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Transgender Stereotypes…Ugh

StereotypeThere is nothing like being called out on your words to generate some good discussion. There seems to be a lot of that lately, and frankly, I could not be happier about it. It’s not so easy to come up with new things to write about every few days, so if anyone wants to lob some grenades my way, I can’t help but be just a little bit thankful. The latest, and plucked right from my very last post, was the charge that trans women perpetuate a negative stereotype of women. Not only do I have to wonder if this is true, I have to ask if this is even possible. Let’s talk about that.

We all know for sure that there is definitely a trans stereotype out there, and it sure isn’t pretty. Six foot four with a linebacker build, platform ‘fuck-me’ heels, five o’clock shadow, big blonde 80’s hair,70’s porn star makeup, high falsetto voice, and Forever 21 hoochie skirt. I told you it wasn’t pretty, but for the vast population with zero trans exposure, this is the image that tends to pop into people’s heads if you sneak up to them and shout “trans” in their ear. At the same time, I’m also not claiming this doesn’t exist in nature, but it’s very rare, and usually only if she’s just getting started and doesn’t have any friends. Until recently, the media did a bang up job of propagating this whenever they needed a cheap laugh for some comedy relief.

Trans sometimes do fall into stereotypes though, though generally the ‘Cosmo girl’ type rather than any depiction seen in an Adam Sandler movie. This specifically is what I think was annoying the bejeezus out of my recent commenter. This one is far more subtle, but very Carrie Bradshaw at the same time. Super femme, shoe and clothing obsessed, dipshit in the area of all things stereotypically male, and full of vacuous conversation about celebrity gossip and horrible little dogs. Unfortunately, there are actually plenty of cis women, not to mention trans, who are actually like this. It’s ridiculous and clearly a media creation, but it’s there wherever we go. Why?

I think the answer is really pretty simple. It’s out there, ubiquitous, and very easily emulated. People in search of a personal identity expression with no clue on how to arrive there on their own can fall prey to this without a whole lot of work involved. On the cis side, not every woman grew up amidst a crowd of friends with whom she felt comfortable honing her individuality with. In other cases, some found that adopting the stereotype gained positive attention. Let’s be honest here, a great deal of men absolutely love the stereotype and will fall all over themselves to buy someone who adopted it a drink at the club. I’m not saying this is good, but I am saying it is pretty understandable that someone shy, awkward, or with low self esteem and aching for that personal attention would find the gains made by confirming much more attractive than the alternative.

On the trans side much, if not most, of it comes from attempting to figure out how to integrate into society without any advantage of upbringing. Someone entering into a situation where the rules are still largely unknown and guidance is not always plentiful, it’s very tempting to model one’s self after ‘Two Broke Girls’ or a knock off of style seen in the latest issue of Elle. I’ve said more than once that beginning transition is like going from 40 to 14 overnight, and the analogy fits a bit more snug than my typical stab in the dark from out in left field. The root of adopting a stereotype is not to reinforce some male contrived societal ideal of women, but to simply attempt to blend in as rapidly and completely as possible.

In addition to this, I would like to once again point out that no one in their right mind is taking what trans women do and using it to create a picture in their mind of all women. Not only are there far too few of us to make this possible, at present trans women are still generally regarded as some weird offshoot demographic no one is really sure what to think about. Yes, if aliens land and they happen to meet a trans woman first, they may get the wrong idea, but barring that, it’s not happening. We trans are not especially pleased by this, not because we wish to be the global face of womankind, but because we would much prefer to simply be considered women in the overall population who just took a much longer route there. At the moment, we are not even close, but at the same time have the exact same interest in seeing true gender equality realized in our lifetimes for the benefit of all women, ourselves included.

Stereotypes are bad for any demographic. They allow people to make snap judgment on both an individual and a group that conforms to any prejudicial notions they already have. No one adopts a stereotype for this reason though. People in general prefer to live their lives while getting the least possible amount of shit about it, not make some grand statement to society. Condemnation of this is rarely aimed at the creators of the stereotypes but instead castigates individuals who are clearly in need of compassion and empathy. Unfortunately human society has not yet advanced to where ‘blame the victim’ mentality is universally acknowledged as a fallacy.

To those most opposed to the perpetuation of stereotypes, your time would be far better spent working against the cause rather than instilling shame and heartache. The latter truly accomplishes nothing positive and is at heart, mean in spirit.


