“The Overly Feminine Trans Woman,” Stereotypes, and Gatekeepers
One of the most common stereotypes regarding transgender women is that they act “overly feminine” and that our gender presentation is considered to be a ‘parody’ of femininity.
Sadly, it is a very pervasive stereotype that persists to this day, and one that nobody ever thinks to dig into why it exists or how it originated. This harmful stereotyping is placed on us from all directions, from therapists who feel that there is only one possible way to be transgender, to outsiders who have this constructed view of transgendered people as deceivers built up from films like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Crying Game and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Even feminists seek to exclude us by throwing this stereotype in our faces and claiming that we want to revert to 1950’s gender roles.
How we act as transgender people in our gender presentation is for us to decide and not for outsiders to define for us. For somebody to swoop down onto us and tell us that we aren’t women unless we dress a certain way or act or certain way is condescending as hell and reeks of privilege.
Speaking for myself, I would be perfect happy in jeans and a t-shirt that still felt feminine and made me look like the woman I am. I don’t wear heels and I rarely wear stockings and dresses. If a woman wants to wear clothing like that, however, it is her choice to do so, and not for outsiders to tell her that she’s too feminine or not feminine enough.
In fact, this external policing of our gender presentations is a no-win scenario for trans women. If we dress too androgynous or masculine (such as the t-shirts and jeans), people will tell us that we aren’t feminine enough to be transgender and that we aren’t really women because we aren’t always dressed to the nines, even when doing something as mundane as going to the grocery store. However, for those to do embrace their femininity, we are ridiculed as being ‘a parody of a woman’ and that we aren’t really women because we are trying too hard to be seen as one.
For a transgender woman, there is no way to win in this scenario.
So where did this stereotype of the “Overly Feminine Trans Woman” come from?
It has been built up from a variety of sources that have combined into this stereotype. Many people’s exposure to the transgender and gender-variant are from performances such as drag shows. The image of Tim Curry or Ru Paul in exaggerated stage makeup is often the only image that people have of gender-variant people. In stage and performance venues like this people dress much differently than they normally would, a cisgender woman on stage performing would be dressed much more formally than she would be at an In-N-Out. From my experience with film and stage productions, I can tell you that any kind of makeup needs to be exaggerated from what a person would normally wear in order to be read from the audience or on camera. But this is one way that people get the idea that transgender women are “overly feminine.”
The other half of this is from how we have been treated by the medical community in the past. Until fairly recently, there was only one possible way to be a transgender woman and all the mental health professionals would only consider you to be transgender if you fit that specific pattern, nudging generations of women into submitting to outdated gender roles in order to get the medical help they needed. In Whipping Girl, Julia Serano notes that “trans women understood that they needed to show up for their psychotherapy appointments wearing dresses and makeup.” (page 123) This culture of fear within transgender women forced us to act much more stereotypically feminine simply to get the help we needed.
Transgender women didn’t act this way by choice, it was forced upon us by a patriarchal establishment that unilaterally declared that there was only one way to be a woman, and forced us all to conform to that standard on the thread of withholding medical assistance.
Those who label and dismiss us as ‘acting like a grotesque parody of femininity’ should examine why that is, and not simply assume that it is something that is innately part of being transgender.