Stereotypical Gender Critical
Imagine someone is writing a biography about you and your life, a book that will represent you for the whole world to see. However the writer sees you through a broken lens; twisting and warping your true self.
That’s how it feels for trans people, that others are telling our stories and writing our narratives without ever knowing what it’s like to walk in our shoes. My name is Lizzy, and I am a 26 year old Trans Woman from the U.K. What I have to say is from my own personal experience as a Trans woman. I am one person, and so will never be able to speak for the vast and unique experiences of every Trans and non-binary person. This is my way of picking up the pen and adding ink to the page. To start the book so that I can pass the pen onto my trans and non-binary siblings; so that we can represent ourselves and finally show the world who we really are.
For those of you who are familiar with the great gender war, you’ll know exactly why Twitter plays a huge part in it. However for those of you who don’t know, twitter has become the central point for the “trans debate”. Here in the U.K. The gender war became so big, that the group formerly known as “TERFs” (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) saw the term as a slur, and so rebranded themselves to “Gender Critical” or “GC” for short. I will expand upon this later on, and explain how they define themselves. It’s fair to say that you don’t have to look very far on twitter, to find a GC arguing about trans rights, with a trans person.
Recently I stumbled across this beautiful post about an Ex GC, who changed her views after a family member came out as trans.
This is the post:
It came as no surprise to me at all however, to see the responses below the post were filled with GC's telling her why her views were completely wrong. It’s fair to say it was a gold mine for “Gender Critical Bingo” with almost every line from the GC handbook being thrown into the mix. The image above contains just a selection of the GC responses that she received.
Whilst some of the responses were varied, most seemed to fit into a few categories of the same Gender Critical rhetoric being used again and again.
The point I wanted to address today was that GCs define transgender as following the narrowly constructed gender norms created by society. The stereotypes that were mostly created by White Cis Men, thus creating the patriarchy. GCs firmly believe that we are not only conforming to the patriarchy, but reinforcing it by supposedly following a set of stereotypes.
The first thing I want to say in response to this, is the sheer irony of it all. GC’s will often say that Trans Women are “trying to define/and or change the definition of woman”, and yet they are perfectly happy to try and tell trans people what it is to be trans. What I always say in response is that we are not trying to define women as a whole, but are merely defining ourselves.
I said earlier that I would expand upon how GC’s define themselves, and so I’m going to take a moment to do just that. Their definition for “Gender Critical” is as follows:
“Rejecting the social constructed strictures and norms foisted upon the two sexes. Supporting the sex-based rights of women and girls, and disputing the notion that sex is a feeling or essence that can be identified into or out of, rather than a biological fact.”
Now there is a lot to digest here, but for this blog I wanted to purely focus on the first sentence of “Rejecting the social constructed strictures and norms foisted upon the two sexes.” To GC’s, we are not only “reinforcing” these harmful and restrictive stereotypes, but that we base our entire transitions around them too.
Most of these arguments revolve around Trans women, in order for GC’s to call it “feminism” by painting Trans women as “Misogynistic men, upholding the patriarchy”. This is why when you see “Gender Critical” comments, posts, articles, talks etc etc it is almost always focussed entirely on how harmful Trans women are, thus erasing Trans men entirely so that they have little to no representation at all, but making the entire trans movement seem like a “men’s rights movement” by painting Trans women as “woman hating men”.
There are a multitude of reasons as to why their views on Trans women enforcing stereotypes are completely false allegations, and so I am going to highlight a few of these.
Trans people are generally highly critical of stereotypes themselves. Why, because they affect us too. For example, Trans women are often geeks and gamers, both of which are highly “male dominated” areas. Not only this, but they’re filled with misogyny, homophobia and transphobia. Again, why? Because they are built on the patriarchy and male supremacy where anything that is deemed to be “feminine” or “female” is a threat to their masculinity and the patriarchy. Men regularly police women on whether or not they’re “true geeks” or “true gamers”. I like to call them the “Guardians of the Geek Galaxy”.
There are plenty of other alternative trans women, so how can we be a “stereotype” if we are “alternative”? There’s also plenty of trans women I’ve met that wear jeans, T-shirt’s, jumpers and shirts regularly. we are a mix, just like all humans.
It was this very mentality that meant I didn’t discover that I was Trans until later in life, because it was so difficult to be a geek girl back then, so subsequently I never hung around with girls. I never got to experience that raw “sisterhood” even though I was somehow always drawn to female company and got on incredibly well with my brothers’ girlfriends. Since then my interests haven’t changed, I’m still a geek, I like watching and playing football (so much so that I went and bought a new football top before attending a Trans rights protest recently), and I like heavy rock music.
At the same time I also like pretty dresses, makeup and musicals. Like everyone, my interests are varied because they do not define me or my “transness”. My clothing doesn’t define me either; I love alternative fashion because being expressive makes me feel alive. It’s part of my gender expression, and part of who I am as a person because I’m a creative individual. It is not however any part of what makes me a trans woman.
There are plenty of other alternative Trans women, so how can we be a “stereotype” if we are “alternative”? There are also plenty of Trans women I’ve met that wear jeans, T-shirt’s, jumpers and shirts regularly.
We are a mix, just like all humans.
