there are alot of words that have specific meaning to those who are transgender. like ‘passing’ and ‘disclosure’. i dislike both of these words. as the parent of a transgender daughter, and the long time friend to a couple of transwomen, the import and impact of these words is clear to me.
passing means being judged to be ‘feminine’ enough in appearance to have some modicum of acceptance as female. unfortunately, this ‘modicum’ is not the same as real acceptance as a woman, but only a grudging allowance that one looks ‘good enough’ to be deemed feminine.
the rites of passing for transgender women are very detailed. there must be a ‘feminine’ voice, no visible ‘adam’s apple’, a feminine walk and poise, make-up and clothing. in addition, in order to be thought ‘passing’ validation must be awarded by the cis-gender, male-dominated societal norms that dictate and oppress cis-gender women as well.
the rituals and necessities to achieve ‘feminine appearance’ are time-consuming and expensive. as every cis-woman knows, in order to be deemed ‘feminine’ the body must be ridded of hair, smooth as a pre-pubescent girl. one must attend to details such as applying mascara and lipstick, and learn to negotiate one’s surroundings in shoes that are uncomfortable and unhealthy, while donning ‘appropriate’ gender-specific attire. i wont go into all the particulars of poise and composure here, as i presume that my readers are familiar with western patriarchal paradigms for acceptible female behaviour and appearance.
for transgender women all these rituals must be accomplished without the slightest error in order to be judged by others as ‘passing’. and then, should a girl be particularly good at ‘passing’, she had better also be very good at knowing the unwritten rules about disclosure, lest she be deemed ‘deceitful’ or blamed for her own attack or rape. in other words ‘passing’ results in responsibility to ‘disclose’. but not ‘passing’ is unacceptable…it’s a trap either way.
as a cis-woman, despite my unconventional appearance, my non-traditional way of dressing, my habit of neither shaving my body hair nor applying make-up, i ‘pass’. there’s no judgment of my personhood as a woman, although it may be decided that i’m not ‘feminine’. a transgender woman who affected a similar self-expression would not be considered ‘passing’, would be denied personhood on her terms and not accepted as a woman.
the terms masculine and feminine are by-products of a binary mindset. they are the result of a long history of patriarchal values imposed upon society. they say much about what the dominant culture thinks of women and their place in relation to men but do little to define actual persons. they are masks given each to wear dependent upon one’s genital presentation at birth. terms such as these are meant to put us each in our place, in much the same way that other assignations lock one into their proper ‘class’ or race.
where in all of this can the ‘rights of personhood’ be found? how can it be that in the 21st century society is fraught with ways by which it can deny self-definition and self-determination to its members? how can we begin to extend rights of personhood when there is so much of judgment and reluctance to accept what is deemed as ‘strange’ or ‘other than’.
the vice-president recently made comments that subject of ‘transgender rights’ is the civil rights issue of today. no doubt this is true, because whereas lgbt rights movements have made many gains for the other folk represented by the letters of that acronym, the T folk continue to struggle for the most basic rights of personhood.
i have no answers.
my daughter doesn’t seem to be anymore interested in wearing make-up or jewelry than am i. she doesn’t like to wear frilly attire, isn’t afraid of spiders and wants to marry a woman someday. i would like to imagine a world wherein she wont be denied her right to personhood simply because she rejects (as do i) the parameters of what it means to be feminine, a world wherein ‘rites of passing’ are inconsequential to her being accepted as the girl she’s always been.