A recent interview made on local TV to a trans woman, with a subsequent discussion on many different social networks populated by transgender people, as well as a conversation with my wife, made me realise how often the social behaviour of transgender people does not correspond to the gender they affirm to belong to. This was an intriguing insight — one that has been lurking back in my mind for quite a while — and, to be honest, I haven’t (yet) seen a thorough study on this particular subject.
I call it (because things have to have names!) reverse cross-gender behaviour. Let me explain what I mean by that, after we take a look at the reasons that made me reflect on this particular subject.
The stereotype of the gorgeous trans woman who was stuck in the wrong gender
The universal meme of the ‘woman trapped in a man’s body’ is now so common that even the most conservative transphobic person will have heard it; and it’s quite often one of the first realisations that a MtF transgender has when reflecting about their own condition.
When I saw the above-mentioned interview, there was absolutely no question that the interviewee was a woman. The interview was mostly because she was participating in an international transgender beauty pageant, representing our country for the first time; she wants to become a model as a career choice, and it wasn’t the first time she participated in such a contest — in fact, her nomination came from other transexuals who believed that she had not only the looks (which she does!) but also the experience in participating in beauty contests. At the end of the day, she didn’t win, but her experience was picked up by the mainstream media in our country, casting her in a very favourable look, and, as such, the trans community as a whole benefitted by her participation.
In the interview, she stated that she didn’t really want to be a ‘voice for the transgender people’ or even an ‘activist for a cause’. In fact, she wanted to be left alone, get a boyfriend, marry, adopt some children, enjoy her career as a model, live a fulfilling life. Therefore, until very recently, she simply faded into the background once she completed her transition. It was just recently that she was pushed into the limelight, and she had to accept that, after her media exposure, it would be hard for her to ‘hide’ the horrible truth that she had been misgendered at birth and only managed to correct the mistake afterwards. As several online comments from transphobic male people showed, they were disgusted at the idea of having sex with her, knowing that she once had a penis, too.
It’s important to say that this particular woman does not look in the least like a stereotypical ‘trans woman’. She has a perfect feminine body, but also a perfect poise. Her voice is full, rich, and totally feminine. Her whole attitude and behaviour is totally consistent with a female gender role, even though feminists might call her ‘hyperfeminine’ just because she dresses well, according to her age and social status, and clearly enjoys the way she looks and behaves in public. In other words: it’s absolutely impossible for anyone to have the slightest doubt about her gender identity; there are simply absolutely no clues to the contrary.
Such cases — especially if they are sexually very attractive women — are not uncommon, and they are beloved by the mainstream media, mostly because anyone can see for themselves that such trans women are perfectly identical to any other woman in all regards (except, well, for not having an uterus and having XY sexual chromosomes — but, as medical science tells us, there are certainly so-called ‘biological women’, who most definitely are women, even though some genetic defects prevented them from either having an uterus, or XX chromosomes, or both). There is a certain ‘shocking’ effect that the media enjoy, because such people could be absolutely ‘invisible’ in the middle of a crowd — they do not stand out. It’s only by having the media labeling them as ‘trans women’ that we know they haven’t been born in that body.
So we fall back to stereotypes: if a trans woman looks, acts, and behaves like a ‘hyperfeminine woman’, then, yes, she gets fully accepted, not only by society, but even by the mainstream media!
But real women are not that way…
There is here a big ‘but…’ – most trans women are not even remotely like those stereotypical, hyperfeminine, trans models. In fact, most cisgender women are not like that, either (even though many would wish to be!). This naturally creates a problem – some trans women would, indeed, love to be 100% passable in a gorgeous body, but, alas, there are really limits to what medical science can achieve.
Which is exactly what happens with cisgender women as well.
Like many MtF transgender people, observing women – how they look like, what they wear, how they speak, act and behave – is a natural pastime. And although I experience those women through my own personal bias, the conclusion that I have reached is that most hyperfeminine women have above-average looks (this is not a generalisation; there are many exceptions); while, by contrast, the vast majority of women are not hyperfeminine – they even despise hyperfeminine women, finding them shallow and weak, and with very limited interests and life projects. Basically, they – I’m still talking about cisgender women’s opinions! – place all hyperfeminine women in the same box and label them as ‘lesser women’, in the feminist sense that these women have low self-esteem and self-objectify themselves in order to grab a husband that will provide for them. Normal, modern women fight for their own financial independence, for their own lives, which may or may not include a partner, but certainly it will not include becoming a dependent of such a partner.
