Former Australian surfing champion Peter Drouyn, now Westerly Windina, is the first openly transgendered (soon to be transsexual) surfer.
But what does that mean?
First, it is important to have a grasp on the difference between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ in this context, as the terms are often used interchangeably, but have very different meanings.
‘Sex’ has to do with biology; physical attributes, hormones and genetic makeup. Being referred to as ‘female’ in this sense means having a female reproductive system (uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, vulva, etc.) and being ‘male’ means having a male reproductive system (penis, testicles, etc.). ‘Sex’ assignment at birth has only to do with the parts that you are born with— basically penis or vagina. However, there’s still some gray area in these designations. Many species are born as hermaphrodites, that is, having both fully functioning male and female reproductive organs. we tend to think of the designation of ‘male’ or female’ as something concrete, but you’ll be surprised at how much gray area there actually is in humans, too—
“Here’s what we do know: If you ask experts at medical centers how often a child is born so noticeably atypical in terms of genitalia that a specialist in sex differentiation is called in, the number comes out to about 1 in 1500 to 1 in 2000 births. But a lot more people than that are born with subtler forms of sex anatomy variations, some of which won’t show up until later in life.” — the Intersex Society of North America:
Gender has nothing to do with biology. Rather, it has to do with the ways in which we act; a mix of beliefs, behaviors and characteristics. “Gender refers to society’s expectations about how we should think and act as girls and boys, and women and men. It is our biological, social, and legal status as women and men.
WORDS COMMONLY USED TO DESCRIBE FEMININITY: Dependent, emotional, passive, sensitive, quiet, graceful, innocent, weak, flirtatious, nurturing, self-critical, soft, sexually submissive, accepting
WORDS COMMONLY USED TO DESCRIBE MASCULINITY: Independent, non-emotional, aggressive, tough-skinned, competitive, clumsy, experienced, strong, active, self-confident, hard, sexually aggressive, rebellious
Clearly, society’s categories for what is masculine and feminine are unrealistic (and boring).
They may not capture how we truly feel, how we behave, or how we define ourselves. All men have some so-called feminine traits, and all women have some so-called masculine traits. And we may show different traits at different times. Our cultures teach women and men to be the opposite of each other in many ways.
The truth is that we are more alike than different.”
“Gender identity is how we feel about and express our gender and gender roles — clothing, behavior, and personal appearance. It is a feeling that we have as early as age two or three.”
“Some people find that their gender identity does not match their biological sex. When this happens, the person may identify as transgender.
Trans is a big umbrella term that describes people whose gender identities aren’t in sync with their biological sex and/or most people’s notions of what it means to be a man or a woman. Trans people express their gender identity in lots of different ways. Some trans people change their dress, behavior, and mannerisms in order to be perceived as the gender that feels right for them. Transsexual is the term commonly used to describe those who get surgery and/or take hormones to change their body to match their gender identity. Some trans people reject the traditional understanding of gender as divided between just “male” and “female.”
Transgender people are diverse in gender identities (the way you feel on the inside), gender expressions (the way you dress and act, that others can see), and sexual orientations (the people you’re attracted to).” Planned Parenthood.
Basically, from the day we are born we’re shoved into categorizations that feel concrete (or stagnant) and we’re expected to act according to socially determined rules of behavior based on the whether we are born with a penis or a vagina. This is not only unrealistic, but ends up putting pressure on everyone in the pursuit of being ‘manly’ or ‘womanly’ enough.
Some people are daring enough to break out of these rigid definitions of how we “should” act.
Westerly Windina is one of those few.
Imagine how difficult it would be to feel as though you were born into the wrong body. And then how difficult it would be to be honest with the people around you about that fact. It is nothing short of an act of bravery to stand up to the norms of gender, some of the most fundamentalist rules of our society, in order to be your truest self.
We all face gender based expectations EVERY DAY.
What are you doing to break them for the benefit of inclusion and acceptance of all?
|Big Sky Wire is a regular Coastalwatch column produced by Michele Lockwood & Andrew Kidman. This week, Michele Lockwood speaks to author, filmmaker & ex pro surfer Jamie Brisick about his upcoming documentary on one of surfing’s most interesting icons.
How would you describe your relationship with Westerly? How often do you speak to each other?
Our relationship has been intense and brutally honest. We’re friends, but I’m also a journalist/documentarian, so it’s about striking that balance, remembering the nature of our relationship. I really appreciate Westerly. She’s one of the most unique people I’ve ever met. We keep in touch pretty regularly.
Watching the trailer for Westerly: A Man, A Woman, An Enigma online, I couldn’t help but think of how fine a line there is to tread between provoking the sensational and retaining the sensitivity to Westerly’s story. Do you feel this is a particularly challenging aspect of the project? Do you ever feel you want to protect Westerly in a way from the dangers that might ensue from this kind of exposure?
Westerly is theatrical. She thinks in a Willy Wonka/PT Barnum-esque manner. So yes, it’d be easy to sway toward the sensational. But she’s also very honest. It’s as if she’s turned inside out at times, narrating her own transformation from a sort of meta- perspective. My co-writer/director, Alan White and I try to stay impartial, fly on the wall, objective. As far as protecting Westerly goes, yes, definitely, I want to see her happy, I want to see her realize herself.
It seems a lot of people in the surf community, are having a hard time accepting Westerly Windina? She is seen as a farce staging a publicity stunt to gain attention after having been out of the public eye for so long. This complication comes rolled up in a tight ball of dealing with a sort of identity theft coupled with the death of Peter Drouyn, as the world knew him. What Westerly represents makes a lot of people uncomfortable, they have no tools for approaching/accepting/understanding her and with that comes anger. How does Westerly cope with this? So far, has this project helped catalyse any breakthroughs in people’s acceptance of Westerly?
I think Westerly has a hard time with the bigotry and intolerance she’s suffered. More than once I’ve wondered why she lives where she does. It’s a beautiful part of the world, but it lacks diversity and an open-minded spirit. It’s no wonder so many members of the LGBT community end up in big cities. They’re generally more accepting. They allow self-exploration without becoming the neighbourhood pariah. Since we started the project we’ve had notes from people offering Westerly lots of support. It’s so good to see, and means a lot to her.
I see a beautiful, fragile, vulnerable person trying to find herself. I see confusion and contradictions. Westerly lives in a sort of inside out, flayed open manner. It’s as if she’s saying, “Look at what it feels like to be human.” I admire her courage. Through her I learn about myself.
Last we spoke, you were leaving the next morning on a plane headed for Bangkok. It was an unexpected decision the day before by Westerly to make the final step in completing her transformation as she decided to undergo her gender reassignment surgery. How was the trip? Can you tell us if she did follow through with the surgery and also do you think she would have made the decision had your camera crews not been present?
The trip was excellent. We laughed a lot. It was wonderful to see Westerly in an environment where she was not the neighborhood freak. Cab drivers, hotel staff, waiters, and store clerks all treated her with great respect. I honestly do not know if she in fact went through with the surgery. We left before she was scheduled to have it. Regarding her final decision, I think that was in place long before we entered the picture.
What do you most look forward to with the completion of this film?
I hope we make a kick-arse, riveting film that inspires compassion and tolerance.