I recently heard from a student who had been given the task of arguing in a debate that transgenders perpetuate gender stereotypes. She wanted arguments to support her case.
When I started thinking this through I realised the complexity of the question, which cannot be dismissed in a few glib phrases. That transgenders are “guilty” of perpetuating stereotypes is a favourite cry from radical feminists, who take their cue from the execrable Janice Raymond, whose book The Transsexual Empire: the making of the she-male asserted that transgender was in some way an extension of the patriarchal conspiracy to remain dominant over women by invading their territory and “colonising” it with pseudo-females.
There are so many flaws in this argument it is hard to know where to start.
To suggest that infants and young children are in some way bent upon becoming a fifth column for the patriarchy, when the truth is that most transgenders at this age do not even know there are others like themselves (and some do not find out until much later) and almost all of them do their best not to be outed to their near and dear ones, let alone society as a whole, puts a big dent in Professor Raymond’s thesis.
To observe, as if this were a significant discovery, that transgenders tend to adopt stereotypical behaviour of their target gender, is naïve.
Of course transwomen adopt skirts, makeup and jewellery, which are seen as typically female. They do so because they wish to blend into female society and not be noticed, not in order to perpetuate the pattern.
Fashions change constantly, and if fashion were to decree that all women were to wear boiler suits, eschew makeup and throw out their jewellery, (which sometimes seems to be the fashion ideal of radical feminists), then transwomen would be far more likely to follow the trend than to stridently defend the fashions seen by radical feminists as archaic conspiracies to turn women into sex objects and/or cripple them physically by insisting on the use of high heels and corsets.
Most of these inanities fall over, of course, if one knows the history of fashion. High heels, wigs, corsets, cosmetics and fancy fabrics were worn by both sexes until relatively recently (around the time of George III) and in recent times we have seen men once more adopt piercing, jewellery, fancy materials and caftans. We have also seen women almost universally adopt trousers (or jeans) and some are into tattoos and piercing which were at one time virtually restricted to men.
Even if there were a dark patriarchal plot to colonise women’s space it would never happen by way of transgenders, who almost invariably prefer not to stand out from other women, and are therefore far more likely to be followers than leaders in the weird world of fashion, let alone agents provocateur or conquerors.
Even those of us who throw ourselves into the girlie world with enthusiasm bordering on frenzy when first we transition are likely to calm down as time passes. We soon find that a blouse with jeans and flat shoes is generally more acceptable and definitely more comfortable than high heels and low necklines. The early stages of striving for acceptability by way of ultra-feminine styles is merely what we call “teenager in fast forward” and, like all fun things, passes.
INFO: Katherine Cummings is the Resources and Information Worker at the NSW Gender Centre. www.gendercentre.org.au