Combating the Devaluation of Transgender Experience

Kate Forbes’s “Do These Earrings Make me Look Dumb” struck a chord with me because it highlights a consistent problem hat trans people face in nearly all aspects of life: cisgender people who think they understand trans people better than trans people understand themselves. While Forbes focused her critique on the academy—especially women’s and gender studies departments—the issue comes up time and time again: cisgender politicians and pundits argue endlessly about which bathrooms trans people should be allowed to use, cisgender psychologists and sexologists pathologize transgender experience according to their own biases, cisgender insurance executives arbitrarily what is and isn’t “necessary care” for transgender policyholders, and so on.

There is a real cost to the devaluing of personal experience Forbes describes. My own transition was delayed two years because my father didn’t believe I was trans and followed his own conceptions of what was best for me instead of just listening to me, which eventually nearly drove me to suicide. The stress of constantly being denied agency and told you don’t know what you’re talking about by authority figures likely contributes to the massively disproportionate rates of depression and suicide among trans people. Eventually, many trans people internalize the misguided and sometimes deliberately hateful narratives put forth by cisgender people and privileged by cisgender society. Even now, despite going about my daily life as a woman, I harbor a deep sense of shame about my gender identity and often find myself privately questioning if I “deserve” to call myself a woman. I often feel constrained to express my femininity in a very traditional way, because while much of society views a cisgender woman acting in a non-stereotypically feminine way as transgressive and potentially liberating, a trans woman displaying masculine behavioral or stylistic traits often finds her “dedication” to her gender identity questioned and picked apart.

I agree with Forbes in her analysis that, in order to guarantee trans identities the same sort of respect granted automatically to cis identities, more diversity in all aspects of life is needed. In addition to increased diversity, I would also like to see cisgender authority figures acknowledge the way their own perspectives are rooted in personal experience and not some overarching factual norm. By including trans perspectives and acknowledging the limits of cis perspectives when applied to transgender individuals, society can finally bring trans people into the conversation from which they have long been excluded.

The Ideal Vs. the Reality

While all of the readings in this class have been interesting to say the least—the writing that sticks with me most is Audre Lorde’s “Age, Race, Sex and Class.” Out of all the authors, Lorde’s background is the one I identify with most. She covered a lot of topics in this publication and criticized society for things I am guilty myself of. Specifically, I am referring to the part of her essay where she suggests that those who are outsiders, typically harbor resentment towards individuals who fall outside of the “mythical norm” in opposite ways. This message stands out to me, and I see this type of behavior throughout the day in life and extensively on social media. From the impoverished people who don’t like gays to the immigrant who says racists things, or the gay guy who looks down on those who are uneducated.  This behavior is unsettling, and as Lorde put it, those who have been oppressed will not escape their status by demeaning other groups of oppressed people.

There as so few people who fit perfectly into these ideal standards—young, straight, educated, white, attractive, financially secure, Christian male. Yet, at some point in everyone’s life it is so tempting to try to align his or herself with them.  While the few individuals who do fit perfectly, or almost perfectly, into these categories he or she is not inherently bad or evil. Still as history has shown us, people who benefit from the oppression of others will do everything in their power to continue to reap the rewards. Truly the oppressors have won by turning minorities against each other—they taught us to hate ourselves and to hate our differences.  The solution to this dilemma is to accept everyone, and together minorities can create an unstoppable force against inequality. As simple as this sounds, I could not imagine in a thousand years that such a thing could ever occur.  Hate is immensely powerful and it’s everywhere, as so is fear and insecurity.  In small groups people can get along, but we have yet to find a way to do so on a large scale.

As pessimistic as I may sound, this is my perspective of society. From incidents I’ve witnessed, and experiences I’ve lived through, and  from reading Audre Lorde’s take on this thirty years ago and realizing how much it still applies to our world now.

Gender Expectations

Fitting into the societal expectations of what is masculine and feminine is something that many people are constantly trying to do. In some point or another in someone’s life, some type of interest, hobby, or activity will challenge someones perception of masculine or feminine and have to question if a particular gendered practice is accepted by society.

Countless examples exist whereas men should’t dance, and women can’t have any interest in cars. Halberstein’s work, Female Masculinity addresses the fact that masculinity and femininity are not so black and white. A girl which possesses or acts on masculine traits is considered to be employing Female Masculinity. For example, an interesting analysis on tomboys is made in this work. Any masculine traits that pass beyond the stages of puberty for girls pushes into the territory of Tomboys. Personally, I didn’t encounter too many tomboys, but I did know boys that would be more effeminate as we aged. I’m not sure if there’s really a name for these types of boys that is similar to Tomboy, but I feel like this is a prime example of how society is more accepting of masculinity. A Tomboy is a pretty well-regarded term, that doesn’t have too much of a negative implication, but when female traits are shown in a young boy, it’s more common for offensive and crude words to be used (I’m sure many example can come to mind.) I remember growing up, singing karaoke was a big family activity. Some of my favorite songs were Aladdin‘s “A Whole New World” and the classic “Dancing Queen” by ABBA. When I was maybe 7 or 8 I was singing one of these songs when one of my uncles taunted me about how girly the act was. I remember being upset and not wanting to sing around my family much thereafter. So it makes me wonder about the flip side of Female Masculinity, where a young boy could be more feminine than society expects. Fitting into the expectations of masculinity and femininity is fairly hindering.

