Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Entrenched stereotypes

Obviously, people see what they expect to see. Obviously, if someone has been fed the stereotype of black men being scary, dangerous, criminals, etc. they will remember and recount the ethnicity of the mugger when a young black man steals their wallet, and forget about race altogether when they're recounting their other three muggings by young white men.

And obviously, they won't remember the race of the black man who holds the door open for them, smiles nicely at them in the street, etc.

(I was thinking of that particular example because I've had too many accounts like that from white people, recently - "This BLACK man assaulted me" vs "These men assaulted me" and "I thought he was going to attack me because he was black, and then he did" - well, yes, but also NO! logic FAIL! you eejit.

Anyway, this insightful post reminded me that, in the case of stereotypes about trans people, the need for many of us to pass as non-trans adds an extra layer of difficulty.

The post points out the doublethink inherent in social attitudes to trans women - that all trans women can somehow be hilariously obvious "men in dresses", AND "deceptive" enough in their exact "portrayal" of femininity to "trick" nice young men.

The second concept is more dangerous than the first, of course - it ensures that trans women are murdered, and their killers get off with a slap on the wrist. It gives an excuse to deny trans women employment, etc.

However, the first stereotype ensures that trans women are mocked and ridiculed.

Of course, if a trans woman passes as non-trans, it's impossible to tell that she is trans. That's... kind of the point. So, the first stereotype continues - the average person has only noticed trans women who, in their eyes, look "humorous."

We need to get rid of this concept that a male-assigned person in female-assigned clothing is inherently funny. I'm not sure how, in real terms, we manage that - ban humourous drag shows? Banning things is generally not the way to go...

But anyway, less seriously, it made me laugh how tenaciously stereotypes, particularly this one, hang on. I went on a trip, to an undisclosed location, with a cis male friend and a friend who is a trans woman. This cis male friend has been known to act with even less tact than myself. Therefore, a while before the trip, I said to him "You might notice that my friend is trans. Please, please don't say anything incredibly appalling. Kthx."

Although this particular trans woman passes as non-trans, she didn't seem too bothered about people knowing on this occasion, or perhaps she just assumed that everyone did. So when we were in our little group, she talked about her obstinate stubble, not being able to take off her trousers because she hadn't packed more forgiving undergarments, how she'd been on hormones for enough time to compete in the Olympics, had she wanted to do so... And throughout the trip, my cis male friend, indeed, said nothing incredibly appalling.

On the final day, I was with that friend, and I was talking about something to do with trans... ness, I forget what. "It's like this for me, but for some trans women like *name of trans woman friend*, it's..."

Whereupon, my cis male friend stared with eyes like saucers. "She's trans???"

She just didn't look enough like a hairy lumberjack in a frock, it seems. Thus, the evidence of his own ears could be discounted.

1 comment:

shiva said...

"We need to get rid of this concept that a male-assigned person in female-assigned clothing is inherently funny. I'm not sure how, in real terms, we manage that..."

Stop assigning people and/or clothing to the categories "male" and "female"?

OK, that's kind of utopian... but seriously, just stopping assigning clothing genders would probably do it. Like Eddie Izzard said, "they're not women's clothes, they're mine"...

BTW, as another UK-based autistic genderqueer geek with half a blogroll in common with you, i'm sort of surprised i've never encountered you before...