Such women, depending on their line of business, and also on their looks, will present themselves either sloppily or elegantly dressed – presentation, for them, fulfills mostly a social role, which might be imposed by strict office dressing code, the context of a special event (like a marriage or a graduation), and so forth. But such women do not have an obsession with their appearance, neither do they feel social pressure to engage in such an obsession, simply because they have other goals in life which are far more complex to achieve and require a lot more effort than merely dressing nicely.
Now, this might sound a bit sexist or even chauvinist, but I’m really just reproducing what I hear from women who are close to me. In fact, none of them is ‘hyperfeminine’ (even though they may dress well for special events), and it would be plausible to assume that this would be a good reason for them to criticise – and envy – those who are. I cannot know. All that I know is that the vast majority of women I know are outside the gender role stereotype. In other words: they don’t dress like hyperfeminine women, they don’t think like them, and they act and behave in very masculine, goal-oriented ways. In fact, they are just members of the ‘female gender’ because, well, their ID cards say so – but they don’t feel that they have to follow any stereotypes whatsoever.
Yes, once in a while they will indulge in ‘girl talk’. But they view that as something to be done in one’s teens; adult women have no time for such things, except very, very occasionally, and as a side-theme to be discussed/explored during more ‘serious’ matters.
Now, again, it’s very hard to extrapolate from a parochial view. Maybe there is a reason why all women I know personally are like that. Maybe these are merely the kind of women with whom I feel some connection, and therefore they are the logical women to have around me. I cannot say. But what I can say is that such women would probably ‘fail’ most ‘personality tests’ checking for ‘womanhood’ in their thoughts and actions. Oh, I’m sure that many of them will probably fall into some stereotypical traits which may make them pass the test with flying colours, but, nevertheless, most will probably try very hard to ‘hide’ such traits behind a ‘role mask’ which will be unreadable by me – I will just assume that such traits are not present in them, because they do act, behave, speak as if they didn’t exist.
But I don’t restrict my observations merely to my acquaintances and close circle of friends. I also pay attention to women around me on public places – like on public transportation, at the waiting room for the doctor, and so forth. The younger they are, the more they do precisely the same things as the boys of their age. They play games on their smartphones. They take selfies of themselves. They chat on social media. They listen to the same music as boys. Sure, they dress very differently, that’s true, but they act and behave much more similarly than boys and girls did in my own teens!
And the clichés are all being exposed as ridiculous. Boys are good at maths and logical thinking, while girls are creative and artistic? Definitely not in my country, where pretty much all new scientists, accountants and lawyers are almost exclusively women – perhaps with the exception of computer science, which is still male-dominated, but barely so. While boys become chefs, DJs, musicians, artists, well, marketeers and web or graphic designers — even if they claim as kids that they want to become football players. So, no, there are fewer and fewer ‘stereotypical’ male/female jobs, although it’s still true that you have far more women as shop attendants, cash registers, and working on the factory floor, while men work on building construction and drive taxis and eighteen-wheelers (although smaller lorries are driven by women — more women have driver licenses than men). Not even the military is a ‘male-only’ world — over one third are women, and the military gets more female volunteers than male ones (although the upper tiers are pretty much a male-dominated world). And there are no female bankers (which might explain quite a lot about the financial crisis!), even though their chief financial officers, or at least their direct replacement, might be female.
This means that, at least in my country, and at least in the major cities, the way women act, behave, and talk becomes more and more ‘masculine’. There are naturally a lot of exceptions. The older a woman is, the more likely she will ‘fit’ into an old stereotype, but even that is changing quite a lot; even 60-year-old women will have spent most of their life working (while 80-year-old ones will just have been good wives and mothers and stayed at home). The more good-looking a woman is, the more likely that she will try to fit into a ‘hyperfeminine’ stereotype, just because she can pull it off nicely, but the truth is that most good-looking millennial girls will be as ambitious as the boys, and even though externally they might adhere to a hyperfeminine stereotype, they will still think in a much more ‘masculine’ way than a couple of generations before. The old cliché that ‘women either are smart or beautiful’ certainly doesn’t apply any longer — women, these days, strive to be both smart and beautiful, and even those who have traditional family values and wish to marry and get children will identify with the ‘supermom’ stereotype: the woman who does eight hours of hard, complex work, picks up their children, goes shopping for food, does the dinner, helps the kids with their homework, and still has some time left to pamper herself to look gorgeous in the next morning, which she starts by jogging or going to the gym to keep herself fit. Of course not all women are that way, and this would be a gross generalisation (and, therefore, wrong). The whole point is that for the majority of women the stereotypes have changed, and ‘hyperfeminine’ is out, while ‘supermom’ is in.
