saw my calves.

There, jutting out below the hem of my dress, were my huge calves.

It is not news to me that I am calvishly blessed. Strangers have stopped me in hair salons to ask how such beefy things came to be compliment me.

What grabbed my attention, thus, wasn’t the size of my calves. Rather, I was struck by the image of those muscular beasts packaged into hose, clipping along in heels. Immediately, one thought flashed through my mind: “Well, tighten down my wig and glue on some false lashes because I’ll be damned if I don’t look like a transgendered male-to-female.” Then I yelped out an involuntary hoot of laughter.

Holy hell. I have trans calves.

SONY DSCMost likely, this thought popped into my head because we’d spent the previous week watching the new Amazon show called Transparent. This terrific program explores the journey and ripples of a father’s decision to begin living as the woman he’s always known he is. More than anything, the episodes explore subtleties of gender identity and family politics. It’s a grand bit of storytelling headed by actor Jeffrey Tambor as Maura, and because I always want to be part of a grand story, it pleased me to realize that my legs, when dressed up in their Tuesday evening best, look just like those of Maura’s hormone-popping friend Davina.

The truly significant part of realizing I have trans calves is how much this epiphany tickled me. As someone who has fought her way through a lifetime of bodily loathing, it would make sense for me to hate my masculine calves. All those self-esteem demons that plague my psyche with accusations of “fat,” “ugly,” and “undesirable” should have hissed to the surface when they saw my reflection in the window.

Yet they were silent. The only sounds that echoed in the empty hallway were my delighted hoot and the tap of my happy steps.

Heels clicking across the linoleum, I savored that victory, all the richer for being so unexpected. Although agonizingly willing to hate my body, I actually love my trans calves.

Here’s the thing: whether these calves are sported by a man-become-woman…or by a woman-always-woman, they are full-on freaking badass. I tire of gender-specific “beauty,” and for that I thank those who have blurred the lines or taken a stand for their right to just BE. For example, last year my brain reeled in awe at the bearded Sikh woman who responded with humbling equanimity when she learned that a mocking photo of herself had been posted online. To the person who posted the photo, she wrote:

I’m not embarrased or even humiliated by the attention [negative and positve] that this picture is getting because, it’s who I am. Yes, I’m a baptized Sikh woman with facial hair. Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women. However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body – it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being [which is genderless, actually] and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will. Just as a child doesn’t reject the gift of his/her parents, Sikhs do not reject the body that has been given to us. By crying ‘mine, mine’ and changing this body-tool, we are essentially living in ego and creating a seperateness between ourselves and the divinity within us. By transcending societal views of beauty, I believe that I can focus more on my actions. My attitude and thoughts and actions have more value in them than my body because I recognize that this body is just going to become ash in the end, so why fuss about it?

Relatedly, I was impressed by the action the Women’s Tennis Association took when they recently disciplined the head of the Russian Tennis Federation for comments about Serena and Venus Williams; referring to the sisters’ bodies, he called them “the Williams brothers,” adding “it’s scary when you really look at them.”

And so the world progresses. We have bearded Sikh women who make no apologies. We have breath-taking female athletes whose forearms ripple in the wind. We have television shows where a man in his sixties shares heart-breakingly touching scenes with his ex-wife–he in a skirt and long hair, she in pants wearing a cropped wig. the two of them united by a shared history. We have English teachers with massive calves, dressing up like they’re grown ladies, ticking their way down empty halls, anticipating a cocktail.

We have my husband, who can’t get enough of his wife’s legs.

We have my children, who see that their mother refuses shame.

We have me, who caught sight of herself walking out of a building and realized she looked like a man.

We have a delighted hoot,

a shout of ready acceptance,

and it echoes into the night.

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