Author: has written 5300 posts for this blog.

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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31 Responses

  1. Faith
    Faith June 4, 2010 at 10:36 am |

    “I always thought that the problem with female toplessness was OMG BOOBS!”

    I’m not at all surprised by this. I’ve always believed that the problem was not OMG BOOBS! but that breasts are considered female body parts and women’s bodies are thought to be too shameful and are to be kept covered.

    Stories like this are prime examples of why I find public nudity laws so absurd. It shouldn’t matter at all what body the breasts are on. It shouldn’t matter because their is no part of the human body that is so shameful or disturbing that it must be kept covered at all times lest someone get their delicate sensibilities offended.

  2. DAS
    DAS June 4, 2010 at 10:52 am |

    I always thought that the problem with female toplessness was OMG BOOBS!

    Well, Kathy McGuiness wants to change the law to make sure that the law does reflect the issue being “OMG BOOBS!”. Of course, if they make toplessness illegal based on having boobs, does that mean toplessness would be illegal for men with a little bit too much fat in certain places? ;)

    Seriously, though, (speaking as a man who doesn’t like to go topless because I am serious white and have major sun-burning issues) one practical issue is that they don’t make male bathing suits typically with tops and many pools prohibit you from wearing a shirt in the pool (unless it’s made out of the same material as a bathing suit).

    Actually, though I don’t think the issue is either OMG BOOBS! or “women’s bodies are shameful” but more of a “let’s keep all sex-parts covered”. Most people who are sexually attracted to women find breasts to be a sexual signal. Moreover, for many women, the breasts are very much an erogenous zone. While many men also like their breasts fondled and many who are attracted to men find a nice chest to be attractive, the male chest is simply not as much of an erogenous zone for many couples as the female breast is. I think that is the distinction made.

    But I agree — it’s a very poor distinction.

  3. sonia
    sonia June 4, 2010 at 10:53 am |

    I am not surprised either. Though I remember a program on possibly Discovery Channel about a transwoman undergoing breast enhance surgery and before the surgery they were showing the nipples, whereas after the surgery they started censoring out the nipples. I mean, its the same damn skin tissue before and after.

  4. Bro V. Wade
    Bro V. Wade June 4, 2010 at 10:58 am |

    The legislative and law-enforcement concern with female toplessness is not just “OMG BOOBS,” but the fact that, in heterosexual men, the firing of the OMG BOOBS neuron immediately activates the entire OMFG VAJAYJAY neural cluster. Thus, the real danger of female toplessness is irrepressible vagina-related distraction in defenseless men. Trans women, who may be distracting for various other reasons, tend to cause the suppression of the neural activity that leads to vagina-related distraction.

    Also, this policy stance gives cops an excuse to do a panty-check on any topless people they come across.

  5. queen emily
    queen emily June 4, 2010 at 11:05 am |

    You know, quite a few of us have contemplated this as a form of political protest to demonstrate the incoherencies of sex designation.

    Most states use genitals to determine sex, and sex re-assignement, which leaves many trans women in the position of presenting female and having male documents and sometimes – but not always – rights (most often, we get screwed by the interplay between the mismatch and lack of other legal protections). Which is patently ridiculous, seeing as how the rest of the world tends to designate sex by external gender markers just fine.

    I’m glad they did this, and I hope they can leverage it into some form of political gain.

  6. queen emily
    queen emily June 4, 2010 at 11:06 am |

    @ Bro v Wade

    what the fuck did you just say?

  7. Sailorman
    Sailorman June 4, 2010 at 11:20 am |

    Yeah, i also thought it was OMG BOOBS, but I suppose it would be more accurate to say that it was OMG HETEROCISSEXUAL BOOBS.

    Still, it is obviously a stupid distinction. If the goal is to keep people from seeing apparently-female-boobs, then the only cognizable way to enforce it is if someone is showing apparently-female-boobs. If you’re going to make an exception based on something that has no visual or functional impact on the things you’re trying to ban (what’s below the belt), it’s pointless to have the ban in the first place.

    That said, I’m a cynic, especially when it comes to government. I always expect the worst. So I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that the response is NOT “oh hey, that makes no sense, let’s change the law,” but is rather “yuck, trans people are showing their boobs, can we ban trans people?”