These are the real women.
The revenge of the hyperfeminine trans woman
Among the transvestic fetishist community, especially among those who ‘pass’ almost perfectly as women, there is a meme often repeated: that men actually love having sex with them because fetishist crossdressers look much more as women than ‘real’ women, and, as a consequence, sex with them is more fulfilling. Obviously we have to take such affirmations with a pinch of salt — it depends quite a lot on who is making such claims. The essence of this quite polemic affirmation is based on the assumption that transvestic fetishists tend to recreate a hyperfeminine image, often borrowing clichés from earlier ages when women were ‘expected’ to be little more than sexual objects. Thus, seamed stockings with a garter belt are popular items with that community, as well as corsets, blingy jewelry, and an elaborate makeup including false eyelashes and nails — in short, pretty much the image of the 1950s pin-ups, coming from the post-war era when women were expected to come back to their homes (after spending the war years working hard in factories while their husbands went to battle abroad), be sexy, give birth to many children (thus the baby boom), and be good wives and moms, meaning staying at home and caring only about their appearance. The keyword, however, is be sexy. Interestingly enough, it’s the post-war stereotypical woman that remains at the core of the fantasies among fetishists. I say ‘interestingly’ and not ‘surprisingly’ because it should be pretty obvious that the stereotypical pin-up girl is a male invention — perhaps more so in the 1950s than ever before. In other words: men, in the early parts of the 20th century (and naturally even before that), might not even have a clue about women’s underwear; it was something they assumed that they would wear, but had no real idea on how it looked like — it was something of a taboo (although, of course, there has always been porn pictures…). From the 1950s upwards, however, women’s lingerie became common knowledge for men — even Hollywood movies would show it now and then — and became visible on shop fronts, on ads, and so forth. Clothes designers (most — if not all — of them male!) would deliberately turn women’s clothes, underwear, shoes, and so forth into fetish objects. Even today, we still claim that sexy lingerie is powerfully erotic to cisgender heterosexual males — they might not be object fetishists, much less crossdressers, but sexy lingerie on a woman’s body is a strong aphrodisiac. And that’s also why women wear such lingerie — they know that they become more ‘desirable’ to men that way, and this is just because we have had, say, 60 or 70 years of conceptual ‘sexy’ lingerie, designed (by men) to excite men. The meme propagates from generation to generation. Men still find the pin-up posters from the late 1940s and 1950s extremely sexy and erotic, even though the fashion trends and beauty standards have changed a lot (skinny bodies instead of curvy ones, for instance).
MtF transvestic fetishists are naturally predisposed to find such ‘classical’ looks very erotic, and they dress that way — much to the delight of their male partners, who share the same erotic tastes. It goes beyond the lingerie, of course — it’s also about accessories (say, long opera gloves, corsets, stiletto heels…), but a lot about the attitude as well. Transvestic fetishists are often submissive — like the good women of the 1950s were supposed to be — and coy and romantic. They step out of the contemporary picture of women these days to recreate a past that was imagined and created by males but which men still find powerfully erotic these days. You can take a quick look browsing for sissification images: no, you won’t see anyone being sissified into wearing Hillary Clinton’s style of pantsuits! Instead, such imagery will feature frills and laces and lots of bling and see-through fabric. It’s a journey back in time towards a stereotypical image of erotica of the past: this is what so many transvestic fetishists will recreate, and yes, it will be very attractive to potential males. Combine that with the stereotypical image of the shy and submissive woman, and you can start to understand why they are so attractive to potential male partners. Consider the average guy, who has an overweight wife who works all day as an accountant on a lawyers’ office, and comes back to home tired and still has to care for the kids, for dinner, tidy up the house a bit, and so forth: the last thing she has in mind is to wear some kind of frilly, sexy underwear to get her hubby excited with some kind of sexual fantasy. What she has in mind is to have a good night’s sleep — and even if sex is part of the night, it will be done inside comfy pyjamas, not a see-through satin negligée!
