Flowers and Baby Blues: Gender Performance in the Trans Community
One could say I live a sort of double life. On the streets, you can catch an Ezra with a grown-out ivy league haircut, straight-legged jeans. You might spot him running at the local track or lifting weights at the gym; you could even find yourself next to him on BART, his legs spread across the seats, the scent of his Men’s Degree closing in on your personal space. You might hate him just a little bit.
But let’s say that he’s left his front door open behind him coming home from work, and you climb the stairs to his room with him. Furtively, he would open the door. An expanse of baby blue unravels. Floral patterns cover the bedspread, tea lights climb the bedposts, dried flowers and candles even adorn the shelves. If you peered into the closet you might find a dress or two. This is my paradise. But it’s almost completely undiscovered.
If I were a cis man, I might not have to worry so much about hiding my feminine interests. While someone may laugh, or even insinuate that I’m gay, others may congratulate me for being so brave and compliment me on my nail polish. Yes, I would experience some shame, and this would be exactly that: a shame.
But I am not a cis man. And for me, the choice to hide comes mostly out of fear. As a transgender man, I would have difficulty passing in my feminine apparel. I’ve accepted that passing is a meaningless concept; yet, I forget sometimes that in many respects, it really isn’t. In the first ten months of 2015 alone, there were at least 21 homicides of transgender people in the U.S. Violence from being visibly trans is a looming fear for anyone in the community– even more so for those who dress or act in ways that shatter the gender binary, and especially so for women of color, who face the brunt of the fatal encounters.
If your gender presentation does not perfectly match up with your identity as a transgender person, you will inevitably forfeit your credibility in the eyes of the general public, medical professionals, and absurdly enough, your own transgender community. Whether by the will of the trans community or the outside input from cis allies, we idolize transgender male figures who fit every stereotype in the book, and minimize those who don’t. Just googling “transgender man” will summon myriad photos of shirtless men flexing their biceps. I take no issue with Aydian Dowling’s bulging pectoral muscles (on the contrary, I admire him for his work in the trans community); however, just looking at images of him and similarly masculine men stirs complex feelings in me. Do I feel like my hundred-pound, bony body makes me any less of a man? Do I feel the need to change myself in order to achieve this ideal?
Aydian Dowling, a huge contributor to positive visibility in the trans community, may reinforce a typical masculine image, but the key component here is that masculinity is multifaceted. Some trans men choose to present somewhat femininely, some choose to fulfill masculine roles while remaining mindful of other forms of expression, like Dowling. Yet, the heart of the issue is a certain brand of masculinity: one that overpowers and seeks to dominate. Often called toxic masculinity, and, in common parlance, a denomination stereotypically applied to cis, straight men, it has slithered its way into safe spaces and taken root.
One little-known aspect of being trans is the sheer amount of unsolicited advice one receives regularly. From cis and trans folk alike, I have been told to stop saying “please” and “thank you”, to take up more space, to become not just assertive, but aggressive in my speech, interrupting others. All in the name of passing, all in the name of social acceptance. And it frustrates me to no end that they’re right. If I engage in this disrespect, I am more likely to be safe and accepted as a guy. All at the expense of the women, cis and trans, who are threatened by male aggression in all its forms.
There’s nothing wrong with being a femme trans woman, or a masculine trans man. It’s the lack of visibility of those who don’t conform to the norms which causes this divide, this isolation. We need more Adrian Daltons just like we need Aydian Dowlings. A community that lacks diversity is meaningless. Even in our safe spaces, we need to surround ourselves with people who believe differently than us, present differently than us, and express themselves differently than us. So next time we convene, I’ll bring my dried flowers and my baby blue. You can bring whatever you want.
Ezra Copeland is a Guest Contributor at InQueery.