One thing I’ve noticed is that a trans person will almost always hear something like, “You would pass better if you…” followed by some “helpful” suggestions. For instance, the “if you” part might be:
- If you wore more feminine clothes
- If you bind your chest tighter
- If you laugh more like a woman
- If you act interested in sports
- If you wear your hair differently
- If you lower your voice
- If you give up your masculine hobbies
Imagine going up to someone who isn’t trans, and saying, “Hon, you look great! But you’d look even better if you put make up on right.” It’s a recipe to get slapped or punched. Maybe both. Yet, for some reasons, it is assumed that trans people want these helpful tips.
Often, they don’t. There’s a time to realize they can’t look more like a woman (assuming they are a transwoman) than they already do. How can a woman look more like a woman? But the assumption is that they aren’t “really” a woman, that they are really just learning to be a woman, and they need your help (whether you are a woman or not!) to give them a hand.
Part of this comes, I think, from the divide between different groups of trans people. For instance, a drag performer may look stunningly beautiful and extremely feminine – and spends hours to get that look just right before you see them. A drag performer wants to look the part of some idea, to present a living portrait of a specific link. Whereas, a transsexual person may just want to live as they are and be allowed to be who they are. Sure, they could do what the performer did and comply better with the stereotype (depending on the performer!). But why? Why should they need to?
Nobody fits the stereotypes, and trying to fit them isn’t a recipe for happiness – the 1970s taught us that with divorce, when the stereotypical nuclear family formed in the 50s was the source of the rise in divorce (it wasn’t the sexually liberated young hippies getting divorces!). People were trying to live a stereotype, be something that wasn’t natural, in family life. And it was miserable. Likewise, most of us aren’t performers (and even performers probably don’t want to perform every minute of the day). Most of us – trans or not – are happiest when we have the freedom and support to be who we are, even if it doesn’t fit someone else’s ideas of who someone like us should be.
So, when you see that woman that isn’t a perfect stereotype of a woman, don’t give them hints about how to become that stereotype. Affirm who they are: a woman. Even if they have a deep voice, prefer wearing jeans over skirts, don’t wear make up, or whatever else. Or even if they have a feminine voice, wear mini-skirts, and spend an hour putting on makeup before leaving home. Likewise for men – being a man is about more than getting drunk or watching sports. Affirm his manliness!
Sure, give advice when asked. But remember there are all sorts of men, and all sorts of women, and all sorts of non-gendered people in the world. And that’s okay and good.
I remember visiting London, where I met up with two British autistic guys, and we ventured around London. I remember an anti-war activist coming up to the group of the three of us, and addressing me, the supposed Londoner, and asking me if my American friends would be willing to talk about the war! Were they not British enough? Hardly. Was I non-American? Again, hardly. My friends and I were fine – it was the activist who messed up. After all, what can an American do to be more American? I already am American – I can’t be “more American” (despite what some might say).
We need diversity! And we need our friends, whether we are trans or not, to support us learning who we are, interacting in the world in our own unique way. And we need to recognize that men and women don’t always fit stereotypes. And that’s a good thing.