Put On The Wrong Shelf

Shelving Commission

Shelving Commission (Photo credit: Thomas Forsyth)

Spending so much time around like-minded, or sympathetic, people I am often sheltered from the garbage many of my fellow trans* people have to suffer. Oh, I deal with these trials, but I have a safe space to go to. I encounter them less often and as a result I always find myself taken a back when I a reminded what lies in wait for me out there. Yes I have been accused of hooking, once, but some of us deal with that as a weekly, even daily occurrence. I have had the odd person behave as though my presence was somehow a threat to their children’s well-being, but others are completely isolated. I have, in my travels, dealt with the ugly world of gender essentialism, and it is made that much worse, when it is our own doing the gender policing. Take this little comic:

gender essentialism

This bit of social commentary has so much wrong with it I barely know what to begin with but I think I will start with the obvious. How can anyone who has beat down the gates of gender identity, or indeed identity in general, turn around and insist they have the right to determine someone else’s. You have had the courage to stand up and fight for yourself but don’t have the courage to at least accept another? Or does this come from something else entirely? You have found a group, a label, for yourself, and now have the strength of that group to exclude others to make yourself feel more comfortable.

The artist fails to see all the ways that the trans* man on the left might be struggling. They fail to see that perhaps they are only just now, after so long hiding in the closet, coming out. They do not recognize that many trans* folk cannot afford binders, forms, hormones and all the other tools of physical transition. Not realized at all is the very tangible struggles all of us have to face and that some may not be in the position, emotionally or materially, to cope with them. The man on the left may only be able to be out in safe spaces, maintaining a girly demeanor around family, employers, and teachers. He may have to really worry about losing a job and housing and may not have the support to allow himself not to worry about that. Now he finds a space he can express himself in, and you want to take that away from him.

Finally we have the reinforcement of gender roles in general. So what if he acts girly? I have known plenty of straight, cis-men that have a girly demeanor. I have known women into sports (both I and my mother come to mind.) I have known great big, so-called manly men with very delicate hobbies and sensibilities. Why, when we can have such a broad and varied idea of what it means to be a man or woman, when we are struggling to be accepted in our roles beyond the anachronistic ideas of sex and gender, would be so ready to force those old ways on someone else?

Those of us in the trans* community have felt the sting of being put on the wrong shelf, looking across the room with longing and pain. We should be the last people doing the same to others, and when we do, we are every bit as cis-sexist and bullying as those we rail against. If we cannot lead by example, if we cannot throw away old gender roles ourselves, how can we expect cis-folk to? The answer is we cannot, and until we learn to be accepting of the entire gender experience, larger society will still insist on putting us on the shelf it wants to, and our needs will continue to be ignored.

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