I met a friend for dinner last week. It was a lovely evening out and I may blog about it later, but for now I want to talk about a part of the evening that verged on the serious… A serious discussion at Beefcakes? Who knew that was even possible? Well, yes, it is possible…
Anyway, last week, my friend asked me ‘how do you identify?’ This is always a difficult question as it involves a whole lot of self awareness as well as a mutually agreed set of definitions. Sadly our community is constantly debating what words mean and who fits into what category. This can lead to confusion and misunderstanding. Then, today I was confronted (on an internet discussion forum) with the question: ‘When you say that your are a transgender….What does that mean to you?’ As I identify as a transgender person, I gave this some thought and decided that the two questions were essentially (at least in my case) the same and this inspired this blog post.
For me ‘transgender person’ means just that, a person who at one time or another ‘crosses’ gender. Whether this is done once or on an oscillating scale does not matter. So as long as you at one time or another move your gender from the one you were assigned at birth, to another, you are a ‘transgender person’. In essence anyone who does not conform strictly to the (artificial?) gender binary is a transgender person. They may be gender non-conforming, they may be gender fluid, they may be transitioning from one gender to another on a permanent basis, we are all transgender people.
In my opinion, any degree of gender non conformity is sufficient to fall into the category. It is, for me (and indeed I would argue for society), a very broad church. If it were known that a man wore women’s panties they would be considered at the very least something of a non-conformist, probably ‘kinky’ and would probably be called a crossdresser or a transvestite. Society would label the person and the label would in all likelihood stick. Probably for quite some time. Certainly longer than your average Post-It does anyway. This is reflected in so many people expressing such need for secrecy around their dressing. We all know that society will judge and label us and most of us wish to avoid that.
In my opinion even, at the far end of the spectrum, the male identifying crossdresser who only occasionally slips on a lacy g-string is displaying gender non-conformity and is therefore a transgender person.
Here is why:
We can all agree that gender is a social construct. It is the sum of the behaviours, attitudes, activities and expressions that make us ‘fit’ into a role that is (broadly) either masculine or feminine. Whether we like it or not society determines that certain things are masculine and other things are feminine. It is true that these are in flux and can change depending on time or place. In the early 1900s men worked in factories and women at home or in specialist ‘craft’ vocations. World War One changed that, suddenly women could work in some areas that men worked. During the course of the twentieth century gender roles started to be increasingly fluid, so yes it can and does change. And yet society still does determine what is considered masculine or feminine and some things remain deeply entrenched in one or the other ‘camp’.
I would argue that the lacy,frilly, silky g-string is a quintessentially ‘feminine’ garment. It is not in any way masculine, because society tells us so. The person donning that garment is therefore, at least in some way, expressing or seeking to express at least something of the feminine qualities that the g-string has been imbued with. There is something about the ‘femininity’ of that garment that makes them want to wear it and (presumably) enjoy wearing it. The person doing this is ‘crossing’ a gender role or crossing the ‘normal’ expression of their gender. For me this is sufficient to meet the definition of the word ‘transgender’.
That does not mean I think that the person donning a g-string as part of a sex act once in a while is the same as a person who has taken hormones, undergone various medical and or surgical interventions and crucially, identifies as a gender different to the one they are assigned as at birth. The motives, needs and mental processes are of course very different from one individual to another, but I believe the definition should be as wide rather than as narrow as possible. At the end of the day, we all benefit from society being more tolerant of gender non-conforming individuals. We all benefit when people are able to express their gender in any way they wish. So why draw artificial lines in the sand in an effort to differentiate ourselves from others?
I suspect some of this need comes from people feeling the need to moralise or at the very least differentiate themselves from people who they think are morally, ethically or in some other values based way ‘different’ from themselves. To a certain extent we all define ourselves as much by how we are the same as by how we are different to the other. Sometimes the ‘othering’ seems more important than the ‘saming’ but in the end we are usually more alike than we are different, for we are all human.
Yes, the crossdressing fetishist may have a very different sexuality to that of your transitioned/transitioning transexual person. You may or may not agree with that persons values, but so long as that person respects your rights and does not intrude on you, there is no need to demonise that person. We are all sexual beings and gender and sexuality are different things. One person’s gender or gender identity can infer nothing about their own sexuality, so how on earth can your sexuality or your sexual ethics be impacted by another (unrelated) person’s sexuality? Another person’s sexuality, whether they are a hyper-sexual fetishist crossdresser or an asexual transitioned transexual, is completely irrelevant to anybody’s gender identity. We should definitely not seek to exclude (or indeed include) anyone just because of how we feel about their sexuality, sexual identity or indeed sexual behaviour. That is only of relevance to the individual concerned and their sexual partner or partners. Cisgender people do not go around saying ‘oh no, he is not a man, he is too sexually active for that’ (although I do acknowledge some people do question the masculinity of some gay men, but I think this has more to do with sexual role than the manifestation of their sexual morality). No, they just acknowledge that the person’s sexuality, sex drive and sexual appetites are different. Whilst some people do condemn others for their sexuality but that is usually because of some moralistic, ethical or religious reason and has nothing to do with the person’s gender or gender identity.
I am therefore happy to embrace the wider transgender community and accept us all as transgender brothers and sisters. If someone does something that I disagree with or even upsets me, then I am happy deal with the behaviour, not the person. I will reject the behaviour but I do not reject the person. If someone objectifies or fetishises me, I will call them out on that and explain why it is dehumanising, insulting and unhelpful. I will (typically) not reject the person (unless they have been threatening or extremely aggressive). I believe that rejecting people is counter productive. I would rather work with people than against them and our community is small enough without being fragmented further into ever smaller cliques.
I fully realise that this definition is rather personal and that not everyone will agree with it, but I hope that you all give it some thought. I would be happy to hear from you and see what you mean when you say ‘transgender person’.
For the record, right now, I would say that I am a transgender, gender non conforming, gender binary person who feels more congruent as a woman but can survive and even enjoy being a man. Maybe I epitomise the end of gender? At least for now. Maybe…