Social pressure

Do people transition because of social pressure? How could you know?

Now, I identify as a pansy, a feminine male. Before transition, I felt social pressure to conform to standards of masculinity, but I was aware of “transsexuals”. I felt liberated when I could express myself as Clare. In May 2000, I decided to transition. That decision lasted less than a week: I went to the local TV/TS group and sat with the TSs. None of them had jobs. They seemed miserable. They did not seem to pass particularly well. I thought I could not do it. Then at another group I found trans women who seemed to be able to make a go of life, and in November 2000 I decided to transition. I transitioned in April 2002, and still express myself as female. I have no plans to revert.

As I understood it at the time, there were two kinds of people with a Y chromosome who dressed as women. There were transvestites, who did it for sexual kicks, and transsexuals, who did it because they were really women. TVs were perverts, ridiculous and disgusting, but TSs had a medical condition, and were not to be condemned. I did not feel able to express my feminine self as a man, so the alternative was to transition. I wanted to transition, so I was TS.

In the Northern Concord, of those who did not proclaim themselves TS, there were still people who were like blokes down the pub who happened to be dressed strangely, and some very feminine types. I was friendly with the latter, and some later transitioned.

I wanted sex reassignment surgery. I paid for it. Now, I believe that I had it because of social pressure, because it was part of my understanding of what a transsexual was. Some of that pressure came from the transsexual support group, but also from cis folk, who talked of a “sex change”. Now, many who transition full time do not have SRS. We are “Trans”, which includes cross-dressers. We can make our own path within Trans, rather than being classified as one or the other of TV/TS.

There may be social pressure to identify as trans:

I discussed that article in detail. The mother finds professionals and others surprised that her daughter is not trans- there is social pressure- but mother and daughter are resisting it. It does not show that people transition because of social pressure, that someone comfortable with gender non-conforming behaviour will transition, and certainly not that anyone who could conform to the cis gender stereotype would feel any pressure to transition. It also supports the cisnormative default: the girl is thought to be trans, because she is not like girls are supposed to be. But she could still fit social expectations if she were trans, confirming how girls and boys are different- though the mother writes of others’ surprise, not disapproval. The gender non-conformist who refuses to transition is the real social pariah.

Talk of “social pressure” implies that we are in some way unfree, unfulfilled or prevented from self-actualisation. I would say that I felt I could be more myself if I conformed to the concept of the transsexual woman, so I leapt at the chance. Cisnormativity creates transgender: I would not have needed to transition had I been able to live as a flamboyant pansy, still male. (“Been” able or felt able? Social pressure was too strong for me.)  That is, there is social pressure on the gender non-conforming person to satisfy societal expectations, either by conforming to gender expectations of their sex or by transitioning.

Aged 51, I feel more able to resist social pressure, but possibly I am just ignored. I cycled to the station and took off my wig, unable to bear it. “You need a pair of long earrings,” said that woman. Um. Probably strong makeup too. There is an acceptable look for bald women, but it certainly is not my male pattern baldness, with hair thick round the back and sides but wispy or absent on top. I am paranoid about that even though I shave the sides.

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I tried that line on a trans activist facebook group. Cisnormativity creates transgender. One said Dysphoria is an emotional response to the gender variation of self, which may be a misunderstanding. Cisnormativity creates the idea that a boy should be “boyish”, and grow up to be “manly”. But it may be a disagreement. She is really a woman, she thinks. Another said she observed in children aged 2 or 3 distress at possessing a penis. I find it disturbing that the child, who is allowed to dress as a girl, should know that penis=boy, and not wholly credible without some parental pressure, but she believes that.

How you see it depends on your theory. I say we- transitioners, detransitioners, closeted people, open gender non-conformists, are all the same, all people who do not fit gender stereotypes, who respond to the difficulties that causes in different ways. She says she is a woman with a trans history, yes, really a woman. How you behave depends on your theory. I might not have transitioned had I not believed I really was transsexual. Later, I realised the question which mattered was “Will I be happier if I transition?”- what do I want to do, rather than who am I or what is my fundamental nature. I resisted transition, imagining I was not really TS: thinking I was autogynephilic instead. I say “non-binary” is a freedom-word, a claim I make when I want to act in a particular way, not a separate way of being human as bi or gay is. Different people might argue we are all NB, or all trans, or all GNC, and would act differently because of their theory. Which word you choose may either retrospectively justify your desire, or alter the way you express that desire. The way you do not fit stereotypes may be minimal or extreme, and how much that distresses you will differ.

It is not just we who debate these things. The doctors, and the wider society, debate them too. Some people, not personally affected, argue for what they think is good for the individual, some for the wider society, having different ideas of what it means to be man, woman, human. Ignorant people have strong opinions. Should people have access to cross-gender hormones and surgery? Should society repress gender non-conformity as a perversion, or only permit it to be expressed in a particular way? We can’t make our decisions isolated from the wider conversation, and we may be angry with people trying to push us into a path, or an understanding of the phenomenon, when it’s not the one we want.

