Transmissions: Button, Button

BY Gwendolyn Ann Smith

It's a great irony about being trans: we are expected to both look and act in certain ways to fit into gender roles defined by non-transgender people, yet are also criticized by non-transgender people for adhering to gendered-standards developed by non-transgender people. It's a classic no-win situation.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently released their new policy change to better serve transgender people. Rather than referring to the particulars of our anatomies as "anomalies" when we pass through their body scanners, we shall now be known as "alarms." They're not making any other change, however, just putting an even worse term up to describe our bodies.
As an aside, I think it is worth mentioning that these scanners have cost the TSA $160 million. That's more than $150,000 per unit. In a recent security audit, these scanners failed to stop weapons and explosives passing through security checkpoints a staggering 96 percent of the time. Oh, and in recent news, they're now moving towards mandatory full body scanning for some passengers, but have opted to not clarify what would cause a person to lose the right to a pat down.
Let me back up a moment, however. When you go through a full body scan at your local airport, the TSA agent operating the machine chooses one of two color-coded buttons for you: these buttons are pink and blue. So a TSA agent visually determines what gender you are, presses a button, and if the machine does not agree with his findings, you now have triggered that "alarm."
I can't think of a more appropriate analogy for the lived experience of many transgender people.
We're expected to be stereotypically handsome or beautiful, and if we are not we are the subject of insults and death threats. Sometimes we are murdered. Yet if we are to fit well into our preferred genders, and someone discovers we are transgender, we still face insults and death threats — and yes, still sometimes are murdered.
When someone is identified as transgender, those who are not transgender immediately descend to pick them apart. Either they look too much like their birth sex, or act too much like it, or they're trying to "trap" straight men and women, or they're acting too stereotypically masculine or feminine and reinforcing gender norms.
More years ago than I care to count, when I had just begun living in my preferred gender, I had an experience that many other transgender people have discovered. As the time, I was working for a large reprographics and desktop publishing company, serving up freshly laser printed layouts for resumes and party flyers.
I was pretty good at my job, able to crank out a professional layout quick and fast, and had developed a good and loyal customer base. I also had the respect of my coworkers and management.
Once I transitioned, this changed. I still had my customers and they were still plenty happy with my work, but things were clearly deteriorating amongst the staff. I had coworkers who would refuse to do anything I asked of them, and I ended up written up a couple times by the assistant manager.
It wasn't my appearance that caused the trouble, I was told, and me being transgender had nothing to do with how I was treated at work. Rather, it was my attitude. When I was still presenting as male, my assertive attitude was perceived as an asset, but post-transition, it was identified as "bitchiness."
To me, I'd rather that all women could be perceived as assertive and not be labeled for speaking up.
This is but one example of many similar tales you'll hear from transfolks, of how they have had to change their ways or end up being seen as somehow "imperfect." In some cases, they've even been disallowed care because they have opted to not fall into expected gendered stereotypes.
Every situation I walk into, someone is pushing their mental blue or pink button and assigning a number of stereotypes to me. They're determining how I should look, act and feel based on their assumptions of my gender identity and how I choose to express it. In the course of that interaction, if their mental "alarm" is tripped, I am judged unfit and treated accordingly.
I have to live in this world, and one has to interact with others on a daily basis. We end up having to traverse the pink and blue buttons of people all day long, from the bagger at your local supermarket to television pundits and political leaders.
Today we're in the midst of a push back against transgender rights, with people trying to literally police gender identity. While we dodged a bullet in California in the battle over bathrooms and public facilities, the fight is heating up elsewhere. While it does, I will never be able to live up to the conflicting standards the non-transgender will put up to fight against my identity.
The majority of the time I really don't care about your judgment of me. As a friend of mine taught me many years ago, my body is not a democracy: you do not get a vote. This is my flesh and blood, and I get to choose what I do with it.
Thing is, I really am not the person with the problem here. I got to spend a lot of time trying to figure out which button to press for myself. I also know there's a whole hell of a lot more options than just pink and blue.


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