Sitting in a pub with friends recently the conversation turned to the situation with a club we know of. It seems that a transgender man has joined it and that this has caused them problems. The conversation illustrated some popularly held views of what transgender is about and who qualifies.
Now I know all the people who were in the discussion and they have been very accepting of my own position. They were not being unkind to trans people and almost certainly did not understand why what they were saying drew my own interest. But the conversation moved on to whether the person involved was really trans or just someone dressing as the opposite gender. There seemed to be a general agreement that they did not look sufficiently like the gender they were intending to present as and therefore were not properly transgender.
This is something we see to some extent in media portrayal of trans people too so it is understandable that my friends should reflect the same views. To many people, a transgender person has in some way to become acceptable in appearance and have been, or are about to be, surgically altered to match their gender presentation. In effect, trans people must look right, and if not then we are not the real thing.
There is an underlying truth to this of course. For most of us it is important to fit in with the norms of appearance both at work and in our chosen social circles. We dress according to the standards of what we do. If we fail to do this then we stand out. Sometimes that can be a good thing but for most people most of the time we like to be seen to be like the others around us. Though I don’t wish to stifle individual expression I would usually advise trans people to blend in with the way others dress and behave when at work or out in public.
We can of course extend this to encompass the modern world’s emphasis on appearance in general. This affects men and women, girls and boys. Women often comment on how they face pressure to look “right” and conform to a certain idea of what is correct and acceptable. It is part of a wider issue.
An aspect of my presentations and seminars is a discussion on transgender terminology and the spectrum of the transgender world with all it’s variants. This is often something that people comment on as most useful in understanding transgender people in general. All transgender people go through a journey and do not start out fully formed and conforming to the appearance standards they really would like for themselves.