On another trans group, person after person anticipates or celebrates their SRS. That I feel now I had it because of social pressure does not mean that anyone else did. For some dysphoria means a loathing of the body because it does not fit the person, which is cured by surgery.

All this is an introduction to the article in The Stranger, and particular responses to it.

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Katie Herzog wrote an article, The Detransitioners: They Were Transgender, Until They Weren’t. Julia Serano and others responded, Katie Herzog wrote again, woundedly saying she was only a journalist reporting people’s stories and experts’ opinions, and Julia Serano wrote again. Briefly, I feel the problem is that people want to make their own decisions- transition, detransition, surgery, hormones, behaviour- but feel that expressed opinions about others’ decisions may make their own more difficult. As Serano writes,  trans communities are highly aware of how notions of “social contagion,” “trendsgender,” and “cisgender people being turned transgender because of peer pressure” are routinely used by those who wish to rollback transgender rights and access to healthcare. We won’t get hormones if others are simply gender non-conforming and public pressure says taking cross-gender hormones is icky, they will not permit it.

But then I say we don’t make our decisions free of public pressure. We may feel that pressure in different ways, as there is no consensus. Detransitioners, social conservatives and TERFs say Transition is Bad. Social liberals recognise that men have been dressing as women since Deuteronomy and probably long before, and there is a tradition of trans surgery going back to Lili Elbe. Depending on the circles we move in or what we read, different options present themselves to us, and what attracts us to one rather than the other may be luck or chance.

Serano has also written, stop pitting detransitioners against happily transitioned people. Yes. We’re the ones who have to live with our non-conformity. We share a lot of common interests. We should strive to minimize unwanted irreversible changes, she says. Of course. But when I so badly wanted SRS in 2003, I did not know I would regret it later.

This is long enough already. I may come back to these articles. I want us all to be able to make whichever decisions feel right for us, to deal with gender issues- but we cannot do that in a vacuum, as if there were no social pressure. It is continued: Social Pressure II.

How feminine is Clémentine-Hélène Dufau’s portrait of Maurice Rostand!

14 thoughts on “Social pressure

  1. I’m sorry to hear, Clare, that you regret your SRS, and I was surprised to read the first sentence in your post: “Now, I identify as a pansy, a feminine male.” In the photos that you’ve posted of yourself you certainly look like a woman to me, no question.

    I’m far from knowing if I will want SRS so I don’t feel pressure to make that decision. But I do think about it. At this time I suspect I would like it if only because I wouldn’t then have to even think about my bulge in skirts or bathing suits, or the discomfort I experience now when wearing panties. Another consideration is that I consider myself to be a lesbian and I imagine/assume that potential partners – who may be far and few between anyway – would be even less comfortable if I present with male “floppy bits” as an Australian woman friend described them.

    I don’t see my need or desire to transition as being socially motivated. I just want to live comfortably and happy in my on skin.

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  2. My own quest, that of learning who I am, has been mostly a series of discoveries of who I am not. I believe that it took so many years for me to really know who I am because I had been sidetracked by feeling the need to know WHAT I am. Social pressures cause us to do that; find a niche within the confines of that which is deemed an acceptable group or subgroup. The what is based mostly on the act of doing and the who is largely a sense of being – the first, a societal determination, and the second, that of self-determination.

    I studied Psychology in college, mostly as a cover to be able to learn about my own gender identity. Everything I read led me to say, “That’s not me.” Years later, I left the safety of my own home, fully intending to go to a meeting of a local cross dresser “social club.” I parked across the street from the meeting place, trying to muster the courage to step out of my car, but eventually drove away after watching the attendees enter the meeting hall door. There was not one of them with whom I could identify. “That’s not me…That’s not me…Nope, not me…Gawd, NO, that is not me at all!” A couple of decades later, I tried it again. Not being able to park close to the community church meeting room this time, I had to walk three blocks past dozens of ordinary people, many of them families out in their front yards on a warm early-fall evening. I remember being so self-conscious during that walk, yet I longed to be one of them – not one of the cross dressers I was on my way to meet. Upon walking through the door to the church basement, though, I was so well received that I thought I must have belonged there.

    Over the course of the following 18 months, I immersed myself in the activities of the group, and, one by one, I dismissed any similarities I thought I may have had with them. Most of them related their gender identities to the events themselves. That is, for them, going “enfemme” was an activity – a lifestyle choice that came out of a gender identity seed that I might have shared, but it did not manifest itself the same way for me. “That’s not me.” Some of these people even went so far as to be on HRT and have various surgeries to enhance their feminine presentation, and then go to great lengths to hide the effects during their daily lives as men. “That’s not me (that sounds crazy!).” While there were a few who seemed more like myself, they did not participate in the same way as the others, and they left the group quietly after a time. So did I. In retrospect, I learned more of who I am from that three-block walk to the meeting than I did over those 18 months within the group. I did learn so very much about what I was not, however.

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