It is not surprising that if such a guy is looking for some fun outside the marital bed, he will look for someone who is able to fulfill his sexual fantasies — which will so often come close to those stereotypical pin-ups of the 1950s, even if ‘modernised’ in some way. And while most definitely porn stars will still cater to those fantasies, as well as most kinds of sex workers, a lot of men will nevertheless prefer a different kind of partner — a bit more than a one-night stand. Transvestic fetishists who are eager to get male sexual partners (note that only some of them are actually interested in engaging in sex with males) will most certainly share the exact fantasy, and, more important than that, they will love to recreate that fantasy for their partner, night after night. That is one of the possible sources for the cliché that ‘transvestic fetishists are more exciting than women’. No wonder!
The appeal of the imagery recreated by transvestic fetishists, however, is not limited to them. It spills over to other transgender groups; and almost all MtF crossdressers will, at some point, recreate that image as well. Drag queens will start from that erotic imagery of the 1950s and build upon it to present a contemporary recreation of what men find so erotic in women’s appearance. Even if they often deny it publicly afterwards, so many MtF transexuals also started that way (I know because I have observed some of them when they started dressing up as women, well before they engaged into their transition). So, in a sense, almost all MtF transgender people, no matter where they started on the transgender spectrum, and where they currently are, will have at least experimented with the popular fantasy of looking like a 1950s pin-up girl — even if they don’t realise what it is. Obviously, I’m also guilty as charged. I still enjoy wearing the occasional fishnets, and it’s not unusual for me to use stockings with garter belts — by contrast, I just saw my wife wearing them once in all our married life, and I don’t even remember what the big occasion was. Almost all my bras are frilly and very feminine, while almost all my wife’s bras are varieties of the ‘boring white/black bra’ kind — comfy and practical, not lacey and erotic. While my wife’s panties are colourful and anything but ‘boring’, they are all made of soft cotton and are of the ‘comfy’ type as well; while my own panties, even though they’re not G-strings (I hate those), tend to be made of a satin-like texture and have always a few lacey or frilly bits. They might not be super-sexy but they nevertheless are much more on the ‘sexy’ side than on the ‘comfy’ one (even though, for me, they are naturally sexy…). And last but not least, even though all my wife’s shoes are heeled (she cannot wear flats for a long period because of some problems with her posture), none of them are stilettos — even though her own mother has no qualms in using stiletto shoes. In other words: my external appearance might often be casual, with little more than some basics and a skirt, but my lingerie is several notches along the ‘sexyness’ scale, while my wife (and, as she claims, most women) prefers ‘comfy and boring’ lingerie. She naturally claims that it’s easy for me, who will only wear such lingerie for half a day or so, twice at week at most, to wear ‘sexy but uncomfortable’ clothing, while she, as a full-time woman, would not be able to survive.
Of course, as time passes, even the most hyperfeminine trans person — who doesn’t actually have the fetish of looking and behaving like a pin-up girl from the 1950s, or, worse, a porn actress — will learn how to dress like a contemporary woman, either learning from their peers, from their (female) significant others, or merely by observation; those going full-time and willing to ‘pass’ will also naturally adopt perfectly ‘common’ (in the sense of contemporary) clothing. That way, they will stand out less in public, and not catch the attention so much; but it’s also true that they will adopt ‘casual clothing’ far more often just because it’s so comfortable and easy to wear.
A lot of online forums and support groups actually mention a very common occurrence with transexual people going through transition. Before and during transition, they will eagerly swallow up all online information they can get, exchange ideas, tips and tricks, and be very participative. Once the transition is completed, the few months — sometimes even the first couple of years — will be a time of bliss, and they will eagerly share with the world what they have achieved. Those who have the luck of being blessed with a beautiful body will show it off for as much as they can, patiently explaining to others who are considering transition what changes they have experienced, what new problems they now have to deal with, what their new daily routine is, what emotions they feel, and so forth.
They will suddenly evaporate, completely disappear, and very likely cut all ties with their distant past. The more they ‘fit in’ and ‘pass’, the sooner this will happen. Sometimes they will give the excuse of wishing to forget all about their ‘former selves’, with whom they don’t identify any more; they have established new friends, new relationships, outside the trans community, and they don’t feel the ‘need’ to keep those ties any more. In a sense, they wish to forget that nasty label ‘trans’.
The exceptions, of course, are the activists, who will not only not abandon the community, but possibly even be more active after their transition.
And obviously there is a vast spectrum of trans people who will never abandon the community. Even the most casual crossdresser will always feel the urge to crossdress once in a while, and keep in touch, even if just briefly and very sporadically. In fact, the non-transitioning trans crowd are those who will very likely ‘be around’ for as long as the activists.