  8. queen emily
    queen emily June 4, 2010 at 11:22 am |

    Might I suggest that the reason they were not arrested is not some some pseudo-biological reactions about “neural clusters” or whatever the fuck. Social construction, anyone? Bueller?

    Rather, what is stake is a political cissexist regime that is premised on genitals, boobs, clothing etc aligning.

    This is why these women caused such discomfort as to warrant a town meeting on the subject, but were not arrested. Because the police could neither get past their cissexism (to arrest them as women) or totally give in to their cissexism (and ignore the very public boobs and designate them unthreatening because “male”). What’s that Homi Bhabha phrase about the Other – almost the same, but not quite? Trans women – almost women in Delaware, but not quite.

    I don’t know for certain whether this was a political protest or not, but it seems to be cis cluelessness that none of y’all have considered that it might be, and why trans women would specifically choose this as a means of protest.

  9. It cuts both ways
    It cuts both ways June 4, 2010 at 11:25 am |

    Conversely, I’ve heard a number of anecdotes from transmen about being asked to take down (or having the hosting site take down) their post-op chest photos because it is ‘still a female chest.’

  10. jemand
    jemand June 4, 2010 at 11:27 am |

    @queen emily,

    wow, I first read that with a dripping case of the sarcasm sauce. I reread it and see that the first paragraph could be taken as just the “plain facts” which would be rather awful. I’m still not seeing any way the last comment could be taken as anything other than sarcastically pained descriptions of socially accepted abuses.

  11. jemand
    jemand June 4, 2010 at 11:28 am |

    oh sorry, more comments, I was talking about Bro v Wade’s comment and different takes queen emily and I read into it.

  12. queen emily
    queen emily June 4, 2010 at 11:33 am |


    Yeah, I see that. I read it as biological essentialism, cos God knows I’ve heard that basic argument enough times. Apologies to Bro Vs Wade for the misreading if so.

  13. cass_m
    cass_m June 4, 2010 at 11:40 am |

    I read Bro vs wade as a Poe – clearly a successful one.

  14. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub June 4, 2010 at 11:50 am |


    I don’t know if it’s an erogenous zone for men (I haven’t had any complaints) but I can tell you that an uncovered chest on a man can be very pleasantly, ahem, distracting. Unlike the douchenozzles that think I should be covered and ashamed, I have no problems with being lustfully distracted. I rather encourage it.

  15. Jadey
    Jadey June 4, 2010 at 11:59 am |

    I find it telling that the article writer choose the phrase “surgically enhanced” to describe the women’s breasts. Not just “breasts”, and certainly if they were cis women, I don’t think the writer would have commented on the type of breasts they were, surgically enhanced or otherwise – but no, when it’s a trans woman’s body, they just gotta reinforce how “unnatural” her body is. Feh.

  16. Bro V. Wade
    Bro V. Wade June 4, 2010 at 12:07 pm |

    @queen emily

    Apology appreciated but not necessary. Total-opposite-viewpoint sarcasm is kind of a dumb idea in writing, when no one knows who you are. I should have used the universal signal of internet sarcasm, the winky-semicolon-smiley face (I can’t seem to find that key on this keyboard).

    Apparently Delaware lets you change your gender on your driver’s license or birth certificate if you submit a certified letter from a physician stating that your gender has changed “from a medical standpoint” (references available on request). I’m suddenly realizing that it’s been a really long time since I got a medical opinion on my gender, and my driver’s license might be totally out of date.

  17. Jeff
    Jeff June 4, 2010 at 12:10 pm |

    I have no problems with being lustfully distracted. I rather encourage it.


    The “distraction” excuse is all too commonly used to enforce the prevailing social order. It’s used by Iranian clerics and Citibank executives alike. “Distraction” is just code for “shit we don’t approve of or wish would go away” – inconvenient things like women asserting their sexuality or (in this case) trans people being themselves.

    What’s weird is that Rehoboth has always kinda struck me as an oasis of social tolerance – it’s generally noted for its gay-friendliness at least. Long road between gay and trans acceptance, I guess.

