I’ve been part of a problem. We all have, and transgender people suffer for it.
So, you think you understand gender better than a transgender woman who is older than you. Oh, my apologies, I’ve started off by speaking only to my transgender audience; I should, in fact, be speaking to all of us, because we’re all harming trans people on a near daily basis. For a basic idea of what I’m talking about, consider the role women occupy in our society. On the one hand, if you’re a woman people can be obsessed with, say, your appearance in a negative way, judging your perceived flaws. They can also be obsessed with your appearance in a seemingly positive way, deeming you praiseworthy. Or, if they’re self-aware, they might openly acknowledge their lack of concern with your looks, which itself still centers your unqualified but essential “otherness.” You’re in a fishbowl, and have the peculiar sensation that everyone is either staring or actively trying not to stare.
Queer identities complicate this issue. For a woman flirting with another woman, there can be an acute sense of irony in the simultaneous one’s love of another woman’s appearance and hatred of the self-conscious regard for one’s own appearance. In truth, this is never a barrier to relationships, but it can be a barrier to psychological validation. Jokes abound in the queer community about “useless lesbians” who could, for example, go on three dates and have sex with a girl who then asks you to be her girlfriend, all while wondering if that girl really has feelings for them.
Transgender people have long held the unenviable status in our culture of being the weird or strange attractions of only fleeting mainstream attention. Objects both at once of sexual desire and public derision, a trans person is deviant in one of the most basic ways a person can be, and that’s with respect to their gender. Where a cisgender woman might be scrutinized heavily for her appearance no matter what she does, a transgender woman is almost necessarily disdained for either doing what mainstream culture expects them to do, or not. A trans woman is compelled to flawlessly maintain a perfect veil of womanhood: sexy but silent, emotional yet composed. Yet at the same time there is truly nothing a trans woman can do to purchase for herself validation of her womanhood from someone determined to view her as a poor performer, an outsider.
There are, of course, subtle ways in which our overly critical and suspiciously attentive views towards women may manifest, and none is more apparently innocuous than the dualistic expectation that trans women always be both sensitive and correct. Our culture privileges so very trans voices, relatively speaking, so for trans women in that particular space, the pressure is on. Nevermind that for any individual transitioning while already in the public eye, this performance is a nearly impossible one. We have become so fixated on the presence of trans women in media that our joy at their very presence has been overridden by a hypercritical judgment culture. It would be easy to blame this all on social media, on how vocal groups guide content creators through selective Pavlovian validation. But the truth is, this is almost the reverse; this is one such validation gang where the group doesn’t win, because the path of manipulation is just a brick wall that we shove trans women into, expecting them to get through or hoping they don’t, angels and devils that they are.
This certainly may speak more to a particular subculture, but it has emerged from our entire culture and exists everywhere. It is a mindset, a perspective, a frame of view, a way of seeing. Certain colors attract the eye. Trans people attract our ire.
I would suggest that this is not merely the result of emergent political manipulation that does certainly exist and does absolutely affect these public narratives. Rather, it seems to me that we trans people have long been under the watchful eyes of a sort of circus. Simply being here is performance, because it is by our nature as trans people that we have been categorized as part of the act. Who planted us here in this grotesque theatre? Certainly it seems unnecessary and cruel to treat all trans people this way. Why should I care so much about how womanly I seem, whether a girl really likes me, whether that’s because she thinks I’m not a real woman? My sisters are in great pain, and I’ve contributed to this culture because usually you don’t know you’ve been conditioned by society to act a certain way until you’ve already done it.
I don’t want to be hypercritical of my sisters.