“The Bathroom Problem”

A reading that I thought was really interesting was Jack Halberstam’s Female Masculinity, more specifically “The Bathroom Problem.”  This stuck out to me because it brought up questions I never thought about like how a transgender person has so much trouble using the bathroom.  Something that for me I never even have to think about which bathroom I am going to use.  It can be confusing if a transgender woman who still has masculine features is trying to use the bathroom.  Or even a lesbian woman who appears very masculine; or a person who does not identify as a male or a female.  The bathroom is something that for some reason many people take very seriously and insist on separate bathrooms for women and men.  Especially today with Trump trying to remove Obama’s protections for transgender student bathrooms and facilities in public schools.  He is trying to tamper with state laws, which will remove transgender equality in bathrooms.  It is nice to see that many bathrooms at the University of Delaware are for all genders or are gender neutral.  I do not understand why there even is a bathroom problem.  It should not matter which bathroom anyone decides to use.  A transgender man or woman should not be afraid to use the bathroom at school because of the risk of not fitting in or getting bullied.  The bathroom should not be a dangerous place for people.  Society needs to realize that there should not be a “bathroom problem” because using the bathroom should not be a problem for people who identify as different genders or no gender at all.

What is Female Masculinity?

The reading that stuck with me is Halberstam “Female Masculinity”. When I was reading this paper all I could think about was how can one person determine what is considered for boys and what is considered for girls and have society accept it. Halberstam says that as long as a child is in the prepubescent stage being a tomboy isn’t threatening but once she hits puberty she needs to “act her gender”. Personally this statement angers me because up until I was 12 I was a tomboy, but if I continued being a tomboy I would be considered a “threat” to society?! I would wear sweatpants, a sweatshirt and sneakers everyday and looking back now I could tell people were wondering why I wasn’t dressing like a “typical girl”. How can a girl dressing the way she feels comfortable and herself make people around her feel uncomfortable and judgmental. Halberstam mentions a situation when two females felt uncomfortable because they weren’t sure if a woman in the woman’s restroom was female because she looked masculine. Since when was there one set look for a female to look like. I think that people have a mindset that females need to be petite and feminine all the time and if a female steps out of the boundaries (and has big muscles or dresses differently) people don’t know what to do and feel threatened. Take Ellen DeGeneres for an example she never dresses like a “typical girl” and people don’t question her. Is it because she’s famous she has a hierarchy status. Society needs to realize that gender isn’t a boxed in subject and that woman will dress and act they way she wants to.

College Transitions

Throughout the course of our class we read and talked about a multitude of different topics. All of these readings educated me and opened my eyes to certain topics related to gender studies. Our most recent reading, College Transitions, by Pomerlau, caught my eye because the title referred to transitioning to college which we went through first semester, and are still going through now. I found this reading the most interesting and connected with it for a couple of reasons. As I was reading, I realized how much information was provided on safety, resources, and just general knowledge about trans people. One of the people that I am close to in my dorm building is trans, so this article opened my eyes about their experiences and the things they go through on a daily basis. On the news you see many articles about people getting bullied while they are transitioning and it causing depression and suicidal thoughts. This article speaks about how many students think college is a perfect time to start the transition, because it is a fresh new slate and nobody knows who you are. In high school there was this one boy who was going through a transition and everybody gave him a hard time for it since they were not sure which bathroom was appropriate for him to go in, which preferred name to be called by, and even which locker room to get dressed in. I give people a lot of credit for making that decision in high school because you have to face many obstacles. In college, you can come into it knowing exactly who you are and who you want to be and truthfully it will be a lot easier to make the transition. The article actually speaks about how the preferred gender pronouns you want to be called can be written on your university forms, rosters, and other online media. The article speaks about benefits but also speaks about the many obstacles trans students still face even to this day including bathroom use, harassment in general, and learning to interact with other students. Overall, it showed me that transitioning is a tough thing for people to do and everyone should be open and willing to accept and overcome these challenges without placing any judgment or making it difficult for anybody going through this process.

Gender Identity

Something I was already interested in learning more about before I entered this class was the use of appropriate pronouns in everyday life, which plays into the bigger topic of gender.  When I was able to read De Lauretis’ The Technology of Gender,  I was able to open up this idea of different genders in our everyday lives, as well as what we see in movies and social media.  De Lauretis gave interesting perspectives of the way gender has always been presented to us from the time we were born to now in our everyday lives.