I mention this point because for my conjecture, I have merely analysed what trans people tell about themselves when they interact and react online (and of course I can include in this group my ‘flesh & blood’ friends as well, who also span almost all the trans spectrum). Some things have long ago become obvious to me. Others, however, as said at the very beginning, required some deep thinking, and, interestingly enough, my own conclusions run contrary to mainstream belief.
The Conjecture:Subconscious Reverse Cross-Gender Behaviour
All right: my conjecture has the following starting point: during at least a certain period of time, some trans people who identify with a gender that is not the one that has been assigned to them at birth will actually act and behave as the gender assigned at birth but they will not be aware of it. In other words: acts speak louder than words, i.e. even though they are a certain ‘gender inside’, they do not act of behave as that gender.
It’s very, very important to understand that this conjecture will not encompass the whole trans population. My own sample is also absolutely non-scientific and comes from anecdotal evidence; I have not performed statistical correlations, or even seriously studied the subject, say, through interviews and surveys, establishing control groups, and so forth. That’s why this remains a conjecture — something for which no proof is presented — but it can be falsifiable (that means that a test can be devised to show that the conjecture is false), so, in theory at least, my conjecture could serve as a basis for a scientific study.
I can only encourage you to follow my steps and do your own observations, and see if you come to the same conclusions.
The next disclaimer: even though there are anthropological and sociological studies where the researcher or observer is actually a member of the group they are analysing, there is a considerable risk of bias — the observer’s perception, after all, will influence what they will conclude. Obviously I’m also part of the sample I’ve observed, and, as such, my own experiences and perceptions will distort the observations.
However, I believe that similar conclusions could be reached by other observers, no matter how biased they are, so long as they keep an open mind and detach themselves from their conceptions, and look at things as they are, and not as they ought to be.
So let’s take a few typical examples. Let’s immerse ourselves in a male-to-female online support group. It can be a chatroom, it can be Facebook, it can be an online forum. What is being discussed?
Well, there is, in fact, a vast number of topics, and it would be near impossible to count them all. However, being a support group, it’s conceivable that there will be tips and advice on how to present oneself as a (convincing) woman — just to give an example. Such would be expected. I always remember my own wife complaining that she wouldn’t come to one of our dinners and/or drinks at a bar, because she expected everybody to be discussing clothes, fashion advice, what nail colour is trendy this season, and so forth, and, frankly, she has zero patience for all of that.
Yes, of course such conversation is part of those support groups, and it’s to be expected. What becomes interesting is that one of the major discussions will be… classification. I will come to that later on, but MtF trans people will spend a lot of time discussing what ‘label’ fits to them.
There will also be a very strong vocal defense of one’s ‘label’, classification, or ‘subgroup’. In other words, so-called ‘crossdressers’ might oppose to be called ‘transvestites’ because they have nothing to do with fetishism (or so they claim publicly); in turn, transexuals will scorn ‘crossdressers’ for many reasons, most of them having to do with their appearance — they do not look like women most of the time — but also the lack of courage for going full-time as a woman. Among transexuals, there will be bickering among those who do not require surgery to feel ‘a complete woman’ and those who believe that not wishing to get rid of the dangly bits is somehow a strange, abnormal sexual fetish.
You can add your own examples here. While many forums and support groups will openly embrace all kinds of trans people, all will, at some point, discuss exactly what it means to be part of subgroup X or type Y or classification Z. Many will also claim to be ‘true’ — true crossdressers, true transgender people, true transexuals, true women, whatever — in the sense that the values they subscribe to, their appearance, their behaviour, their personal goals, etc. will be the only ones worth following… while all others are either stupid, or frauds (or both!), or simply ‘not worth wasting time with’. Long philosophical treatises (like mine!) will be written to push one’s own classification over all others. Non-transitioning and de-transitioning people (originally assigned male at birth) will come up with the wildest theories about the world-wide transexual conspiration which tries to push perfectly cisgender people — although with some kind of mental issues — into transition.
And it can get very ugly, with people being kicked out of groups, activists giving up their cause (because it’s not worth fighting for ‘those idiots’ any longer) — or even doctors and professors losing their jobs because the MtF trans community believes that their ideas hurt the trans community more than they help (and they are usually right — it’s only the methods that are questionable). It’s also mostly from this community that comes the notion of pronouns, of misgendering, of deciding who is part of the transgender community and who is not even worth of being called ‘trans*’ in spite of clearly being part of the vast spectrum of transgenderity.
