I know this will come as blasphemy to some if not many, but I’ve got to explore something I feel and see how it pans out in written form. I could never quite put my finger on why transvestite behavior bothered me when I’m good with all forms of sexuality and gender identity. And look, there’s not enough time in the continuum to make you believe I’m genuinely good with something if you’ve set your mind to thinking I’m not – but I’m the decider of whether or not I’m good with something and how, so we’re going to need to at least say it’s that way for the sake of argument, if nothing else. In the same vein, I don’t need to prove my cred for speaking on this topic to anyone (whether or not I’m qualified). So if you think I shouldn’t be talking about this then read some other blog post. Moving on….
My problem is layered or faceted or whatever you want to call it, so no, I can’t have a short definitive thesis here in the beginning. It’s simply a complex issue, which is oxymoronic again, so we’ll move along.
A main issue I take with transvestism is that it inherently reinforces restrictive gender norms. By nature, dressing like the opposite gender reinforces that genders dress differently. And taking on behavioral affectations bothers me even more. It’s bad enough to pigeonhole dress code, or associate make up and such with a gender. But to then take it a step further and “act” like a person of the opposite gender reinforces gendered behavior patterns.
Basically, when you dress “like a man” or “like a woman” you are stereotyping that gender and objectifying them. You’re telling us that women act a certain way, and that men act a certain way, that they dress and look a certain way. It’s divisive and it supports the narrow minded conservative views that state there are ways in which we should or should not act, based on gender (perceived or otherwise).
When a man dresses and acts like a woman he’s showing everyone that this is how he thinks women are, and vice versa with FTM. (Even if he doesn’t think that way and it is intended to highlight how “dominant culture” behaves, it still acts as reinforcement). It’s that show of gender that not only confines what we do, but puts focus on gender and sexuality in a way that is not necessarily the show of freedom some claim it to be. It’s bowing to conventional gender roles while qualifying your humanity. It perpetuates what it intends to disrupt.
Just like most black people would rather be called people than qualified as black people, I’d rather be called a person than be qualified as a woman. It’s not to say I do or do not deny any connection with gender, but rather that gender is not relevant to most of my day to day life, job, or actions except for some minute logistical differences, and that injecting it into non-sexual parts of life is unnecessary at best and inappropriate in many circumstances. Western society finds bringing sexual behavior into the workplace largely unacceptable, just as we feel the same around children; just to name some simple examples. That’s because sexuality does not need to be a component of every aspect of our life any more than any other trait or interest – biological or otherwise. I don’t read with my genitals, and neither do you.
If we are truly all human and free to express ourselves, choose our identities, and display them as we see fit (which we are) then a woman may wear anything and act any way she likes, as can a man, or someone in between. I think what I’m drilling down to is if we claim true equality and freedom as human rights, then it shouldn’t even really be called cross dressing, or transvestism or be anything. It’s simply a human that put on an outfit today – there is no real relevance to what color or cut of fabric it is, nor the material it’s made out of; that’s all subjective and preference based.
I have more written on “acting” feminine in another post, in case you’d like to get some depth on gender identity and what it means to me in specific. But I’ll give a short bit here to keep the context going in this post. Behaviors considered “feminine” are usually associating femininity with traits from sexual dimorphism – meaning that statistically females of most species are smaller and weaker than males, as well as more prone to difficult issues associated with child bearing. That weakness and volatility translate into submissive behaviors, like avoiding eye contact, toes turned inward, shoulders slumped, excessive apology, low speech volume, etc. When hatred is poured on transvestites, non-heterosexuals etc., it is usually a manifestation of misogyny , and calling a man anything related to womanhood is a well established insult that is used in other sexualities almost as much as heterosexual culture. It is automatically demeaning and belittling because of the cultural valuation of strength and forcefulness over weakness and submission. Aggression is praised while cooperation is seen as distasteful at best.
Part of the problem with reinforcing those gender norms is that it makes it that much harder for our overall equal rights movement’s progress. Women have been working for generations to be seen as equal and capable, while the visions of us remain qualified as a burden or distraction, and yet somehow simultaneously an object of desire to be sought after. When we are portrayed as these characters that are dominated by our gender and what it supposedly dictates, it chips away at our platform to be considered truly genuine equals, aside from the detrimental emotional consequences that are part an parcel of any restrictive doctrine.
I get that many consider this behavior to be self expression and displaying identity. I used to know someone who wore dresses and makeup because they wanted to, although being born “male”; it fell under the self expression and displaying identity categories. I am and was cool with that, for what it is, which is to say this person is welcome to have their own style. What I’m less cool with is grossly exaggerated versions of gendered behavior or clothing that appear to be intended as rebellious or lampooning the status quo – which means not to express self but as a tool to drive social change through a form of protest or satire.
I get the mentality of wanting to make people question assumptions about gender, and expression of what we feel is reflective of our inner selves. Yet when gender issues are put in that satirical light it is unfortunately not a light that drives meaningful change in those who do maintain true inequality institutionally. Satire is also not being appreciated as such or its role is not being understood as completely as it could be in these modern times, leading to a lot more misunderstandings than viable solutions when this method is used.
No, I’m not saying I want to do away with transvestite or transsexual identity, behavior, or culture (not that I could) – they’ve been a part of humanity since always – there’s evidence of it far back in history. But because of that history these practices come from a binary gender culture norm, and they are reinforcing that same binary definition, rather than displaying representations of the spectrum of possible identity, behavior and expression without qualification.
Cross dressing has its own cultural identity and I’m glad for it, but that doesn’t mean the practice makes social improvements in the arena of gender equality, social justice, or anything else in society. I can say what I want here and I’m going to say it, I feel like the practice of exaggerated transvestism diminishes my struggle for equality, and makes it harder for me to be a woman who isn’t effeminate, isn’t delicate, isn’t weak and doesn’t conform to gender norms as it is. It tells me that if I want to be myself in that case, that I must eschew femininity in favor of “acting” like a man or constantly live outside of what are portrayed as the only two choices available.
I’m on the same spectrum as everybody else which is an infinitely variable gradient – not stuck with one of two choices that were never adequate enough to begin with.