What makes people like Eddie Izzard, a self proclaimed transvestite*1, drag queens, cross-dressers, and other male identified people allowed to exist, but me not? How is their identity any more valid than mine? What makes me, someone much like Eddie Izzard or other ‘full-time’ cross-dressers, different? We are both men who enjoy and prefer feminine articles of clothing. While he might prefer dresses and skirts to my bell-bottoms, or flats to my heels, we are basically the same. Are we not? I mean, he does wear a lot more make-up than I do.
So what is the difference? Apparently because I was assigned female-at-birth I am less legitimately a male than someone who was assigned male-at-birth, but enjoys all the feminine things I do. Apparently the presence of a vagina suddenly makes everything null and void. This is pure cissexism at its core. Cissexism is the belief that cisgender identities are more valid than those of trans* individuals and less open to scrutiny. Cisgender people, as long as they still identify as their assigned at birth, are allowed to openly express more gender diversity than trans* people. Now, this is not saying that cisgender people who cross gender boundaries don’t get flack, they do, I am just saying they get less.
Drag queens, in most cases, are allowed to exist as men who perform and dress as women (or gender bend). They are allowed to keep their male identity with little to no question. They will get flack for being effeminate, since in American society, feminine is equated with bad, but they will get less flack than a butch trans woman, or in my case, an effeminate trans guy. My gender identity is seen as less valid through how I present due to my trans* history.
I feel this is due to several factors. I already touched on cissexism, but there is more to it than just cissexism. I feel that the gender binary and gender stereotypes are major causes for the cissexism and inflexibility that is seen in identities. Society tends to see this as a one or the other. If you are a female, especially a trans woman, you need to uphold the gender stereotypes/roles of your identified gender. Otherwise, how can you be legitimate? Real women prefer feminine things and are care-takers by nature. Real men are masculine, rough and tumble, and prefer labor or physical activity over something such as going to the spa. Of course, these are all slight exaggerations, but are true examples of how people define gender. To most of society, this is how it is. Gender roles are rigid and defined. People are supposed to be one way or the other and if not, people mostly just chalk it up to them being queer (as in, not heterosexual queer).
Non-binary people experience a whole set of issues due to this. Agender, androgynous, genderqueer, genderfluid people, just to name a few, all prove that the idea of a binary or gender is untrue. I see less questioning towards the identities of these people than I have the experiences of non-binary (yet still binary) trans* folk like myself. A genderfluid person seems to be more legitimate than a trans man who loves a colorful pair of heels. Now, this is just my personal experience on this as well. However, I rarely see controversy brought up over the idea of these people existing than I see over my own identity. It could easily be because I am personally involved in one, but not the other. The very existence of the variety of genders I feel also shows that identity is not necessarily solid, for example genderfluid people. These people, by definition, have flexible (sometimes varying by the day or hour) gender. Sometimes more male, more female, or more masculine or feminine, or sometimes even queer.
Now, female-assigned people do have more leeway with their identities than male-assigned people. Society still views masculinity has inherently better than femininity. Thus, female-assigned people transitioning to more masculine identities, is less frowned upon than male-assigned people transitioning to more feminine identities (which is why, sadly, trans women are more likely to be harassed, assaulted, and murdered than any other queer demographic). However, this seems to take an interesting twist when the person is a feminine trans male*2.
It seems, due to the issues regarding femininity, trans men (and thusly, men), are not allowed to express femininity. Trans men are seen as less than men, not truly trans*, among other issues when it comes to expressing and presenting in a more feminine manner. While I’m sure the why didn’t you stay x if you prefer dressing as such argument is across the board, I have seen it presented especially against effeminate trans men. I wonder if this is due to the fact these people are men and are now in the restraints of the sexist nature of society towards all things feminine. Why this expression of femininity is suddenly so taboo, yet drag queens and male-assigned cross-dressers are less taboo? I am extremely curious as to why this double-standard applies so heavily to trans men, yet the other side of the coin seems to experience it less*3? My identity is not my body parts, and many in the queer community will back me up on that. We are not defined by our anatomy, but who we say we are. However, when it comes to non-binary trans* people, suddenly the story is a very, very different one.
*1Yes, I am aware Eddie Izzard also identifies as transgender, has taken hormones before, etc., however, he identifies primarily as male, just as I do. If this is wrong, PLEASE CORRECT ME.
*2 I cannot speak for the experiences of butch or more masculine trans women since those are not my experiences.
*3 I could be extremely wrong about this as well so, please, I would love to hear the experiences of butch trans women on this matter.