When I’m at work I wear barely any makeup, and on some days none at all. I enjoy wearing it when I’m going out somewhere nice or to see friends, because to me it’s part of my gender expression rather than my gender identity. It doesn’t make me any more or less of a woman, it’s just a personal choice for me because being expressive lights up my world.
One of the comments I read claimed that stereotypes are believing we have to “behave certain ways” and “enjoy certain things”. Now the first one is ridiculous enough on its own as I have NEVER met a trans person that believes there is just one specific way to “act” like the opposite gender. However it is even more ridiculous because I have seen countless cisgender female allies accused of being “men” because they are told by GC’s that “A woman wouldn’t be this aggressive”. The second point is just baffling too because we have spent our entire lives being bound by restrictions that we can’t enjoy certain things, so why would we believe in reinforcing the very things that has forever restrained us?
We are often told just to be “gender non confirming males”. Most of us try this, but it’s not enough because we are Trans, so to do that denies the reality of us being Trans. A lot of us go through an “androgynous phase” until we realise that it is NOT about the clothes but about our physical appearance - we then simply wear the clothes that make us feel most comfortable, just like everybody else on this planet. If we transitioned and then were just expected to wear stereotypically “male” clothes and never use makeup in order to prove it’s not about the clothes, then you would also have to enforce the same on all cis women too. As if simply wearing dresses and makeup is “reinforcing gender stereotypes” then that has to apply to ANYONE presenting “female”.
When it comes to the patriarchy, I’m also a woman who openly chooses to keep her body hair (again I’ve met multiple other trans women who do the same) and when I said to a GC that this made me a “gender non-conforming woman because I’m fighting the idea that hairless = feminine” she responded to me by saying “You’re male, so you’re the exact definition of gender conformity”. So in other words if I’m hairless I’m a “stereotype” and “making woman into a costume” but if I don’t shave then I’m “conforming to gender”.
This is a common theme with GCs that no matter what we do, we cannot win. Most Trans women wear makeup in order to cover up certain features in order to cope with dysphoria and to blend into society, yet if we don’t try to “pass” then we are accused of not making enough effort and instead are criticised for our appearances. From what I’ve learnt being part of the trans community, 80% of “passing” culture is due to gender dysphoria, and the other 20% is blending into society.
So we will either be attacked by transphobes for being trans (be it physically or verbally for not “passing” enough when trying to live in society as that gender) or we suffer this crippling dysphoria.
I mentioned earlier that I didn’t discover I was trans until later in life, and it was actually woman’s clothing that made me come to the reality that I was trans............just not in the way you think.
Before coming out as trans, I - like a lot of Trans women, identified as a crossdresser. I used to go to my dad’s house and that would be my “base of operations”. I had zero experience with makeup, my hair wasn’t even slightly feminine, and I found wigs horribly uncomfortable. This meant that I wore the clothes, but with my natural hair and no makeup at all. It was a novelty at first and I loved the freedom, but after a few months that novelty wore off. It was easier to just feel completely numb than to wear the clothes but see a man in the mirror dressed in woman’s clothing.
That’s when I knew that the clothes would never be enough, because I was a Trans woman and “feminine” clothing doesn’t make me who I am.
What I was experiencing was gender dysphoria; and it was crippling. A lot of trans people (not all) experience gender dysphoria. For some it’s our genitalia, but for me my biggest source of dysphoria has always been facially and not seeing a woman looking back at me when I looked in the mirror. GC’s often acknowledged the existence of gender dysphoria as the genuine medical (not mental) condition that it is. So how can our physical appearance of simply “passing” as the opposite gender be “conforming to stereotypes of gender”? It has nothing to do with “feminine” clothing, makeup, activities or traits stereotypically associated with being a woman.
I still remember one of my first days presenting as female full time. I wore very subtle makeup, just enough to help me “pass” more and not feel this crippling gender dysphoria. I had a midday sleep and so slept with my makeup on. I had this big full length mirror next to my bed and I just remember waking up, rolling over and seeing my reflection. I did a quick double take and then just smiled, because I finally felt at one with myself and comfortable with that person I saw in the mirror.
Finally (and thank you to all those who have actually made it this far!) I wanted to give my thoughts on gender. Now I’m not going to be pretentious and act like I have a full understanding of what gender truly is, even though there is both scientific evidence and references throughout history in various cultures. These I will save for another day, but for now I’m going to talk about my own personal experience. This is how I usually explain it to people:
“With being trans, you know how in times of a crisis people say ‘my whole worlds been turned upside down?’ Well for us (when transitioning) it gets turned the right way up. We can’t really explain why it feels right, no more than we can explain how some foods taste incredible to some, but make others want to throw up. However something just clicks, and our worlds just become so much clearer for first time ever.”
We know we are trans in the same way that cis people know they are not trans. For us, there are alarm bells (not necessarily dysphoria) that just tell us something isn’t right. Cis people don’t hear those alarm bells for the simple reason that they are not trans.
We are who we are, people just living our lives like everybody else and finding what makes US feel most comfortable in our skin. Isn’t that just the very definition of destroying the patriarchy? Showing women that whether or not they choose to wear makeup, shave, dress ‘feminine’ or have typically feminine hobbies/interests; that it’s ALL a personal choice because gender stereotypes DON’T define them?
I’m Lizzy. I’m my own person finding what makes me feel most comfortable in this world, creating my own rulebook without any expectations.
That’s what being a Trans person is; nothing more, nothing less.