Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Femme Or Die

One of my cisgender sisters asked me a question during a phone conversation why we transwomen spend a lot of time focusing on the outer trapping of performing our feminine gender roles such as makeup, being impeccably dressed, our hair impeccably groomed, et cetera.

We wish to do so not only for our own vanity sakes, but because doing so could possibly save our lives one day.

One of the things people fail to realize is that we inherit the good and the bad with a gender transition. One of the things we inherited is the fact that all women, be they cisgender or transgender are moving targets for sexual assault, violence or worse.

While a transwoman wants to make sure as she's out and about in the world that she blends in as seamlessly as possible with it, you don't have 100% certainty that it's going to happen in every situation.

We are also cognizant of the fact that there are people who hate us enough to that if we encounter them while we're out and about in the world, they will kill us.

Being a transwoman has this specter of death hovering over us in the background. If we end up in the wrong place at the wrong time we could die. If we're on a date and the person finds out we were born with male genitalia we could die. If we're on the operating table getting the neovagina we could potentially die from the SRS.

If we can prevent it, none of us want to be the next name placed on the Remembering Our Dead list or memorialized at those services. If making sure our femme presentations will help us in some small way do that, then we'll gladly spend the time making sure our femme presentation, our gestures, and our speech patterns are as close to perfect as we can get them. We're also always striving to ensure that we can get even better at performing our gender roles.

We know that clothes, heels, hose and makeup don't make the woman, and that great women are made, not born as Simone de Beauvoir reminds us. Femininity is an internal, lifelong journey of discovery and evolution you embark on shaped by your accumulated life experiences good and bad.

But for a transwoman, it's never far from her mind that one wrong move could end in her demise.

7 comments:

Kathryn said...

This makes me so sad. I will renew my efforts toward letting my amazing transwomen friends know they are safe with me and in my home. And towards making the rest of this crazy world a safer place.

Monica Roberts said...

Kathryn,
It's deeply appreciated by us as well.

Renee said...

Thanks for this Monica. I had never really thought about it that way. You never fail to educate me and force me to check my privilege.

whatsername said...

Such a great post, and such a fantastic rebuttal to those short sighted transmisogynistic "feminists" who claim transwomen are some sort of patriarchy colluders for often presenting so feminine. I always knew they were wrong, but I'd never quite put my finger on why.

Monica Roberts said...

Whatshername,
They're on the wrong side of the morality arc on this issue.

Hatin' on transwomen put the rad fems in the same category as the religious Reich, the Catholic church, the WWBT's, and the neo-Mattachine elements of the GL community.

holyboy said...

Monica,
I found this post pretty interesting, and as a transman, I definitely resonate with a lot of what you're saying. However, I would like to argue that many transfolks, whether they pass with ease or not, do not seek to reinforce hetero-normative gender roles and stereotypes when they transition. I know that in the early years of my transition, I found it necessary and important for me to be taken seriously as a man to be hyper-masculine, but soon found that limiting and repressive...and reinforcing the binary systems that made my transition as difficult and painful as it was.
On that note, I know that transmen experience a greater deal of safety and security with male privilege than many transwomen do, so it is from a privileged perspective that I can say that not being gender "normative" can be an empowered state.
In many of your posts, you point out the value and goal of high feminity for transwomen. I do see the validation, security, and genuine pleasure that this merits, and have experienced it myself as I came into my masculinity. I also think that the all people experience gender in such a varied way, that the empowerment and support of those of us who embrace their non-normative gender, in the face of explicit danger, deserve our admiration, respect, and gratitude.
It is my hope that my transition does not add another stone in the wall separating men from women, but allows a path to open for folks to walk along the spectrum of gender freely.
Thanks for your posts, Monica.

Monica Roberts said...

And thanks for another perspective on the issue holyboy.

Always nice to hear from the transmen.