30 Things Someone Else Has Learned

I read about this on the excellent en|Gender blog – an article written by a transwoman called Ashley Altadonna about things she has learnt while transitioning.
Now, obviously, she’s transitioning and I’m not, nor do I have any plans or intention to do so, but there are still some things she said which resonated with me (especially No.1) but there was one, which was highlighted on en|Gender and which I really agree with. It’s something that has never occurred to me and also links in somewhat with the discussion. I will include that one here, but the whole thing is really worth reading.

#20 TRANSGENDER PEOPLE DON’T REINFORCE THE GENDER BINARY

I have read that some individuals take issue with trans folks because we supposedly “reinforce the idea of a gender binary”. Their view is that through our transitions trans individuals are somehow trying to fashion themselves into an idealized image of what a “real” man or woman should be, and therefore supporting the notion that men and women should look and act a certain way. This is notion is flat out ridiculous.

While it is true that for many trans folks attempting to gain access to hormone therapies and surgeries, portraying themselves as overly feminine or masculine is a means of dealing with gatekeepers. This does not mean that we are reinforcing the gender binary. Instead, this is an unfair burden placed upon trans folks to work within the restrictions imposed by the Standards of Care.

What really debunks this concept is that it holds trans people to a higher standard than cisgender individuals. If a transwoman is reinforcing the gender binary by wearing make-up and a dress then by the same thinking ANY woman wearing make-up and feminine attire would be reinforcing the gender binary. Any man who chooses to sport a tie would be reinforcing the gender binary as well. In other words, if trans people are reinforcing the binary, then we all are.

3 thoughts on “30 Things Someone Else Has Learned

  1. I have to admit that I asked myself “Do I reinforce the gender binary? Does it matter and is it a bad thing?” quite a few times in the past. Yet in my long “career” as a crossdresser nobody ever has actually accused me of reinforcing the gender binary to my face or even in an anonymous comment. Despite the rather ostentatiously feminine way I dress.

    For me the answers to these questions are “Probably. And somewhat necessarily so” and “Probably not”. As a transperson you tend to have an intrinsically stronger need and inclination to conform to the societal norms attached to the gender you present as – especially if you are not quite as “perfect” in a natural way to be able to convince people of your masculinity or femininity without making a bit of an effort. People are less comfortable with an awkward ambiguity than with a slightly over-egged, but more or less unambiguous presentation. Ultimately the very act of crossdressing (and transitioning) both implicitly accepts the concept of a gender binary yet also rejects the notion that it is absolute.

    However, the idea that a bunch of somewhat over the top trannies could somehow convince women to be more “womanly” or convince men to demand more “womanly” women is also quite patently ridiculous and as such the way transpeople dress and behave is hardly going to reinforce anything – except maybe the determination of women to avoid looking like overdone trannies or simpering submissive sissies ;-)

    I think it’s really a pseudo issue that is of little relevance outside the realms of some fringe branches of feminist theory and the minds of people who try to explain away their lack of success in being accepted as the gender they want to be accepted as by claiming their need to avoid reinforcing the gender binary. Ultimately it’s people who shout “I AM A MAN/I AM A WOMAN” while simultaneously trying to redefine what this actually means to the average person who are more of a problem for the image of the trans community than those who might put on a bit too much make up or who are overly fond of twinsets and pearls.

    • As ever, you are insightful and intelligent. I agree with you entirely. It’s not something I’ve ever had to deal with and I’ve never ever heard anyone, outside these sort of discussions, ever use the phrase ‘the gender binary’. Frankly, why people would ever be concerned about the gender of someone with whom they aren’t actually in a sexual relationship, is beyond me. If a man wants to wear a skirt or a woman wants to wear padded boxer shorts (I was trying to come up with some article of clothing that would be unusual for a woman to wear…) then really, why should anyone else care?
      The only thing I may take issue with is your statement about the ‘determination of women to avoid looking like overdone trannies’ – it seems to be the fashion these days for women to do exactly that! Or is that just because I live in Newcastle and have driven past the Bigg Market too many times?

      Oh, and thank you for being the first person to make a comment here! Feel free to edit your comment to add ‘First!’ to the beginning.

      • Well, what can I say. I am happy to be the first commenter ;-) And hopefully won’t remain the only one.

        I do agree with you that in everyday life it shouldn’t really matter what gender you are and how closely the clothes you wear match “known” gender specific stereotypes. In reality both of these things still matter in quite a few subtle and not so subtle ways and make people react differently to you, sometimes, as I found out to my surprise, in quite unexpected ways.

        And sometimes also still very much to the detriment of people. A transgendered friend who does his work in stealth mode (i.e. he dresses in nominally male mode and doesn’t insist to be addressed with a female pronoun all the time, yet his clothes are all technically female) was about to move on and his role was about to be filled by somebody else – who also happened to be transgendered and equally qualified, but apparently dressed in a somewhat more flamboyant and more typically female way. HR promptly vetoed the employment of said person under a pretext, although apparently somebody let slip that the REAL reason was simply that (s)he made people in HR uncomfortable by not conforming enough.

        The whole gender binary and “Appropriate clothing” thing is however not really a conscious thing in most people, it’s just that people like to categorise other people and gender is very much a primary category. The gender binary (and its associated cultural values) is something that is still very real even in a modern western society, but it’s not something most people see as an issue at all. It’s just a fact of life for them. Ultimately the “standard” way severe cases of gender dysphoria are treated (.i.e. complete transition) is in itself very much proof of the potency of the gender binary both from the perspective of the transgendered person and from the perspective of society.

        On the other hand I don’t think that gender binary in our society still necessarily means that everybody has to be either 100% female or 100% male (in fact some people find androgyny quite attractive), it does mean however that people react confused to combinations of masculine and feminine traits they feel are odd and incongruent to be present in one person at the same time. It’s really more of a scale nowadays (which is progress), but it’s still not really a mix and match that is free for all.

        Good point about Newcastle and a certain type of brit “lady” though ;-) Amusingly enough, a male colleague of my other half got his lights punched out by a woman in a bar in Liverpool because he dared to call her a lady. She apparently was inferring that he accused her of being a tranny. By calling her a lady. Go figure.

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