“I just don’t feel comfortable until I am sure of who I am speaking to,” one woman said at a session on transgender identity for church goers.
In a popular crossdressing blog, I read of a restaurant dinner at Fantasia Fair 2014 where the Provincetown waiter insisted on calling a table of visible transwomen “guys” and even called one “Bro.” He knew his side of the Guy-In-A-Dress Line: to him, people are defined by their birth genitals, forever.
Even in a service position, he was unable to respect the clear representations of his customers, needing to force his own belief system onto them rather than be gracious, if just in the pursuit of a better tip.
This experience of someone needing to put a pin through your thorax and fix you to the board is consistently a challenge for transpeople. It is the essential “third gotcha” for which we are always tensed and on guard, the dismissal of our gender in favour of the clean, simple and false binary of birth sex.
If I tell you the birth genital configuration of someone, what can you tell me about them? Can you tell me who and what they love? Can you tell me what they do? Can you even tell me how tall they are? Sure, males are mostly taller than females, but we all know that is not true for every individual, not by a long shot.
The most frustrating thing about these pinners is that they really believe that reproductive sex is the most essential component of who someone is. They feel completely justified, even sanctified in defending that great divide between male and female bodies and the compulsory gender roles that society writes on them.
When these people are gender variant themselves — a gay man, in this case — or are committed to be welcoming to new humans coming into their church, the pinning seems incredibly defensive.
There is a bit of talk on the internet this week about the perceived misogyny of gay men. One of the things that concerns me about gay culture is the level of judgment that seems to be not only accepted but even encouraged. It often seems like the way gay men bond is to pass judgment on others, uniting over the failures of presentation that they identify in people around them. They can quickly identify when someone else is doing it wrong, enforcing a visual correctness in the same way some lesbians enforce a political correctness.
This policing of group identity by collective judgment of attractiveness can easily seem oppressive to others outside the clique. In the wider world there are many possible groupings, many models of desire, but inside a small group, the pressure for cloning can become intense and crushing.
Trendy Gay men are not misogynist in the way that Archie Bunker was not prejudiced; they judge everyone. People who don’t come up to their standard are worth dismissing and not worth fighting for. Their focus isn’t on supporting unique, individual queer expression, rather it is on protecting a shared æsthetic and culture, one that they connect around.
I am sure that the transwomen in that Provincetown restaurant were not young enough, “flawless” enough or chic enough to pass the waiter’s judgment. They were just drab guys in dresses, worthy of a touch of disdain.
The waiter pinned those guests to the board and then could judge them as not luxe enough for his real attention. This is little different from churchgoers who need to pin LGBT people to a board so they can judge them, leaving off to the abject and dismissed side.
I know better than to try and win in the judgment of others. Their rules are defined to protect their clique from outré outsiders, not to embrace the wide range of continuous common humanity. Their judgment is their defence, protecting their own smallness by self-reinforcing only their values and dismissing any challenge.
When I know who I am speaking to because they defend their group identification over our shared humanity, denying respect and grace to people who don’t meet their standards of expression, I know that I can discount their judgments, even if those judgments still make me sad.