By Gwendolyn Ann Smith
If one has spent any time on the Internet, you’ll eventually find a well-meaning friend forwarding a virus warning, the urban legend about Bill Gates’ e-mail tracking software, or compilations of jokes. It is this latter category that led not to laughter, but to a touch of reflection.
This is not a column on the ins and outs of “netiquette,” so I will not delve into whether or not it’s proper to forward such things. Besides, most people get that from me personally after yet another go round over the validity of the Nieman-Marcus cookie recipe hoax. This is also not a column where I will critique just what is and what isn’t supposed to be funny. If I did, I’d be first on the pillory, given my own propensity for punslinging.
No, this column is about transgender issues.
You see, the e-mail forward in question was a compilation of sexist jokes, mostly focusing on how women should stay in the kitchen and serve their men. It was sent — with good intentions, I suppose — to a transgender-themed e-mail list. The original sender had no malice intended by the send, but just thought the jokes were funny, and a counter to some of the “male bashing” humor that often passes around some of the male-to-female dominated spaces. The saddest thing? This person didn’t even realize the jokes were sexist.
Growing up as I did, I was immersed in male society at an early age. I got to tag along with my dad to his Lion’s Club meetings and other such things, and I heard more than a few of those same jokes. This was in the 1970s, deep within the fight for women’s rights. Most of the men in these organizations didn’t even understand why the “little ladies” were up in arms.
Yet here I saw, on a transgender list in 2005 – not 1975 – a list of sexual jokes that would fit in thirty years ago. It told me that sexism is still well-entrenched, and can be found anywhere: even places where sexism should face more scrutiny.
Much of what transgender people face in the world is a form of sexism. We are still expected to fit within rigidly defined forms of gender expression, and are discriminated against, verbally abused, or even killed for not fitting into our tight little boxes.
When I transitioned, I got to see first hand what sexism was. I went from one job to another with similar duties, only to get 30 percent less pay for my time. I became one of “the girls” in a business where being female meant being second class. I was propositioned on the street and was expected to accept this as simply part of being a woman.
I don’t think I need to do that, however, in order to be in any given gender. It is simply not worth my time nor energy to fight to fit within anyone else’s stereotypes. If I could have done that, why would I have bothered to transition in the first place?
Maybe that is what bothered me about this series of e-mail jokes: each was aimed at putting women “in their place” – and that place was usually in the kitchen, getting their man a beer. It was all about stereotypes, and damn if I’d like to think that we who face sexual stereotyping couldn’t do better than that.
I would like to see a transgender community that’s big enough to not only secure the right to be whatever gender – or lack thereof – we wish to be, but could also shatter those old, dusty gender assumptions once and for all. I want to see a community that will stand up for the boy who enjoys ballet, or the woman who enjoys working on her car now and then.
Perhaps I’m an idealist for hoping for such.
Before we can become that community, we need to face our own demons, and cast out our own stereotypes. If we expect to get anywhere, we need to fight sexism when it rears its head within our own ranks, and foster attitudes, conditions, or behaviors that foster an end to sexism.
It shouldn’t be that much to ask for.