About michellelianna

I'm a transgender woman now in the maintenance stages of transition having all the electrolysis and surgery one can reasonably be expected to undertake. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I don't have quite as much to say as I used to, but I'm not quite done yet either.

8 responses »

  1. NYK is hostile. The clue is in the phrase M-T. It is a deliberately insulting and phobic expression.

    I am ultragirly. I just am. I really do like floral or lacy skirts. That in itself is no more a stereotype than, say, a butch’s haircut. Were I less feminine I might have made a go of presenting male. It is also well within the bell-curve of ordinary woman. The problem arises if others make judgments, making that the face of the ideal woman, rather than just accepting women as women.

    • nobody you know

      It is always peculiar how quickly people of a particular demographic want to toss around the “phobic” label. Quite honestly, that is yet another typical response seen from one demographic far more frequently than others. Trans* seems to be the only group that wants to rush to automatically label any disagreement as “phobic” or those that have differences of opinion as being “hostile.”

      Comments such as Clare’s are simply one of the very many examples that fall right in line with the experiences of females through the years of basically being told to sit down and shut up, that our opinions are not worthy of being heard. And THAT is an example of someone being “hostile”…not to mention “deliberately insulting.”

  2. nobody you know

    Given that it seems that my post in the earlier thread was what prompted this blog post, you will note that I did not discuss stereotypes in terms of either positive or negative nor was there reference to physical image.

    My comments dealt with the perpetuation of the stereotypes related to what women can or cannot be expected to do and that, all too often, M2T seems to want to play the dumb blonde stereotype as they try to mimic what they believe a woman to be (as was shown with the lack of effort to have a meaningful conversation with the shop tech about the issues). So many of the forums and blogs that cater to trans* carry the same basic discussions that, quite frankly, have the underpinings of the very autogynophilic issues described by Blanchard, et al that trans* is constantly claiming to be bunk.

    I will generally bite my tongue on the image issues and stereotypes that everyone knows abound out there (and that are covered in the blog entry) and that were absorbed/annexed by Umbrella Inc when the likes of Frye and Frye’s ilk decided that any gender-variant individual was automatically ‘transgendered’ whether they wanted to be or not (when the cross-dressers decided to latch on to the coattails of those who had been diagnosed as transsexual long before Umbrella Inc and now GLAAD decided that such a term was taboo). The whole notion of trans* insisting on what they call FFS just leaves me shaking my head though as that does nothing more than, once again, show a continued perpetuation of men engaging in further actions to mimic their belief of what a female image is.

    Trans* will never ‘get’ the issue precisely because they don’t want to listen to the concerns of those who were born female and have often scratched and clawed to be free of the straitjacket society so often sought to impose on females in the not so distant past. Instead we see trans* constantly doing their damndest to adhere to the stereotypical ROLES that trans* tries to ascribe to ‘gender.’

    • Hi NYK, we seem to be covering multiple issues here, so I’ll address them one at a time.

      1. True, you did not explicitly discuss stereotype in positive or negative terms, nor did you discuss appearance (although you appear to be in this comment, but more on that later). The term “stereotype”, however, has an implicitly negative connotation, even when an attempt to frame it as positive is utilized. Taking a diverse demographic comprised of individuals, even when a set governing body exists (of which trans* people do not have), and ascribing generalized traits to the demographic name that are intended to propagate to all members is stereotyping. You have consistently done this in the majority of your commentary in reference to trans* as a homogenous entity. This is at worst intentionally biased and at best intellectually lazy.

      2. The context of my story about a trip to the mechanic was framed as an unforeseen situation in which I found myself intimidated by multiple males significantly discounting my knowledge and intelligence based on appearance alone. It was in no way intended to provide an example of adopting a faux set of behaviors based on a preconceived notion of how I “ought” to have acted. I would have been equally taken off guard if the same set of events occurred 3 years ago when still firmly presenting as male. No mimicry, simply surprise and the reaction of one individual. The intended take away was a better understanding of the inequity of treatment based on appearance alone.