Yes, it’s true that you get a lot of blogs talking about tips and tricks, fashion advice, makeup reviews, and similar allegedly ‘feminine’ issues. The most vocal ones (even though not necessarily the ones with most readers), however, are either directly linked to activism, or, by contrast, they have been kicked out of some group and are starting their own.
Let’s take a look at what trans men are doing. They will naturally exchange tips and tricks as well, but… they are not too worried about too many classifications. One assumes that most trans men want to become ‘fully men’, and the only reason for not doing so is either the cost of surgery (much higher than the equivalent gender affirmation surgery for MtF transexuals), health issues, or both. There is a lot of compassion and understanding towards those who sadly cannot proceed in their physical transition as far as the others. But we can also see that trans men are obsessive about their appearance: they envy each other’s beards and want to know how long others have been on testosterone to be able to grow such beards. Others exchange workout tips, the best gyms in town, what kind of home exercises can be done to get those perfect abs, and, of course, where to go together for some fun. Clothing is probably not the hottest topic, but body appearance definitely is! And discussions about one’s failed romantic relationships are also far more frequent. Sure, there is always some bickering as well, but it’s much more rare than on the MtF forums.
You notice a pattern here?
Exactly. Classifying things, logically arguing and presenting a defense of one’s ideas, tribalism (the notion of belonging to a group which is the ‘only true one’, while showing contempt about all others), are all typically male traits. Sure, MtF transgender people will also discuss clothes, makeup, how to pass in public, and so forth — which we might think that are ‘typical female interests’. Well, yes and no. Hobbies — especially those that demand an almost obsessive-compulsive behaviour — are far more common among males than among females. All the paraphernalia that comes with the job of ‘being a woman’ is therefore eagerly absorbed by the male mind, which soon becomes completely enthralled by the complexity of all this ‘womanly world’, and wish to master it — and, of course, brag about it! Bragging, indeed, is quite common on the MtF forums — they brag about how they pass perfectly, how they have been accepted on this or that group, how they have enjoyed being complimented, and so forth — and they compete with each other to see who ‘passes’ better, who is ‘more female’, etc. One might even say that the growing trend of joining a beauty pageant — something which is seen as the ultimate test of femaleness! — is actually a product of the male mind, associating physical beauty with a competitive trait. Remember, males are erotically stimulated by visuals!
Now take a look at the counter-example. One would assume that the testosterone-pumped FtM transexuals would exhibit similar traits than most males who are ‘victims of their hormones’. But it’s not quite the way this comes out in the forums. You see much more empathy, the notion that there is just a big community, sure, with some differences here and there. It’s not that the offers for help are more or less serious/honest than the ones made by MtF transgender people; it’s just that they are different in kind: it’s more about sharing knowledge than ‘I know a lot more than you know, so hear me well, O newbie, because I will say this only once…’. And, of course, the worry about one’s looks is genuine — trans men want to look good, while most males, to be honest, couldn’t worry less.
It looks therefore that the roles continue to be reversed, even though each camp will claim that they clearly identify with their preferred gender role. Nevertheless, at a subconscious level, they still act and behave as the gender they have been assigned at birth.
Let me restate again: this obviously does not apply to everyone. I started to describe a real, living, flesh-and-blood trans woman who does not think nor behave nor act nor even speak like a ‘man’, and never has. There is no question that quite a lot of trans people really think, act, and behave like the gender they identify with. But my own question is how many trans people are like that?
Or is the question even worth asking? Maybe not.
Some possible explanations for the reverse cross-gender behaviour
Now, if we keep a very open mind about the issue, what is the problem of having been, say, assigned the male gender at birth, have a perfectly manly figure, think like a man, act like a man, feel emotions like a man, behave like a man but… fully and thoroughly identify as a female?
I would say, ‘no problem at all’. After all, my own wife has been assigned the female gender at birth (even though nowadays she can’t even give birth — so she will never experience motherhood), she has below-average looks in a petite, very curvy figure, she thinks like a man and acts like a man in almost all situations, even though she might feel like a woman (sometimes it’s hard to say!), she only dresses in a vaguely feminine fashion when she loses weight, but she has absolutely no doubt that she’s a cisgender female. Even though so many of her traits aren’t typically feminine — in fact, she hates hyperfeminine women (cis or trans), and hates pretty much everything related to ‘girl talk’ — that doesn’t mean that, in the spectrum of what it means to be a ‘cis woman’, she is well within all the possible boundaries of what the word ‘woman’ means in this era that has been shaped by three waves of feminism.
