There Is No One Way to Be Trans, or the Number Three
Jennifer Angelina Petro
There is no one way to be trans just as there is no one way to express, well, anything, even, let’s say, numbers. The number three is a quantitative value that can be expressed with three acorns, three pieces of candy, three pennies, a triangle, a tripod, and so on. It can be expressed as 3, III, or three—not to mention how it is expressed in the many different languages of the world. The fundamental value of a three does not change because of how it is written or illustrated, or expressed or in what language it is referred to in. Transpeople are fundamentally human beings who just so happen to exist and express themselves on a spectrum of infinite variety.
I could care less how “feminine” I look in some respects, in others I do, but the point is, I choose what is right and true and comfortable and fun for me. I do not base my gender identity or expression on what the world might think is most “feminine.” Three pencils and three jolly ranchers both express “threeness” equally validly, and “correctly.” I express the value of “transness” not wearing makeup just as much as another transperson wearing tons of makeup.
I have met transwomen who were trapped (or so it seemed to me) in the traditional gender binary. And this is sad. And can be tragically sad. Some transwomen try so hard to fit in to what they perceive is the “right” feminine gender norm and kill themselves when they perceive they can’t or don’t. Some transwomen seemingly buy into the same misogynistic impressions of “femininity,” that many cis-gendered people do.
This past year in which I came out, several transwomen have told me I will never “pass,” unless I fix my eyebrows. Of course, I had no idea my eyebrows were broken AND I had no idea “passing” was the goal. I thought being my authentic self was. If that includes passing, cool; if it doesn’t, still cool.
One transwoman, a few years older than myself, recently said, after looking me over:
“Have you ever heard of the uncanny valley?”
“Well, it’s the idea that some robots and zombies and aliens, etc. make humans feel eerie and uncomfortable because they appear to look CLOSE to human, but aren’t.”
“I see,” I said, while inside drifting steadily into a protective dissociative state (really).
“You just need to fit in more,” she went on without mercy, “work on your makeup, your hair is too flat, your clothes, well, your clothes are OKAY, but you can work on those too. And your eyebrows…they are way too big. You haven’t feminized your voice or your moves—your walk.”
Later, after much reflection and a healthy dose of needing to be talked down from a highly triggered state of dysphoria, I thought about just how sad it must be to be her.
She is stuck—I daresay—bound–to the belief that the task of a transwoman is to fit into “American” society’s prevailing views of what women should look like. If I would only “feminize” myself in such ways, this would, in her mind, make me look more “human,”—less threatening to the “normies.” If I would just toe the line of “traditional,” “American,” “feminine” ideals then I would find a job and a place to live. I wouldn’t be so depressed.
I also realized later on that I must be a threat to her on some levels. She was likely told and bought into the idea that she had to look a certain way in order to be a “real” woman, a woman who “passes,” or a woman who, at very least, doesn’t draw attention to herself. There are, of course, very real safety concerns for some transwomen, but I think in this case, I must have contradicted decades of, what deep-inside she must view as, her wasted time, money, and life trying to “fit in.” Turns out you can be trans and not have to look a certain way, not have to give a fuck about fitting in. Something she may never have been told. Something she cannot bear to hear.
The fact that I don’t wear makeup must fly in the face of her “traditions” about what women should and should not do. The fact that I don’t care about covering my five-o’clock shadow might make her upset for all the money and time she spent on electrolysis or expensive makeup, not to mention the time she spent shaving, and so on. The fact that I don’t care how fluffy my eyebrows are might make her resentful at herself for all the countless hours she spent plucking, waxing, trimming, shaping, or threading her eyebrows—and here I am—a whipper-snapper transwoman—who comes along and says: “Um, I’m trans, and I have fluffy eyebrows. Fuck you.”
Of course it is completely possible she looks the way she does, and does the things to help herself look the way she does, because she likes it, because she chooses it consciously, thinks it’s fun, affirming, liberating, and so on. And that’s all totally fine, totally acceptable, totally trans. And when I dress the way I dress or choose not to “feminize” myself in the ways others think I should, I am also acting perfectly, acceptably, and totally, wonderfully trans.
So let’s get some things straight, because there are some things in the world that need to be straight, and these are a few of them:
1). There is no one way to be trans.
2). There is no right or wrong way to be trans.
3). Transgender folks are human beings just like everyone else. We do not belong to any uncanny valleys. Uncanny valleys are stupid.
4). There is no one way to be a woman, a man, or genderfluid, genderqueer, asexual, bisexual, gay, lesbian, a child, a dog, a puppy, cat, whale, moose, tree, or sky.
5). There is no need for transgender policing in the transgender community.
Those are eternal truths just as the number three will always and ever be a three. A thousand years from now you can hold three pieces of stardust in your hands and they will still represent the number three. A thousand years from now the idea of uncanny valleys will still be stupid.
A penis is most commonly found on “men.” A vulva most commonly found on “women.” But that doesn’t mean they are the only places for those organs to be found, and further more they do not define the gender of a human being any more than an arm, leg, nose, liver, or knee cap does. I am a woman with a penis. And I don’t like wearing makeup very much. And further-further more, I just divulged a very personal bit of information about myself because I chose to. In actuality, what anyone has or does not have in their pants, skirt, spacesuit, etc. is none of your business, and if you think it is, then perhaps the idea of the uncanny valley IS valid because it would then apply to you.
I am a transwoman with fluffy eyebrows. I am a transwoman who still likes her voice. I am a transperson who doesn’t believe in “dead names.” And I am still perfectly, wonderfully a number three, a person, a transperson, a woman who just so happens to be powerful, creative, and full of life. I am a person who just so happens to be fed up with the policing that goes on in some trans communities. A person who cares deeply about the young transfolk coming up behind us.
They need to be accepted completely and fully for who they are and how they want or need to express themselves. They need us. They need us strong, together, and smart. They need us to have their backs. They need us to look in the mirror and at one another, and at THEM, and see love—pure and simple expressions of infinite variety.