      3. The forums and blogs you refer to are unfamiliar to me. I need more specifics to address. Again, I ask that you keep in mind that the trans* population consists of individuals displaying the same level of diversity in terms of background, education, intelligence, understanding, and even politics as society in general. While some very general traits specific to elements within the trans* demographic exist, they are neither universal, nor particularly influential in dictating behavior or opinion. In basic terms, anyone wishing to find examples they may consider negative in the trans*demographic will find them, just as can be done in any other demographic.

      4. The Umbrella was adopted for two reasons. The lesser of the two is a sense of inclusion. The predominant reason is political. It’s no different than LGBT or GLAAD or any other organization in which minority segments of a population band together to attain a greater voice and achieve common goals. Given that transsexuals are arguably the smallest element under the trans* umbrella, adopting this successful model makes perfect sense and mitigates the risk of being further marginalized as ‘percentage of a percentage’ minority, especially in the face of the opposition that persists. A good example I recently encountered was the Asian Pacific Alliance. Singapore is far more likely to promote positive change in the company of China, Korea and Japan than they would on their own, and so are we.

      5. I’m not at all clear on your FFS comment. I will say that that those who can afford it and elect to have FFS do so in an attempt to blend in better rather than mimic some stereotypical beauty ideal that is rarely achievable anyway. Being stared at while grocery shopping can get very tiresome whether it is due to having a second nose or too masculine features. Trans* people undergo this for comfort, not Cosmo.

      6. Your last paragraph is again anthropomorphizing “trans*” as a sentient homogenous entity, which makes as much sense as legally designating a corporation a person. As for listening to the concerns of women, I believe many if not most transsexuals are of the same mindset. MTF trans are very well aware we are transitioning from the enormous power of male privilege. While exceptions will always persist (as they do with cisgender women), it is not our interest to sit adoringly at the feet of man on his throne or behave according to expectation in that regard. When the appearance of this manifests in the trans* demographic, it is far more often the product of attempting to blend and not be singled out as the freakish social outlier and thereby dangerous.

      Thank you again for commenting! While we may not be on the same page, I appreciate the insight into your thought processes and the opportunity to further clarify my own position. I actually think we are 90% or more politically aligned if only the whole trans thing was not part of the equation.

    • I think the adage that “one must know the rules before one can break them” applies here…

      There are many ways in which I am deliberately becoming a “stereotype” of the typical woman — I am in much the same position as an adolescent girl becoming a woman: we do not yet know what it is to be a woman but we are “becoming” as we observe and interact with women our senior. This shaping proceeds as others interact with our developing selves, as we are mirrored by *their* responses to our becoming women — this is circular and synergistic…

      …Adolescent girls and boys are generally consumed with “fitting-in” and measuring themselves against others. They are “learning the rules,” another way of saying they are becoming “stereotypes.” It is after this stage, when our identities are securely formed, that we can then grow to “break” these rules in ways that promote growth in ourselves and others.

      Many transsexuals have the added burden of replacing their pre-transition socialization with new socialization, and this generally includes the relinquishing of our natal privilege as we are (hopefully) granted privilege associated with the gender to which we truly belong.

      Once I was a woman whose body forced her to mimic boys (to survive) and men (to “get along”) and this nearly destroyed me. Now, I am still a woman who is simply *becoming* her more mature self, and this means passing through female adolescence in a psychological (and for me, physical) sense, inasmuch as that is possible.

      Mimicry in the NYK sense seems to be “one trying to be *like* another.” In the case of transsexuals, we are trying to be *as* ourselves. The former implies guile, while the later demonstrates authenticity.

      Does this seem reasonable?

  3. This stereotype breaks my heart…

    ,,,As a transwoman, I know that I am peculiar but I would like it to be pleasantly so.

    Aesthetics are important** to me, and there are many times when I could “pile-on” the feminine cues, but I don’t because it disagrees with my sense of style and also with what seems “right” to me as a person.

    While I like being a bit quirky and “unexpected,” I want it to be in a winsome, personally-attractive way.

    Ultimately I want to be a beautiful and gracious person, from the inside manifesting to my outward expression. As I try hard to be a nice person, I sense that people are more inclined to take my peculiarity in a pleasant way. I have a bumper sticker that say: “Disturbingly Strange, But Ultimately Lovable”

    **[Aesthetics and living as a woman are deeply congruent with me, so I would be this way even if no one ever saw or encountered me. In these senses, I *am* simply for the joy of *being* rather than simply appearing.]

    Blessings & Joy!!



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