Growing Up Trans… The Inbetweeners of Society
A longstanding mook interviews her transgender boyfriend about the social pressures of transition. Gender is not just binary.
As a feminist you will no doubt be acutely aware of the restrictive societal pressures heaped upon women (and indeed, men) which can have a profound effect on our self-perceptions and confidence levels. We are inundated daily with messages telling us how we should look, talk, what we should wear and even how we should behave based solely upon our gender via the mass media. The general lack of diversity in these ‘rules’ and exclusion of minorities can be very troubling- especially if you’re transgender.
Having a transgender boyfriend in the beginning stages of his personal plan of transition has made me, as a cisgender woman, take notice of how society’s cis-normative, heteronormative standards can have a detrimental impact on a transgender person’s self-esteem. Cis women are expected to be hyper-feminized, cis men to be extremely masculinized- what chance does a transgender person have of feeling accepted anywhere on the gender spectrum when even cisgender individual doesn’t feel they can live up to these expectations and stereotypes? To expand my own (and hopefully other people’s) education on this matter, my boyfriend kindly agreed to give his personal insight on the trials and hardships of being a transgender person living in a western culture.
Evan LaFortune, 18, a transgender teenage boy, sips tea and talks about his experience of growing up.
How does the exclusion of transgender people in mass media affect your self-perceptions?
Speaking on a general scale, I can see how it would be easy for a trans individual to feel left out. A lot of people are prideful in their identity both as trans and their preferred gender equally, and hearing binary talk of just men and women can be disheartening. Everybody likes to be included, and everybody should be included. It’s quite easy to feel lesser about yourself when you’re treated as sort of a “hush-hush” topic, only being mentioned when some news organization needs a bump in ratings and decides to pan out the tragic tale of the “crazy” trans person. Obviously, I could easily settle for less negative attention from the media regarding the trans community, but that, just like acceptance, takes time.
What effect do gender roles have on a transgender person who is still in the early stages of their transition?
Gender roles are a very tricky thing for anyone who is transgender, whether they are pre or post transition. I was watching some videos online made by a female to male transsexual, and he summed it up beautifully. He said that even though transgender/transsexual individuals rely so heavily on gender roles, (e.g. wanting to be seen as male, so they find themselves playing on general male/female stereotypes found in their society. Such as abstaining from all things society considers female, and taking on those that society sees as male) a great many of us would want nothing more than to see these stereotypes completely abolished. To simply be able to be seen as ourselves, just human, would save us a great deal of pain and stress.
However, when you’re in the early stages of transition it’s an incredibly interesting time. It’s almost comical how drastically people react to the small things you do, or how oblivious they can be. If you were born female and stop wearing makeup and start wearing looser, baggier clothes, you’ll soon find those around you just writing it off as a phase. The same can be said for a naturally born male who begins to wear makeup and clothes tailored to a woman’s body. It’s funny because people are so quick to say, “Oh, that’s just a phase!” and simply to not figure, “This must be the person making an effort to feel more comfortable with themselves.” The existence of gender roles can make for an interesting or incredibly difficult journey, because as soon as you step outside these boundaries set for men and women, it’s almost as if people think they can just ride it out until you’re finished playing dress up.
Do you think societal inclusion and education of trans issues would make it easier for transgender individuals to ‘come out’ to their parents and loved ones?
Absolutely. I think one of the greatest reasons for homosexuality becoming so rapidly accepted in Western societies (especially here in the US) is because people are allowing themselves to become more educated about it. I believe that people fear what they do not understand, and that fear leads to hate and personally outlawing anything they do not (and do not wish to) understand. There are still a lot of stigmas floating around regarding people who undergo sex reassignment surgery or people who cross dress and so on. Most others tend to abstain from learning more about these individuals because they believe that’s all there is to it; just some twisted person who derives sexual pleasure from masquerading around as another gender (as the stereotype goes). When in reality these are people who literally cannot live in their own skin happily until they appear the way they believe they should, until the body matches the mind.
Has the lack of education about this affected you personally?
It has made it really difficult for me to “come out” to friends and family. I constantly fear people are just going to think of me as some strange person or that I’ll constantly be seen as “that trans guy”, or even worse, “that girl pretending to be a guy”. While there’s nothing wrong with being seen as a trans guy, I cannot stress enough how badly I just want to be seen as a person, and how I want others to see me the same as I see myself (which is just a nice and quiet guy). I would hope that in the near future people will become much more educated about the trans community, resulting in a lack of fear and stigmas and an easier transition path for people like us.
What do you find most difficult about the thought of transitioning – do you think more awareness on these issues would improve these worries for people?
There’s certainly a large amount of fear associated with transitioning which obviously makes it a difficult trial. Regret is always a massive fear for, I think, just about everybody faced with the option to transition. There’s also the fear of hate crimes and generally being ostracized from neighbourhoods, workplaces, or really any social environment. I think there definitely needs to be more awareness raised for issues like these, something that can help a non-trans individual feel what it’s like to be in our shoes, and to feel that fear that comes with just trying to be yourself. Nobody wants to be treated like they’re some kind of mutant or someone who should be removed from society simply because they are who they are. That’s incredibly cruel and not enough people take the time to realize that. It’s really easy to shrug something off that you’ve never been involved with first-hand. So yes, awareness definitely plays a part in improving dangerous situations for anyone society casts outside the borders of normalcy.
See more: Links for transgender youth
Transgender art by Gabrielle La Roux