I work for residence life and housing and something that was stressed from my first day this year was inclusivity and because of this I was able to learn a lot more (not nearly enough) about gender.  A part of our first day was not only to say our name and major, but our preferred gender.  Almost half of the room was not sure what to say and simply ignored the question, but now this is a regular part of our introductions and I have made it a habit to ask people when I first meet them.  This has sparked a lot of conversations about gender and identity and I have been able to use some of the readings from this class to reflect back and give more information.

This is obviously something that only few communities seem to be exposed to.  There was one scene on the show Shameless that sparked my interest.  One of the main characters started dating someone that exposed him to the LGBTQ+ community and in one of the scenes he met his friends and in their introductions they each individually stated their names and how they identify.  One of the best parts of this, in my opinion, was that the main character was not afraid to be confused and ask questions instead of assuming he already knew, which would clarify a lot if more people did.

I connected with De Lauretis because I am able to implement this into my everyday life and take a lot of the concepts presented and have others reflect on them as well and spark a conversation.  Although I have a clearer perception of pronouns and the importance of being aware of them, I still find myself having questions that I intend to explore.

Society

Out of all the readings we have read in the duration of this class I think that Kate Forbes’ “Do These Earrings Make Me Look Dumb?” stuck out to me the most. Her article really made me realize how much our society creates the gender binary. Meaning there are so many gender stereotypes that if you’re a girl you MUST like pink and princesses and if you’re a guy you MUST like sports and be manly etc. What about girls who like manly things and vice versa? Is that so wrong? This stereotype our society has created sadly may impact how people identify to the world, instead of identifying for who they really are. Forbes also touches on the fact that no one really pays attention to the ‘primary’ sources and instead focuses on facts. Why not be open to everyones personal experiences?

Even though there is this gender binary in our society, many are trying to break that. The first person who came to mind when thinking of these people was Ruby Rose. Although she is a female and does female related things she also does so many things people would think only men can do. Her body is filled with tattoos, her hair isn’t long and flowing in the wind as people would perceive. She is her own person and goes against all of the stereotypes that Kate Forbes speaks about. People like Ruby Rose give me hope that one day there will be no binary or stereotypes and everyone will be open to everyone’s identities and personal experiences.

 

Credentials Vs. Experience

The reading that I connected with the most from our class so far has to be “Do These Earrings Make Me Look Dumb” by Forbes. More specifically I really connected with the part where Forbes was talking about needing proper credentials and the professional training that some people have that others don’t have access to. Even though Forbes may not be an expert some experts who do have the credentials value her perspective because of her experience. I connect with this the most out of all the readings we have done because I remember that during freshman year a girl who lived on my floor tried to talk to me about her opinions on same sex marriage and how she, a political science major, knows about the struggle it was for the LGBTQ+ community to gain the same rights that heterosexual people have and how happy she is that people like me are finally “equal”. I personally felt like she had no idea what it was like for me. She had the right to marry whoever she wanted and that right for her has never been in jeopardy. I felt like she really had no way of knowing what it was like for someone in the community to go through that but she felt like she could completely understand because she’s “learned about what it takes for a law to get passed” and she, “knows that it can be a real struggle sometimes”. I will admit that she knows a lot more about laws and what it takes to get them passed and how long it takes but I felt that she really could not have known what it was like to be someone who that specific law was applying to. I feel like Forbes’ “Do These Earrings Make Me Look Dumb” stated most accurately how I felt about not having the correct credentials but having the experience that outweighs the credentials.

Do I fit in?

As soon as I read the prompt for this week’s post, I thought of “Do these earrings make me look dumb?” written by Kate Forbes. One of my many interpretations of this reading was gender shouldn’t define itself as feminine or masculine because these terms are so vague, and through time have lost their true definition. We instantly think that women can’t be masculine and that’s only associated with men. Furthermore, a gender shouldn’t define the quality of work, and knowledge that someone possesses. This related to me on a personal level because I believe in the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover.” I know that’s really cliché, but on a serious note, the way we are dressed or the features we have are not always intertwined with the knowledge, ideas and talents we have. For me, there have been numerous times where I have judged myself and told myself that I couldn’t do something, because I wouldn’t fit in solely based on my appearance/the way I look. I feel like this hinders so many people from trying new things because they are afraid that they won’t fit that specific mold, this was the case for me. I struggled so much in deciding what I wanted to major in/study, constantly thinking where do I belong? There were many times where I doubted myself because of a grade I got back and thought that college wasn’t for me. My parents thought that I should try fashion and my immediate thought was no way, that’s not me, I don’t dress like that I would never fit in. I ultimately slowly pushed through all of that, and I’m still hesitant, but now I am doing hair and makeup which I love for the school’s magazine and starting to find where I belong. That process was not easy, and it’s hard for so many people because they have a fear that they’ll be judged and not welcomed. In my case, I was hard on myself and judged myself because of the way I looked, but in other cases people are judged by those around them.