Parents are often referred to as ‘expecting’ when a baby is on the way. Plenty of meaning in that phrase! So as we head into the season honoring those who raised us with their own expectations (Mother’s Day and Father’s Day) it makes me ponder what expectations are all about and how they influence us.
What do we expect of ourselves and others? What do we hope to accomplish as we move forward through life? And for transitioning people, what is expected before, during, and after transition?
I am often told by a gender variant client that what they see in the mirror is not how they feel inside…or conversely, that what they see in the mirror is not what others see when they look at them.
Both viewpoints can be a double-edged sword. It can be very positive to see beyond an ‘imperfect’ self. On the other hand, the converse of this is what eating disorders and other body dysmorphic disorders are rooted in—an inability to see accurately what is reflected.
Reflections in the mirror are also based upon the belief that what we look like is who we are—appearance trumping all other characteristics. Given that we live in a society that judges people solely by physical attributes—skin color, height, weight, apparent age, physical abilities, etc.—I think that we’ve all fallen into the same trap to varying degrees, and it can be extremely limiting.
Is clothing gendered? Can you tell a boy sock from a girl sock just by looking? While we’re on the topic, why is it that girl’s and boy’s shirts button on opposite sides? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have left-handed clothing and right-handed clothing? And by the way, why don’t the clothing manufacturers ever ask my opinion?
Seriously, what does it mean to buy clothing of the ‘other’ gender? Given that gender is a social construct—academic-speak for ‘we make this stuff up’—how in the world have we come to infuse clothes with feminine or masculine meaning?
All those guys during the Renaissance period wearing tights and tunics—were they transgender? And what about the robes worn by many religious leaders today, not a trouser to be seen—are all those people transgender? What about women who wear jeans found in the men’s department because they fit better—are those women transgender? Or the new style of ‘skinny’ jeans worn by both men and women—are all those people transgender?
Perhaps clothing only takes on gender-meaning if we make it so…using external appearance to announce something about ourselves that has meaning for us, and therefore, everyone else too. Maybe we use clothing to judge others—to try to fit them into the neat categories we develop to make us less anxious about the real, true, ambiguous world.
My Point, and I Do Have One
Working with transitioning people means helping them manage their own expectations. ‘After’ transition (whatever that means for the individual) how will they look to others? How will they look to themselves? If they’ve spent years hiding their birth sex, will they now flaunt their destination sex? If so, will they look as different to those who love them as they think they look, or want to look? What if they don’t? How will they incorporate their destination gender into their real lives, because life doesn’t stop while one is transitioning?
Most importantly, will the life-long hatred of one’s birth sex and all the markers of it, lead to the same self-loathing, but just from the other side—such as, ‘I’m not girly enough’ or ‘I’m not manly enough’.
For all of us, it would be worthwhile to spend some time exploring just what it means to be girly, manly, or in-between…a more gender-fluid culture would expand options for everyone.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think.