I was talking to a non-trans lesbian friend a while back, and she was complaining about a trans woman she knew who was “reinforcing female gender stereotypes” by wearing frilly or low-cut dresses, high heels, “big” hair, and lots of makeup.
“She’s perpetuating the images that we’re trying to get rid of,” my friend protested. “Aren’t trans people supposed to be tearing down the gender binary, not building it up?”
Umm, well, actually … no.
That’s not our job. It would be nice if that happened, and I hope that we’re a part of that, but not all trans people want to eliminate the gender binary, and it’s not our responsibility to single-handedly rip it down, brick by brick.
In fact, if anything is our “job” (and nothing is), it is to ensure that all forms of gender expression are accepted and embraced — including “traditional” femininity and masculinity.
The trans woman in question was early in her transition. It’s quite possible that she will eventually lighten up.
I have found, in my experience and in watching many other trans people transition, that a lot of us tend to start out by adopting some of the relatively strict gender roles that exist and by asserting our “new” gender by displaying some hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine behaviors. Many of us gradually drift back toward “center.”
But some of us don’t. And that’s okay.
For those of us who truly dislike the binary gender system and who truly want to see it relaxed, expanded, or eliminated, it can be frustrating to see trans people who have the opportunity to challenge the system go with the flow instead — or even go with the tidal wave and subscribe more strictly to binary gender codes than even most non-trans people do.
Some of the most “traditionally” feminine and “traditionally” masculine people I have known have been trans people. The biggest male chauvinist that I have ever met in my life is a trans man. If he’s reading this, he knows I’m referring to him, because we have joked about it before. And some people would find that not only disgusting, but somehow a “betrayal” of what trans people are supposed to be and do in order to tear down the walls of the oppressive gender system.
But the reality is that those of us who criticize these “traditionally” feminine and masculine trans people are just as rigid in our beliefs and expectations as is the binary gender system that we want to eliminate.
When we talk about accepting and embracing gender in all its variations, do we really mean “all”? Or do we mean only those variations that do not conform to traditional gender roles?
When we talk about celebrating all expressions of gender, do we really mean “all” — or just those that don’t fit into the binary?
Part of the freedom to express our gender as we wish is the freedom to express it in traditional ways. There is a wide, almost unlimited, spectrum of gender expression. In order to allow everyone the freedom to express his or her gender as he or she wishes, then we have to accept all forms of gender expression and fight for the rights of everyone — not just a select few who challenge the system.
Until we embrace every person’s right to truly be him- or herself — even if that means frilly dresses and high heels — then we are no better than the system that puts us in little categories and boxes and expects us to behave.
We end up doing exactly the same thing — and the new boss becomes the same as the old one.
(Photo: me being feminine)