I keep wondering just how much the many different configurations of body, gender, presentation and behavior (words from the Trans 101: Terms and Concepts workshop yesterday) that fit under the big umbrella of “transgender” are asked to fit there because of the rigidity of the binary gender packages of “male” and “female”, “men” and “women.” As presenter Beth Harrison-Prado noted at the outset, “transgender” is above all a word — albeit freighted with meaning in our culture — and a word required by people’s growing recognition that gender in real life, rather than in the movies, magazines, and the conventional popular cultural imagination, is complex and immensely variable.
In fact, while probably all of us have heard talk of “natural” gender imperatives, it is reasonably clear that there is a lot of energy devoted to enforcing, culturally, the results those imperatives are supposed to produce. I don’t know how many millions of marketing dollars have gone into convincing my daughter, for instance, that Hannah Montana is the paradigm girl, but I know it’s enough that it’s hard work for Mom to counteract.
This just illustrates, for me, the continuity between what we sometimes call “women’s issues” and our consideration of transgender issues, especially around the time of the Transgender Day of Remembrance. The cultural enforcement of gender “correctness” or “propriety” has taken its toll on women down through the ages, the kind of toll depending on what was considered “correct” or “proper” in the context. Women have been variously deprived of education and books, locked in corsets or in rooms, restricted to one or two lifelong occupations regardless of personal aptitude, . . . well, we could go on.
As we know, the enforcement of gender standards can take a violent and even deadly turn. Hence the Transgender Day of Remembrance. One day, let us hope, we will have faced the reality of gender complexity so honestly that no one will any longer feel the need to enforce a simplicity that is belied by the complexity that now travels under the banner of “transgender.”