  18. Jeff Kaufman
    Jeff Kaufman June 4, 2010 at 12:30 pm |

    I always thought that the problem with female toplessness was OMG BOOBS! But here we have female toplessness and boobs, but it’s not illegal because there’s no vagina involved?

    The social problem *is*, more or less, OMG BOOBS, but apparently when converting social norms into law the politicians didn’t consider trans people (or intersex people, or any other people that might have female-appearing breasts combined with male-appearing genitalia) and used wording about genitalia when really they meant breast appearance.

  19. Faith
    Faith June 4, 2010 at 12:56 pm |

    ““let’s keep all sex-parts covered””

    The entire body is compromised of “sex-parts”. I always find it laughable when people refer to genitalia or breasts as “sex-parts”. There isn’t a single part of the human body that isn’t sexualized by someone. But I do agree that is part of why it is believed that they should be kept covered and why it is believed to be shameful. Because female sexuality is viewed as something shameful. Yes, men are subjected to the idea that certain parts of their body must be kept covered but not anywhere near the same degree as women, nor are men treated with as much disdain and scorn when they do exhibit those parts.

    “Most people who are sexually attracted to women find breasts to be a sexual signal.”

    Well being a person who is sexually attracted to women, I don’t find breasts to be a sexual signal. At least not anymore than any other part of the body. I have this crazy belief that I have no right to assume that someone is sending sexual signals to me unless that person makes it quite clear that is their intention. While the entire body can be sexual, I don’t believe I have any right to sexualize another person’s body without their permission. If I do, I do it quietly in my own head and do not project that feeling out onto that person without their permission by doing oppressive crap like telling them they must keep their parts covered because it’s a distraction to me.

  20. Azalea
    Azalea June 4, 2010 at 1:23 pm |

    While I agree that anybody should be able to go topless I don’t think I’d leave my house again if I saw everyone’s genitals. Considering a man’s penis could get hard because the wind blew, imagine a scenario where you’re walking down a crowded street and this bottomless dude’s penis starts dancing around, thats enough to cause a stampede of hetero dudes and whomever else wants to miss making contact with a stranger’s bare penis.

  21. Faith
    Faith June 4, 2010 at 1:55 pm |

    “While I agree that anybody should be able to go topless I don’t think I’d leave my house again if I saw everyone’s genitals.”

    Not to sound harsh, but I think that’s your own problem to deal with.

    “Considering a man’s penis could get hard because the wind blew, imagine a scenario where you’re walking down a crowded street and this bottomless dude’s penis starts dancing around, thats enough to cause a stampede of hetero dudes and whomever else wants to miss making contact with a stranger’s bare penis.”

    Believe it or not, there are nudist colonies and there have even been entire cultures where men walk around with their genitals exposed all the time. Erect penises can be dealt with in a mature fashion. The man could temporarily cover himself if need be, although in my experience with nude men in a semi-public setting that wasn’t necessary. Erections are normal facts of life for men and as long as they don’t intentionally sexualize that fact it need not be an issue.

    Public nudity in very crowded settings like large cities could cause a genuine problem with hygiene issues I would think, but there isn’t anything inherently scary about an erect penis. My biggest concern in such a situation would be the possible trigger effect on a rape or abuse survivor, not the reactions of people whose feelings basically amount to OMG A PENIS!!!

  22. Astrid
    Astrid June 4, 2010 at 2:18 pm |

    Whatever the reason behind anti-topless laws is – erogennous zones, OMG BOOBS, female body parts not being liked -, this story points out how backwards and impractical these laws are. It may be that “defenseless” heterosexual men are distracted by female breasts, breasts in general, or any part they consider erogenous, but it’s still their responsibility to do with thaeir attraction/distraction what they choose.

  23. Bushfire
    Bushfire June 4, 2010 at 2:23 pm |

    I would just like to state for the record that if everyone was naked I would still leave my house on a regular basis.

    Also, if I saw trans women topless on a beach I would think to myself, “hey, cool, look at the great tan they’re going to get” and then I would keep swimming.

  24. panda
    panda June 4, 2010 at 3:01 pm |

    I think allowing toplessness would be much different than allowing full-on nudity, only because there are a lot of health risks involved with genitalia, especially in crowded areas or on seats, that are prevented by some clothing.

