Recently, at another online forum where I participate, a woman named Paula mentioned how other people’s perception of her changed as she went from self-identifying as a cross dresser to identifying as transgender then transitioning to live as a woman full time. As a cross dresser she found herself often disdained, even called “pervert” by some but as transgender transitioning the reactions generally became either empathetic or pity. Her post gave rise to lots of thoughts for me on this, but that forum is probably not the place for such a posting or discussion so I’ll do it here.
Our society is deeply wrapped up in its own creation – the gender binary. We’re taught that this is “normal”, so much so that it requires scholars actually digging for and interpreting what was obviously right in front of the faces of people in the past. For example, many ancient middle eastern societies recognized 3, 4, 5, and even 6 genders. The Code of Hammurabi has a section governing the fair treatment of “male daughters”. Native Americans embraced transsexual people as being of “two spirits” and often gave them elevated status in the tribe.
Yet in today’s society, largely shaped by its Judeo-Christian heritage, a heritage that is obsessed with male dominance, patriarchy, and two genders, people tend to see anyone outside the binary “norm” as problematic in different ways.
The gender binary you see in western civilization today is not “normal” for homo sapiens when viewed across history but it is “normal” within the context of our own civilization. I take some small comfort in that knowledge that our society itself is aberrant but I still have to deal with our current society which has self-defeating and crippling ideas about gender.
Having never publicly admitted to being a cross dresser, despite cross dressing most of my life in private, I’ve not had the experiences that Paula has. Yet it does not surprise me. The reaction to trans folk, especially transwomen is obvious. It’s either “you think you’re a woman” (as in the speaker does not actually believe it but goes along with you out of pity) or “you are a woman” (so there is some empathy, including over how difficult this must be) or “you’re a male no matter what you do” (which is outright rejection of your self-identification). But with cross dressers there is something else – “you’re a guy but you like women’s clothing?” which is seen as weird, hence the disdain.
What I find most amusing is those women, cis or trans, who even directly experiencing this yet continue to deny the impacts of patriarchy on women. But hey, there are people who still deny climate change, who deny the bad effects of smoking, and even deny that the earth is round so I guess this shouldn’t surprise me. People will defend their world view even violently rather than accept data that invalidates their world view, usually because their world view is part of their greater identity socially in some group. Risking their world view risks their place in their own social circles, hence the rejection of factual data that contradicts that world view.
In conclusion, it becomes obvious how deeply and badly gender binary patriarchy has shaped our current society, how crippling it is for those of us outside its norms, and even gives insights into how we might begin to change this. Changing a society’s deeply held gender beliefs is not something we will accomplish in our lifetimes but it is something we can work towards so that people someday can be who they are without fear of rejection or ostracism.