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.