Thursday, October 18, 2012

Double Standards, Part 2

For those who may have missed it, in Part 1 I talked about the double standards that trans women get weighed down with in society.  In particular the "Madonna/Whore Complex", which all women must deal with, and the "Permission Paradox", which often results in trans people being denied their rights because they're polite enough to ask for them.

For Part 2, I'd like to discuss two more sets of double standards that are unique to trans women.  There may be some overlap for issues trans men face, but since I'm not a trans man I'm not the best to make that judgement.  So let's get started with what I like to call, "Man if you do, and man if you don't."  This set of double standards basically states that if trans women act feminine, then it's artificial.  If a trans woman likes to wear skirts or high heels or make up she can be accused of "supporting the patriarchy" and "appropriating women's identities" by crazy, hateful, misguided feminists.  To be fair, these same accusers might turn around and say cis women who enjoy femininity are a problem too, but they're just "duped" or "misguided", whereas trans women are somehow actively trying to work against women by becoming women.  It sure doesn't make sense to me, but I'm sure in their minds it is flawless logic.  But let's say you're not a very feminine trans woman.  Hell, let's say you're a big ol' butch lesbian.  Now you're persecuted because you're not feminine.  People might accuse you of not "really" being a woman because you like to keep your hair short, don't wear make up, or enjoy "masculine" activities.  And if you're a lesbian, especially a butch lesbian, people will always ask, "Why did you bother to change in the first place?"  As if being a straight man and a butch lesbian are the exact same thing.  The same goes for straight trans women being compared to gay men.  Then people take it even further with surgery.  If you decide a vaginoplasty is not right for you or can't afford one, many will say you're still a man because you have a penis.  And yet, if you do get SRS than people say, "Well, you're still not really a woman because you don't have a uterus."  I guess that means all women who've had a hysterectomy aren't really women either.  Some people will carry a grudge against you if you're a trans woman no matter who you are, what you do, or how you act.  For them, you'll always be a man and there's nothing you can do about it.

The second double standard I'd like to discuss is the "Deceiver/Pathetic Complex".  This is something the media is especially guilty of.  Trans women are often seen as a "deceiver" if they don't disclose their birth status.  This can be with a romantic partner or friend or any other acquintance.  The thought is that trans women aren't just dealing with the circumstances of their birth as best they can, but rather are actively trying to "trick" others into seeing them as female.  This is often used in the issue of "women's only spaces" excluding trans women.  The myth is that trans women are only trying to get into, say, the women's restroom so they can spy on or assault women.  Never mind the fact that there is no recorded case of this ever happening.  (However, trans women have been physically and sexually assaulted in women's restrooms.)  The deceiver portrayal is pervasive and is often applied to trans women who are perceived as cis.  The media loves to create deceiver trans women as a "twist" in movies.  (The Crying Game, Ace Ventura)  Many cis people can't handle the fact that cis assumption is prevalent in our society.  Unless you perceive someone as trans -- often this is a flawed image of what a trans person is -- you assume they're cis.  The same can be said for heterosexuality as well.  But rather than examine their own bias, the cis person blames the trans person for "tricking" them.  This complex is what romantic or sexual partners of trans women use to justify violence toward them.  Otherwise affectionately known as the "Gay Panic Defense".  Unless you're sexually involved with someone, it's nobody's goddamn business what your genitals look like, now or then, yet so many people can not get a grasp on that concept.  And even if you're sexual partner didn't disclose her birth status with you, that's no justification to kill her.  Even if a trans woman is out, she can still be labeled a deceiver if she's potential competition.  This was what I experience when my cis friend resented me for having larger breasts than her.  It was okay for me to be trans woman, but not to considered as or more attractive than a cis woman. 

If you're not a "deceiving" trans woman, then you are a "pathetic" trans woman instead.  This is applied to trans women who are known to be trans and have a hard time being perceived as female.  It transforms the trans woman into a sad, confused man in a dress.  This is the most popular type used in the media (Transamerica, Priscella Queen of the Desert) in order to make the trans woman non-threatening.  The thought is, "No man/woman would find this person attractive, therefore I don't have to worry about competing with them."  This turns trans women into something worthy of pity rather than people to relate to or be romantic with.  While there is less violence commited in the name of "Gay Panic", it's just as harmful a stereotype because it dehumanizes trans women, and once you dehumanize someone it is much easier to commit brutal acts toward them.  In fact, I would say this is the most harmful stereotype because it's so widely prevalent and reduces trans women to the role of confused gay men.  It justifies ridicule and violence to the most vulnerable among us, either those who have a difficult time transitioning or those just starting out.  These women often don't have the self-confidence to stand up for themselves which makes the atrocities committed against them all the easier.  Either way, you can't win.  If you "pass", you're a threatening deceiver.  If you don't, you're pathetic and harmless.

While it's damn near impossible to avoid these double standards, it's important to be aware of them.  You need to know the "Madonna/Whore Complex" is used to justify rape and disrespect of sexually confident women so you can protect yourself from physical and social slurs cast against you.  You need to know about the "Permission Paradox" so you can learn to demand the rights you deserve rather than ask for them.  You need to know about "Man If You Do..." so you don't waste time trying to win the support of biggots.  You need to know about the "Deceiver/Pathetic Complex" so you notice the negative portrayals of trans women and fight against the different justifications for disrespect and violence.  Ignorance can't protect you, but awareness and actively pointing out the double standards to others will make things easier.  Not over night.  It's going to be a gradual journey that may never end, but we'll never even get started if you don't educate yourself and start fighting against them.

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