Over on Zinnia Jones’ trans issues website, Gender Analysis, an interesting perspective was brought to my attention considering the phenomenon of misgendering and gender perception:
It’s common nowadays to hear someone make the apparent concession that, for instance, a transgender woman should be allowed to use women’s restrooms – provided she “looks like a woman”. This standard has been advanced by opinionated cis people ranging fromJoey Salads to Peter Sprigg, a spokesman with the Family Research Council.
At first glance, this seems like an intuitive idea. It would supposedly minimize any disruptions, and many trans people do voluntarily choose which bathroom to use based on their current gender presentation. But this expectation could never function as a consistently applicable standard in practice, because it relies on false assumptions about how individuals perceive gender. In everyday life, interactions between the expression and interpretation of gender are so diverse that whether someone “looks like a woman” isn’t always entirely predictable.
This naïve model of gender perception treats gender as a property emitted from an individual, with all others as passive receivers who simply accept this expression at face value. Yet this is precisely backwards – expressions of gender are not objective and singular; they are subjective, interpretative, and multiple. The same trans person, on the same day, with exactly the same appearance, can still have their gender read entirely differently depending on who’s looking at them. Why does this happen?
At least in part, it’s because many of the variables involved here aren’t located within the one person being observed, but rather the multiple people observing them. Research on gender perception has provided extensive evidence that there is a wide array of factors which can influence how each person will see and interpret someone’s gender or the gendered features of their appearance.
When I’ve discussed the question of whether a trans person should disclose their gender history before entering an intimate relationship, many commenters have claimed that this probably isn’t an issue for me because, to them, I’m immediately visible as a trans woman regardless.
Yet when I later posted a video showing that using women’s restrooms is something I do without causing any disruption or alarm, I was repeatedly told by others that this proved nothing because I “look like a woman”. My own real experience as an actual trans woman was dismissed as irrelevant for the specific reason that I did not look like a cis person’s imagined stereotype of a trans woman.
Allow me to repeat this message for the public good:
My own real experience as an actual trans woman was dismissed as irrelevant for the specific reason that I did not look like a cis person’s imagined stereotype of a trans woman.
I may touch on this in greater detail later, but this, right here, is precisely why cis people can scream from the fucking mountaintops until they faint: I will not give a single fuck about their opinion on gender variance as long as they do not possess institutional authority over me.