On the flip side of the coin, I also know of a few people assigned male at birth, who have male bodies and generally dress male-ish (‘sloppy’ would be more precise), but who most definitely do not think in a ‘male way’, and rather empathise with women, mostly because they have so much more interesting conversation. They are ‘feminine’ in a lot of subtle ways, but they act and behave as males, and they also have absolutely no doubts that they are cisgender, heterosexual males. It’s just that they don’t identify with stereotypical males, and let me tell you, there are far more stereotypical males (or at least those who pretend to be stereotypical males!) than stereotypical females.
Obviously there is a wide margin for all kinds of so-called ‘gender behaviour’. After all, ‘gender roles’ are social constructs which merely represent an average of what is expected of each gender; in practice, we are all individuals, and we will stick more or less to the expected gender behaviour according to how our own minds work. There are not really many ‘stereotypical male behaviours’ that are somehow ‘inborn’; and of course the same applies to ‘stereotypical female behaviours’. Such behaviours are merely social norms and depend on context, location, ethnicity, epoch, and so forth; and many are not even universal. For instance, the ‘rule’ that men aren’t allowed to express their emotions in public (‘boys don’t cry!’) is relatively recent, hardly two centuries old; before that, men could — and would — express all emotions, loud and clear, perhaps far more than women, who were expected to be coy and moderate in their ways. So, yes, things change. And because our societies are changing as well — namely, women are outpacing men in education, for instance — such ‘gender behaviour’ will naturally change as well. It’s likely that more males will become confused and shy, because they are daunted by the arrival of the ‘supermom’; on the other hand, it’s much more common to see aggressive and competitive women, fighting for the upper echelons of the corporate hierarchy.
So, again, we must be very careful not to generalise. What I’m aiming at is not to describe all trans people; I’m just curious about a relatively large and vocal group (I cannot make any claims about those who are not vocal, since I don’t know what they think — exactly because they are silent 🙂 ) which actually behaves according to this conjecture.
Most, indeed, are not really aware of it. The reason why I mention this at all is because I have been in the presence of some very odd-thinking MtF crossdressers, who think in such a masculine way (even though they totally identify as women!) that they truly bother me. And this is because I’m slightly androphobic, that is, I feel uncomfortable around too-masculine minds. I’m fine with the so-called more ‘positive’ aspects — logic, reasoning, argumentation, and other higher cognitive abilities — but things like aggressivity and competitiveness make me uneasy.
When such ‘masculine’ traits are pushed to the limit, and used to present oneself as a ‘woman’, the result is, for me, unsettling. I mean, as I’m so often fond of repeating, I’m not really a ‘feminine’ person — but neither is my wife, my mother-in-law, my own (sadly departed) mother, as well as a plethora of close female relatives and friends. There are certainly gradations and levels of ‘femininity’, especially these days, when women are given so much freedom of expressing themselves. So I’m quite fine with a certain amount of variation! It’s just when it goes to extremes that I feel a certain ‘disconnect’ with such people, because their personalities and way of expression are so at odds with their presentation. In many of those cases, they favour the ‘1950s pin-up’ look — which is fine, as a fantasy, enacted once in a while; but quickly becomes irksome if the person insists to dress that way all the time, no matter what the occasion or event.
This might sound as whining, as a form of criticism, or even as one expression of my (much repressed!) maleness — categorising myself and competitively presenting myself as being ‘better’ than others. Not at all — thanks also to many hints from my wife, I recognise many of those faults in myself as well. My earliest attempts at crossdressing were most definitely inspired by the 1950s looks; as I’ve mentioned before, when I revealed myself to my wife, she commented how my clothes were so hopelessly old-fashioned. And she still criticises my current look, which she thinks is not appropriate to my age (even though I wonder why her own mother is allowed to dress in a similar way, but I am not!… maybe it’s just because I’m not feminine enough to understand the difference! 🙂 ). Not to mention that I’m fully aware that a lot of my obsession with getting the makeup ‘just right’ or thinking a whole week about the day I’m going out and dressing this or that way may be much more indicative of a typical male obsession about a ‘hobby’ than a true desire, as a woman, to ‘look good’ or ‘look right’. So obviously I’m not above criticism!
