Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Public perception.

Last week I mentioned the reputation that crossdressers, and transgendered individuals have, obviously being the former makes it difficult for me to be entirely unbiased but I'll try my best. I'm also looking at this from a very British point of view, I think things over in the US, and on the continent are a little different.

There are several stereotypes related to crossdressing and the transgendered (I wish there was a better way of saying that but it's not abundantly clear to me) and while they do have a grounding in reality they, like all stereotypes, make massive sweeping statements and simplify to a fault. I want to take a look at these different stereotypes and explain what they are, why they're harmful and maybe what can be done about it. 

Obviously everyone is different, no two people will experience gender identity issues the same way, however parallels can be drawn, and groups can be seen. I'm not sure what group I would fit in exactly, if any. 

Drag Queens
The classic drag act is rather innocuous in it's inception, men wearing rediculliously over the top frocks and wigs, ham acting to the hilt; It's about entertainment and comedy and not primarily about wanting to be, or act female in itself, this doesn't mean that drag queens don't self identify as female but I believe it is more of a passive "for fun" attitude. To be fair this stereotype is relatively accurate, obviously not every queen fits the mould but in general it's not terrible.
Personally I don't have an issue with Drag queens, mostly because they're a laugh and widely understood, especially in the UK. Some people might find it a little off putting but at the end of the day they probably don't fear them.

Some crossdressers and transgenders (is that better? I'm not sure) however do have an issue with them; I think the main issue is the perception that all  crossdressers and transgenders are drag queens. They fear it trivializes a major part of their identity and the difficult process they've gone though. While I am understanding of this, there are bigger fish to fry.

Weirdo Transvestite
First off, this is not my term. This one was coined by the wonderful Eddie Izzard:


I think the general public perception of crossdressers fall into this crazy, weird and scary stereotype; and it's predominantly not true. While I understand that it is atypical lifestyle it doesn't make you some sort of freak in all other aspects in your life, nor is it some form of excuse to explain crazy behaviour. That's not to say that there aren't Weirdo Transvestites out there, there definitely are.

However, as with other LBGT issues things are getting better. I don' think it's ever going to be considered 'normal' but with the advent of social networking and the push for equality it is becoming an acceptable lifestyle choice. In addition I've seen more and more news articles, blog posts and TV programmes broaching the subject of Crossdressing and Transgender in a slightly more unbiased way.

But, if it came out tomorrow that some male celebrity or influential figure was a crossdresser the media would hound them into the ground, treating it like some shameful secret. Why? Because people don't like being lied to, especially if it's about something they don't understand.

It's a Trap!
This is a very recent stereotype that currently only exists online, and only in a few specific places. The best definition I could come up with for a trap is: A male who, while dressed as a female, would be able to attract the advances of a straight male under the pretence that they are, in fact, female. I.E. a very convincing crossdresser / pre-op transsexual. They tend to be young, no older than say mid 20s and engage in posting pictures of themselves online to receive praise and/or adoration. Due to the nature of the stereotype, you can't just call yourself a trap, you have to be reviewed and accepted by the internet before you are, and I'll go into a few details in a second.
For reference for those who are unaware; The term trap refers to the Starwars character Admiral Ackbar who, during the battle for The Return Of The Jedi uttered the line "It's a trap". If you have been on Facebook or Twitter in the past few years you've probably heard it referenced somewhere, somehow; if not then I don't know how.

From one point of view it's good that crossdressers are receiving praise and/or adoration and not fear and rejection, but it's not all sunshine and happiness. While I am sure that almost everyone who is labelled a trap, or wishes to become one (as I said, it's a label others put on someone) I'm also sure that the majority of them get caught up in the attention they receive and possibly never consider the ramifications of their actions. Also while I am sure a lot of traps suffer from gender dysphoria and may want to become more feminine though hormones or surgery, I fear some get pushed into doing things because they crave the attention and adoration poured upon them from faceless comments on some website as they post more and more explicit and pornographic images online. To me it's becoming a facsimile of the way women are judged by their appearance and feel forced to comply with the social expectation of attractiveness.

And what happens if you don't meet the ridiculously high standards of these internet elitists? You get ridiculed, torn down and made a joke out of; they will go out of their way to crush you. And I'm not going to start to explain why that is just wrong. 

Traps are also stereotypically highly promiscuous and do not help disparage the next stereotype.

Transvestic fetishism
Simply put, some people believe crossdressers are perverts who want nothing more than to put on a dress and try to get off with them, or their children. It's seen as disgusting, vile and dangerous behaviour that corrupts everything it comes into contact with ... the people who believe this probably think the same about gay men and women. Again I'm not going to waste my time explaining how this kind of incorrect and negative stereotype damages people. We're not all sex crazed perverts, or worse.
The major problem with this one is that we do not help ourselves at all in this case. Googling various different  crossdressing and transgender related topics you will probably happen upon some porn. And while you could make the argument that whatever you google for you're likely going to find porn it pisses me off that the first two result when googling "Crossdressing blog"give you one unashamed porn blog and one that seems to be a collection of soft core porn pictures sent in by users. There was also another flat porn site just on page one. 

Granted searching 'transgender', or just 'crossdress' gave more reasonable results but seriously, what the hell is this community doing to itself.

Obviously a man in a dress
This is probably the most common, and most accurate stereotype out there. As much as a man might try to look feminine there is only so much one can do without hormones and surgery, even then there is quite a strict limit.

By far the thing people think of when prompted with the idea of a crossdresser, or a transgendered person is a 6ft, broad shouldered, strong jawed individual who is not quite the right shape for the dress they're wearing. Or at least something near that, and I don't really have an argument here ... this is close to what a fair few crossdressers, and transgendered people do look like. They are also people, who just want to try to get near how they feel inside, there is nothing wrong with it.

But, sometimes you need to sit down and think, can I really get away with wearing this mini skirt? Would a woman my age actually wear this kind of thing? I'm all for wearing what you want and not what society tells you to but sometimes the subtle approach is much better. Some people might want to leave the house and get noticed by everyone they pass, others just want to blend into the background and long not stand out.  
There are a couple more more niche stereotypes, I might revisit this post at a later date and detail some more, but for now that sums up how I feel about the issue. 

At the end of the day these stereotypes started life with a grounding in some kind of truth, however tenuous it might have been; some are still quite accurate while others were never true. Everyone is different and deserves to be treated for who they are and not what box they fit in, unfortunately the world just doesn't work that way.

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