I’m a feminist and I’d also like to be a good trans ally. Why are there so many trans people who characterize playing with dolls/wearing dresses/liking pink as a sign they were a girl, and why do some say that their interest in sports was a sign they were a boy? It may not be a community-wide issue, so forgive me that. It strikes me as essentialist and somewhat tactless. Is it okay for me to question people who say things like that? Thank you for your insight!
This is actually a form of institutional violence that trans people, largely trans women, face.
To copy-paste from a previous post I made on this matter:
Growing up, I had a few trans lady friends who were hyped about being openly/visibly butch and/or gnc trans women when they began transitioning.
Three of the bunch committed suicide after basically being blacklisted out of access to medical transition. Others were wealthy enough to be able to move to where they could have a second or third shot. A femme trans lady friend forgot to apply nail polish and makeup to one of her sessions with her doctor, and that led to him keeping her from medical resources for the next two years of care, and she, as well, ended up killing herself. I could keep listing story after story with similar narratives and endings, it’s really pretty common.
Gatekeeping, whether it’s within a medical context, or a social one, relies on heavily policing trans women to prescribe to normative gender expressions dialed up to 11. We don’t, and we tend to suffer. And I don’t think it’s at all fair to cast blame on trans women who follow those norms, not when our survival is paramount and we’re coerced into those conditions via potentially fatal consequences.
Like, I’m a sloppy/lazy femme in terms of my expression, often shifting towards the hoodie and jeans aesthetic because it’s just comfy, but every doctor’s appointment, every tribunal over my transition, best believe I was probably among the most stereotypically feminine presenting ladies those docs saw that day. Not a chance I’d risk it. Every job interview, every meeting when I was looking for housing, same deal. Survival wins over the microscopic impact I might have on the reproduction of gender norms in those instances, especially when my continued survival means I can live to fight those (and other) battles in other ways less tied to my survival.
So, to be blunt and concise, it’s not trans folks upholding harmful notions of gender. It’s cis folks…cis men and cis women, weaponizing society against us to uphold gender norms through us because we’re deemed as threats and as less legitimate, so our standards are often exponentially higher than our cis counterparts.
Like, I live in liberal Canada, and this gatekeeping shit still happens. I have sat down and taught so many trans people how to strategize and what language to use, what narratives will provide the path of least resistance, so that we can get what we need in the aggressively oppressive system we live in.
Like, as a young child, I played hockey, I liked micro-machines, I liked video games, I liked climbing trees, riding bikes, building forts, and track & field.
I told my therapist that in my third session when she asked about my childhood, just minutes after telling me she felt I was ready for hormones. I had to endure 23 more sessions with her, spread across the next year and a half, to get back to where I was mid-way through that third session, a long enough time for her to forget enough about those remarks on my childhood, before I could get access to hormones. When she asked about my childhood again in the 22nd or 23rd session, I told her I played with dolls, and that secretly, my favourite colour was pink as a child, and that I yearned to play house but no one would play with me, that I’d try on my mom’s shoes and some of her clothes, etc. etc. And after I tossed out enough cliche elements of the standard narrative (basically painting myself as a very heterosexual hyper-feminine 50?s housewife), I got access. I can’t say that if I ever got interviewed on public media that I’d stray from that safe narrative, because chances are, my doctors would/could see, and I could lose access to healthcare, employment, housing, etc.
Like I said, I’ve had friends who forgot to wear nail polish and were punished for it. I had a friend…in the dead of winter…who wore pants to an appointment and was suddenly told by the doctor that he had no confidence that she was a ‘real’ trans woman. A trans dude friend of mine got in a car wreck and had busted up ribs, and couldn’t wear his binder comfortably for a while, and his doctor refused to renew his prescription to T. He eventually had to find a new doctor, endure the waiting list, and get back on, which took like, 9 months.
So if we’re saying things like that, it’s almost always a self-defense mechanism. It’s very hard to tell who we can trust, and who has the power to derail our transitions, or kill our support networks, etc. And while I’m sure if all trans people revolted and told the truth, it might help disrupt that system of norms and standards and gatekeeping, but I could never ask others like me to take a stand on principle that would likely kill a great many of them. I know that without HRT, I wouldn’t survive more than maybe three months, it’s really that simple, and I know so many others in the same boat. It’d be like walking into a building burning from a three-alarm fire to try and activate the inactive sprinkler system, instead of calling the fire department to put it out. This isn’t our responsibility.
I think it’s important to remember that trans people who are coerced into expressing these narratives are a tiny demographic, so our ability to significantly ‘reproduce’ or ‘essentialize’ any gender norms is negligible at best. And that in the overwhelming majority of the world, trans folks have to comply with exaggerated gender norms for our gender simply for survival. And that survival must take precedence over worries of us reproducing harm that we’d only be reproducing because cis people can’t get their heads out of their asses over their need to police everything about our bodies and our lives.
Like, in case you’re not aware, the “born in the wrong body” language stemmed from trans patients decades and decades ago, who were being experimented on, sterilized, mutilated, and tortured. Eventually doctors listened to us and our pleas to just treat our dysphoria, but our language didn’t fit necessarily with their worldview. They couldn’t accept that pre-transition trans men and trans women were actually men/women. That we had men’s/women’s bodies. That we were male/female. So we were coerced into using their language for us, in order to get the treatment we needed, to get any shred of support we could get. The cis-dominated structures of science and medicine are to blame for that sexism, cissexism, essentialism, etc. as well.
We’re just trying to get the help we need in a world that does not want us to get that help, and will generally only provide it if we tell them everything they want to hear. Some of the greener, fresh out of the closet trans folks push that sort of language/narrative hard, because it’s what they’re exposed to, it’s what they’re taught keeps them safe, and it’s pretty wrong to be critical of someone for surviving and actively reducing harm against themselves from society at large.