And it’s not even an excuse that I’m ‘trying to improve myself’. I’m not exactly sure that you can say that you wish to ‘become more like a woman’ — you either are one (in the sense that you identify with the female gender) or you’re not. It’s obvious that you might need to learn to express yourself as a woman — that’s a different story altogether! Nevertheless, there are really many, many MtF transgender people who have still absolutely no clue about how they ought to express themselves as women… but they are nevertheless happily going through transition. And that really confuses me.
But isn’t that ‘confusion’ simply another form of rejection — of transphobia? Why should my own androphobic feelings be the base for my judgement of others? In other words: how can I know someone’s gender identity just by observing their behaviour — and comparing it to some (arbitrary) social stereotypes?
Behaviour is not identity… but they are related!
Now, it’s obvious we cannot deduct someone’s identity from their behaviour, because obviously this identity can be made hidden from us. But we can induct it. Induction is a particular case of logic when we try to figure out a general conclusion about something when we just have partial data — the result is not an absolute truth, but merely a probability.
So, although we cannot say with absolute certainty how a person feels, we can give a probable estimate about their feelings, by looking at their body language, choice of words, and general behaviour. This is, in fact, one of the biggest discussions between, say, MtF transexuals and MtF crossdressers: trans women will induct from the crossdresser’s choice of dress and the way they act and behave in public that they are not women, but merely ‘men in dresses’, because they act, talk, and generally behave as men, no matter how ‘passable’ they actually look like. Conversely, some MtF transexuals in transition (those that might actually have a confirmed diagnosis of gender dysphoria, and might be even on hormones) might still think and behave so much like men, that they are baffling for some more ‘feminine’ crossdressers (who might hesitate between genders) how they actually managed to persuade their doctors to allow them to transition (hint: doctors are experts that look at much more than pure external behaviour — but a layperson might simply not be able to figure it out on themselves).
The ‘rejection’ that so many trans women get from some feminists comes from this dissonance between gender identity and actual behaviour. Trans-exclusive radical feminists (TERFs) might simply be unable to accept that someone who merely claims ‘to be a woman’ — although nothing will tell you so from an external point of view — shares with them the same gender identity. In other words: for a radical feminist, there has to be a strong correlation between identity and expression, even if they claim that such an expression should not be one that comes from a male-dominated society which imposes stereotypes…
Clearly, this is circular logic — feminists claim that they ought to be able to express themselves outside social norms, and actually should be encouraged to be so, since such norms have been imposed by a patriarchal society; but they are unable to allow those who identify as women to express themselves as they like, because, well, that expression is not ‘womanly enough’.
Who is allowed to judge one’s ‘femaleness’ or ‘maleness’?
I believe that there are several possible ‘judgements’ — in the good sense of the word — and this is really what matters: it’s fundamental, it’s crucial, that trans people are allowed a chance to feel good about themselves. If that means fully accepting their innermost identity (which has both a gender component and a sexuality component), no matter what others think of their ‘behaviour’, then all that becomes irrelevant. ‘Transition’ is a word with many meanings and naturally depends on who is going through transition. For some (perhaps for many!) it’s not about ‘passing’ better, it’s about being able to express themselves according to one’s wishes — and sometimes having a totally wrong body and the wrong name and the wrong gender marker on an ID card is way too much to allow that free expression.
Ultimately, it matters little if a person behaves according to what others perceive to be the ‘correct’ behaviour according to certain social norms; it matters little if someone’s expression of their innermost identity does not ‘fit’ into typical social stereotypes. What truly matters is that trans people are allowed to get on with their lives as they want, not as others want. Sure, their pursuit of happiness will require quite different things than what other (mostly cisgender) people need; but trans people are still entitled, just like every other human being, to their own version of happiness. If that means going out as a ‘man in a dress with an ugly wig’, while simultaneously claiming that they are ‘women inside’, trapped in a man’s body, then it’s not up to us — I mean the trans community in general — to ‘judge’ them.
As a member of the trans community, we should learn to respect our own diversity first. It’s very hard to push for more inclusion and diversity if we are the first to ostracise those who do not ‘fit’ into our model of thinking and behaving. Sure, it’s quite true that a lot of trans people do engage in what I call reverse cross-gender behaviour. So what? What matters is that they are allowed to express themselves in the way they wish, openly expressing the gender they identify with, even if such identification is expressed contrarily to established social stereotypes.
In other words: if you’re a MtF transgender person, no, you don’t need to be hyperfeminine. You don’t even need to act, behave, or talk like a woman. You just need to be yourself. And of course the same applies to all other kinds of trans people.