Monthly Archives: December 2014

Stereotyping and the Gender Binary

Pink or blue?

Pink or blue for baby clothes? Does it matter?

I’ve just got back from the cinema, having watched my first LGBTQ film.  In it, the transgender protagonist seemed angry and resentful towards her parents for forcing her into a particular gender and sexuality from the moment she was born.  The baby was dressed in blue and surrounded by boy’s toys to play with.  There was particular disdain for the nurse who helped deliver her, for saying things like “oh doesn’t HE look like HIS father?”

Looking back at my childhood I guess it was a similar story, in that I was brought up ‘as a boy’ (when I wasn’t wearing my sister’s hand-me-downs that is).  But I don’t think that this had a negative impact on my life at all.  At such a young age I really had no knowledge of what I was wearing, let alone what it might mean to an observer.  People needed a pronoun to refer to me by, and my sex dictated that it be a masculine one.  If my parents had deliberately rebelled against the gender stereotypes, it would feel more like they were trying to influence my life, rather than letting me make my own decisions.
And with the toys, well I’d play with (or chew) anything I could get my hands on, be it a toy soldier, a barbie, a stick or a spider!

In the film it seemed like the main character had decided what they are now, and then was trying to retroactively fit that to their childhood.  I don’t feel that this works, there was a very definite time in my life where I started to question my gender.  I wouldn’t have wanted a childhood where I was forced to confront this any earlier than when it naturally happened.  I needed to experience all the boy things to develop into who I am today.

Whether you are straight, gay or trans is something you discover for yourself in life.  My parents were great in the fact I never got told off for crossing any stereotypical gender boundaries, and I was actively encouraged to pursue any interests and hobbies that I had.  Nobody so much as batted an eyelid when I brought my first boyfriend home or wore my low-cut, feminine, purple hoodie on Christmas day.

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have been in the news recently as their daughter has expressed a desire to wear boy’s clothes and be called John.  It is natural for a child to experiment with different names and identities (my brother insisted we call him Sam for a while when he was younger because he had a friend called Sam).  The parents in this case aren’t making a knee jerk reaction and telling the child to conform to gender stereotypes, they are allowing John to explore and find what makes him comfortable.

I agree that gender is predominantly a social construct, but the film gave a very embittered view.  Maybe the protagonist’s parents were close-minded and did not welcome her exploring her gender, but I felt it was unfair to start the criticism of them at the very moment she was born.  The film portrayed a very dark and tormented look at being transgender and, while life isn’t always sparkles and rainbows for me either, I found I couldn’t relate to the main character at all.

The film was billed as setting out to “explore perceptions of the gay scene, queer stereotypes, gender and identity.”  I’d hoped I would come out of the cinema feeling empowered at seeing transgender issues on the big screen, and that other movie-goers would be made more aware of, and more sensitive to, the problems that transgender people face every day.  Instead I was left feeling that the writer’s view of being transgender was very, very different to my own.

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The Office Christmas Party

Jen's Christmas party dress

My Christmas party dress!

Part 1: Decisions, decisions

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post where I weighed up the pros and cons of going to the work Christmas party ‘as Jen’ (find that post here).  By the end of the post I had kinda decided I should definitely do this, so the next day at work I asked my manager if she would be free for a quick chat.  I outlined what I wanted to do and explained my reasons (pretty much word for word quoting the post), and she completely agreed that this would be amazing for me – yay!

Although my team knew about Jen, not everyone in the department did.  I didn’t want to just turn up on the night and surprise people, that felt really unfair, so I needed to prepare them in advance.  How to do this had me stumped for a while, it’s actually a really difficult thing to just nonchalantly drop into conversation!  In the end (and because I’m a massive chicken) I sent an email round near the end of the day coming out to everyone and letting them know what I was going to do.  I even included a link to this blog in case they wanted to find out more about me (completely forgetting about the image on the post ‘naked shots’ from a few months back – oooopsy!)

Almost immediately replies started flooding back with messages of support.  Any fear I’d had when writing the email evaporated, and each reply made my smile bigger and bigger 😀
I’ve not been massively secretive about the trans thing at work to be honest, but it’s always so much harder to come out to people that you know well.  It was such a good feeling that everyone was on my side, and I had a warm, fuzzy glow in my tummy to keep me warm on the walk home from work.

The next big decision was what on earth to wear.  I needed something for a night out with a meal and dancing, but also something suitable for a work-related event.  I could feel my options dwindling rapidly…
I’m happy to take any excuse to do some dress shopping and, after some rummaging, found a nice white and black little number online… Outfit sorted!

***

Part 2: It’s party-time!

The day of the party rolled around really quickly.  I left work early so there would be more time beforehand, I hate getting ready to a tight deadline!  I had a relaxing afternoon and tried not to stress about the evening ahead.

I took a bit more care over my makeup than usual, and opted for low-ish heels so I wouldn’t tower over everyone else.  The meal was at 8 and I didn’t want to get there super early, so got a taxi that would drop me off at 7.30ish.  Some of my friends met me at the taxi, which I really appreciated as I could walk in with them… I was soooooo nervous!

Once inside however, the butterflies in my tummy started to settle down as I met more and more of my colleagues and all of them were so supportive.  Everyone treated me as normal, which was great because I was feeling very different to normal… I think I was more confused by my crossing of the current work/social line than they were.  As the night went on more and more people came to tell me how great it was that I felt able to do this, to hug me and to buy me a drink 😉

The rest of the party was a blur of drinking, dancing and singing raucously along to cheesy Christmas tunes.  I had such an amazing night, if you fast forward through the crawling home, being sick in a bin and falling asleep on the floor that is, and I’ve definitely been left feeling more confident to approach the next big step of going to work fulltime as me.

I’m so glad I did this, what a great way to end such a busy year!