    Also, I would like to second that topless men are just as distracting and drool-inducing as topless ladies. Its why I decided to go to a college near the beach ;-)

  25. jules
    jules June 4, 2010 at 4:48 pm |

    Freaking out over someone’s erect penis is like freaking out over someone’s erect nipples. Yes, these things can be triggered by sexual thoughts/touching, but they can also be triggered by all kinds of random other things. If the person isn’t being gross (i.e., making it obvious that they are having sexual thoughts about other people who have not agreed to take part in this little fantasy), who cares.

    I’m always surprised by how few people (I guess generally people without penises) realize that hard ons happen. All the time. For no reason. If people realized this, it wouldn’t be so embarrassing and horrible when it is obvious in public.

  26. jules
    jules June 4, 2010 at 4:51 pm |

    My biggest concern in such a situation would be the possible trigger effect on a rape or abuse survivor,

    So this is all hypothetical since I doubt there’s going to be any sort of nudist revolution soon, but I feel like in that situation, this is something victims/survivors would have to figure out how to deal with. I was a victim of abuse and rape, and I have pretty strong PTSD reactions to some things. Certain types of men (certain builds, but sometimes just a look I can’t pinpoint) make me very nervous. But I have to leave my house sometimes, so this is something I just have to learn to deal with. I think we need to remember to keep the focus on preventing rape, not keeping survivors in a bubble afterwards. :-/

  27. CK07
    CK07 June 4, 2010 at 4:55 pm |

    OK, I actually know the folks who are the topic of this story. The truth of the matter is much worse than it seems, because the media has gotten the details COMPLETELY wrong. These people are actually transmasculine/genderqueer, NOT transwomen! Which does mean that they were technically breaking the law, but the egregious failure of the news media to write a story without -sensational “chicks with dicks” viewpoint bothers me far more than anything else. My friends (who are trying their damnedest to stay anonymous in all this) are shocked at the scale this story has taken on, especially at the aspect leading to a potential new transphobic law being created in Rehoboth! Please contact news organizations and Rehoboth gov’t people to help clear this up and get trans-positive voices heard!

  28. Cara
    Cara June 4, 2010 at 6:05 pm |

    Heyyyyy folks, so I’m feeling like the whole nudist debate is kind of off topic. We’re talking about a) toplessness, not full nudity, and inequity in laws concerning toplessness, b) bizarre misgendering and transphobia and how that plays out, and c) how inequities in legislation regarding the supposed obscenity of bodies become even more absurd once you take into account that bodies cannot be divided right down the middle into an arbitrary binary.

    And on the topic of misgendering and transphobia! I have heard this story reported both ways — that the individuals were trans men and trans women. With media and police both so regularly misgendering trans* folks, it makes it especially difficult to know what the truth is and who has got it right. I’m imagining that Jill will address this with an update when she sees it.

  29. Sailorman
    Sailorman June 5, 2010 at 6:18 pm |

    Nudity is a weird topic. I’m not personally bothered by it and I’ve been to many a nude beach. But I can easily see how someone else could be bothered by it, and I’m not so sure I’m in full agreement with the “everyone should let it all hang out” concept. To live in a nudist colony is perfectly OK; to assume that everyone else would/should do so seems just as surprising as assuming that everyone should cover up all of their skin at all times.

    The problem of course is that there’s no clear reason, or logic, which helps to distinguish between various states of undress. Topless women are thought of as more racy than are topless men, but bottomless men (or men in small thongs) are thought of as more racy than are bottomless or thong-wearing women (erections even more so.)

    Why? Who the hell knows? But although I can’t see any logic to it, I’m also not sure that it is entirely inappropriate for society at large to decide on some (arbitrary) rules. Should it be appropriate? Should it not?

  30. Miguel
    Miguel June 6, 2010 at 2:56 pm |

    GENDER POLICING DOES NOT WORK. It is not the job of trans & gender nonconforming folks to be clear to cissexist thinking authorities. It is our job to take care of ourselves and each other. It is our job to express our genders in a way that is healthy for our psyches.

    These folks didn’t ask for media attention: the media picked their story up without asking them how they identify! Please consider uniting with them at least on that basis.

    with love for the struggle of all gender nonconforming and trans and queer people!

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