Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
WHY IS EVERYONE SO AFRAID OF MEN IN DRESSES?
A confession. Every time I have a photo shoot, interview, or performance — I shave. I shave because later when I look at photos of me wearing a beard and lipstick or beard and dress I feel like I look disgusting. I shave because I know that people won’t believe that I’m trans if I don’t.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be hairy and to be trans. How the days when I do not shave are actually the days that I experience the most harassment. Shaving is about the distance between, “You look like garbage,” and “Hey baby.” I’ve been thinking about how almost all of our models of transfemininity are hairless — how when I post photos of myself online people tell me that if I want to be recognized as “real woman,” I should AT LEAST shave, otherwise I look like a “beast,” or “a monster.” Sometimes when I look at photos of myself I see a monster.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about monsters. How the monster in the closet of so many of our feminist, queer, and trans politics continues to be the figure of the “man in a dress.” I am not, in fact, a man in a dress. I am non-binary person which means I do not identify as a man nor a woman. But “man in a dress,” seems to be the only way that this particular culture recognizes me. So as someone who is so often read and treated as such I’ve developed a particular sense of empathy and awareness about how revolted our world is by the idea of gender non-conformity.
What is absent from so many discussions of body hair between cis women is why so many of them are offended from being read as “men in dresses,” aka gender non-conforming people like me. What is absent from so many discussions of “passing,” in trans communities is why should we have to be gender conforming in order to be regarded as beautiful (let alone safe?). And certainly not everyone should have to be gender non-conforming, but I wonder who is left to rage, to fight, to love, to find beauty in us when everyone is trying to run away from us.
Why do we think men in dresses are ugly? Why do we think gender non-conformity is suspicious, dirty, uncouth, unprofessional, tacky, wrong? Why do people spit at me, laugh at me, throw things at me, or shove me when I wear a beard and dress?
My experience and so many of the experiences of gender non-conforming people are a testament to the world that it’s not just femininity that’s being policed, it’s the gender binary. Gender binarism teaches us that “masculinity” and “femininity,” must always exist in opposition. So when we see people that have what society regards as “masculine” and “feminine,” coexist in tandem we are motivated to disgust, rage, and sometimes even violence. Sometimes I can’t tell if I’ve been harassed because of my perceived femininity, my perceived masculinity, both, or neither.
I earnestly wish we can imagine and build friendships and ideas and movements that challenge the deep and ingrained aversion to gender non-conformity we have been taught. But sometimes that project feels too daunting and naive. So this year I’m going to make a small commitment to not always shaving my beard. To looking at my photos and not seeing ugly or beauty, or masculinity or femininity, but just seeing me.
What a simple gesture, what an impossible task.