So if you get the urge to criticize a trans person for bringing that sort of thing up, maybe instead criticize the structures that prevent us from saying anything else.
This is really interesting and a perspective I hadn’t ever considered.
Trans men and women are pressured into performing masculinity or femininity more than cis men and women.
I used to think that trans people tended to be that way, then I realized society pressures them into it.
Whilst I, as a cis woman, can get away with speaking in public in jeans and a button down shirt (I do like to femme out when I feel like it, mind), a trans woman has to wear a dress and heels.
I, as a cis woman, can follow motor sports and like Top Gear. A trans woman who likes those things has to hide them.
And not only is this oppressive, but the pushing of trans women into stereotypically feminine roles can deny society the talents they may possess in traditionally masculine areas. The expectation to perform extreme femininity is likely to push trans women out of STEM, for example.
Trans men, on the other hand, are pushed even more into toxic masculinity and “macho” values than cis men. I don’t think it’s as much of a gap because the extreme forcing of gender roles is actually worse for men than it is for women. I can wear a pantsuit. If my husband were to wear a skirt… (He wouldn’t, he’s not the type, but…)
The moment I announced my transition to the public, someone I worked with on a professional level asked, incredulously, when I was going to start “dressing like a woman.”
I was wearing Tripp pants, a tank top, with a bra, and sneakers. I asked him what a woman dresses like? His answer “Well, that opens a whole can of worms.”
Yeah, you see what happened right there? Women are not expected to dress a certain way. But if I want to be seen as a woman, I have to dress drastically different from what I did before. I have to “show I want it.”
On top of that, if I hadn’t told my psychologist about how when I was a child I didn’t feel comfortable playing with boys or sports, she wouldn’t have approved me for Estrogen. She told me that because I didn’t wear makeup and lipstick, it was hard to “justify transitioning.”
We don’t do this to force women into feminine roles, but we are punished, neglected, and killed if we don’t match up with “feminine” or “masculine” based on what other people expect. It’s terrifying.
I think cis women are pushed into feminine roles. I have failed to get jobs because I insisted on wearing flats or did not wear makeup.
But trans women get it worse, because they are constantly having to prove that they’re women. And ironically, some of the people who harass trans women the most are the same people who tell cis women they’re “supporting patriarchy” if they wear makeup. (I only wear makeup when I have an actual reason to, because dang it, that stuff is expensive and annoying!).
I’m a trans therapist and I advise my trans clients to straight up lie to their doctors and other psychologists/psychiatrists if it gets them hormones. I tell them to make up the whatever stereotyped, unrealistic “trans narratives” they need to if it will get them access to hormones and surgeries they need. The medical system is not set up to protect or help us, it’s set up to safeguard cis people from being like us.
This is why the entire idea of gatekeeping and everything relating to it needs to be burned to the ground. If anyone tells you gatekeeping is a good idea–no matter whether they are cis or trans–they are wrong and they are condemning trans people to death.
This is something inherent in the system that we have to fucking advocate for fixing because it fucks people up badly.
I’m so grateful for our local medical community. When my fiance told the hospital he was trans they listed him as male in my contact info. When he told our doctor she has made every effort to use proper pronouns when she talks to him and has been great about it.
We still need to look into getting certain things done for him such as removing his breasts and I know this is the aspect of it he’s not looking forward to dealing with.
This was a great post. The only part I don’t agree with is stating you could never ask others to take a stand against these policies. Because the cis community isn’t going to make that stand for you. Though many of us will of course stand by you all, and offer our support, those types of stands need to be made by the people who need the change. Rebellion is hard, it’s messy, and yes people can die. But without the courage to do so, your needed changes will never occur.
It’s cis people’s responsibility.
I can’t ask other trans people to step up and put their own lives at risk based solely on principle. They can volunteer, but I could never ask them to let cis people put a knife at their throat and let the cis people decide if they live or die.
I have known dozens of presently dead trans people whose deaths were caused by gatekeeping. I can’t ask people to die for principle alone when this is not their fault, and when they can often live through the gatekeeping process if they play by the rules, and end up with happier, less dysphoric lives.
Trans people, specifically trans women, will always be my top priority. And I would never ask any of us to toss ourselves onto a flaming pyre out of principle to try and smother it (key word being try…we alone cannot dismantle the system of power wielded against us) when I could push for cis people to get some goddamn water and put the fire out. We deserve to live and be happy, and cis people deserve to put the work in to make that easier for us, because cis people are still killing us daily, directly or indirectly.
So don’t talk to me or any of us about courage or death. When you’ve got lists and lists of dead friends and acquaintances, when you’ve literally had to put your life in another person’s hands ready to be snuffed out on a goddamn weekly basis for years, with everything to lose and nothing but the basic human experiences to gain, maybe then you can talk to us about courage or death.
Go keep talking about all of this in the abstract, like you have any understanding of what’s at stake or how to fix this. You’re part of the problem. As a cis ally, it’s your job to boost trans people’s voices on this matter, spread awareness to other cis people, do the grunt work, because cis people will always have more power than trans people to enact those changes, and the stakes for you in putting your energy and time into those changes will always be slim to none (whereas for us, it can easily be life or death). That’s the point of cis allyship. it’s literally super safe for you to work for change for trans people, where it’s super dangerous for us to lead the charge, which is why SO MANY OF US DIE, generally avoidable deaths if cis people could keep their heads out of their asses and spent a few hours penning and pushing through legislation and doing basic activism work.
Cis people have always been weaponized against trans people by society, and cis allies of ours are meant to act as our shields, our tools, for us to utilize in creating change and eliminating our oppression.
So fucking listen, and be an ally